The Seahawks’ potential pitfalls in an otherwise highly hopeful season are quite obvious to anyone who was paying attention last year.
The offensive line that allowed Russell Wilson to be sacked a league-high 48 times has been revamped, but the lack of preseason games diminished the opportunity for the new unit to jell. Or to be objectively evaluated.
And the defensive line that produced a mere 28 sacks — only Miami had fewer in the NFL — has been similarly reconfigured, without its best 2020 performer, the elusive Jadeveon Clowney. There are a lot of new bodies, but it remains to be seen if that translates to the requisite mayhem so glaringly absent in the pass rush last year.
If the old saw that games are won and lost in the trenches is still a trenchant observation, well, coach Pete Carroll by December could develop some new furrows in his brow (which is remarkably furrow-free for a guy on the verge of his 69th birthday).
Thus ends the disclaimer portion of this column. The crux of the thesis is that the Seahawks are set up to soar in 2020, a year that already has been highly eventful before the first official kickoff has been executed.
Wilson’s brilliance gives them a chance every year. That’s why the Seahawks are paying him $35 million annually. Wilson’s career passer rating of 101.2 is second only to Aaron Rodgers (102.4) all time, and he’s coming off one of his best years ever (31 touchdown passes in 2019 with just five interceptions).
If this is the year Carroll finally “let Russ cook” — which roughly translates to summoning the same offensive urgency for the entire game that the Seahawks often waited to unleash until they were in dire straits — Wilson has the weapons to make it work. In Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, Wilson has two game-breaking receivers (with Metcalf seemingly on the verge of joining the upper echelon of NFL receivers), and the addition of Greg Olsen and return of Will Dissly makes tight end a viable threat as well.
The running game is solid with 1,000-yard rushers Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde and will be augmented when Rashaad Penny returns from his knee injury.
Much will be determined by how the Seahawks integrate three new starters on the offensive line, but the good news is that Wilson has already shown in his career a propensity for thriving behind lackluster lines.
The real determination of whether the Seahawks can break out of their rut of second-round playoff ousters will come on the defensive side. The Seahawks’ defense ranked 25th in yards allowed last year and 22nd in points allowed — a precipitous downfall for a proud and once-dominant unit.
In the offseason, Wilson pleaded for the addition of superstars to the roster. They added a lot of potentially useful players — including Hyde, Olsen, wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, pass rushers Benson Mayowa and Bruce Irvin, and cornerback Quinton Dunbar — and one superstar.
That was safety Jamal Adams, whom they will be looking to transform the defense via talent and attitude. Along with cornerbacks Dunbar and Shaquill Griffin and free safety Quandre Diggs, it’s the best Seahawk secondary since the Legion of Boom days.
“He can do everything we want a guy to do,” Carroll said in training camp of Adams — including rush the passer in blitz packages. That yielded Adams six sacks with the New York Jets in 2019 until he agitated his way into the offseason trade that cost Seattle two first-round draft picks. The Seahawks’ sack leader last year, by comparison, was Rasheem Green with four.
The Seattle linebacking corps was stellar last year and will be again this year, led by Bobby Wagner, who twice in the past three years has led the NFL in tackles. It’s a deep and productive unit.
That brings us full circle back to the defensive line, which must find a way to harass the quarterback far more than a year ago for the Seahawks to thrive.
Absent of landing a double-digit sacker, the Seahawks opted to attack the problem with bulk and quantity. Free-agent signees Irvin and Mayowa combined for 15.5 sacks last year. Rookie Alton Robinson has potential (as does second-round pick Darrell Taylor, but he missed camp because of a leg injury and appears to be out for a while). They hope for big gains from Green in his third year and L.J. Collier in his second, the latter a first-round draft pick who barely played as a rookie because of injury. And they hope defensive tackle Jarran Reed can approach the 10.5 sacks he had two years ago (down to two last year).
That’s a lot of ifs and wishes, but the Seahawks have always done best with a defense built from the back forward, as this one is. Last year’s 11-5 record was established on the shaky foundation of 10 wins in one-possession games — those decided by eight points or fewer. That tied the 1978 Houston Oilers for the most close wins in the past 79 years. And their plus-7 point differential was the second lowest of any 11-win team in NFL history.
Those stats point strongly to a team that was unsustainably lucky. But you could also point to the five-point 49ers loss, when the Seahawks were agonizingly stopped on the 1-yard line as time expired; a win would have given them the vital division championship. Or the five-point playoff loss in Green Bay, when the Seahawks gave Wilson a chance with 4:54 left but were forced to punt and never got the ball back.
It’s the tiniest margin for error, that fine line between triumph and tribulation in the NFL. The Seahawks have a team capable of bursting through that line and making a strong run at another Super Bowl berth.