The Seattle Seahawks were not even supposed to make the playoffs in 2012, yet their last-minute loss in the Divisional Round against the Atlanta Falcons was devastating. Coming into the season, Matt Flynn was signed to be the starting quarterback in a rebuilding year for the Seahawks. But once third-round pick Russell Wilson won the starting job, he never looked back. The combination of Wilson’s dual-threat attack and Marshawn Lynch’s “Beast Mode” running turned the Seahawks’ offense into one of the league’s scariest by the season’s end.
The real story of the 2012 Seahawks though was the defense. Chris Clemons led the team with 11.5 sacks, rookie Bruce Irvin tacked on another 8, and fellow rookie linebacker Bobby Wagner probably would have won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year if it weren’t for Luke Kuechly. As good as the Seahawks’ front seven was in 2012, their secondary was even better. With all four starters playing at the Pro Bowl level, the Seahawks’ secondary was easily the best in the NFL. Earl Thomas was named first-team All-Pro and Richard Sherman had the best season of any cornerback in the league. Although the Seahawks were young and inexperienced in 2012, they were as big of a Super Bowl threat as anyone.
There certainly won’t be any quarterback controversy in Seattle this year. While Russell Wilson shocked everyone by winning the starting job over Matt Flynn last season in his rookie year, there is no doubt that the Seahawks are now Wilson’s team. Instead of experiencing growing pains last year, Wilson threw for over 3,000 yards, 26 touchdowns, and had a higher QBR than Drew Brees and Eli Manning. Oh yeah, and he also ran for nearly 500 yards. Now that he is in his second year with the offense and still has all of the same weapons surrounding him, expect his numbers to rise.
Behind Wilson on the depth chart is Tarvaris Jackson, who could probably compete for a starting job on some other NFL teams. Jackson is a perfect backup for the Seahawks, because he is now a veteran and has the same quarterbacking style as Wilson.
And to think that the Seahawks got Marshawn Lynch for fourth and fifth-round picks. Ever since Marshawn arrived in Seattle he has been in full “Beast Mode,” including a career best year in 2012. He clearly responds positively to Pete Carroll’s coaching style, as he is knocking over defenders every time he touches the ball. He rushed for nearly 1,600 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, and there is no reason to believe that he won’t approach those numbers yet again in 2013.
Robert Turbin and second-round draft pick Christine Michael are in an active battle for the backup running back position, which is great news for the Seahawks. If both Turbin and Michael are playing to win the job, that means both will be running hard enough to complement Marshawn nicely. As for fullback, the Seahawks cut fan favorite Michael Robinson, leaving them without a true option at the position.
The Seahawks acquired Percy Harvin this offseason to give Russell Wilson a true #1 receiver, but a hip injury will sideline Harvin for most of the season. While this is undoubtedly a crushing blow for the Seahawks, I think the impact of the injury is being blown a bit out of proportion. First of all, the Seahawks are a running team and will continue to be even as Wilson progresses. Secondly, the Seahawks wide receivers are still pretty good without Harvin. Golden Tate has a similar skill set to Harvin and has been waiting to break out, and 2013 could very well be the season that happens. He has developed great chemistry with Wilson, and with Harvin injured I think Tate could reach 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. Besides Tate, Sidney Rice is a big and reliable target when healthy, and Doug Baldwin is very explosive for a #3 receiver.
Zach Miller remains the starter at tight end despite his disappointing first two years with Seattle. He did play remarkably well in both of the Seahawks’ playoff games last season, so there is some reason for optimism. There is not much depth behind Miller, as fifth-round pick Luke Willson is second on the depth chart.
With the Seahawks’ offensive line, there is a lot of good and a lot of bad. The good starts with center Max Unger, who was the best center in the NFL in 2012. He did not allow a single sack and plowed holes for Marshawn Lynch all year long. Left tackle Russell Okung also had a great 2012, allowing only one sack and finally looking like the player the Seahawks drafted sixth overall in 2010. After these two star linemen, it gets ugly. Journeyman left guard Paul McQuistan is average at best, and right guard J.R. Sweezy is completely inexperienced. The Seahawks’ dominance in the running game is a result of Offensive Line Coach Tom Cable’s zone-blocking scheme, but it won’t be as successful in 2013 if the guards don’t play at a high level. Right tackle Breno Giacomini had a pretty bad 2012 season, and if he doesn’t step it up in 2013 then the Seahawks have a good reason to be concerned.
The Seahawks signed defensive end Cliff Avril away from the Lions in one of the biggest acquisitions of the offseason, and he should pay dividends immediately. He has averaged almost 10 sacks per year over the last three seasons, and he could exceed those numbers in 2013 playing in the Seahawks defense. Chris Clemons will play opposite Avril on the line, giving the Seahawks one of the best defense end duos in the league. Clemons will miss the first few games of the season while he is recovering from a torn ACL, but the Seahawks surprisingly did not place him on the PUP list so he could be ready to play sooner than expected. The Seahawks’ defensive tackles are solid, especially Brandon Mebane. The team used two of their first four draft picks on defensive tackles, selecting Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams. However, both rookies are already injured, but the team is hoping one of them can emerge as a starter upon their return. In the meantime, both Tony McDaniel and Red Bryant are good players who can play multiple spots on the line.
The Seahawks’ linebacker corps was supposed to struggle in 2012 because of inexperience, but apparently nobody told them that. The unit played like a bunch of veterans, led by anchor Bobby Wagner in the middle. Even though Wagner has only played one year in the league, he is already one of the best middle linebackers in the game. Outside linebackers K.J. Wright and Bruce Irvin also exceeded expectations last year. Irvin looks like one of the game’s next great pass rushers, but he is going to have to sit out the first four games of the season for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
The Seahawks’ secondary refers to themselves as “The Legion of Boom,” but to opposing quarterbacks they are a worst nightmare. They are far and away the best secondary in the NFL, and no other unit even approaches their game-changing ability. It all starts with outspoken cornerback Richard Sherman, who unlike many NFL players completely backs up all of his smack talk. Sherman intercepted 8 passes last season, but he won’t reach that total this season, simply because quarterbacks have learned to stop throwing in his direction. Sherman’s partner in crime is the terrifying Brandon Browner, who would be a #1 cornerback on most NFL teams.
As if having two Pro Bowl cornerbacks wasn’t enough, the Seahawks also have a pair of Pro Bowl safeties. Earl Thomas has become the premier free safety in the league, and he earned a first-time All Pro berth for his play in 2012. He has the ability to pick off any deep ball, stop a running back at the line of scrimmage, and light up a receiver over the middle. He’s simply the total package. Kam Chancellor starts at strong safety, but he might as well play linebacker. He is in on practically every tackle, and throughout the course of the year he will make some hits that will make you cringe. Let’s just say that wide receivers probably don’t like running in-routes against the Seahawks.
Kicker Steven Hauschka and punter Jon Ryan are both extremely solid for the Seahawks. Leon Washington returned both kicks and punts for the Seahawks last season, but he is out of town so someone will need to step up to fill the void. Right now Will Blackmon is slated to return kicks and Golden Tate will field punts, but both of those positions are subjects to change.
The Seahawks advanced to the second round of the playoffs last year, and they should be even better in 2013. Russell Wilson is only going to improve at quarterback and Marshawn Lynch is one of the NFL’s elite running backs. The Seahawks defense will be just as good in 2013 as they were in 2012, led by their star-studded secondary. While these are all reasons for hope, there are also reasons to keep expectations in check. Most starters on the offensive line are inexperienced or bound to struggle, and the defensive line is facing many injuries. Also, the NFC West will be one of the toughest divisions in 2013. But the Seahawks have too much talent to be slowed down, so they will once again reach double-digit wins and make the playoffs. And once they are in the playoffs, anything can happen.