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Third-down sacks, CB play, and a changing NFC West: What stands out from the Seahawks’ 2018 season

The Seahawks offensive line showed drastic improvement in 2018. (AP)

The hiring of Kliff Kingsbury in Arizona highlights the biggest mission for the Seahawks this offseason: add more to the defense.

Where should the Seahawks focus for their first offseason move?

The NFC West is now loaded with offensive-minded head coaches, and they’re leaning on some of the most advanced schemes in football. Kingsbury brings the air raid offense, while Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers runs one of the toughest run offenses to defend, and Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams runs an offense filled with motion and deception.

With the help of defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., the Seahawks went from losing the experience of the Legion of Boom in 2017 to having a young defense that exceeded expectations in 2018. They finished 16th in yards allowed and surrendered 21.7 points a game. That’s decent, but they’ll need to focus on a couple specific areas to take a big step forward in 2019 — particularly, points allowed. Let’s take a look at what the Seahawks did well this year, and what they can improve on for next season.

A look back to the Seahawks 2018 season

• Youth was certainly a theme this season. The Seahawks finished the season as the second youngest team in football, with an average age of 26. The Cleveland Browns were the youngest at 25.9.

• The key for the Seahawks is taking the 21.7 points a game allowed in 2018 and lowering that total into the the teens next year. With so many good quarterbacks in the NFC, that might be tough to do, but it should happen. If the Seahawks can maintain that 26.8 point per game offense and cut their defensive points allowed to the teens, the numbers point them to a 11-5 or 12-4 season. That will be needed if the Seahawks want to get back to the Super Bowl. Because while it’s nice to be a wild-card team, it’s hard to win three games on the road. A good offseason for the Seahawks can start to close the gap between them and the Los Angeles Rams, and give Seattle a real chance to challenge for the division.

• Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said one of the problems in the loss to the Dallas Cowboys was third-down conversions (the Seahawks converted only two of 13 third downs Saturday). Despite the improvement in the running game in 2018, the Seahawks were middle of the pack on third down and finished 17th overall on third down conversions (38.9 percent).

Surprisingly, Russell Wilson was efficient on those third down. He completed 75 of his 127 pass attempts for 996 yards, with 16 touchdown passes and three interceptions. His 113.7 quarterback rating on third downs was the best in the league. The only downside was sacks: Wilson was sacked 26 times on third down, tied with the Raiders’ Derek Carr.

• Despite some struggles, cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers had good seasons. Griffin had 46 of 73 passes completed on him for 640 yards. Flowers was beaten 44 times on 75 pass attempts for 684 yards, which is very good for a rookie. Each gave up four touchdowns passes. Another year together should make them be even better.

• Even though right guard D.J. Fluker was signed to help the run, he did a good job in pass protection. According to Stats Inc, Fluker allowed only half a sack in the 10 games he played. Right tackle Germain Ifedi gave up the most (7), followed by fellow tackle Duane Brown (who surrendered only 4), guard J.R. Sweezy (3.5), and finally Justin Britt, who didn’t give up a sack.

John Clayton on 710 ESPN Seattle
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