Seattle heads into the bye week with a 6-4 record. It is a record that elicits a collective shoulder shrug from most. Not exactly great, but better than what many predicted. I had Seattle down for 7-3 at this point, but was only correct in predicting four of the ten games. I flipped a coin to pick whether the team would beat the Packers or the Patriots because I knew they would win one of those. Low and behold, they won both. The road game in Carolina looked dangerous from the get-go, and turned out to be the only road win thus far. Part of what we love in sports, especially the NFL, is how impossibly unpredictable each season, each game, each play is. Seattle’s season has been no different. Not everything has been unpredictable, though, and we have learned some things that should remain constant for years to come.
Seattle Has A Franchise QB
People are saying this, without saying it right now. I’m saying it. Got that? Russell Wilson is going to be the Seahawks quarterback as long as Pete Carroll is coaching. If I had to bet, Wilson will be quarterbacking in Seattle after Carroll moves on. Only ten rookie quarterbacks in the history of pro football have finished with a passer rating over 80.0. Only eight of those quarterbacks played in the NFL. Only one NFL rookie has ever finished with a passer rating over 90.0 (Ben Roethlisberger). Wilson stands at 90.5. The most touchdowns ever thrown by a rookie quarterback in the NFL was 26, by Peyton Manning. Wilson is on pace for 24. Only two players have ever completed more than 62% of their passes as rookies. Wilson is at 62.1%. He’s completing 67.9% in his last three games. This is a player who was struggling so mightily on 3rd downs early in the season that his passer rating was 45.5 in those situations after the Rams game. He has raised that to 80.3 only six games later (which means he is performing well above that number during that time). His red zone passer rating is 104.2. Take a look at how that compares to some of the greats in the game today:
Aaron Rodger: 117.0
Drew Brees: 106.4
Russell Wilson: 104.2
Tom Brady: 102.9
Peyton Manning: 102.6
Matt Ryan: 98.8
Wilson stood with a 67.2 rating in the red zone after the Rams game. Say what you will about being aided by a strong running game and a great defense. Say what you want about simplified game plans and shorter throws. The kid is getting it done, and he not the first rookie quarterback to play with those benefits. Ben Roethlisberger did it. Mark Sanchez did it. Joe Flacco did it. Tom Brady did it. It is not reserved for rookies, either. Alex Smith did it last year, and still does this year. There are plenty of players the Seahawks could drop into their quarterback position who would not be able to reproduce Wilson’s numbers. A handful would do better. The vast majority would do worse.
Part of the simpatico that Carroll has found with Wilson is a kindred spirit in constant will to improve and utmost respect for ball security. Wilson will throw more interceptions this year, but I’d be shocked if he ever has another season total that approaches this one, even while his pass attempts go up in the coming years. Brady has thrown three interceptions all year (two came from Seattle). Wilson is going to be that kind of player when it comes to smart throws.
What does all this mean? Besides solidifying the most important position on the field, it also means the team can use the next couple of off-seasons as bonus rounds. There will be no need to mortgage their future to find a franchise quarterback. They have one. They can spend their resources creating piles and piles of talent at whichever positions they choose, knowing the team will be competitive no matter who they add via the draft or free agency. Speaking of that…
I have spent a fair amount of time shouting down the talk of wide receivers and tight ends holding Wilson back this year. He was not good enough to be held back early in the season. In fact, he was holding the receivers and tight ends back. As he grows and starts to reach his potential, the front office will need to find out what kind of weapons to place around him. Sidney Rice is doing a lot with limited opportunities. He is young, and will be around for a while. Golden Tate is having a breakout year, and works well with Wilson. He will definitely be around next year, but then becomes a free agent in 2014. I don’t know that the team believes he can be a starting split end in the long run, and he is not cut out to be a slot receiver. He makes plays on the edge, and struggles more against zone coverage. Expect the team to bring one or two receivers next season to challenge for that split end spot. They will likely be rookies, and could be a first-round pick if there is someone John Schneider really likes.
Doug Baldwin has battled injuries all year, and has not completely connected with Wilson yet. I expect he and Wilson will spend the Summer together working everyday. They are both grinders, and the team will be all the better for it next season in what will be Baldwin’s final year before free agency. He is a more likely player to be back than Tate because Baldwin is uniquely suited for the role the team asks him to fill. Tate nearly lost his job to Braylon Edwards two games ago, so this front office will definitely bring in competition there, and likely someone with height and speed.
Zach Miller has had a great season. There are not enough passes being thrown to give him gaudy numbers, but he’s doing a great job with his opportunities. The team would be happy to bring in a pass-catching tight end if they find one in free agency or the draft that they love. That player would be paired with Miller, not replace him.
Leon Washington is almost certainly playing his final season with the Seahawks. What would it look like to replace him with a blazing fast back that could get five snaps a game? I think it would look pretty darn cool.
2013 Offense = 2012 Defense
It may be a bit of a stretch to say the offense is a year behind the defense. After all, the defense featured three Pro Bowl players last season, and the offense is not likely to get three this year. However, the 2013 offense should be well positioned to challenge for the Top 10 in points scored and yards per play. Averaging 25 points per game is not out of the question. They are averaging nearly 20 per game this season, and their trajectory should put them safely north of that by the time the season ends. An offense that averages in the mid-20s paired with a defense that holds teams under 17 points/game is a championship contender. Only six teams sport an average scoring margin North of 8 points/game this season. They are: Chicago, Houston, New England, San Francisco, Denver, and Atlanta.
All this talk of next year does not mean I have given up on anything this season. The future is just always going to fascinate me.
Richard Sherman May Have MVP Potential
There is one player in the NFL that has at least 3 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles and 1.0 sack. He plays cornerback for your Seattle Seahawks, and his name is Richard Sherman. When Charles Woodson won the defensive player of the year award in 2009, he finished with 4 forced fumbles, 9 interceptions, 2.0 sacks, 18 passes defensed and 74 tackles. Sherman stands at 4 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, 1.0 sack, 14 passes defensed and 34 tackles through 10 games. It won’t happen this year, but this guy could end up as the best player at his position in the NFL. He may become more important to that secondary than Earl Thomas, which I never thought I would write. Oh, and he has only started 20 games. He will get better. Much better.
Brandon Browner Is Improved
Browner made the Pro Bowl last season. He may actually be better this year, and not make the roster. He is seeing far fewer balls thrown his way, but has still managed 3 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles. The guy hits like like the entire league left him undrafted and made him play in the CFL. Oh, that’s right. They did. I have been among Browner’s staunchest supporters, and I was not sure he would be part of the long-term answer at corner. I am now. Or, at least, I think he is talented enough to be part of that picture. He will be a free agent in 2014, so we will see where he falls in the overall priorities.
Best Resume In The NFL
Seattle has beat the Packers, Cowboys, Vikings and Patriots. Beating the Bears and the 49ers would have to give them the most impressive collection of wins against premiere teams in the NFL. The 49ers have beat the Packers, Lions, and Seahawks. The Bears have beaten the Cowboys, Lions, and I guess you could throw the Colts in as a nice win. The Falcons have beaten the Broncos, Cowboys, and maybe the Chargers are worth mentioning. The Packers have beaten the Bears, Texans, and the Saints. The Giants have beaten the Cowboys, 49ers, and Buccaneers. Seahawks fans have become so accustomed to measuring themselves against how the team competes against the top teams in the league. This team is already shoulder-to-shoulder with those teams. Nobody can question the quality of the teams Seattle has beat this year.
Cooking The Books
I can’t prove it, but I have reason to think the Seahawks are doctoring the false start penalty numbers at CenturyLink. They show them on the board before each game, and have shown them for years (at least since 2005). Seattle had been far and away the leader in home false start penalties for opponents, but the gap has closed each year to the point where Seattle was only one penalty ahead of Minnesota (I believe it was Minnesota, but they flash it up quickly). Sunday’s game against the Jets may have been the first all year with multiple opponent false starts this season. I remember reading someone a year or so back that other stadiums were showing false start tallies that had their team leading the NFL. As someone who plays with stats all the time, I know they can be manipulated. The Vikings may only show the last year, where their stadium has outperformed others. Seattle will always include 2005, since that was a year they blew away the other stadiums. Whatever the case, Seattle’s home-field advantage, in terms of penalties, is melting away. The fans need to take some pride in that, and turn things around. The stadium should show the truth, even if we slip into second place. Especially if we slip into second place.
Seattle got three takeaways this Sunday for the first time all season. They have been well off their pace from last season, when they averaged close to 2.0 per game. They had been tracking to around half that total. The team plays the Dolphins, Bears, Cardinals and Bills over the next four weeks. The team needs to average at least 2.0 turnovers per game for that stretch, and it would not shock me if they went on a a little streak and got up near 3.0. Turnovers are a funny thing in that they tend to come in bunches. Just ask the Bears and the 2011 49ers. On a side note, the Patriots are actually ahead of the 49ers turnover margin pace from last season. Seattle has zero defensive touchdowns all year. It is time for that to change.
I could go on, but life beckons. Two weeks of over-analysis is coming your way. At least that is predictable.