This marks the twenty-first year I am writing a Seahawks season preview. They started as ridiculously long emails I would send to friends and co-workers, and evolved into a full blown blog ten years later. I started writing them because people knew how obsessed I was with the team and would always ask if I thought they were going to be any good this season. That question persisted all the way until the Seahawks won it all in 2013. Then, it became, “Do you think the Seahawks will win the Super Bowl this year?” The answer to that question has been, “yes,” with varying degrees of certainty all the way up through last season. Fans of all flavors seem to understand that the Super Bowl is not a reasonable goal for this Seahawks crew. We are back to evaluating whether this team is good, and what parts are most likely to be worth watching.
Offense could be much improved
Pete Carroll’s Seahawks have been known more for their suffocating defenses than offensive prowess. That changes this season. Russell Wilson should be in position to have his best season as a pro. It starts with an offensive line that looks much better than the one that started the past two seasons. Pass blocking, in particular, looks improved.
Duane Brown signed a big extension and is arguably the best left tackle Wilson has ever played with. Brown was around for the last half of 2017 season, but he was coming off a holdout and was dealing with an injury. He also had not adjusted to blocking for a scrambler and deep dropper like Wilson. Tackles get accustomed to pushing edge rushers to a certain depth, expecting their quarterback to step forward and make their job simpler. Wilson tends to take deeper drops, in part, to help him see over the line. There were at least a few times where Brown gave up a sack or pressure after he thought he had done his job.
His results in the preseason have been back to his Pro Bowl level as adjustments appear to be have been made. Ethan Pocic will play left guard next to Brown and is a solid pass blocker. With Justin Britt at center, Wilson should be able to drop back with some confidence that his left side will be blocked. D.J. Fluker with play right guard, and has problems in pass protection, but is a better player than Mark Glowinski, who manned the position last season. J.R. Sweezy is great depth at guard and could supplant either Pocic or Fluker if either starter struggles. Germain Ifedi remains the major weak spot in pass protection, but he finally has legitimate competition from George Fant, who is a far superior pass blocker. Should Ifedi really struggle again, the coaches will not hesitate to insert Fant.
Speaking of coaches, the absence of Tom Cable is a huge boon. His impact on personnel and the scheme he employed were both weighing heavily on the offense. Mike Solari takes over and already appears to be having a positive impact on both what the team values in linemen and what scheme they deploy. You will see the Seahawks pull their guards on run plays from time-to-time and do more man blocking that takes advantage of the strength of players.
The line will also be helped by new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. First, there will be only one person who owns the game plan on offense for the Seahawks. For years, Cable owned the run game and Darrell Bevell was responsible for the passing attack. It was an odd arrangement. Schottenheimer will own the whole offense, and it looks like he will employ more passes to running backs and more timing patterns that will have the ball coming out of Wilson’s hands more quickly. He has also been working with Wilson on his mechanics, including widening his feet to enable quicker releases without the need to stride.
Those running backs will be doing more than catching passes. Chris Carson looks like a potential star. He is built like Adonis, and has a complete array of skills. His pass protection is as good as his running, and he’s a very capable receiver. My expectations are sky high for Carson. He is the Seahawk the rest of the NFL is most likely to be sleeping on as the season nears.
Behind Carson is first-round pick Rashaad Penny, C.J. Prosise, Mike Davis, and J.D. McKissic. Penny has been hurt most of preseason and has yet to prove he is a difference maker, but the pedigree is there. Prosise is a player who 98% of Seahawks fans have given up on, but like other talented players who struggled with injury before breaking out (Paul Richardson, Walter Thurmond, Russell Okung), Prosise could be the weapon nobody is counting on.
Receivers could be much improved from a year ago, although much depends on the health of Doug Baldwin Jr. The veteran receiver admitted that he is nursing an injury that will not heal this season, and that he will have to play through it. That is ominous. Seattle is better equipped to deal with Baldwin being less than his normal self given Tyler Lockett is returning to health after playing at far less than 100% in 2017. Jaron Brown has shown great chemistry with Wilson throughout the preseason, and has the benefit of being 6’3″ tall.
Brandon Marshall is a wildcard. At 6’5″ tall, and a certain Hall of Fame player down the line, Marshall presents unique match-up challenges. The possibilities for Marshall range from washing out with no impact to becoming a favorite target of Wilson who leads the team in touchdowns. Wilson finally learned to throw the fade to Jimmy Graham last year in the red zone. Marshall could be the recipient of that progress this year.
David Moore is the sleeper. Arguably the most physically gifted receiver on the roster, Moore has an incredibly high ceiling. Seattle rarely passes enough to allow a fourth receiver to make an impact, let alone a fifth receiver like Moore. He will get chances, though, and he may force the coaches to find more snaps for him. Moore and Carson could become the best pair of 7th round draft picks in franchise history.
The tight end group loses Graham’s dynamic receiving ability, but gains toughness and reliability outside the red zone. Will Dissly and Nick Vannett should be counted on for workmanlike effort every snap, and will help Ifedi in pass protection as well as clear space in the run game.
This offense was historically awful running the ball last season, and not much better when it came to pass protection. The run game should go from awful to respectable, and may go as far as top five in the league. Pass protection should go from near the worst in football to around league average. They might even be better than that. Add in Wilson, who is playing for a new contract and appears as locked in as ever, a more modern offensive scheme from Schottenheimer, and it seems likely the Seahawks will become a top ten scoring offense after finishing 11th last season. Red zone performance will determine whether this offense is good or lethal.
Special teams becomes a strength
Jon Ryan is a rightful fan favorite. It was also clear now was the time to upgrade that position. Seattle drafted Michael Dickson, and he looks like the rare impact punter. Yep, I said impact punter. Dickson could very well be the best player at his position as a rookie. His unique skills will mean the Seahawks defense will consistently have more field to work with. There have been plenty of times where the Seahawks defense needed a hand from the offense, hoping they could manage at least one first down to help move the field back in Seattle’s favor. Dickson is a field changer every time he comes in.
Sebastian Janikowski is old (40) and out of shape. Seattle should be recruiting the younger and more accurate Dan Bailey, who the Dallas Cowboys surprisingly released, but signs are they are sticking with Janikowski. That is not the worst news. He should be an upgrade over Blair Walsh, who lost at least two games for the Seahawks last season.
Defense may be hard to watch
The biggest question marks on the Seahawks team can be found on defense, and unfortunately, all relate to pass defense. Seattle may have the worst group of safeties in the NFL. Gone are Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. Thomas may return at some point from his holdout, but he is not here now. Bradley McDougald was the third safety last season, and now is the best safety on the roster. Tedric Thompson has demonstrated nothing so far, but will start the season as the starter opposite McDougald. The difference between Thompson and Thomas from a speed perspective is like the difference between a tornado and a light breeze.
The corners are also a question mark. Shaquill Griffin takes over for Richard Sherman as the top corner. He is a capable cover corner. The question is whether he can start making plays on the ball. He rarely turns his head around to allow him to grab an interception. The team desperately needs him to change that. Justin Coleman is a great nickel corner, but there is no clear backup behind him. Dontae Johnson takes over opposite Griffin after being terrible in San Francisco last season. I like Johnson’s physical ability, and am curious to see how he fares under the Seahawks tutelage. Tre Flowers is a rookie who could see some snaps, but he is not ready for a lot of action.
The secondary has a lot of questions marks, which can be covered up if you have a strong pass rush. Problem is, the Seahawks have just as many questions in the pass rush. Frank Clark should be highly motivated in his contract year to put up big numbers. After that, it’s a lot of hopes and prayers. Dion Jordan was impressively effective in his short stint at the end of last season, but has serious injury question marks as the season begins. Rasheem Green looks like a promising rookie defensive end, but he started to disappear as the preseason wore on and he had to face stronger competition. Jacob Martin and Barkevious Mingo are fast edge rushers who rarely get home. Quinton Jefferson might be the starter at 5-technique defensive end in place of Michael Bennett, but he has a total of one sack in his career.
When you combine a questionable secondary with a questionable pass rush in a league that has already made it easier to pass than ever, you have a recipe for a lot of curse words across the Seahawks fanbase.
Mingo, Bobby Wagner, and K.J. Wright combine for a great linebacking corps, and Shaquem Griffin has some playmaking speed to add. The interior defensive line appears more stout than a year ago when the Seahawks finished 19th in the NFL in rushing yards and 10th in yards per carry allowed. They absolutely have to be a great run defense if they hope to have any chance of defending the pass well. It may not matter much if teams choose to take advantage of the pass defense on early downs.
Any honest assessment of the Seahawks defense is that it will struggle to finish in the top half of the league in points allowed. Even a top twenty finish is probably unlikely. That said, they showed some great energy and speed in the third preseason game against a very good Vikings team. If they can play with that kind of enthusiasm on a consistent basis, they will be good enough to make the Seahawks a legitimate playoff contender given what should be a strong offense and special teams.