Saturday, August 30, 2014

HAWK BLOGGER 2014 SEASON PREVIEW PART IV: Breaking Down The Offense

Photo by Jeff Marsh & the Seattle Seahawks

Scoring 43 points in a Super Bowl usually shines a light on a team's offense.  Having stars like Marshawn Lynch, Russell Wilson and Percy Harvin grants most teams the spotlight and respect. Somehow, despite their pedigree, the Seahawks offense remains one of the league's best kept secrets. Many laud the defense, but see the offense as along for the ride. This was a team that was scoring 28+ points per game and had a quarterback with a rating near 110.0 before a late-season slump. Even then, they finished 8th in the NFL in scoring, tied with the almighty Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy and the Green Bay Packers, and more than Drew Brees and the Saints. People know the Lions to be an explosive offense, but they scored less than Seattle and had a lower percentage of explosive pass plays (12.4% vs 9.7%). People look at the Seahawks defense and see Kate Upton, but when they look at the offense, it's as if they have the Shallow Hal syndrome. The league will soon be forced to recognize what could be the most efficient offense in the league.



Offense – Starters

Russell Wilson+ – QB
Marshawn Lynch+ – RB
Derrick Coleman  – FB
Percy Harvin* – WR
Doug Baldwin* – WR
Jermaine Kearse*  WR
Zach Miller  TE
Luke Willson  TE
Justin Britt* – RT
J.R. Sweezy – RG
Max Unger+ – C
James Carpenter – LG
Russell Okung – LT
* New Starter or New Position
+ Pro Bowl
++ All-Pro


Offense – Running Game

Seattle went on their championship run last year despite a drop-off in their running game. A team that was built to set the tone with a reliable rushing attack struggled to find consistent footing, and ended up with ~30 fewer yards per game and a half-yard less per carry than in 2012. Much of this was due to an offensive line that barely managed to field the same lineup two games in a row all year. That group appears poised for a large step forward, and that is without factoring in the impact of a guy like Percy Harvin, who could net 50 yards rushing on two or three carries. Seattle will look to stretch defenses horizontally with Harvin's speed along with Wilson's instincts, and punish them physically up the middle. Body blow. Body blow. Haymaker. 


Offense – Passing Game

If the offense in general operates incognito, the passing game is in witness protection. People know the names Golden Tate and Sidney Rice and assume their absences will have a negative impact. They see a short Doug Baldwin, an anonymous Jermaine Kearse, and think "average at best." Wilson can only improve in his third season anticipating defenses and distributing the ball to open players. Wilson was already the deadliest deep thrower in football a season ago. And now we will likely have more high-percentage throws to guys like Harvin that could go for long gains. 

Offense – Quarterback

Wilson became the 3rd-youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl in his second season. He recorded his second straight 100+ rating season. Consider that Brett Favre had only one such year, and Matt Ryan has not yet had his first. Wilson is irrepressible with the game on the line, and is almost gravitationally pulled toward points. Believe it or not, a guy that made the Pro Bowl as a rookie and won a ring in his second year may be headed toward his most memorable season so far. He has a better line, better weapons and greater command.

Offense – Offensive Line

The guard play for the Seahawks in 2013 was below league average. One of the hypotheses about how a short quarterback like Wilson was that he would required excellent guard play to keep the interior of the pocket clean so he could see. That was how the Saints built their line for Brees. Wilson decided to excel with inferior guard play, but he may get to see how the other side lives this year as J.R. Sweezy and James Carpenter look like completely different players than a year ago. Sweezy looks headed toward a Pro Bowl-caliber season. Carpenter has always had talent, but was rarely in shape to realize it. Now, he is. Max Unger played much of last season hurt, and looks back to his All-Pro self. And Russell Okung has had a couple weeks to work back into form. Each of those four players has Pro Bowl potential this year. Wilson has not thrown behind a line like that and Lynch has not run behind one. Justin Britt steps in as a rookie and will struggle in pass protection. He should improve as time goes on, and can get some help from Zach Miller. The team chose not to keep veteran Eric Winston as insurance, and will instead go with Alvin Bailey as the backup at both LT and RT, with Gary Gilliam coming up behind him.

Okung did not play to his standards since he has come back, and there are always injury concerns with him, Unger and Carpenter. This unit can be as bad, maybe even worse, than last year's squad if they have the same level of injury issues. Should this group play to their potential, this offense will have no weaknesses.


Offense – Backfield

Lynch got some attention for a holdout ahead of what most believe is his final year in Seattle. He is back, and looks like the Marshawn everyone has come to know and love. There is no reason to think he won't put up another 1200+ yards and 10+ touchdowns. The team clearly wants to involve Robert Turbin and Christine Michael more, and their carries could increase as the season wears on. Lynch never clicked with fullback Derrick Coleman last year, so it will be important to see some chemistry and trust develop there.


Offense – Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

It was not that long ago that Terrell Owens was the big story in the Seahawks training camp. John Schneider has turned over the roster at receiver the last two seasons by adding Harvin, Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood. Doug Baldwin has earned a chance to show his abilities on the outside, and has looked dynamic throughout training camp. Kearse has proven time and again that he can make the play when it matters. These receivers are running free right now, and it remains to be seen whether there is a secondary that can match up with them. Seahawks fans have not even seen Norwood yet, who may be the fourth-best receiver on the roster. Richardson will probably fill the Kearse role of last year and have 20-25 catches by years end. Ricardo Lockette has become a special teams standout and has refined his receiving skills.

Miller is still the mainstay at tight end, but Willson could have a breakout year. His speed up the seam has already shown up against the likes of Patrick Willis. Most linebackers cannot keep up with him, and the safeties have to keep their eyes on Harvin and Lynch. Defensive coordinators will spend time trying to take away five other players before worrying about Willson. That might change by mid-season.


Offense – Overall 2014 Outlook

Carroll has built a team that can beat you in any phase of the game, and now he has built an offense that can make a defense attempt to cover every blade of grass horizontally and vertically across the field. They can beat you with power. They can beat you with speed. They can throw long, throw short, throw wide, throw middle. Their main weakness had been shoddy pass protection. If they can finish in the top half of the league in sacks allowed, they will score over 30 points per game.

Consider that dating back to the Super Bowl and and during preseason, this offense has punted just once in their last 21 possessions. They have scored 13 touchdowns during that time. Sure, preseason games do not count, but the fact is, we have not yet seen a defense that is capable of stopping this offense with Harvin on the field. That defense may not exist. Of course, counting on Harvin to be there all year is not a good historical bet. The offensive line is far more critical, though, than Harvin. If they can be steady and good, Lynch, Wilson, Baldwin, Kearse, the young receivers and Willson will score plenty. Michael is the powerball in this lottery. Nobody is expecting heavy reliance on him yet, but any set that features him, Harvin, Willson and Richardson is going to test the speed of whatever defense is across from them.

Heading into the season, my confidence is higher in the offense than the defense. The defense may be Kate Upton, but this offense is Brooklyn Decker. Or, for the ladies out there, maybe Brad Pitt and George Clooney? Teams will enter games focused on how to beat the Seahawks defense. The will exit wondering how to stop the offense. This should be the best offense the Seahawks franchise has ever seen. The 2005 team scored 28.3 points per game. That is a minimum bar. Watch this team score over 30 points per game, and listen for that stunned silence when all the pundits realize they have once again overlooked Seattle's dominant talent.
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