The Four Seasons of the 2011 Seattle Seahawks

DK edit: Thought this was a fun read so I'm posting it to the front page. Apologies if you've already read it, as it's a few days old, but sometimes fanposts can get lost in the shuffle. Enjoy...

I have no idea what the hell I'm doing.

Well, that's not entirely true. I remember reading John Morgan's write-ups in 2009 and 2010 about the various directions that the teams of those years could go, and found it interesting that the same exact roster and coaching staff could have wildly different results depending on one's interpretation of that roster and staff. Since I generally have little else to say about the Seahawks analysis-wise (what the hell is a "Sam", anyway?), I figured I'd give this thing a whirl.

(Please note that this is, in essence, glorified fanfiction. The intent is merely to elaborate on the many ways that the season can play out. That we are currently 1-2 in the preseason with a shaky offensive line and poor quarterback play is, for the purposes of this write-up, immaterial. Hey, we were looking pretty good in the preseason back in '09 - how'd that end up for us?)

So here are the four potential outcomes of the upcoming season for our beloved Seahawks:

0-4 wins

Offensively, the 2011 Seahawks are a comedy of errors. The combination of inexperience and lack of preparation time proves to be an absolute bane for our young offensive line, who take several weeks to generate any sort of chemistry. Tarvaris Jackson plays himself out of the starting role by the bye week, as he continues to exhibit a lack of poise or accuracy. Charlie Whitehurst is brought in as the potential savior for the season, but in his first extended stint as starter he doesn't do much better. In desperation, Josh Portis is brought out for the last four games of the season, and he ends up being just as talented as any other undrafted rookie out of a Division II school.

The wealth of tight ends and wide receivers on the roster goes completely to waste, as nobody under center has the time to throw to them. Knowing that the passing game is not a serious threat, defenses continually stack the box against us, neutralizing an otherwise formidable running game. Injuries also rear their ugly head on the offensive side of the ball, as both Russell Okung and Sidney Rice miss significant playing time - and those are just the players we expect to go down.

Defensively, the Seahawks get chewed up on a weekly basis. Our secondary continues to be a liability, and although second-year players Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor show improvement, opposing OCs soon learn that the easiest way to attack the Seahawks defense is through the air with long vertical strikes. Aaron Curry, the 2009 first-round pick once thought to be a can't-miss superstar when he was drafted, crumbles after having to restructure his contract, continues to make mental errors on the field, and is lucky not to be cut or traded by the end of the season, cementing his status as one of the team's biggest draft busts. The run defense, which was decent in 2010 up until the injury to Red Bryant, proves to be useful only during garbage time, when the other team has already scored enough points to win.

Special teams proves to be the lone bright spot, albeit marginally. The new kickoff rules result in Jeff Reed causing a lot of touchbacks, but his field goal percentage is not as reliable as Olindo Mare's were. On the flip side, kickoff returns generate little to no excitement for the Seahawks, and a segment of the game that singlehandedly earned us one of our wins last year (and helped contribute to a second) is taken away. The only true star on the team is punter Jon Ryan, who ends up leading the league in yards per punt - but only because he's called upon to do it so much, and he has so much field to work with because the offense struggles to advance the ball.

The 2011 schedule also conspires against the Seahawks. With the team playing half of their games against the brutal AFC North and NFC East, the team's spotty history on the road against east-coast teams - particularly the early games at Pittsburgh and the Giants early in the season - bury the Seahawks' chances before the season even has a chance to get going. Ultimately, the only wins the Seahawks have a reasonable chance to win - aside from a week 8 meeting at home against the Bengals - are its home games against the other teams in the NFC West.

The Seahawks end up with a top-5 pick in the 2012 draft, but with the Bengals and Bills drafting Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley respectively, the Seahawks are forced to trade down for more later-round picks, delaying their search for a franchise quarterback for yet another year.

5-7 wins

Offensively, the 2011 Seahawks struggle for consistency. While inexperience and lack of preparation time prove to be a challenge for our young offensive line, they begin to grow into their roles midway into the season, executing run blocking and pass protection decently enough to give our QBs time to throw and our halfbacks room to run. Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst battle for the starter role as the season progresses, and while neither generate any Pro Bowl talk, Jackson plays better than he did in the preseason and Whitehurst performs about as well as he did.

Much of the Seahawks' offensive success comes by keeping defensive coordinators guessing with the wide variety of formations they run in. Two tight-end sets with Zach Miller and John Carlson Dominique Byrd keep defenses on their toes, and the 1-2 punch of Mike Williams and Sidney Rice keep opposing secondaries honest. With a decent passing attack, running lanes open up for Marshawn Lynch and Leon Washington. While Russell Okung continues to have issues with his ankles and finds himself on the injury report a few times, it's never more than for a single game.

Defensively, the Seahawks adopt their familiar tactic of bending and not breaking. While our secondary continues to get victimized by opposing quarterbacks, the ball-hawking skills of Earl Thomas begin to truly emerge. The talented run defense helmed by Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant, and Chris Clemons essentially forces opponents to beat us in the air, while Aaron Curry settles down a bit after restructuring his contract, dialing back his mental errors enough to be a positive factor for the team - if not the dominant LB he had been projected as.

Special teams are obviously affected by the new kickoff rules, and while Seahawk fans are deprived as many chances at electric kickoff returns as we had enjoyed last year, Jeff Reed does a good job of exploiting the heightened chance for touchbacks, and his field goal numbers end up comparable to those we saw from Olindo Mare. The punting unit becomes the team's hidden talent, as Jon Ryan frequently helps us win the battle for field position with kicks that pin our opponents deep in their own territory.

Sadly, the team's biggest failing is the one out of their control - the schedule. What could have been a .500 team or better is sabotaged by eight games against the NFC East and AFC North, and three early road games played east of the Mississippi at the start of the season puts the 'Hawks in an early hole. While they do their best to defend their home field, the team is not expected to win on the road against any teams other than perhaps their divisional opponents. While locked in the NFC West title race for much of the season, they eventually fade away late in the year and miss the playoffs.

Midway through the season, the Seahawks manage to package a deal for one of their players and their first-rounder to Oakland for their first-rounder. It ends up being the #3 pick, and the Seahawks are able to snag Matt Barkley, who will have a couple of years to develop behind either Whitehurst or Jackson before being handed the reins of the offense.

8-9 wins

Offensively, the 2011 Seahawks are adequate, if not dominant. With leadership from LG Robert Gallery, the young offensive line gels more quickly than anticipated, and their preseason follies are soon forgotten. Russell Okung misses a game or two, but begins to show potential as a left tackle who could truly follow Walter Jones' footsteps. Tarvaris Jackson starts all 16 games under center, and while he won't be mistaken for an elite quarterback, he avoids shooting the team in the foot and his athleticism proves useful on plays when the line can't keep the pass rush back.

The Seahawks receiving corps and tight ends provide a genuine vertical threat on any given play. Mike Williams has an All-Pro season, and Sidney Rice provides a dangerous second option to the Seahawks passing attack. But the biggest strength on the team is the running game, as Marshawn Lynch continues to terrorize run defenses with his hard-nosed running style, and Leon Washington provides the lightning to Beast Mode's thunder.

Defensively, the Seahawks show flashes of grit and opportunism. Earl Thomas has a breakout season, and  the rest of the secondary does an OK job of keeping deep passing routes from being foregone conclusions, even if they give up more long pass plays than Gus Bradley would like. And while the Seahawks' running game proves to be good, the run defense is dominant, ranking among the top 10 run defenses throughout the season. Aaron Curry develops some humility after his contract was restructured, and while he may not live up to the high expectations, he seems to finally "get it" and become an asset to the team.

Special teams are obviously affected by the new kickoff rules, and while Seahawk fans are deprived as many chances at electric kickoff returns as we had enjoyed last year, Jeff Reed does a good job of exploiting the heightened chance for touchbacks, and his field goal numbers end up comparable to those we saw from Olindo Mare. The punting unit ranks among the league's best at winning the field position battle, with Jon Ryan in the top 5 for punts inside the 20-yard line.

Although the 2011 schedule is something of an uphill battle thanks to all of their east-coast confrontations, and the team starts with a 2-3 record going into the bye week, they win 4 of their remaining six home games and manage a couple of road upsets late in the season. It proves just enough to squeak into the postseason as NFC West champions for the second straight year, although they are quietly eliminated in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.

While the front office still looks for a franchise quarterback of the future, they're satisfied enough with the current players to focus on other needs, namely secondary and offensive line, and look for a bargain QB to draft in later rounds and develop behind Jackson and Whitehurst.

10+ wins

Offensively, the 2011 Seahawks are powerful, and even dominant at times. With leadership from LG Robert Gallery, the young offensive line quickly dispels the criticisms they earned in the postseason and become a cohesive unit. Russell Okung calms everyone's fears by starting all 16 games, and begins to emerge as a cornerstone of the team's offense for years to come. Tarvaris Jackson grows into a great game manager, using his feet to get out of trouble when necessary and making key passes in big moments.

Both Mike Williams and Sidney Rice provide a lethal 1-2 punch for the Seahawks' passing game, which is made even more dangerous by the performance of Zach Miller and John Carlson Dominique Byrd in the team's frequent 2-TE sets. But it's the running game that becomes the team's hallmark, as Marshawn Lynch and Leon Washington harken back to an era when the running game was doing all the heavy lifting, and Lynch earns his second Pro Bowl selection.

Defensively, the Seahawks show flashes of eliteness. The secondary may be the team's biggest weakness, but contributions from All-Pro safety Earl Thomas along with Marcus Trufant and Atari Bigby make deep passes a risky proposition for opposing quarterbacks. The run defense is adept at completely smothering an opponent's running game, and with no choice but to air it out, the rushing lanes are left wide open for the linebacking corps, including Aaron Curry, who finally quiets his naysayers with nine sacks on the season - three more than his first two seasons combined.

While the special teams are overshadowed by offense and defense, they help complement both units nicely. Not even the new kickoff rules can stop KR Thomas Clayton from breaking off several returns into opposing territory, while Jeff Reed's kickoffs result in an almost guaranteed touchback, not to mention an almost guaranteed 3 points when he comes in to kick a field goal. Meanwhile, Jon Ryan earns himself a Pro Bowl nod after more than half his punts are downed inside the 20, many of them inside the 10.

The season schedule appears at first glance to be the biggest threat to the team's success, but when the Seahawks pull off a stunning 21-10 upset against Pittsburgh in Week 2, the momentum that they get from that win helps carry them through much of the season. They finish with a perfect home record, and competitive on the road, even in those pesy morning games on the east coast. While the rest of the NFC West seems content to fight over second and third place, the Seahawks emerge as clear division champions. Their balanced offense and maturing defense carry them all the way to the NFC Championship game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

My alarm clock then goes off, and I wake up.

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