Seattle Seahawks 2016 Season Review
The season is over. The Seattle Seahawks failed to achieve their ultimate goal of making and winning the Superbowl; but they made the playoffs again for the 5th time in a row and proved they are one of the best teams in the league, and a threat to win it all for the foreseeable future. Now as the offseason begins I want to recap on the season (I was planning on doing quarterly recaps but life got in the way, so a final recap will have to suffice) and possible directions Seattle could head during the impending offseason. Like my earlier article I will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the team, and the logical steps needed to be taken to improve the roster and achieve ultimate success. So let’s begin- with the defense- the most positive aspect of the team.
To no surprise, Seattle’s defense was dominant once again. This can be contributed to Head Coach Pete Carroll, who has turned Seattle into a dominant defense every year since returning to the league, as well as the plethora of talent that has amassed on that side of the ball. According to NFL.com the Seahawks ranked 3rd in the league in points allowed and 5th in total yards allowed- 8th in pass and 7th in run.[i] Talk about a well-rounded defense! Also, keep in mind Seattle had injuries to key players who missed significant amount of time; otherwise these rankings would probably be higher. Part of their success is the simple philosophy and game plan Carroll has instilled on the team. By running a simple yet variable cover 3 packages allows the players to be active instead of reactive, meaning they play fast with few breakdowns in coverage. This scheme coupled with the philosophy of stopping the run first and keeping the ball and man in front of them in coverage- limiting big plays- has allowed these talents players to thrive.
Breaking down the defense by units better demonstrates the balance and talent on the field. The front seven (defensive line and linebackers) was ranked #1 in the league by Pro Football Focus (PFF).[ii] The unit was led by Bobby Wagner (the #1 rated MLB) and KJ Wright to form the best linebacker duo in the league. These two did it all, excelling in both the run and the pass, and never came off the field. These two were paired with great pass rushers Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and Frank Clark whom all were rated in the top 40 of edge rushers. By shutting down the run and forcing opponents into third-and-longs, these pass rushers were able to rush the quarterback with abandon resulting in 42 sacks, 4th most in the league.[iii] The pressure created upfront assisted a secondary- ravaged by injury- to be ranked 5thin the league by PFF. Richard Sherman was hampered by a knee injury all year resulting in one of his worst statistical seasons, yet was still one of the top cornerbacks in the league posting a 14.9 snaps in coverage per reception- the best rate in the league.[iv] Kam Chancellor missed several games, yet was the 2nd best strong safety in the league. All-pro Earl Thomas was lost to a devastating leg injury half way through the season and was noticeably missed especially on deep passes (20-plus yards downfield) holding opposing QBs to 112 passer rating compared to just 61.3 passer rating when he is on the field.[v] Yet the secondary still maintained a high level of play, a testament to the players and coaches. Perhaps the most underappreciated aspect of the secondary is how exceptional they are in run defense, having four players ranked in the top-10 at their position in stopping the run; and just another reason why running the ball is nearly impossible against the Seahawks.
Even though the defense had another exceptional year, it is not without its flaws. The two biggest needs are Defensive tackle (DT)- specifically a pass rushing 3-technique, and depth in the secondary mainly at the cornerback (CB) positions. For a while Seattle has tried find a penetrating DT, but has yet to unearth a gem. They have gotten by with stout run defenders and frequent rotation at the tackle position to find success. Last year key pickups like Tony McDaniel became valuable stop-gap measures for a team still searching for a disrupter up the middle. Jarran Reed was drafted in the 2nd round but is a run stuffing tackle and struggled mightily in the pass rush (which scouts warned). The Seahawks need a playmaker at that position as far too often the opposing quarterback would freely step up in the pocket when forced by pressure of the edge. Having a player to eat up these sacks would make the front seven truly dominate. An additional cornerback to compete with Deshawn Shead opposite of Sherman would be valuable as well. Shead played admirably in a tough position as most people look his way first or completely ignore the other side of the field due to Sherman’s expertise. Still, more depth and competition would benefit the entire unit, as Shead was beat too often on comebacks and in and out routes. I believe the Seahawks will address these two issues in the offseason.
Now switching to the offense side of the ball where things weren’t so rosy. However before getting too negative I want to acknowledge the some positives. First, Russell Wilson is amazing. He was one of the top QBs in the NFL and 42nd best player according to PFF. This is even more impressive when considering he was running for his life behind the worst offensive line in the league and doing so on basically one knee and ankle. After two years of outstanding QB play especially inside the pocket, Wilson has silenced the doubters that he is only a scrambling QB. For now on he will be viewed as an elite quarterback, period. I also want to acknowledge that Seattle has some outstanding players in most of their skilled positions. Doug Baldwin this year confirmed he is a star at WR anywhere you line him up catching 80.9% of the passes thrown his way, top in the league.[vi] Also after a devastating injury Jimmy Graham returned and reminded everyone he is one of the best TEs in the league, almost 6TDs and almost 1,000 yards. I also believe Seahawks are happy with their running back group, which had a down year but mainly due to the horrendous offensive line. Thomas Rawls and the emergence of rookie CJ Prosise leave Seattle with a strong RB combination, both possessing a variety of unique skills. Together they could form an intimidating duo, and although this RB draft class is outstanding I don’t foresee Seahawks drafting another one.
Unfortunately, holistically it was a frustrating year for the Seahawks offense. Seattle ranked 19th in points scored with 22.1/game. It did post the 12th most yards/game due to Russell throwing the 10th most passing yards, yet they ranked 25th in the league in rushing with only 99.4 yards/game- the lowest ever during the Pete Carroll era. Without a running game and a real identity on offense Seahawks struggled to find a rhythm all season. In the past the running game not only set up the pass but the tone and attitude for the team… Beast Mode was missed. Due to this lack of identity there was no real consistency from one game to the next. Some blame can be cast to the coaches for not having a consistent game plan or approach; but some blame most be put on the player personnel who assembled the worst offensive line in the league.
The Seahawks offensive is the lowest paid unit in the league by a large margin, and I guess you get what you pay for. The line had the worst ranking by a large margin according to Pro Football Focus. Justin Britt, who failed at tackle and guard, became Seattle’s best offensive lineman when he moved to center. He had the top overall grade (80.5, 16th best at the position) and was best in both run and pass blocking- not giving up a sack or hit. Britt was by far the best lineman, with the other four posting an average grade of 52.3, with LG Mike Glowinski the best among them yet ranked the 63rd guard league wide.[vii] The ineptitude of the offensive line ruined the offense and caused them to lose several games. Even the magic of Wilson could not hide the deficiencies of this unit. Clearly if the offense wants to improve the weakness along the offensive line must be addressed.
As promised I will briefly discuss where I think and believe the Seahawks will do this offseason to improve the team. I will not go into too much detail now, as I will write about the Seahawks draft and free agency needs later on in player specific detail. For now, I will mention areas of need and where and how to address them.
First, the Seahawks must improve their offensive line. To do this they must invest more money in that unit. I strongly believe that games are won at the line of scrimmage, in the trenches. It don’t matter how amazing your skilled position players are if they never get the ball with time or space. And the only way to create time and space is winning the line of scrimmage. Improvement and investment is needed at all positions except perhaps center where Britt could be a long-term fit. George Fant and Germaine Ifedi are both young and inexperienced and I believe Carroll and Co. will give them every chance to succeed but competition and a backup plans are necessary. A change at LG and RT are almost required. Unfortunately for Seattle this year’s draft class lacks quality offensive lineman so I see Seattle addressing this problem in free agency as well as draft. This shouldn’t be a problem either as Seattle will have roughly $25 million in salary cap space.[viii] Other areas mentioned earlier that need to be addressed are depth at cornerback and defensive tackle. Cornerbacks are usually overpaid in free agency so I see Seattle addressing that need in the draft with a long rangy corner; but I see GM John Schneider addressing the D-line in free agency to reduce the impulse to reach on a need during the draft. They will specifically target a quick penetrating DT that can get after the QB.
Other offseason moves I see happening or want to happen is Seattle targeting a tall rangy outside wide receiver in free agency (maybe Terrell Pryor) or draft, as well as versatile safety to back up Kam or Earl. Which brings me to my last point, Seattle will finally pay Kam Chancellor! Bam Bam Kam is a true leader on the team and deserves every penny. This should get accomplished as there are no major impending free agents that need to be signed.
To conclude, Seattle had a solid year though with plenty of ups and downs. The young core is under contract and should allow Seattle to compete for the Superbowl for several years to come if it addresses its most glaring need along the offensive line. It will be an important and exciting offseason and I will for sure write about all its possibilities and outcomes in great detail later on…