Sunday, June 15, 2014

NFC West: Seattle Seahawks

 I recently had the opportunity to chat with Field Gull's columnist Kenneth Arthur. If you aren't familiar with "FG" - and you happen to be a Seattle Seahawks fan - you're missing the boat. It's packed with "12th man" crazy people. I talked with Ken about a few topics heading into the 2014 NFL season...

  While sorting through all the off season moves and losses via free agency, then adding in the recent NFL Draft, most teams have new questions in 2014? How did Seattle do overall on each side of the ball? Give me a 1 to 10 grade, with 10 being best.

 Ken : Defense - 9 and Offense - 8

It’s tough for me to “grade” the offseason moves because the Seahawks didn’t make a lot of them. At least, not externally. They didn’t go out in free agency and get much, though they made a serious effort to sign Jared Allen. Even though the defense lost three “starters” with Chris Clemons, Red Bryant, and Clint McDonald (And Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond, but both were on their way out), the front office did what it most wanted to do: Sign Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, and Pete Carroll to long extensions, plus re-signing Michael Bennett.
That’s really the main reason that the other NFC West teams should be saying “Damn it!” when it comes to Seattle’s offseason. They didn’t really replace Clem, Bryant, or McDonald either, but they’ve been stashing players on the depth chart and practice squad. Players like Jordan Hill, Jesse Williams, Benson Mayowa, and the re-signed O’Brien Schofield will compete for spots, plus rookies like Cassius Marsh and Jimmy Staten. The crux of the defense — the secondary — is going to be as good as ever. That’s huge.

On offense they lost Golden Tate and Breno Giacomini, while not yet extending Doug Baldwin (if they even do) but also re-negotiating Zach Miller’s deal down without having to release him. Instead, they drafted Paul Richardson and tackle Justin Britt to compete for starting roles. The loss of Giacomini on the right side of the line is more than survivable, though Tate’s loss is certainly not to be overlooked. That being said, Percy Harvin can come in and play 16 games (technically he could do that!) and it’ll be like upgrading over what Tate did in 2013 in a major way. They also released and re-signed Sidney Rice to a more reasonable deal and will be hoping for a big sophomore season from Christine Michael at running back.

Seattle’s offseason won’t seem like much if you just compare the 2013 roster to the 2014 roster, but in reality, they were busy and got almost everything they wanted.

 After studying the NFC West teams, I think they all - particularly the St. Louis Rams - have offensive line needs. In fact, it looks like the position of need they all have in common is Guard (Right or Left)? How did your team address it's offensive line needs this off season?

The Seahawks lost Giacomini as the starting right tackle, but he may have been close to losing his job last season anyway. 7th round pick Michael Bowie looked just as good, if not better, in place of Giacomini last season, while undrafted free agent Alvin Bailey was one of the breakout stars for the team in the 2013 preseason. So if those two competed for the starting RT job, the team would probably be okay, but they also drafted Justin Britt at the end of the second round. The team did not pick up the fifth year option on James Carpenter, which likely means that unless he has a great preseason and season, he’s done with Seattle. In fact, if he loses his job in the preseason, he will probably just be released. 
He was the starting left guard last season and JR Sweezy was the starting right guard. Sweezy also struggled and so the team might be looking for other players to step up and force the issue. It’s possible that Bowie wins RT, pushing Bailey into the RG competition, and Sweezy into a battle for LG. I’m keeping an eye on Stephen Schilling, a local kid that ended up getting released by the Chargers. It’s not weird to think he can compete for a starting job; after al, Giacomini was just a guy that Seattle picked up off of the Packers practice squad a few years ago.
Overall, the line is probably the weak link on the team. That being said, it was good enough to win a Super Bowl and can only get better. People often forget that left tackle Russell Okung was placed on IR last season, only to return before the playoffs. There were injuries all over the line, including Pro Bowl center Max Unger, so it’s fair to think it’ll be getting better.

  The NFC West appears to be sliding ever farther into a "run first" division. The Seahawks have the best running back (Marshawn Lynch) who fits this bill, with San Francisco's Frank Gore not far behind. The Rams have a promising second year RB in Zac Stacy, and Arizona's Andre Ellington showed flashes in 2013.
 Arizona may be the last holdout to "the run", since they really haven't added any running back depth via the draft or free agency? San Francisco is so deep at RB, that it's hard to see how they can keep all of them on the roster. Seattle has proven depth at the position, after hitting prior drafts for quality running backs to groom behind "Beast Mode". The Rams have Stacy, and a marginally proven Benny Cunningham to go with recent draftee Tre Mason, but the signs are there that Sam Bradford will be edging more toward handing the ball off more often than passing this season.

  How do you evaluate the Seahawks' run game for 2014?

  The Seahawks run game was surprisingly inefficient at times last season, and overall, the passing game actually had a higher DVOA than the running game. (8th in run DVOA, 7th in pass DVOA.) Marshawn Lynch really did beast mode the offense into points in 2011 and 2012, but in 2013, Seattle was all about their ridiculously great defense and big plays on offense. By adding Richardson in the second round and getting Harvin back to full health, they expect to stretch the field out, open up the box, keep safeties deep, keep linebackers honest, and then punch Lynch down a defense’s throat. The play of second-year back Michael will be huge however, because he’ll add a different element of explosion from the backfield. However, it’s concerning that he played almost never as a rookie. Even if they didn’t need him, there were certainly times where they COULD have played him and opted not to anyway. His blocking may be a concern, but if it’s an attitude problem, that’s much worse. Overall, if the line stays healthy, and if the receivers can stretch the field, then Seattle will probably be an improved running team in 2014.
Yep, improved!

 Defense is literally the watch-word for the NFC West. How did Seattle improve on defense this off season? What were the biggest additions or subtractions in the off season? What's the weakness on defense for your team?

A weakness? Not bloody likely. The Seahawks had arguably the best defense EVER last season. I know that people are going to hate that buzz phrase, and they’ll point out teams in history that did things that may have been more impressive (I love certain defenses of past eras, like the 2002 Bucs) and I’m not saying that Seattle definitely did have the best defense of all time, but I’m saying they have an argument. Why? 
43-8 against the “best offense ever.”
The biggest problem is that the Leo position is a critical one for this defense and we don’t know yet if they replaced Clemons with someone great. That being said, Clemons may have lost a step for part of last season due to ACL recovery, and the Seahawks still won the Super Bowl. Seattle likes to add young players and mold them into greatness. That’s what they did by adding Clemons when no one had heard of him in a trade with the Eagles. That’s what they did when they moved Bryant from DT to DE. That’s what they did by trading Kelly Jennings for McDonald. They signed Bennett to a one year contract for FIVE million dollars. They drafted Sherman and Chancellor in the fifth round. They added KJ Wright in the fourth and Byron Maxwell in the sixth and signed Browner from the CFL. So the “low key” draft picks and signings of 2014 may turn out to be the reason that the Seahawks continue to dominate under Carroll and Schneider. We don’t know that yet for sure, but I feel very confident. Why?

 The NFC West will be playing outside of division games against the AFC West and NFC East. Which opponents in these division look like the biggest problem for your team?

  If anyone answers anything other than “Broncos” for the AFC West, I am worried for their health.
In the NFC East, I actually have the Giants winning the division. I think the East is a crappy division and I think that’s why teams rise up and down so quickly year to year. The Giants get a slightly easier schedule than Philly and Dallas. I think the Eagles are fun to watch, but I think the Giants might be better.

 Give me your win/loss forecast for each team in the NFC West, and more importantly, the team to watch in the division other than your own?

1. Seahawks 13-3
2. 49ers 11-5
3. Rams 9-7
4. Cardinals 7-9

   I don’t know if that math checks out but it seem fair to me. I don’t know if the Seahawks are six games better than the Cardinals though. Again, I’m not sure if the math checks out. But I think that’s how I’d rank the teams in order. I’m fine with Arizona, they might actually finish in second, I guess I just think the Rams schedule sets up nicer and their first round additions were much better than anyone else in the division. The division is good enough that I don’t know what’s going to happen but I would say this:
Seattle can finish in first or second, but not third or fourth.
49ers can finish in first, second, or third.
Rams can finish in second, third, or fourth.
Cardinals can finish in second, third, or fourth.

I think only SEA and SF can win it, and only STL and AZ can finish in last, but all teams have a good shot at the playoffs. I still think the Seahawks are the team to beat in the whole NFL. Why?