There are all sorts of football seasons. Some are hopeless from the start. Others veer off course part way through. The best, build to a crescendo and then resolve with clarity and validation that no team is mightier. Seasons are not much different than individual plays, or quarters, or games. One follows another and then another until a story begins to arc. Seattle had seasons in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 that stitched together a crystal clear narrative. The Seahawks were the team to beat in the NFL. They were the next dynasty. Young, brash, talented, and blessed with an unbendable will, they were the envy of the league. Even a 2015 season that ended with near humiliation, had an encouraging story to tell if you followed the arc of that individual season. This season ends differently. Seattle is not the bully on the block any longer, and there are fewer reasons to expect the improvement required to reach the peak again.
The Falcons team that beat the Seahawks yesterday would likely beat them 70 out of 100 games with the same players and the same venue. Their offense was by far the best unit on the field in that game. Russell Wilson was quoted as saying this felt exactly like the 2012 loss in Atlanta, but that feeling betrays the truth. The 2012 Seahawks needed more pass rushers. Period. They had everything else they needed. This team needs their offensive line to morph from among the worst in football to at least average. They need their quarterback to show the ability to consistently take over games and make the throws needed to win. They need a running back who can stay healthy for more than a few games, and cornerbacks with upside. It may be time for new voices on the coaching staff, with new ideas, and new perspectives. It would be unwise to see the injuries suffered by Wilson, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, and Michael Bennett as poor fortune. The core is getting older, and injuries will be more common.
It is not all doom and gloom. Seattle should be a playoff team for the next decade as Wilson continues to play. This is not time to abandon ship and get on the lifeboats. The boat took on water this year, but this is still a heavily armed warship. John Schneider and Pete Carroll kept 15 rookies on the roster. They lowered their average age significantly in the hope that this new generation of Seahawks could grow around the veteran core like trees around a Mayan temple. Those youngsters had too great a burden to bear, at least along the offensive line. The ones who were scattered about the roster with supporting roles like Tanner McEvoy, Alex Collins, Nick Vannett, and Jarran Reed were able to have their ups and downs in relative obscurity. George Fant, Mark Glowinski, and Germain Ifedi were asked to learn how to play in this league while being the only things standing in the way of their quarterback and Aaron Donald, Calais Campbell, and Chandler Jones. Judge their play harshly if you must, but the plan is what deserves the most scrutiny.
Two straight years the Seahawks have cobbled together an offensive line. Two straight years it was their undoing. The hope in the front office has to be that they will grow into a reliable and affordable unit. It was a sensible idea from a cap management standpoint, but the lack of veteran depth to fall back on if things went catastrophic was unnecessarily brazen.
The line was not the biggest reason the Falcons beat the Seahawks in this particular game, but they are definitely the reason this game was played in Atlanta and not Seattle.
What cost Seattle a chance to win this game was a secondary who could not compete with Matt Ryan and that offense. No player was left unscathed. It would be easy to point the finger at the pass rush not getting home, but Ryan was finding players running free quicker than rushers could get there. Richard Sherman has work to do to reestablish himself as the league’s best corner. DeShawn Shead may be recovering from a torn ACL next year, and Jeremy Lane was too often the victim the big play. Seattle has depth issues at safety. Steve Terrell is a fine backup, but his challenges tackling in the open field make him a liability as a starter.
Thomas made it clear we should never assume these players are going to want to be around just because their bodies allow them to be. Both starting safeties could play five more years or just one. The cupboard must be restocked.
Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are both 31 years old. They should remain productive for the next couple of years, but it is a risk to assume they will. Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise have shown so much promise, but neither has managed to play more than a few games in a row. So what can Seahawks fans count on?
The linebackers, are youthful and elite, needing just a complementary player to fill in at SAM. The receivers, led by Doug Baldwin and what will be a recovering Tyler Lockett, are strong. Paul Richardson and McEvoy represent players with untapped potential. The run defense should remain stout with Reed and Ahtyba Rubin. Then there is Wilson.
The easy thing would be to point out the throws he missed in this game, including two that likely were touchdowns. Harder is to assess how much of his challenges this year were injury versus porous line play versus lack of maturation of his play. He cannot control the play of the line, but I certainly hope to hear that he is redoubling his efforts this offseason to be in peak physical condition and master the art of the position. Whether you are the most ardent Wilson supporter or the most cynical detractor, we can all agree he can be better than the player we saw this season. This team needs him to be better than the player we saw this season.
One of the more disconcerting aspects of this loss was how bewildered Carroll was in his postgame press conference. This result completely blindsided him. He came into this game incredibly confident in his team’s preparation and mindset. They showed why early with a statement drive to open the game. They were a special teams penalty away from possibly going up 17-7 in the game. The penalty was legit, though, and the team soon found itself behind 12-10 after a safety and a field goal. An injury to Ifedi contributed to the offense misfiring. This was not an “if only” game. The Falcons offense showed themselves to be far more capable of sustaining excellence than either side of the football for Seattle.
Decisions about whether the issues are with coaches or personnel are always tough. Do you look at that team out there and say they should be a lot better than the way they played yesterday and this year? Honestly, the answer is mixed for me. The defense has so many elite talents, it feels like it should be more dominant than it was over the second half of the season. Maybe that is Kris Richard, but maybe it was the marathon games the faulty offense forced them to play that eventually took their toll. Darrell Bevell is a powderkeg when brought up to Seahawks fans. Then again, this offense might have been far higher scoring if they had an adequate line. It is unlikely Carroll will make any changes to his staff, but I hope he does some thorough reflection on what has transpired the past two seasons to find every possible way this team can improve.
One area of focus should rule them all. This team is not the same without a consistent rushing attack. When present, it sets up the play-action passes, limits opponent pass rush, keeps the defense fresher with less time on the field, and connects with the physical identity Carroll brought with him. Whatever must be done to regain that aspect of their game should be a top priority.
The Seahawks are not on a clear trajectory to win the Super Bowl next year. There is much work to be done. They are also not in great peril. As much went awry this season, the Seahawks still won their division going away, beat that Falcons team earlier in the year and beat the Patriots on the road. Making the playoffs is not enough for this group. Carroll’s legacy will not be complete without another ring. Reclaiming the trophy we all seek must begin with a championship offseason full of tough choices and shrewd moves. Godspeed, Schneider and Carroll.
Editor’s Note: Thanks to all of you for a terrific year here at Hawkblogger.com. This community makes the highs higher and the lows easier to manage. Offseason coverage will begin soon. Hope to see you here!