Note: I haven’t been commenting much on the Seattle Seahawks so far this season. With the year ending injuries to key defensive stars Cliff Avril, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, plus the problems with the offensive line and the running game, I have been, more or less, in “wait and see” mode as regards this […]Read the Rest →
As I was watching the Seattle Seahawks absolutely dismantle the NFC North Division leading Minnesota Vikings last Sunday 38-7, the thought occurred to me that watching this fascinating team as it progresses through a football season is a bit like watching a master artist paint a great picture. I have known some excellent artists, and they have told me a little about the stages a picture goes through as they paint it. One of those stages they refer to as “the wall of mud”; and if you ever saw a picture in this stage you would never believe that a masterpiece would soon result from the apparent mess on the canvas before you. For a master painter, however, that final result is only a matter of time.
If that doesn’t describe a typical Seahawks football season in the Pete Carroll era, I don’t know what does. The last two campaigns in particular, this season and last, we have witnessed a team that spends the first half of its schedule going through its own unique version of “the wall of mud”. Even the magical 2013 Super Bowl championship season had this aspect to it. For the Seahawks their “walls of mud” center around several factors. There are usually personnel issues that need to be sorted out. Last year it was Percy Harvin and the “Russell Wilson isn’t black enough” noise that had to be worked through. The result was that after week 7 of the 2014 season Seattle sat several games back of the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West Division with a 3-3 record and the team was written off by the pundits as the latest victim of Super Bowl swoon; that malaise known to afflict the winner of the previous year’s NFL Championship game and thought to explain why it is so difficult for a team to make repeat Super Bowl appearances.
So what did Carroll and GM John Schneider do? They acknowledged the mistake of signing Harvin, ate millions of dollars of his contract and shipped him off to the New York Jets. Then, following a week 11 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs that left them with a 6-4 record and only 6 games left to play, Carroll got some of the team’s leaders to hold a player’s only meeting to clear the air. Of course we all know what followed—the Hawks got their mojo back and an eight game winning streak commenced that took them all the way to another NFC West title, another NFC Championship and a repeat Super Bowl appearance.
This year it has been a combination of personnel, performance and money issues that needed resolving, and it has taken longer to do it. With linebacker Bobby Wagner and quarterback Russell Wilson signing mega deals right before training camp and with Legion of Boomers Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas having signed theirs the year before, strong safety Kam Chancellor decided his deal with the team needed an upgrade as well. The only problem was that he had just signed a new 5 year $35 million contract in 2013 that still had 3 years to go. The Seahawks, who have a team policy of not re-negotiating deals with 2 or more years remaining; and who did not have the salary cap room to renegotiate even if they wanted to, told Chancellor no. The strong safety’s response was to sit out all of training camp and the first two games of the regular season, both of which Seattle lost. Chancellor finally returned in week 3 against the Chicago Bears, but it has taken weeks for the LOB to make up for the time lost in camp and to restore chemistry.
The afore mentioned salary cap restrictions due to all of the big contracts the team awarded to keep its core players, had other effects as well—most notably on the offensive line. Lacking the money to fill their O-line holes with free agents, and having traded their Pro Bowl center Max Unger to New Orleans for tight end Jimmy Graham, Seattle started the season with a line consisting of Russell Okung at left tackle, Justin Britt at left guard, Drew Nowak at center, JR Sweezy at right guard and Gary Gilliam at right tackle. Of these players only Okung has solid NFL credentials. Neither Nowak nor Gilliam had ever started an NFL game on the offensive line; and Britt, who is just a 2nd year player who started all 16 games last year at right tackle, was shifted in training camp to left guard, where he had never played. In addition the Hawks were trying to groove in a new corner back in Cary Williams after losing LOBer Byron Maxwell to free agency, AND were also trying to master the intricacies of working Jimmy Graham into the passing game while teaching him how to block, a vital skill for a tight end in Seattle’s “run first” offense, but one which Graham was horrible at. Throw in the fact that legendary running back Marshawn Lynch has been injured for much of the season and that now Jimmy Graham is out for the season, and you can see why the Hawks have struggled some this year.
All of this sounds more like a brick wall than a “wall of mud”, but that is the canvas that Carroll and company have been handed this season, and it is the canvas upon which they just may be painting their greatest masterpiece yet. Using skillful moves they have gradually resolved the team’s glaring deficiencies. They replaced Nowak at center with Patrick Lewis, which brought an instant upgrade, and through the hard work of offensive line coach Tom Cable and the players themselves the rest of the line is coming together to blow open running lanes and actually give Russell Wilson a clean pocket from which to throw. Wilson is making the most of this now, as his stats over the last 3 weeks attest (11 TDs, almost 900 yards passing and an off the charts quarterback rating across the 3 games, all victories), and the team is now number seven in the NFL in total offense and number one in rushing. They replaced Cary Williams at cornerback with Deshawn Shead, which brought more instant upgrade; they have developed the closest thing to a Marshawn Lynch clone in rookie, free agent running back Thomas Rawls, and have developed a first rate receiver and return threat in rookie Tyler Lockett. Clearly, the Seahawks coaching and front office staff, led by Carroll and Schneider, have the unique and decidedly non-human ability to acknowledge when they have made a mistake; and they lose no sleep over taking the necessary steps to divest themselves of the error and move on.
As a result of these deft brush strokes you can see the potential masterpiece arising from this season’s “wall of mud”. If the Seahawks pull it off it will be by a route different than those of their recent past. To make it to the Big Game this time there will be no playoff bye or home field advantage to help them. They will likely have to beat the best the NFC can offer, whether the Carolina Panthers or the Arizona Cardinals, in their home stadiums; and before that they must close out these last 4 games in winning style, starting with the Baltimore Ravens this weekend. For this masterpiece to happen there can be no letdown now.
But creating these masterpieces are what Pete Carroll and company do. To them each season is a new canvas; and like any great painting, they take time and a master’s touch.
I can’t wait to see what this one looks like.
Copyright © 2015
By Mark Arnold
All Rights Reserved