BY JESSICA RIDPATH AND JULIAN ROGERS
Oregon Sports News writers Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath discuss the Seattle Seahawks’ now concluded 2016 season.
Rogers: No, the Seahawks’ season wasn’t over when Earl Thomas broke his leg by running into Kam “Cyborg”Chancellor on Dec. 4. It only seems like it.
In fact, the Seahawks’ season was over in the second quarter of the Divisional Playoff when reserve linebackerKevin Pierre-Louis was called for holding at the line of scrimmage. By itself, that was bad. But since it wiped out an 80-yard punt return by Devin Hester and instead pinned the Seahawks deep in their own territory, as opposed to being on Atlanta’s door step, the game — and season — collapsed.
The next play saw Thomas Rawls get stuffed for a loss. The following play saw Russell Wilson get tripped onto his backside in the end zone due to being stepped on by substitute offensive guard Rees Odhiambo.
The resulting safety was the nail in the Seahawks’ coffin, even though they still had the lead at that point (10–9). The Falcons added a field goal shortly after the safety and never looked back.
Jess, we both picked the Seahawks to lose in this game. But looking back over the entire season, is a Divisional Round playoff loss about where you would have expected the blue birds’ season to conclude, or did you expect a different ride? Can you remember early-season optimism?
Ridpath: September seems like a lifetime ago. Thomas had two working legs. Wilson hadn’t yet been injured. Brock Osweiler had a sweet new deal as a franchise quarterback. The Panthers were the team to beat. And Donald Trump was a longshot. So much has happened since then that I had to actually go back and read our old columns to remember whether or not I was optimistic in the early season.
What a year of ups and downs for the Seahawks. From low points like their 6-6 tie with the Cardinals to high points like beating the Patriots in Foxborough, this season has had a little bit of everything. But way back in week five, you and I both picked Seattle to win the NFC West—despite their rocky start and the obvious impact of Wilson’s injuries. (In fact, Julian, you picked seven of eight division winners correctly in our week-five column. Grab a feather and stick it in your cap.)
It was in week six that my doubt started to creep in. And by week nine, I was downright skeptical—saying things like: “If there’s anything Seattle has shown the league in the last two weeks it’s that they’re almost as likely to get a penalty as a first down,” and “we’re at the season’s halfway mark, and it’s clear that the Seahawks are only contenders because of their stout defense — which spent more time on the field than they should have again last week.” I was worried about overwork and potential injuries at the time. Sometimes I hate being right.
As you mentioned, penalties (or rather one penalty, in particular) played a huge part in Seattle’s loss to the Falcons. No surprise there. What is surprising is that the defense—compromised without Thomas, but still formidable—allowed a 99-yard drive consisting of all pass plays, which gave Atlanta a two-score lead before the half. This un-Seattle-like performance has some saying that the Legion of Boom is no more.
I know you still envision a bright future for the blue birds. And it’s clear that they need to beef up their offensive line—the one group that played consistently “meh” (or worse) all season. But what do you make of the assertion that Seattle’s once-feared secondary is all washed up?
Rogers: They’re not Super Bowl season-caliber anymore, but they’re far from washed up. They finished eighth in pass defense in 2016, despite playing without Earl Thomas for last month of the season. But there is reason for concern because change is on the horizon — maybe not in 2017, but soon thereafter. Thomas threatened retirement when he broke his leg. Chancellor will be 29 in April and has had more injuries lately. Richard Shermangutted out a hidden MCL sprain for the last half of the season, but he worries many with his emotional outburstsand occasional cheap shots, which hit a peak this season.
The largest, most immediate concern for the LOB is the other corner position. We learned after the Divisional Playoff loss that DeShawn Shead’s knee injury is a torn ACL that will require a full eight months or more rehabilitation. That spot is now wide open and could take precedence in the draft over the much, much, desperately needed offensive tackle position.
I expect the LOB to be a top-third secondary again next season. Beyond that is anyone’s guess. Overall, the team has an enviable stable of top talent to take into the 2017 regular season. Looking ahead, the Seahawks can expect to reap equal or improved rewards from Wilson, Rawls, C.J. Prosise, leading receiver Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Paul Richardson, Jimmy Graham, Michael Bennett, Thomas, Chancellor, Sherman, Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Cliff Avril, Frank Clark and more. That’s quite a collection of superior talent.
Now I’m going to sound like a real Pollyanna. There’s the matter of the NFC West. It quickly went from one of the most competitive divisions to the league’s worst in 2016. San Francisco and Los Angeles are in turmoil with new coaches and major quarterback questions for each. Plus, each has additional myriad problems. The guess here is that the Rams get better sooner than the 49ers, but that is still probably only an 8–8 upside in 2017.
The Arizona Cardinals fell off the shelf in 2016 and have major questions at quarterback (will/should Carson Palmerreturn?), wide receiver (Michael Floyd got axed, Larry Fitzgerald may move on) and their offensive line is in need of major upgrades.
There is no better division in which the Seahawks should toil. At worst, they’ll only be looking up at the Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys in terms of their NFC prospects when the next season kicks off.
There are whispers that the Seahawks might jettison Graham before next season with Graham owed $10 million including a $2 million roster bonus due on March 11. But Pete Carroll indicated Jimmy Graham will remain with the Seahawks next season.
I can’t think of a worse decision they could make with their returning high-priced veterans. It is more likely the Seahawks try to extend the 30-year-old tight end, who has only one year remaining on the deal he previously signed in New Orleans.
Graham actually had the team’s second-highest average yards per catch (14.2; Tyler Lockett 14.6) among the regular full-time receivers. That’s better than Richardson (13.7), Jermaine Kearse (12.4) and Baldwin (12.0). Baldwin coming up last in that group in YPR is a surprise to me. Keep an eye on that in 2017.
Jess, any final thoughts or predictions you want to toss out there? Maybe an offseason Seahawks wish?
Ridpath: Wishes usually come in threes, right? Here are mine:
- Earl Thomas gets healthy and decides not to retire.
- Richard Sherman gets psychological counseling.
- The Seahawks get the Cowboys’ offensive line.
Two of the three are obvious pipe dreams. But the need for change in both areas is a stark reality if 2017 is going to turn out any better for the blue birds.
Composure does not take away from toughness. In fact, it’s a quality that fuels championships. Sherman might not agree with that, but it seems his buddy Kam Chancellor does. At least he does right now.
Here’s hoping that Kam’s sentiments find traction among his teammates and spark some introspection in the offseason. There’s no doubt that Seattle’s defense is tough enough and talented enough to regain their dominance in 2017. We’ll have to wait and see if they can also find their poise.
Turning to the offensive line, Julian, I have to say that I like the “admittedly terrible” advice you recently offered the Seahawks: Spend every draft pick on offensive lineman. Probably not gonna happen. But your point above bears repeating: The rest of the team is “quite a collection of superior talent.” On this squad, the least expensive o-line in the league is obviously the kid that’s not like the others.
To Pete Carroll, I say this: What a gift to have Russell Wilson as your quarterback. To have a receiving corps that is the best it’s been in decades. To have a running back like Thomas Rawls after you lost Marshawn Lynch. Don’t squander these gifts, Pete. Build an offensive line that’s worthy of these talented young men. They deserve it.
The other thing I want to say to Pete Carroll is … WTF? Not reporting an injury is a questionable decision for so many reasons. But now it’s gone and put your second-round draft pick in jeopardy—at a time when a strategic and successful draft is tantamount to your team’s success next year. I’m disappointed in you, Pete.
So, that’s it for me and the Seahawks’ 2016 season, Julian. I’m sending almost half the squad to their rooms to think about what they’ve done. Myself, I’m going to enjoy the last few football games of the season before the long drought sets in. Here’s my bold prediction: The Green Bay Packers will be Super Bowl champs. I just have a feeling.
Rogers: That’s quite a wrap-up. I think you hit on the way a lot of 12s are feeling right now. When the team gets back together again in the spring in the new league year, hopefully the news will be better about injuries and mental states. We should know by then what, if any, penalty the Seahawks may incur for their flagrant disregard of the injury reporting rules. It’s quite the odd self-inflicted wound to start the offseason with.
Regarding the Super Bowl champs … I think the Packers’ magic run ends this Sunday in Atlanta. My bet it is this is another championship season for the New England Patriots.
Owning up Here’s what we were right and wrong about last week.
What he got right: The game winner. I’m 11–7 on my picks for the Seahawks’ regular and post-season.
What he got wrong: I thought the playoff matchup with the Falcons would be closer. The Seahawks hit their limit in the Divisional Round. No disgrace there.
What she got right: The game winner, bringing me to 9–9 through the end of the Seahawks ride in 2016. At least I finished the season at .500. (It feels about as good as a 6–6 tie.)
What she got wrong: I thought this would be a “nail-biter” of a game that would come down to the final minutes. Nope. Atlanta stole the momentum just before the half and never looked back. (All my nail-biting happened the next day, watching the Packers take down the top-seeded Cowboys. What. A. Game.)