Sit back for a moment and soak in this 2011 Seahawks season. A season that may have never been had the lockout lasted much longer. A season that has delivered nearly unprecedented player development despite a complete lack of off-season. So much has happened and so much has changed, it almost feels like two or three seasons in one. Remember when Charlie Whitehurst was a polarizing figure? Remember when Marshawn Lynch couldn’t break 50 yards in a game? Remember when fans were comparing Brandon Browner to Kelly Jennings? Remember when Doug Baldwin was on the roster bubble? Remember Marcus Trufant starting? Remember James Carpenter playing left guard? Remember Aaron Curry? Remember it taking two touchdown returns from Ted Ginn for SF to beat the Seahawks? Remember when John Carlson was our second tight end? Remember when Golden Tate was a bust? Remember when Kam Chancellor was a question mark? Remember the concerns about finding leaders to replace Lawyer Milloy, Lofa Tatupu and Matt Hasselbeck? Remember Matt McCoy breaking out as nickel LB? Remember when people said CB was a major need in free agency? Remember when you had low expectations?
Many folks are walking down memory lane this week as the Seahawks have kindly provided a perfect point for comparison to the 2010 Seahawks team that was also 6-7 after 13 games. People want to know which team was better. There are far more layers to that question than most fans want to consider. If Red Bryant and Alan Branch were injured for this year’s Seahawks the way Bryant and Cole were last season, a game between the two teams might be closer than you think. As far as Tarvaris Jackson has come in demonstrating his worth, he would still be the inferior quarterback in a game against Hasselbeck. Where there is absolutely no doubt is that the full 53-man roster of 2011 is far stronger than what the Seahawks featured last season.
Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman, K.J Wright, Paul McQuistan, Breno Giacomini, John Moffitt, Max Unger, Robert Gallery, James Carpenter, Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin, and Leroy Hill all represent depth and quality that was not available last year (Giacomini and Unger were on the roster, but not playing). Even better, there are very few spots that are being filled by players on the downside of their careers. In fact, you could argue that every player not named Hawthorne, Hill, Gallery, Mebane, Clemons could be markedly better in the future than they are right now.
That’s what being a fan is about for me. Show me that there is a ceiling that has yet to be defined. Indicate that greatness is not out of the question. Flash a vision a few times of what this all could look like when the pieces come together. The Seahawks have done all that.
There will be those that judge the success of the season on the outcome of the final three games. Not me. The thirteen regular season games and four pre-season games have told me everything I need to know. The secondary will be the best in the NFL, possibly as soon as next year. The defensive line needs an interior pass rusher and another edge rusher, but will be even better next season if the offense continues to control the clock. The linebackers could be the surprise of next year when Hawthorne finally heals his knee (he is about 50% of the player he should be due to injury), Wright plays even faster, Malcolm Smith challenges for a bigger role, and McCoy returns from injury.
The offensive line is becoming defined by the system instead of the players. That is why three starters can be out and the team can still rush for 150 yards and score 30 points, while the opponents are complaining about how hard it is to play without your starters. Tom Cable has implemented his system. This group could be Patriot-esque in their ability to plug’n’play. If Cable can stick around for another few years, this could become a Top 5 line in the NFL. Sidney Rice and Zach Miller are both part of the answer, despite their individual issues this season. Baldwin will be part of the team’s championship run. The team may choose to add another dynamic receiver in the off-season even with Tate’s development and some unknown potential for Kris Durham.
Marshawn Lynch is a joy to watch run the ball, but fans forget how impotent he was the first half of the season and all of last year. That says less about Lynch than it does about the line’s development. This team does not need Lynch to have an effective rushing game. If the choice becomes Michael Bush for 2 years $14M or Lynch for 5 years $40M, that’s not a hard choice. Running backs fall somewhere just above kickers and punters on my value scale, and there is a much bigger downside to a deal of five years for a running back than there is upside. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking the Seahawks running game is working because of Lynch. He is a great multiplier to what the line and Cable is doing, but he’s just fuel injection on a performance engine (I don’t know shit about cars). This team will continue to run effectively with, or without, Lynch next year. That said, it would be great if the team could keep him for 2-3 years.
Jackson is a better quarterback than I’d expected but is not going to be the one who hoists the Lombardi Trophy for Seattle. I still believe that if there is a quarterback this front office loves this year, they need to trade whatever it takes to get him. The thing about football is that building a roster is like erecting a sand castle in that it can look gorgeous and stable one minute, and then is collapsing on itself the next after a wave rolls in. Building with young players reduces the risk of meltdown, but Seattle needs to start coaching up that QBOTF next year in order to be ready to compete for a championship in 2-3 years.
Pete Carroll has done splendidly in creating an identity for the organization and the team. There is little doubt the trajectory is overwhelmingly positive. There are still real questions about his judgment as a coach that will become hyper-magnified if he makes mistakes in crucial games. Substitution-based timeouts, wishy-washy decisions about how to handle things at the end of the half or the game, holding back players healthy enough to play, are all things that must become like the memories described above. Remember when Pete did that stupid shit? Norv Turner had a number of Chargers teams that were talented enough to rank #1 on offense and defense in the NFL, but still never won it all. Carroll must prove he can rise to the occasion as a coach.
Life is good. We are living the Corona commercials where we just get to sit back and watch the waves roll in. Seattle will be a better team next year than it is this year. It will not have a first-place schedule to contend with either. The Rams will very possibly have a new coach. The Cards will still have a fatally flawed quarterback and an aging defense. The 49ers are playing the best they can play. Frank Gore is not getting any younger and Alex Smith is doing the division a favor by forcing the 49ers to keep him around. Nothing would be sweeter than to see the Seahawks sneak into the playoffs and knock off the 49ers. Just the chance to see Jim Harbaugh whine his way to the locker room would be priceless. No matter what happens the rest of the year, few could argue that the Seahawks are the best bet in the division to be a better team next season, and they are already pretty darn competitive right now. Remember when they weren’t?