Wassell’s Thoughts: In this year’s NFL, Seahawks can prove offense wins championships
Welcome to another edition of Tom Wassell’s Thoughts, a regular column from the co-host of 710 ESPN Seattle’s Tom, Jake and Stacy. This week, Tom explains why the Seahawks’ offense is enough for them to be considered among the NFL’s best in this specific season, and why the play of the Patriots in their year after Tom Brady is a demerit for Bill Belichick.
Seahawks could prove offense wins championships
The other day on Tom, Jake and Stacy, we discussed a tweet from ESPN’s Mike Greenberg where he ran a poll asking which of the following was the best team in the NFL – the Chiefs, Buccaneers, Steelers or other.
Mind you, this isn’t an essay about why I disagree with Mike Greenberg. It has more to do with how we define teams as good or bad, according to strengths and weaknesses. I believe his poll is representative of the manner in which many football fans and analysts view the league. But I still disagree.
It struck me as strange that he left out the Seahawks, given their 6-1 record, the fact that their one loss was close and in overtime, and the high-profile nature of their offense. Offense gets attention. Offense gets you on the highlight shows. Offense helps our fantasy teams. Most importantly, in 2020, offense gets you WINS.
No team is better in this category than the Seahawks. Watching Russell Wilson, DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett should be enough to seduce any football fan into thinking that Seattle is simply unstoppable when they possess the ball. So is the concern that they don’t have a dominant defense or is it that they don’t have a defense at all? I’m guessing it’s the latter, and if that’s the case, it’s reasonable that Greenberg would exclude Seattle from the poll.
The Seahawks aren’t just allowing the most yards per game in the league, they’re last by a mile. Seattle is allowing an average of 460 yards each week and the next closest team is Jacksonville at 424. Eek. It’s easy to understand why someone would want more complete performances from all phases of a team’s game before they were to call it one of the best teams.
There’s something else at work here that I feel most people might be overlooking. Sure, the Seahawks have had brutal statistical production from their defense, but is that side of the ball as essential in the 2020 version of the NFL? Holding calls are down, defensive pass interference calls are up. The league is slanted more in favor of offense than ever. Add to that the overall talent and superior athleticism of the players we see at positions like quarterback and wide receiver, and it’s fair to say a team has to have a powerful offense in order to win games.
Even if the Seahawks’ offense was having a bad day, the possibility of a few quick strikes is always apparent, and if their opposition can’t score at a similar pace, they’re doomed. Seattle is always in the game – even down, say, three scores with about six or seven minutes left. There’s no defense that can shut them down completely.
Look at the defenses that are leading the league in yards allowed per game: Rams, Colts, Buccaneers, Washington, Steelers and the 49ers. Three of the NFC East’s teams (Giants, Eagles and Washington) are in the top 13, and each of them have terrible win-loss records. Sure, some of those teams are ‘good,’ but clearly the best defensive teams in the league are not necessarily among the best.
Let’s take a closer look at the accompanying statistics. Most of the teams I mentioned are giving up over 300 yards per game. In fact, the Rams at 291 per game are No. 1 in the league. That’s not exactly dominant. So even if a team is playing good defense relative to everyone else, the numbers still don’t suggest dominant defense in the way we’ve come to define it over the years.
Should the Seahawks be penalized for their defensive performances this year? Yes, absolutely. But is the imbalance between the two sides of the ball likely to hurt them in the same way it might have years ago? No. All they have to do is improve to the point where they’re adequate. Keep other teams out of the red zone, make the big plays at the biggest times.
The statistics we normally pay attention to may not reflect proficiency in the categories I just mentioned, so don’t weigh things like yards per game or total yards too heavily. The Seahawks are clearly one of the best teams in the league, and for once we’re gonna be saying offense wins championships.
Remember in elementary school when you’d misbehave and the teacher would write your name up on the chalkboard, then if you kept up that behavior, you’d get check marks next to your name? Those were called demerits. If you’re under the age of 35, maybe they’d outlawed that procedure by your time. Anyway, as we watch the Patriots disintegrate with Cam Newton under center, it’s easy to wonder if this season is a demerit on Bill Belichick’s career.
It’s fair to make the case that without a functioning QB, Belichick has a difficult time winning games. But is that the whole story? Marcus Cannon, Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung have all opted out this year due to COVID-19. The organization is having all kinds of salary cap issues as a result of having “sold out” over the past several years in order to collect those last three championships. Even if Tom Brady were there, we’d have to wonder if they’d have the same level of success we’ve come to expect from them.
If a head coach doesn’t have the players, he won’t win. Don Shula had Johnny Unitas, Bob Griese and Dan Marino through roughly 30 years at the helm of the Colts and Dolphins. Bill Walsh had Joe Montana. Bill Parcells constructed shutdown defenses wherever he went. Same with Joe Gibbs. And let’s not forget that all four of those men were able to build their teams before the salary cap was implemented (except for Parcells). There was some luck involved with the timing of their careers.
Let’s flip the scenario around for good measure. If Tom Brady had gone to Tampa Bay and most of the Buccaneers’ key players were out due to injury or COVID-19, could he carry them to the playoffs on his own? Possibly. He’s on the field and Belichick isn’t. A quarterback is always going to affect the game more directly than his head coach.
Someday, Russell Wilson is likely to play under someone other than Pete Carroll and my guess is that as long as that person doesn’t limit Wilson’s play-making abilities, Seattle’s quarterback will be just fine. But in both of those hypotheticals, a head coach could be the difference between a championship and just pulling together a playoff-worthy record.
So is 2020 a demerit on Belichick’s legacy? Yes. But does it prove he can’t win without Brady? No.
Jake & Stacy