Seattle Seahawks 2014 Season Preview
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - What do the reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks have in common with legendary NBA great Wilt Chamberlain?
Only rules can slow them down.
Too often when people talk about the greatest in NBA history, they hand the mantle to Michael Jordan, certainly a worthy recipient but even MJ wasn't Wilt.
Numbers could never adequately describe just what kind of impact Chamberlain had on the game of basketball. What does is the rule changes implemented by the league to slow him down.
The NBA widened the lane to try to keep Wilt farther away from the bucket, instituted offensive goaltending and revised rules governing inbounding the ball and shooting free throws, all because of Chamberlain was too dominant. Believe it or not he was physically able to convert free throws via slam dunk without a running start.
The NBA hasn't changed a rule because of one player since. Not for Bill Russell or Jordan and it certainly won't be changing things anytime soon with the intent of slowing down LeBron James.
Enter the Seahawks, who are fresh off the franchise's first Super Bowl win, a 43-8 drubbing Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII, a Broncos team which just happened to be the first NFL in history to score over 600 points in a season.
That meant little to Seattle's physical defense, which helped build a 22-0 halftime lead, and a humbling 36-0 advantage before finally allowing the Broncos' first score on the final play of the third quarter.
The Seahawks' stingy stop unit scored a safety on the first play from scrimmage -- the quickest score in Super Bowl history -- before tacking on an interception return for a score from linebacker Malcolm Smith, who also recovered a fumble and made nine tackles en route to being named Super Bowl MVP.
When the carnage was finally over the Broncos were held to nearly 30 points below their scoring average and five-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning had thrown two picks.
Fast forward to the 2014 preseason and the NFL reacted to Seattle's dominance by "enhancing" emphasis on certain penalties, including illegal contact and defensive holding.
Many believe the new overreaching on illegal contact and defensive holding is a direct result of the Seahawks' success last season, almost a warning to "The Legion of Boom," the ultra-physical defensive backfield which consistently beat up on opposing receivers en route to the Lombardi Trophy.
Despite being the most penalized team in the league in 2013 the Seahawks reached the pinnacle by forcing officials to throw the flag in key moments, something head coach Pete Carroll correctly surmised most wouldn't be willing to do because the vast majority of zebras really do want the players to decide the games, not their judgment calls.
In the old days, the answer to the that success would have been a market correction fueled by coaches around the league.
Armed with the knowledge that the best team in football had collected a plethora of big, rugged defensive backs, mentors would have responded with undersized, ultra-quick route runners in which the Seattle defense couldn't get its hands on -- think the old Washington Redskins' "Fun Bunch" or the "Three Amigos" in Denver.
The league is not waiting for that natural evolution, however, and has taken matters into its own hands. So far there has been an average of about 20 flags a game in the preseason, up nearly seven per game from the same period in 2013 and something Carroll hopes changes when the regular season gets underway.
"I hope that the league office will be open to the conversation," the veteran coach said earlier this preseason. "It doesn't seem quite right. It seems like there are too many calls being made and too many incidental calls that seem to be affecting the game. So, we'll see -- It's obviously different. So, the question is: Is it better? I don't know."
For now, the league is holding it's ground, insisting that the renewed emphasis on these particular penalties will continue throughout the regular season.
"We're not going to change how we're calling the games once the regular season starts," NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino told MMQB.com.
Blandino's belief, however, is that teams will adjust to the stricter rules and play accordingly, meaning the extra flags will disappear, a scenario the league has tried to sell from the beginning of this process.
"The way the game's being officiated now is the way it's going to be officiated when the season begins," Blandino said. "We have to remain consistent. I knew we'd see a spike in calls when we put out these points of emphasis.
"But coaches adjust, and players adjust. They have to, and they know it. And we'll correct our officials when we feel they're being overzealous with certain calls."
Carroll's not about to adjust, though, and the Seahawks' plan will remain the same -- beat up receivers and force the referees to throw the flag.
2013 RECORD: 13-3 (first, NFC West)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2013, won Super Bowl XLVIII over Denver.
HEAD COACH (RECORD): Pete Carroll (38-26 in four seasons with Seahawks, 71-57 in eight seasons overall)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Darrell Bevell (fourth season with Seahawks)
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Dan Quinn (second season back with Seahawks)
KEY ADDITIONS: DT Kevin Williams (from Vikings), CB Phillip Adams (from Raiders), OG Steve Schilling (from 49ers), WR Paul Richardson (second round, Colorado) OT Justin Britt (second round, Missouri)
KEY DEPARTURES: CB Brandon Browner (to Patriots), DE Red Bryant (to Jaguars), DE Chris Clemons (to Jaguars), TE Kellen Davis (to Giants), OT Breno Giacomini (to Jets), FS Chris Maragos (to Eagles), DT Clinton McDonald (to Buccaneers), OT Paul McQuistan (to Browns), WR Golden Tate (to Lions), CB Walter Thurmond (to Giants)
QB: Measured at under 5-foot-11 Russell Wilson doesn't look like your prototypical NFL quarterback but he plays with an uncommon self-assuredness, fueled by an innate ability to keep his eyes up and always looking downfield.
The University of Wisconsin product has the requisite speed and elusiveness, along with the arm strength to be a dangerous dual-threat under center. His feel and natural instincts for the game leave him well-prepared for any adjustments opposing defensive coordinators make.
Wilson already has 28 wins in two years (regular season and postseason), the most in NFL history for a starter, and became the third-youngest QB to win the NFL title last year.
There is plenty of experience behind Wilson with former Minnesota starter Tarvaris Jackson as well as ex-Raider leader Terrelle Pryor.
RB: A strong running game opens up play-action for Wilson, who, like most young quarterbacks, is best when making the high-low read and getting the ball out quickly.
Marshawn Lynch is the bell cow, a bruising, move-the-chains type who can quickly turn arm tackles into turnstiles, setting a career-high with 14 total touchdowns in 2013. He leads the NFL with 39 total touchdowns since 2011 and is the only player in the NFL to rush for over 1,000 yards and score 10 rushing touchdowns in each of the last three seasons.
The punishing Lynch can wear down any defense with his bowling ball-like running style and ability to break tackles but he also takes a ton of punishment and his potential longevity as a top back has to be a question in the back of nearly everyone's mind.
The depth is largely unproven with third-year man Robert Turbin, a big back in the mold of Lynch, trying to hold off Texas A&M second-year prospect Christine Michael, a more gifted runner.
Fullback Derrick Coleman is a bit undersized and lacks the punch to be a top- tier, lead-isolation blocker.
WR: The Seahawks finally saw the kind of big-play ability Percy Harvin provides in the Super Bowl. The receiver, who was acquired from Minnesota for a first-round pick before the season, spent the majority of 2013 rehabbing from hip surgery before piling up 137 all-purpose yards (team-leading 45 rushing, five receiving and an 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second-half) in the Super Bowl.
Harvin is a heck of a talent and one of the best playmakers in all of football, a YAC (yards after catch) machine and an absolute field-tilter as the game's best pure kickoff returner. He is, however, moody at times and an injury-prone player prone to migraine headaches.
Doug Baldwin had 50 catches last year and was Wilson's top outside the numbers threat late last season, while Jermaine Kearse is a solid third-option in the downfield passing game.
The Seahawks traded out of the first round before reaching for undersized speed threat Paul Richardson at wide receiver in the second. Richardson is a one-trick pony who can run by just about everyone but the least physical corner in the game could maul him at the line of scrimmage. Turn around the classic cliche when talking about Richardson in the NFL, he's a boy among men.
Alabama WR Kevin Norwood, a fourth-round pick, has a better chance to help this team than Richardson. Norwood has some size at 6-foof-2 and should be able to help on special teams but is currently still recovering from surgery to remove bone spurs from his foot, the result of an injury that has lingered since his college days at Alabama.
TE: Tight end Zach Miller is one of the few true two-way tight ends left. He has good functional speed to run routes, along with outstanding body control and a good feel on when to sit down in the zone. He's not a mauler as a blocker but he knows how to get his body in position to block linebackers and walls off very well.
"It adds that consistency, it adds that competitive nature for sure. Zach is so competitive," Wilson said of his tight end. "He's so physical, he's a playmaker, and he does the right thing. To have a guy at the tight end position who does the right thing every time, we want that, and that's what we have in Zach for sure."
The depth behind Miller is scarce although second-year man Luke Wilson could develop into a seam threat.
OL: The Seattle line is considered one of the Seahawks' biggest weaknesses although left tackle Russell Okung and center Max Unger are certainly well above average players at their respective positions.
Unger is a strong pass blocker, who mirrors well, while Okung, although never living up to his position as the sixth overall pick in the 2010 draft, is an athletic, consistent lineman in both phases who has reached a Pro-Bowl level in the past.
The rest of the group is far more pedestrian with converted defensive lineman J.R. Sweezy and former undrafted free agent Caylin Hauptmann flanking Unger inside, and rookie second-round pick Justin Britt at right tackle.
Britt was certainly a selection at a need position but he was given a late- round grade by most scouts and isn't very physical, spending most of his time working out of a 2-point stance in a spread-option offense at Mizzou.
"He gets it. Nothing is too big for him," offensive line coach Tom Cable said when discussing his rookie. "He really has a good background and he's ready for something like this. He's been in the right kind of environments and he's doing really well."
DL: Carroll was intent on improving the pass rush last year and he was able to do it with a committee approach on the line. Seven or eight players got significant reps depending on the game plan with defensive ends Michael Bennett (8 1/2 sacks) and Cliff Avril (8.0 sacks) spearheading the improved rush.
Three of the pieces were lost in free agency though with both Red Bryant and Chris Clemons rejoining Gus Bradley in Jacksonville, and interior rusher Clinton McDonald finding a new home in Tampa Bay.
The underrated Brandon Mebane and Tony McDaniel hold down the fort inside and will be joined by aging, ex-Minnesota All-Pro Kevin Williams. Since 2011, Mebane ranks second in the NFC among interior lineman with 157 tackles while Williams is now 33 but the five-time All-Pro should still have some gas left in the tank, especially as a rotational player on a deep front.
"I think if I'm playing 500 plays versus 700 plays at this age I can definitely still get after the quarterback," Williams said. "It's an awesome chance to get in and play a limited number of snaps and maximize the ability I have."
LB: Third-year middle linebacker Bobby Wagner is the captain of the defense. He left Utah State as the university's all-time tackler with 446 during and hasn't missed a beat in the NFL, finishing second in the Defensive Rookie of the Year voting in 2012 after amassing 140 tackles before following that up with a team-high 119 tackles in 2013 despite missing two games due to a high ankle sprain. A smart and instinctive player, Wagner really reads and diagnoses well against the run.
"Bobby has really played well," said Carroll. "I think he has just jumped on board of all of the command of the defense and the calls and the adjustments that he has to make."
Wagner hasn't played in the preseason due to a hamstring injury but should be ready to ho when the bell sounds.
"I've been doing as much conditioning as I possibly can," Wagner told the Seattle Times. "That's why we do all the running in the offseason and getting in shape. I feel like I'm still in pretty good shape."
Wagner's flanked by the athletic K.J. Wright and Smith, who sealed the NFC Championship Game with the interception off a Richard Sherman PBU and then earned Super Bowl MVP honors.
"(Wright is) a fantastic coverage guy. He has great instincts, he's got great sense, he studies really hard, he's got tremendous range because he is so long, he runs really well, he's a fast guy too, and he's got a good attitude about challenging," Carroll said when queried about Wright before adding that Smith "has tremendous skills and he's really fast, like a defensive back or running back, and he's a natural athlete as well."
Smith has been slow to recover from offseason ankle surgery but is back practicing. Pass-rusher Bruce Irvin, however, is still recovering from offseason hip surgery and is unlikely to return in time for the opener at CenturyLink Field against Green Bay. The 2012 first-round pick has yet to practice with the team.
"He's working really hard -- all his change-of-direction stuff, full-speed running, all of that's happening -- but we're gonna wait and make sure that every day goes well, and hopefully get him out there cranking," Carroll said when talking about Irvin.
Backup Heath Farwell, a special-teams stalwart, will likely require surgery on a groin strain he suffered in Week 3 of the preseason.
"Heath is going back east to get evaluated -- he probably has to have surgery on his groin," Carroll said. "So that's a very difficult situation for him. He had extensive damage, so everything points to surgery."
DB: Seattle's defense is led by the best secondary in the NFL, with three of the four starters earning Pro Bowl or All-Pro recognition over the past three seasons. Sherman matched his career high with eight interceptions and became the first Seahawks player to lead NFL in interceptions since 1993, while safety Earl Thomas set a career high with 100 tackles and tied his career high with five interceptions.
The other Pro Bowl-type in the defensive backfield is massive strong safety Kam Chancellor, who is regarded as one of the hardest-hitting safeties in the NFL, amassing 278 tackles since 2011.
The runt of the litter so to speak is CB Byron Maxwell, who took over for the suspended Brandon Browner last year, starting the last five games. If anything Maxwell has better coverage skills over Browner, who is now in New England, but he is not as physical and far more likely to bail out into coverage at the line of scrimmage.
"(He is) a natural football player, a real savvy, tough guy," Carroll said when talking about Maxwell. "He's been given a real package technically. We were just lucky to get him and we appreciate him a little bit more than some other teams I guess, because of what we saw in him."
CB Jeremy Lane and safety Jeron Johnson will also contribute to a Seattle secondary which allowed just 16 touchdown passes on the season and ranked first in opposing quarterback passer rating, harassing them to a 63.4 mark. Lane, however, is dealing with a groin injury.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Since being claimed off waivers before the 2011 regular season, Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka has become one of the most reliable kickers under 50 yards in the league, as he ranks tied for second in the NFL with a .938 field goal percentage.
He was 33-for-35 last season with a long of 53 yards and recorded his first- two game-winning field goals of his career last season (a 45-yarder at Houston and a chip-shot versus Tampa Bay). Hauschka ranked fourth in the NFL in points (143) in 2013 and his career-high .943 field goal percentage was second in the NFL.
Seattle punter Jon Ryan is an excellent directional guy with serious hang- time, Of his 74 punts, opponents fair-caught 30 of them, and returned the remaining ones for just punts 82 yards, ranking as the second-least return yards in the NFL this season and sixth overall in NFL history for a 16-game season.
Harvin, on the other hand, is one of the best kickoff returners ever with the lower body strength to break tackles and the sprinter-like speed to outrun most while Thomas is dangerous on punts.
The coverage teams have taken a major hit due to the loss of Farwell as well of the departure of Chris Maragos in free agency.
COACHING: Carroll is an energetic guy who seems on the cutting edge of ongoing NFL trends thanks to his time in college where the up-tempo offensive game has its roots.
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has done a wonderful job mentoring Wilson and will be a head coach sooner rather that later. Dan Quinn, meanwhile, replaced Gus Bradley with nary a hiccup and got some interest from Cleveland as a head-coaching candidate in the offseason. Another solid year from the defense will put Quinn on many more short lists.
THE SKINNY: Super Bowl hangovers are real and Carroll and Co. figure to be searching for the aspirin on more than one occasion this year.
The first headache came from Lynch and his wrangling for more guaranteed money in an era where fewer and fewer running backs are getting big money. Injuries have also been a problem in the preseason.
On the field, the reigning Super Bowl champs are loaded just about everywhere you look, however, and it's hard to imagine this team not making a significant run in the playoffs.
08/26 12:59:03 ET