The Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles sure looked like the two best teams in the NFL, and they delivered an excellent Super Bowl despite playing on a sorry excuse for a field. In the end we saw the Chiefs pull off their second championship win in four seasons, which is as close as you can get to saying we might have our first non-New England Patriots dynasty of the 21st century NFL.
Perhaps the Seattle Seahawks were the dynasty that never was. They stormed their way into a title, came within a yard of a second, and have not been particularly close since then. The 2022 season that was supposed to be dismal to watch sparked a lot of reason for optimism heading into next year, but there’s still a lot of work to be done and some things to reflect on before the Seahawks are true contenders again.
It’s the trenches, stupid!
The vaunted Philadelphia Eagles pass rush, one of the most prolific quarterback sacking teams in NFL history, pressured Patrick Mahomes at a sub-30% clip (their worst performance in weeks) and didn’t register a sack. Philadelphia’s defensive line helped guide them to the Super Bowl and we shouldn’t lose sight of that fact, but it was the investment in the offensive line by Kansas City that righted their wrongs from their championship loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Chiefs’ splash moves post-Buccaneers loss were trading a first-round pick for left tackle Orlando Brown Jr and signing former Patriots guard Joe Thuney to a 5-year, $80 million deal. But the other three starters? Right guard Trey Smith is a sixth-round pick, right tackle Andrew Wylie went undrafted, and center Creed Humphrey was the penultimate pick of Round 2. They’ve built a fantastic offensive line and not all of it was due to just spamming early-round draft picks. In fact, Lane Johnson was the only first-round pick starting on either offensive line on Sunday.
Seattle has been at a massive talent deficit for years on both the offensive and defensive lines. There are signs the gap is closing on the OL with the rookie performances of Charles Cross and Abe Lucas, but the defensive line has been consistently overmatched against the best teams and you can’t contend that way. Championships are won in the trenches on at least one side of the ball every single time.
There’s a chart that came out before the Super Bowl about perfectly covered dropback (aka pass) plays, which PFF defines as “a perfectly covered play is one in which each coverage player receives either a positive or neutral PFF coverage grade.”
Kyle Shanahan should've been coach of the year for how good he was at forcing broken coverage from opposing defenses this year. Also, I don't think Nathaniel Hackett was that bad of an offensive playcaller and could be a good hire for the Jets pic.twitter.com/K2ZTzPbr7i— Arjun Menon (@arjunmenon100) February 11, 2023
The San Francisco 49ers, Detroit Lions, and Kansas City Chiefs are 1-2-3 in lowest rate of offensive plays that are perfectly covered. Meanwhile, the Seahawks are in the very bad quadrant of not covering well and having a significant percentage of offensive plays perfectly covered. Only the Browns were worse at defensive perfect coverage rate and they fired their defensive coordinator; the offense was in the bottom-third in forcing coverage breakdowns.
I don’t want this to be made out as “Shane Waldron bad, fire him!” or anything like that, but there’s a reason why Andy Reid and Kyle Shanahan are regarded as offensive geniuses who make their schemes work even with backup quarterbacks.
Patrick Mahomes has otherworldly talent to make magical plays, but he also plays in a scheme where he can win Super Bowl MVP throwing two of his three touchdown passes to guys this open:
A few weeks ago I noted that Geno Smith was among the league-leaders in Completion Percentage Over Expected (CPOE), which is a stat Russell Wilson excelled at while he was in Seattle. They’ve both shown tremendous accuracy on tight-window throws and have been fortunate enough to work with receivers like Lockett and Metcalf who are big deep ball threats—Lockett in particular is a master at improbable catches from all distances.
With all of that said, having a quarterback and/or receiving targets who are excellent at executing difficult plays should be a bonus, not the main feature of a passing offense. For several years running, whether it’s Russell Wilson or Geno Smith at quarterback, Seattle’s offense feels relentlessly difficult. Once all of the play-action boots got figured out in the middle of this season, the offense had a very familiar feel to it and I don’t mean that in a good way.
Offense wins championships
Whether with a great scheme, quarterback, or a combination of the two, an elite or borderline elite offense can overcome a middling defense to win a title. It’s often said that defense wins championships, but I don’t know how that holds up to scrutiny in today’s NFL.
Dating back to the 2010 season, only two teams have won a Super Bowl without boasting a top-10 offense by DVOA, and only three teams have even made it in the first place. On the flip side, teams make it to the Super Bowl (if not win it outright) without a top-10 defense almost all the time.
Reached Super Bowl without a Top-10 offense by DVOA (since 2010)
2012 Ravens (13th) - Won SB
2015 Broncos (24th) - Won SB
2021 Bengals (18th)
Reached Super Bowl without a Top-10 defense by DVOA (since 2010)
2011 Giants (21st) - Won SB
2011 Patriots (30th)
2012 Ravens (19th) - Won SB
2013 Broncos (15th)
2014 Patriots (12th) - Won SB
2016 Patriots (16th) - Won SB
2016 Falcons (19th)
2017 Patriots (31st)
2018 Rams (16th)
2018 Patriots (19th) - Won SB
2019 Chiefs (14th) - Won SB
2020 Chiefs (22nd)
2021 Bengals (19th)
2022 Chiefs (17th) - Won SB
This is not an argument to just leave the defense alone when we’ve seen how not good they’ve been in the past few years, but it is more than possible in this offense-driven league to make deep playoff runs and lift the Lombardi Trophy if your offense is great. I know the 2013 Seahawks and 2020 Buccaneers stymied their opposition in humongous blowouts, but their respective offenses were top-10 in the regular season and highly efficient in the Super Bowl. That’s just something to think about when looking at resource allocation with regards to this offseason.
There’s a really good tweet we received on Sunday about offensive eras vs. single-season defenses. I think the Legion of Boom is truly the last dynastic type of defense we will see in the NFL any time soon.
Facts, we always refer to elite defenses as single years but elite offenses as eras— Geno szn (9-8) (@dkfan4lyfe) February 13, 2023
One of the more common refrains about Seahawks draft classes from roughly 2013-2021 was that Seattle was not as well positioned to find good-to-great players due to having worse draft positioning. You can’t get the top talent consistently if you’re picking outside the top-10!
Earlier this week I wrote about the Chiefs rookie class, which played the 7th most snaps in the NFL, and while they didn’t perform at the level of Seahawks or Jets rookies classes, the Kansas City front office may have found several solid contributors. George Karlaftis was one of the more productive rookie pass rushers, Trent McDuffie had a more than solid year replacing Charvarius Ward at corner, and seventh-round rookie Isiah Pacheco was a revelation for the Chiefs rushing offense. This doesn’t even include getting Nick Bolton, Creed Humphrey, and Trey Smith, three good-to-great starters in the 2021 Draft.
Who knew this was possible while Patrick Mahomes was getting paid his big contract and the Chiefs were regularly picking in the bottom-half of rounds? Yeah...
The whole notion of Russell Wilson strangling the Seahawks title window by taking up too much of the salary cap never had any merit. Last I checked, Russell was on his rookie contract when the 2013 and 2014 drafts yielded only Justin Britt as a starting caliber player. Those particular classes should’ve blossomed by 2017, and we know how that year ended.
Want to make the most out of having a franchise quarterback before and after he takes up a substantial chunk of the salary cap? Draft well and make sound free agent decisions. Easier said than done but also not mission impossible. Seattle built a juggernaut off of young, highly skilled and inexpensive players on both sides of the ball. They also plunged their contention window through subsequent drafts that yielded too many players who were not fit for playing time, leaving them unable to replace the established great players on the roster and creating glaring talent voids. Having decent to good contributors on rookie contracts (which is what the Chiefs managed) is a hell of a lot better than having almost none, which describes several recent Seahawks teams.
The good news is the Seahawks struck gold with this 2022 class. They have found themselves a potentially great pair of offensive tackles, a cornerback, and running back. There are some foundations in place for the Seahawks to contend again, and they have the draft capital to build upon the successes of this past season. What Pete Carroll and John Schneider do in the coming months—from Geno Smith’s contract, to improving the talent along the offensive and defensive lines, to adding more receiving targets—will determine how soon we’ll be seeing Seattle in serious playoff contention again.