January 16, 2017

Ranking the Squads: #10 (2016)

10. 2016
Record: 10-5-1
Offensive Rank: 18th out of 32 teams
Defensive Rank: 3rd out of 32
Turnover Ratio Rank: 16th out of 32
Team MVP: Bobby Wagner
High Point: Seahawks 31, Patriots 24 
Low Point: Cardinals 34, Seahawks 31

Over the last 33 years, I've watched 572 Seahawks games. I have no specific recollection of the vast majority of those contests. For a good chunk of them, if you gave me some sort of prompt, it might shake a half-remembered collage of plays out of a dusty corner of my brainpan. In any given season, a handful of games might stick in my memory forever, as will a smattering of plays. When I reflect upon 2016 years from now, what will I remember? 

I don't think I'll soon shake the nauseous feeling I got when Earl Thomas went down after colliding with Kam Chancellor on SNF in early December, or the dawning horror when ETIII (prematurely) tweeted about his possible retirement. As valiantly as the team fought on after that gut-churning moment, they were fundamentally hobbled without the former Longhorn patrolling "Area 29" and quarterbacking the defense. 

Oddly, that gives me a little bit of mental cushion when it comes to the other negative memories of 2016. If I really wanted to torture myself, I could dwell upon the fact that a tiny handful of plays in two games against Arizona kept us from hosting the NFC Championship Game next Sunday. What if Hauschka made that short kick in OT down in Glendale? What if he had made that extra point at home against Arians' minions in December? And so on... 

That December loss was the 2016 Seahawks in miniature. The offensive line couldn't open running lanes or protect Russell Wilson. The defense, without Earl Thomas, was suddenly vulnerable to big plays. The special teams, which has for so long been a point of pride for this franchise, collapsed like a termite-rotted gazebo. But somehow, down 31-18 late in the 4th quarter, Russell Wilson conjured up some legitimate magic. All of the sudden, Baldwin, Graham, and Richardson were getting free and the Wolfbadger was finding them for big gains and touchdowns. Wilson's late TD to Preach filled every 12's heart with elation - This was classic Pete Carroll Seahawks late-game drama. They once again, somehow, found a way to steal a victory. The #2 seed and a first-round bye beckoned...

Then that errant extra point attempt... then one last infuriating defensive meltdown... and it was gone. That championship mettle hadn't dissolved, but the injuries and mistakes piled up too high to be overcome. 

We saw the Seahawks do things that felt like they had been poorly copied from the most aggravating days of the Holmgren era, like the return of a stark divide between the team's performance at home (8-1) versus on the road (3-5-1, with only one victory against a team that finished with more than five wins). Distressingly, we saw the offense held to 10 points or less four times, and we saw the defense allow more than 34 points three times. The turnover ratio? Just plus one, good enough to land Seattle exactly in the middle of the pack in 2016. 

If you wanted to be a clarion of doom, these Seahawks gave you plenty of ammunition. The core players on defense are aging and spending more time rehabbing from injuries than they ever have in the Carroll era. Russell Wilson posted the lowest single-season passer rating of his career, and threw more interceptions than he did in his rookie campaign. The running game disappeared for long stretches of the season, and the offensive line often appeared to be falling far short of basic competence, let alone any standard of Super-Bowl-level excellence. If you wanted to pen a hot take about Seattle heading straight for the jagged rocks at the bottom of the ravine, I bet you could get that shit to go live on Bleacher Report and get an assload of clicks. 

That doesn't make it true, though. These Seahawks gave us (all too brief) glimpses of what could be an incandescent future. At Foxboro in November, with the team operating at something resembling full strength, they handed Tom Brady his only defeat of the season thus far. The defense was a swarm of unchecked fury. Russell Wilson outplayed Brady. C.J. Prosise did his best peak Ricky Watters impression. New England couldn't cover Doug Baldwin. That defense? They made one of the most impressive goal-line stands you'll ever see to secure the victory. THAT could be the future of this team, and I'd argue it's more likely than Januarys on the couch watching the Rams, Niners, or Cardinals host playoff games. 

The bright spots weren't limited to one night in Massachusetts, though. Bobby Wagner was a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year contender. Jimmy Graham fully recovered from his horrific 2015 injury to reassert his status as one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in football. Frank Clark began filling his great potential, as did Paul Richardson. Cliff Avril had the best season of his distinguished career. Thomas Rawls proved that, when healthy, he is a worthy successor to Marshawn Lynch. 
The Hawks bullied the Lions to reach the Divisional Round for the 5th consecutive season. They had a dramatic, entertaining win over the Bills on MNF. Victories over playoff teams from Miami and Atlanta went down to the dying seconds, with Seattle prevailing with flair. 

The core talent of this team is locked down at least for the next couple of years, and the team's cap situation is favorable. Despite an injury-marred 2016, the Hawks are fortunate to have found a franchise quarterback in Russell Wilson who will keep them in the Super Bowl conversation for the next decade or so. They sit atop a division with two teams in utter disarray, and another with a cornerstone QB near the end of his shelf-life. 
Take a quick look at the rankings below... How many of the top 10 seasons in franchise history have happened on Pete Carroll's watch? Five. Look around the league, too. Outside of whatever deal Belichick, Brady and that crew have made with Lucifer, it's VERY DIFFICULT to win consistently in this league. The fact that our expectations have shifted to making it to (and winning) Super Bowls, away from merely having a winning record and sneaking into the postseason, tells how how fortunate we are to be rooting for this team and enjoying this historical moment. 

I've been doing this ranking the squads thing for nine years now... Here's the updated list, with links to the original articles I wrote. I'm eager to hear what y'all think. Once again, thanks for reading this season. I'll be posting sporadically during the offseason whenever I get a good idea for a blog post. Until then, GO HAWKS! 

1. 2013

2. 2014

3. 2005
4. 1984
5. 1983
6. 2012
7. 2007
8. 1986
9. 2015
10. 2016
11. 2003
12. 2006
13. 1988
14. 1987
15. 2010
16. 1979
17. 1990
18. 1978
19. 2001
20. 1999
21. 2004
22. 1998
23. 1985
24. 1997
25. 1995
26. 2011
27. 2002
28. 1991
29. 1996
30. 1989
31. 1982
32. 1977
33. 1981
34. 1993
35. 1994
36. 2000
37. 2008
38. 1980
39. 1976
40. 1992
41. 2009

January 8, 2017

Seahawks 26, Lions 6

2016 seemed like a bizarre inversion of the regular seasons we've grown accustomed to seeing from the CarrollHawks. In 2012, 2014, and 2015, the Seahawks started slow before delivering lethal finishing kicks into the playoffs in November/December. This season, Seattle started 7-2-1, including wins over Atlanta and New England. The offense seemed to find a punishing and explosive groove, and the defense displayed its typical bludgeoning dominance. Over the final six weeks of the season, injuries piled up and the offensive line regressed into rank incompetence. Future Hall of Famer Earl Thomas was lost for the season, and later on so was the incendiary talent of Tyler Lockett. 

The struggling offensive line couldn't open running lanes or give Russell Wilson time to throw. Wilson himself seemed mis-calibrated on his passes and no longer quite fast enough to escape from the grasp of enemy defenders. The defense became wildly inconsistent, giving up 14, 7, 38, 3, 34, and 23 points over the last six frames of the regular season. Seattle secured the 3rd seed in the NFC playoffs, but the downward trajectory late in the campaign made 2016 feel more like 1999 or 2004 than 2013. The fading Lions seemed like a team even these Hawks should beat, but given Seattle's ragged December, allowing Detroit its first road playoff win since the Eisenhower Administration felt all too possible. 

The hallmarks of playoff football for the Seahawks under Pete Carroll have been a punishing running game, a suffocating defense, and, frankly, bizarre shit and huge performances from seemingly random players. After disappearing for most of the season, the ground game re-emerged for Seattle. Thomas Rawls erupted for a franchise-playoff-record 161 rushing yards, including nine carries for 52 yards on the Seahawks' first TD drive. In all, the Hawks gained 177 yards on 38 running plays behind an offensive line that tore open jagged gashes in Detroit's defense. If Seattle keeps running the ball like this, they can win it all, even without Marshawn Lynch. 

The Hawks defense held Detroit to a season-low 231 yards of offense. Defensive Player of the Year candidate Bobby Wagner wrestled Lions ball-carriers to the ground 10 times, Cliff Avril notched a pair of sacks, and Richard Sherman erased a third of the field for Matthew Stafford. DeShawn Shead chipped in with three passes defensed and no completions allowed on eight targets. The best run defense in football held the Lions to a minuscule 49 yards on the ground. If the defense keeps playing like this, they can win it all, even without Earl Thomas.  

Paul Richardson has struggled with injuries throughout his career, but Tyler Lockett's injury against Arizona gave him a new opportunity to prove his quality. On a 4th down and goal play in the second quarter, Preach made one of the most unbelievable catches you will ever see, reaching around a Lions defender to catch a touchdown with one mitt while being violently interfered with. He'd go on to make two more spectacular Largent-esque catches, and Doug Baldwin contributed one of his own, pinning the ball against his own ass to keep it from hitting the ground. Angry Doug would haul in ten more catches, including the theft of a TD pass intended for Jermaine Kearse. If Seahawks receivers keep balling out like this, they can win it all, even without Tyler Lockett. 

It was a total team effort to snuff out the Lions, and they'll have to play even better to defeat the Falcons next Saturday. Four years ago, the Seahawks went to Atlanta and left after one of the most painful defeats in franchise history. Our old friend Dan Quinn and his charges think they are a Super Bowl caliber team. Unfortunately for them, so are the Seahawks. They are battle-hardened and itching to prove that their championship window is still wide-open. 

They also have a quarterback who is used to playing superlatively and winning on the biggest of stages. Matt Ryan is an excellent quarterback, but he's also only 1-4 in the playoffs, while Russell Wilson is 8-3. Seattle will be underdogs next week, but they will surprise the football world and emerge victorious. If the Packers upset Dallas, they'll have to come out to Seattle for another NFC Championship tilt. If that goes down, I'll be in the house to watch our boys punch their 4th Super Bowl ticket. 

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