Members of the Seattle Seahawks organization, 12s around the world and those who thought Jimmy Graham was well short of the first-down marker:
The only constant in football is change. The truly great franchises not only change, though, but continue to find ways to win. And evolve. The Seahawks were once guided by the "Legion of Boom," but now have taken a new path. A different path. Still, the Seahawks have recorded a winning record in eight consecutive seasons. And look poised to once again be one of the top teams in the NFC.
How the Seahawks got here
Let's take a quick look at the ups and downs of 2019:
- Snapping the 49ers' undefeated run in Week 10. With a thrilling 27-24 overtime victory on Monday Night Football, the 'Hawks gave San Francisco its first blemish of the season -- in front of the 49ers Faithful at Levi's Stadium, to boot. Russell Wilson threw a pick in overtime, but eventually drove the Seahawks into field goal range, allowing Jason Myers to nail the game-winner as time expired.
- Beating the Vikings in Week 13 to improve to 10-2. After another inspired showing on Monday Night Football -- this time in front of the 12s at CenturyLink Field -- Seattle was suddenly sitting atop the NFC West, with a head-to-head tiebreaker over 10-2 San Francisco.
- Marshawn Lynch's return! OK, so the excitement of his Week 17 resurrection, which came after a series of crushing blows to Seattle's backfield, was a bit dampened by his average of 2.2 yards per carry (30 total rushes for 67 yards) over three games, including the playoffs. But he did score four touchdowns!
- Stumbling down the stretch to squander away the division title. Injuries took their toll, as the Seahawks lost three of their last four games, including a heartbreaker at home to San Francisco in the regular-season finale. That game -- and the division title -- came down to one play where Dre Greenlaw stoned Jacob Hollister at the goal line. Seattle fell literally inches (centimeters? millimeters?) short of a division title. That stings. But the truly stunning loss down the stretch came in Week 16, when the 'Hawks lost at CenturyLink Field to the cellar-dwelling Cardinals. With Kyler Murray injured early in the third quarter, Arizona was guided to victory by ... Brett Hundley? Didn't see that coming.
- Losing at Green Bay in the Divisional Round. And I know it's a shock the home team got the favorable call in Lambeau, but don't be too proud, Packer Backers. Remember: The Seahawks were without Chris Carson, Mike Iupati, Justin Britt, Will Dissly (he's a thing) and Josh Gordon. And still, Seattle probably should have won that game. But "should have" is no consolation.
- Failing to give us Seahawks-Niners III. That Divisional Round loss prevented us from getting the NFC Championship Game we were all dying to see. The two teams split a pair of regular-season classics -- we deserved a rubber match for all the NFC marbles!
Head coach: Pete Carroll. The NFC West might have the coolest coaches in the league. Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay and Kliff Kingsbury all look like they would be perfect if you wanted to reboot Ocean's Eleven using NFL coaches. Let's call it Lombardi's Eleven. Carroll would be the energetic and charismatic leader of the group. And maybe he's more Reuben Tishkoff than Danny Ocean. Making his millennial contemporaries facepalm and say, "O.K. Boomer" -- like when he took his shirt off to greet D.K. Metcalf last year.
But Reuben was the true leader, and this dude Pete Carroll can coach. His 100-59-1 record with the Seahawks speaks for itself. Not to mention, he has something two of his younger NFC West counterparts failed to get in the last two seasons: a Super Bowl win. And he also won in college. Multiple national championships on the field at USC. Then came to Seattle. Embarrassed one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks in NFL history in the Super Bowl. Took one of the others and his legendary coach to the brink. So yeah, he might not be as flashy as some of the other Teen Beat cover boys coaching in the division. I would take my chances with Pete. When you think of the best coaches in the league right now, who are your top four? Bill Belichick, no doubt. Andy Reid. Sean Payton. Carroll is right there with them, for sure.
Quarterback: Russell Wilson. Perhaps the most underappreciated quarterback in the NFL right now. I mean, not by Seahawks management, who gave Russ a mega extension last offseason. And certainly not by Ciara. But when you're talking about the best quarterbacks in the game right now, I'm trying to think of who is better than Wilson. Patrick Mahomes will be suggested. But Wilson has been doing it for years. Wilson put up 4,110 passing yards to go with 31 touchdowns -- against just five interceptions -- last season. Yet he still couldn't garner a single MVP vote. Not that Lamar Jackson wasn't great. But Wilson somehow hasn't won an MVP award, which seems incredible. You have to put him in that category with Drew Brees in the "How has this guy never won this thing?" I can't imagine it's a West Coast thing. You all play fantasy football. All of the games start at the same time. This isn't Mike Trout, whose games don't start until 10 p.m. on the East Coast most times. Wilson is taken for granted like pepperoni pizza, which you just think is always going to be there.
Here are some quick numbers: Wilson has piled up at least 30 touchdown passes in four of his last five seasons. That's most in the NFL. He's one of four players in league history with 30 touchdown passes and five or fewer interceptions. He boasts a career passer rating of 101.2, second only to Aaron Rodgers all time. I'll say this again:
Projected 2020 MVP: Wilson. I mean, should I even dare put Wilson here, considering he's never received an MVP vote from the NFL writers despite being an elite NFL quarterback? But there is no doubt he is the most important player to the Seahawks. And at least the fans there appreciate him.
2020 breakout star: Will Dissly, tight end. I know a lot of people are excited about D.K. Metcalf -- and consider me one of them. But D.K. had 900 receiving yards (on the nose) and seven touchdowns in Year 1. He's already a star. I want to throw a little bit of love toward Dissly ...
We do a segment on NFL Fantasy Live called, "That Helps No One." We celebrate those unheard-of players who score touchdowns that do nothing for fantasy leagues. And one day, our Monday producer asked if we should include Dissly in the segment. I'm like, "Dude, Dissly is a legit good fantasy contributor." And a real good football player, too. He had four touchdowns in six games last season. The man can play. Dissly, of course, is recovering from an Achilles tear, which is why he only logged a half-dozen games in 2019. And that's his second major injury in as many years. But Carroll has indicated Dissly is killing it in rehab and will hopefully be ready to go in Week 1.
New face to know: Greg Olsen, tight end. He's been productive in recent years, even appearing in 14 games last season, catching 52 passes for 597 yards and two touchdowns. He'll be there to take some pressure off Dissly's return. Maybe even get into some "12" personnel, which Seattle employed just 14 percent of the time last year. (The Seahawks were well above the curve at 73 percent in three-receiver sets, or "11" personnel.)
The 2020 roadmap
The competitive urgency index is: ELEVATED. Seattle was good last year. That's the truth. But the Seahawks haven't moved past the Divisional Round once over the past five seasons. And you can say it was a gutty performance to go on the road and win in Philadelphia against an equally injury-ravaged Eagles squad. But when you have one of the best coaches and one of the best quarterbacks, expectations are high.
Three key dates:
- Week 3 vs. Cowboys. The Cowboys have retooled behind new coach Mike McCarthy, who is very familiar to Seahawks fans. McCarthy has lost this last four visits to Seattle as a head coach.
- Week 12 at Eagles (Monday night). The Seahawks knocked the Eagles out of the playoffs last season in Philadelphia, with Carson Wentz sidelined by injury in the first quarter. So let's go ahead and call this the Carson Wentz revenge game. Should be a great one.
- Week 17 at 49ers. The Seahawks snapped the Niners' eight-game winning streak to open 2019 with a win at San Francisco last year. This could end up deciding the NFC West -- and possibly more -- in 2020.
Will the Seahawks be able to ...
Replace Jadeveon Clowney? Well, let's not completely close the door on Clowney staying in Seattle. He remains a free agent. And the Seahawks have talked about wanting to bring him back -- at the right price. Russell Wilson made his voice heard. As did Jarran Reed. Well, Reed made a business decision. He cashed in last year, selling the No. 90 to Clowney after he was acquired from the Texans. (Hey, look -- Bill O'Brien getting rid of good players.) But Reed took No. 90 back. Or did he? Could Read pull a Pawn Stars on Clowney if the latter eventually returns? Number intrigue!
Anyhow, the Seahawks drafted linebacker Jordyn Brooks and defensive end Darrell Taylor with their first two picks in April's draft, but they still have a definite need for juice off the edge. The team ranked 28th in QB pressure rate, per Pro Football Focus. And 26th in yards allowed. Seattle also had just 28 sacks, the fewest ever under Pete Carroll. And that was with Clowney. Also, we saw how important the former No. 1 overall pick was during the Seahawks' Week 10 win at San Francisco, when he made life miserable for Jimmy Garoppolo (SEE: five QB hits). If you're expecting Taylor to immediately provide a Clowney-like presence, you're going to be disappointed. Like when the movie folks tried to replace Michael Keaton with Val Kilmer as Batman. It wasn't great.
Get improved play in the secondary? Where have you gone, Legion of Boom? It still sort of exists, in name only. Kind of like when Paul Roma became a member of the iconic Four Horsemen. Yes, it was still the fabled wrestling faction, but it was never the same after that. Though I loved Brian Pillman. And similarly, I liked Shaquill Griffin's growth last season -- he posted the highest incompletion percentage among cornerbacks, per PFF. The key will be making sure whoever's on the other side plays better. Meanwhile, the safety tandem of Bradley McDougald and Quandre Diggs was fine last year. But fine doesn't cut it with the Seahawks. Seattle allowed the third-most first downs through the air last season. The 'Hawks gave up 26-plus points in 10 games. And they yielded the most yards per game (381.6) of any team in the Pete Carroll era.
Get production from the revamped offensive line? Seattle's O-line ranked in the bottom third, according to Pro Football Focus. Have the Seahawks done enough this offseason to address the problem? Well, they didn't land a big-name free-agent darling like Jack Conklin. On the plus side, they did manage to retain Mike Iupati. And they did raid the bargain bin for some guys they hope can help out, signing Brandon Shell, B.J. Finney, Cedric Ogbuehi and Chance Warmack. Shell was my favorite one of those signings -- he should be an upgrade at right tackle over Germain Ifedi, who is looking for a second chance in Chicago. The others are the kind of "hope and see" type of players I'm all too familiar with. It's like when the Angels miss out on a guy like Gerrit Cole and then sign a bunch of other dudes they hope can pan out. Seattle also drafted LSU guard Damien Lewis in Round 3, so he could figure into the mix.
One storyline ...
... people are overlooking: Bobby Wagner is SO good. Forgive me. I need to put this in here. Because I already spent a lot of time writing about how overlooked Wilson is. But I do want to give a little bit of column space to Wagner, who is clearly overlooked, as well. I mean, you realize that he's great. Like when you think Leonardo DiCaprio is amazing while you are watching Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. But then you stop and think about his body of work -- and it's just staggering. The same applies to Wagner. Five first-team All-Pro selections, with the last four coming in the past four years. We still just seem to take him for granted a bit.
... people are overthinking: What's the backfield hierarchy this season? Because I'm not 100 percent sure that it matters. The Seahawks have boasted a top-five rushing offense in six of eight seasons during the Russell Wilson era, including each of the last two campaigns. Chris Carson was great last year ... before he went down with an injury. Former first-round pick Rashaad Penny was a revelation, averaging 5.7 yards per attempt, but then his season prematurely ended with a torn ACL. C.J. Prosise also hit injured reserve in late December, causing Marshawn Lynch to come back to the 'Hawks -- the greatest reunion in Seattle history! ... At least until Mudhoney gets back together. And you be saying, "Rank. They are still together." They are NOT together until Matt Lukin returns. No disrespect to you, Guy Maddison, but it's Lukin or nothing. The point here, though, is that Seattle is going to find a way to run the football. Wilson, a great runner himself, totaled 342 yards last season. If some of those moves on the offensive line pan out, the Seahawks could actually improve on last year's ground attack, which finished fourth in the NFL with 2,200 yards.
One other note: Earlier this month, Lynch said that his agent was in touch with the Seahawks and discussing a potential return in 2020. But he also said that if he didn't run it back, it wouldn't matter because he was still looking good and wasn't "trippin' too much." Which is great to hear -- especially since Seattle's recent signing of Carlos Hyde could keep Beast Mode on the back burner. And the Hyde signing might be a sign that Penny's gonna take some time to get back on the field -- understandable, since his knee injury occurred in December.
For 2020 to be a successful season, the Seahawks MUST:
Make the Super Bowl? Yes, make the Super Bowl! You really don't want to pin a Super Bowl or bust label on the Seahawks. But they would be one of the few teams in the NFL where, if they don't make it to the game's biggest stage, it has to seem like a bitter disappointment. Russell Wilson is the best quarterback in the NFC, having established himself as an annual MVP candidate in recent years (whether people realize it or not). Bailing out in the Divisional Round is getting old. And why stop at Championship Sunday? Just last season, Seattle beat the 49ers, Rams and Eagles -- the NFC's last three Super Bowl reps. It's time for Russ, Bobby and Pete to return to the promised land.
It seems to go under the radar -- like Russell Wilson and his MVP candidacy -- but the Seahawks are consistently pretty damn good. And I have every reason to believe that they are going to be back in the Lombardi mix this year. The race for the NFC West is likely going to be as difficult as making a run in the playoffs. So, if the Seahawks remain on brand with another winning season, they will again be squarely in the hunt for the Super Bowl. If I'm completely being honest here, though, it would be kind of cool if Seattle just went YOLO and let Wilson go scorched Earth and throw the ball 700 times, because that would be fun. But otherwise, I'll just take the winning.