I think we are all feeling pretty damn happy with our team right now, aren't we? As long as nobody mentions Tarvaris Jackson, I think the fanbase feels good about what this team did this year and how much better this 7-9 season was than last years identical record. And for good reason:
- Marshawn Lynch
- Brandon Browner, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas (in no particular order)
- Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, Brandon Mebane (in alphabetical order, by last name)
- Pete Carroll, Tom Cable, John Schneider (oldest to youngest)
- A high draft pick
- A strong finish, though it could have been stronger
- My addition to Field Gulls
- Winning seven games while having key players on IR
That last part is pretty important. By seasons end, the IR listed key players: John Carlson, James Carpenter, John Moffitt, Russell Okung, Sidney Rice, Walter Thurmond, Marcus Trufant, and Mike Williams. Don't make the mistake of reading that as an excuse to losing nine games.
Instead, read it as this: The Seahawks placed three-fifths of their starting offensive line, their top two wide receivers (we thought that's what BMW would be at least and he was a starter) and two key cornerbacks on IR and didn't get their asses handed to them, while being able to get a good, long look at their depth. Seattle found out that they had depth without having to get embarrassed on the field.
Seattle was able to find out which offensive lineman they should retain for depth. They found out what Richard Sherman could do. They might have seen enough of Ricardo Lockette to keep him around, even if it's only on the practice squad next year. They saw some light with Golden Tate.
If this is a team that's going to be young, affordable, and effective, then Seattle needed to find out how good their scouting department was doing after the first two or three rounds of the draft. Did you see how many awesome players that the Packers snag after the first couple of rounds?
I better stop there before I start biting on the Packers articles. I am not going to talk about that. Anymore. Starting... NOW!
I want to talk about the opposite of that, because we do feel good as a fanbase, but how good should we feel? It's not that I want to be the party pooper but I am going to take a dump on something: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
I'm really, really sorry Tampa fans. It's nothing personal against you. But I do NOT want to see what happened to Tampa Bay this year happen to the Hawks. I know that a lot of Seattle fans probably feel like that's not possible and that they have faith that the organization would not let that happen (and I would agree!) but to just completely ignore the possibility seems shortsighted to me.
If we want to sit back and feel all warm and fuzzy inside, I'm all for that. I'll light the candles and you run the bath water. But there are still steps that need to be taken to avoid a Tampa Bay-like tumble and the most important ones will be the personnel moves that do or do not happen. What lessons can be learned from the Bucs total collapse in 2011?
Let's try to learn from it, because every mistake made in this league is an opportunity to learn, even if you aren't the team that makes it.
Why Tampa Bay and what does that have to do with Seattle?
The 2010 Bucs went 10-6 and were one of the youngest teams in the league. (Maybe the youngest? They were the youngest this season, I believe.) They went from 3-13 in the first year of Raheem Morris to that 10-6 record and just barely fell short of the playoffs. How good were they?
Well, that's the thing. They could be happy with their record. They could be happy with Josh Freeman. But Tampa did not really dominate in the way you'd expect a 10-6 team to dominate in anything. The Bucs finished 19th in total offense, 17th in total defense, and their biggest strength was their +9 turnover differential. They waited until week 17 to beat a team with a winning record, the Saints. The Saints sucked so much that they lost to the Seahawks the next week!
New Orleans did not really suck, but the second-best team that they beat all year might have been the Rams and they beat them by a single point at home.
Tampa Bay was 10-6, and they didn't really have a bad loss, but those good feelings that they might have had about being young, being under a second-year head coach and improving, all seem somewhat tarnished in retrospect. Nobody could have expected that Josh Freeman would go from throwing 25 touchdowns and 6 interceptions to throwing 16 TD/22 INT, but their collapse and subsequent ten-game losing streak to end the year were more than just the by-product of a promising young QB gone wrong.
I think one of the most underrated aspects of the losing streak was the loss of running back Earnest Graham.
He may not be as important as he once was, and he hasn't rushed for over 100 yards in a season since 2008, but LeGarrette Blount needed Graham and the Bucs had no answers when he went down. Graham was playing his best football since 2007 (or maybe ever, even in a reduced role) this year and rushed for 206 yards on 37 carries (5.6 yards per rush) plus 26 catches for 163 yards.
The most important thing about what Graham did, beyond just blocking and being one of the most liked players and leaders on the team, was provide a different look than Blount for defenses; which included being able to catch the ball out of the backfield.
Blount went undrafted in 2010, signed with the Titans, then was waived in September and picked up by the Bucs. By week seven, this undrafted free agent (character issues need not be discussed, as they weren't the only reason he went undrafted) had his first 100-yard game.
By the end of the year, Blount had rushed for 1,007 yards and 5 yards per carry, the majority of which came in only 11 games.
This led the Bucs to believe that they were satisfied enough with Blount to part ways with Cadillac Williams and they didn't really do much to replace him. Tampa Bay drafted Allen Bradford, who we know is now a Seahawk, and went with the duo of Blount and Graham, backed up by Kregg Lumpkin.
The problem was that LeGarrette Blount became useless to Tampa Bay when they were losing. His deficiencies as a pass-blocker and pass-catcher meant that he would not even see snaps in a game when Tampa Bay found themselves down in a big enough hole. This is where Graham would step in, but when Graham went on IR, the Bucs flopped here. (Sorry.)
Subsequently, they were forced to go with Blount and Lumpkin, and then later a guy named Mossis Madu. MOSSIS MADU! Fun to say, but no fun to play. (I'm so, so sorry.)
What happened was that Blount struggled to duplicate his rookie success and ran for 781 yards on 184 carries for 4.2 yards per carry. The average per carry is fine, but Blount is such a limited running back that it's almost a waste and you can see how he was the Yin to Graham's Yang.
Lumpkin was limited in almost the opposite way, so at that point the defense knows whether or not you are going to pass it or throw it based on which running back is in the game. Blount caught 15 passes this year (compared to 5 last year) while Lumpkin caught 41 passes compared to 31 carries.
What does this mean for Seattle?
I don't think I have to explain why Seattle should re-sign Marshawn Lynch or why we all want them to. If he can continue to do what he did this past season for another four years, Seattle is going to be successful on offense. There's no question that we all knew that he needed to be a part of the plan.
The other part that I think is important is finding a back that is similar to Lynch.
Unlike Blount, Lynch is an every-down back. Though his 28 catches in 2011 won't blow you away, he put together a package of "everything you could ask for" from a running back this past season and unlike Blount, he doesn't need an Earnest Graham. More importantly, it's what Seattle needs, which is an "In Case of Emergency" plan.
Justin Forsett seems unlikely to return, so it's unlikely that I'll need to talk about him.
Leon Washington is one of our favorite players, but he's not an answer for a Lynch emergency. He has carried the ball 450 times in his career, compared to Lynch having 285 carries just last season. He's the perfect #3 running back and #1 kick returner.
What Seattle needs to do is find a player that can carry the ball 5-10 times when Lynch is healthy and 15-20 times in case something happens. I don't know who that player is or if they'll get him in free agency or the draft, but Seattle has to avoid being in a position where they can't run the ball.
Even in a pass-happy league like this, teams need to either have the threat that they can run it or they need Aaron Rodgers. The Hawks will most likely not have a top 5 QB next season, but they can score points if they can run the ball well, and it's a lot easier to find a good running back than it is to find a great quarterback.
Lynch is a critical step one, but I think finding his back-up and potential replacement is a key step two. There are a lot of great running backs that go after the first two rounds of the draft and I think grabbing one in the third or fourth round would be a wise move.
The draft will all come down to who is available and who falls where on your big board, but I won't be mad bro if the Hawks take a running back in round three. It would be just one step to avoid taking a Tampa-sized step backwards in 2012.
(edit: Apparently that list of our secondary is also in alphabetical order. My brain is on fire son!)