Well. I’m always excited about the Seattle Seahawks. But why the 2018 version?
Aren’t they supposed to be, you know, (exaggerated whisper) bad?
Truth is I’d be excited about them even if they were on track for a 5-11 season. But they’re not. They’re better than last year’s Seahawks. Who won nine games. And I can prove it. Though you’ll still be allowed as much reasonable doubt as is ... reasonable.
A) They’re gonna be better on special teams.
Blair Walsh made just 72.4 of his field goals last year, “good” for 30th among qualifying kickers. Meanwhile, Jon Ryan had a down year. His 40.1 net average ranked 30th as well, and opposing teams were 8th best in punt return average, signifying lack of hang time and/or lackluster coverage.
Walsh and Ryan have been replaced. Their successors will out-produce their 2017 numbers, which is sad to consider but happy for the team’s efficiency. Tyler Lockett is healthier than in 2017; Rashaad Penny racked up eight career touchdown returns in college. There are explosive playmakers returning kicks; that wasn’t always true last year.
The Seahawks’ offense, and defense, will have better position handed to them after special teams vacate the field. Better field position turns into points. Points turn into wins. Wins turn into happiness. Math.
B) They’re gonna be better in pass protection
They just will be. In 2012-2016, the Seahawks let Russell Wilson be pressured on 37 percent of all dropbacks. That’s the highest rate for the five-year period in question. Then, in 2017, it got worse, somehow. 41 percent was the final number, according to Pro Football Focus. What’s more, Wilson’s taken 232 hits in the last two seasons alone. Tops, obviously, among NFL quarterbacks.
They have to do better, because there’s nowhere to go but up. They can’t do worse because it’s too hard to do worse. They’re already at the bottom. Moving up from 32nd is a whole lot easier than moving down.
C) They’re gonna run the ball better.
What? They seem fine, statistically, from a cursory glance at 2017. Look: 409 rushes for 1629 yards, a 4.0 average — how can you presume they’ll be better? Won’t they turn out the same, because four yards a carry is pretty standard for the league as a whole?
No. They’ll be better. Because once you remove Wilson’s numbers, the whole statistical house of cards collapses. 324 rushes remain, for 1043 yards and a single touchdown. Those aren’t rushing statistics, they’re a pile of forking shirtballs. With Chris Carson and the rookie Penny getting the bulk of the carries this season instead of Eddie Lacy (2.6 ypc), Mike Davis (3.5 ypc) and Thomas Rawls (2.7 ypc), the production will again outpace last year’s. Unless they start running backwards. (Don’t run backwards.)
FootballOutsiders did a great job of explaining the problems with Seattle’s running back situation in 2017 in the Field Gulls Q&A.
D) The defense, while a true wild card, could turn out worse, better, or similar.
The real wild card in all this is how a Pete Carroll defense without the Legion of Boom will operate. But there are reasons to be excited nonetheless, amid all the uncertainty.
Linebackers are the same excellent duo, with a new wrinkle. Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are joined by Shaquem Griffin. There is literally no reason to contain your excitement. Carroll is still the coach of the DBs. The things he taught Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, and the other Legionnaires are still in his brain, in his educational toolkit, in the twinkle of his eye. Young players will listen and learn. How much? That remains to be seen. And are any of them another Kam Chancellor? Seems unlikely. But Carroll is still himself. The run defense doesn’t look bad on paper. The men are big, they’re veterans, Naz Jones is healthy again and ready to break out into stardom.
The pass rush is suspect, however. And so’s the depth. Those very real concerns exist and should not be minimized, until I minimize them in the rest of this paragraph. Truth is, every single NFL team has holes. You could pinpoint the Seahawks’ flaws as “unproven offensive line,” “lack of depth at receiver,” and “pass rush.” That exercise is doable for 31 other teams, with answers all over the board. No doubt, pass rush is a big hole to have. Maybe the worst hole to have. But maybe it gets plugged over the season, and what looked like a deficiency in August turns out to be a strength in December. Lord knows we’ve seen the Seahawks pull that kind of transformation off before.
Seattle was 13th in pass defense DVOA and 14th in rush defense. It won’t be hard for them to be almost as good, exactly as good, or better. And if they’re worse, the other three phases listed above figure to make up for it.
There are reasons to be excited. You don’t even have to look that hard. Now let’s get this preseason over with already.