Did we all really just live through that?
The Seattle Seahawks’ season has been over for a week, and I’m still wondering if I’m going to snap out of a slumber, find Bobby Ewing in the shower and discover it was all a dream.
Russell Wilson’s gone, but it doesn’t seem to matter? Bobby Wagner’s gone, too? Geno Smith is a star? And was that really a Pete Carroll-coached team playing a 3-4 defense?
The 2022 season was one of unexpected twists and turns for the Seahawks. The campaign was thought as good as dead the moment franchise quarterback Wilson was traded to the Denver Broncos in May, yet Seattle finished with a winning record and an unlikely playoff berth.
Here’s how the Seahawks graded out for the season:
Points per game: 23.9, ninth in the NFL
Yards per game: 351.5, 13th in the NFL
There was perhaps no bigger surprise, nor a bigger factor in Seattle’s unexpected success, than the play of Smith at quarterback. At 32 years old, the 10-year journeyman, who hadn’t been a starter since 2014, produced one of the greatest seasons every by a Seahawks quarterback, setting single-season franchise records for passing yards (4,282) and completion percentage (69.8). More expected was the play of his two primary receivers, DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, who both went over 1,000 yards, making it just the third time in franchise history Seattle had two 1,000-yard receivers in the same season.
Seattle also found a game-breaking running back. It was supposed to be Rashaad Penny, who was coming off a strong end to the 2021 season. But Penny suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 5, necessitating a rethink. Enter Kenneth Walker III. The rookie second-round draft pick was everything the Seahawks could have hoped and more, gaining 1,050 yards while being a home-run threat every time he touched the ball.
Where Seattle’s offense struggled was in crunch time. The Seahawks ranked 20th in the league on third down, converting just 37.8%, and 28th in the league in converting red-zone trips into touchdowns at just 47.3%. Those issues prevented Seattle’s offense from being among the league’s elite.
Points allowed per game: 23.6, 25th in the NFL
Yards allowed per game: 361.7, 26th in the NFL
Seattle switched to a 3-4 scheme this season and encountered some bumps in the road. This was most visible with the run defense, as the Seahawks ranked 30th in the league against the run. Seattle allowed 144 or more yards rushing 11 times during the regular season and again in its playoff loss to San Francisco. All but one of the Seahawks’ losses came in those games.
Carroll-coached defenses are characterized for their bend-but-don’t-break nature, being willing to give up yards underneath to prevent big plays and force teams to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns. Well, that defense was nowhere to be seen this season as Seattle ranked 27th on third down (42.3%) and 25th in the red zone (59.6%), while allowing far too many explosive plays, especially on the ground as the Seahawks allowed 18 rushes of 20 yards or more, which was tied for the fifth-most in the league. Tackling was also an issue with 77 missed tackles, which was tied for 10th worst.
There were some positives. Linebacker Jordyn Brooks had a big year stepping in for Wagner with 161 tackles, rookie cornerback Tariq Woolen had six interceptions as he looked like the second coming of Richard Sherman, and rush end Uchenna Nwosu proved to be an astute offseason addition with 9.5 sacks. And the much-derided pass rush actually finished tied for seventh in sacks with 45 (though the pressure percentage of 20.8% was just 20th). But on the whole it was a rough season on D.
It would be hard to ask for more from Seattle’s specialists.
Kicker Jason Myers was named to the Pro Bowl after leading the NFL in scoring with 143 points. He was 34-for-37 on field goals, including an stretch of 24 consecutive makes, and he was an astounding 6-for-6 from 50-plus. He also went 41-for-42 on extra points, giving the Seahawks a level of dependability that took pressure off Carroll’s in-game decision making.
Punter Michael Dickson was his usual impressive self, finishing tied for seventh in the league in punting average at 48.5 yards, but more importantly finishing second in the league in net average at 44.3. His ability to direct punts toward the sideline is unparalleled.
Seattle didn’t manage anything in the punt-return game, but once the Seahawks elevated Godwin Igwebuike from the practice squad they became a threat on every kickoff as Igwebuike (28.0 yards per return) would have ranked third in the league had he compiled enough attempts. Seattle also had excellent coverage, ranking third in the league in punt coverage (5.9) and sixth in kickoff coverage (20.9).
The biggest change during the offseason scheme-wise came on defense where the Seahawks, long a 4-3 team, switched to a 3-4 system. This did not have the effect Seattle hoped it would, and after the season Carroll acknowledged that some things needed to be cleaned up for next season.
On the offensive side of the ball there was some good creativity added to the playbook, most notably with the play-action rollout to the tight end in the flat, a play that proved consistently effective. The addition of the wildcat late in the season, when the ball is snapped directly to the running back, seemed to catch the opposition off guard. All of it seemed well-tailored to Smith’s abilities.
But the biggest thing the staff did this season was show complete faith in its players. The coaches had a big decision to make at quarterback between the holdover back-up Smith and Drew Lock, who was acquired from Denver in the Wilson trade. Once they chose Smith they went all-in with him, opening up the offense after two games and reaping the rewards. Seattle also put trust in its rookies like Walker, Woolen and tackles Abraham Lucas (an Archbishop Murphy High School graduate) and Charles Cross, who justified that faith.
Make no mistake, this was meant to be a rebuilding year for the Seahawks. It wasn’t just trading Wilson that indicated this. It was the release of defensive captain and last remaining Legion of Boom member Wagner. It was the restraint shown in the free-agent market. It was the implementation of a new defensive scheme. And it was the willingness to start rookies at both tackle spots.
So what did Seattle do? The Seahawks finished 9-8 during the regular season and earned the NFC’s final playoff berth. They found a quarterback in Smith who looks capable of leading a contender — provided Seattle can get the impending unrestricted free agent signed. They developed a lot of young players into contributors as by most measures the Seahawks had the most productive rookie class in the league. And they hold a lot of draft capital heading into April thanks to the Wilson trade — with much higher picks than anticipated as Wilson’s Broncos flopped big time.
Given the expectations before the season began, it’s hard to imagine the Seahawks’ season going much better. Optimism will reign supreme during the offseason.