Seahawks Quarter Season Review
The NFL is now a quarter of the way through. Sad already a quarter of the season is over, it feels like it just started. With four games down coaches, players, and fans are now able to see how their team stacks up with the rest of the league- four games is just a big enough sample size. New stars have emerged, injuries are taking a toll, playoff scenarios are being drawn, and teams have begun to find their identity. So what is the Seattle Seahawks identity? What are their strengths, their weaknesses? Who has emerged, and who needs to step up? After four games we are beginning to have a clue. Though they started slow the Hawks appear to have their swag back, and as other teams in the division continue to struggle, the Hawks appear in prime position to make the playoffs again lead by their suffocating defense.
Seattle loves defense to match the dreary gray skies… and Seattle is in love. Once again the Seahawks defense is dominate, just like in years past under Pete Carrol. That is the Seahawks identity- a fast, aggressive, hard-hitting defense that wins in the trenches and finishes in the secondary. Every week they provide the energy that ignites the team, every week they punch opponents in the mouth. With a dominant defense, the Hawks always know they will be in every game. This gives the whole team immense confidence, and an identity.
Several reasons make the defense so good for so long. First the scheme is simple. It allows players to excel and specialize their craft- maximizing strengths and minimizing weaknesses. The simplicity also allows player to react instead of think meaning they can play fast instinctive football. Specifically, the scheme focuses on stopping the run, making the opponent one dimensional and then keeping the ball and opponents in front of them, a.k.a. not giving up the big play. With this philosophy opposing teams have a hard time converting third down and are unable to sustain drives. Secondly, the players are gifted and unique. Player personnel target big fast aggressive players that fit their scheme well to maximize the scheme and their skill set. Tall physical cornerbacks, fast rangy linebacker, deep high safety with tremendous speed and quickness (Earl Thomas), run stuffing two-gap tackle , and defensive ends with amazing burst and power. With each player having an exact role with an exact skill set, it allows the team to rotate and replace players without losing cohesion. I also can’t understate how talented this defense is. There are multiple pro-bowlers on every level of the defense and perhaps several future Hall of Fame players (Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, and Bobby Wagner). In fact a majority of the salary cap goes to the defense- $67,220,077 to defense $55,694,992 to offense (though Michael Bennett still needs to get paid).[i] Finally, perhaps the Seahawks defense best strength is they have no weakness. With stars on all three levels and well executed system, opposing offenses have an impossible time finding a weakness or a mismatch. This also allows Seattle to stay within the scheme and keep their identity. With no weakness to target opposing teams are usually left with short dump offs or short comebacks away from Sherman (which means CB2 Deshawn Shead will be targeted the most). Thus, when facing the Hawks teams know they will have a tough time getting points, adding more pressure on their defense to stop Russell Wilson and company.
Seattle’s offense is the weaker of the two groups but is by no means a weakness. After a slow start in the first two weeks where they scored a grained total of 15 points, they have comeback to score 64 points the last two games. The offense is starting to find its groove and realize what makes them successful. The biggest difference between the first two games and the last two games has been the offensive line play, and Jimmy Graham becoming healthy. In the first two games Russell had been getting pressure up the middle far too often. Now the interior O-line looks serviceable. LG Mark Glowinksi, C Justine Britt, and RG Germain Ifedi (who just came back from injury) are all very physical at the point of attack but are now working well as a unit picking up proper assignments. With their physicality comes the Hawks run game, the offense’s bread and butter. Seattle still wants to be a run-first team to set the tone and manage the clock, and they have been able to do this the last two weeks. The big difference is at Center where Britt appears to be getting more comfortable with his new role each week. After posting an average player grade in the 1st three weeks he was the highest rated center in week 4.[ii] The other two have been average, particularly in the pass protection, but with more time and work playing together that hopefully will improve too. The other major turnaround on offense has to be the reemergence of Jimmy Graham. With Graham in the lineup he immediately creates a mismatch, which the Seahawks have exploited. They are lining him up all over the field, which is smart, making the defense react and sometimes giving away their coverages. Jimmy’s presence also allows the Hawks to attack the middle of the field unlike before, opening more room on the outside for the wide receivers. These two reasons are the catalyst that has helped improve the offense.
So what is Seattle’s main weakness or biggest need for improvement? It is as many predicted the offensive line. This should come to no surprise to anyone closely following the Hawks. The O-line is the least invested unit on the team with the starting five combining for $4,660,967 against the salary cap; making Seattle’s O-line the cheapest in the league. Now, having a mobile quarterback like Russell and an O-line coach like Tom Cable allows Seattle to devalue their line and reinvest it elsewhere; however it does present a major risk. A bad O-line can jeopardize an entire offense-passing and running- but also adds more unnecessary risk to your quarterback. All of this has proven true in the 1st 4 weeks. With the interior line improving and stopping pressure up the middle- a problem for even mobile quarterbacks, especially short ones- some of the weakness is mitigated; however the two starting tackles are struggling with no signs of improvement. Actually Seattle’s offensive line is the worst in the league according to Pro Football Focus.[iii] LT Bradley Sowell and RT Garry Gilliam have struggled mightily in pass protection and haven’t fared much better in run blocking as well. Both received poor grades each week, and have struggled against speed and bull rushes. Sowell is a veteran who lost his starting position and job on a previous team so I see little hope for improvement. Gilliam is an undrafted converted TE still on his rookie contract so he could still improve, but I honestly don’t have much hope as there has been little improvement from last year. Luckily, Seattle has Russell but he can only produce so much magic. I see the offensive line, specifically the tackles, struggling all year and will be Seattle’s main weakness.
Before I finish I just want to briefly acknowledge several players who have emerged and become essential to the Seahawks success. First, I want to acknowledge DE Frank Clark. Perhaps on other teams he would be starting, but on a loaded defense Clark is still a situational/personnel guy, however he is excelling. Clark is a beast of the edge, consistently getting pressure when given the opportunity with his amazing burst and short-yardage quickness. The loss of Bruce Irvin has not been missed largely due to Clark taking over Irvin’s role and dominating. As he continues to carve out playing time his role and stats will finally match his talent. Another player I want to mention is DE Cassius Marsh. I was a big fan when GM John Schneider drafted him and after a couple years hiding behind a stellar D-line unit he is finally getting his shots. His hustle and versatility remind me of Michael Bennett and they have been using Marsh in the same manner. I envision him and Clark mixing up with the starting unit more and more as the season progresses. I also want to recognize again Justin Britt and Jimmy Graham, whom I have already mentioned but I feel deserve another shout out.
To conclude, after four weeks Seattle is looking strong and appear to be the favorite to win the division if not the entire NFC. The defense is still amazing and the offense has good balance with star power. The only thing that could slow them down is their offensive line, but there is always Russell Wilson.
Hope you enjoyed my brief and limited insight on the Seahawks 1st quarter of the season. Thanks for reading.