The Elephant in the Locker Room: The Seahawks’ Greatest Playoff Vulnerability


Hawks-150Expectations are high, and everyone’s paying attention… But every week it seems like there’s some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our World Champions.

By Greg Wright

So before I talk about the Elephant in Seattle’s locker room, how about a few words about the whopper in Denver’s?

If you were like me on Sunday, at some point in the second half of the Broncos’ loss to Indianapolis you were thinking, “This is probably the last time I’ll ever see Peyton Manning play.” And it might have been precisely at this moment:

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As Manning lofted this pass toward the sideline (almost to the outstretched hands of the receiver in the upper right corner of the above screen grab)—with the Broncos needing just six yards to avoid a punt—over sixty feet of green stretched before Manning’s eyes. And his best option for the first down was… throwing at the sideline into double coverage. Yup. Incompletion. Punt.

Game over, really, even though it was their first possession of the second half. The moment felt so much like last year’s Super Bowl.

But let’s be generous. Let’s assume that Manning saw something we didn’t. Like hordes of linebackers and tackles bearing down on him from his left, just out of view of the television audience.

Uh, nope. Here’s the “all-22” coaches’ view, and it looks even worse from there. This is what the field of play looked like just when Manning released the ball:

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I’m sorry, but this isn’t a coaching problem. This is some combination of piss-poor play and waning physical prowess. And yet John Fox is the one without a job this week. Go figure. Glad I’m not in THAT locker room.

Which brings us to Seattle.

So many, so very many amazing things to be said this week as we head into the NFC Championship, about both the defense and the offense—and everybody else is saying them. So I won’t bother, and won’t recap either.

Instead I’d just like to point out one thing: If the Hawks have a vulnerability during their run to this year’s Super Bowl—if I were a coach looking for a weakness to exploit—I’d be looking at Special Teams.

Even before the Legion of Boom was famous, and when Russell Wilson was still wet behind the ears, Pete Carroll’s Special Teams were awesome. Remember Red Bryant’s perennial kick-blocking skills? Remember Leon Washington’s phenomenal kickoff returns? Remember, just as recently as last season, Golden Tate being a threat to return a punt for a score just about any time he fielded one?

By Mike Morris (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Mike Morris (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Remember last year’s punt coverage team threatening to set a record for the fewest return yards allowed ever? Remember Steven Hauschka becoming the most accurate kicker in the history of the league?

Well, I hope those are good memories—because they don’t represent what we’ve seen this season. Kam Chancellor’s back-to-back line-leaps aside, only one other special-teams moment this season gave us thrills: Doug Baldwin’s blocked punt, which turned into a TD for the Hawks… in a losing effort against the Cowboys at the Clink. And I bet you’ve almost forgotten about that one.

But who can forget the Rams’ fake field goal, or their “fake” punt return for a touchdown in the same Hawk loss on the road?

Who can forget Hauschka missing three field goals in one game?

Would you be surprised to learn that Seattle’s opponents had a higher field goal percentage than the Hawks did this year?

Bryan Walters, in case you didn't know. By Mike Morris (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Bryan Walters, in case you didn’t know. By Mike Morris (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Can you name Seattle’s leading punt returner? Did you even know there is a player on the home team named Bryan Walters? Many fans don’t. But that’s your guy, fans.

Are you shocked that opponents returned kickoffs an average of 24 yards, while the Hawks averaged only 21?

Are you bummed that the only player to return a kick for a score in the last two years isn’t even a Seahawk any more?

That opponents have blocked nine kicks over the last three seasons while the Hawks have blocked only five?

The only Special Teams category that the Seahawks have outdone their opponents in this season is percentage of punts downed inside the 20 yard line. Field position is important, yes… but when that’s your sole claim to Special Teams fame, there’s something awry.

Our hometown Special Teams aren’t awful… but if there’s any facet of the Hawks’ game that’s pedestrian, Special Teams is it.

So here’s my prediction: if the Hawks lose either of the next two possible games–and I don’t think they will, mind you–it will be because they lose the Special Teams battle.


Comments

8 Responses to “The Elephant in the Locker Room: The Seahawks’ Greatest Playoff Vulnerability”
  1. Trakar says:

    Actually the biggest reason for the change in ST performance is due to two factors:
    1) I we had to let several of our key ST players walk in the off-season.
    2) Due to injuries we’ve had to choose between rotational depth and ST specialists.

    For instance injuries to Farwell and others has severely impacted ST, we’ve replaced them in the rotational depth on Defense and offense, but the replacements aren’t the ST masters that they are replacing. We can survive and win without the intense ST advantage we’ve experienced over the last few years and we may commit more key Offensive and Defensive role players to ST roles in the next two games merely because the season is now shorter and the benefits are greater. But I don’t see that happening unless there is a more dramatic need than we’ve seen over the last 6-7 games.

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    • Greg Wright says:

      Yes, it certainly appears that the loss of Farwell was a bigger deal than I thought it would be. And of course losing Harvin and Tate as returners has been beyond significant. But what other key STers did we lose? Maragos was one, certainly.

      • wanker says:

        Harvin was only significant in perceived potential on Special Teams. Other than the Super Bowl, you would be hard pressed to find any valuable contribution to special teams that he provided. I would say the loss of Paul Richardson far outweighs the loss of Harvin.

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        • Greg Wright says:

          In terms of realized potential, I 100% agree. But also remember that the Hawks let Leon Washington go thinking that Harvin would be The Man on kick returns… and that didn’t happen at all. So giving up all we did for Harvin AND losing Washington has left us with an enormous hole at kickoff returns… which was still pretty darned obvious yesterday. So I do consider the loss of Harvin significant. We’re certainly better off without him, though, over all.

          • wanker says:

            I would have to disagree. Yes Washington was released due to Harvin, but we were just fine last year returning kicks when Harvin missed the majority of the season. Also, remember that Washington is over the RB cliff in age at 32 years old. So even if we never acquired Harvin, I highly doubt that Washington would still be on the team. Plus, I would rather have Richardson, or another player who can contribute in other areas of the game returning kicks. When the defense is as good as it is, there is not a lot of value in a player who only returns kicks, since the amount of kickoffs to return are decreased. I think the loss of Tate is much larger. Tate could return punts, Harvin could/did not.

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          • Greg Wright says:

            Nesting depth only goes so far on these comments, so I have to reply to my own comment rather than your note, Wanker…

            Yes, good points. Richardson does have good potential as a kick returner, and it’s doubtful that Washington would have been with the team in 2014 in any event.

            Fact remains that the Hawks have simply not been good at kick returns of either variety this season, by any standard. And not all of that is on the returners themselves. I have a hunch that Farwell and Maragos contributed a lot in slowing down opposing gunners. Something is definitely different in our blocking schemes on returns. Any insights on that score?

          • wanker says:

            I agree with Maragos and Farwell being huge losses, not only what they bring in terms of ability, but the fact that now you have Kam Chancellor playing on Kick offs, taking more hits, and expending energy that could be used while playing defense. We do lack the explosiveness that Washington brought to the return game, hopefully Richardson will recover to full form at some time.

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  2. Greg Wright says:

    Guess they won the Special Teams battle today, eh?

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