Yes, there is always plenty of chatter about our perennial Super Bowl hopefuls. But I also find that there is always some angle to Seahawks coverage that just doesn’t seem to get enough airplay. This column is dedicated to that “elephant in the locker room.”
What about “Always Compete,” Pete?
Seattle is unusually blessed with Pro Bowl talent in the Special Teams department this year. Under the tenure of coach Brian Schneider, this phase of Seattle’s game has always been strong, and featured strong talent at the skill positions: returners Leon Washington and Tyler Lockett, gunners and enforcers like Heath Farwell and Ricardo Lockette or Neiko Thorpe, reliable and Pro Bowl-caliber kickers like Jon Ryan and Hausch Money.
But this year… This year, Seattle has two Pro Bowl kickers on the roster in Jason Myers and second-year Aussie phenom Michael Dickson. They even have a solid long snapper, Tyler Ott, tied up in a long-term contract.
On paper, this should be the best Special Teams unit under Peter Carroll.
On the field? I’m not seeing it. I expect more out of Dickson, and the punt coverage team, than what I’m seeing.
Why? you might ask. I will tell you, since that’s what this column is for.
First, there’s the hype. The Seahawks traded up in the 2018 draft to nab Dickson, who was named MVP of the Texas Bowl his senior year in college. This Aussie, and relative neophyte to American football, can simply do unreal things with his kicks: hang time, placement at the goal line, backspin, yada yada yada. Everyone on the team and in the league is just giddy about the guy. He was named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie! And deservedly so, based on his stats and some spectacular punts.
Second, Dickson’s numbers on Sunday against were okay… but they weren’t stellar. In his rookie year, Dickson averaged just over 48 yards per punt, with a net yardage average (after return yards and touchbacks are factored in) of 43.7.
Sunday, Dickson’s numbers on 8 punts went for an average of 47 yards with a net of 42.8. These numbers are better than those of longtime fan favorite Jon Ryan, who typically averaged 44.5 and netted just around 38. But they are below Dickson’s 2018 output–and shouldn’t he be improving in his second year?
Third–and this is why Sunday’s outing is a red flag for me–Dickson did very little remarkable in the preseason, averaging just 45.4 per punt… with no competition to push him. He has simply been anointed as God’s Gift to Seahawks Special Teams, slapped on the back, and told, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” If Carroll believes that competition is what spurs everyone to get better (except, of course, for God’s actual gift to the Seahawks, Russell Wilson), what’s Dickson’s motivation to improve? I was willing to grant him Preseason as a time to experiment and refine in-game technique… but out of 8 punts against Cincinnati, I didn’t see anything that looked like bettering his rookie performance.
Finally, my expectation is a lot higher, based on Seahawks history. We should recall that the punt game is about a lot of factors: field position, kicking, and coverage. We should also remember that it’s about points. The main thing that you don’t want out of a punt is giving up field position that results in easy points for the opposition, or even blown coverage that converts directly into a score.
And from Seahawks history, the high water mark in this regard was the 2014 campaign, when Jon Ryan, Farwell, Lockette, Lane, and company came down to the end of the season with a legitimate shot at breaking the Falcons’ NFL season record for return yardage of just 49. For the entire season.
What I’ve seen so far in 2019 from Michael Dickson is this: returners are getting way too many chances to return kicks. We’re giving up 49 yards in returns every couple of weeks. I’d exchange some per-kick average for better hang time and more fair catches.
If Dickson can’t turn all his fancy skills into better team play, I’d say Seattle is headed for one or more losses that we can lay at Dickson’s doorstep.