MIKE SALK

Salk: 3 biggest reasons Seahawks have played way into 1st place

Oct 23, 2022, 9:12 PM
Seahawks Pete Carroll...
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll celebrates a touchdown against the Chargers at SoFi Stadium. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

This isn’t the first time the Seahawks have been good. Not the first time they have started at least 4-3. Not the first time they have found themselves in first place. In fact, most of the last decade has come with the presumption of success.

How about that? Geno Smith-led Seahawks in 1st place in NFC West

They might not have been favored in every game since the Legion of Boom introduced itself to America in 2012, but I almost always assumed they would win. There was nothing they could do that would truly surprise me.

But this year? All of that changed.

Like most folks outside of their building, I had very low expectations for this team. The Seahawks had moved on from the best quarterback the franchise had ever known, replaced him with a guy that had lost every starting job he had ever had, and went into the season with a roster that needed a slew of rookies to contribute right away if it was going to hold its own.

Through six games and a 3-3 record, I was intrigued but hadn’t bought in. There were too many signs of problems. The defense was suspect. The tackling was troubling. They were making special teams mistakes every week. And I was waiting for quarterback Geno Smith to come crashing back to earth.

At the risk of overreacting to their win Sunday over the Chargers in Los Angeles, I am rethinking everything I thought I knew about the 2022 Seahawks. They might not be a Super Bowl contender but they are clearly a team to be reckoned with. And they made that very clear in their 37-23 win.

That was the first true “statement game” the Seahawks have played since… when? Sometime in 2012? They went on the road and beat a high quality opponent. And they did it fairly handily and they definitely did it decisively. That game wasn’t even as close as the 14-point margin would indicate.

The Seahawks just put the league on notice. Not that they are necessarily a Super Bowl contender yet, but that they need to be taken seriously.

2022 NFL standings

Why? Why have they been able to tun this so quickly? It’s been a team effort, but I’d point to three main reasons.

1. Pete Carroll

Pete is having a tremendous year, and by doing so, he is shoving it right in the face of a lot of people. He is showing that his secret sauce isn’t in some antiquated approach to offense or in his relentless optimism. It is rooted in his capacity to create a winning culture, his understanding of the game, his long-held beliefs in what wins games, and his unique ability to put players in the best positions to succeed.

Everyone who thought Pete was holding back Russell Wilson by not letting him throw more often is being presented with their own version of “Sliding Doors,” but this time Gwyneth Paltrow is starring in a horror story where the other door leads her to Denver and the lowest-scoring offense in the league. While the Seahawks’ offense has been their best unit, Russ is having by far the worst season of his career. And it sure looks like Pete was in the right for not turning over the keys to Russ, who wanted to do it his own way.

Russell Wilson is a fantastic dual-threat quarterback who won countless games by playing to his strengths: read option, play-action, throwing on the run, creatively making something out of nothing, accuracy, ball security, and game management. Those skills worked very well in the system Pete and his coordinators set up for him. But they don’t translate to the type of system that have made Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning perennial MVP winners.

And while Russ is struggling to take the success he had in Seattle and teach it to a new building, Pete has found a new crop of players ready to buy into his beliefs.

Meanwhile, he has adapted his offense to make it fit his new quarterback who (unsurprisingly) has different talents than Russell. And that leads us to our second reason…

2. Geno Smith

He has been sublime. At 74%, he leads the NFL is completion percentage. He has been in constant command of the huddle, the offense, and the line of scrimmage. He has made consistently smart decisions both before the snap and after. He has obviously been accurate, but not just by checking it down and “dinking and dunking” the ball up the field. He might not be throwing for 400 yards per game, but he has thrown a mix of long, medium and short passes and shown an ability to succeed with all of them.

Oh, and he’s shown that he can still move, too. He scrambles for first downs and he throws on the run.

Not only that, but the offense hasn’t had nearly the same issues with communication that plagued the Seahawks during the last decade. They aren’t taking delay of game penalties, too many men in the huddle, or desperately trying to get the snap off before the play clock runs out. He has had plenty of time to get to the line of scrimmage, make his checks, and snap when he’s good and ready.

This offense has suited him perfectly. It has played to his strengths: intermediate passing, accurately placing the ball where it needs to be, and letting him throw to his tight ends. The Seahawks aren’t as dependent on the deep, explosive play. They are capable of moving the ball in multiple ways.

And to anyone who had watched Geno in his career, it is shocking.

Calling the game for FOX this week, it sounded like Mark Sanchez couldn’t believe it. He had played with Geno years ago (or was it a lifetime ago?) with the New York Jets and talked often during the game about the changes Geno had made to his game since then. Most NFL experts considered him to be at best a backup option, but Geno has won games this season without costing his team any losses.

And all of that stuff about keeping the game close and waiting for a key moment to win late? The Seahawks haven’t needed to do it because this offense has been efficient throughout the game. In fact, the only thing we haven’t seen yet is a clutch, late drive to tie or win. If and when he accomplishes that? We are going to have to start a whole new conversation about him.

3. The Seahawks’ 2022 rookie class

Holy cow. This group is impressive. Three offensive starters and three defensive starters are from the 2022 draft, and not only are they starting, but at least four of them (left tackle Charles Cross, right tackle Abraham Lucas, running back Kenneth Walker III and cornerback Tariq Woolen) appear to be difference makers already. If nickel corner Coby Bryant and pass rusher Boye Mafe continue to develop, this class will be the nucleus of a second run under Carroll and general manager John Schneider.

I learned long ago not to count on rookies. Too often they take a while to adapt to the NFL, struggle with injuries, or simply need time to develop. But this group has come in ready to make a difference right away.

You can see the effect of the bookend tackles. Cross and Lucas move people and have protected their quarterback well. Lucas is a flat-out mauler. Walker has a tremendous blend of speed and elusiveness that has allowed him to break tackles and take it to the house.

Woolen deserves his own paragraph. This dude has the upside potential to stand alone even in this talented group. His speed and length combined with how raw he is makes him a candidate to surpass any Seattle corner who came before him. I don’t say that lightly, and he is nowhere close to accomplishing that feat, but he has the capability to do so.

Throw in a legit NFL corner in Bryant and another raw athlete at a premium position like Mafe and this class is remarkable.

The Seahawks haven’t won anything meaningful yet, and they will have to beat some of the better teams in the league to get their respect. Upcoming games against the Giants (seriously), Bucs, Rams and Niners should help with that. But it is clear that this group has earned the right to be taken seriously. And given where they were just seven weeks ago, that is nothing to sneeze at.

More on the Seahawks

Recap: Walker, Goodwin lead Seahawks over Chargers 37-23
Seahawks Instant Reaction: Seattle Sports on 37-23 win over Chargers
Seahawks WR DK Metcalf will get MRI after suffering knee injury

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