Pete Carroll and John Schneider

Pete Carroll and John Schneider

In less than 24 hours as I write this the Seattle Seahawks will launch their quest to do what no NFL team has been able to do in 20 years—make it to a third straight Super Bowl. In the entire 50 years of the Super Bowl era only two teams, the Miami Dolphins of 1972-74 and the Buffalo Bills of 1991-94 have ever been able to accomplish that feat. Should the Seahawks make it to Super Bowl 50 they will become the first team since the league installed the salary cap in 1994 to make it to three consecutive Super Bowls, as well as the first NFC team ever to do so. (Both Miami and Buffalo are from the AFC). The fact the Seahawks are in this position is a tribute to the hard work of head coach Pete Carroll, general manager John Schneider and the group of tough, talented players they have acquired and molded into a team. When Pete arrived in Seattle he came with a plan, which we “twelves” have been privileged to witness coming to beautiful fruition; and now here we are, with our team on the cusp of history. Hawks fans have been truly blessed to have had, to this point, such a marvelous ride.

Jimmy Graham

Jimmy Graham

There are many reasons to think that Seattle’s dominance can continue through the 2015 season, as well as some reasons to think it may not. The positive side starts with the fact that, despite Kam Chancellor’s contract holdout, the Seahawks have done a magnificent job of identifying and re-signing their group of core players. In addition to the contract extensions of Russell Wilson and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner right before training camp, the Hawks over the last two years have signed wide receiver Doug Baldwin, running back Marshawn Lynch, linebacker KJ Wright, free safety Earl Thomas, defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril and shutdown cornerback Richard Sherman to multi-year extensions. All of these players are confirmed to be Seahawks through at least the 2017 season except Baldwin (2016). Add to this the fact that Seattle went out and acquired one of the best pass catching tight ends in the NFL in Jimmy Graham this last off season, and added through the 2015 draft two young players who look to be stars in the making, defensive lineman Frank Clark and kick returner/wide receiver Tyler Lockett. I saw Lockett’s 103 yard kickoff return for a touchdown in person last month in the first pre-season game against the Denver Broncos. When he eluded the last Broncos defender and hit the sideline on that return it looked like Han Solo accelerating the Millenium Falcon into hyperspace—literally—the guy is that fast. And anyone who saw Clark destroy the Oakland Raiders second string offensive line in the last pre-season game has got to be excited for his, and the Seahawks, future. Add to this the fact that Seattle is healthy for the most part; and that Russell Wilson has another year’s worth of experience under his belt and should be even better. With this abundance of riches there is ample reason for optimism in Seattle.

Seahawks rookie Frank Clark

Seahawks rookie Frank Clark

Notwithstanding all this good stuff, there are some reasons to think the Seahawks may not be as dominant this year, starting with the absence of the guy who brought the “boom” to the “Legion of Boom”: Kam Chancellor. The Seahawks strong safety is in the midst of a lengthy holdout to, at the minimum, get his contract enhanced with more guaranteed money. To this point he has missed the entire training camp and pre-season and it is now certain he will miss the opening game against the Rams in St. Louis on Sunday. His place in the lineup will be taken by an undrafted free agent in his 2nd NFL season, Dion Bailey. We’re going to see pretty quickly how good the Seattle secondary will be without Chancellor, and if Bailey is up to the task. It stands to reason, however, that with Kam gone and an untested player in his stead, there will be drop off. In addition the Hawks lost starting cornerback Byron Maxwell to free agency, replacing him with the veteran Cary Williams, late of the Philadelphia Eagles[1]; and the other two charter LOB members, Richard Sherman (elbow) and Earl Thomas (shoulder), are both coming off injuries incurred at the end of last season and may be rusty. So going into 2015 the LOB is somewhat questionable and has undergone a face lift. Though it remains to be seen what that means in terms of performance, it is reason for concern.

More than the LOB, the part of the team that has many people worried is the offensive line. I read an article tonight by Seattle PI columnist and radio commentator Jim Moore that I thought made some valid points. Moore’s article predicted a down year for the Seahawks largely due to woes in the offensive line. Here is what Moore said in his article:

“Later this season, maybe it will be one of the most athletic and productive lines in the Pete Carroll era.[2] But right now, I’m not buying that it will be effective early. How can it be? Drew Nowak has not started a game in his three years in the NFL, and all of a sudden we’re supposed to expect him to seamlessly replace Max Unger at center? And Garry Gilliam at right tackle? Boom, just like that, he’s going to be good to go in his first start at that position? What about Justin Britt? Apparently he wasn’t considered to be good enough to remain at right tackle even though he was the right tackle on a team that made it to the Super Bowl last year. So he was switched to left guard, a position he hasn’t played since his freshman year at Missouri. Good luck with that. I’m with everyone else when it comes to praising offensive-line coach Tom Cable, but come on, he’s not so fantastic that he’s going to turn this transformed group into a finely tuned unit right away.”

Seahawks new starting center Drew Nowak

Seahawks new starting center Drew Nowak

Personally I’m inclined to agree with Moore’s assessment. Pro Bowl center Max Unger is gone to New Orleans in the Jimmy Graham trade. With Drew Nowak and Garry Gilliam making their first NFL starts ever at the center and right tackle positions, and Justin Britt switching from right tackle to left guard; that is a whole lot of change in the offensive line. Likely it will take a few games for this group to jell; it isn’t going to happen overnight. And unfortunately for the Hawks, the first team they play this season has one of the best defensive front sevens in football. I have nightmares contemplating the Rams’ defensive line of Robert Quinn (10.5 sacks last season), Chris Long, Aaron Donald (9 sacks) and Michael Brockers (2 sacks) going against Seattle’s untested unit. Plus the Rams blitz on defense as much as any team in the league, which will be tough on the young Hawks linemen. Likely this Sunday the Rams will be adding to a sack total versus Seattle that is already higher than any other team Seattle has played in the Pete Carroll era. In other words, when it comes to the offensive line, things may appear to get worse before they get better. In his article Moore also bemoans the likely impact on the defense of missing Chancellor, as well as the Seahawks very tough schedule which includes the always tough NFC West opponents and teams like Dallas, Green Bay and Baltimore, and all on the road no less. Because of all these things he predicts a record no better than 10-6 and an early playoff exit.

St. Louis Rams defensive lineman Robert Quinn

St. Louis Rams defensive lineman Robert Quinn

While I agree with Moore for the most part, I am not as pessimistic as he is as regards Seattle’s overall record for the 2015 season, or the team’s likely performance in the playoffs. I think 12-4 and a 3rd straight NFC championship are entirely possible. The Hawks may struggle out of the gate a bit, but I fully expect that by mid season they will be hitting on all cylinders, much like they were during the final six games of last season. I have seen Pete Carroll’s magic too often over the last few years to think otherwise. My advice to all of you “twelves” is to enjoy the season, and don’t get too low should the team rack up a few losses across the first few games.

And while I would never advise that you bet the retirement money just yet on the Hawks making it to that historic third consecutive Super Bowl, you shouldn’t bet against it either; for come season’s end I have a sneaky hunch that is exactly where they will be.

Go Hawks!!

 

Copyright © 2015

By Mark Arnold

All Rights Reserved

[1] Ironically the Eagles and Seahawks swapped free agent cornerbacks, with Maxwell signing with the Eagles and Williams with the Seahawks.

[2] With his, “most athletic and productive lines in the Pete Carroll era” comment Moore is referring to a statement made by offensive line coach Tom Cable earlier this pre-season in which, with regard to the Gilliam, Nowak, Britt, Okung and Sweezy offensive line, he stated he was Really excited about where we’re going. I think this might be, before it’s all said and done, the best group I’ve had.”

 

 

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