Not done yet – How the Seahawks are still a playoff contender

After a busy offseason, the next time the Seattle Seahawks were expected to be in a position of contention would be long after the departures of Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett and a host of other Pro-Bowl talents. Even with them, the Seahawks could only manage 10-6, 10-5-1 and 9-7 records the past three seasons respectively, three seasons where they entered the NFL season with one of the four best teams on paper. In 2018, with one of their worst teams in recent memory, it seemed to be the end of the Seahawks reign as a postseason giant and in turn the coaching of Pete Carroll would follow.

However, very much against the grain of the expected playoff picture for this season, the Seahawks are firmly in contention for a wild-card spot.

What’s changed?

A good chunk of the Seahawks roster that made them a consistent Super Bowl contender is gone, and that painted a frightening picture for the franchise heading into the 2018 season.

Many of the departing players were oddly due to the front office releasing them. Three time first team All-Pro Richard Sherman was the headliner, while DE Cliff Avril and corners DeShawn Shead, Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane were also released. DE Michael Bennett was traded to the Eagles, which many believed had connections to his strong political stances, while TE Jimmy Graham and DT Sheldon Richardson left via free agency. Safety Kam Chancellor was the odd one out, deciding his time was up and retiring from football all together.

The fillers? Mainly high draft picks in previous years have become the replacements, particularly on the defensive side with the likes of DE Frank Clark, corner Shaquill Griffin and DT Jarran Reed filling the voids. However it isn’t as if they haven’t been able to replicate the output of their predecessors, as the unit ranks 11th in total defence in the league, the same ranking as the Hawks defence from 2017 while slightly improving against the run.

A range of trades led to the Seahawks having nine total draft picks in 2018, with many notable players getting plenty of game time from this year’s lass including running back Rashard Penny, DE Rasheem Green and linebacker Shaquem Griffin, who have all looked promising when given the chance. Amongst the draft picks they’ve also added a handful of players through free agency who are by no means scrubs, headlined by former Patriot and Super Bowl winner Barkevious Mingo and former first round pick Shamar Stephen, both being part of the new-look defensive unit.

The younger talent taking over the bigger names leads to something truly valuable for a sporting franchise – cap room. In 2019 the Seahawks are expected to have around $57 million in salary cap available, giving them plenty of room for maneuver in order to sign players in positions that need it.

The season so far

Even with a talent-ridden roster the Seahawks struggled to remain consistent the past three seasons, and in a year where they don’t appear to be anywhere near as threatening, the opposite is the reality. 2018 has been favourable to the Seahawks, with a 5-5 record through 11 weeks and a run of winnable games to finish the season. Amongst their five losses, the Seahawks have played the Super-Bowl favourite Rams twice, and on both occasions have come agonizingly close to wins.

By the numbers the Seahawks haven’t improved much in comparison to last season. They rank 11th in overall defence, being 11th against the run and 17th against the pass. Numbers that don’t come close to the Legion of Boom when it reigned supreme, along with their high-quality front seven at the time. But it isn’t as if the new defensive unit is struggling, instead they’re playing a lot better than their ‘image’ would suggest.

On the other side of the ball, quarterback Russell Wilson has been having another strong year in the air and on track for a personal best season. After struggling (somewhat) in his side’s opening two games, losses against Denver and Chicago where he threw three interceptions while completing 59.4 per cent of his passes, Wilson has posted 18 touchdown passes and two interceptions to go along with an impressive 69.1 completion percentage. Although Wilson’s yards sit around 219.2 for per game, his passer rating in the past eight games has been an impressive 117.4, third amongst starting quarterbacks and a career-best so far. The Hawks have gone 5-3 in that stretch, and have a points difference of +40 – a good representation of comfortable wins.

Wilson’s better performances as the season has progressed are thanks to the Seahawks’ improved offensive line. According to center Justin Britt that improvement comes down to the coaching of the incoming Mike Scolari, who took over as the offensive line coach in 2018 after stints with the 49ers, Packers and Giants. The Seahawks have gone back to their run-heavy offensive style that was their focus during Marshawn Lynch’s tenure, which sees them lead the league rushing with 154.3 yards per games, 15.8 yards better than the Rams who rank second in the league.

Making the necessary adjustments

As mentioned before cap room will be a handy tool for the Seahawks to use next offseason in order to strengthen their squad where needed. The main area of concern is the offensive line, which still lacks the talent needed. Since the Jimmy Graham trade in 2015 that saw center Max Unger shift to New Orleans, they haven’t been able to give Wilson the protection he deserves.

If that can be achieved in the offseason, whether through trades or free agency, Seattle’s promising future can be quickly accelerated.

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