By SCOTT M. JOHNSON
KIRKLAND – The offense is ranked 26th out of 31 teams. The defense, dead last. No matter where one looks, the Seattle Seahawks have been struggling this season.
Except on special teams.
In almost every category involving Seattle’s punt and kicking game, the Seahawks rank among the top eight in the league. They lead the NFL in net punt average (37.9 per attempt), opponent’s net punt average (32.4), and opponent’s punt return average (4.1).
The Seahawks also have the AFC’s second-leading punt return man in Charlie Rogers, who averages 14.9 yards per runback.
“We take a lot of pride in what we do,” special teams coach Pete Rodriguez said. “We just try to be sound, very fundamental. We don’t try to be fancy, or tricky. We just try to be fundamental in what we do, and we try not to make mistakes.”
Since Rodriguez joined Seattle in 1998, the Seahawks have consistently boasted one of the NFL’s top special teams units. He was the only coach from the Dennis Erickson era retained by Mike Holmgren, and led Seattle to the top of the Dallas Morning News’ special teams rankings last season.
This year, the Seahawks have had to rely on a plethora of rookies and first-year players on special teams. While James Logan and Fabien Bownes continue to be the leaders, help has also come from draft choices Isaiah Kacyvenski, Marcus Bell and Ike Charlton, inexperienced linebacker Tim Terry and former CFL players J.P. Darche and Maurice Kelly.
“Early in the year, you’re going to struggle a little bit because of the way free agency is and you’re always breaking in young players,” Rodriguez said. “They’re prone to make mistakes and do some dumb things early. You just keep getting better, keep getting better. And they have done that.”
Perhaps the best find was kicker Rian Lindell, a rookie free agent who has made good on 11 of 13 field-goal attempts this season, including 8 of 9 from beyond 40 yards. Rodriguez wanted to bring Lindell to training camp, but the Washington State University rookie opted to sign with the Dallas Cowboys because he saw a better opportunity to make the team.
Lindell didn’t make the Cowboys roster, but after the Seahawks released Todd Peterson and Kris Heppner, he eventually found his way to Seattle.
Watters was held out of practice Wednesday and Thursday to heal a “turf toe” injury, and he had X-rays during Friday’s practice. Holmgren said the X-rays came up negative, and that Watters’ streak of 110 consecutive starts – the longest current string among NFL running backs – is not in jeopardy.
Watters is 50 rushing yards away from surpassing the 1,000-yard barrier for the sixth consecutive season. That would be the third time as a Seahawk in which Watters gained at least 1,000 yards in a season, something only Curt Warner and Chris Warren have done more (four).
He is also 240 yards from moving into 12th place on the all-time rushing list.
Two dubious team records could be set by the end of the season, depending on what happens in the final three games. If Seahawks opponents average just 237 passing yards per game and/or 297 total yards per game down the stretch, it would set new all-time lows for the Seattle franchise.
The Seahawks’ next two opponents – Denver and Oakland – rank among the top three offenses in the AFC, so chances are both records will fall.
Kennedy, 31, has had a subpar season and probably won’t be making a trip to Hawaii, something he has done every year of his career except 1997 and his rookie season in 1990.
“It’ll be a little difficult this year, just because of the record we’ve had,” fellow defensive tackle Riddick Parker said, referring to the Seahawks’ 5-8 mark. “I think guys around the league still appreciate the effort he puts in and the type of player that he is, so I think it’s kind of up in the air.”
When asked if Kennedy was deserving this year, Parker said: “No question. Because of his career, and what’s he got, two interceptions this year? A couple sacks? He’s playing well. He deserves it.”
Kennedy actually has only one interception and one sack, and he ranks 10th on the team in tackles (37).
Seahawks defensive coordinator Steve Sidwell fully expects for Shanahan to have something up his sleeve again Sunday. Having faced Shanahan five times during his career, Sidwell is prepared for some unconventional play calls.
“You expect them,” Sidwell said. “You just don’t know what they’re going to be.”