Top 10 reasons the Seattle Seahawks are in the Playoffs
Seattle (10-6) shocked many this season by qualifying for the NFL playoffs after a one-year absence and will play at Dallas (10-6) Saturday night at AT&T Stadium. Many reasons exist for this team coming together so quickly following enough offseason changes to cripple most franchises.
Of course, the key cog is quarterback Russell Wilson, who had career high in both touchdown passes (35) and passer rating (110.9). However, he has been left off of this list because he also played very well last season when he led the team in rushing and the NFL in touchdown passes (34), but the team failed to make the playoffs. Also left off of this list is coach Pete Carroll, whose contributions go without saying. The same could be said about general manager, John Schneider, who along with Carroll retooled this roster on the fly.
So, with a well-deserved nod to Wilson, Carroll and Schneider, here are the top 10 reasons why the Seahawks beat the odds - and crushed the prognosticators - to reach the 2018 NFL playoffs.
10) Left guard J.R. Sweezy
The addition of D.J. Fluker during the offseason solidified the right guard position, but Seattle still didn’t know what to do about the left guard position, where former second-round pick Ethan Pocic continued to struggle during training camp.
So, the Seahawks went into the way-back machine to pluck former Seattle lineman J.R. Sweezy out of free agency on Aug. 1, just over a month after Tampa Bay had released him.
Sweezy, who started for the Seahawks’ two Super Bowl teams in 2013 and 2014, isn't elite, but his experience, familiarity with Seattle's style and run-blocking talent allowed the Seahawks to plug a hole in the line and gave the team three proven veterans along with Fluker and left tackle Duane Brown.
Sweezy is currently questionable for Saturday's game with an ankle injury.
9) Cornerback Tre Flowers
Seattle let go of superstar Richard Sherman during the offseason with no firm contingency plan at cornerback opposite Shaquill Griffin. The Seahawks then went out and drafted Flowers in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of Oklahoma State, where he played safety.
At 6-foot-3, Flowers is a tall cornerback in the mold of Sherman and is the type of physical defensive back that coach Pete Carroll covets.
Despite some growing pains here and there, Flowers has panned out. He didn't have an interception during the season, but did have six passes defended and forced three fumbles. Although Flowers has been beaten here, he has more than held his own and looks like a keeper moving forward.
"He’s a real savvy, aware football player," Carroll said. "It makes sense for him. The game’s not difficult for him at all and I think it’s because he’s been in the middle of so much."
8) Punter Michael Dickson
Just two Seahawks were named first-team All-Pro and to the NFC Pro Bowl team, and rookie punter Michael Dickson is one of them. He finished second in the NFL in punting average (48.2 yards) and sixth in net punting average (42.5). Punter Jon Ryan's net average last season was 38.8.
For a team that wants to run the ball and play defense, winning the field position battle is a must and Dickson has aided Seattle in that department with his booming punts that seemingly hang in the air forever.
Many squawked when Seattle took Dickson in the fifth round out of Texas during the 2018 NFL Draft, but in hindsight the Seahawks should have taken him sooner. Dickson has plenty of room to improve. He grew up playing Australian Rules Football in Australia and has only punted four seasons in his life, counting three at Texas.
“He’s an exciting weapon for us," Carroll said.
7) Safety Bradley McDougald
One could argue that losing safety Earl Thomas has been a positive for the Seahawks given the distraction he threatened to sit out practices in protest over not receiving a contract extension.
That’s not to say that Seattle wouldn’t be better with Thomas' immense talents (he had three interceptions in four games), but given how well Bradley McDougald has stepped up as a leader in the secondary, the loss of Thomas hasn’t been as detrimental as once feared when he broke his leg in Week 4 at Arizona.
McDougald has taken the secondary by the reigns, leading a group of rookie cornerback Tre Flowers, second-year cornerback Shaquill Griffin and second-year safety Tedric Thompson.
He tied Thomas for the team-lead in interceptions with three and is third in passes defended with nine.
"He’s really been a terrific player and we all would lean towards the factor of the leadership part of it being the most instrumental," Carroll said. "He had to pull those guys together back there and make sure that he was kind of the steady (force)."
6) Right Guard D.J. Fluker
Seattle’s offensive line desperately needed some physicality and nastiness. Enter Fluker, who was dismissed by the New York Giants following an injury-plagued season.
Fluker’s 65-career starts with the Los Angeles Chargers (59) and Giants (six) proved valuable for the Seahawks, who were in search of some experience and power at the guard position.
Fluker missed the first two games of the season when the running game struggled. Upon him entering to the lineup in Week 3 against Dallas, Seattle began establishing itself as a rushing force. Fluker will be a free agent at the end of the season and Seattle would be wise to bring him back. He probably won't cost too much and all season long, players and coaches have raved about how his overall persona and toughness has had a positive impact on the team.
5) Running back Chris Carson
The former seventh-round pick spent most of his rookie season in 2017 on injured reserve with a broken leg, which led to Seattle selecting Rashaad Penny in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Carson worked his tail off during the offseason to get healthy and to become the power back Seattle needed to make its offense go. Carson possesses the consistent, hard-nosed, yard-churning, physical style that Carroll loves to deploy out of his backfield.
Carson became the first Seattle running back to rush for 1,000 yards (1,151) since Marhawn Lynch (1,306) in 2014. Carson did it on 4.7 yards per carry despite not possessing great elusiveness or speed. He simply ran hard and made defenses pay for getting in his way.
4) Wide receiver Tyler Lockett
Where would the passing game be without Tyler Lockett?
Doug Baldwin did not have a great season due to injuries – other than the past few weeks – and Brandon Marshall, 34, didn’t work out. If not for Lockett, Seattle's passing game would not have taken off like it did.
Lockett overcame breaking his leg in 2016 to this year set career-highs in receptions (57), receiving yards (965) and receiving touchdowns (10). Plus, he returns punts and kickoffs. Wilson had a perfect passer rating when throwing Lockett's way.
"I couldn’t be more proud of him," Baldwin said. "It makes me emotional sometimes just because I was there with him when he was going through his injury... For him to be able to come from that moment, which was a very dark place, to where he is now and the success that he’s had, it’s miraculous."
3) Defensive tackle Jarran Reed and defensive end Frank Clark
The loss of defensive end Michael Bennett (traded to Philadelphia) and Sheldon Richardson (free agent, Minneosta) clearly spelled doom for Seattle's defense during the offseason. But once again, Carroll and Schneider knew what they were doing.
Frank Clark raised his level of play to deliver a career-high 14 sacks (sixth in the NFL). But it was the play of Jarran Reed that took the defensive line to the next level. The former second-round pick in 2016 out of Alabama had just three sacks in his first two seasons. This season he put up 10.5 sacks, tied for second among NFL defensive tackles.
"He’s just expanded his game, he’s using his talents, he’s using his instincts and it’s really come through," Carroll said. "He’s always been tough, always been a fantastic effort guy, but it just kind of didn’t get applied in the pass rush part of the game and he just has caught fire. It’s great to see.”
2) Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner
Bobby Wagner could have been exempt from this list along with Wilson, Carroll and Schneider given that he is a five-time Pro Bowler and four time All-Pro. But given all of the turnover on this defense, the fact that it remains relevant is largely due to both Wagner's talent and his leadership.
The defense certainly isn't as dominant as it was during the Super Bowl seasons (2013 and 2014) without Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Cliff Avril, Earl Thomas and Michael Bennett. Also, K.J. Wright has been injured most of the season. Yet, there was Wagner to produce 138 tackles and a career-high 11 passes defended, third among league linebackers.
This is Wagner's defense. He has one year remaining on his contract. It will be interesting to see what Carroll and Schneider do about that this offseason.
1) Offensive line coach Mike Solari
Let's consider where this offensive line started.
Seattle had proven LT Duane Brown, acquired last season in a trade from Houston, and a solid center in Justin Britt. Then there were underachieving high draft picks, LG Ethan Pocic (second-rounder in 2017) and RT Germain Ifedi (first-rounder in 2016).
RG was wide open so Seattle, who brought in twice discarded D.J. Fluker, who made six starts with the Giants in 2017, and LG J.R. Sweezy, released by Tampa Bay to challenge Pocic. Also making starts were George Fant and Jordan Simmons (since lost for the season).
Somehow, someway, OL coach Mike Solari took that group and molded it into a unit that helped the Seahawks go from 23rd in rushing last year with Wilson leading the team in rushing after bad pass protection broke down, to leading the NFL in rushing.