The 2016 season was a challenging one for the Seahawks’ offense. The following is their report card.
If you could award an A for effort, Russell Wilson would surely qualify. Throughout the season, Wilson put forth a gutsy performance each week, playing through a series of ankle, MCL, and pectoral injuries that reduced his mobility and hampered his effectiveness. His rushing yardage in 2016 was by far his lowest. Even his passing was affected. For Wilson, like most mobile QBs, some of his biggest throws are when he spins past oncoming defenders, evades the rush, and stays upright long enough to complete a heroic throw downfield. That still happened occasionally for Wilson in 2016, it just didn’t occur with the regularity with which Seahawks fans are accustomed.
In the NFL, there is no substitute for an elite QB, and in Russell Wilson, the Seahawks have a guy who is close to that level. Even better, he is relatively young and he is signed to a long-term contract. Wilson has the big arm, the slippery elusiveness, and he is a very smart, heady player. His comeback performances against Miami, Atlanta, and New England were works of art; for Seahawk fans, they have become almost commonplace. It doesn’t matter whether Seattle is trailing in the 4th quarter, Wilson has proved time and again he is one of the most clutch players in the league, on a team full of clutch players. With their running game hampered by injuries this season as well, Wilson was forced into throwing situations all too frequently. He did establish a career high in passing yards, but there is a downside to flinging the ball often. Wilson established a career high for interceptions, and he also posted his lowest passer rating ever.
The good news for Seattle going forward is that their QB’s injuries seem fully healed, and Russell Wilson should be 100% in 2017. But last season, his courage only took them so far. The Seahawks dug themselves into too many holes that Wilson couldn’t lead them out of. In past years, Seattle seemed to be the charmed team. They were the ones that could always find a magical way to win. But this season, Wilson’s charm was gone, his magic was missing, and the result was a frustrating second round exit from the playoffs. OVERALL GRADE B+
By the middle of the 2015 season, it looked as if the Seahawks had found the answer to the retiring Marshawn Lynch. Beast Mode had come to an end in Seattle, but Thomas Rawls was showing some of the same the grit and power that made Lynch a legend in the Pacific Northwest. But then Rawls went down with a season ending injury, and was hurt again in an early 2016 game. Suddenly, the durable running game the Seahawks were building their offense around was beginning to show cracks.
But Pete Carroll always seems to have something in his back pocket, and when Rawls went down last year, he reeled Christian Michael back into the fold. Michael had been traded right before the 2015 season, after being a 2nd round draft pick of the Seahawks a couple of years before. Michael grabbed the mantle and showed flashes of brilliance, the type of moves that attracted the Seahawks to him initially. Michael could slash through defenses and pick up chunks of yardage, but the knock on him was consistency. Whether it was knowing where to line up or following his blockers or trusting that the hole would be there when he arrived, Michael gave the coaching staff fits. And when C.J. Prosise began to emerge as a potent offensive weapon, coupled with Rawls’ return, the Seahawk brass decided they could part with Michael.
Unfortunately for the Seahawks, their timing was simply awful. Both Prosise and backup Troymaine Pope went down with season-ending injuries in the very next game. Rawls proved he was not quite ready for the mid-season pounding that running backs absorb. And Michael had been immediately picked up by Green Bay, so there would be no third act for him with Seattle.
Pete Carroll and company danced their way around the problem. They brought in fullback Marcel Reece in December who came in and made some key receptions. Their 4th running back, Alex Collins, stepped up and made some nice plays. But in the last third of the season, Seattle’s run-first offense skidded, and the team struggled badly against the likes of the Packers and the Bucs. A first round bye in the playoffs disappeared with a late-season loss to the Cardinals, and the Seahawks never fully recovered. They have some good talent stocked for 2017, but fragility seems to be looming as a potential issue.
OVERALL GRADE: C
One of the saddest sights in football is to see an emerging star go down with a serious injury. Tyler Lockett was a second year wide-out, just starting to blossom into an excellent receiver and kick returner. He had great speed, reliable hands and was learning the nuances of the game from one of the new masters, Doug Baldwin. So when Lockett broke his fibula in December and was lost for the rest of the season, the receiving corps took a hit. Doug Baldwin was becoming an elite receiver but he needed a counterpart to take some of the pressure off. Lockett was doing that, but now he was gone. Enter Paul Richardson.
A first round draft pick a couple of years ago, Richardson had battled through his own set of injuries. But when the opportunity presented itself, Richardson began to shine. Clutch receptions were suddenly being grabbed, touchdowns being scored, and he also managed to create a mini-highlight reel in the opening round playoff against the Lions with a troika of mind-boggling catches, one of which went for a touchdown on a key 4th down play.
And speaking of spectacular, Jimmy Graham began displaying the types of moves everyone expected from this incredible athlete. Graham came close to single-handedly beating the Bills on a Monday night (and we do mean single-handed!), with a pair of sensational one-handed TD grabs, both of which coming with defenders draped all over him. The Seahawks gave up a lot to get Jimmy Graham, and some still say it was too much. But Graham had a good season, and the trade has begun to provide some real dividends.
The beauty of having an abundance of talent at receiver position means that Doug Baldwin didn’t have to do it all himself. But Baldwin had a fine year as it was, establishing career highs in receptions and yardage. Baldwin earned a trip to the Pro Bowl, and is now getting the recognition he deserves. Jermaine Kearse was dependable as usual, and Luke Willson and Tanner McEvoy contributed with some clutch grabs of their own. The return of Lockett and the continued development of Richardson should give Russell Wilson plenty of good options next season.
OVERALL GRADE: A-
The Seahawks have gone from having one of the most expensive offensive line in pro football three years ago to one of the cheapest — and it showed. With the salary cap looming, John Schneider and Pete Carroll made the difficult decision to focus their salary dollars on the key ball handlers and the awesome defensive standouts. The big guys up front didn’t cash in, at least not from Seattle, so they did what smart businesspeople do. They took their talents elsewhere.
Credit goes to assistant coach Tom Cable for piecing together an offensive line, largely with spit and baling wire. Cable worked with O-lineman who had spent much of their formative years playing a different offensive line position. Or playing tight end. Or, in the most jaw-dropping case, a left tackle who had barely played football at all in college. George Fant spent most of his college years at Western Kentucky grabbing rebounds for the Hilltoppers basketball team. Seattle’s O-line only resembled the Dallas Cowboy’s O-line in that they tended to line up in the same place.
You can’t over-state the importance of a good offensive line. Most of the good things that happen with a football offense stems from these big guys. If they don’t open holes, it doesn’t matter how shifty the running backs are, they will usually get stuffed. If the big guys don’t pass protect well, it doesn’t matter how wide open a receiver is or how accurate a quarterback can throw. A successful pass play will never take flight if the quarterback is lying on his back, more concerned with preventing the football from being stripped. A good offensive line is everything. Just ask Dak Prescott and the Cowboys. If Prescott had been drafted by the Cleveland Browns, it is highly unlikely he would’ve even been in the discussion for Rookie of the Year, not to mention winning it.
Given everything, the Seahawks O-line did about as well as you might expect from them. With a crew that included no studs, and no first round draft picks, they struggled to open holes and they allowed Russell Wilson to get sacked far too often. The linemen had trouble picking up defensive stunts, and being able to create openings against well-schemed defenses was a challenge. Suffice to say, they performed as well as they could, but far from what they needed to do.
It is no shock that the Seahawks will likely be using a number of top draft picks to select some talented big men coming out of college. Seattle will also be taking a close look at free agent availability. They do have some good raw talent on the line, and promising center Justin Britt may have found his niche, following stints at right tackle and left guard in 2015. With a year under their belts, George Fant and Germain Ifedi might develop into solid players. Maybe others can step up as well. There is something to be said for continuity at these positions. But if the Seahawks want to get back to the Super Bowl next year, spending some money on the big rigs up front will likely be necessary again. Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy you some movers and shakers. And time to stand in the pocket to deliver a pass to an open receiver.
OVERALL GRADE: C-
OVERALL GRADE: SEATTLE SEAHAWKS OFFENSE: B-
UP NEXT: GRADING THE SEAHAWKS DEFENSE