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It was December 23rd. The dominant team in the division was playing the team that wanted to unseat them. The challenger had lost a close contest earlier in the year, and was primed for retribution. The champs never knew what hit them. They were dominated in every phase of the game. The final score read 42-13. Having lost four straight to the 49ers before that game, the Seahawks would go on to win 12 of 13 matchups, including the last nine. San Francisco actually won the division in 2012 despite that dismantling in Seattle, and were arguably the second best team in football the following season, but have not finished higher than 3rd in the division or won more than eight games since. Changing of the guard is not usually a subtle tap on the shoulder. It is more like a deck of cards cataclysmically collapsing in an instant. The loser is left to sort through the rubble and decide which cards to keep as they set out to recapture what was taken from them.
The Los Angeles Rams are a far superior team to the Seahawks. Aaron Donald is arguably the most dominant defender in football. Todd Gurley might be the best running back. Sammy Watkins is arguably their third best receiver. Greg Zuerlein is the best kicker. Johnny Hekker is the best punter. Even dopey Jared Goff deserves praise for a nearly flawless season. If I had a vote for coach of the year, it would go to Sean McVay, and all Wade Phillips does is build top-flight defenses. They entered this game ranked #1 in DVOA by Football Outsiders. There is a good bet they will retain that ranking after this game.
Seattle was outplayed in every facet. The defense will get most of the shame because the Rams offense scored 40 points, but they actually kept the game close for the first quarter despite tremendous field position by the Rams. The defense had the excuse of being short five of their best players. What was the excuse on offense? On special teams? There was none.
The offensive line was a disaster. Jon Ryan was exposed again for not having a strong enough leg while kicking into the wind. Neiko Thorpe and Jeremy Lane were dominated in coverage, rarely getting to within 10 yards of the returner. Even Duane Brown got two holding penalties on the first few drives.
This was a game that really set up to show you what a team the is totally reliant on Russell Wilson looks like. Many will take that as a shot at Wilson. The truth is this was a game that could only be competitive if Wilson was the best player on the field. He was nowhere near good enough. Even if he had played his best, do you really think the Seahawks could win consistently with a defense and run game that looks like that?
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Hiding behind the injuries is foolish. That’s part of the sport. It is not just an age issue, as some would suggest. Chris Carson, Thomas Rawls, C.J. Prosise, Paul Richardson, Tyler Lockett and others have been young and injured. Guys like Marshawn Lynch, Joe Thomas, and Tom Brady might have a thing or two to say about durability. More true than saying older players get injured is that injured players get injured. Folks who have missed time with injuries before are far more likely to miss time in the future. Seattle was very fortunate to not only draft incredibly talented players from 2010-2012, but very durable ones.
Building a championship team relies on so many things going right, and injuries are the one least in your control. I was too superstitious to mention the Seahawks injury good fortune after each season before last year. What has happened since the team won the championship is they have had to increasingly pay their stars in order to maintain their core, but have also become increasingly reliant on that core to perform. Subpar years or injuries hurt the team more substantially.
Michael Bennett is very clearly in decline. Cliff Avril likely will not play again, and if he does, it won’t be in Seattle given the cap space the team will gain by releasing him. Kam Chancellor will likely not play again, making the extensions he and Bennett just signed pretty significant mistakes in retrospect. Richard Sherman will play again, but the team very well be wise to move him and his contract if they can get quality draft picks in return.
Thomas has been terrific this season, but he does not strike me as a player who will want to raise young pups and be the last member of the L.O.B. in the building. If he does want to sign an extension, would it be smart for Seattle to do so? Ed Reed played until he was 35, and was a Pro Bowler until 34 and made his last All-Pro team at 32 years old. Thomas will be 29 next season. Keeping him for a few more years might make sense, but the team cannot afford more wasted cap dollars on injured or retired veterans.
Wagner should be fine for the next 2-4 years, but Wright is not as athletically gifted and the team should seriously consider letting him walk after next season. There is no way I would spend the money required to sign Sheldon Richardson to a big deal given his production this year.
The youthful parts the Seahawks defense can build around are Frank Clark, Shaquill Griffin, Jarran Reed, Nazair Jones, and Justin Coleman. Maybe Malik McDowell can add to that young core, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Of those players, only Clark and Griffin strike me as potential Pro Bowl players, and neither is particularly close to reaching that potential. My hope is the team tears off the band-aid and invests heavily in developing young players like Delano Hill versus spending free agent dollars on a guy with limited upside like Bradley McDougald.
There are no quick fixes to the roster problems the Seahawks face on defense. The offense is in better shape, but has their own issues. Don’t you dare spend money on Paul Richardson or Jimmy Graham. Both are too old and injury-prone to sink large dollars into. Keeping Brown around at left tackle makes sense. Let Luke Joeckel go to spend money elsewhere. Maybe George Fant returns and can be your right tackle. Maybe Chris Carson returns and looks like the featured back we hoped he would be earlier this season.
For the love of Seattle, please encourage Jon Ryan to retire. He is going to be 37 next season, and is ranked 31st of 33 punters in net average this year and will cost a ridiculous $3.2M in 2018. We already know that Blair Walsh won’t be back. Hekker was an undrafted free agent. Zuerlein was a 6th round pick. It does not take a lot to makeover your kicking game if you make it a priority.
There are still two games left to be played in this season. Seattle could win both or win none. It really does not matter much in the grand scheme of things. This group is not good enough to do anything interesting. This is not the Mariners. The goal is not to be kinda good every year. Every action needs to align to the goal of consistently competing for a championship. John Schneider and Pete Carroll will need to at their best to steer this ship back on course. It may take multiple seasons to get there.