Are Seahawks still good enough to win the Super Bowl despite the offensive line and Earl Thomas’ injury?
After 17 weeks of football, what we’ve all been waiting for is finally here: the NFL playoffs. There are many interesting storylines surrounding the 12 teams involved, but in this piece we will examine the NFC’s No. 3 seed — the Seattle Seahawks. They have been one of the league’s best teams since Russell Wilson arrived in 2012 with two Super Bowl appearances in four seasons. However, this Seahawks team at 10-5-1 isn’t as dominant as the Seattle teams of the last few years. Can they still make a run? Let’s take a look.
Offense: Russell Wilson, QB; The whole Seattle offensive line
Seattle’s offensive line has been by far the team’s biggest problem and has significantly hurt the overall performance of the offense. The tackles on this team are Garry Gilliam, Bradley Sowell, and George Fant. According to Pro Football Focus, they rank 75th, 78th, and 79th respectively among 82 ranked tackles in the league. It is just as bad with the two starting guards with Mark Glowinski ranked 70th and Germain Ifedi ranked dead last out of the 76 ranked guards. This ineptitude on the offensive line has truly slowed Seattle’s once dominant running game. The rankings for Seattle in yards per carry from 2012-2015 are fifth (4.8), 13th (4.3), first (5.3) and seventh (4.5). This season Seattle is ranked 24th in the league averaging 3.9 yards per carry.
The offensive line has had difficulty in pass protection as well, allowing 41 sacks which is tied for second most in the league. If the offense line continues to play this way in the playoffs, Seattle will only have a small chance to make a run. However, if they could somehow flip a switch and improve in the playoffs, it will make the running game better and improve the play of Wilson.
Speaking of Wilson, he has been a victim of his offensive line not protecting him and not giving him a consistent running game. With no running game, Wilson has had to throw the ball more. He ended 2016 with 546 pass attempts, 63 more attempts than his previous career high. Combine this with the poor pass protection and you can see why Wilson had the worst statistical season of his career after having his best season in 2015:
|Wilson 2015 stats:||Completion percentage: 68.1%||Yards: 4,024||Yards per completion: 8.3||Touchdowns:|
|Wilson 2016 stats:||64.7%||4,219||7.7||21||11||92.6|
While it will be very difficult for Wilson to overcome the poor offensive line in the playoffs, he has shown an ability to do it. Look no further than Week 16 against Arizona.
Wilson was sacked six times and hit a whooping 14 times, but he was able to extend many plays and make good throws under pressure the whole game. This resulted in him throwing for 350 yards, four touchdowns, no picks, and notch a passer rating of 117.8. The Cardinals defense ranked third in defensive DVOA, and the only defense in the playoffs ranked higher is the Giants. So it is possible that Wilson could raise his level of play and give the Seahawks a real chance at the Super Bowl despite his offensive line.
Defense: Michael Bennett, DE; Steven Terrell, FS
The Seahawks still boast one of the best defenses in football ranking fifth (318.7) in yards allowed per game, third (18.3) in points allowed per game, and fifth in defensive DVOA. However, since the loss of All-Pro safety Earl Thomas, Seattle has given up an average of 25 points per game and a opponents passer rating of 112.4.
Michael Bennett will be one of the most important players on this defense in the playoffs. Bennett has had a down year this season with only five sacks as he has dealt with injuries. Frank Clark and Cliff Avril have picked up their play this season with Clark getting ten sacks and Avril getting 11.5. Bennett’s ability to rush the passer from multiple positions at a high level makes everyone’s job around him easier. If Bennett can get back to playing like he did the past few years, it will be a tremendous help to the Earl Thomas-less secondary. Which leads us to Thomas’ replacement Steven Terrell.
Terrell has had the very difficult job of replacing the best free safety in the game. It has been a tough learning experience for him as he has given up multiple big plays when he doesn’t get help on a route. Here he bites on the middle route, and leaves the deep zone wide open, resulting in an 80-yard touchdown for JJ Nelson:
Arizona juega double post en una formación Trips. FS Steven Terrell reacciona a la ruta intermedia y deja vacía la zona profunda. TD 80yds pic.twitter.com/mmbWgHRFqp— Marco Álvarez (@deionmarco) December 29, 2016
This has happened multiple times since Terrell has been plugged into the starting lineup and Seattle has to hope that he is ready to elevate his game in the playoffs. With great passing offenses standing in their way of a Super Bowl, it is crucial for either Bennett to take the pass rush to new heights or Terrell to improve his play.
Best Win and Worst Loss
Best Win: 31-24 over New England Patriots (Week 10)
There probably isn’t a better win all season than Seattle traveling to New England on a short week and holding Tom Brady’s offense to 24 points and scoring 31 on New England’s defense. They were the only team all season to beat New England with Brady at quarterback. Unfortunately, that Seattle team had Thomas, CJ Prosise, and Tyler Lockett, and all three big-play threats are currently out with injuries.
Worst Loss: 38-10 to Green Bay Packers
This was the first game Seattle played after Thomas suffered his season-ending injury, and it couldn’t have gone any worse. The tone for the game was set on the third play of first drive of the game when Aaron Rodgers hit Davante Adams for a 66-yard touchdown. Jeremy Lane was given no safety help by Thomas’ replacement Terrell, which is how the touchdown happened. Rodgers finished the game 18 for 23, with 246 yards, three touchdowns, and no picks. On the other side, Wilson had a horrific game, throwing five interceptions. This game was the start of Seattle’s fall from grace as a top contender in the NFC.
Previous Matchups with Playoff Teams:
Week 1: 12-10 Win vs (6) Miami Dolphins
Week 6: 26-24 Win vs (2) Atlanta Falcons
Week 10: 31-24 Win at (1) New England Patriots
Week 14: 38-10 Loss at (5) Green Bay Packers
Positive: They are 3-1 overall against playoff teams including Atlanta and New England who are top tier teams.
Negative: All three of the wins came before Thomas got hurt and when the Seahawks played a playoff caliber team without Thomas, they lost by four touchdowns.
Performance Leading Up to the Postseason:
Recent history has shown that success at the end of the regular season is not correlated with playoff success. For example, the 2008 Cardinals finished the year 2-4 and they made the Super Bowl, and the 2009 Saints lost their last three games and then went on to win the Super Bowl. On the other hand, the 2012 Denver Broncos, who won their last 11 games, and the 2010 Patriots, who won their last 8 games, were both the “hot team” heading into the playoffs and both were eliminated in the divisional round. So in most cases, you must take how a team is playing down the stretch with a grain of salt. However, when it comes to Seattle, you have to take recent performance into account.
The main reason is the injury to Thomas. The Seahawks team we saw without Thomas the last four games of the regular season is obviously different than the team that had him the first 12 games. Because Seattle is going into the playoffs without Thomas, it makes the last four games valuable for evaluation of playoff potential.
The Seahawks went 2-2 in the final four games of the season. They lost 38-10 in Green Bay to the Packers, they beat the Rams at home 24-3, they lost 34-31 at home to the Cardinals, and they beat the 49ers in San Francisco 25-23. The defensive performance against decent competition in the Packers and Cardinals should worry Seattle fans because those offenses are similar to the ones Seattle will have to face in the playoffs.
Level of Contender: Middling
With the experience, coaching, defense, and quarterback that Seattle has at their disposal, it gives them a chance to make a run. The problem is that the offensive line is so abysmal that the running game is a non-factor and everything is dependent on Russell Wilson to make plays. Fortunately for Seattle, they are facing a Lions defense that is ranked dead last in pass DVOA in the Wild Card round but eventually that will be Seattle’s fatal flaw.
Defensively, they are still one of the ten best in football, but not nearly as good in the secondary without Thomas. They have the matchup advantage over Detroit with Matthew Stafford not being the same player since his finger injury, but things will get tougher if they advance. Winning against Detroit would earn them a trip across the country to the play the Atlanta Falcons and the best offense in football. With Matt Ryan playing at an MVP level and so many weapons at his disposal, this would be a very difficult task for the Seattle secondary.
To make a real Super Bowl run, Wilson will have to raise his play to another level, the pass rush will have to to be even better, and Terrell will have to significantly improve his play at the free safety position. If those things don’t happen, it is very easy to see the Seahawks making it by Detroit but then losing to the Falcons in the divisional round.
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