Even as the team struggles on the field to close out the 2022 season, there are plenty of reasons for Seattle Seahawks fans to be thankful this year.
If I had told you before the season the Seahawks would have a top-five pick and a mid-first-round draft before the start of the season, most would have guessed it would have been because the Seahawks were terrible and the Denver Broncos slightly underperformed expectations.
Instead, it’s the Seahawks who are still sniffing around the edges of the playoffs while the Broncos suffered a complete collapse on all fronts.
The team faced plenty of questions coming into this season when it decided to trust a pile of rookies on the offensive line and secondary, had somewhat inexplicably used a second-round pick on a running back, and were using a former draft bust turned career backup to be there starting quarterback.
While those decisions may not result in a playoff appearance this year, they have almost all panned out and have resulted in the team playing far better than expected. Here are three reasons to be optimistic as the team comes down the home stretch and three reasons there could be trouble ahead.
The good: Tariq Woolen will likely become the team’s next great star in the secondary. After being given a starting cornerback role, he has done nothing but excels. He is a potential rookie of the year after being picked in the fifth round, as he leads the league in interceptions. His ballhawk ways are already making a name for him around the league, and he led NFC cornerbacks in Pro Bowl voting. He’s a big reason the Seahawks’ pass defense has solidified after some early season struggles, ranking in the middle of the pack in NFL pass defense.
The bad: Woolen’s emergence in the secondary also makes clear where the Seahawks need to focus on improving their defensive unit this offseason. While the pass defense has solidified, the run defense has been abysmal. Only the one-win Houston Texans have a worse rushing defense than the Seahawks. Those struggles were on full display last Thursday against the San Francisco 49ers as the 49ers running attack made things significantly easier on third-string quarterback Brock Purdy to find open looks in the Seahawks’ secondary. Expect the Seahawks to address the defensive front with at least one of their two first-round picks this year because the unit desperately needs the help.
The Good: Pete Carroll’s decision to go with Smith as the starter certainly raised some eyebrows heading into the season. After flaming out as a high draft pick of the New York Jets, Smith served as Russel Wilson’s backup. While he had a few chances to start last season when Wilson was hurt, he was handed the starting job with high expectations. Instead, he spent much of the season in the MVP conversation. He has the fifth-highest quarterback rating in the league and has shown a deft touch in making throws into traffic and places where only his receivers can get to it. No matter how the last few games of the season play out, he’s probably in line for a decent payday this offseason, be it from the Seahawks or somebody else.
The bad: Just as the team has struggled, losing four of its last five, some of the shine has come off Smith’s feel-good story so far. Over the last five weeks, he has thrown half his interceptions on the season and posted three of his lowest five games by quarterback rating on the season. At 32 years old, it’s difficult to tell if this year is Smith coming into his own and he will be a perfectly serviceable quarterback for years to come or if teams are already starting to adjust to him now that they have seen him on the field for extended periods for the first time in years. No matter how teams feel about that, the quarterback is always a position of need, and Smith figures to be in line for a decent contract this season if he hits free agency. The Seahawks have a few options: gamble and give him a long-term deal, let him walk and bring in a new face through the draft or free agency, or find a middle ground by applying the franchise tag to him while exploring future options in the draft.
The Running Game
The good: Just as the decision to elevate Smith to starting quarterback raised eyebrows, so did the decision to take running back Kenneth Walker III from Michigan in the second round of the draft. The team had plenty of needs and chose a running back. Once again, the decision paid off in spades. Projected starter Rashad Penny went down to a season injury early in the season, and Walker quickly made the starting lineup. He was on a potential offensive rookie of the year pace before the Seahawks’ recent skid. Over the last five games, one of which he missed with an injury, he’s averaged just over 27 yards a game. In weeks 4-8, after he was moved into the starting lineup, he averaged over 102 yards per game. When healthy, Walker has been a force and has appeared to be the future of the position for the Seahawks in a position where they could undoubtedly use stability.
The bad: The Seahawks have cycled through running backs since the end of the Marshawn Lynch era. The way Carrol has typically designed his offense makes big demands of the running back to shorten the field on third down, to pass block, and also set up play actions and bootlegs that make it go. When healthy, Walker was a big part of that, and the difference he makes has been apparent when he has either not been 100% or out with injury. Seahawks fans should hope he can stay healthy so the offense can continue to grow, no matter who is under center.
No matter what happens in the season’s final weeks, the Seahawks have shown tremendous growth in many areas, but they also have some obvious areas to improve as they try to complete the second quick reboot of the Pete Carrol-John Schneider era. Given how well things turned out the last time the Seahawks made a one-year pivot, Seahawks fans should have faith that the team is on track for a quick turnaround, no matter how the rest of this season plays out.