It was over before it began.
That’s the reality for the Seattle Seahawks as they reflect back to last season’s chastening playoff defeat to the Carolina Panthers.
“We’re not really satisfied with how that game went and we don’t want to have a season end like that again,” linebacker Bobby Wagner told the MMQB this summer. “We didn’t start playing our style of defense until the second quarter.”
Even in finding their style, Seattle’s 31-24 loss – which was made respectable only by a 24-0 surge to end the game - capped what was a trying year from the get-go. A perplexing off-season trade that sent Max Unger to New Orleans for Jimmy Graham; a faltering 2-4 start; an offense that never got its footing.
From the outset, Seattle’s magical two-year run, which ended in two Super Bowl appearances, was doomed.
The only thing left to do is turn the page.
On Sunday, 238 days after Cam Newton Dabbed all over their dreams, the Seahawks get to begin anew. The Miami Dolphins (6-10 in 2015) are challenge number one; but, for all intents and purposes, it doesn’t matter as much who’s on the other sideline for this Seahawks team. Not yet, at least. Because for all the certainties – the Legion of Boom; the linebackers; Russell Wilson and his emerging crop of receivers – it’s the unknowns that will determine just how far this team can go.
Can an offensive line that’s scattered with inexperience and performance questions come together? Can Christine Michael and Thomas Rawls come close to duplicating the impact of Marshawn Lynch? Can Frank Clark step in for Bruce Irvin and be a force on the defensive line?
These answers will begin to play out on Sunday, but we won’t have a full grasp of them for a few weeks.
Miami may not present the most menacing of challenges, but their strength – a mayhem-wreaking defensive line – coincides perfectly against Seattle’s biggest weakness: their young and mostly unproven offensive line.
When the Seahawks released their Week 1 depth chart on Tuesday, the line – which includes rookie Germain Ifedi – comes with a combined nine years of experience, led mostly by 5th-year left tackle Bradley Sowell.
The Dolphins counter-punch? Cameron Wake, Ndamukong Suh and Mario Williams.
Wake and Suh, who combined for 13 sacks last season, provide a 1-2 punch that could disrupt all of the Seahawks’ plans. Despite his struggles to fit into the culture during the 2015 season - his first with Miami - Suh is still a top-tier defensive tackle.
It will be a baptism by fire for the line, which will be cause for concern early, but could pay off exponentially. Pete Carroll and his staff are putting a lot on the shoulders of this young group, knowing full well the rewards that may come down the road.
If they can hold up – giving Russell Wilson enough time, and opening up some holes for Michael and Rawls – Seattle will be 1-0.
If Suh, Wake and Co. blow it up, and Seattle’s offense can’t run the ball, putting the whole game on the shoulders of Wilson, things will get dicey.
Prediction: Seattle 24, Miami 21. As to be expected, look for a slow start offensively for the Seahawks. There’s no way around it – the offensive line is going to have its growing pains, and they’re breaking in two new running backs. But with every passing series, things will begin to mesh together. You simply cannot replicate live, in-game snaps during practice, so Sunday will be their first test.
But there’s too much skill on the outside, and Wilson is in charge at QB. Though it hasn’t really been mentioned yet, the Seahawks defense is still the Seahawks defense. They’ve had to carry the team before; to start the season, they’ll be called upon again.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Odds are that Wilson will have precious little time to get the ball to his receivers with the Miami defensive line barring down. There’s a good chance we’ll see lots of quick hitches, out patterns and slants – which could mean a huge day for Tyler Lockett. No one on Seattle’s roster has a running style as elusive and ethereal as that of Lockett. He excels in weaving through tight spaces, and that’s all that can be expected on Sunday. Look for Lockett to have a big game as he continues his rise from special teams star to an all-around threat.