The Seahawks have made it to 2-2, somehow managing to win its two most winnable games and lose its two toughest in entirely unexpected ways. We knew the offensive line would be a huge question mark. The group has had moments where you can see a decent pass blocking line if you squint really hard. Then they have sustained periods of just ghastly performance, like High School Musical at some random suburban high school. But that's a post for another day.
Much virtual ink has been rightly spilled over the offensive line. However, for the first time since his second season, special teams were a major question mark facing Pete Carroll coming into the season. Seattle's performance on special teams in 2014 surely cut Carroll to the bone. He values special teams as highly as any coach, and not only was the return game toothless the coverage teams weren't much better.
So, how do things look in 2015 after four games?
1. Kicking - FG/PAT
Of the many acquisitions for which John Schneider is rightly lauded, two of the easiest to overlook are kicker Steven Hauschka and long-snapper Clint Gresham. "Hausch money" missed the occasional kick in 2014 (31 of 37 with a ridiculous long of 58 yards), but has been perfect thus far in 2015 (10 of 10, including two 50+ yard no-doubters versus Detroit to pull the offense's collective bacon out of the grease fire). He's off to an outstanding start.
2. Kickoff Return
Tyler Lockett. I mean, I was enthused about the pick and all but come on kid. You didn't have to come up in here and just lay waste to any reasonable set of expectations. In the return game, Lockett already looks like a crafty veteran. He reads blocks, sets them up even. He catches the ball on the move. He changes speed. He's explosive; not Percy explosive but plenty explosive. And frankly, he has better change of pace and direction than Harvin in the return game. Even his fumbled punt return on Monday night resulted from seeing a big-ass lane open up. His eyes got big, and he mistimed his run-up by an inch.
In his fourth regular season game, Detroit squibbed and popped up kicks to keep the ball away from him. In fact, I'd suggest that the guys in front of No-E get ready to handle the ball more frequently. So it was nice to see Will Tukuafu get a nice 16 yard return against Detroit.
Lockett is averaging 30.3 yards per kickoff return, and Seattle's now top-ranked special teams on Football Outsiders has a 6.6 DVOA on kickoff returns (2nd to Washington's 6.9). In the dark days of 2014, Paul Richardson and Bryan Walters averaged a pedestrian 23.5 and 21.5 yards per return respectively, and Seattle had a -7.5 DVOA on kickoff returns.
3. Punt/Punt Coverage
The "Regina Rocket," Jon Ryan, gets a great deal of love from the 12s, especially the Canadian 12s, and rightfully so. He puts in work. He's currently tied for second with four other punters with 9 (of 17) punts downed inside the 20. On the flip side though, his net is an ugly 36 yards per punt.
Right now, this is clearly the worst special teams unit. (Thank you Tavon Austin for performing the banana in the tailpipe trick once again.) Seattle currently sports a -1.8 DVOA in punting, which is bottom half. There is still plenty of time to turn things around, but this unit was on the verge of setting a record for fewest punt return yards allowed just two seasons ago. Right now it's a bit of an albatross.
4. Punt Return
Lockett sports an 11.3 punt return yards average, good for 15th among all returners. The team is ranked third in punt return DVOA (6.4) on the Football Outsiders. In 2014 Bryan Walters averaged under 8 yards per punt return, and the unit had a DVOA of -2.4 on Football Outsiders. You'd already purposefully forgotten about the Earl Thomas/Richard Sherman experience as primary punt returners. Never forget.
It's pretty obvious that Tyler Lockett's got the goods in the return game. I don't know that he'll match peak Devin Hester. But he doesn't have to in order to be one of the game's best. Rather, like Golden Tate, Lockett has already mastered many of the small nuances of gaining extra yardage on a return without taking vicious hits flush in the chest. It's difficult not to be excited by his promise as a returner and as a receiver. One thing to love about Carroll is that he's not going to reduce Lockett's return load as he gets further integrated into the offense.
My primary concern on special teams moving forward is with our mistake-prone offensive line, Jon Ryan and the punt coverage team is likely to get a lot of work. A boom-and-bust offensive line preceding a mediocre-to-bad punt team is a potentially awful combination that can put this defense on the field for too many snaps under durress. Here's hoping stalwarts like Ricardo Lockette and Kevin Pierre-Louis can get back in there and improve the unit.