What’s the most important change the Seahawks made this offseason?
The Seahawks saw their highest personnel turnover in a single offseason under head coach Pete Carroll this year. The team parted ways with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, offensive line coach Tom Cable, and defensive coordinator Kris Richard in January — and they didn’t stop there. Seattle later released All Pro cornerback Richard Sherman and defensive end Cliff Avril, traded Pro Bowler Michael Bennett to the Eagles, and saw the presumed retirement of safety Kam Chancellor.
New coordinators were hired and young talent brought in through free agency and the draft. Yet with the departure of so many Pro Bowl veterans, the Seahawks were given their longest Super Bowl odds in six years. After six weeks of the 2018 regular season though they’re sitting at 3-3 and have shown marked improvement in their run game.
Which of those big offseason changes impacted has had the biggest impact on this team? Brock Huard and Mike Salk on 710 ESPN Seattle have a couple theories:
Huard: Addition of Mike Solari, commitment to the run
“To me there’s just simply no question about it: it is their offensive identity to run the football,” Huard said. “It is their total and utter commitment to that. In this league, if you want to be tough, if you really want to intimidate, if you want to play a physical game, you have to be able to move people at the line of scrimmage.”
The Seahawks are seventh in the league in total rushing offense, with 767 yards through six games. For comparison, all of Seattle’s running backs combined for just over 900 yards in all of 2017.
A big part of that improvement has been the performance of Seattle’s offensive line. Once among the worst-ranked units in the league, the Seahawks O-line ranks first in pass-blocking efficiency over the last four weeks, according to Pro Football Focus.
“(They are) an offensive line that’s gone from worst to first the last four weeks,” Huard said. “That you and I have watched for years. Actually, I just watched it again – they happened to be wearing silver and black. I just watched what Russell was under for the last two years, where he could not drop back, where you could not run a run play, and where even good running backs were stopped before they could get to the line of scrimmage. They were just dysfunctional.”
Huard said the changes made among the offensive line range from decision-making to personnel. Gone is the mindset of trying to convert nothing into something — signing struggling free agents or converting a defensive lineman, for starters. The team has seen improvement week over week in sack numbers, going from six surrendered in each of their first two games, to one surrendered last week against the Raiders.
Salk: Revamped secondary, a physical identity
Salk highlighted a focus on the run as well, though he also pointed to changes in the secondary (including the decision to extend safety Bradley McDougald) and a change in the locker room environment.
“I look at what the Seahawks have done and changed in the last year, and I would say they made four major changes,” Salk said. “They changed their physical identity – they got back to running the ball, they got back to punishing defenses, they got back to knocking out receivers. It’s on both sides of the ball. But they made a legitimate decision and turn, so to speak, toward being physical.
“Number two: they’ve actually balanced their offense again. Whether this is about Mike Solari and the offensive line, or whether it’s about (new offensive coordinator) Brian Schottenheimer and Pete Carroll finally figuring it out… right now they’ve run the ball 180 times and thrown it 165. And those numbers are even more skewed if you take out the first two weeks, when for whatever reason Pete Carroll hadn’t figured out to actually do what he said he wanted to do.
“Number three, they revamped their secondary. The secondary gives up some yards, and I know they did against the Rams offense. But man, all four starters plus (nickel corner) Justin Coleman have emerged in their own ways.
“And then finally, and this is the last thing they did this offseason, they just changed the leadership. It’s not just that we haven’t had crazy sideline blowups or players criticizing teammates and coaches. It’s more that we’re actually seeing the next generation grow into those leadership roles. Bobby Wagner and Jarran Reed I think are the best examples. Throw in Bradley McDougald and Duane Brown and D.J. Fluker, and they just have so many guys whose voices seem like they’ve grown.”