Blue Friday Fodder: 10 Reasons for Seahawks optimism

Blue Friday Fodder

Amy and Dick are Seahawks fans. There were recently talking about the playoffs, and Amy was excited about the team’s chances, “The defense has been playing so well lately,” Amy said. “Yeah, but look at the quarterbacks they played,” Dick said. “They haven’t proven anything.” Amy was undeterred, “Russell has had a few nice game-winning and game-clinching drives in the clutch the last two games against good defenses!” Dick didn’t see it the same way, “Sure, but the offense has been so mediocre and Russell has been pretty bad.” The two went back and forth and Amy became visibly annoyed as Dick threw water on every positive observation she offered.

Don’t be a Dick.

This is the best Seahawks team, in the best position to make a playoff run, since the Super Bowl teams in 2013 and 2014. Those two teams and the 2005 squad are the only ones in the history of the franchise to be better equipped and better situated to get to the Super Bowl.

Seahawks fans, though, are hesitant to believe in this team. They want to be convinced this group is worthy of their faith and hope. I get it. Truly investing yourself emotionally means the potential for heartache dramatically rises.

To protect themselves, they tamp down expectations for themselves, and those around them. They create distance between themselves and the team. They patronize hopeful fans, and almost take the role of anti-fan by predicting various ways the team will lose.

Even when things are going well during a game, they are the first to voice concern or skepticism for what will come next. They are Dicks.

I know, because I have been like Dick before, as recently as this season. I also know it costs you, and those around you, a chance to truly enjoy the game. There is another way.

Believe. Instead of focusing on protecting your heart by lowering expectations, focus on maximizing your fun by raising them. Think about everything that can go right, and ignore what may go wrong. Being right about losing is no more enjoyable than being wrong about winning.

Lean in. Encourage those around you. Lift them up with what you know the team does well.

Here is some fuel to stoke your optimistic fire.

10 reasons for Seahawks optimism

#10 – Health

The Seahawks were signing retired players off the scrap heap to start for them, and trotting out injured vets who either just had surgery or would need it after the season. Seattle is arguably healthier now than at any time in the season. They have their desired starter at every single position. That is unheard of. Darrell Taylor, their top draft pick, even practiced for the first time this week and may play if the team advances.

#9 – The roster is far more talented than the team that lost by just 5 points to the Packers on the road

Take a look at the starters last year and this year.

I included PFF grades as reference, but Seattle is stronger at basically every spot. You could argue Shaquill Griffin was playing better last year at this time than he is now, but that’s about it.

That team won a road game, in a stadium with fans, against a team with a weak QB and a strong defense. They were outscored 21-3 in the first half against the Packers, but outscored them 20-7 in the second half, and were a Malik Turner third down catch away from possibly winning.

This roster is capable of much greater heights. Most encouraging is the massive difference between the OL/DL of last year versus now. Look up and down the roster. The Seahawks have no clear positional weakness. Few teams can make that claim.

#8 – This defense is playing terrific football

The Seahawks defense has played as well as any in the NFL over the final eight games of the season.

They have defended the run well. They have defended the pass well. They have rushed the passer well. They have covered well. They have tackled well.

The most an opponent has scored against them in that time is 23 points. Take away the garbage time touchdown after the Seahawks clinched the game against SF, and you are talking about six straight weeks of holding offenses under 20 points.

Saying this doesn’t matter because they played bad quarterbacks and weak offenses is simplistic and a bit lazy.

Seattle was playing bad enough defense in the first half of the year to make Cam Newton and the Patriots offense look elite. Nick Mullens carved them up for 250+ passing yards and 21 points in one quarter. They were bad enough to make anyone look good.

If they were to simply play better against weak opponents, that would be a fair critique. When they are the best scoring defense in the league during that time, sack the QB at rates 2-3x what they were in the first half, the opponent question marks are simply less relevant.

Fans ding the Seahawks all the time for playing to the level of their competition. Those same folks then ding the defense for doing the exact opposite. Classic Dick move.

They could not hold teams to minus points. They were the top of pretty much every metric. You can’t be better than best.

Also, this notion that only the Seahawks played easy offenses is flat wrong. Washington’s defense played an easier offensive schedule this season than Seattle, but nobody questions the quality of that defense. The Rams played a roughly equivalent offensive opponent schedule to the Seahawks. Nobody dings them, despite giving up more points to the Jets, the Eagles, the Dolphins, and the Cardinals than the Seahawks defense.

We are seeing disciplined, sound, playmaking defense from the Seahawks. That does not mean they will dominate quality offenses the same way they do weak offenses. It simply means they will make those teams work, and give Seattle a chance to win every game they play.

#7 – There are no NFC juggernauts

No team in the NFC looks unbeatable. The Packers have a terrific offense, and a suspect defense. The Saints have a good, but not elite offense and the same thing on defense. The Bucs have a weak pass defense. There are tough teams to beat but no overwhelmingly NFC favorite like the 2013 or 2019 49ers, or the 2018 Rams.

Would anyone be shocked if the Bucs beat the Packers in the second round?

#6 – The pass rush is peaking at the right time

A lot of credit for the Seahawks resurgent pass rush has been given to Carlos Dunlap. For good reason, he was a beast when he originally arrived. He has not been quite as disruptive since his foot injury, though, and there are some other players who deserve recognition for their improved play.

Benson Mayowa is playing his best football of the season over the last three weeks. He is the fourth-ranked edge rusher in the NFL over that time, per PFF. He notched two sacks in the season finale, including the game-clinching strip sack. He has the second-best pass rush game of any player in the NFL season the week before against the Rams. He created pressure at a higher rate of his pass rush snaps than all but one player had done in any game this year.

Brandon Thorn did a study of pass rushers this season, and Mayowa’s late surge landed him on the list of best this year, near names like Cameron Jordon

Mayowa and Dunlap combine to form the hottest tandem of pass rushers headed into the postseason. They are tied for 3rd among all playoffs edge rushers in pressures over the final three weeks of the season.

That’s not all. Alton Robinson has turned it on. He is the third ranked edge player in terms of pass rush grade over the last three weeks of the season with an 88.7 grade, per PFF. He has two sacks, two QB hits, and two hurries in that time. That made for a pretty productive rookie season.

People have misunderstood the point of this tweet. It is not about whether Chase Young and Alton Robinson are equivalent players. It is that Young is an accepted dominant rookie pass rusher. Robinson has been similarly productive in fewer snaps. Time will tell if he can sustain that productivity with increased volume. For now, he just needs to be a productive rotational pass rusher.

All this quality play from the defensive line has meant the Seahawks have been less reliant on the blitz to create pressure and has allowed for a more sustainable pass defense.

#5 – There’s never been a better season to win on the road

Seattle is accustomed to Super Bowl runs happening from the top seed in the playoffs, relying heavily on their unique home field advantage. They do not have that this year, but no team truly has their full home field advantage.

Some teams are allowing small groups of fans in the stands, but it would seem inconsequential. Traveling to win a game in the Superdome in New Orleans is usually a daunting task. Noise will not be a factor if Seattle has to go there next week.

#4 – The offensive line is finally healthy

Brandon Shell has been out since the last win against the Cardinals. That is six weeks the team has played without him. He played a little in the Jets game, but that hardly counts. He has been excellent at right tackle.

Mike Iupati returns as well. Jordan Simmons has been a capable backup, but Iupati is better at pass protection and run blocking.

The Seahawks have only had their full starting line play together five times this season, and they are undefeated in those games.

#3 – Tyler Lockett flashed, DK Metcalf is a beast

Lockett finished the year with a game of 12 receptions and 2 touchdowns. He had only one touchdown in his previous nine games. Lockett is a guy who often acts as a barometer of this offense. When he is playing well, the offense steps forward.

He has seemed impacted by his injury over the second half of the season, and this late breakout performance bodes well for his health headed into the postseason.

Lockett playing well has an impact on DK Metcalf as well. Teams are so focused on Metcalf that Lockett should see more single coverage. Should he be able to exploit that, it could shift safety help away from Metcalf more often.

This can be the best receiving duo in the playoffs when they are playing to their potential. Metcalf set the rookie record for receiving yards in his first playoff game last season.

They have heard the talk of their lack of big plays. Expect that to turn around starting this week.

#2 – The Seahawks resemble past underdog champs

Whether it be the 2007 or 2011 New York Giants, or the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers, the formula for a team to win four games for a ring in the playoffs has been a great pass rush and a clutch quarterback.

It also helps to be playing well headed into the postseason. Seattle is 6-1 in their last seven games, and played two of the most complete games in the past three weeks against the Jets and the Rams.

We have already talked about the pass rush, which leaves…

#1 – Russell Wilson is your quarterback

Wilson has not been the gridiron deity he was to start the season. His accuracy and decision making has been less than stellar. But he has quietly done better than folks realize, and done things that matter for the postseason.

He has nine touchdowns in the past four games with only two turnovers. The Seahawks have not lost a game this season (7-0) when Wilson throws zero interceptions. They are also undefeated when the team has 1 turnover or less (12-0).

Wilson has also led two clutch fourth quarter touchdown drives the last two weeks against two of the NFLs best defenses.

In all the criticism of plays he did not make, we tend to forget the ones he did. The third down throw to Hollister for a touchdown was perfect. The fourth down throw to Lockett for a touchdown was perfect.

Those are the types of plays Wilson will need to make in order to move the Seahawks through the playoffs.

Seattle is one of just a handful of teams that has legitimate reason to believe their quarterback can win the game when everything is on the line.

The Seahawks are getting good-to-great play at basically every position on their team right now except for quarterback. One spark from Wilson could set this team ablaze.

No quarterback in the playoffs has faced as tough of a road to get here.

You could argue his pass to the Super Bowl will be through a descending level of opposing defenses. He could gain momentum along the way. Playoff football will not be an adjustment for him. He has his full compliment of runners, receivers, tight ends, and linemen. He has unbending confidence, and has been here before.

This could be the moment where he cements his legacy as a quarterback capable of lifting his team through the playoffs.

I believe he is poised to find his rhythm at just the right time.