The Seahawks 2011 season has definitely been one to remember. It was bound to be an unusual year because of the lockout - abnormal because of the Draft before free agency, shortened OTAs and a truncated training camp, and those types of things tend to affect teams with new leadership and personnel more than teams with a more established front office and roster.
The Seahawks, predictably, started slow.
New starting quarterback in Tarvaris Jackson, new offensive coordinator in Darrell Bevell. New assistant head coach and offensive line coach in Tom Cable. Still relatively new front office and head coach in John Schneider, Scot McCloughan and Pete Carroll, still trying to impart a philosophy while turning over a roster and weathering the maelstrom of doubt and uncertainty in the locker room that inevitably follows such an upheaval, especially considering the beginning of the season saw the departure of two Seattle team leaders and city icons in Matt Hasselbeck and Lofa Tatupu.
Seattle had a very tough start to the year, schedule wise, losing to an eventual 13-3 49ers team on the road, an eventual 12-4 Steelers team on the road, finding some respite in hosting and beating an eventual 8-8 Cardinals team and then narrowly losing to an eventual 10-6 Falcons team.
They went on to beat the eventual 9-7 Giants in New York and lose to the eventual 4-12 Browns on the road. They lost to eventual 9-7 Cincinnati Bengals team at home then again to eventual 8-8 Dallas on the road. At 2-6 through the first eight, Seattle had faced five eventual playoff teams in San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, New York, and Cincinnati.
FIVE of EIGHT. The three opponents that didn't eventually make it to the playoffs were the Browns, Cardinals, and Cowboys; Arizona finished at .500 and narrowly out of the playoff picture, the Cowboys lost their final game to New York in a loser-go-home situation to finish .500, and, obviously, that Cleveland game was the obvious 'gimme' game in the first half that slipped away.
Considering the circumstances, though not unique to the Seahawks, a new QB, a young line, a very young defense, a new system, new coaching staff, and a very tough schedule, a 2-6 start is not all that surprising or alarming. Sure, I would have liked to have seen them beat Cleveland, but apart from that game, the Seahawks performed about as well as you could have hoped for.
The offensive theme to start the year revolved around the no-huddle, and at times it provided some spark. It limited defenses' ability to change out personnel, and it set the tempo in Seattle's favor at time. It alleviated some of the overthinking and second guessing that was happening on the offensive line and made it easier for the players to just play.
As for the 2nd half, the Seahawks purposefully abandoned the no-huddle, eschewing that tactic for a steadfast dedication to the run.
Against Cleveland in Week 6, the Hawks ran 17 times and passed 30 times in a losing effort against a bad team. In Week 8 against the Bengals, they ran 20 times while throwing 40 passes and lost. The Week 9 matchup with the Cowboys represented a turning point, as the Hawks finally achieved the balance they ostensibly wanted, passing 30 times and running 30 times in a close loss. The next week, the Seahawks took it even further, rushing 42 times while throwing 27 passes, and unpredictably beat an eventual 12-4 Ravens club 22-17. The Hawks never looked back from this one, only rarely reviving the no-huddle as more of a gimmick or change up and less as a tenet.
This change was not coincidental. It was a conscious choice by the coaching staff to prioritize their culture and philosophy in the long run over wins in the short run - more simply put, they said "f*ck it, let's just run the ball, establish our styles, and the outcome is irrelevant." Maybe surprisingly, maybe not, it started working.
Marshawn Lynch apparently accepted a fundamental change in his running style as proposed by Tom Cable: "We made a deal - you have to do it the way I tell you to do it, I ask you to do it," Cable said. "And he's done it. So a lot of credit, to me, goes to him because he was willing to kind of maybe push his ego or push own beliefs, to some extent, aside and then embrace something new.
"Because this is a system that asks backs to do things a certain way. Once you get in and through the line of scrimmage, then do your thing. You can do all the craziness you want then. But you've got to do it this way from A to B. And he bought in from A to B. And after that, what you do from C on is you."
Lynch began to improve on his runs from A to B - largely eliminating the dancing and fidgeting behind the line that had driven fans crazy early in the season and into last year. Then, predictably, has been a beast at point C, breaking tackles and consistently pushing the pile. Krazyleggs has a great piece put together on Lynch's running style that will be up in the next few days as well, so stay tuned for that.
The Seahawks offense responded around this success and the pass game opened up a bit to an extent. Though I wouldn't classify the Seahawks' offense as 'dangerous' this season, I would say they've got potential to be. They run the ball well, mix in some intermediate passing, and take shots downfield.
The offensive equation is there, but the execution was not. In theory, the weapons are there - Marshawn Lynch is the punishing lead back, there to pick up positive yardage first and second down and get into the endzone in the redzone. Leon Washington got a little more action late in the season, particularly at Arizona, and proved he can be that change of pace, 'home-run' running back. Though the run game proved to be pretty consistent towards the end the year, the passing offense was not.
Zach Miller was not as big of a part of the passing offense as you'd hope for. Tight ends Anthony McCoy and Cameron Morrah dropped more passes than you'd hope for. Sidney Rice got hurt more often than you'd hope for. Mike Williams and Tarvaris Jackson did not have the rapport that we'd hoped for. Tarvaris Jackson takes more sacks than you'd hope for and isn't as assertive or decisive as you'd hope for.
Sidney Rice has the potential and talent to be their #1. Mike Williams, in theory, would be a great compliment on the other side as a possession receiver; a guy that can move the chains and dominate smaller corners on comebacks and outroutes. Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin have the potential to be the underneath, slot type receivers. Kris Durham and Ricardo Lockette are intriguing but mostly total unknowns.
For a multitude of reasons though, the passing offense just didn't really come together with consistency. The injuries definitely hurt. Both Rice and Williams seemed to be pretty consistently hobbled or out altogether. Tate didn't come on till later in the season. Baldwin was basically the only consistent receiver in the corps and he ended up leading the team in receptions, yards, and touchdowns.
As for the issues, obviously, some of the blame goes to Tarvaris Jackson as the quarterback, but we saw big drops and poor execution. But, as Pete Carroll pointed out in an interview on Brock and Salk today, Jackson didn't show the ability to mount game-winning or comeback drives late in games. He acquitted himself well, at times, where the lead needed to be protected, but the 'it factor' just wasn't there when a comeback was in order.
As for the defense, the scheme changes from last season were subtle but substantial. Gone, largely, were the under fronts and attacking defensive alignments and the Tampa-2 was phased out almost completely (if not totally completely). As Thomas pointed out recently in commentary, Seattle 'moved from a two-gap/one-gap mixed under defense to a primarily one-gap-and-wait over defense, with the linebackers having significantly different roles - mostly covering flats and containing gaps over playing tight on the TE and having players funneled towards you on the weakside.' I'm not going to detail it too much because Beekers is going to be doing a write up on that, but regardless, the results were largely positive.
Seattle went from a bottom of the barrel defense in 2010 to a top-10, top-15 defense in 2011. A large part of it was the added talent of Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, and the emergence of Kam Chancellor, but Earl Thomas' progression as a player was integral as well. Because of his improvement, the Seahawks were able to run a cover-1 the majority of the time - meaning Earl was the lone man with help over the top, which allowed Kam Chancellor to be more available at the line to stop the run and run with tight ends. Earl's range helped limit 'explosive plays', and Seattle went from near the bottom of the league in giving up pass plays of 20+ yards to near the league's lead.
In a bend-but-don't-break system, this is pretty integral. If you're giving up pass plays over the top, you're not bending. You're breaking. Though Seattle did 'break' a few times - notably against Washington and San Francisco - there was vast improvement. Also integral in the bend-but-don't-break defense is to create turnovers, something the Seahawks defense vastly improved on. The Hawks intercepted 22 passes this season, up from 12 in 2010, and also forced 13 fumbles for the +8 turnover ratio. The Hawks finished fourth in the NFL in this category, and you better believe that Pete Carroll hammers this statistic home consistently. It's all about the ball.
Overall, despite some of the concerns and shortcomings from this year's campaign, there are a great many things to be excited about looking forward with this team, both in the personnel on the roster and in the front office. I personally feel that fans should consider themselves extremely lucky that the Seahawks are led by the wise and benevolent triumvirate of John Schneider, Pete Carroll and Scot McCloughan. This is a front office rooted in scouting and talent evaluation, recruiting and managing a young team with a specific and proprietary philosophical blueprint.
Davis will be getting more in depth with this tomorrow but I honestly feel like Seattle has one of the most cutting edge and exciting roster building and organizational models in the NFL today, one that is modeled after franchises like Green Bay and Pittsburgh, with the unique "Win Forever" theme and Pete Carroll's unconventional coaching style derived from greats like Bill Walsh and John Wooden interwoven within.
If nothing else, it is apparent that there is a clear and methodical plan for acquiring the right personnel and an explicit overarching organizational philosophy in place - and that's something that cannot be underestimated. That's probably what I'm most excited about, honestly.
This harmony and synergy between owner, president, GM, coaches, and players is important in my opinion, and is what many of the struggling franchises lack. Discord and disagreement between front office personnel and coaching staffs are fairly common, I would think, and are probably largely responsible for many of the shortcomings that teams have. Though I'm obviously an outsider, from my spot it sure looks like the goals and philosophies of JS, PC, Paul Allen, and even guys like Tom Cable are pretty directly aligned and this gives the Seahawks organization a huge advantage. Again, Davis has put together a killer piece on this for tomorrow, so make sure to check back.
Anyway, I'll follow up in the next few days with more specifics about this Seahawks team, taking a quick look at the player that made a difference this year. Stay tuned...