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Exit Interview: Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks’ run to the divisional round of the playoffs was equally impressive and infuriating at times. Will Pete Carroll ever modernize his approach?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

As each club is eliminated from the postseason, The Ringer will examine what went right, what went wrong, and where the franchise could go from here. Today it’s the Seattle Seahawks, who lost to the Packers 28-23 in a wild divisional-round game.

What Went Right

The Seahawks finished with their best regular-season record (11-5) since 2014 and booked a trip to the postseason for the seventh time in the past eight seasons. They beat the Eagles in the wild-card round―the team’s 10th postseason win under Pete Carroll―before falling to the Packers in a divisional-round tilt. While it was a disappointing playoff exit for the Seahawks, it did feel like this team overachieved relative to its talent and depth. Instead of the transitional season spent rebuilding its young, inexperienced defense that many expected, Seattle marched right back into the postseason; general manager John Schneider often states that the ultimate goal for Seattle’s braintrust is to produce “consistent championship-caliber football teams.” It’s hard not to be impressed with how reliably competitive the Seahawks are year after year.

Quarterback Russell Wilson is a big part of how the team has done just that. He remained the foundation of the team’s offense, putting the Seahawks on his back for much of the year while playing himself into a brief MVP candidacy. Wilson won second-team All-Pro honors while tossing 31 touchdowns (third most in the NFL) to just five picks, averaging 8.0 yards per attempt with a passer rating of 106.3. He did it all despite getting sacked 48 times―tied for the league high. Wilson led the team on five game-winning drives in 2019 (also tied for most in the NFL), displaying a “never say die” mentality that helped Seattle to an incredible 11-3 record in one-score games (including playoffs).

The eighth-year pro nearly pulled off a miraculous comeback against the Packers on Sunday, leading Seattle back from a 21-3 halftime deficit. With their backs to the wall, the Seahawks took the restrictor plates off of their all-world quarterback and let him do his thing―and predictably, it created a spark. Wilson sliced up the Packers defense in the final two quarters, completing 15 of 18 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown while adding five rushes for 48 yards on the ground. He led Seattle on touchdown drives on each of the team’s first three second-half possessions to cut the Green Bay lead to five points. Wilson’s spirited attempt to lead a comeback came up short; the Seahawks looked like the better team for much of the second half, but a dropped pass and third-down sack foiled Seattle’s final fourth-quarter drive, and the Packers never relinquished the ball.

Past Wilson, the team got a big boost this season from physical running back Chris Carson, who rushed for 1,230 yards and seven touchdowns before hitting the injured reserve in Week 16. The team got another big performance from receiver Tyler Lockett (82 catches for 1,057 yards and eight touchdowns), while rookie pass catcher DK Metcalf (58 catches for 900 yards and seven touchdowns) emerged as a go-to guy downfield. Seattle got a breakout performance from their first-year receiver in the team’s 17-9 win against the Eagles in the wild-card round, when Metcalf reeled in seven catches for a rookie-playoff-record 160 yards and a touchdown. He looks like a future star for the team. Despite a dearth of talent on the offensive line and an at-times overly conservative offensive philosophy, Seattle finished the year fifth in Football Outsiders’ offensive DVOA and ranked ninth in points per game (25.3).

On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Bobby Wagner remained the reliable foundation of what’s still a unit in flux, winning first-team All-Pro honors after posting a league-high 159 tackles. Third-year cornerback Shaquill Griffin bounced back from a down sophomore campaign and blossomed into a top-tier playmaker at his position, allowing just three touchdowns on the year while notching 14 PBUs, good for third most in the NFL. And sophomore pass rusher Rasheem Green flashed at times, leading the team with four sacks.

The team’s two biggest trade acquisitions this year—defensive end Jadeveon Clowney from the Texans and safety Quandre Diggs from the Lions—both looked like players the team could build around long term. Clowney didn’t post eye-popping sack numbers (just 3.0 on the regular season), but was a difference-maker as a pass rusher and run defender, finishing with 13 QB hits, seven tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, and a pick-six. Diggs was one of Seattle’s best players down the stretch, flying around the field and delivering the types of hits that former fixture Earl Thomas has dished out in previous years.

Oh yeah, and the team brought back Marshawn Lynch for a brief run. While Lynch wasn’t as effective as his younger self (he rushed 18 times for 33 yards and three touchdowns in the team’s two postseason games), he was still fun as hell:

What Went Wrong

After racing out to a 10-2 record through Week 13, Seattle looked poised to capture the NFC West title and a first-round bye. But the Seahawks faded badly to end the year, losing three of their last four regular-season games to limp into the postseason. Injuries played a big part of that late-season skid: On offense, the team struggled to replace key starters in center Justin Britt (knee), tight end Will Dissly (Achilles), and running backs Chris Carson (hip), Rashaad Penny (ACL), and C.J. Prosise (arm)—and losing Josh Gordon to a suspension after Week 15 didn’t help matters either. Seattle’s typically explosive passing game sputtered down the stretch and Wilson’s MVP campaign went up in smoke as Seattle lost in blowouts to the Rams and Cardinals and then dropped the de facto divisional-championship game with a Week 17 loss to the 49ers―in part because of a late-game clock-management fiasco. More on that in a bit.

Defensively, Seattle’s pass rush often failed to make an impact, with free agent signee Ezekiel Ansah registering just 2.5 sacks in 11 games and the team getting essentially nothing from first-round edge rusher L.J. Collier, who played just 152 snaps all year and tallied a grand total of three tackles. In the back end, second-year corner Tre Flowers struggled for most of the season, and when Diggs went out with an ankle injury in Weeks 16 and 17, backup Delano Hill was a major vulnerability. Seattle ended the year 18th in defensive DVOA, its worst finish in that metric since 2010 (Carroll’s first season).

While Carroll deserves plenty of credit for the team’s unexpected run to the postseason, he again struggled throughout the season with basic game management. Carroll fell short when it came to clock management and in-game decision-making, often in key moments, particularly in the team’s Week 17 loss to San Francisco, when Seattle took a critical delay-of-game penalty after failing to substitute correctly. On a more macro level, Carroll was often far too reticent to Let Russ Cook (as Seahawks Twitter puts it), steadfastly leaning on the ground game and taking the ball out of Wilson’s hands. Too often, Carroll seemed to be coaching as if he had a game-manager quarterback and an all-world defense when he had just the opposite.

All of those regular-season hiccups came into play in the loss to the Packers. The defense couldn’t get off the field when it needed to, allowing Green Bay to convert nine of 14 third downs. And that group had no answers for Davante Adams, who finished with eight catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns. Seattle’s banged-up offense got off to an excruciatingly slow start, mustering just three first-half points while falling into a deep 21-3 hole. Carroll waited far too long to unleash Wilson, which forced his star quarterback into comeback mode. With a deficit that big, Wilson had to play pretty much perfect football in the second half. Unfortunately, he could not; trailing 28-23 with 3:22 left in the game, Wilson took a sack on a crucial third-and-5 from Seattle’s 42-yard line, putting the Seahawks into a much tougher fourth-and-11 situation.

With everything on the line, Carroll decided to punt and put the game in the hands of his subpar defense instead of trusting his Houdini-like quarterback to work his magic. Wilson never got the ball back.

Free Agency

Seattle’s got a few big decisions to make on its upcoming free agents. Clowney’s the headliner of that group; the 26-year-old former first overall pick likely to command top dollar as one of the top edge rushers in free agency. Carroll and Co. must decide whether the former Texan is the type of player to build a defense around or whether it makes more sense to spend what figures to be a big chunk of the team’s cap somewhere else.

Former first-round offensive tackle Germain Ifedi is also set for free agency after the Seahawks declined to pick up his fifth-year option. Ifedi’s uneven performance means Seattle may choose to go in another direction. Defensive tackle Jarran Reed failed to boost his stock in his contract year, too. The former second-rounder notched 10.5 sacks in 2018 and appeared to be headed toward a big payday, but Reed mustered just 2.0 sacks in 2019 following a six-game suspension (for a violation of the personal conduct policy stemming from a domestic violence incident) to start the season.

The Draft

With the loss, Seattle now holds the 27th pick in the draft. Even if the Seahawks re-sign Clowney, they need to continue to bolster a subpar pass-rushing group. Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos or LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson both fit the bill as the types of highly athletic and versatile edge rushers Seattle has frequently targeted. Seattle would do well to address their offensive line too, filling their potentially vacant right-tackle spot with a player like USC’s Austin Jackson (should he declare) or Houston’s Josh Jones. The team should take advantage of the deep and talented receiver class too and give Wilson another playmaking target.