Saturday, August 31, 2013

Hawk Blogger 2013 Season Preview Part III: Grading the off-season

HAWK BLOGGER 2013 SEASON PREVIEW PART III: Grading The Off-Season


John Schneider has reached rock star status among Seahawks fans. Most teams use the late rounds of the draft to find depth and special teams players. Schneider has added seven players that have started games for the team in three years that were drafted in the fifth round or later. That does not include undrafted free agents like Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse. His free agent track record is not quite as sterling. Sidney Rice and Zach Miller have been important additions to the team, but their production has not quite matched their price tags. Again, though, it has been the less heralded parts of free agency that have yielded notable results. Players like Breno Giamcomini, Paul McQuistan, and Brandon Browner have turned into key starters on a Super Bowl contending team without getting a mention when originally signed. The 2012 off-season presented a new challenge for Schneider. He had already built a championship-level roster. Finding a way to add new talent, shore up key positions, and maintain cap flexibility to re-sign young stars down the line made for an obstacle course with plenty of pitfalls. The results will take a while to sort out, but there are some early indicators to sort through.

Here's a snippet of analysis I wrote prior to free agency beginning that ranked Seahawks off-season priorities. Things on that front played out largely as expected:

The Priority List

  1. Defensive Tackle (Starter, Run stuffer first, Pass rusher second)
  2. Defensive End - LEO (Starting capable, Pass rusher first, Capable of setting the edge vs run)
  3. Sign Kam Chancellor to an extension
  4. Back-Up QB
  5. Split End (6'0'+ with sub-4.55 speed, Potential to start by 2013 or 2014)
  6. Tight End (Elite receiver, blocking nice-to-have)
  7. Weakside Linebacker (Starting capable, Durability and run defense first, Pass rush nice-to-have)
  8. Offensive Tackle (More likely RT capable, but any young tackle with potential will do)
  9. Offensive Guard 
  10. Nickel Corner
  11. Kicker


2012 FREE AGENTS (Italics = re-signed)

DT Clinton McDonald
K Steven Hauschka
CB Will Blackmon*
WR Stephen Williams
DE Cliff Avril
DL Michael Bennett
DT Tony McDaniel
CB Antoine Winfield

*No longer on the roster

DRAFT PICKS


ROUNDPICKPLAYERPOSITION
230 (62)Michael, ChristineRB
(From Ravens)
325 (87)Hill, JordanDT
 
426 (123)Harper, ChrisWR
 
54 (137)Williams, JesseDT
(From Lions)
55 (138)Simon, TharoldCB
(From Raiders)
525 (158)Willson, LukeTE
 
626 (194)Ware, SpencerRB
 
714 (220)Seymour, RyanG
(From Saints)
725 (231)Powell, TyDE
 
735 (241)Smith, JaredDT
(Compensatory Selection)
736 (242)Bowie, MichaelOT
(Compensatory Selection)


Schneider added Jordan Hill, Jesse Williams, Tony McDaniel and Michael Bennett to overflow the defensive tackle spot. He brought in Cliff Avril, Bennett, Ty Powell, Benson Mayowa and eventually O'Brien Schofield at the defensive end spot. Kam Chancellor was extended. Tarvaris Jackson and Brady Quinn were brought in to compete for the back-up quarterback position. Chris Harper and Stephen Williams fit the profile of tall and fast receivers. Luke Willson and Darren Fells were the pass-catching tight ends. The way the team addressed weakside linebacker was one of their more creative maneuvers. Moving K.J Wright to WILL and Bruce Irvin to strongside linebacker meant they did not have to go hard after linebacker in the draft or free agency. Finding an offensive tackle and guard came through Schneider's typical late-round magic with Michael Bowie and undrafted Alvin Bailey. Antoine Winfield ended up as the cherry on top when he pushed to become a Seahawk.

OFF-SEASON GRADE: B
This was the flashiest off-season of the Pete Carroll and Schneider era. They made the NFL's biggest move in trading for Percy Harvin, and then followed it up with marquee names like Avril, Bennett and Winfield. Those moves put the hype machine in overdrive. Fast forward a few months and questions abound. Harvin is out most, if not all, of the season. Avril has barely practiced with a hamstring injury, and Winfield has been quiet enough through the pre-season to at least raise the possibility that he is not the same player.

The draft is what makes or breaks any off-season. A franchise that wants to be a consistent winner cannot afford to swing and miss in the draft. The 49ers had what appears to be a dead draft last year. Some are predicting the same for the Seahawks 2013 draft class. Harper does not appear likely to make the team. Jesse Williams is on injured reserve with a knee injury that may not ever get better. Tharold Simon is also out of the year with a stress fracture. Hill looks like a decent rotation player, but has limited upside and is also injured. The saving grace could be Christine Michael, Willson, and the undrafted class.

Michael has the look of not just a future starting tailback, but a top five back in the NFL. He is explosive and tough. Durability and fumbling are the only concerns. His talent is easy to project. Willson is quickly turning into a starting caliber tight end who is the most likely of the players taken to have a real impact this year. Bowie and Bailey are possible future starters at right tackle and guard. That will become crucial next year when Breno Giacomini becomes a free agent and Paul McQuistan moves on. John Lotulelei is a future starting linebacker, demonstrating a fearlessness and instincts that cannot be taught. He is still raw and overeager at times, but the potential for play-making is off-the-charts. Mayowa is on the roster bubble, but could develop into another diamond in the rough.

Schneider knocked it out of the park in free agency, both in terms of talent and cost. Even if Bennett, Winfield, McDaniel, Avril and Winfield flame out, the cost and years are far from restrictive. This off-season will be determined by the draft and Harvin. Adding Harvin was the boldest and costliest endeavor to this point in the Carroll and Schneider era. Their short history has indicated their best moves are not the flashy ones. Swinging and missing on Harvin would be the biggest mistake this front office has made. Luckily, there is plenty of reason to think things will still work out there with the youthful Harvin and the team is good enough to contend even if they do not. It is not out of the question that Stephen Williams will emerge as the most important receiver added to the roster. He could become a starter as early as 2014 depending on a variety of factors.

The team needs some rookies to emerge for this off-season to be successful. A few players have that potential, but the injury situation of Williams and lackluster play of Harper takes a lot of the top-end off this class. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Morning After: Seattle Coasts By Raiders 22-6

Logo Contest: The Morning After series runs everyday after a Seahawks game, and I'd like to add a logo to represent the series. The logo should incorporate both the name Hawk Blogger and The Morning After. Please send me your submissions at hawkblogger@gmail.com before the regular season begins. The winner will get their name and Twitter handle or website attributed on each Morning After article. Below is the leading candidate thus far, but I will consider new submissions until the season starts.

Logo by Kevin Gamache, Hammerhead 

It has been three years since I had the honor of covering a young man's attempt to realize his dream of making an NFL roster. Seeing what it meant for him was an experience that will stay with me as a fan, as a writer, as a father. Objectifying women is a topic well covered, but the age of fantasy football and win at all costs fandom introduces an objectification of these kids that robs us of the remarkable stories each one of them represents. Few of us experience working toward a goal our entire lives, having it at the center of everything we do, and then having to fight for the right to continue. The final realization of the dream is out of their hands. Twenty-two of the players that pulled on a Seahawks jersey last night will be told on Saturday that they are no longer part of the team. For some portion of that group, it will be the beginning of a tumultuous transition into life after football. Facing their family and friends will be difficult, but their heads should be held high. They were a Seahawk once, and they played a role in making this team better.

A good bet

My boss is a Raiders fan. We have a long history of harassing each other that dates back as far as him replacing my Seahawks license plate frame with a Raiders version. He called up earlier this week wanted to make a wager on the game. It was hard to take him seriously given the state of the Raiders, and I'm a bleeding heart when it comes to fans of terrible teams, so I gave him 21-points. Winner buys dinner. Chris Harper cost me dinner. I have been outspoken about the lack of potential demonstrated by Harper since early in camp. He has been less the player I expected, and at best, the eighth-best receiver in camp. Bryan Walters, who missed most of the pre-season due to injury was well beyond Harper in nearly every aspect of the position. Brett Swain, who was cut earlier in the week, demonstrated more heart and ability to convert big plays. Harper made a nice catch last night when he knew contact was coming, but dropped two passes that will haunt him. The first drop in the endzone was so egregious that the stadium fireworks operator mistakenly sent off the celebratory fireworks reserved for a touchdown. Receivers take longer to develop, and giving up on a fourth-round pick seems severe, but keeping Harper over players elsewhere on this roster that earned their position would fly in the face of the values Pete Carroll espouses. If Harper is going to realize his NFL dream, it either needs to be through the practice squad or on another team's roster.

Guys that helped themselves

There is a limit to how much a player can change their fate at this point in the pre-season. Still, on a roster this competitive, even a little extra push can be the difference in making the squad.

Ty Powell came back healthy after missing some time and looked solid. I was not big on Powell early in camp, but there is something intriguing there. He is built differently than all the other ends, and looks like a guy that could develop into a good two-way defender against the run and rushing the passer. He may get on the practice squad.

Luke Willson needed no help making the team, but he has solidified the #2 tight end role in a slight upset. His blocking is better than advertised, and he puts a legitimate second weapon on the field with Zach Miller. More on that in a bit.

It is laughable that some folks are leaving Allen Bradford off their roster projections. This guy may be the best back-up linebacker the franchise has ever had. 

I liked what I saw from Sealver Siliga. He was active and strong. The Raiders were forced to double him a few times. I want to go back and watch him again, but he appeared to help his case.

Winston Guy and Chris Maragos played well. Guy just might have earned a roster spot in the last two weeks, but it will be very close.

Jaye Howard had four punishing quarterback hits, a half-sack, and a fumble recovery. Great game.

Benson Mayowa has done everything within his power to make the squad. The point against Mayowa from a roster evaluation perspective is almost 100% of his production has come against reserves and players that will not be on NFL rosters this year. He will be on someone's 53.

Spencer Ware made a nice special teams tackle, which is key for him. 

Michael Brooks looks like a very promising tackle prospect. He would make the 2010 and 2011 Seahawks without question. There does not appear to be a place for him this year. It will be a surprise if Seattle can stow him on the practice squad.

Guys that did not

The entire offensive line struggled all night. Michael Bowie's injury sounds serious and could have a dramatic effect on the roster. The team may go down to nine lineman and put Bowie on IR if it is that serious. Run blocking and pass blocking was the worst it has been all pre-season in this game, but I will need to watch again to pick out individual players.

John Lotulelei had five tackles, but only two were solo, and he appeared to be a step slow by his standards. He was late to the ball, and missed a couple tackles in the hole. He still makes the team, but this was not an impressive night for him.

Worth noting

Seattle continued to use a fair number of h-back formations where the tight end moves to the back-field as a fullback. The only time a fullback was used was in short yardage situations. There is mounting evidence that the team plans to drastically reduce the role of the designated fullback in the offense. There was already read-option, three receiver, and two-tight end formations that resulted in single-back sets. The introduction of h-backs into the offense whittles the need for a fullback down that much more, and Michael Robinson only played 32% of the snaps last year. Willson's emergence gives Darrell Bevell plenty of incentive to increase two-tight end sets that allow for a variety of formations, including a tight end motioning into the backfield to block. Keep in mind, Marshawn Lynch had to learn to run behind a fullback when he arrived in Seattle. He preferred single back formations. All this adds up to a point where I will be surprised if Robinson is on the squad come Saturday. 

James Carpenter returned to the field and looked spry, if not particularly effective. He sprinted down the field on Christine Michael's 19-yard screen pass, and looked faster than he has ever looked in a Seattle uniform. It is good to have the big guy back.

Seattle had another eight penalties...

Closing Act

Seattle ends the pre-season undefeated again. Nobody should care. The team escaped with few major injuries, and has made clear progress on both sides of the ball. They are well-armed to enter the season that should be memorable, and could be historic. Game on.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Updated 53-Man Roster Projections - August 29th

A fair amount has changed since my last post on roster projections. A number of players have moved on, either via trade or cuts. The only one that qualified as a minor surprise was John Moffitt. There has been enough talk about waiving players I expect to make the team that I decided to sit down one more time and review things. As always, we start with the work of Eric Williams, from the Tacoma News Tribune, who has compiled the average number of players kept at each position over the past few years, and then I modify to my projections for 2013.



The injuries on the defensive line have thrown things into a bit of disarray. The team will likely need to keep one extra lineman given the state of Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril, Brandon Mebane, Tony McDaniel and Jordan Hill. They likely get that by pulling one from the offensive line. The team rarely goes with less than 10 offensive lineman, but their cross-training should come in handy now, and practice squad will make for a great place to stash a few qualified reserves should they need them later. I have reluctantly upped the running back number to five because I am increasingly wondering about Michael Robinson making the squad. If Robinson goes, I expect both Derrick Coleman and Spencer Ware to make the team for maximum options at fullback.


Click here for a better view

There are 48 players that I have listed as high confidence or locks, leaving five spots in the air. The bubble guys I am currently projecting to make the team are:

Spencer Ware
Derrick Coleman
Jaye Howard
Sealver Siliga
DeShawn Shead

That means these fellas do not make the squad: Robinson, Chris Harper, Rishaw Johnson, Benson Mayowa, Clinton McDonald, Heath Farwell, Chris Maragos, and Winston Guy.

Robinson has been discussed ad nauseum, but his recent health issues make the situation that much more challenging for the popular veteran. I do not see six receivers worth keeping on the roster. Bryan Walters is very close, but has not been healthy enough to prove it in games, and I don't believe a stellar performance versus Oakland would even be enough to cut another guy elsewhere on the roster. Jermaine Kearse can play all the receiver positions and Stephen Williams offers depth across the board as well.

Johnson is a certain practice squad player if he is not signed elsewhere, and is a perfect player to have available to call up to the active roster if needed.

Mayowa is the biggest heartbreak of the bunch as the team needs to shore up the rotation at defensive tackle more than at LEO. Keeping a guy like Siliga over Mayowa happens only because the team is thin at run-stuffing tackles. McDonald would be the guy, but his salary works against him here. If Clemons somehow is kept on PUP, than Mayowa makes it. Otherwise, they have Avril, Clemons, O'Brien Schofield, and Mike Morgan all at the LEO spot with Bruce Irvin coming back in four weeks. Avril and Clemons may not be ready week one, but the team can play Malcolm Smith at SAM and rotate Morgan and Schofield at LEO for one week. Defensive tackles wear down as the season progresses, so having a healthy rotation from the start is key.

There is another scenario where Mayowa sticks, and that is if the team decides to part ways with Howard. They have both Michael Bennett and Jordan Hill at the disruptive 3-tech spot ahead of Howard. Still, Howard projects to have a bigger role across the whole season than Mayowa will once the whole LEO group is back in action within a couple of weeks.

I'm not sure why people continue to pick Farwell to make the roster. He is listed as third on the depth chart at MIKE behind Bobby Wagner and Allen Bradford. He is great on special teams, but that is not enough of a reason to keep him and his $1.3M salary. John Lotulelei can be great on special teams and on the field and is locked up for years. Choosing Farwell over Lotulelei would be a major head-scratcher. Mike Morgan makes it over Farwell because he is also a great special teams player, can back up all three linebacker spots, plays LEO, and makes a lot less money. This position group should be straight-forward.

DeShawn Shead makes it over Chris Maragos if the team only goes with four safeties. I think they may steal from safety to help keep an extra running back or defensive lineman. If they choose to go with four running backs, safety is the most likely place they go back to five. Maragos probably comes back in that situation, but his salary works against him as well. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Hawk Blogger 2013 Seahawks Season Preview Part II: A Look Back At 2012

HAWK BLOGGER 2013 SEASON PREVIEW PART II: A Look Back At 2012

Before looking forward, it is useful to look back. The 2012 season was among the best in franchise history by any measure. It started off looking like it might turn into yet another Seattle 7-9 win year as they stumbled to 4-4 after eight games. A 7-1 sprint to the finish line made the year anything by mediocre. All cylinders were firing. All limits were removed.

One way of showing the improvement comes from the team strength rankings I compile each week across the NFL. Below is a comparison of the final 2011 team strength versus the final 2012 team strength:


This says that Seattle was the 3rd-most improved team in the NFL last season, after checking in as the 6th-most improved team the year prior. Pete Carroll and John Schneider are doing work. Nine of the 16 games played in 2013 will be against teams that improved last year. The Saints are near the bottom, but there is reason to think they could be among the most improved this year.

Scoring

No stat may better capture the transformation of this team than the most basic of them all, points for and point against. Seattle spent the first half of the season barely outscoring their opponents. They were scoring 17.5 ppg, which would have ranked 29th in the league if they had finished the year there. The last half of the year saw a dramatic shift. Seattle upped their scoring output to 34 ppg, basically twice what they were scoring in the first half, and they outscored opponents by a mind-boggling 20 ppg. They were outscoring teams by more points than they averaged in the first half of the season. The defense did not make as much of an improvement in absolute numbers, but holding teams to less than 14 ppg for eight games is nothing to scoff at. There is no way around it. These were juggernaut numbers.

Cutting the season by a half makes the transformation to a powerhouse appear drastic, as if a switch was flipped. That would not be an accurate portrayal.
The Seahawks were making a steady climb from the eighth game on, increasing their scoring from 17.5 to 25.5 in the third quarter of the season and then from 25.5 to a ludicrous 42.5 in the final quarter of the year. Their defense clamped down more and more. Teams were only scoring 10.8 ppg in the last quarter of the season. In an insane span of four games, the Seahawks outscored opponents by an average of more than 30 ppg.
How did they do it?

The underpinnings of offensive greatness



A few areas of growth were fundamental to the change in outcome for the Seahawks. They were having a tough time taking the ball off opponents through eight games, and really through the first twelve. Seattle was actually negative in turnover differential through the first eight games. They finished 6th in the NFL thanks to a drastic uptick in takeaways and a new-found stinginess on offense. Russell Wilson and the offense also discovered a recipe for explosive plays. They more than doubled their explosive play output from the first half of the year. These two areas combined to propel the team scoring higher and limit opponents. There was more.


The Seahawks offense saw steady and significant gains in 3rd down efficiency, most importantly, red zone efficiency. Unlike the other charts I have shown thus far, these numbers are cumulative instead of discrete for each quarter of the season. For example, Seattle went from a team that was scoring a touchdown on only 28% of their trips to the red zone to a team that ended the year scoring 57% of the time. That means they were well over 57% the last twelve games of the season. Combined, their 3rd down efficiency and red zone efficiency meant this was a team that sustained drives better and were lethal when they reached scoring position.

Rushing game grew more than passing game

One of the most common misconceptions is that Wilson passed the Seahawks offense to greatness. His growth as a quarterback was undoubtedly a major part of the team metamorphosis, but the running game was what truly took off.


By the end, the Seahawks were running for over 20 yards more per game than they were passing. Wilson was a big part of that as he ran for 74% of his rushing yards and all four of his rushing touchdowns in the seasons final eight games. Some theorize that the rushing totals were artificially inflated by playing with a lead. The Seahawks came out running from the opening whistle all season, and were rarely behind at any point in the season by more than one score.

SUMMARY STATS +/- 2012 (NFL RANK IN PARENTHESES)




Touching Greatness 

Seattle fans and players have spent an off-season acclimating to the reality that their customary position of no respect underdogs simply does not fit this team, and probably won't for the next decade with Wilson at the helm. They have ascended to legitimate contender, answering every question but the ultimate one in February.

Football seasons are like Seattle beers. No two are the same. This team has some new faces, and will face different teams and different challenges than the 2012 squad. Part three of the Hawk Blogger Seahawks Season Preview will dive into the new faces that will play a role in determining whether this team will be the one to become Super Bowl Champions.

Hawk Blogger Via The Seattle Times: Specialization and Versatility Gives Seattle An Edge


My second article for the Times is up. Check it out here.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Hawk Blogger 2013 Seahawks Season Preview Part I: The Franchise

HAWK BLOGGER 2013 SEASON PREVIEW PART I: The Franchise
Players are told to approach each game one play at a time and each season one game at a time. Coaches and general managers build up their rosters and teams one season at a time. Fans are different. Seahawks fans have been around long before any current coaches, players, general managers, or even owners, and will be here long after they are gone. Fans endure. Seahawks fans have endured playoff droughts that lasted more than 10 years. They have endured referees that feel so bad about the quality of their championship calls, that they feel compelled to come forward and apologize years later. Being a fan allows for a big picture perspective that nobody else can afford. History is always the best predictor of the future. Even while some teams have broken from their franchise histories in recent years (e.g., Patriots become champions, 49ers become a joke for a decade), much can be learned by exploring the patterns across generations. Before diving into the detail of this 38th season of Seahawks football, take a moment to see what history tells us about how things may unfold.

FRANCHISE QUARTERBACKS
It all starts with the most important position on the field, the quarterback. Russell Wilson becomes the seventh quarterback in Seahawks history to be the opening day starter for two years in a row. Matt Hasselbeck enjoyed the longest stint as opening day starter, notching 10 season kickoffs for the Seahawks. Dave Krieg and Jim Zorn each opened eight seasons as the starter. The franchise history at QB looks like this:

OPENING DAY STARTER AT QB
1976 - 1983: Jim Zorn
1984 - 1991: Dave Krieg
1992: Kelly Stouffer
1993 - 1996: Rick Mirer
1997 - 1998: Warren Moon*
1999 - 2000: Jon Kitna
2001 - 2010: Matt Hasselbeck*
2011: Tarvaris Jackson
2012 - 2013: Russell Wilson
*Indicates at least one opening day start was the result of another player's injury

That is a rather remarkable level of stability at the QB position, especially for a franchise that has yet to win a Super Bowl. Hasselbeck's tenure was not only the longest, but the most successful with six playoff appearances. All the other QB's combined had combined for five playoff appearances before Wilson made it six last year. Wilson became the third Seahawks quarterback to lead his team to the playoffs in his inaugural season as a starter. The other two were Krieg in 1984 and Jon Kitna in 1999. Wilson was the only rookie to accomplish the feat, and is just the third rookie to be the opening day starter (Zorn, Mirer).

Wilson was not just along for the ride on the Seahawks playoff run. He set the Seahawks record for passer rating. Hasselbeck owns five of the top ten seasons for a Seahawks quarterback when judged by rating. Note how steep the drop-off is overall. The following table shows the top-rated seasons for Seahawks quarterbacks with a minimum of 10 starts.


Games Passing
Rk Player Year Age GS Rate
1 Russell Wilson 2012 24 16 100.0
2 Matt Hasselbeck 2005 30 16 98.2
3 Matt Hasselbeck 2007 32 16 91.4
4 Dave Krieg 1986 28 14 91.0
5 Matt Hasselbeck 2003 28 16 88.8
6 Matt Hasselbeck 2002 27 10 87.8
7 Dave Krieg 1987 29 12 87.6
8 Warren Moon* 1997 41 14 83.7
9 Dave Krieg 1984 26 16 83.3
10 Matt Hasselbeck 2004 29 14 83.1
11 Jim Zorn 1981 28 13 82.4
12 Tarvaris Jackson 2011 28 14 79.2
13 Jon Kitna 1999 27 15 77.7
14 Jim Zorn 1979 26 16 77.7
15 Warren Moon* 1998 42 10 76.6
16 Dave Krieg 1985 27 16 76.2
17 Matt Hasselbeck 2006 31 12 76.0
18 Jon Kitna 2000 28 12 75.6
19 Matt Hasselbeck 2009 34 14 75.1
20 Dave Krieg 1989 31 14 74.8
21 Dave Krieg 1990 32 16 73.6
22 Matt Hasselbeck 2010 35 14 73.2
23 Jim Zorn 1980 27 16 72.3
24 Jim Zorn 1978 25 16 72.1
25 Matt Hasselbeck 2001 26 12 70.9
26 Rick Mirer 1994 24 13 70.2
27 Rick Mirer 1993 23 16 67.0
28 Rick Mirer 1995 25 13 63.7
29 Jim Zorn 1977 24 10 54.3
30 Jim Zorn 1976 23 14 49.5
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/25/2013.

There have only been four seasons above a rating of 90, and Wilson has one of them after his first year. The quarterback position may never have been positioned for more success than it appears to be right now.

TEAM STRENGTH
The 2012 Seahawks team was undoubtedly one of the best in franchise history. Quantifying how good requires a little extra digging. Readers that follow this blog throughout the season are familiar with the power rankings formula I have developed over time to compare teams each week of the season. Those not familiar with it, may want to check out the final rankings from last season that includes a primer. The basic gist is that it measures the efficiency of the offense and the defense of a team and combines to create a single score indicating the overall team strength. I went back through every season of Seahawks football and applied the formula to each team to see which one came out on top, and which was on bottom. The results were eye-opening.

The best and worst Seahawks teams
Last year's team was not only the best in franchise history by this measure, but by a decent margin. Most fans would point to the 2005 team as the best in franchise history due to their Super Bowl appearance, but they only place third here. Factors like quality of division and overall schedule come into play when only looking at results. Had the 2012 team played in the 2005 NFC West, there is little doubt they would have exited with home-field advantage as well, and likely made it to the Super Bowl as well. The 2012 team was the best combination of offense and defense this franchise has seen, and they should get better.

The trend from 2010 to 2012 is startling
The bottom five teams list was also surprising as it is hard to imagine any team was worse than the 1992 squad, but the reality is that the 1992 team had a top ten defense and the 1976 team had nothing worthy of being in the top ten. Pete Carroll's first season with the Seahawks produced one of the five worst teams in franchise history, and they managed to make the playoffs and win a game. The progression from 2010 to 2012 is truly stunning. Carroll inherited the seventh-worst team in franchise history (2009), and turned it into the best in only three seasons. Fans that made it through the 90s as Seahawks fans deserve a pat on the back. The team had a negative team strength score for nine straight seasons, starting in 1989.

There have been 15 positive team strength scores in the 37 seasons played thus far.
Worst-to-best teams in Seahawks franchise history


BATTLING MEDIOCRITY
Take a look at how often the franchise had churned out teams that won between seven and nine games.


Twenty of the thirty-seven seasons have resulted in victory totals between seven and nine. Only six times has a team won at least 10 games, and only twice has the team won fewer than four games. By those odds, the Seahawks have over a 54% chance of ending 2013 with between 7-9 victories. Getting a player like Wilson in the third round was key for this organization. Their chances of finishing with a record bad enough to draft a top-tier quarterback in the first round is incredibly low. Franchise history shows less than a 5% chance of the a Seattle squad winning fewer than four games. Carroll and GM John Schneider saw to a two-game improvement in the win total from 2009 to 2010, but no win total improvement in 2011, and then a four-game improvement last year.  Chuck Knox remains the franchise record-holder with a 5-game improvement in his first season as Head Coach. Mike Holmgren led a one-game improvement, and Dennis Erickson saw his team improve their previous season's win total by two.

DIVISION FINISH
Carroll and Schneider led the 2010 Seahawks to the franchise's seventh division title, and fifth in seven
CLICK TO ENLARGE
seasons. The move to the NFC West has treated the Seahawks well. After only winning one division title before 1999, and only two in all their years in the AFC West, the Seahawks have won five NFC West division titles in only eleven seasons. The 2012 team tied the 49ers for wins, but finished second in the division due to a San Francisco tie. Carroll will have his work cut out for him to match Holmgren's starting sprint with the Seahawks when he led the team to either a 1st or 2nd place finish in eight of his first nine seasons with the franchise. Carroll has managed to do that in two of his first three seasons.

OFFENSE
Scoring a lot of points has always been a key to producing winning Seattle football teams. The Seahawks
CLICK TO ENLARGE

averaged 25.7 points per game in the five seasons that produced at least 10 wins before 2012. They averaged 25.8 points per game in 2012 on their way to 11 wins. The Seahawks have steadily improved from 17.50 pts/game in 2009 to 19.38 in 2010 to 20.06 in 2011, and then popped last year. That is impressive, especially after team scoring dropped 30% from 2007 to 2009. Note in the graph to the left  that scoring has a rather strong correlation to team victories. The team's best scoring season happened during the 2005 Super Bowl run. Some franchises are built around defense. The Seahawks have historically relied much more on a powerful offense. Carroll came to Seattle with a defensive pedigree, but has not had as much success building winning offenses in the NFL. Last season was a huge step in the right direction.

DEFENSE
Carroll reputation on defense has proven to be accurate. He was a defensive player in college, coached

CLICK TO ENLARGE

defense in college and the NFL, and made most of his initial changes to scheme in Seattle on the defensive side of the ball. The results were mixed. Only three Seahawks teams have allowed more than the 25.4 points per game Seattle gave up in his first season, and none since 1980. Outside of 2003, when they gave up 20.4 points/game, all of the Seahawks 10+ win seasons have featured a defense that gives up 18 points or less. Seattle gave up 15.3 last year and won 11. Score 25+ and give up 18 or less. That's the winning combination for Seattle teams.

The franchise made major strides in 2012 as they dropped their opponent scoring by 4.4 points, after cutting it by 5.7 the year prior. That makes for a ten point improvement in just two seasons. They led the NFL in scoring defense last year. That was the first Seattle team to accomplish that. The 1982 and 1984 teams finished 5th in scoring defense. The 2005 Super Bowl team allowed 16.9 points per game and also ranked seventh. Scoring is increasing in the NFL overall, making the achievement all the more impressive.

Defense has not correlated as strongly to Seahawks victory totals over the years as offense. Carroll may be the most defensive-minded coach at the helm outside of Jim Mora Jr. It will be interesting to see how much he breaks the franchise from tradition. Many of the most memorable players in franchise history were defenders. Players like Jeff Bryant, Jacob Green, Kenny Easley, Cortez Kennedy, Sam Adams, Chad Brown, Rufus Porter, Lofa Tatupu, and many others. It is looking like a number of the current crop of Seahawks defenders will add their names to that list.

THE JOURNEY
Some will say that a team that played in 1984 has nothing to do with one that plays in 2011. There are different coaches, owners, players, rules, opponents and virtually nothing shared. One critical thing that is shared is fans. A coach may tell the media there is nothing special about playing a 10AM PST road game, but Seahawks fans know better. A general manager may say that the overall talent of a team is more important than any one individual player like a quarterback, but Seahawks fans know the difference between Kelly Stouffer and Dave Krieg. Even the NFL Defensive Player Of The Year could not stop a Stouffer/McGwire/Gelbaugh-led 1992 team from a massive free-fall. Carroll and Schneider inherited a franchise in its own free-fall. The offense was deteriorating and the numbers were collapsing. The same thing was happening on the defensive side of the ball. History shows that the Seahawks are championship contenders when they score over 25 points/game and allow less than 18/game. That represents a 13.5-point swing from what they inherited in 2009. They have now increased their offensive output by 8.3 ppg, and improved their defensive effectiveness by 9.1 ppg. That is a 17.4 ppg improvement, and adds plenty of credence to the Super Bowl whispers about this 2013 team. Carroll is also only the second coach in franchise history to win a road playoff game.

This franchise has evolved from rebuilding to contending in short order. We will explore the upcoming season more deeply in the six-part Hawk Blogger 2013 Season Preview.