The Seattle Seahawks traveled to the Georgia Dome to meet the Atlanta Falcons. Despite the Seahawks playing in a dome, on turf, and despite scoring an opening drive touchdown, the Hawks surrendered the game, 36-20.
Any season not ending in a Super Bowl ends in disappointment and so ended the 2016 season—a season highlighted by a litany of injuries, including Thomas Rawls, CJ Prosise, Russell Wilson, Michael Bennett, Kam Chancellor, Luke Willson, Tyler Lockett, and most of all, Earl Thomas, the engine of the Hawks’ historic defense. To add insult to injury, the final game of the season cost cornerback DeShawn Shead a torn ACL. Also, Pete Carroll disclosed that Richard Sherman had been struggling with a significant knee injury, which explains Sherman’s conservative play in the latter half of the season.
Where Can The Hawks Improve?
Out of the eight teams in the divisional round, only the Houston Texans offense struggled more than the Seahawks. The consensus is poor offensive line play sunk this season, but did it effect the game against the Falcons? Could even a fraction of a second have changed the outcome?
With the score at 29-13, the victory was not necessarily gone. A big play could get the Hawks back in the game.
Three receivers are lined up on the bottom side of the field. From the sideline-in is Paul Richardson (10), Jermaine Kearse (15) and Doug Baldwin (89). At first, nothing about this down is unusual, but then cornerback Brian Poole (34), who is lined up to cover Baldwin, bee-lines it toward Wilson in a blitz. Here the Seahawks catch a break. With Poole abandoning Baldwin, linebacker Deion Jones (45) will take over the assignment, and Jones is not showing Baldwin a ton of respect in regards to where he’s chosen to stand.
At the snap, Poole goes for the blitz and Baldwin attacks the middle, leaving Jones in his dust. All Wilson needs to do is set his back foot and deliver a bomb…but he cannot do so. Despite having Jimmy Graham as a shield to get him a jump start, and eight steps before contact, right tackle Garry Gilliam is pushed back and turned around by Vic Beasley (44). Just as Wilson plants his back foot, Gilliam is about to knock him down. Wilson attempts the pass while skirting to his left, throwing off balance. The pass missed Baldwin by inches.
Earlier in the game, with the Seahawks down 26-10, the offense was backed up at their own end of the field. This time, it was not an individual breakdown that got the Hawks, it was a team failure.
It’s pretty safe to assume that, if defensive end Dwight Freeney (93) is on the field, he will rush the passer, so either offensive tackle George Fant (74), tight end Luke Willson (82) or running back Thomas Rawls (34) needs to pick Freeney up. Possibly the confusion starts when Wilson motions Willson and this subtle change creates a situation where Fant steps out of Freeney’s way and Willson makes no effort to block Freeney. Either way, the result is Freeney charging Wilson and Wilson throwing before his back foot could fully plant. The pass was short.
Russell Wilson gave fans something to be hopeful for in 2017 with two significant scrambles. Having watched Wilson fight through injuries this season, it’s easy to forget the devastating speed he can produce. After all, at this time last year, Wilson was doing this…against five Vikings defenders who were rushing unblocked.
Did We Learn Anything From This Loss?
This game followed the trends of the late-season Seahawks. Without Earl Thomas, the defense gave up yards and points. When the Hawks got forced out of their running offense and Wilson had to gun it, the offensive line couldn’t pass protect. Given Wilson’s health, inaccuracy was an issue when he threw under pressure or on the run. But, the team experienced a late-season regression in special teams that was uncharacteristic and concerning, as that unit was not as devastated by injury.
Down the stretch, Steven Hauschka missed a field goal and an extra point against the Arizona Cardinals. Against the San Francisco 49ers, a bad punt snap led to a safety. Against the Detroit Lions, Hauschka missed another extra point. And against the Falcons, Devin Hester had 31 and 80 yard returns called back due to penalties. In the past, not only had special teams avoided critical errors, they made big, game-changing plays. In the offseason, this unit will need a re-commitment to excellence.
The Seahawks’ have starters most teams would die for, but what lies behind those guys is rather slim pickings. This season, the Hawks were unable to find that extra pass rusher, as Cassius Marsh’s play was generally uninspiring and flat, nor could they find a suitable replacement for Bruce Irvin, as Mike Morgan never looked like more than a fill-in guy. When injuries hit Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, the safety play coming off the bench was below average. Backup tight end Luke Willson was injured for part of the season and rookie Nick Vannett did not leave an impression.
While the Hawks have no elite players on their offensive line, in many ways they were fortunate those five guys stayed as healthy as they did. Germain Ifedi may not be a great offensive lineman, but he was certainly the best right guard on the roster. His absence led to Rees Odhiambo stepping on Russell Wilson’s foot, causing a safety against the Falcons.
Safety Steven Terrell was the clearest example of the Hawks depth issues, and his play contributed to Devonta Freeman’s big day.
In this example, Falcons’ offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has the right play called at the right time. The Hawks are showing an unusual defensive formation, where defensive end Cliff Avril (56) is standing and ready to drop into pass coverage. Avril has made this adjustment so linebackers Bobby Wagner (54) and KJ Wright (50) can blitz. Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan (2) is all over this one. He never finishes his drop and keeps backpedaling away from the Hawks’ pass rush. Avril steps outside to take on Freeman (24), but (not surprisingly) Freeman gets inside of him and… This is where Terrell (23) comes in to save the day! Except Freeman puts a cross over on Terrell and smokes the defense for 53-yards.
For this play, the Falcons’ offense is showing run and will most likely do so. If the run is up the middle, Terrell’s job is to make contact with Freeman, hopefully tackling him but at least slowing him. Instead, he whiffs. Freeman spins into the end zone.
Paying For Past Performance
The Seahawks are a loyal organization and have tried to keep their core unit together, but one particular off season decision drew a lot of criticism.
At the conclusion of the 2015 season, both the team and Jermaine Kearse had all but acknowledged he was gone via free agency. When Kearse did not find suitors on the open market, he ended up returning to the Hawks with a three year, $13.5 million contract. As the Hawks’ #2 receiver, the return-on-investment for Kearse on his rookie deal had been arguably worthwhile. But, while Kearse had a flair for clutch catches, his skill set held nothing that was tangibly spectacular and could not be easily replaced. In 2016, Kearse not only took a step back from his 2015 performance, he statistically regressed into one of the worst receivers in the NFL.
Did the Seahawks pay Kearse for past performance? Can they avoid making that mistake again?
1) Let Luke Willson Walk. Willson is a fan favorite and evokes a certain sentimentality. Who doesn’t like that guy, with his occasionally goofy looks, and his energy on the field? But, with the Hawks likely to keep Jimmy Graham, it’s time to let Willson walk. Not only has Willson rarely given worthwhile production, he’s only played one sixteen game season in his four-year career, with each season resulting in increased missed time. The signals coming from Willson’s body suggest his time as an NFL player is limited and he will never become both a durable and quality tight end.
2) Trade Or Let Kam Chancellor Play Out His Contact. While still one of the top safeties in the league, Kam Chancellor is also a seven-year veteran who will be twenty-nine by the kickoff of the 2017 season. After missing only one game in his first four years, Chancellor has been absent for 11 contests in his last three seasons. The type of money Chancellor expects will not suit a safety who can only play twelve games a year. Ideally, the Hawks could trade Chancellor for assets or draft picks, but if they want to make one more big push with this core in 2017, they should allow Chancellor to play out his contract. Should they offer Kam an extension, it should be a very team friendly deal that will facilitate a later trade. Like Willson, Kam’s body has been sending signals that his play has peaked and the Hawks should not be paying top dollar for diminishing returns.
3) Is it Time To Move On From Darrell Bevell? While players come and go, coaches are rarely replaced if a team is winning and the Seahawks have been winning, with five consecutive seasons resulting in double-digit wins. However, in this era of Seahawks success, consistency on both sides of the ball has been an issue. Outside of a few weeks in the 2015 season, this offense has been borderline terrible during these last two seasons. The defense has gone through coordinators without missing much of a beat, would Jimmy Graham, Doug Baldwin, and Russell Wilson forget how to play football if Darrell Bevell wasn’t their offensive coordinator?
In terms of play design, especially trick plays, Bevell is there with the best, but should the Hawks accept this offense as is, even though they’ve been successful?
So The Hawks Lost, The Championship Window Has Passed, Right?
Ask this guy what he has to say about that.
That wraps up the 2016 season. Thanks for reading! 18to40 will cover the conference championship games and the Super Bowl. After that, a new off-season Seahawks project will begin.
In case you missed it…
Week 1, On One Leg | Week 2, The Spread Will Save the Seahawks, Exactly Like It Did Last Year | Week 3, Could Trevone Boykin Be The Future? With Doug Baldwin, He Might. | Week 4, Kam Chancellor’s Modified Role Improves Entire LoB, Takes Defense to New Level | Discombobulated But Still Dangerous, The Cardinals Lie Ahead – Seahawks Bye Week Special | Week 6, Seahawks Defense Comes Up Strong, Team Passes First Test | Week 7, Defense Wins Championships But This Vanilla Offense Needs An Attitude | Week 8, As Injuries Mount, Seahawks Still Poised For A Super Bowl Run | Week 9, The Hawks Deal Blows To The AFC East, Real Test Comes This Sunday | Week 10, Bam Bam Kam Is Prosise-ly What The Hawks Need, Finally Time To Put The Hurt On The NFC | Week 11, Seahawks Dash Eagles Playoff Aspirations, Red Hot November Continues | Week 12, Seahawks’ Offense Was Outgunned and Outcoached, Did Buccaneers Call Psychic Hotline? | Week 13, Redemption Win Against Panthers Proves Bittersweet; Minus Thomas, Team Must Overcome Greatest Challenge Yet | Week 14, The Seahawks Are A Dark Horse To Win The Super Bowl. They Probably Like It That Way. | Week 15, Seahawks’ Defense Does It Again. Curse Against Rams Finally Broken. | Week 16, Loss To Cardinals Full Of Silver Linings, Still Hope For Our Seahawks. | Week 17, Seahawks’ Second Season Begins, Signs Point To Victory Against Lions