Many thought Seattle were set for a spell in the wilderness after breaking up their great defense. But they are on course for this year’s playoffs
The Seahawks are this year’s surprise outfit. It feels like a long, long time since Seattle went through the will-they-won’t-they Earl Thomas dating game; since John Schneider and Pete Carroll detonated the Legion of Boom era and kicked Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett to the curb; since Cliff Avril and Kam Chancellor were forced to retire; since Thomas flipped off his own sideline in an act of understandable insubordination.
Seattle entered the season with few expectations. Vegas odds placed their chances at a Super Bowl a hair ahead of the Browns, and any Seahawks discussion elicited a shrug. Unless, of course, you wanted to talk about the glory days and how different (read: boring) this year was going to be.
Except Carroll hasn’t had a blah team in almost two decades and, like Andy Dufresne, the 2018 Seahawks have emerged triumphant on the other side of all the melodrama. They’re 8-5, heading for the playoffs and peaking at the right time. They’re eighth in weighted DVOA, which assesses a team’s most recent performances to indicate how well they are playing right now rather than over the course of the entire season. They’re one of only eight teams with a point differential over 70, ahead of the Patriots, Cowboys, and Steelers, despite playing in seven one-score games.
Carroll and company transitioned the organization from one led by its defense, to one led by Russell Wilson and the offense. It makes sense too: having a long-term franchise quarterback is more stable than consistently fielding an elite defense: players get hurt, free-agency saps talent, age and attrition begin to take over. A very good quarterback – which Russell Wilson is – can overcome some of those problems on his side of the ball.
Carroll doubled down on his belief that a ground-and-pound, power-running game can still succeed in the era of pace-and-space. It’s worked. Seattle are second in the league in power-run success, trailing just the Ravens’ rush-only offense. While Carroll deserves serious coach of the year consideration his supporting cast have been impressive too. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has done a brilliant job (stunning, I know) coaching around the limitations on the team’s offense. Mike Solari replaced Tom Cable, a man who makes Brick Tamland look like Jean-Paul Sartre, as offensive-line coach and the unit, predictably, improved (under Cable the Raiders offensive line has submarined, for what it’s worth).
Seattle haven’t relied wholly on their rushing game though. They’ve benefited from Wilson’s rare brand of escape magic to create plays on the fly, and his connection with Tyler Lockett has been the most efficient quarterback-receiver partnership in recent years. Doug Baldwin is the guy who makes the whole thing sing, though. Wilson is a different quarterback when Baldwin is on the field. With Baldwin in 2018, he has a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 11.5 (23-2). Without Baldwin that number collapses to 1.5 (6-4), his completion percentage drops by seven points; his passer rating by 41. Almost as importantly, Wilson’s average yards per target drops from 8.68 to 6.96. To put it simply: without Baldwin Wilson goes from an excellent quarterback to an average one.
They will need that passing game come January too because this isn’t the Seahawks of old. The defense is decidedly average. They lack a consistent pass-rush and have a sinkhole lining up at second cornerback, not to mention that they miss Thomas, who was playing absurdly well before his season-ending injury. It has been fun to watch the Seahawks defense shapeshift without Thomas: their schedule is dotted with game-to-game adjustments non-warlock coaches couldn’t conceive. They are smart, stay within themselves and execute the little things that win.
They also have the best punter in the league in Michael Dickson, an Aussie rookie who consistently helps flip the field, pinning foes inside their own 20.
That small stuff matters when you’re dealing with a series of one-score games, and every game, every possession, Seattle make teams work. No team in the league has fewer giveaways yet they force mistakes as well as almost anyone. They have the second-best turnover to giveaway ratio in the league, pipped only by the Bears’ historic defensive output.
Perhaps most importantly, Pete Carroll has reignited the sense of camaraderie that had dissipated in recent years. Fans loved the early bombast of the Legion of Boom; they grew tired of it by the end – and the players grew tired of the organization itself. Meanwhile, Seattle’s 2018 band of upstart free-agent castoffs and young pups seem to be relishing the chance to just play. There’s no drama. There is only one first-round pick on the team’s two-deep. Everyone, sans Wilson, has a contract to play for. Even this year’s first-round pick, Rashaad Penny, has had to fight for playing time – he’s third among running backs in his percentage of snaps on offense and special teams.
As a certain basketball player once said, nothing is given, everything is earned. Coaches preach that, Carroll and the Seahawks are practicing it. In marshaling this roster of afterthoughts towards the playoffs, Carroll has pulled off his best pro coaching job to date.