Embarrassment. That’s all that can be said about a team that entered 2021 with championship aspirations that is now 4-8 after dropping close games to the corpse of Ben Roethlisberger, an uninspired New Orleans Saints team, and a so-so Washington Football Team. The Seahawks believed they could make strides on defense after an inconsistent 2020, believing the defensive upgrades from last year would continue to play well into 2021. They haven’t, instead they’ve been blitzed by just about every opposing offense they’ve played.
The offense hasn’t been much better, as offseason promises of a glitzy new offense headed by a new offensive coordinator feels like a pipe dream these days, as the team regularly stumbles at every critical juncture, even when Russell Wilson had ten working fingers. As a whole, this version of the Seahawks feels more in line with Pete’s past teams from the last couple of years, especially the 2020 version that got their doors blown off by every quarterback that registered a pulse for the first half of the season. Only Russell Wilson gave that team cover enough during their first eight games to figure out a way to staunch the bleeding. 2021 has gone wrong in just about every way, and as a result, it might cost Pete Carroll his job.
While most of the headlines have centered around Russell Wilson’s injury, the most glaring issue of this football team has been the defense. The strides this team made in the back half of 2020 on that side of the ball were again lost to start 2021. The unit that Pete Carroll cuts his teeth on is a shade of what made this team so great in the past.
More apparent than anything is the lack of star power on this unit, as Jon Schneider and Carroll have failed to grow suitable replacements for the stars of the previous era. On the defensive line, LJ Collier, Malik McDowell, and Frank Clark were the high picks that were supposed to be the bulk of the Seattle defensive line heading into the 2020s. Instead, Collier and McDowell were too injured to contribute early in their careers, with McDowell leaving the team after an ATV incident voided his contract. The Collier pick looks to be a little better, as he has struggled to be anything more than a deep reserve lineman three years into his career. Clark was the most successful of the bunch, notching 35 sacks in three seasons for the Seahawks. Seattle deemed him too expensive, though, trading him away for a second round pick to the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2019 offseason. While he hasn’t been the star that the Chiefs were hoping for, he was the one true homegrown success Seattle had on its defensive line. It left Seattle having to pin their hopes on inconsistent veterans and past-their-prime players like the Jadaveon Clowneys and Carlos Dunlaps of the world to rush the passer. As expected, it’s been a mixed bag and a severe hindrance to putting together a cohesive defense.
For years the linebacker corps is what kept the Seahawks running, as the front office made a conscious choice to center the defense around the elite talents of Bobby Wagner. A future hall of famer with an even-keeled disposition, he was the safe choice over the more volatile personalities that made up the Legion of Boom. It was the safe choice, especially considering that he had a pro-bowler to partner with in the defensive backfield in KJ Wright. As the two have advanced into the later stage of their careers, Seattle has drafted potential replacements. Wagner has kept his skills and remains a cornerstone of the team, but Wright was allowed to walk in 2020 free agency. Former first-rounder Jordyn Brooks and third-rounder Cody Barton have split time in replacement – to less than ideal results. Both have been exploited to an alarming degree in coverage, as well as failing to really make an impact against the ground game. While both are young and talented, their lack of impact is a significant concern early on. Jon Schneider spent real capital on this position when he didn’t have to, and the fact that neither looks like major contributors is rough.
Most concerning has been the decline in the secondary, Pete Carroll’s most coachable area of the field. After the Legion of Boom dropped like flies, Seattle’s attempt to replace them through the draft is the embodiment of Seattle’s decline. Over the course of five years (2015-2020), Seattle drafted nine defensive backs. The only one to make a pro bowl was Shaquill Griffin, with only two others being a starter for at least one full season (Tedric Thompson and Tre Flowers). That’s not good, especially for a team that had a reputation for developing such players. Guys like Lano Hill, Mike Tyson, and Tye Smith barely saw the field. The guys who did, Thompson and Flowers, got torched and were regular weak points during their time as starters. The one who did work out, Griffin, was good – but not deemed good enough to pay real money to. Most worryingly is the status of Marquise Blair, a 2019 second-round pick that’s struggled to stay on the field and is a major reason why Seattle felt the need to shell out two first-rounders in a trade for Jamal Adams. Ditto for Thompson, who Seattle brass hoped could fill the void Earl Thomas left. Instead, they were forced to trade a fifth-rounder for Quandre Diggs. Both Diggs and Adams are very good players, but both have hefty price tags and cost serious draft capital. And therein lies the rub; Seattle’s failure to develop difference-makers on the defensive side of the ball has forced them to look elsewhere, costing them precious resources and cap space.
This is a problem, considering the offense is deservedly taking up most of the available cap. Four of their top five earners are on the offensive side of the ball, with Russell Wilson alone taking up 17.4% of the space alone. And that is fine when the offense is dominating, but the Seahawks have hit a steep decline in offensive production in 2021 – all culminating in getting shut-out against Green Bay for the first time in the Russell Wilson era.
Three of Seattle’s losses have come with Geno Smith taking at least a significant portion of the snaps, making Seattle 3-5 with their top earner at the helm. While the Minnesota Vikings and Tennessee Titans losses are deservedly put on the defense, Russell’s complete disappearance after his return to injury portends an ugly finish to the season. The beautiful magic on offense that new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron’s hiring has promised lasted about six quarters of football, with the entire unit looking lost since losing against the Titans in week two. While the promise of a quick-strike offense sounded great in the offseason, the results have been ugly. Seattle has ranked last in time of possession across the league, averaging only 25:49 with the ball. The Seahawks are only converting 32.6% of third downs, good for last in the league. People thought a change in offensive philosophy was what the doctor had ordered for Russell Wilson, but he seems to be rejecting the prescription.
Seattle has a cadre of offensive weapons that should be the envy of the league, with a physical monster in DK Metcalf, a top safety blanket in Tyler Lockett, two sure-handed tight ends (Will Dissly, Gerald Everett), and two bruising running backs (Chris Carson, Alex Collins). Only Carson has missed significant time out of that group, meaning that Shane Waldron has had nearly his full toolbox to implement his offense. What has resulted was a your turn/my turn disappearing act from Metcalf and Lockett – neither has been able to garner more than 50 yards when the other tops 100. While Metcalf has been a bit drop happy at times this season, there should be no excuse why this team can’t get their two star wideouts going at the same time. Both can operate in all three areas of the field, being able to both run deep while doubling as safety valves.
Not helping matters is that the offensive line still performs like a below-average unit, leaking pressure and struggles to open holes consistently for the running backs. The offseason acquisition of Gabe Jackson has gone OK, grading out as an above-average player on the interior according to Pro Football Focus. More concerningly has been the play of Left Tackle Duane Brown and Right Guard Damian Lewis, both who have failed to perform to the levels they displayed last season. While Brown’s issues could be explained away by an age-related decline (giving up eight sacks already this season), Lewis doesn’t have that excuse. He looked to be a rare win for the Schneider front office on the offensive line, specifically operating as a real mauler in the running game. While his pass blocking looked a bit slipshod, it could be reasonably expected that a positive step could come with another year of seasoning. That step-up hasn’t happened, and his run blocking has taken a sharp decline, according to PFF. He was the only long-term answer among linemen, like every other player on the line is older or replacement-level. The regression of the Seahawks’ better players in this unit once again gives Seattle a real liability to do anything positive on offense and once again highlights the current regime’s ineptitude in putting together a solution.
Change is coming. Reports recently have surfaced noting that interim owner Jody Allen is not happy with how things have gone this season, and the recent firing of Portland Trailblazer’s GM Neil Olshey (a team also owned by Allen) shows that she isn’t afraid to make changes. Now sitting at 4-8, it would take an incredible hot streak to reach above .500. Even then, the current regime in Seattle and the degradation of the on-field product since 2014 leads one to believe that even ending the season at 9-8 may not be enough to save Pete Carroll.
This is harsh, but with the offseason mutterings that star quarterback Russell Wilson may want to leave – the promise of a new coaching hire may be all the organization has left to convince him to stay in the Northwest. He has stated he wants more control in decision making; letting him help with a coaching search is one of the strongest moves that a franchise has to give power to a player.
If that is not enough, and Wilson decides to leave, Allen will have to decide if General Manager Jon Schneider deserves to oversee a rebuild in Seattle. As we have already discussed, his spotty draft record the last five seasons should put that into doubt. If Allen agrees, he should then be let go, and the team should wait for a new head decision-maker to come in to deal Wilson. Rebuilding a team is tough and is tougher when there are too many voices in places of power.
This last stretch run may be the last time the Seahawks seem familiar to us for a long time… enjoy it while you can. There clearly has not been enough done by those in charge of the Seahawks to keep them Super Bowl relevant. Instead, a cavalcade of small mistakes and coaching failures have led them to what should be the first losing season in Seattle in nearly a decade. The consequences of such will reverberate in the franchise for years to come.