It’s a pivotal season for so many reasons for these 2021 Seahawks. There are many questions yet to be answered, and we will begin to learn a lot about this team, and its new offense, in the Seahawks’ difficult season opener Sunday morning against the Colts in Indianapolis.
Until then, Times beat writers Bob Condotta and Adam Jude have answers to six key questions to set the stage for this team and its potential. Let’s get to them:
What is your biggest concern with this Seahawks team?
Condotta: The cornerbacks. Not to beat a dead horse, but it’s hard to ignore the uncertainty at cornerback and not have some concern that the team’s best-laid plan — free agent Ahkello Witherspoon being worth the $4 million guaranteed they gave him — has already blown up. Some of the new corners are intriguing, especially former Husky star Sidney Jones. But as training camp showed, the Seahawks have had sporadic success through the years quickly acclimating cornerbacks from other teams to their system. The cornerback spot will be a huge question mark until proven otherwise.
Jude: The offensive line. Speaking of beating a dead horse, Bob. The Seahawks’ line has been a perennial punching bag, taking hits from every corner of Seahawks fandom at virtually every turn over the past decade. But that criticism came from a new source this offseason when QB Russell Wilson made public his frustration with getting hit so often in his career. And even if, as they suggest, things are all good now between Wilson and his linemen, the star QB has added even more pressure to the maligned line — and the spotlight has grown larger on its ability to provide adequate protection. Duane Brown, at 36, remains an elite left tackle, but questions abound about the rest of the line, and about its ability to maintain and up-tempo offense over the course of a 17-game season.
What are you most excited about?
Jude: The pass rush. There is so much potential here, and we saw that come to life late last season. The Seahawks had 37 sacks over the final 10 games of the 2020 season, six more than any other defense in the league. That second-half surge coincided with the trade for veteran edge rusher Carlos Dunlap, who is back for his first full season with the Seahawks. Add in Benson Mayowa, Kerry Hyder Jr. and Alton Robinson — plus newcomer Darrell Taylor and a healthy Jamal Adams — and the pass rush ought to be the strength of this Seattle defense.
Condotta: The new offense. Unlike the change from Darrell Bevell to Brian Schottenheimer, which seemed like change for the sake of change, the transition from Schottenheimer to Shane Waldron might really yield an offense that looks different. Seahawks fans have clamored for years for the offense to go up-tempo more often. Early indications are they could get their wish. But along with tempo, Waldron also will introduce a lot of “eye candy” — presnap motion in particular — to try to create some big plays. It’ll be fascinating to watch what happens.
Who is your pick as this team’s breakout player?
Condotta: Jordyn Brooks. There’ll be a lot of eyes on Brooks as he takes over as the full-time weakside linebacker following Seattle’s decision not to re-sign K.J. Wright. Brooks got ample playing time in the preseason, finishing fifth on the team in tackles with 10 along with one pass defense, the area of his game that needed the most work from his rookie year. Brooks received an 81.7 overall grade for the preseason from Pro Football Focus (on a scale of 0-100) with PFF concluding: “If the preseason is any indication, the Seahawks’ linebacking corps won’t miss a beat.”
Jude: Jamal Adams. With his new contract signed, Adams has the long-term security he wanted — and the comfort he was seeking in Seattle. The versatile safety had a good season while playing through a litany of injuries in his debut season with the Seahawks. Now healthy, he expects to be great this season. It’s not unreasonable to expect an All-Pro-type performance — how does 125 tackles, 10 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions sound? Those are numbers that could very well have Adams in the discussion for the Defensive Player of the Year.
Who is the Seahawks most underrated player?
Jude: Poona Ford. He’s always been an underdog in the NFL. He’s undersized for a typical nose tackle, and he went undrafted in 2018 — but the Seahawks have learned not to underestimate him. He was rewarded this offseason with a two-year deal worth up to $14 million, and he’ll be worth every penny for the Seahawks this season.
Condotta: Brandon Shell. An overlooked factor in the offensive struggles in the second half last season were injuries to the offensive line. Shell was on his way to the best season of his six-year career before a midseason ankle injury caused him to miss five games down the stretch. Shell was particularly good in pass protection. Seattle will need him to replicate that while staying healthy for all 17 games this year. And it’s not as if they don’t have high expectations for Shell — his $5.375 million cap hit for this season is now the fifth-highest on the team.
Which team is the Seahawks’ biggest threat in the NFC West?
Condotta: The 49ers. How to explain San Francisco’s dip last year to 6-10 after almost winning the Super Bowl the year before? Well, as Football Outsiders put it “everyone got hurt.” In fact, FO calculated that the 49ers suffered the second-most games lost due to injury of any team in the NFL since 2004. Regardless of the 49ers’ QB situation — and the view here is that Jimmy Garoppolo when healthy is better than given credit for — if more of their key players stay healthy then the 49ers loom as a legit contender for the division title again.
Jude: The Rams. Sean McVay’s offense has already proved plenty troublesome for the Seahawks — and for just about everyone in the NFL — and you know McVay is giddy about the acquisition of veteran QB Matthew Stafford. The Rams also have one of the best defenses in the NFL and that, to me, makes them the team to beat in the rugged NFC West.
Will the Seahawks finally break their drought and get past the divisional round?
Condotta: Yes. Seattle is in win-now mode, and the view here is they are better suited for a deep playoff run right now than they were this time a year ago. Also, if not now, with Russell Wilson turning 33 this year, Duane Brown 36, Bobby Wagner 31 and Jamal Adams’ future secured, then when? And if not this year, then what happens next? It’s hard to escape the feeling this is a make-or-break year for the Seahawks.
Jude: Um, uh, maybe? Lukewarm answer, perhaps, but it’s difficult to make a full-fledged commitment without seeing this offense in action. It should all blend together for a first-time offensive coordinator — it should work for just about any play-caller with Wilson, DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and Chris Carson on the field. The Seahawks themselves have a strong belief in their direction, but from the outside it’s OK to have a healthy skepticism. They still have much to prove.