It's Monday Night Football. I get that the Rams are in a certain situation, but it's Monday Night Football.
I'll be hyped come kickoff. Here's hoping that lasts at least a little while throughout the game.
So having talked to Luke and Kenny this week on Turf Show Radio, I got through most of the pressing issues. I'll probably repeat some of them if nothing to gauge the level of consensus. But let's start generically. How has Seattle gotten to 6-1 at this point? It would be easy enough to say it's been largely defensive competency, but is that oversimplifying things?
Yeah, I mean, that’s oversimplifying a little bit, but not egregiously. The Seahawks' defense has been very good this year, pretty consistently.
To be fair though, their special teams and offense have both been good thus far too - ranked 10th in special teams & 12th in offense per Football Outsiders DVOA. Through seven weeks, Seattle is fifth in the NFL in scoring with 27.3 ppg, second in rushing yards per game at 154.4 ypg, and Russell Wilson is averaging 8.0 yards per pass attempt - behind only Mike Vick, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Phillip Rivers, and Drew Brees - so I’ll take that. This offense averages 5.7 yards per play, which is 10th in the NFL, so while Seattle’s raw, aggregate numbers are probably never going to really stand out because they favor a run-heavy, slow-tempo strategy, limiting possessions and plays, their efficiency has been pretty decent. Especially considering injuries to the offensive line have been pretty heavy thus far.
On special teams, apart from a few giant mistakes (two blocked field goals that went for touchdowns), Seattle has been good. After seven games, opposing teams still only have 8 yards in punt returns (TOTAL), so punt coverage has been excellent. Kick return coverage has been great as well, and Seattle’s offensive return game has been robust.
Still, the defense is the story of the Seahawks’ season so far. Ranked first in the NFL per FO DAVE with the 2nd ranked pass defense and 6th ranked rush defense, they’re currently 3rd in the NFL in opposing points per game at 16.6 after finishing first in that category last year. The Seahawks’ defense is ranked #1 in the NFL in opponent yards per play (4.5), they have forced a league high 16 fumbles (recovered 8), have 11 interceptions, which is 2nd in the NFL. They have 23 sacks.
Seattle can stop the run with a strong defensive tackle rotation and a solid group of inside linebackers, can rush the passer with a diverse group of defensive ends/outside linebackers, and the exploits of the defensive secondary are pretty well known. Overall, the defense has played very well thus far, so right now they’re the anchor of the franchise.
How should we define Russell Wilson? He seems to work on a limited gameplan often, leaving him 24th in the league in passing attempts with just six more than Tampa QB Mike Glennon who's only played in four games. Is he a plus game manager? Is he being held back by a scheme that employs the run so often and so successfully? Does his mobility work against this kind of cursory analysis? How much of the run/pass balance is a factor of the offensive line and how should that determine our understanding of a 2nd-year Russell Wilson?
Pete Carroll has often talked about his ideal quarterback being a ‘game-manager’ type but keep in mind that his definition of that term is probably different than most. I think Carroll would have considered Joe Montana or Steve Young game managers and he’d probably consider the early Super Bowl seasons by Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger in the same light - that is to say, ‘game manager’ is not a pejorative description. His vision is a guy that can distribute the ball to offensive playmakers with efficiency, poise, and aplomb - not turn the ball over, and pull a rabbit out of a hat now and again when things break down in the offense. The term ‘manager’ denotes some sort of leadership role, so the intangibles like command of the huddle, courage under fire, and a certain unflappable demeanor are important to Carroll as well.
This is the type of QB that Russell Wilson projects as thus far - he’s not going to be asked to pass the ball 40 to 50 times a game like some QBs - Pete Carroll’s whole philosophy is to beat teams on several fronts, i.e. make sure the Seahawks are not one-dimensional - but as I mentioned above, Wilson has a strong YPA, his completion percentage is creeping up (61.5%) after a slow start this year, and he’s made a ton of plays with his legs when he’s needed to.
The patchwork offensive line has really struggled in pass protection thus far so it’s meant Wilson is scrambling more this year than they probably want him to, but his ability to escape pressure and keep plays alive is something this coaching staff really embraces.
To answer your question(s), I think the balanced play-calling helps Wilson rather than limits him, because it makes Seattle’s offense multi-dimensional. This gives Wilson an advantage on play-action because teams are so geared up to take down Marshawn Lynch. Wilson is capable of turning it on as a passer when Seattle is behind, and we’ve seen this before, which makes some fans pine for a higher-octane passing game. However, I think Seattle’s philosophy perfectly suits Wilson because the onus is not all on Wilson to make things happen. So, yeah, he’s a game manager, but it’s been working.
On to the defense. Where is the weakness front to back? Is there one? If, and Danny we could really use your help here, the Rams were to go after a soft spot that perhaps you think they match up well against, what would that be?
Obviously, as with all teams, Seattle does have a few weak, or exploitable spots on defense. Teams have targeted Seattle deep opposite whichever side Richard Sherman is on, and that’s worked at times. Brandon Browner is a good, physical press corner and excels in many areas, but he’s susceptible to the double move and has been known to let fast receivers get behind him. In general, when Seattle has been burned in the pass game, it’s been against the speedy, deep threat types (Titus Young last year, TY Hilton this year) so my main concern with the Rams is definitely Chris Givens and to a lesser extent, Tavon Austin.
Seattle matches up well with bigger physical type receivers, but when they are forced to run with the burner types, they don’t do quite as well. Seattle has also been a little vulnerable in their zone schemes, where a few breakdowns in communication have let big plays happen.
If I were game planning against this defense, I’d try to get the ball to my space players or deep threats, because traditional 1-on-1 with #1 types isn’t as effective.
In terms of running, I’d lean more on change of pace types as well, try to get the corner or get them the ball in space. Again, Seattle has fared well against the bigger bruising types of runners but have been gashed at times by guys with more zuzu.
As a guy who loves the draft, one thing that fascinates me is the concept of well-built teams drafting new talent. Like, where the hell are you going to put them? You take Christine Michael in the 2nd round, and he's got 9 carries through seven games. Jordan Hill, your lone 3rd round selection, has all of five tackles in limited time. Have Chris Harper or Jesse Williams even played? Not trying to play this one into the ground too much, but what the hell are you guys going to draft next year? Just take the draft off this year. It'll be good for competitive balance?
The thing about having great depth in the first place, and THEN going out and signing several high-profile free agents in the offseason, is that it should limit the ability of your rookies to see the field.
On one hand though, it’s concerning, because you’d like to see more from ‘the future’ of your team, and the way this team has been built is largely through the draft. You want the ‘core’ of your franchise to come via the Draft - it builds an identity and a culture of ‘in-house’ guys, cultivates loyalty and chemistry, etc. So, it’s a little alarming when draft picks don’t immediately make a difference and present themselves as valuable pieces going forward. Most of these rookies are still big question marks, to be honest.
But, on the other hand, giving your young players a redshirt year to learn how to be a pro is not necessarily a bad thing. Christine Michael tore it up in the preseason but is still stuck behind Marshawn Lynch (he’s pretty good) and Robert Turbin (now a second year player that’s averaging 4.3 ypc). I have the feeling Michael will stay there for the time being, but he’s a nice piece of depth to have, and what we’ve seen from him is super encouraging. Jordan Hill partially tore his bicep in the preseason and missed some time, but is now is fighting for snaps with Clinton McDonald, who, after the Seahawks cut him and no one picked him up, was re-signed and has come on like gangbusters (I just wanted to say that). He is playing with a crazy, balls-to-the-wall rejuvenation, and Seattle can’t take him off the field for the packages he’s been in for. Nonetheless, we’ve liked what we’ve seen from Hill, the Penn State rookie thus far, so people aren’t too worried about him at this point.
As for Chris Harper, he was released at roster cutdowns, made his way to San Francisco, and just recently was released there and added to Green Bay’s active roster. The fact that Harper didn’t pan out does hurt, because Seattle faces next season with Golden Tate as an unrestricted free agent and Doug Baldwin an RFA, so the depth there could be tested. The Hawks also ‘missed’ on Kris Durham a few years ago as well, and he was released last year (and is now playing pretty well for the Lions). All this means is that Seattle may have to spend big in free agency to keep some of their wideouts, go with some low-cost vets, or draft a big time guy early on. When you miss on your draft picks (Harper and Durham were both 4th rounders) it means you’re hurting yourself down the road a bit, typically.
As for the rest of the class, Jesse Williams was placed on IR at roster cut-downs in order to give him time to rehab his knee to full health. RB Spencer Ware just went to the IR, CB Tharold Simon has been on PUP with a foot injury, and C Jared Smith is on the practice squad IR, so injuries have really decimated this year’s class.
All that said, there are some rookies that have really stood out. TE Luke Willson has really played well, especially when Zach Miller went out with a hamstring injury for a few games. Willson can block and runs well, and he has 10 catches for 144 yards thus far. RT Michael Bowie, a seventh round pick, has looked strong at right tackle in relief of an injured Breno Giacomini, to the point where people are wondering if Breno will get his job back when he’s healthy. There are a couple of UDFAs that have impressed and are still on the active roster - T/G Alvin Bailey and DE Benson Mayowa, to be exact, and Seattle picked up QB BJ Daniels when he was released by the Niners, - so there have been some additions outside of the draft class that appear promising.
As for next year - offensive line, defensive line, depth at safety, wide receiver, tight end - these are all areas the the Hawks need to bolster going forward. There are a good chunk of guys that are getting close to their contracts being up and/or are potential cap casualties. I’d expect Seattle drafts another 7-10 times this year. They always will.
So expectations. Along with some of the Dave Krieg years and the mid-Hasselbeck era, this appears to be shaping up to be in the top tier of great teams for you guys. How disappointing will it be if you guys don't reach the era while Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson are leading the team? How much of a "win now" mentality is there?
There is a big ‘win-now’ mentality among some fans, but I’d say that’s probably just because this city has been so starved for a championship for so long. On one hand, I think people pine for doing "whatever it takes" to win this year (trade everything for Tony Gonzalez!!), but at the same time, they realize that with a franchise quarterback like Russell Wilson in place, combined with a strong head coach and general manager in Pete Carroll and John Schneider, this team should be good for a while (save the picks for team building for the future, you idiots!!).
I tend to favor the long-term view, and I know that Schneider and Carroll do as well - it’s what Win Forever is all about - they want to be the Bills of the 90s with crazy amount of banners in their rafters, not a flash in the pan one-year winner - so I like the moves that build for the long-term over quick-fix bandaid types of things. That said, this front office is pretty bold, and they don’t want to get to Super Bowls and not win them, so they haven’t been shy about making moves to ‘win-now’ if they think it will give them a bump. Guys like Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett are examples of this - Seattle wanted to improve their pass rush, badly, so they signed two ‘big-money’ guys at the position in the offseason, forsaking somewhat their salary cap health for a better chance to win it all this year with the team they’ve built through the draft.
To answer your question though, yes, it will be very disappointing if the Seahawks don’t win it all at some point over the next few years with the Triumvirate of Schneider, Carrroll, and Wilson at the helm. The outlook is really that good right now - it’s not irrational to think they have a shot, and a Super Bowl berth is an actual possibility for the first time since like 2006, and that’s a cool feeling. I’m just enjoying the ride right now though, because so much weird crap can happen in the NFL to derail those plans. As Russell Wilson constantly says, just taking it one game at a time.
Thanks to Danny to for taking the time to answer these.