RENTON — When the Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII, the confetti hadn’t been cleared off the MetLife Stadium turf before people started wondering if they could repeat.
After all, the Seahawks were the second-youngest Super Bowl champion in history, most of their best players weren’t going anywhere, and considering how dominant they were on their way to a title, why not wonder if it was the beginning of a dynasty?
Well, now the Seahawks begin the pursuit of that elusive repeat title, something that hasn’t been done since the New England Patriots pulled it off a decade ago. And because nobody since the 2004 Patriots has been able to repeat, something you may have heard this preseason is that the Seahawks are the best team in the NFL, but they won’t be hoisting another Lombardi Trophy in February.
And, yes, repeating is difficult. There are many pitfalls that stand in the way of consecutive titles, not the least of which is a league structured to create parity through its salary cap and even its scheduling. Still the Seahawks are a lot of people’s pick to repeat — this writer included — but there are still plenty of things that could stand in the way of another title. History isn’t one of them, but these five things could be potential roadblocks to a second Super Bowl title in as many seasons:
Yes, this applies to every team, but in a game as violent as football, even the best teams can have a season derailed by injuries to key players. It’s not accurate to say the Seahawks need to stay healthy to repeat; no team gets through an NFL season without losing at least a few starters, but the difference between a title and a mediocre season can often be injuries to a team’s most important players. That list obviously starts with quarterback Russell Wilson on offense and free safety Earl Thomas on defense — they are the Seahawks’ most irreplaceable players. Percy Harvin figures to be a huge part of the offense this year, and receiver depth behind Harvin, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse is unproven. Seattle’s talent on defense is undeniable, but even the “Legion of Boom” secondary has depth concerns behind those Pro Bowl starters after the departure of backup safety Chris Maragos and cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond. The Seahawks are better prepared to handle injuries than most teams, but too many of them or injuries to the wrong players can undo any NFL team.
2. Pass protection problems
As good as Seattle’s No. 1 offense has looked this preseason, Russell Wilson has still found himself evading a decent amount of pressure, and that’s against defenses not doing a lot of scheming, and against defenses that don’t feature the type of pass rush the Seahawks will see from division opponents such as San Francisco and St. Louis.
Wilson was sacked 44 times last year, a number that almost certainly would have been higher for a less mobile quarterback, and while the Seahawks a number of injuries on the line contributed to that number — at one point Seattle was without both starting tackles and center Max Unger — there is A) no guarantee the line will be healthy this year, and B) cause for concern with rookie Justin Britt starting at right tackle. Britt has shown continued growth throughout camp, but has struggled in pass protection at times.
On the plus side, Seattle’s starting guards J.R. Sweezy and James Carpenter both seem to be making a big leap forward in 2014, but if Britt struggles, or if Russell Okung can’t stay healthy, Wilson could find himself on the run often enough that the offense that looks so good now could end up struggling. And obviously if Wilson is being hit too often, that takes us back to the injury concerns.
3. The NFC West
What a month ago looked to be the best division in the NFL, by far, has had some setbacks. Most notably the Rams lost quarterback Sam Bradford for the season, the Cardinals have suffered a number of key injuries on defense, and the 49ers, Seattle’s top NFC West rival, have struggled mightily in the preseason and are missing a number of defensive stars because of injuries.
All of that being said, the NFC West is still a brutal, physical division, and one that will feature few if any easy wins. And it’s not that the Seahawks can’t win enough games in the division to stay afloat and make the playoffs, it’s that even a couple losses could mean the difference between winning the division and perhaps earning a first-round bye, and being a wild-card team that would have to win three road games to reach the Super Bowl. In a division where one win might be the difference between a No. 1 seed and a wild-card berth, those six physical, hard-fought games could be a big obstacle.
4. An early bye and a brutal finishing stretch
Most teams prefer a bye as late as possible to rest beat-up bodies, but the Seahawks have the misfortune of a Week 4 bye. That’s less than ideal for any team, but it’s especially tough for one that finishes with such a tough slate of games as the Seahawks do.
Following a road game in Kansas City, which is hardly an easy game, the Seahawks finish the season with two games against Arizona, a 10-win team last year, a game at Philadelphia, a playoff team last season and the NFC East favorite, two against San Francisco and one against St. Louis, a team that pummels Russell Wilson like no other.
Even if the Seahawks are “healthy” going into that closing stretch, they will certainly be playing with some beat-up players. And even if the Seahawks survive that stretch and are in good position going into the playoffs, its possible the toll of playing those games will affect them in the postseason.
5. Lost veteran leadership
Complacency won’t be an issue for this team. No matter how many times you hear someone question the motivation of a defending champion, that will not be why the Seahawks fall short of a repeat if they do fall short. Earl Thomas and Russell Wilson talk about wanting to be counted among the all-time great teams, and they know it takes more than one title to get there. Thomas even says the Seahawks haven’t reached the ultimate goal as a team because, Lombardi Trophy or not, they can play better than they did last year. Coach Pete Carroll has done a masterful job of getting his players to put past accomplishments behind them in order to focus on the task at hand, which is why even in the locker room after their Super Bowl victory, players huddled up and shouted “What’s next?”
But you know who led that “What’s next?” yell? That would be defensive end and team captain Red Bryant, who was released not long after in a cost-cutting move. Also gone are fellow veteran defensive end Chris Clemons, offensive leader Michael Robinson, and special-teams captain Heath Farwell to name just a few. The Seahawks have plenty of young stars who can lead, but what happens if the Seahawks face a little adversity and don’t have veteran leaders like Bryant and Robinson to keep order. Maybe there are other players who can step into those roles and it won’t be an issue, or maybe the Seahawks will miss that veteran leadership, but for now, it’s at least a possible concern, one Robinson even voiced in a radio interview this offseason, saying, “When issues come up in the locker room, who is the veteran that settles it? I mean, last year you had guys like Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, myself that they can rely on.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org