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Seahawks preview 2020: How much has Pete Carroll’s team really changed?

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 9, 2020

By John Blanchette For The Spokesman-Review

If not an insult, it was at least an indignity – not that Pete Carroll would necessarily cop to personalizing it in such a way.

But his defense was, well, dreadful in 2019. And as an old D-rat himself, the Seattle Seahawks’ soon-to-be 69-year-old head coach had to feel the sting – the shame – more than anyone.

And he promised changes.

But just how much have the Seahawks really changed?

Their blockbuster trade with the New York Jets that landed All-Pro safety Jamal Adams for a passel of high draft picks, plus starter Bradley McDougald, made a big splash. The return of hard-rush linebacker Bruce Irvin of the Super Bowl-era Seahawks wasn’t just a nod to nostalgia. But there was significant subtraction, too, that doesn’t suggest progress, and with the preseason restrictions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, getting a feel for any nuanced changes has been mostly impossible.

Apparently, that will have to come Sunday when the Seahawks open the season in Atlanta. Or later.

The defensive swoon of 2019 wasn’t an outright crisis. The Seahawks still made the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years, and their 11 regular-season wins were the most since their most recent Super Bowl appearance after the 2014 season.

But 10 of those victories were decided by a single score, and five times quarterback Russell Wilson steered the offense on winning drives in the fourth quarter for narrow escapes.

And some other numbers were particularly damning.

Seattle ranked 26th in the NFL in total defense, surrendering 381.6 yards a game. The 6,106 total yards and 22 rushing touchdowns were the second-worst defensive marks in franchise history. The Seahawks were 29th in the league quarterback sacks.

In his postseason evaluation, Carroll acknowledged the pipsqueak pass rush, and inexperience and inconsistency in the secondary that “gave up too many explosive plays. We had containment issues.”

And it all came to a head at season’s end – the Seahawks losing three of their last four in the regular season, and failing to create a single turnover in either of their playoff games.

This, of course, put a greater-than-normal load on the Seattle offense – and headliners Wilson, Chris Carson and Tyler Lockett responded with career-type seasons. And they may have to produce at that level again.

OffenseIf the franchise didn’t fulfill the notions of a budding dynasty that followed its romp in Super Bowl XLVII, there’s always seemed hope for a repeat merely because of Wilson’s playmaking magic.

But he’ll be 32 before the season is out, hardly ancient by NFL’s quarterback standards, but concerning for a player whose particular gift – beyond his severely underrated touch – is being able to extend plays with his feet and athleticism. Nevertheless, he’s very much among the game’s elite. Seven wins will push him past Peyton Manning for the most by a quarterback in his first nine seasons, and his career passer rating of 101.2 trails only Aaron Rodgers among throwers of any significant tenure. He didn’t throw an interception until the season’s seventh game and only five all year.

His top target, Lockett, snagged 82 passes – 25 more than in 2018 – and rookie DK Metcalf was as explosive as advertised and far more consistent (58 catches). But the search goes on for another wideout who can make an impact. Troubled Josh Gordon, the one-time All-Pro Seattle gambled on midseason, relapsed and remains on the NFL suspended list. Phillip Dorsett, signed as a free agent from New England, may be speedier than any Seahawks wideout in history, but has never been a regular starter. Which leaves holdover David Moore as the likely No. 3.

Or not.

You may see the Seahawks in more two-tight end alignments than ever – they’re carrying four at the moment. Greg Olsen’s numbers have slipped from his All-Pro days, but the 35-year-old was still attractive enough for the Seahawks to pursue, if only as insurance for promising but oft-injured Will Dissly. Popular Luke Willson rejoined the club last year and again made the cutdown, and there’s also last year’s revelation, Jacob Hollister, who turned what originally looked like a sheer emergency into a 41-catch season.

Meanwhile, Carson had his second consecutive 1,000-yard season – 1,230, to be exact – though lost fumbles in the first three games of 2019 triggered some alarm. Still, he’s developed into the kind of power back Carroll treasures and goes into his final contract year with even more to prove.

With No. 2 man Rashaad Penny on the injured list for at least the first six weeks, help arrives from Houston in free agent Carlos Hyde, who had his first 1,000-yard season in 2019. Rookie DeeJay Dallas, who made the switch from receiver at the University of Miami, is the intriguing newcomer.

Up front, the Germain Ifedi Era has come to a merciful end, the Seahawks declining their option on the lumbering, penalty-prone tackle. Jets refugee Brandon Schell replaces him on the right side, next to third-round pick Damien Lewis. One of camp’s big breakthroughs, Ethan Pocic, has beaten out free agent B.J. Finney at center, and with Duane Brown and Mike Iupati still anchoring the left side, Seattle’s incremental gains continue on the offensive line.

DefenseFrom having three All-Pro caliber players in the secondary in the Legion of Boom days, the Seahawks have been trying to get by with kids and journeymen the past few seasons – with increasingly predictable results. But the arrival of Adams changes that – at least for this year, the last on his original contract.

It’s the same kind of risk the Seahawks took last year on defensive end Jadevon Clowney, another All-Pro with an outsized reputation who managed a mere 3.5 sacks – though you’d hate to imagine how squishy Seattle’s defensive line would have been without him. No matter now: He’s off to Tennessee as a free agent, and the Seahawks are back to the drawing board trying to goose that pass rush. At the moment, it boils down to better years being needed from Jarran Reed, Poona Ford, Rasheem Green and especially 2019 first-rounder L.J. Collier, who barely saw the field as a rookie. Former Seahawk Brandon Mayowa, the former Idaho Vandal, returns for additional help.

Besides Adams, more shoring up was done in the secondary with the signing of Quinton Dunbar to play opposite Shaquill Griffin at corner, though Tre Flowers – who had some solid moments midseason before being exposed in the playoffs – is still in the picture. Quandre Diggs, arriving from Detroit in a mid-2019 trade, looks solid at the other safety. But expect the Seahawks to play less base defense (70% of the snaps last year) and more nickel with the emergence of Marquise Blair, and that may address some of Carroll’s containment issues.

But as always, the defense will revolve around the middle where there’s no one better than Bobby Wagner, whose 159 tackles led the NFL. Five times first-team All-Pro, he remains at the top of his game at age 30. His long-time running mate, K.J. Wright, bounced back after an injury-plagued 2018 season with a career-high 132 tackles on the weak side.

Irvin is coming off a career-best 8.5 sacks with Carolina in just 12 starts, though his snap count has ebbed over the years. Cody Barton might be in line for more time among the backups.

Special teamsThe Seahawks didn’t go looking for replacements for any of their specialists – place-kicker Jason Myers, punter Michael Dickson or long snapper Tyler Ott. Myers was 23 of 28 on field goals last year and missed four PATs, while Dickson was one of the league’s best on pinning opponents inside the 20.

ScheduleDepending on the algebra, the Seahawks play either a middle-of-the-road schedule (13th toughest, measured by opponents’ 2019 winning percentage) or as easy as No. 6. Two of their long road trips are against the likes of Washington and Miami, and two of their three toughest out-of-division games – New England and Minnesota – come at home. But that’s a problem, too, since no spectators will be allowed at CenturyLink Field for at least their first three games, including that showdown with New England. It’s not likely any other NFL team will miss the thunder its home fans bring more than the Seahawks.

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