O’Neil: Seahawks have 99 problems and the kicker is definitely one
The Seahawks missed the playoffs by a foot.
Blair Walsh’s foot, to be more precise.
That’s overly simplistic and not entirely fair. The kicker is also the most straightforward of all choices the Seahawks must make in what will be a very complicated offseason.
And we’ll get to all that in a second. I promise. But first, a little perspective from the following video. Pay special attention to No. 95.
— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) January 1, 2018
That’s Kyle Williams. He has played in the NFL for 14 years. Played very well, actually, and he just made the playoffs for the first time in his career. There’s two things that stood out to me about that video.
• Sports are great. It may not feel that way in Seattle right now what with the season-ending losses that were hung on not just the Seahawks, but the Cougs and the Huskies. But the flip side of this pain is that sports have the rare ability to produce an innocent joy in both the participants and observers. And as disappointed as many people in Seattle feel about this football season, it’s good to remember that football can actually make us unreasonably happy and even cry tears of joy.
• The Seahawks have reached the playoffs 10 times during the span of Williams’ career. That’s not to say that we don’t have the right to be bummed or even angry about how this season went, but that disappointment should stop well short of outright hostility toward this franchise, which has only been one of the league’s five or so most successful over the course of these past 15 or so years.
OK. Now where were we? Oh that’s right. Listing off all the reasons that this Seattle season wound up being such an undeniable disappointment.
1. The Blair Walsh Project had about the worst outcome possible.
It’s easy in retrospect to say the Seahawks goofed by not paying Steven Stephen Hauschka. That’s the benefit of hindsight, though. Seattle used a sound decision-making process, replacing one kicker who struggled in 2016 with another kicker who struggled in 2016 at one-third the price.
But while the logic was sound, the result was unambiguously awful. Walsh was demonstrably bad this year. He made 72 percent of his field-goal attempts, tied for lowest rate among any kicker with 20 or more attempts. He wasn’t so unspeakably bad that the Seahawks felt compelled to make a change, though. They stuck with him after he missed three attempts in a three-point loss to Washington. They stuck with him after he came up short on a 52-yard attempt that would have forced overtime against Atlanta. They stuck with him through a missed kick in Jacksonville and all the way through the 48-yard game-winner that he missed in the regular-season finale.
The fix to this one is fairly straightforward: get a new kicker. He doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, finding the best minimum-salary alternative is just fine. It’s got to be someone new, however.
2. Seattle’s lack of a run game left the quarterback overburdened.
Russell Wilson became the first quarterback to lead his team in rushing since the Bush administration – the first Bush administration. Randall Cunningham led Philadelphia in rushing in 1990, and Wilson is the first since him. Not only that, but Seattle’s running backs combined to rush for one touchdown. One.
The fact that Alex Collins ran for 973 yards for Baltimore after he was incapable of making Seattle’s roster tells you that the problems with the Seahawks’ run game may run deeper than who’s carrying the ball. The absolute inability to present the threat of even an average run game left the Seahawks utterly dependent on Wilson’s passing and his performance caved in under that pressure.
He passed for 456 over the final three games, his fewest in any three-game span since the first month of his first season. Back then, the lack of passing yards were a reflection of Seattle’s intent of keeping from piling too much on top of the young quarterback. This time, they were the result of Wilson buckling under the weight of having so much piled on top of him.
It’s not that Wilson was bad. He led the NFL with 34 touchdown passes. But he wasn’t good enough in the final month of the season, either, as he was consistently unable to make the quick throws that would have allowed Seattle to execute something resembling an NFL offense. Instead, we got what the Seahawks showed in the first half Sunday when every play devolved into a sandlot scramble and Seattle had a total of 24 yards at halftime.
For the second straight year, the Seahawks end the season vowing to restore the run game, and this time, the fix should involve more than just changes to the players on the roster.
3. Seattle’s defense is not what it used to be.
That was true even before Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman suffered what turned out to be season-ending injuries in the ninth game. The first clue came with a trio of big plays in Tennessee in a game where the Seahawks allowed 33 points. Four weeks later, the Seahawks gave up 38 points at home to Houston.
All in all, Seattle allowed 30 or more points five times in 16 regular-season games. Opponents hit that threshold a total of seven times over the 80 regular-season games from the previous five seasons. And while injuries certainly took a toll on Seattle, with so many of those players approaching the age of 30 or already past it, Seattle can’t simply write this year off as an injury-induced aberration.
But while field-goal kicking could have put the Seahawks in the playoffs, Seattle’s was a lot more than just a foot away from being a legitimate Super Bowl contender. And as the reality sinks in that the Seahawks have missed the playoffs for the first time since drafting Wilson, Seattle is going to have to answer some really tough, really troubling questions.