We’re mixing up how we do our NFL preview this year to keep them fresh and interesting. I sat down to write about the Seahawks and was all set to blast Pete Carroll and that idiot Marshawn Lynch, and praise Russell Wilson and his wife. Instead, I decided to send questions to Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times. He’s much more optimistic about the Seahawks’ potential than I am.
Q: Tough times in Seattle on the sports front, huh? Washington ain’t winning the Pac-12 (again), and the Huskies missed the NCAA tournament despite having two 1st round draft picks. The Thunder lost in the NBA Finals. The Mariners traded Ichiro. Do the Seahawks offer the slightest glimmer of optimism?
JERRY BREWER: Yes, the Seahawks do offer a glimmer of optimism. In fact, and this is a scary thought, a lot of Seattle sports fans are banking on the Seahawks to provide the most entertainment and joy of all the local sports teams in 2012. Since 2008, when the Sonics left town after their worst season in franchise history and every major team suffered awful seasons (Seahawks went 4-12 in Mike Holmgren’s last year, Husky football was 0-12, Mariners were 61-101 and became first team in MLB history to lose 100 games with a $100 million payroll), this city has been in a rebuilding mode. Fans have been sifting through ashes to find reasons for hope. We became a damn soccer town because we were desperate for a winner! (And after mocking it initially, I love the futbol phenomenon in Seattle now. Don’t judge me.)
Now, the Seahawks have emerged as the pro team most ready to be competitive again. The Mariners are at least a year away — at least. But the Seahawks did a nice job acknowledging that the era that produced a Super Bowl XL appearance is over, and in two years under Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider, they’ve turned an old, boring, undersized and overpriced team into one that has youth and explosiveness, especially on defense and in the running game with Marshawn Lynch. They have playoff-team ingredients now. The only questions are whether they can settle on a quarterback (Matt Flynn or rookie Russell Wilson), whether they can handle expectations and whether Carroll has the chops to win big in the NFL. Those are huge questions, but in a city that has seen too much losing, fans need some source of optimism. And the Seahawks are providing it, for now.
Q: Pete Carroll’s first two seasons – 14-18, one playoff appearance (and a sweet win over the Saints) haven’t been that bad, but he’s had two mediocre drafts and been part of a couple questionable free agent decisions. Is the jury still out on him? Everyone knows he was just running away from USC to beat the NCAA charges … so if he misses the playoffs and Seattle ends up 6-10, he probably heads back to the college ranks, right? His rah-rah passion seems like a better fit for college.
JERRY BREWER: Well, I disagree with a lot of that. If you look at what the Seahawks have done in totality instead of looking at a few of their high-profile draft and free agent moves — which is definitely a mixed bag of James Carpenters (bad) and Earl Thomases (good) — you’ll see that, in only two years, Carroll and Schneider have turned over 19 of 22 offensive and defensive starters. The only holdovers who were starters when they arrived are center Max Unger, linebacker Leroy Hill and defensive tackle Brandon Mebane. Eighteen of those 22 starters are players that Carroll and Schneider acquired. And the one player we haven’t accounted for is defensive end Red Bryant, a 320-pound former defensive tackle who was on the roster when they got here and was considered a candidate to be cut. But in perhaps his most impressive decision thus far, Carroll turned Bryant into an end, and he has been a run-stopping catalyst for a defense that used to get gashed by running backs.
The Seahawks are now an odd bunch to judge because they do out-of-nowhere things such as drafting Bruce Irvin in the first round back in April, but they counter that somewhat because Schneider is very good at drafting in the late rounds. For example, Kam Chancellor was a fifth-round pick in 2010, and he developed into a Pro Bowler in his second season, and he very easily could’ve made the All-Pro team. The Seahawks have a ton of mid-to-late round success stories on their roster, including linebacker K.J. Wright (a fourth rounder in 2011) and cornerback Richard Sherman (a fifth rounder in 2011). Seattle had a top-10 defense last season, and Earl Thomas is the only former first-round pick starting on that defense.
So, Carroll has done some remarkable things to get the Seahawks to the brink of a high level of competitiveness. How much patience has that afforded him in the eyes of Seahawks owner Paul Allen? That’s a good question. I’m pretty certain that Carroll, who is in Year 3, will get a fourth season unless this one is a complete disaster. Depending on how the year goes, he could survive another 7-9 record because the Seahawks are trying to settle on a long-term quarterback this season. Could he survive 6-10 or 5-11? Once again, it depends on how the year goes and whether the Seahawks, even in losing, can show tangible signs that they’ll be a winner in 2013. Allen can make emotional or knee-jerk decisions, though, and he’s expecting a winning season this year. Anything less, and it’s certain that there would be some reaction from ownership, even if it’s simply scrutinizing or changing how much power Carroll has (he’s the executive vice president in addition to the head coach).
Here’s the bottom line: Carroll has done everything his way so far, including this wacky three-man quarterback competition with Tarvaris Jackson, Flynn and Wilson. This is a year in which Carroll needs to start proving that his way works, that it’s more than an interesting science project.
Q: How bad is this receiving group? Would you say one of the five worst in the league? Golden Tate has been a letdown through two seasons, Braylon Edwards seems like a desperation move, Sidney Rice is coming off surgery, and Doug Baldwin … caught a bunch of passes last year by default? Oh, and there’s that Terrell Owens guy.
JERRY BREWER: No question, the receiving corps is one of the shakiest units on this team. The Seahawks have invested a lot in their wide receivers, and they’re still in this position. Sidney Rice received $18 million guaranteed, and he was productive when he played last season, but he has two surgically repaired shoulders to go with a hip that has been operated on and concussion problems. It’s never good to see a team’s No. 1 wide receiver wearing a red jersey during most of training camp because the Seahawks don’t want him to get hit. He has been cleared for contact, and this week he’s a full go, but right now, if you’re the Seahawks, you’re praying that Rice gets up after every hit he takes. The Seahawks really need Tate, a 2010 second-round pick, to play to his talent, and he has shown signs of a breakthrough season during practice. We’ll see. An underrated problem that could really limit the Seahawks early in the season is that Baldwin has missed most of the preseason because of a hamstring issue that required some unknown procedure recently. He’s expected to practice next week. As you mentioned, he’s the Seahawks’ leading receiver from a year ago, but he only caught 51 passes for 788 yards. It was incredible work for an undrafted rookie, but the Seahawks had just three receivers catch 35 or more passes last season. Was that Jackson’s mediocre quarterback play? Or are the Seahawks that bad? Or both? Obviously, the presence of reclamation projects such as Edwards and T.O. show the Seahawks are worried that they don’t have enough weapons.
Q: I can’t think of a more boring defense devoid of superstars. Sure, they’ll play well at home as usual, but is 3rd year safety Earl Thomas the face of the defense? That unit has to be the 4th best in the division despite presence of the Rams and Cardinals.
JERRY BREWER: You’re wrong there, J-Mac. I would fight you to the end of time on this one. As I said earlier, the Seahawks had a top-10 defense last year. They’re a no-name bunch right now, but they ranked ninth in the NFL in total defense despite being on the field for a ridiculous number of plays because their offense was so bad. They allowed the seventh fewest yards per play in 2011. They allowed 19.7 points per game, seventh in the NFL. Quarterbacks had only a 74.8 rating against them, which ranked sixth. They were tied for fourth in yards allowed per rushing attempt. The only defense better in the NFC West was San Francisco, and that’s because the 49ers can rush the passer. The Seahawks have a weakness there, which is why they coveted the speed-rushing talents of Bruce Irvin in the draft. Don’t sleep on this defense. The Seahawks have two physical 6-foot-3 cornerbacks who are difficult to deal with in press coverage. They’re young. They’re ballhawks. During the preseason, the first-team defense has forced five turnovers in nine series of action over two exhibition games. If the Seahawks can get anyone besides Chris Clemons to collect sacks, they could be nasty. At the very least, this no-name bunch has what it takes to carry the team.
Q: Seattle opened 2-6, but closed 5-3. Nobody out there really thinks the 2012 version will be closer to last season’s 2nd half team, right? Three wins at home, one on the road over the Cutler-less Bears, and three losses by 11 points means nothing. Right? You thinking 6-10 for Seattle in 2012?
JERRY BREWER: I don’t like to pre-judge the strength an NFL schedule because there’s so much turnover among playoff teams from year to year. But what the hell, let’s do it anyway, even though it’s reckless. The difficult part of the Seahawks’ season, in my opinion, is that some of their toughest games are at home. They play Green Bay, New England, San Francisco and your New York Jets — who could be anything from 6-10 to 12-4, I’d say — at home. Lose too many of those marquee home games, and a winning record is awfully hard to achieve, especially considering that the Seahawks are notoriously bad on the road. They’ve turned in some better road performances under Carroll than they did previously, but they’re still a team that needs to go about 6-2 at home to have the best chance at a winning season.
Making sense of the second half of last season, I do think the Seahawks figured some things out. They were the best rushing team in the NFL in the second half of the year, and that’s not fluke. That’s the work of our favorite volatile offensive line guru, Tom Cable. Normally, when Cable’s zone-blocking scheme gets working, it stands up as something you can depend on. The Seahawks won five of six games in the second half last year to get to a 7-7 record before losing close games to San Francisco and Arizona. In those last two games, it became obvious that Jackson’s ability to produce in the fourth quarter was a huge problem. The Seahawks lost five games in which they had the ball in the final five minutes with a chance to win or tie. Most of the time, Jackson deserved a huge chunk of the blame for their ability to execute late. Of course, a lot of teams in the NFL have that problem. The league is legislated for parity, and winning close games is a must. Can Flynn solve this problem? Well, he has to win the job first.
I think the Seahawks will finish 9-7 this season. If they don’t, you’re going to erase this post from memory, right?
Q: Can you give me an absolute best-case scenario for 2012?
JERRY BREWER: Flynn takes over as the starting quarterback, and his brain proves more important than his noodle arm, and he gives the Seahawks the kind of efficient play they haven’t had at quarterback since Matt Hasselbeck’s best season in 2007. The running game picks up where it left off at the end of last season, and Marshawn Lynch runs for 1,300 yards. The defense becomes a top-five unit. Carroll doesn’t do anything wacky and stays out of the way of a good thing. The Seahawks finish with 10 or 11 wins, make the playoffs and advance a round.
And finally — finally! — Seattle can rejoice in knowing that one team is past the rebuilding stage.
I’d give you the worst-case scenario, too, but I don’t have enough bourbon left to get through that.