Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said this week that the Seahawks are entering “the second half” of the season as they prepare for Saturday’s wild-card playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams at Lumen Field.
That may seem like an optimistic way of viewing things, or maybe an acknowledgment that the legacy of this season will be determined by how far the Seahawks advance in the playoffs. Or maybe it was just a way to answer a question, but I digress …
Though the Seahawks have been in Super Bowl-or-bust mode since 2012, the offseason trade for safety Jamal Adams appeared to signal more urgency to get that done, especially with quarterback Russell Wilson turning 32 and in the first year of a four-year contract that pays him an average of $35 million a season. Anything less than reaching the NFC title game might feel like a failure.
But, before entering that “second half” of the season, let’s review the regular season. It’s one that must go down as an unqualified success — a 12-4 record that has been bettered only twice in team history — with one big regret, a home loss to the Giants that cost a chance to claim the No. 1 NFC playoff seed and a bye in the first round.
First, a few grades, awards and a peek ahead:
What a tale of two seasons for the offense.
At the halfway point the Seahawks led the NFL In scoring at 34.2 points per game. They averaged 23.2 in the final eight games of the year — which would have been tied for 22nd for the season — to finish at 28.7, eighth in the NFL. They scored as many as their first-half average just once in the final eight games — the 40-3 blowout of the then-winless Jets. Playing five games against defenses ranked among the top 12 in fewest points allowed was a factor.
Seattle also set a team record with 459 points, besting the 452 of the 2005 team. The Seahawks did that despite ranking just 17th in the league in yards per game (369.5) in part because they were efficient inside the red zone. They scored touchdowns on 41 of 56 trips inside the 20-yard line — 73%, fourth best in the NFL.
Sure, the rapid decrease in big plays during the second half of the season, and the overall struggles of the offense are troubling entering the playoffs. But as the number of individual records set recently made clear, this was a big season for the offense.
And what a tale of two seasons here as well.
After allowing 30.4 points per game in the first half of the season the Seahawks allowed just 16.0 in the second, best in the NFL. True, as the offense played some of the NFL’s better defenses in the second half, the defense faced some of the worst offenses, with six games against teams that ranked among the bottom 10 in scoring.
Still, this was an unquestionably improved unit down the stretch, enough to make some believe the Seahawks can reach the Super Bowl. That’s especially true if they can maintain their success against the run, a strength all season. The Seahawks finished fifth in the NFL, allowing just 3.9 yards per attempt.
One other thing to hope for in the playoffs? A defensive touchdown. This was the first year in Seahawks history that they did not have a defensive or a special-teams touchdown.
This was the one area that was consistent from start to finish, with Jason Myers making all 24 field-goal attempts, Michael Dickson ranking third in the NFL in net punting at 44.4 and the coverage units solid throughout. Football Outsiders’ advanced metrics rated Seattle’s special teams the third best in the NFL. The one thing some might hope for in the playoffs is a more dynamic return game. The Seahawks didn’t have a punt return longer than 20 yards.
QB Russell Wilson
Sure, the middle of the season was rocky and the ending not as spectacular as the beginning. But that wasn’t all Wilson’s fault. The offense became more conservative by design after a four-game stretch that included three losses, all fueled by turnovers, and the Seahawks faced some tough secondaries down the stretch. Wilson set a team record with 40 touchdown passes, ran as efficiently ever (513 yards and 6.2 per carry) and continued to make game-changing plays in the late moments (three fourth-quarter game-winning drives).
MLB Bobby Wagner
Of everything Wagner did this season, here’s what might have been most important — Wagner played 1,142 snaps, 99.22% of the plays during a season in which the defense was on the field a lot. He was the steady force early when the defense was finding itself (recall Wagner’s play call to sniff out Cam Newton’s fourth-down run in Week 2) and the leader throughout. Don’t just take it from me. Pro Football Focus named Wagner to its All-Pro team — the only Seahawk honored — writing: “Wagner tallied 53 defensive stops, 19 total pressures and nine forced incompletions, the most among any linebacker. Things throughout the league may change, but Wagner’s place among the game’s best seems like a constant.”
SPECIAL TEAMS MVP
PK Jason Myers/P Michael Dickson
I went back and forth honoring these two during the quarterly reports and couldn’t just pick one. Myers is 47 of 52 on field-goal attempts in his two seasons in Seattle, a percentage of 90.4 that is best in team history — and he set a team record this season with a 61-yarder against the Rams. Dickson led the NFL with 32 punts downed inside the 20-yard line with a gross average of 49.6 that was second in the NFL. And yes, this means I’m leaving off the two Seahawks special-teamers who made the Pro Bowl — snapper Tyler Ott and Nick Bellore.
MOST UNDERRATED PLAYER
LB K.J. Wright
OK, Wright’s value is well-known in Seattle. But nationally his importance over the past decade has not been as appreciated. In his 10th NFL season, Wright had one of his best and most important years. He shifted to strongside linebacker in the base defense following an injury to Bruce Irvin, which allowed first-round draft pick Jordyn Brooks to step in at weakside linebacker. Wright finished with the eighth-best grade among 90 linebackers by Pro Football Focus and ranked seventh in pass coverage.
The Giants loss
Yep, if the Seahawks had won that game and everything else went the same, they would have claimed the No. 1 NFC seed. That would have given them a bye this weekend and a home game next weekend. And it didn’t them feel better when the Giants lost each of their next three games by at least 14 points.
That’s the Seahawks’ record this year when winning the turnover battle. And although turnovers may seem like the most cliché stat to cite, the importance in Seattle’s success and how Pete Carroll coaches is hard to ignore. If you wondered why Wilson and the offense seemed more cautious down the stretch, turnover prevention was a big reason after the 10 giveaways in a four-game span at midseason. They are 75-14 under Carroll when winning the turnover battle and 17-1 the past two years, including 25-3 the past three.
KEY PLAYOFF QUESTION
Will the explosive passing game return?
The Seahawks had 22 pass plays of 25 yards or longer the first eight games of the season but just eight in the final eight. They went 6-2 in each half, so the Seahawks showed they can win a variety of ways. But it’d probably be easier winning in the playoffs with a few more chunk plays.