Roster review as playoffs begin

logo-playoffsThe Seahawks are in the playoffs for the eighth time in Pete Carroll’s 10 seasons, heading on the road for a wild-card game for the fourth time and aiming for their third win in such games.

They got here thanks to a top-10 offense and the league’s No. 3 team in turnover margin. But this club also has the worst defense by a Seattle squad since 2000 — Mike Holmgren’s second season (6-10 record).

The Hawks have won 11 or more games five times, and this is easily the worst team of that caliber they have had. Their 0.4 per-game point margin is their worst for a Seattle playoff team since the 1983 group that went 9-7 at 0.4 as well. Of course, that 1983 crew also advanced to the AFC title game — a reminder that everything starts over in the playoffs.

It’s an uphill road to the Super Bowl this season, for sure. Teams with the byes usually end up in the title game, and the Hawks are not favored to join the four teams that have gotten there via the road under this playoff format.

Just one No. 5 seed (the 2007 New York Giants) has reached the Super Bowl. Per FiveThirtyEight, the Hawks have a 2 percent chance to get to the Super Bowl and just a 7 percent shot at the NFC title game.

As the Hawks prepare to buck the odds, let’s take a look at how the season went at each position, what has to happen in Philadelphia and beyond this postseason and then what John Schneider needs to do in the offseason.

QUARTERBACK
The season: Russell Wilson got off to an MVP start — the best first nine games of his career. But he and the offense sputtered amid a 4-3 finish to the season. He finished with a career-low five interceptions (third in the NFL) while throwing 31 TD passes (also third in the NFL) and surpassing 4,000 yards for the third time. He also had five game-winning drives. But, for the second straight year, Wilson crumbled in December while facing some good defenses. The Hawks went 2-3 as Wilson completed just 63.4 percent of his passes. He had his lowest yards per attempt of the season in the last two games, losses to Arizona and San Francisco.
The playoffs: Wilson will have to build on his second half vs. the 49ers and run the ball more. He had a terrible game at Philly the first time (52%, one TD, one interception, one lost fumble), so he will need to stop being Rusty and turn back into DangeRuss.
The offseason: With Wilson under contract through 2023, Schneider just needs to re-sign Geno Smith or find another backup for 2020. Not a high priority.

RUNNING BACK
The season: Chris Carson was named a Pro Bowl alternate after rushing for 1,230 yards — good for fifth in the NFL and 14th in team history. He had six 100-yard games but also lost four of seven fumbles. His season unfortunately ended in Week 16, when he suffered a hip injury against Arizona. Rashaad Penny already had been lost. He had just turned the corner, with a couple of strong games against Philadelphia and Minnesota, when he suffered an ACL injury against the Rams in Week 14. With C.J. Prosise also injured (surprise!) in Week 16, the Hawks brought back Marshawn Lynch (and Robert Turbin) to huge fanfare — seeking to recapture some of their Super Bowl magic from 2013-14. The running game looked good against the 49ers, rookie Travis Homer leading the way with 92 total yards (6.2 per carry) and Lynch rushing for 34 yards and a touchdown.
The playoffs: The Eagles have the No. 3 rushing defense in the NFL (90.1 yards per game), and the Saints are No. 4 (91.3). But Seattle ran for 174 (Penny had 129) against the Eagles in Week 12, and the Hawks had 108 vs. the Saints in a Week 3 blowout loss caused by a ton of Seattle errors.
The offseason: All eyes will be on the rehabs of the top two backs. Carroll said Carson should be ready for training camp, but Schneider will have to add a couple more guys behind Homer. Alex Collins, a 2016 Seattle draft pick who was a surprise star for Baltimore in 2017, could well be one of them. Carson will be in the final year of his deal, and it is possible Schneider will try to re-sign him to a reasonable contract — maybe getting him cheap off the injury (but no more than $7 million a year regardless).

WIDE RECEIVER
The season: Despite being hobbled by a shin injury and the flu for two or three games, Tyler Lockett turned in his first 1,000-yard season (1,057). He caught 82 passes (fourth in team history) and scored eight touchdowns while ranking third in the league in wide receiver catch percentage (74.5). Rookie D.K. Metcalf caught 58 balls for 900 yards and seven TDs. He seemed to improve as the season progressed, though he must beef up his terrible 58 percent catch rate. After Lockett and Metcalf, the Hawks did not have a reliable third receiver. David Moore was third among Seattle receivers with 34 targets (Jacob Hollister and Carson had more), but he caught just half of those. The team hoped midseason waiver pickup Josh Gordon would help out more than he did; he was suspended (for the eighth time) after Week 15, finishing with seven catches in five games.
The playoffs: Metcalf had a bad game against the Eagles the first time, dropping some very catchable passes (including an easy TD). And Lockett struggled through a bruised shin. Those guys are both playing much better now and will need to come up with big catches in Philly and beyond. Rookie John Ursua snagged a huge fourth-down pass that should have given Seattle the win over San Francisco in Week 17; he could emerge as an X-factor in the playoffs.
The offseason: Schneider needs to add a veteran No. 3 receiver to replace Jaron Brown and Gordon, though Ursua could well push to become that guy. Moore will be an RFA and could get the low tender (around $2 million).

TIGHT END
The season: When the season started, the top tight ends were Will Dissly and Nick Vannett. But Vannett was traded to Pittsburgh on Sept. 25 for a fifth-rounder in 2020. And Dissly, who caught 23 passes and scored four times in the first five games, was lost for a second straight season when he suffered an Achilles injury against Cleveland in October. Jacob Hollister, a trade pickup from New England who started out on the practice squad, took over the lead role and ran with it. He finished third on the team with 41 catches for 349 yards and three TDs.
The playoffs: Hollister should be a major factor in the postseason. He had a shot at a TD vs. the Eagles in Week 12, but Wilson overthrew him. He caught eight passes for 62 yards and a TD in San Francisco in Week 10, so he is comfortable playing at Levi’s Stadium, where Seattle likely will go with a win over the Eagles.
The offseason: Hollister, an RFA, should be tendered (maybe at the $3.3 million second-round level). If Dissly can come back healthy (and stay that way), they could have a great 1-2 combo. Ed Dickson won’t be back, and the team surely will look to upgrade over oft-injured Luke Willson, too. With Dissly’s injury history, this could be a top target in the draft.

OFFENSIVE LINE
The season: The Hawks paved the way for the fourth-ranked running game, with 2,200 yards, but they gave up 48 sacks and were ranked as the 24th pass-blocking crew. The Hawks went through six starting combinations, which is about their usual. Losing Justin Britt (ACL) at midseason was a tougher blow than some might think; Joey Hunt struggles against bigger tackles on good D-lines. They were without Pro Bowl alternate Duane Brown for four games and most of the line was banged up all season (Ethan Pocic went on IR twice).
The playoffs: They have to come out more aggressively than they have recently. They got it going in the second half against the 49ers, but they will continue to face tough fronts for as long as they are alive in the postseason. Brown should be back for the division round, which should help. He committed just two penalties and gave up one sack all season.
The offseason: Right tackle and left guard are the spots of most immediate concern, and center could be as well if the Hawks decide to replace Britt, who has one year left on his deal. Germain Ifedi was the only starter not to miss a game, but he also committed 13 penalties (seven false starts) and gave up 6.5 sacks. He likely will be replaced by Jamarco Jones or George Fant (assuming Fant is back). Mike Iupati (eight penalties and five sacks) was good in the run game but not vs. the pass, and coaches might go with rookie Phil Haynes at left guard in 2020. The Hawks likely will look to draft or sign a center, to replace Britt in 2020 or 2021.

DEFENSIVE LINE
The season: This crew seemed to be turning it on in November. Jadeveon Clowney and Jarran Reed had breakout games against the 49ers in Week 10, and the Hawks had eight sacks against the 49ers and Eagles. But they recorded just five in the final five games and were gashed in the running game as well. It did not help that veteran run stopper Al Woods was suspended before Week 16, though the Hawks gave up 307 rushing yards in the two games before that. Clowney’s core injury, suffered in the first game against the 49ers, clearly affected the entire defense.
The playoffs: The Hawks have to hope they can rediscover the magic they had in the first game against the Eagles, when they forced five turnovers and tallied three sacks and nine hits on Carson Wentz.
The offseason: Despite his injury, Clowney had his second-best season as a pass rusher, and the cap-rich Hawks have to consider paying him the market rate of $20 million a year. Reed, Ziggy Ansah, Quinton Jefferson and Woods also will be free agents. Reed’s value took a big hit with his inexplicable six-game suspension, and it will be interesting to see whether he and the Hawks reach a deal. The Hawks really need to upgrade their pass rush, which means finding another veteran to play opposite Clowney (because veterans are better than rookies). They can hope for further improvement from young Rasheem Green and L.J. Collier, but do not depend on it.

LINEBACKER
The season: Bobby Wagner led the NFL in tackles (159) for the second time on his way to becoming Seattle’s all-time tackles leader (1,075), and K.J. Wright elevated to fourth on that franchise list in a solid bounce-back season in which he set a career high with 132 tackles and also had three interceptions. The Hawks were otherwise a terrible tackling team, with Mychal Kendricks apparently the worst offender. Wagner and Wright’s experience helped them at times, but they also have been caught out of position in recent games — helping lead to big rushing days by opponents.
The playoffs: Kendricks is out with an ACL injury, which means rookie Cody Barton ascends to the starting lineup. Can he fill his gaps correctly in Philadelphia and beyond? Can Wagner and Wright come up with some impact plays?
The offseason: Carroll says he wants Kendricks back, but the ACL injury and looming sentence for insider trading, along with inconsistent play this season, would seem to make that a big question. The steady and savvy Wright should be back to finish off his two-year deal. After Seattle drafted Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven this year, they probably don’t need to do much at this position.

SECONDARY
The season: Quandre Diggs, acquired from Detroit in October, played just 4.5 games with the Hawks, but he pulled four turnovers and steadied the back end of the secondary as Seattle forced 16 turnovers in those games and went 4-1. In 11 games without Diggs, the Hawks tallied the same number of takeaways (so half as many per game). Diggs and Shaquill Griffin were named Pro Bowl alternates, a nod to the excellent seasons by each. Tre Flowers and Bradley McDougald were third and fourth on the team in tackles and combined for seven takeaways. Many of us think rookie Marquise Blair should have played a lot more, especially as Diggs missed the final two games with a high ankle sprain. Lano Hill has been bad, taking poor angles and looking slow.
The playoffs: Diggs’ return would be a huge boon for the entire defense. If Hill continues to play a lot, the back end will get burned.
The offseason: With Diggs signed for two more years, the biggest concerns for Schneider will be whether to give Griffin an extension ahead of his final contract year and perhaps finding another nickel corner. Blair should take a huge step in 2020 and be ready to play third safety and replace McDougald by 2021.

SPECIAL TEAMS
The season: Jason Myers and Michael Dickson got off to rough starts but rallied for strong finishes. Myers missed seven kicks (five field goals) in the first nine games, including a disastrous three-miss game vs. Tampa Bay. But he kicked the overtime winner against the 49ers in Week 10, scored a season-best 13 points in a win against Minnesota and made 11 straight field goals to end the season. He was 17 for 17 under 40 yards. Dickson, an All-Pro as a rookie in 2018, didn’t have quite the sophomore season. He had too many shanked punts early, and his 45.1 gross and 40.9 net were in the bottom half of the league, but much of that was due to putting 34 of his 74 kicks inside the 20 (tied for third in the NFL). He dropped 19 punts inside the 20 in the final seven games, including a season-best five in the 17-9 win over the Eagles.
The playoffs: Special teams are always magnified in the playoffs, so Myers and Dickson need to keep up their hot kicking.
The offseason: This trio, including Tyler Ott, should be together for at least three more years.

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