Fann: Seahawks have overachieved but need to show growth down stretch

Dec 13, 2022, 11:43 AM
Seahawks Pete Carroll...
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll looks on from the sideline during a Dec. 11, 2022 game against Carolina. (Photo by Jane Gershovich/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jane Gershovich/Getty Images)

There’s no way the 2022 Seahawks could be viewed as a disappointment. Oddsmakers gave them a win total of 5.5 games, and Seattle has already reached seven victories with four games left to play. Thus, this team is objectively overachieving based on preseason expectations.

But that doesn’t mean this campaign is without frustration. A month ago, the Seahawks were riding a four-game winning streak, and sitting in first place of the NFC West at 6-3. During that stretch, we witnessed a remarkable – and at this point inconceivable – defensive turnaround that saw one of the league’s worst units through five games become one of the best for those four games.

Seattle has since lost three of four, with all three losses against teams with losing records: the Buccaneers, Raiders and Panthers. In that four-game span, the Seahawks have been comprehensively dominated in the trenches with opponents racking up 838 rushing yards (209.5 per game) to Seattle’s 240 (60 per game). Rookie running back Kenneth Walker III’s ankle injury has certainly played a part in Seattle’s ground game woes on offense, but immense regression from both the offensive and defensive line has been the bigger issue.

The Seahawks’ latest loss, a 30-24 defeat at home to the Panthers, was the most demoralizing. The game wasn’t as close as the final score suggests with Seattle finding the end zone in garbage time in the final seconds.

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As bleak as it appears currently, all is not lost yet as Seattle still controls its own playoff destiny. FiveThirtyEight gives the Seahawks a 55% chance to make the postseason. That’s noteworthy even though the odds have dipped significantly from 84% prior to the Week 10 matchup against Tampa Bay in Germany. Two wins could get it done with the 49ers (this Thursday), Chiefs, Jets and Rams left on the schedule.

But just as important as clinching a playoff spot, at least under the assumption that any trip to the postseason would be short-lived, is the necessity to see some semblance of growth over the final month. A rebuilding season loses its luster if it concludes with regression and a series of blowout losses.

The 2011 Seahawks are the gold standard in this regard. Seattle finished 7-9 that year, but the Legion of Boom was evidently taking shape as the defense allowed 23 points or fewer in each of its final nine games. That group gave up 14 points or less on four occasions in that span.

Who will be the player(s) to take that noticeable step forward before the 2022 season is through? Maybe it will be Darrell Taylor, who has a sack in each of his last two games and four total quarterback hits. That would be a crucial development for a team desperate for pass rushing help, though it’s worth mentioning he played just 12 snaps against Carolina. Fellow second-round pick Boye Mafe is also yet to showcase the athletic ability, albeit raw and unpolished, that made him a Day 2 pick.

The bigger point I’m getting at is that it’s hard to avoid the feeling that this defense is void of any young foundational pieces. That includes 2020 first-round pick Jordyn Brooks, a linebacker who is a tackle machine but rarely creates negative plays.

And maybe it’s more coaching than it is personnel. Pete Carroll told Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk on Monday that the team has to “fit the personnel to the scheme.” That seems a bit backwards in a square peg, round hole sort of way. Pivoting to a scheme that doesn’t fit the roster seems contradictory to Carroll’s usual objective of accentuating the strengths of his players.

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The Seahawks own five picks on Days 1 and 2 of the 2023 NFL draft, all of which should be inside the top 90. That will provide ample opportunity to bolster the defense. But that draft capital can’t be a universal silver lining to the regression currently taking place.

Some late-season development, particularly on defense, would go a long way in inspiring confidence that this team is headed in the right direction as the post-Russell Wilson rebuild continues.

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