Now that OTAs have concluded, we still haven’t fully answered the question of who these Seattle Seahawks are. Some recent events add to the confusion:
1) The Legion of Boom is now gone, along with the swagger that defined Seattle and captivated the country. Once Doug Baldwin and Frank Clark joined the exodus, the current voice of the Hawks are less fire and more … polite.
2) Pete Carroll spent all of 2017 telling us that they were a run-first team, a ground-and-pound ball control team. Seattle then spent much of 2017 not doing any of that. They ended with a meager 101 rush yards per game and a league-low four touchdowns. Jimmy Graham, Tom Cable and Darrell Bevell helped create the offensive identity crisis that resulted in:
3) The 2018 Draft. GM John Schneider helped Carroll doubled down on his philosophy last year, taking a RB, best-in-class blocking TE, and world-beating punter in the first six picks. They were determined for the Seahawks to be a run-heavy, defensive-minded team excelling at field possession. Coaching changes Mike Solari and Brian Schottenheimer pointed not towards a new direction, but the direction Carroll always wanted to go.
4) However, the team philosophy hit a rather deflating roadblock in the playoffs against the Dallas Cowboys. Was Seattle the more talented team? Not really, but the run game that day left a lot to be desired, and the defense faltered at some crucial third downs.
5) Two post-playoff events have brought the Seahawk identity question back to the surface. First were Duane Brown’s comments about better utilizing Russel Wilson. Second is the magnitude of Wilson’s contract. Does it make sense for a $140 million dollar man to take mid-twenties passing attempts?
Bonus confusion – John Clayton boldly declared that we will all get to witness Russell Wilson throwing to DK Metcalf, the best rookie since Russell Wilson, and I’ve already heard AJ Green-type hopes coming from the 12s.
Before answering some of these questions, a trip around the NFL provides some valuable perspective. All of the above pales in comparison with some of the dumpster fires happening in the league right now. Seattle has no drama (pending Bobby Wagner’s contract), no holdouts, no more players who dislike the QB, no cap space issues, and only one player who may or may not go to prison. It’s an enviable position, all things considered.
NY Jets – Now the second team in the modern NFL to fire their GM after the draft and before the season begins. They spent an absurd amount of money (thanks for creating the Wagner contract issue!), and have left new coach Adam Gase with far too many problems to be comfortable.
Oakland Raiders – If you’re looking to rebuild a franchise with players of high character, you might not want to begin with a locker room full of Antonio Brown, Vontaze Burfict, and Richie Incognito. A sincere good luck to anyone on that team just trying to have a peaceful game. Or practice. The Raiders are also about to move cities and have created considerable animosity with their fan base.
Arizona Cardinals – Gave up on a head coach and top draft pick after one year apiece. Whatever their identity is, nobody knows, including the Cardinals. Now they’re heading into the season with a questionable defense, sans their best defensive player Patrick Peterson for a third of the year.
The point is, It could be much, much worse in Seattle. Not only is it hard to get 53 players plus coaches, fans, and management to buy into a team philosophy, it’s hard to even commit to one.
Coach Pete has a plan, and it worked well before. They got away from it, and they suffered because of that — not necessarily because one plan is better or worse than the other but maybe because being confused about your identity can lead to confusing decisions. Now the critical mass is moving in the old direction once again.
Yes, for many, questions remain. The leaders, voices, and franchise faces will not be the same players (or even position groups) as they were five years ago. But if the Seahawks’ biggest issue is who will get the ball more — Chris Carson or Russell Wilson – I think that’s something we can be patient with this season. Seattle is not trapped in the “fix it now” mentality that so many teams around the league are. This feels more like a team who’s gearing up for another long haul.
Consider, alongside our first list:
1) Carroll and Schneider have not shied away one bit from getting “their guys.” Sure, they say that a lot, but that didn’t stop them from raving about LJ Collier being their type of player. These last couple of classes in the draft and free agency do seem to bring a “chip-on-the-shoulder” mentality that many previous selections and signings had. From D.K. Metcalf going later than expected in the draft to Al Woods considered an afterthought at defensive tackle on the market.
2) After a Week 3 come-to-Jesus meeting, Seattle found their stride and led the league in rushing yards, finished second in attempts and fourth in first downs.
3) While the 2018 draft focused on the run game, this year’s draft feels addresses the other areas of Carroll’s philosophy. They took hard-hitting defensive players with the first two picks, and Metcalf, the receiver some regard as the best deep threat in the draft.
4) The question I felt most strongly after the Dallas playoff game was if Carroll’s philosophy is fundamentally flawed, or if they simply didn’t have the talent to execute it properly. Flawed philosophies don’t consistently get to the playoffs, and they don’t generally improve records after losing Hall of Fame-type players. I think the offense was close, the defense needed a little improvement, and the offensive play-calling could have been just a touch more flexible.
5) It’s worth noting that Seattle is able to be such a dominant running team because Wilson can be so efficient; the offense can get a lot done in 25-30 pass attempts and we know that passing it 40+ times doesn’t often signal that you have a winning offense (Andrew Luck appearance here). Historically, two of his greatest strengths have been surviving a bad offensive line (which they have had), and pinpoint deep passes (of which he has thrown many). Point is, he doesn’t need a pristine pocket for 50 attempts to play his best.
I believe that Carroll has the team right where he wants it. He does not seem to have backed down because of last season’s playoff exit and the Seahawks still exceeded expectations with so many young and unproven starters. Seattle’s offensive identity as a running team has consistently gotten them into the playoffs as a real threat from 2012 to 2015 — it’s now a matter of questioning if that philosophy screwed them in the three years since or if it was a matter of poor execution. When it works, the Seahawks have proven to be a top-10 scoring team that has even been the number one offense in the NFL by DVOA. With the most experienced offensive line that Carroll has had in his 10 years as the head coach and Rashaad Penny going into his second season, the Hawks might even improve on a rushing offense that ranked sixth in DVOA and fifth in yards per carry. They also protected the ball in the way that Carroll emphasizes (fewest turnovers in the NFL) and Wilson posted a career-high 110.9 passer rating.
Even third down defense, which at times felt like a weakness, especially in the playoff game, was a top-5 mark at 35% conversion. They may not have a stifling, defense, but they’re not far from becoming elite. When it comes to their play, the differences between the Super Bowl Seahawks and the current iteration may be smaller than we think even if the players are noticeably much different; the differences are actually slight but also important.
In terms of style, long-time fans will have to embrace the new-look Seahawks for who they are. The brashness, leadership, and culture are being built from new groups. The offensive line could be emerging as an area of …. strength, actually? There are new faces, relatively new coaches, and different expectations than the 2013-2016 seasons, but the type of football being played could end up being quite nostalgic of those times.