We’ve finally made it. In the midst of a pandemic, countless catastrophes and a wack-o offseason, the NFL returns in full this coming weekend. We can all let out a collective sigh of relief as some piece of normalcy will return into our lives. There are still questions that need to be answered – Will fans be returning? What happens if an outbreak occurs? What happens if a superstar gets sick? – but there is one surety, football is starting. While it is still up in the air whether the league will finish, we know now the pigskin will be kicked off in week one.
For the Seahawks in particular, there is one aspect of the TV broadcast that will noticeably be gone. Seattle will be without the 12th man this upcoming season. The once world record holding stadium will go silent for at least the first four games of the season. CenturyLink Field represents an advantage for the Seahawks against the rest of the league and operates as one of their defining traits. Even if there is pumped in crowd noise, it’s going to make for an odd viewing experience and a weird change for the players.
Where Seattle will be on the field is much different, as Seattle made one of the biggest moves of the offseason by trading for Jamal Adams. With Russell Wilson in his prime, Seattle is betting big that they can win big in this weird-ass season. We took a micro view on what Seattle will be doing be previewing the team, position by position. But this article will take more of a macro approach and look at the most important season long narratives for the team. Our categories will be biggest storyline, biggest weakness and what the X factor will be for both the offense and defense. Let’s do this…
Biggest Storyline: It is easily the Russell Wilson MVP narrative that is bound to develop over the course of 2020. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Russell Wilson is a really good quarterback. Like, a really, really good quarterback. So good in fact that he was Pro Football Focus’ top quarterback of 2019. He once accounted for 86% of Seattle’s total offense in an entire season. His efficiency metrics are out. Of. This. Damn. World. And yet, he never has received one measly MVP vote. Why? Because Seattle hasn’t won the division since Russ has been this type of player. 2016 was the last time Seattle wore the division crown, during a time where Wilson was taking a backseat to an all-time defense. Russell has since risen as the rest of Seattle’s team has crumbled around him. That year he was 86% of Seattle’s offense? It was 2017, the only year Seattle has missed the playoffs in his tenure. Last year, when there wasn’t a piece of the field he couldn’t hit? Seattle was a foot away from stealing the crown from the San Francisco 49ers. For Russell Wilson to win the trophy, Seattle has to be an end-to-end contender for the full season.
Some may point out that Russ doesn’t pass at a high enough volume to be a true contender. I strongly disagree. While it is true that Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer need to loosen the reins a bit, the statistical argument hasn’t won the day since Peyton Manning in 2013. No one has passed for over 5,000 yards since he took the trophy. Winning is what makes you the top guy, and Russ has never had a better offensive unit (outside of O-line) than the one he does now. The defense hasn’t looked this strong since 2015, with blue chip talent all over the place. Seattle will be good; Wilson can make them really good. Wrestling back the division crown will make people realize how INSANE it is that Russ has never been viewed as the best of the best. The Seattle resurgence rides on his shoulders, this is his team. It’s time to make the rest of the league never forget it.
Biggest Weakness: You guessed it. The offensive line… again. The only speed bump that could rear its ugly head in front of the Russell Wilson MVP hype train is the five guys that stand directly in front of him. From left-to-right the starting line is Duane Brown, Mike Iupati, Ethan Pocic, Damian Lewis and Brandon Shell. Duane Brown is the ONLY sure thing. Mike Iupati will be fine except for the 4-6 games he will probably miss this season due to injury. Pocic has been a failed lineman since the day Seattle drafted him in 2017 and it’s very concerning he beat out assumed starter BJ Finney at center. Brandon Shell was a back-up on one of the worst offensive lines in the league last season. And Damian Lewis is a rookie drafted by one of the worst front offices at evaluating offensive line talent.
Offensive Line Coach Mike Solari has proven to be an immense upgrade from previous coach Tom Cable, but he has his work cut out for him. For this team to reach its ceiling, the line must be able to stand at the point of attack. And I don’t mean stonewalling an opponent’s pass rush for entire games, they’re not that good and Russell has learned to overcome delayed pressure. No, what cannot happen anymore is linemen getting tossed to the ground like ragdolls, plays being blown up from the word jump and running backs getting tackled five yards behind the line of scrimmage. We haven’t even mentioned how penalty prone this unit is. Clean offensive line play needs to resume to win the NFC West and for the team to emerge as a real contender.
X-factor: Whoever fills the void as the third receiver on this team. DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are one of the most electric duos in the league at wide receiver. Tyler Lockett surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the first-time last season and Metcalf put up 900 of his own. It has been decided who will be the first and second targets for this offense. Unfortunately, two is not enough. We learned in the playoffs that teams can take those two away in high pressure moments, as Seattle’s failed comeback in the divisional round last season has proven. The Seahawks cannot be looking to a Malik Turner type in its most crucial moment of the season.
The answer will hopefully be tight end Will Dissly, who proved in his limited time that he is a top ten player at his position in this league. He fits in beautifully to what Seattle wants to do on offense. He blocks like a lineman, finds gaps in the opponent’s coverage with regularity and is a horrifying red zone threat. And, reportedly, he is once again healthy. But what he hasn’t proven is that he can stay that way, which is what makes the third receiver question a tough one to answer.
Greg Olsen is a big name but is 35 and has a lot of mileage on his body. Philip Dorsett is faster than the speed of light and has pedigree but has ultimately failed to make an impact with nothing but elite quarterbacks throwing to him. Josh Gordon was just signed even though he hasn’t been reinstated yet. The other names have easily as many questions. Russell Wilson will get the ball to these receivers; we can only hope that one of them can actually catch when it matters.
Biggest Storyline: How does this new look secondary stack up against the legion of boom of old? Seattle has decided to invest, heavily, into its defensive backfield. No more fliers or draft picks with potential. No, the back of Seattle’s defense will once again be patrolled by accomplished veterans, players who have hit high levels in this league. Quinton Dunbar was Pro Football Focus’ 5th rated corner. Shaquill Griffin was a pro-bowler last season. Quandre Diggs is an above average free safety and Jamal Adams was first team all-pro in 2019. I can tell you now that this unit does not stack up to the LOB, it’s near impossible to have three future hall of famers in their primes playing in the same unit. But this group will be good, very good in fact. Good enough that the comparisons will most likely be altogether unfair at times. But they will be made anyways, even if they play to a level where they are deserving of their own identity.
Biggest Weakness: The pass rush. This is the unfortunate result of Jadaveon Clowney deciding this past week to become a Tennessee Titan. It has left Seattle with no clear lead pass rusher. Having one makes it easy to build your rush around, as you can use a piece like Clowney to manipulate opposing offensive lines. Without one, the Seahawks are left with a group of competent veterans and youth to try and create pressure on the opposing quarterback.
Seattle’s best pass rushing group will be Bruce Irvin, Benson Mayowa, Jarran Reed and Rasheem Green. Irvin and Mayowa are fine to be penciled in for 5-7 sacks in any given season, but the other two have not shown an ability to consistently generate pressure. Reed produced a 10.5 sack season in 2018, but only five across his other three years as a Seahawk. If he is unable to find that form from a couple years ago, Seattle is in trouble as there is no other interior lineman who can chase quarterbacks on the roster. Rasheem Green put together a decent sophomore season in 2019 for the Seahawks, posting 4 sacks. But solid isn’t good enough, Seattle desperately needs him to take another step forward in his third season. He really is the only one that can ascend into a difference making player, but he is still so raw that it may be a year too early to rely on him from snap to snap. LJ Collier, Alton Robinson and Darrell Taylor will also figure into this mix, but all bring questions of their own.
There’s a chance that defensive coordinator Ken Norton can bring the best out of this group and make them better than the sum of their parts, but the current reality is that none have shown themselves to be at the level they need to be to make a real difference. Even the legion of boom would struggle if quarterbacks were given endless time to pick them apart in coverage.
X-factor: Seattle’s blitz percentage. In relation to Seattle’s greatest weakness, a possible solution could be to throw away previous tendencies and dust off some good ol’ fashioned blitz packages. According to Pro Football Reference, Seattle sent extra rushers on 26.9% of defensive plays during the 2019 season, good for about 17th in the league. Seattle has both the need and personnel to dial this up a bit more and could potentially cover up the lack of overall skill on their defensive line.
Successful team defenses like the Patriots, Jets, Buccaneers and Ravens all blitzed on 35%+ of their total snaps, bringing the heat aggressively to mask other deficiencies on that side of the ball. On the current Seattle roster is Bobby Wagner who has an elite pass rush grade according to Pro Football Focus, a trait shared by safety Jamal Adams. On top of that, both Marquise Blair and first-round pick Jordyn Brooks put up impressive pressure rates in college when also sent on blitzes.
The Seahawks pride themselves in their rigid defensive scheme, preferring to keep things simple to allow players to make plays on their own. But Seattle now has players on the back end that may actually be better at rushing the passer than anyone on the defensive line and would be criminal for the team not to implement its personnel in the most effective way. Instead of asking the defensive line to shoulder the load, they could be used to open holes for Bobby Wagner and Jamal Adams to come hurtling through gaps in opposing offensive lines. There aren’t many running backs or tight ends in the league that could slow those two down if they make it past the opposing offensive line.
Conclusion: There is a clear trend for the Seattle Seahawks this season, highly skilled position groups but are devastatingly weak in the trenches. Positions that look to be strengths for this team are Quarterback, Wide Receiver, Running Back, Tight End, Linebacker and Safety. The two that aren’t are the offensive and defensive lines. Projecting how this season will play out depends on how opposing teams are able to take advantage of Seattle’s weaknesses. Those who can’t (i.e. bad teams) will struggle to get to Russell Wilson and won’t be able to exploit the extra time given to quarterbacks as they try to cut-up Seattle’s defensive coverages. But teams that are good will be able to completely derail what the Seahawks want to do. Seattle has been unable to win the division in the past because Aaron Donald of the Rams, Chandler Jones of the Cardinals and the entire 49er defensive line have been able to absolutely demolish any offensive lineman put out to stop them. Seattle has been unable to advance in the playoffs because Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan were able to sit in a soft, protective circle and rip apart the Seahawks defensive backfield.
Will this year be different? The changes Seattle has made have more than likely made both those units softer rather than stronger. But maybe this will be the year where a veteran cast-off Seattle found on the bargain bin takes off and has a career year. Maybe one of the failed mid-round draft picks made by the Seattle front office will take a leap. Neither are likely, which makes it unlikely that Seattle will surpass the 49ers in the division and makes them vulnerable to the strengthened Rams and Cardinals. Russell Wilson still gives them a playoff floor, but I struggle to see them being a true contender for the Super Bowl.
Seattle’s End of Year Offensive Ranking: 5th
Seattle’s End of Year Defensive Ranking: 13th
Final Record: 10-6, loses in the divisional round