clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The NFC West’s Guard Has Changed, and the Seahawks Couldn’t Keep Up

Seattle is missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011, and the team is due for some upheaval this offseason

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The Seahawks’ season came to a fitting and underwhelming end on Sunday afternoon, as a 48-yard potential game-winning field goal attempt by kicker Blair Walsh sailed wide right. The trajectory of that kick ultimately didn’t matter — the Falcons’ 22–10 win over the Panthers a few minutes earlier had eliminated Seattle from playoff contention for the first time since 2011 and for just the second time in the Pete Carroll era — but it represented a changing of the guard in the NFC West.

Of course, the divisional champion Rams had already made that transition pretty clear two weeks ago with their 42–7 blowout win over the Seahawks, but a Seattle squad that had developed a reputation over the past five years for balanced, physical, smashmouth football on both sides of the ball was again almost unrecognizable as it lost, at home, to a Cardinals team quarterbacked by Drew Stanton.

While L.A. heads to the postseason as the league’s most improved team, and as the 49ers bask in what looks like the second coming of Joe Montana in franchise savoir Jimmy Garoppolo, Seattle turns its focus to what could be a tumultuous offseason packed with uncertainty — from the future of the Legion of Boom, to the status of the team’s impending free agents, to even head coach Pete Carroll’s tenure with the team.

It’s been a tough season for Seattle from start to finish. Injuries to players like left tackle George Fant (knee), top pick Malik McDowell (head), running back Chris Carson (leg), pass rusher Cliff Avril (neck), cornerback Richard Sherman (Achilles), and safety Kam Chancellor (neck) piled up, testing the team’s depth. But those losses weren’t the only reason Seattle failed to get back to the postseason.

Its offense lacked an identity, and its previously commanding run game was among the league’s worst. Quarterback Russell Wilson ended the year as the team’s leading rusher by a country mile, with his 586 yards on the ground more than doubling that of any of the team’s running backs. Free-agent acquisition Eddie Lacy was a bust (2.6 yards per carry, with 179 total rushing yards and zero touchdowns on the season), Thomas Rawls struggled all year (2.7 yards per carry), C.J. Prosise couldn’t stay healthy, and for some reason, the team didn’t turn to practice squadder Mike Davis — who ended up looking better than any of the aforementioned runners — until Week 11. Plus, the offensive line couldn’t block anyone, and came into Week 17 30th in adjusted line yards.

That left Wilson trying to do it all for a squad that had, in previous years, relied on balance. Wilson set a new career high for pass attempts (553) and led the NFL with 34 touchdown passes thanks in part to his Houdini-like ability to escape pressure and make plays. But with no run game to fear, opposing teams pinned their ears back and took advantage of Seattle’s porous offensive line. Wilson came into Week 17 facing pressure on a league-high 41.3 percent of the team’s pass plays, and as a result, Seattle’s offense was all too often out of rhythm. That group came into the finale with the fifth-highest rate of drives that ended in a three-and-out, and all too often — like we saw on Sunday — the offense struggled in the first halves of games and was forced to try to dig its way out of big holes.

The once-dominant defense took a big step back, too. The injuries to Sherman, Avril, and Chancellor were a big part of that, but even with Bobby Wagner, Michael Bennett, Earl Thomas, and Sheldon Richardson on the field, they just didn’t play the same brand of football we’ve come to expect. Seattle’s previously hard-hitting, free-flowing, and absurdly fast squad often looked older and slower than their opponents, and that was never more apparent than in that eye-opening loss to the Rams in Week 15 — like when Todd Gurley became only the second player since 1994 to score a touchdown on a third-and-20 run play, exploding past Seattle’s defenders to deliver the figurative knockout blow in that game, and, perhaps, to an era of Seahawks defense.

Add in a potpourri of other issues and it all adds up to what can only be considered a disappointing season for one of the preseason Super Bowl contenders. Here are a few of the other problems the team faced this year:

  • Carroll’s squad finished the season as the most penalized team in the league, and right tackle Germain Ifedi led all players in accepted penalties.
  • Seattle’s special teams played unevenly all year. Tyler Lockett got a return touchdown on Sunday, but that play was all but nullified by Jon Ryan’s shanked punts and the missed kick by Walsh at the end. Walsh (21-of-29 on the year) will almost certainly not return next year, and Ryan’s tenure with the team may also be coming to an end.
  • Crucially, the Seahawks’ hallowed home-field advantage, once one of the best in the league, all but disappeared, as Seattle went 4–4 at home.

The Seahawks still finished 9–7, were playing in a meaningful Week 17 game, and, at a few points in the season, featured MVP and Defensive Player of the Year candidates in Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner. But after going to the postseason and winning a playoff game in each of the past five years — including two Super Bowl appearances and one defining championship — Seattle looked like a shell of its former self for most of the year. Major changes are almost surely on the horizon.

The defense could be in for a makeover. Avril and Chancellor have both reportedly contemplated retirement. Sherman might not be back after tearing his Achilles in Week 10. Thomas ran into the Cowboys locker room begging Jason Garrett to “come get [him]” after Seattle beat Dallas last week, so his future as the team’s defensive linchpin is no longer certain, either. Richardson, on whom the team spent a second-round draft pick and more to acquire in September, is a free agent, and Bennett surmised after Sunday’s loss, “I probably won’t be back next year.”

We can expect some transformations on offense, too. The team will have a major decision to make with free-agent touchdown maker Jimmy Graham, who led the team (and all tight ends) with 10 scores this year, but was mostly ineffective everywhere but in the red zone. The team’s second-leading receiver, Paul Richardson, will become a free agent this offseason as well. Seattle’s midseason trade for left tackle Duane Brown provided a boost to the team’s beleaguered offensive line, but Carroll and general manager John Schneider still must find answers at left guard (Luke Joeckel is a free agent) and right tackle (Ifedi looks like a bust) in order to protect Wilson long term.

There may be major upheaval on the coaching staff as well. If Carroll doesn’t retire, he and Schneider must decide whether the team’s wholly inept run game will require a move away from run-game czar Tom Cable. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell may not be safe, either, and special teams coach Brian Schneider could find himself in the hot seat after his unit’s unsatisfactory performance this season.

There’s an awful lot of talk about a total rebuild in Seattle, and, well, that’s silly. The Seahawks still boast a top-tier quarterback, and even if the original LOB’s days are over, there’s still plenty of talent on the defense. But it’s clear that this is a franchise that needs to reload, nail its upcoming draft, get younger and faster on defense, and rediscover the winning identity that pushed them into the NFC’s elite over the previous five seasons.