“It’s a critical time.” – Russell Wilson after another early playoff exit in January
A dramatic offseason and largely uneventful preseason are behind us, and we are finally about to see whether the Seahawks are any better than they were in 2020, when their offense and defense went in opposite directions over the course of the season and they once again failed to move past the first playoff game.
After a 3-5 record in the postseason over the past six years and two one-and-dones in the past three, the pressure is on to go deep into the playoffs and make a strong Super Bowl run in 2021.
When last season ended in major disappointment, it set up an offseason firestorm as Pete Carroll fired Brian Schottenheimer (as he should have) and Russell Wilson put the team on notice that he would no longer accept playoff failures (even though those failures partly fall on him).
So, the expectation is that the Hawks will make a deep playoff run — at least to the NFC title game, ideally back to the Super Bowl (no national media is picking them to get there though).
The Hawks are a certain playoff team – appearing better already than the 2020 club that won 12 games. That seventh playoff spot after 17 games makes it even easier (many prognosticators put them as the sixth seed).
Yes, there are some big questions about this team. But they are more pertinent to the playoffs than the regular season.
Will new OC Shane Waldron be able to adjust strategy midgame in a way Schottenheimer never could? Will Wilson follow that lead and beat good defenses when it matters?
Will the two unresolved weaknesses of this team – center and cornerback – be such liabilities that they cost Seattle a shot at home field advantage?
We will start to see the answers this week.
With Week 1 upon us, let’s look at the state of the roster:
Roster: Russell Wilson, Geno Smith, Jake Luton.
Analysis: It’s odd the Seahawks are carrying a third quarterback, especially one who was not even in camp with them. They initially kept Sean Mannion, then dumped him for Luton, the Washington native who was a sixth-round pick by Jacksonville last season and started three games. Best guess is this is a Covid precaution and Luton could end up on the practice squad instead.
Quality vs. 2020: Same. But Wilson needs to take the next step with Waldron.
Roster: Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, Alex Collins, DeeJay Dallas, Travis Homer, Nick Bellore.
Analysis: It looks like the Hawks kept five running backs, but we all know this will quickly attrite to three. Penny and Homer can never stay healthy, and Carson has missed seven games the past three years. Collins and Dallas are good backups who may do a lot more than Penny. Bellore, the Pro Bowl special-teamer and team captain, may see more time at linebacker than at fullback.
Quality vs. 2020: Better. Carson is still in prove-it mode and the depth looks good.
Roster: DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Freddie Swain, Dee Eskridge, Penny Hart.
Analysis: The Hawks started with four receivers, but Hart was promoted amid a bunch of roster moves Tuesday. Metcalf and Lockett make up one of the top duos in the NFL, and Eskridge will be interesting to see once he gets up to speed. Swain is listed as the punt returner, though Lockett likely will be back there for key returns.
Quality vs. 2020: Better. Eskridge is expected to be a major upgrade over David Moore (who was cut by Carolina and signed to the Raiders’ PS).
Roster: Gerald Everett, Will Dissly, Colby Parkinson (IR), Tyler Mabry.
Analysis: Everett and Dissly should make up a solid duo, expected to be used more than tight ends have been under previous coordinators (it seems like we always hear that). Parkinson is hurt again, which is why Mabry was just promoted from the PS. One of these days, we’ll see what Parkinson can do. In the meantime, Dissly needs to stay healthy so Everett has a reliable sidekick.
Quality vs. 2020: Same. Everett should be an upgrade over Greg Olsen, but the injury histories of Dissly and Parkinson are concerns and reliable Jacob Hollister is gone (Buffalo cut him, and he landed in Jacksonville with Brian Schottenheimer).
Roster: Duane Brown, Damien Lewis, Kyle Fuller, Gabe Jackson, Brandon Shell, Jamarco Jones, Ethan Pocic, Dakoda Shepley, Jake Curhan, Stone Forsythe, Cedric Ogbuehi (IR).
Analysis: Brown sat out the entire camp/preseason because the team would not give him a new contract. But the club adjusted his deal to guarantee more money (still paying him up to $12 million). Brown is ready to go. … The bad news is the Hawks did not upgrade at center; Fuller won the job because Pocic was once again injured. Carroll confirmed the position’s weakness with the dreaded, “Both those guys deserve to play and hopefully they’ll both have the chance.” The Hawks have to hope their inability to upgrade this position is not a problem and that they get the guard play they need to support the center – something that did not happen in the latter half of 2020.
Quality vs. 2020: Same. Jackson is an apparent upgrade, but center is still a questionable spot.
Roster: Carlos Dunlap, Poona Ford, Al Woods, Kerry Hyder, L.J. Collier, Benson Mayowa, Rasheem Green, Alton Robinson, Bryan Mone.
Analysis: The return of Dunlap after he was cut was the key personnel move of the offseason. He galvanized the pass rush when he was acquired last season, and he should do the same in 2021. Hyder adds more rush help, and the Hawks should have a strong rotation with those two, Mayowa, Green, Robinson and Darrell Taylor (also starting at SAM linebacker). The Hawks were smart to cut small-time gamble Aldon Smith, who still seems to be a bad citizen, before they got far into the preseason. Robert Nkemdiche offers some more depth from the practice squad.
Quality vs. 2020: Better. Dunlap for a full season and Hyder and Taylor joining make this a strong looking group.
Roster: Bobby Wagner, Jordyn Brooks, Taylor, Cody Barton.
Analysis: The Hawks did not bring back K.J. Wright, who just signed with the Raiders, and are going with a pretty thin crew because they figure to use a lot of big nickel with Marquise Blair. Bellore can play there in a pinch, so they have five guys even with Ben Burr-Kirven lost for the season.
Quality vs. 2020: Worse. Wright had one of his best seasons in 2021, so subtracting him from the unit seemingly makes it worse in the short term – but Seattle wants Brooks and Taylor, its top picks from 2020, on the field.
Roster: Jamal Adams, Quandre Diggs, D.J. Reed, Tre Flowers, Marquise Blair, Ugo Amadi, Ryan Neal, Sidney Jones, Bless Austin, John Reid, Tre Brown (IR), Nigel Warrior (IR).
Analysis: Adams got his extension, Diggs apparently got some insurance and the Pro Bowl safeties are ready to roll. Blair should work his way back into the mix and make some big plays, too. Corner is obviously the weakest position, with the oft-criticized Flowers and upstart Reed (who was injured all preseason) returning after combining for 15 starts in 2020. A bunch of new guys are behind them after Ahkello Witherspoon apparently failed the physicality test for Seattle corners and was traded. The corners are a big question, but the safeties and pass rush should protect them.
Quality vs. 2020: Same. Adams should be better after a full year in Seattle, but the corners are a big question still. So call it even.
Roster: Michael Dickson, Jason Myers, Tyler Ott.
Analysis: Seattle’s solid triumvirate returns.
Quality vs. 2020: Same.