Four weeks ago to the day, I made certain predictions about the 2020 Seahawks, as well as some storylines to follow. After a 4-0 start to the campaign, I thought it was time to check in and see how these plotlines are developing.
Biggest Storyline: The Russell Wilson MVP Campaign
The Russell Wilson MVP train is firmly on the tracks. After four games, Russell sports a nifty 15:2 TD-to-Int ratio to go along with a 75.2 completion % and 1285 passing yards. Coach Pete Carroll and Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has let him loose, and Russ has responded by putting up a historically proficient statistical profile.
But as we discussed four weeks ago, putting up mind-bending stats has not been new for Russell Wilson. No, what’s been new has been a return to form for the team as a whole. Simple, beautiful winning. The Seahawks are 4-0 because of the strength of Russell Wilson’s arm, leading the division in wins and putting up better offensive numbers than the young hotshot coaches leading the Rams and 49ers. His numbers married to a top seed is what will push Russell Wilson over the line to winning his first MVP trophy.
Biggest Weakness: The Seattle Offensive Line
I predicted before that Seattle’s offensive line might not only be poor once again, but worse than last season’s unit due to the fact they were replacing three starters with relative unknowns. Boy, was I wrong. According to Pro Football Focus, Duane Brown has been the 7th best tackle in football as he continues to defy age, while his partner on the right side in Brandon Shell is ranked 51st. Shell’s ranking isn’t amazing, but his above average pass blocking grade and lack of penalties have been a welcome sight. On the interior, Mike Iupati is having a renaissance season deep into his career as he is once again a top 15 guard. That’d be a bigger story if rookie right guard Damian Lewis wasn’t ranked four spots higher than him and looking like a rock-solid starter for years to come. To top it all off, former second round flop Ethan Pocic has thrived in his position switch, grading out as the 14th best center in football. All individual marks are well above what Seattle had to deal with last season.
As a whole, this unit ranks 11th in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate, a metric that grades how often the unit wins against the defensive line on any given snap. That is an insane improvement for a unit that has been a basement dweller for the last five seasons. Offensive line coach Mike Solari deserves a huge amount of credit for transforming what looked like a mash unit heading into the season into an above average group. While Russ has proven that he can flourish no matter the circumstances, the fact that there is now competent line play has certainly contributed to his sterling numbers this season.
X- Factor: Seattle’s Search for a Third Receiver
Seattle has a dominant receiving duo. DK Metcalf leads the league in receiving yards and Tyler Lockett has been as effective as ever. Entering the 2020 season, it was fair to wonder who was going to be receiving the passes behind them. While veterans Philip Dorsett and Josh Gordon have yet to see the field, Seattle’s passing offense hasn’t skipped a beat. While I would like to say one person in particular has stepped up, in reality it has been a group effort by Seattle’s receiving depth. David Moore has been fully healthy this season and has used his speed and deep ball prowess on route to 10 receptions, 173 yards and two touchdowns. Rookie sixth-rounder Freddie Swain has been a surprise contributor as well, pitching in 5 catches and a touchdown. They have both been positive outlets in the passing game.
But it has really been the other position groups have been contributing the most. It is actually Chris Carson that has been third on the team in catches as it’s been clear that offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has been looking to get the running backs more involved in the passing game. It’s been a brilliant move; Carson currently has 15 grabs for 113 yards to go along with three receiving touchdowns. A lot of his receptions have been easy completions for Russell Wilson, a trait he shares with Seattle’s fourth leading receiver Greg Olson. While Olson has only averaged 8.6 yards-per-catch, he’s clearly been a trusted set of hands for Russell Wilson to go to in tough situations. That trust might be misplaced though, as in reality he only has a 77.8% catch rate and muffed an easy catch in week two that allowed a defensive back to grab it for interception. Out of all the names we’ve talked about, Olson is the one most likely to see a reduction in reps as third-year pro Will Dissly continues to recover from last season’s achilles injury.
Seattle’s depth has clearly proven its mettle, even when it hasn’t been at full strength.
Biggest Storyline: A New Legion of Boom?
If there was any concern that this version of Seattle’s secondary was going to be compared to the Legion of Boom, those hopes went up in a puff of smoke from the offset. Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Dak Prescott tore the Seattle defense to shreds, each putting up 400+ passing yards. According to Football Outsiders, the Seahawks rank 29th in Pass Defense DVOA. That is very concerning given the amount of assets Seattle has poured into its defensive backstop. While injuries certainly have not helped, the secondary has looked it’s worst when all starting members were present for weeks 1 & 2. The hope that this unit would be the building block that the rest of the defense would coalesce around has not come to fruition.
That doesn’t mean it’s all bad. While the overall stats look terrible, there have been bright spots. After a shaky start, Shaquill Griffin has nabbed interceptions in back-to-back weeks while rising in Pro Football Focus’ rankings to 30th. He has a while to go to erase the fact that he is allowing a 66.7% completion rate and been the victim of three passing touchdowns already this season, but he is trending in the right direction. Jamal Adams, when healthy, was exactly as advertised. A multi-positional game-wrecking machine, he was simultaneously Seattle’s best safety, pass rusher and outside linebacker. While a groin strain has knocked him out for a few weeks, his replacement hasn’t looked too bad in his spot – Ryan Neal has been fantastic. He has already recorded two interceptions and Pro Football Focus has given him an above average Pass Defense grade. The other positive contributor has been Ugo Amadi, who has taken over as slot cornerback for the injured Marquise Blair. He has proven to be stout in coverage, providing two pass break-ups, and has made an impact with his tackling, contributing 9 solo tackles.
The negatives are very concerning though. Starting free safety Quandre Diggs has not looked like himself, shepherding on of the worst secondaries in the league while simultaneously committing huge errors. He is currently allowing 16.8 yards-per-completion, a 71.4% completion rate and has been jettisoned week two for a hit to a defenseless receiver. Diggs has not been the stable force that Pete Carroll was hoping for.
Tre Flowers has also continued to be a mess in replacement of Dunbar, as he has allowed an 85.2% completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks. That’s… uh… not great.
While this group is currently in shambles, there are enough bright spots that it could improve over time.
Biggest Weakness: The Pass Rush
We are still waiting on one of Seattle’s outside rushers to step into a lead role. Safety Jamal Adams leads this team in sacks (2.0) even after missing the last game and a half, as well as producing the most quarterback hits with 5. While it’s great that a player from the secondary has been contributing so much, it’s worrying that Seattle doesn’t seem to have anyone on a full-time basis that can generate pressure consistently.
As a unit the line only has generated four sacks between them, with Benson Mayowa looking like the most consistent performer. Other players have flashed as rookie Alton Robinson has a sack and three tackles for loss on limited snaps, Jarran Reed has a sack to his name and in-season acquisition Damontre Moore has five quarterback hits. Former first-rounder L.J. Collier seems to be in the backfield on occasion but has yet to make an impact that lives up to his draft status. Injuries to Bruce Irvin and Darrell Taylor has sapped this unit of depth. None of these players have looked anywhere near competent starters so far this season.
It’s a grim picture, but there is some hope for improvement. ESPN has this unit’s Pass Rush Win Rate as the ninth best in the league, meaning that even if they’re not getting to the quarterback, the defensive line is winning their individual matchups on a consistent basis. If this is true, why then is the defensive line putting up such poor numbers? One reason could be that the secondary has been playing so poorly that quarterbacks have wide receivers open from the jump. If the Seattle secondary can’t force the quarterback to take a second to read the defense, then the pass rush will struggle to get home. Improved play from that unit could result in more sacks. A greater impact from the rookies going forward will also help, as Alton Robinson will see further snaps going forward and Darrell Taylor should return at some point this season. Seattle could also look to add a veteran at some point, through free agency or trade.
Things should get better (hopefully).
X-Factor: Seattle’s Blitz Rate
You can’t say Seattle didn’t recognize going in that their pass rush would be lacking, as the Seahawks have sent at least one extra rusher on 36.4% of total defensive snaps. That is a massive jump from 2019 and clearly was done due to the presence of Jamal Adams. He has been deployed as a pass rusher 31 times already this season in three games. That is wild, but also indicative of how much Seattle needs Adams to be able to get any type of pressure on quarterbacks. Bobby Wagner has also been a big recipient of this change in philosophy, being blitzed 21 times in four games with a result of three quarterback knockdowns.
Seattle’s struggles in generating pressure with a four-man rush means that we can expect this trend to be the norm for the rest of the season.
While I hit some stuff on the money, I was tragically wrong on both the offensive line and defensive backfield. While I am more than happy that Seattle has been able to protect Russell Wilson at an above average rate, I hope that the secondary improves as players start to gel and get healthy. As usual with the Seahawks, this quarter season has been a wild ride but a mainly positive one as they remain undefeated. To keep that up though, the Seahawks need to be able to find a way to stop someone on defense. Even if Russell Wilson is an MVP this season, he is not infallible. The defense is going to have to stop someone at some point in order for Seattle to make a run in the postseason when the time comes.