BY JULIAN ROGERS
The LOB may very well be DOA — but they’re not the only ones
Maybe we saw the end. Maybe that was it. There sure wasn’t much fight in the Seattle Seahawks last Sunday with the NFC West on the line (until after the game, that is). Don Meredith, remind us again how that goes?
“They say all good things must end …”
Turn out the lights, the party’s over
The Seahawks’ Legion of Boom is certainly an era of the past. Richard Sherman is done for the year and almost certainly won’t return due to age, injury & cost. Ditto for safety Kam Chancellor. Figure one more year for safety Earl Thomas (one year remaining on his five-year, $44.725M deal at $8.5M), and Thomas will likely move on to another team if he doesn’t retire. Thomas is not immune to the injury bug that has plagued his mates in the defensive backfield.
Other likely departures: Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett … does that sound like enough defensive turnover? But fear not, this is not another post mortem on the Seahawks’ golden era. In fact, this is about the good company the blue birds are now in when it comes to trying to regain their playoff luster. Because misery (or mediocrity) enjoys company.
Sometimes it only takes one injury to derail a season. The Arizona Cardinals aren’t in that category, however, although they did lose their top offensive threat in do-everything running back David Johnson to a week one injury. Of the seven running backs the Cardinals have had to employ this season running the ball, none could muster as much as four yards per carry, except for Elijhaa Penny, who squeaked out 4.1 YPC on 15 carries. No depth beyond Johnson, in other words.
In reality, their problems were more manifest than just one dislocated wrist. The aging Carson Palmer hit the wall early in 2017, playing sub-.500 ball (3–4) and tossing seven interceptions against nine touchdowns. His replacements, Blaine Gabbert (2–3) and Drew Stanton (1–1) similarly underwhelmed. All-world Larry Fitzgerald is nearing the end, but his pedestrian 2017 numbers can surely be blamed on the quarterback play. The question remains: What would he want to stick around for? The Cardinals are rebuilding a mediocre offense. The defense is clearly ahead of the Seahawks’ at this stage, but are allowing 24.1 points per game in 2017 — an average the rebuilt offense of the 2018 Cards will be hard-pressed to beat.
Green Bay Packers
Sometimes it only takes one injury to derail a season. With Green Bay, it was over when Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr took Aaron Rodgers to the ground on Oct. 15, breaking his collarbone. The Packers are officially eliminated from the playoffs as of week 15 and have subsequently sent Rodgers back to injured reserve to give him more time to recover.
It did not help the Packers that they also had to place three of their top four tackles on injured reserve (one returned late in the year) and suffered a host of other injuries that decimated their cornerbacks and outside rusher positions. What the run of injuries revealed, of course, is that the Packers’ defense is far from being a contender without serious upgrades in 2018 (23.8 ppg allowed). Given the history of Packers General Manager Ted Thompson, those additions will come via the draft, as opposed to free agency, so the Packers are looking at another youthful rebuild that may take more time away from Rodgers’ remaining peak years. The Vikings and Detroit Lions have more reason for optimism in 2018 and going forward in the NFC North.
New York Giants
Sometimes, all it takes is one train wreck to derail a season. In the case of the 2017 Giants, they ran off the rails early and often, costing second-year head coach Ben MacAdoo his job. Their 10-loss (and counting) season came after a season that saw the Giants capture an NFC Wild Card berth in MacAdoo’s first year at the helm with an 11–5 record.
Eli Manning was benched, then reinstated. His future with the franchise is in doubt going forward, as are the fortunes of one of the league’s richest and most venerated franchises. Injuries wiped out the Giants’ wide receiver corps early in the season and they could never recover. It’s difficult to know what they have beyond Odell Beckham, Jr. at this stage.
The Giants’ defense is ranked 32nd in the NFL. The offense is ranked 24th. It’s not good and unlikely to suddenly get good by next season, no matter who is holding the coach’s clipboard.
Winners of the AFC West in 2015 with a 12–4 record and just missing out on the playoffs last year with a 9–7 record, the needle is pointing decidedly down for the current and future Broncos. The quarterback situation was a somewhat predictable mish-mash that has entertained (using that term very loosely) three different starters in Trevor Siemian (5–5), Brock Osweiler (0–3) and Paxton Lynch (0–1) in an ongoing output of sub-mediocre quarterback play. Only Osweiler has managed to amass more touchdowns than interceptions (5–4).
The bigger surprise is the fall-off of the formerly fierce defense. The Broncos fell well short of expectations on this side of the ball in 2017, having been the NFL’s second stingiest defense a year before (second only to the Seahawks of yesteryear). The 2016 Broncos allowed a stellar 18.6 points per game. This year’s unit is allowing 23.4 points per game (ranked 20th).
With no quarterback solution, a defense that hemorrhages points, a 14th-ranked rushing offense (that needs young backups) and a 21st-ranked passing offense, a return to the playoffs next year looks unlikely. It looks like mediocrity for the foreseeable future for second-year head coach Vance Joseph.
New regime, incoming. The formerly routine playoff entrants fell back to also-ran-land in 2017 and 2016. One of the longest tenured head coaches, Marvin Lewis, decided / was nudged into making a career change and the hunt for a new head coach has commenced.
The quarterback situation is either totally in hand or totally in flux, depending on whom you believe. The reliable-ish, if unsexy, Andy Dalton is signed through 2020, but the still developing and intriguing A.J. McCarron has a year left on his deal. The new regime needs to decide on who their guy is going to be and then live with it, because the loser of this derby will be elsewhere.
Can either be a savior? The winner will need to be. Dalton was one of the top field generals when he had a credible complement to A.J. Green. The past two seasons, which saw the departures of Mohamed Sanu (Atlanta Falcons) and Marvin Jones (Lions), have left defenses able to focus on Green. Not good for Dalton, whose QB rating went from a high of 106.2 in 2015 to a more pedestrian, (slightly below his career average) 87.0 in 2017. Has the 30-year-old peaked? Will a new regime help, hurt or send him on his way?
The defense is mediocre (21.8 points per game allowed) in 2017. But they do get to play the Cleveland Browns and the faltering Baltimore Ravens four times a year. They’ve allowed 90 points in their past three games, so they may be tailing off. Whoever is leading the Bengals in 2018 will want to focus on the 32nd-ranked rushing offense first.
Join the crowd
So the Seahawks are looking at an offseason of change. As this season winds down in almost certainly a playoff-less year, the issues piling up for the blue birds include rebuilding the once-vaunted defense, still hunting for a credible running game (blockers and backs, please apply here), and probably investing in a new kicker.
The Seahawks do have the all-world Russell Wilson on offense and a dominant Bobby Wagner as centerpieces. Jimmy Graham had his best season as a Seahawk — by far — just in time to be a free agent next year. He’s going to get paid. Will it be in Seattle? No. 1 receiver Doug Baldwin is signed through 2020.
Things could be worse. You could be the teams noted above, or the no-hopers, like the Browns, Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Indianapolis Colts. The Seahawks aren’t those teams. But what they are is a team in transition.