Rost: What are Seahawks missing that the 4 NFL teams still alive have?

Jan 25, 2022, 1:39 AM
Seahawks Rams Russell Wilson...
Seahawks QB Russell Wilson scrambles to get away from the Rams' Leonard Floyd and Aaron Donald. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

A weekend of some of the best football we’ve seen was capped off by the best game of the weekend: a pulse-racing, last-minute shootout between two of the league’s best quarterbacks. And after the dust settled on a hectic two days, the conference championship games were set: the Kansas City Chiefs will host the Cincinnati Bengals while the Los Angeles Rams will host the San Francisco 49ers, much to the chagrin of their NFC West counterparts.

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Both top seeds – the Green Bay Packers and the Tennessee Titans – are out while the 49ers advance as the last remaining wild card team. While these four teams took different paths to the postseason, they have more in common than not.

But are any of those commonalities shared by the Seahawks?

Seattle is on the outside of the postseason looking in this year for just the second time since 2012, and a stellar weekend of games begs the question of just how close, or far, the Seahawks are from competing at that level.

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In need of a starting point, here’s a short answer: The Seahawks are probably much closer to getting back to the postseason than having another top-10 pick. This is a team that saw its first losing season in a decade this year and finished in last place in its division for the first time since 1996. This is not a team in search of a new head coach or a new quarterback, nor a team in dire straits with its salary cap.

However (as a wise man very recently said), a playoff berth alone does not a contender make. If a team that punches a ticket to the playoffs is underrated, gritty, or downright lucky enough, a wild card might just be all the chance it needs. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl as a wild card team last year, and the 49ers find themselves in the NFC Championship next Sunday. But the goal is to win a Super Bowl, and to contend with the greatest, the Seahawks need more – and it starts in the trenches.

Today’s installment: Pass rush

I can hear it now:

“The Chiefs defense isn’t even that great.”

Well, the Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes, a quarterback whose flick-of-the-wrist passes regularly make us question the rules of physics. They also have a 27-year-old Pro Bowl defensive lineman in Chris Jones who recorded nine sacks this year. That’s far from leading the league, but it’s more than any Seahawks defender recorded in 2021 (Carlos Dunlap came closest with 8.5).

Those two wild card teams mentioned above? Both had, and have, great defensive lines. Tampa Bay had far and away the best defense (and certainly the best run-stopping defense) of the final four teams last season and made Mahomes’ life a nightmare when it mattered most. The 49ers have had shaky quarterback play – and that’s putting it nicely – this year, but their defense sacked Aaron Rodgers five times Saturday and held the NFC’s top seed to a single touchdown. Jimmy Garoppolo doesn’t need to be Aaron Rodgers if the 49ers defense won’t let Aaron Rodgers be Aaron Rodgers.

The Rams, the NFC West champions, have had significantly more production from their quarterback, but the one-man wrecking machine that is Aaron Donald is a huge reason they’re one game away from the Super Bowl. Donald ranked first in pass-rush win rate despite being double-teamed about 70% of the time. Meanwhile, the Rams ranked third in sacks (50) in the regular season. The fact that the No. 6 team on that list (the 49ers with 48 sacks) is playing them this weekend is a testament to how dominant those units have been. Even the Bengals, who would be the surprise of the weekend were it not for the 49ers upsetting the Packers, had 42 sacks this season to Seattle’s 34 and 21 takeaways to Seattle’s 18.

Piecing together an elite pass rush is far easier said than done. General manager John Schneider hinted at that during a radio interview on the last Seahawks pregame show broadcast of the season.

“The other three teams have been able to pick in the top 10 and load up a couple times,” Schneider said as part of a longer answer about how other teams in the NFC West have been built.

He’s not wrong about the draft capital of his divisional counterparts. The Rams selected Donald 13th overall in 2014, while the 49ers drafted Nick Bosa second overall in 2019 and Arik Armstead 17th overall in 2015. Look to Tampa Bay, another example listed earlier, and you’ll find Vita Vea drafted 12th overall in 2018.

But Seattle does still have capital. In fact, they recently used quite a bit of it – two first-round picks – to acquire safety Jamal Adams, and other teams like Arizona and Los Angeles have acquired difference-makers via trade.

However they decide to make those additions, it’s clear that additions are needed if Seattle is to get back to being a true contender.

“The pass rush is a big issue. It’s a big, big issue for us and it’s been something that hasn’t been a formidable part (of our defense),” head coach Pete Carroll told Mike Salk during his final Pete Carroll Show of the 2021 season on 710 ESPN Seattle.

“What that means is we’re not getting to the quarterback enough to cause the problems that give us the football and we’ve not turned the ball over. It starts there with the rush, and you can see that needs to continue to be improved. I think that’s really obvious, so we’ve got to work hard at it.”

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Rost: What are Seahawks missing that the 4 NFL teams still alive have?