The Elephant in the Locker Room: A Year in Review


By Greg Wright

Since this may be final column of the season–though I don’t believe it will be–I’ll take the opportunity to review this year’s commentary with an eye toward playoff implications. After all, the greatest concerns of the season can’t help but play into post-season success… or failure.

Week One: Will Pete Carroll beat expectations this season, or were Sherman, Bennett, and Co. right? As I expected before even the first coin flip, Carroll has proven naysayers incorrect. There really is something special about the way he and John Schneider work together to evaluate and develop talent–particularly on the defensive side of the ball–and then shape greenhorns into championship-caliber athletes. That this 2018 team feels so much like the 2012 team bodes well for Wild Card games on the road. I’d put their odds of reaching the NFC Championship game at 50% or better.

Week Two: The pass rush hinges on downfield coverage. Seattle’s most experienced cornerbacks to start the season were Griffin and Coleman, both of whom had exactly one year under their belts with Seattle. If Frank Clark and Co. were to end up with decent sack counts for the season, it would hinge on the DBs staying relatively healthy and maturing quickly. Boy, has this come through. Griffin and Coleman have stayed on the field and excelled, while Tre Flowers and Akeem King have more than demonstrated that they can play in the big leagues. A lack of playoff experience is a concern here, though, and Griffin’s ankle may hamper him in Dallas. Prescott may be able to exploit these potential weaknesses.

Week Three: In spite of Dickson, the punting game is not up to snuff. Seattle’s lone loss down the stretch resulted from Special Teams gaffes, and the season-ending near-disaster was the result of three crucial errors in the punt game. These blunders have been very uncharacteristic of Pete Carroll teams. If this trend continues in the postseason, you can count Seattle out. I’d put the odds of this at close to zero, however. As much of a concern as Seattle’s Special Teams play is, the likelihood of problems cropping up two weeks in a row is slim.

Week Four: Lockett’s contract makes perfect sense. Do I need to say much about this? Statisticians reported this week that when Wilson has targeted Lockett this season, he has a perfect QB rating. Mission accomplished. This connection will be key to postseason success.

Week Five: The Seahawks have likely moved on from Earl Thomas. The loss of Delano Hill actually hurts worse than the loss of Earl Thomas. In fact, the only thing missing when Earl went on IR was his ongoing distraction factor. McDougald and Thompson are certainly not Thomas and Chancellor; but they are pretty exciting to watch themselves, and play extremely well with the corners. Both will need to stay healthy through the playoffs, though. With Hill on IR, there’s only one guy on the depth chart behind McD and T, and he’s a guy nobody has heard of.

Week Six: To reach the playoffs, Seattle needs consistently excellent play from Russell Wilson. Seattle’s key player has absolutely stepped up this season. Not only has he thrown a career-high 35 TDs while attempting fewer passes than any full-time starter in the league, he has protected the ball well over the final ten games and refused to force passes into sound defensive coverage. He knows he’s getting paid like the superstar he is, but is humbly staying within the system to win games rather than playing to pad stats or Pro Bowl credentials. Kudos. My money is on Wilson coming through in the postseason. If the Seahawks lose, it will not be because Wilson let them down.

Week Seven: Bevell could have succeeded with this offensive group, too. I was spot on with this analysis, as it turns out. Playcalling did not produce 2,500 yards in rushing offense this year. The leadership of Carson, Britt, Brown, Sweezy, and Fluker did. Behind this line, and with these running backs, Bevell’s offense would have looked like it did in 2012, 2013, and 2014 when Lynch, Okung, Giacomini, and Unger were nastily powering the running game. But it’s really better than that. The numbers show that during Pete Carroll’s tenure, Seattle’s offense has never scored as many points as consistently as it has during 2018. This potential for offensive output will be a key to postseason success.

Week Eight: Expect good things from this defense. The ability to bend but not break in the second half of games was key in victories over the Panthers, Packers, Vikings, and Chiefs. This D is not world-class, as it was during the Legion of Boom years, but it still knows how to win and keep games close.

Week Nine: The key value for Seattle receivers is making targets count. Midseason was a transition point in the offense cementing its identity. Since then, it’s become clear who the playmakers are: Lockett, Baldwin, Moore, and Dickson. As has always been the case, with Pete Carroll teams, catching the ball is all that matters. And Seattle’s “pedestrian” receivers have always done that well. It’s why bigger names with less sticky hands simply don’t last in Seattle.

Week Ten: Linebacker and corner blitzes are needed to produce better pressure. The uptick in sacks has actually been generated by Jacob Martin and Jarran Reed, and without the help of blitzes, but added pressure from blitzes has indeed rattled Goff and Mahomes, among others, making these young superstar QBs look awfully human. As the D has learned to play together better, Coordinator Ken Norton has been able to dial things up very effectively and judiciously.

Week Eleven: On D, the linebacking corps is the biggest concern. Seattle has been very fortunate about having just enough healthy legitimate starters to eke its way through the season. Even with Kendricks landing on IR two weeks ago, this position group is probably at its strongest going into Dallas. It’s good to have Wright back, and at full speed, playing alongside Wagner and Calitro, with Mingo and Griffin in the mix. Still, I’d say the middle of the field in pass coverage, and getting the right fits in the run D, is Seattle’s biggest vulnerability heading into the playoffs.

Week Twelve: Russell needs a new go-to guy in clutch 4th Quarter situations. This has become crystal clear: it’s Lockett. Hands down.

Week Thirteen: Bobby Wagner, future Hall of Famer. Consensus Pro Bowler and All Pro. Captain of this defense. I’ll just toot my own horn and point out that I was lauding Wagner’s season earlier than the professional press corps.

Week Fourteen: Seahawks, reshapers of careers. The fallout of crucial losses to an underrated and underestimated Seattle team continues. More coach firings, with more trades and roster reshaping in the offing. Keeping up with the Joneses is a real thing in the NFL.

Week Fifteen: The best defense is a good offense… and controlling the clock. The final weeks of the season certainly demonstrated the importance of keeping opposing offenses off the field. Yes, the D did force some great 3-and-outs down the stretch; but it’s easier to do that when you’re fresh because the offense has been grinding out second-half drives. Remember that. This offense deserves a lot of credit for December (and postseason) success.

Week Sixteen: Seattle knows how to control its own destiny. The Seahawks did not back into the playoffs. And under Pete Carroll, when that has happened Seattle has had success in the postseason. This is a team that can win on the road.

Week Seventeen: Lockett knows how to get open. Only two receptions last week… but wow! Were they big ones. Look forward to more of that in Dallas… and the week after.

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