As part of my Seahawks' Draft Thoughts series, I thought I'd take a detour to just talk about the Seahawks organization in general. The letter "I" is for identity.
A few lost years had gone past, and I remained earnestly waiting. In 2011, I was granted my wish. In 2011, my Seattle Seahawks found an identity.
During the opening seven games of 2011, the Seahawks were exasperating to watch, despite the exciting win at the New York Giants. Pete Carroll had temporarily lost his way - he had moved off the running game in favor of the no-huddle offense, and was scrambling for any sort of life on that side of the ball. Anything to manufacture points. QB Tarvaris Jackson had torn his right pectoral muscle versus the Giants, and QB Charlie Whitehurst laid an egg in Cleveland to the tune of a 6-3 loss. The Seahawks then came home to play an improved Bengals team, and lost a frustrating game in front of disenchanted fans at CenturyLink Field, 34-12. It was the day before Halloween.
I was at that Bengals game with Scott Enyeart, and we grumpily debated, throughout the second half, whether Carroll should have kicked the field goal versus going for the touchdown right before half. The touchdown was stuffed. It was that type of day.
Driving home that dark, orange and black day, little did I know - good things were on the horizon.
Here is how I have pieced together what happened the following week. The Bengals game was behind the Seahawks, and at 2-5, the Cowboys awaited them in Dallas. The 2011 CBA-Lockout and lack of offseason was taking its toll on a young team. The run defense was solid, but the pass defense was not exactly noteworthy in losses to Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Cincinnati, and in the win at New York. The Seahawks' special teams had given up big plays versus San Fran and Cincy, and had taken a step back in their level of play versus a solid 2010. The passing game was bad, perhaps falsely boosted by glimpses of no-huddle success. The running game was bad too - through his first six games (seven, including the CLE game where he did not play), RB Marshawn Lynch had gained a total of 263 yards for a meager 43.8 yards per game average.
Pete Carroll and Tom Cable, who had a memorable Black Halloween meeting against each other in 2010, had a melding of the minds before the Dallas game. The two coaches committed to this - "win or lose, let's run the ball." In a season where the Packers and Patriots were on their path, scoring 35 points per game via aerial fireworks, these two key leaders of the Seahawks said, "Let's bag this no-huddle. Let's just run and see what we get." Said Pete - "this is what I originally came here from USC to do, and this is what I brought you here post-Oakland to do - run the football."
Against the Bengals, Lynch carried the ball 16 times for a grand total of 24 yards. I don't think Lynch changed overnight, but something happened in Dallas with the level of commitment from the coaches, the offensive line, and the gameplan. The Seahawks season turned in the Week Nine 23-13 loss to the Cowboys.
Lynch ran the ball in Dallas 23 times for 135 yards. More importantly, you could feel the run game turn when you watched that game. The defense gave up healthy yards to Tony Romo, and the run defense was worryingly stretched by RB Demarco Murray sideline to sideline. Yet big things happened that Sunday in Big- D.
And yet it wasn't the D, but the offense that found an identity.
It's an identity that few fans relish. NFL fans know that the NFL is a passing league, and many desperately want the identity of the Seahawks to be that of a passing team, built around an Elite Passer. That's what Green Bay has, that's what New England has. And that may happen, to a limited extent, someday, under the Pete Carroll era - I haven't given up hope. But, for now, without that standout triggerman, you have to hang your offensive hat on something.
The Seahawks hung a Size 8 Snapback (If those could exist), with a tilted brim, on Marshawn Lynch's dreadlocked dome to the tune of a 104.6 yards per game (for Lynch specifically) down the closing nine games of 2011.
Don't get me wrong - the identity of the current Seahawks revolves, for now, around Pete Carroll and his hybrid defense. His corners pressing, his safeties lurking, his Leo's sacking, and his Red Bryant's "5-tech-ing" Yet, it took the running game to provide support and allow this young, unique defense to find themselves in favorable situations, force punts and create turnovers.
Below are the offensive rushing game stats for the last nine games of the 2011 season (attempts and yards). Note the consistency of the attack.
DAL 30 rushes, 162 yards
BAL 42 rushes, 119 yards
STL 39 rushes, 126 yards
WAS 30 rushes, 124 yards
PHI 33 rushes, 174 yards
STL 32 rushes, 145 yards
CHI 33 rushes, 60 yards
SFO 26 rushes, 124 yards
ARZ 34 rushes, 178 yards
Not too bad. Only one game with less than 30 attempts (SFO), and only one game achieved under 100 yards (CHI). Interestingly, the Seahawks averaged only 4.05 yards per attempt during that span. Not great, and not that different from their 2011 season average of 4.0. 4.0 was good for a mere 25th in the NFL, in terms of yards per attempt. The running game was a grind. The running game was a commitment.
The Seahawks, using their 33.2 average in attempts per game in that nine game stretch powered out 134.7 yards per game on the ground. Carried out over 16 games, 134.7 yards per game would rank them up at 6th in the NFL in terms of rushing. The Seahawks would sit behind only DEN, HOU, CAR, MIN, and PHI. Obviously, three of those teams had QBs that could run, HOU had Arian Foster, and MIN had Adrian Peterson.
And the defense did it's thing. During the nine game span, the turnovers began to come - according to Pete Carroll, at the 12th Man 2012 Town Hall, better than any other NFL team during that span. Opposing offenses were held in check.
The Seahawks defense gave up an average of 17 points per game over the nine game stretch. The defense did not yield more than 23 points to any team during that period. To refresh your memory - the Seahawks points allowed were: DAL 23, BAL 17, STL 7, WAS 23, PHI 14, STL 13, CHI 14, SFO 19, and ARZ 23 (OT loss).
The Seahawks defense finished the 2011 season giving up an average of 19.7 points per game, good for a respectable 7th best in the NFL. During those last nine games, they gave up 17.0 points per game. 17.0 points per game equates to the 4th best defense in the NFL in 2011 in regards to points. PIT allowed 14.2, SFO 14.3 and BAL 16.6 points per game.
Of course, the offense got a little boost as well, averaging 23.6 points per game over that span, while scoring only 15.6 points per game in the first seven games. The Seahawks finished the season averaging 20.1 points per game. Interestingly, the 11th ranked offensive team in terms of points per game was SFO at 23.8. Number 12 was the other Harbaugh, BAL, which scored 23.6 points per game in 2011.
If the Seahawks were able to carry the identity found in the last nine games of 2011 - they would be on par with the 12th best offense and the 4th best defense when it comes down to points scored and points allowed. They would be on par with the Ravens.
It almost sounds blasphemous to compare the Seahawks to the Ravens, (and I don't think the Seahawks are on their level) but something noteworthy did happen in the last nine games of 2011. A running identity, a physical identity, a defensive identity, a turn-the-opponent-over identity emerged.
Impressively, the Seahawks didn't lose too much in the offseason. They gained on both sides of the ball. The Seahawks lost MLB David Hawthorne, but replaced him with a younger, faster Bobby Wagner. They lost TE John Carlson, but he didn't contribute in 2011, and Seattle may have found something left in the tank with TE Kellen Winslow Jr. They lost big nickel S Atari Bigby, but drafted S Winston Guy. QB Charlie Whitehurst walked on water back to San Diego, but the Seahawks pulled out QB Matt Flynn and QB Russell Wilson. DE Chris Clemons is disgruntled, but is still under club control, along with new DE Bruce Irvin. RB Justin Forsett is gone, but now the Seahawks have RB Robert Turbin. DT Anthony Hargrove was replaced with interior pass rushers - Jason Jones and Jaye Howard. The Seahawks also enjoy a full offseason to teach and develop a young roster.
The Seahawks return 10 of 11 starters on defense, and the nickel package is now greatly improved with the likes of Irvin, Jones, Howard, Guy, Trufant and others. Don't be surprised if Dexter Davis, Bobby Wagner, Jeremy Lane or Byron Maxwell flash promise. Perhaps Greg Scruggs, Donny Lisowski, or Deshawn Shead finds a role on an already talented defense. And, there are others, the defense is talented - and getting deep.
The weakest part of the current Seahawks remains the passing attack, and the Seahawks fed critics by staying silent at the WR position. Skepticism remains at home, and around the NFL, about the prospects of Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson, but no one can doubt that the QB position group has been strengthened as compared to 2011. The Seahawks may not find a strong passing identity in 2012, behind whichever quarterback wins the three-way competition. But for now, perhaps this weakness can be partially hidden, as the identity revolves around Pete Carroll, a strong running game, and potentially, a top-5 defense. In 2012, the 20th best passing attack in the NFL may just be enough to power the Seahawks to 9-7 and flirting with a playoff spot.
Post-script: For those of you keeping track at home, yes, I skipped H - which is coming, but I got going with Identity and so here you have it.