Last year I wrote up a Training Camp article
documenting my confusion over the previous year's horrid offense, and strong defense, after a year of the opposite. With the addition of Nix at WR, I predicted the offense and defense would both be too young to be elite, but would both be above average, and predicted a final record of 9-7. Looks like I was a little shy of the truth.
11-5 is a strong record, and broke a stream of 5 years without a winning season. And yet, when the Seahawks lost 33-20, it did not seem to be much of a surprise. That much winning seemed to be a year premature, but the arrow is pointed upward.
A winning season: Schedule
Seattle's record was boosted by a six games against 4 of the bottom 5 teams in the league, including a 57-7 win against the hapless 49ers in week 3. This was a perfect storm, as I wrote about
, and more of a complete domination of the backup quarterbacks than anything else.
49ers QB's in total
26/48, 54%, 306 passing yards (277 after sack yardage), 7 sacks, 1 TD, 5 INTS
Based on this game and some other results, I stayed in the 3-4 most of the season. The 49ers were not the worst team in the league though, that was the Cardinals, who I found a way to lose to in week 9. That was the only win the Cardinals ever earned last year, going 1-15. The other two unfortunates discussed are the Falcons (#28) and Steelers (#29), whose defenses allowed 34 and 40 points to the Seahawks offense.
On the strong side of the schedule included two games against the Rams, ranked #1 by power rankings. We won one of those games, but lost against #2 Bengals, #7 Saints, and #10 Buccaneers. The next best wins were against #12 Lions, #13 Panthers, an #15 Giants, and only one of those wins was easy.
All in all, I thought the schedule was pretty forgiving, and that the Seahawks were a talented and good team, but not yet a great team last year. The easy thing to do would be to slot them between 10 and 12 with all those L's and W's distributed equally on both sides of that line.
That may be the right area, but that's not how football works. First, there are way too few data-points against good teams in a season. I wrote about 7 games above. Any one game swings on a couple of key plays that go one way or another. The Seahawks could have been anywhere between the 5th best and 15th best team last year and produced these results...and in all honesty could be even further from the middle.
Secondly, football is a matchup-dependent sport. How my front 7 matches up against the Bengals matters just as much as how my secondary matches up against the Lions, just one at a time. If my secondary was suspect, and front 7 stronger perhaps I shut down the Bengals running game and push them out of second place (remember, small sample size. One loss pushes them down the list) while losing to the Rams. Then these results change.
A winning season: 11-5
There are different ways to look at the caliber of a team. One is to look at the numbers, the production that tells us where in the league the team stands in offensive and defensive production.
PPG - 5th
Total yards - 6th
Pass yards - 2nd
Rush yards - 23rd
3rd down % - 14th
PPG - 9th
Total yards - 30th
Pass yards - 32nd
Rush yards - 3rd
3rd down % - 12th
Or one can look at the talent among the units, while also pointing out holes. From here it is easy to see why last year seemed to be an early breakout, while continued growth is expected.
QB position - Old
LG Turner - 25
WR Nix - 22
WR Chance - 25
TE Younger - 22
DE Aaron Donald - 28
DT Fritz Archeleta - 26
MLB Floyd - 25
FS Rice - 25
CB Hill - 29
CB Humphrey - 23
Either way, the youth in the offensive run game and defensive backfield stand out. So does that talent for the offensive passing game, and defensive pass defense.
What is surprising is how despite having 2/3 leading receivers as rookies, the passing game led this team to 11 wins. Period. The defense helped I'm sure, but sure didn't win 11 games.
Lastly, the biggest change not yet discussed has to be the QB. Last season was the first year without Cam Newton in almost the entire GZL's existence. Howard Christensen was so good that he has to be one of the final QBs considered for the MVP award. 3800 yards, 9.23 YPA, 23 TDs, 12 INTs, and 95.1 rating in 14 games with the Seahawks represents the best play they've had in a long time. Can we blame the WRs, or the QB? Possibly both.
This we should find out as the Seahawks transition back to...Cam Newton, who has returned this offseason while Christensen is looking for his next starting gig, and next starter's contract.
This offseason, the focus was on salary cap health in a very big way. Once Cam Newton was on his way in, the already mediocre cap situation became an issue. There is no other way to say it. So the Seahawks shed cap in a couple of areas, while keeping the youngsters employed as much as possible and signing no noteworthy FAs.
QB Howard Christensen - Cut
QB Lorenzo Sindle - Cut
RB Bobby Rainey - Cut
WR Anthony Perez - FA
TE Courtney Smith - FA
LT Earl Cote - Cut
LT Guy Schmidt - Cut
LT Bobby Gilbert - Cut
C Perry Howard - Cut
RG Jason Smith - Retired
RT Randy Schmitt - Trade (with Lions)
LOLB Casey Carter - Cut
SS Mike Greenfield - Cut
CB Jacob Reed - Trade (with Lions)
A couple of easy cap casualties became apparent with the slowdown of defenders Casey Carter and Mike Greenfield. Earl Cote has a lot left in the tank, but was also a casualty.
Perhaps a bigger deal, was the Seahawks had to let Courtney Smith & Anthony Perez go in FA without a fight, while cutting Christensen to make room for Newton. Tough decisions, and all of it led to allowing the new draft class to come in, while retaining a few members as well.
Actually, this is a good time to mention that the Seahawks added the Detroit Lions 1st round pick, as the centerpiece of a trade for Jacob Reed. Reed had his best season last year, starting probably 12-13 games. With Hunter Hill and Marlon Humphrey around for a long time, Reed was just too good to be the 3rd CB for a while, when a 1st round pick was on the table.
That pick turned into a Left Tackle.
Seattle turned around and made another trade with the Texans, where an early 2nd round pick was given up for this upcoming year's 1st round pick from Houston. This still left Seattle with a 2nd that turned into their hopeful running back of the future.
But that gives Seattle two first round picks in the upcoming draft, with an already up and coming team. The arrow is pointed upward once again.
HB Jonathan Cortez
WR Tashaun Leonard (5 year contract)
Cortez might be the odd man out at HB, but was retained at a one year rate of 930 thousand dollars.
Leonard stepped up into the #3/4 WR role Anthony Perez held. With TE Younger playing plenty of WR 3/4, Anthony Perez was not nearly the asset we hoped, just due to lack of snaps and routes run. Leonard taking that number of routes should still be an asset, just behind the big three receiving corps.
QB Cameron Newton - Trade (with Vikings)
HB Ivan Holmes - Draft
TE Ezra Beauchamp - Draft
LT Ryan Ramczyk - Draft
LT Aiden Green - Draft
LT Mike Washington - FA
LG Ben Shipp - Draft
C Dirk Walker - Trade (with Lions)
C Alberto Cousins - Draft
LOLB Sam Van Guilder - Draft
SS Blaine Ambrose - FA
So, I lied. Ambrose was a FA snag, and very surprising success. 5 years, 17.15M for a starting strong safety with a good mind, good athletic ability, and standing 6'1". How did this happen? Beats me.
The other big money names are Cam Newton, who returns to finish out his contract and perhaps career; Ryan Ramczyk, the first round LT, and Ivan Holmes, the 270 LB running back with no speed. Ivan may be the guy that steals my heart this year. The rest are all low contracts that allowed us to fill out our roster weeks ago. Did I mention we're stuck with a tight Salary Cap? We successfully stretched to $1.36 million in room. Injuries to starters will bring in some bad backups, or the IR will create the room to operate.
To be honest, this draft may have strengthened the running game long term but did little else but cap relief. Two players are expected to be anything at all.
Back to Cam. I really think Cam has carried a bad offense with bad WRs for much of his career, with good win numbers and good QB numbers to show for it. Now, the WRs are in place and Cam's giant arm should work well with these guys until he retires. The plan here is to get another ring, but this one with Cam actually on the field during the playoffs, not Levi Jones.
Often times I have one of the league's best offseasons, warranting a 1000-word write-up as I boast over the many awesome moves I made, like trading a 5th round pick for an awesome starting safety. I still got an awesome starting safety for cheap, but this year I can only boast of my restraint, which is certainly not normal for me.
If I cut no-one else for the year, Seattle will only have a 16M penalty next year, after being at nearly 25M this year. Furthermore, there are not huge cuts coming up that I have to make. Mathieu will be cuttable, but still a very good player after next offseason. Ditto with Okung. The other 7 players at 30 or older will have a combined 7 years left on their contracts, while all still being usable except Jake Long, who may retire.
The Seahawks training camp this year took place in a very unusual place. A High School gymnasium & track. Kickin it old skool was Head Coach London Fletcher, who wanted his guys to recapture the love of the game. Old Pull-up & Dip bars, pegboards, a rope hanging from the ceiling, all the things that make us nostalgic for our youthful athletic endeavors were present at Garfield High School. During this camp, a few of the fun events were conducted on those things, and even a timed 1-mile run.
(some) Results of the meaningless morale competitions:
1 mile run: HB James Frankel - 4:55
Fastest Rope Climb: Tyrann Mathieu
Best Pegboard posture: Brigadier Younger (the stork!)
Actual speed was built during the speed camp activities, with WR Joey Galloway brought in to oversee some phases of the training. Joey is not a personal trainer, more a celebrity and speed demon by reputation. But the guys seemed quite a bit more determined to work on their speed following some of the tape displays of Joey in his heyday, and the angles defenders tried and failed to use on him.
Those successes definitely sunk in with TE Brigadier Younger and Ivan Holmes. Though neither is known as a Joey Galloway, those same disappearing acts happen in short and intermediate distances between linebackers and safeties, and both focused hard on their training on sprint days, as well as in the weight room.
HB Homes not only added 10 LBs, but got faster by the end of the training camp. Younger did get faster as well, and is one of the fastest TEs the league has ever seen.
WR Nix also has been showing results, but his work has not just been in speed but in footwork, short area burst, and overall technique as an athlete getting in and out of the breaks in his route. Nix is one of those otherworldly athletes who's successes can clearly be traced to a supreme work ethic that others can't touch, while being blessed with a frame and musculature that are quite elite as well.
OLB Hans Nelson is the most noteworthy defender this offseason, as he competes with Younger to work on his closing speed while in coverage. Nelson and Younger have been inseparable during strength and conditioning days, and Nelson's speed work is working wonders on him.
All in all, these youngsters are quite impressive, and the training camp has brought out the best in them through competition and the daily gains they have earned.
There are still several young players in key positions. While we count on growth from the young stars, the losses included experience at LT, and LOLB that we are replacing with far less awareness and skill (in some cases) than we had a year ago. Those 15-ish seasons lost from those two positions alone should have an effect on the offense and defense, while the growth at WR and in the defensive secondary will help tremendously.
Overall, I see the team improving. Simply too many stars and upcoming stars are playing together to predict anything mediocre for this team, especially while providing a two-deep QB group that can get the ball to the right place at the right time.
The defense overall should take another step towards shutting down the average team, and slowing down the great ones. With two 25 year old safeties, between 80-90 AWR, and two tall, athletic studs at CB, the pass defense will arrive. Three of those 4 are 6'1", and the 4th is 6'2", with the slowest guy in that group being SS Ambrose at 91 SPD, and the rest being 95 SPD or higher.
At the same time, the 25 year old star MLB has plenty of help in front of him, and to his right in stuffing the run. The DL is the most experienced and highest-awareness group on the defense. This defense should be top 5 or better.
On offense, I expect nothing but growth from the passing team. Even though OL isn't in a perfect place, Cam is smart, decisive, a strong runner, and has insanely great athletes to throw to at WR. In the running game the blockers will progress another year at most positions, while the LT is the only immediate downgrade. Ivan may be as well, but as big and strong as he is I imagine he'll be an asset from the beginning, perhaps greater than Jordan Howard has been so far. At 6'3", Ivan is BUILT for destruction, and is hopefully the next Brandon Jacobs or LaGarrette Blount for me.
Special teams continue to be among the league leaders in available talent, and shows no signs of falling off.
I am excited to see this team perform, and am expecting a similar result to last year's team, a team that needed some luck to bound our way to get to 11-5. This year I'll predict a 12-4, but really an 11-5 season would be very successful for us. I suspect that 11-5 was a bit of an over-successful season last year, and that playing a true 11-5 this year would still be a step forward.
I will add, that from where I sit, looking at the ages of these up and comers, that the best chance at another SB trophy appears to be with a version of this roster.