Seattle Seahawks 2021 Team Previewby James Dudko August 12, 2021 1 comment
The Seattle Seahawks aren’t fooling anybody anymore. Sure, they made the playoffs in 2020, their third-straight trip and fifth in the last six years. There’s just one problem though. Getting consistently bounced out of the tournament at the first hurdle is not the stuff championship teams are made of.
It’s a problem for the Seahawks because they have a championship-caliber quarterback, and he’s not happy. Russell Wilson expressed his unhappiness with his offensive line this offseason. An understandable outburst since the NFL’s half-sized Houdini was sacked five times against the Los Angeles Rams in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. The 30-20 defeat wasted Wilson’s 4,212-yard and 40-touchdown season.
Making Wilson happy has been the priority. General manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll have made a few moves they hope will be more than merely cosmetic. Those moves include replacing Brian Schottenheimer with Shane Waldron as offensive coordinator. Seattle also traded for outstanding guard Gabe Jackson, a shrewd move sure to at least improve the protection in front of the face of the franchise.
Schneider even gave Wilson a new target by taking D’Wayne Eskridge, a wide receiver with track speed, off the board with his first pick in the 2021 NFL draft. However, the picture isn’t as rosy on defense. An ugly about-turn involving troubled edge-rusher Aldon Smith has harmed an already anemic pass rush lacking standout disruptors upfront. At least the secondary looks strong after cornerbacks Pierre Desir and Ahkello Witherspoon were added during free agency.
Waldron should open up the passing game and at least design some quicker plays than those Schottenheimer called. Getting the ball out of his hands quickly will help protect Wilson. He’ll be eager to let go when he’s throwing to a contingent of wideouts this strong. D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett can take the top off of any defense. That’s assuming they can get deep before Wilson gets hit. Jackson will help. He’s a bullish mix of muscle, mobility, and smarts, excellent in pass protection, and capable of knocking open rushing lanes for Chris Carson, who needs to stay healthy.
Carroll has a problem. He loves to call a read-and-react defense based on sound zone coverage and sure tackling. Carroll’s philosophy hinges on generating consistent pressure on the pocket and forcing errant throws into packed zones. That’s a problem for a team without a standout pass-rusher after Smith was cut loose for off-field concerns possibly related to an April arrest on second-degree battery charges. Smith was supposed to ease the burden on an overworked secondary, but instead, safety Jamal Adams, who had 9.5 sacks a year ago, will likely spend even more time hunting quarterbacks.
Predicting the 53 Man Roster
This is Wilson’s gig as long as he’s standing upright. He’s the most dynamic player in the league at his position. Patrick Mahomes may beg to differ, but nobody does more with less than Wilson. The Seahawks would soon go from contenders to losers without him. Their fear of losing the prized asset is reflected in the experience backing him up in the event of a disaster. Smith and Mannion have 16 pro seasons between them.
Seattle’s offense won’t be as run-heavy as when Schottenheimer was setting the direction, but there’s still ample talent in the backfield Waldron can’t ignore. Carson is a 1,000-yard rusher if he can finish a season, something he failed to do in 2020 after missing 11 games. Penny is not as explosive, but he brings some tenacity to the weekly ground wars. There they decent depth thanks to Collins, who sticks around mostly because he has some merit as a returner. It’s always good to see an undrafted rookie make the grade, and Johnson has a decent chance. He was productive in college before injuries laid him low during his final year at Louisiana Monroe.
Eskridge is currently residing on the PUP list while he’s dealing with a toe injury. Fortunately for the Seahawks, the rookie started running again recently, and Carroll noted Eskridge is moving well. You should expect Eskridge to be part of the final 53, but as it stands, it’s guesswork who else joins 1,000-yd duo, Metcalf and Lockett, in the rotation.
Swain and Hart will lead the battle for more playing time, despite combining for just 14 catches in 2020. A trio of unknowns also figures to be in the mix, with undrafted Toivonen offering intriguing size at 6’3″ and 247 pounds. Whoever loses out between Toivonen, Ursua, and Wedington will make way for Eskridge after the final cuts.
Schneider was smart to sign Everett from NFC West rival the Rams. He’s a gifted tight end who was underused in L.A. If Everett stays healthy, he’ll become the field-stretching playmaker at the position Wilson has lacked for too long. Dissly was healthy enough to appear in all 16 games last season, but he only managed 24 catches for 251 yards. Parkinson has what it takes to be a viable member of this rotation. His 6’7″, 252-pound frame makes him a potential mismatch in space, and Parkinson has been working closely with Wilson to forge a stronger rapport this offseason.
Jackson will make a difference to the group Wilson is less than sweet on, but he won’t be able to do it all by himself. It will help to have Brown back, motivated and happy as Wilson’s blindside protector. The 35-year-old is still playing at a Pro Bowl level, but he’s also still sitting out of practice to force his way to a new deal. It’s a situation that already has Wilson worried and publicly lobbying for the front office to resolve things.
Depth is a little suspect, but the Seahawks could be in line to get a boost from a late-round draft gem. Sixth-round pick Forsythe has been catching the eye during training camp, according to Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times:
Forsythe held his own against Aldon Smith in pass-rush drills last week, and Sunday got all the reps with the starters at left tackle with Brown out and Jamarco Jones and Cedric Ogbuehi sidelined with injuries.
Dunlap is the closest thing Carroll has to a playmaker on the edge. That’s bad news considering the former Cincinnati Bengals starter is 32 and hasn’t logged double-digit sacks in a season since 2015. Hyder impressed in spot duty for the San Francisco 49ers, but the Seahawks are his fourth team in six years. Similarly, Mayowa has flashed in a situational role, but he’s not the dominant force this group needs. It’ll be a lot to ask Collier and second-year man Taylor to make that leap. This is like an island of misfit toys, but the success of Carroll’s defense depends on the group performing above expectations.
The surprising decision to release Jarran Reed, likely done to make room for new contracts for Brown and Adams, has depleted an already suspect interior. Carroll had to choose from a hodge-podge of veteran retreads last season, including Damon Harrison and Jonathan Bullard, but few combinations actually worked.
The Seahawks boss loves a reclamation project, and Nkemdiche more than fits the bill. He arrived with red flags as a first-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2016 and has played just two games since 2018 after sitting out last season. There’s no doubting Nkemdiche’s talent, though, and he could form a formidable tandem with the underrated Ford.
Moving on from K.J. Wright could leave the Seahawks playing mix and match at linebacker. Taylor is an edge-rusher who might move back to the second level, while Bellore has played fullback and linebacker in his career. At least Wagner is still on hand to quarterback the defense. He’ll be an important mentor to second-year pro Brooks, whom Carroll will count on for a breakout year.
That cornerback is the deepest position on the defense is a testament to the work of Schneider and Carroll. They saw 2020 starters Quinton Dunbar and Shaquill Griffin depart in free agency, but they didn’t stand still. Instead, they moved quickly to sign Desir from the Baltimore Ravens and lure Witherspoon from division rival the San Francisco 49ers. Another key move involved re-signing Randall and moving him back to corner full time.
Randall can be a cornerback again because the safety spots are strong, especially if Adams gets his new deal. He’s a true playmaker at every level of the field, so the Seahawks would be wise to pay the freight. Adams can at least count on free safety Diggs to be a reliable partner along the last line of defense. Amadi impressed at times last season and should continue on an upward trajectory this year.
Myers is automatic as a placekicker, having made all 24 of his attempts in 2020. He’s also got the leg strength to give the Seahawks a fair chance to bank points from almost any remotely viable distance. Seattle’s special teams also benefit from Dickson, who has a useful knack for dropping punts inside the 20, something he did a league-best 32 times last season.
One Player to Add
It has to be an edge-rusher of some experience and note. Sadly for Carroll, the remaining free-agent market offers slim pickings after Justin Houston joined the Baltimore Ravens and Melvin Ingram signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. One player who could still appeal is Jabaal Sheard. He’s never going to wow anybody, but Sheard has been a steady-performing warrior in the pro trenches for a decade. He can play on either side, with his hand in the dirt or standing up. Sheard can even slide inside, so he’s perfect for the hybrid games Carroll likes to play upfront.
2021 Outlook & Odds
The Seahawks are a playoff team as long as Wilson stays upright, even in an ultra-competitive division. Wilson will still torment defenses, especially with Metcalf and Lockett available to catch his passes. An over/under of 9.5 is reasonable for a team that looks like classic Wild Card fodder, but if a pass rush emerges to complement a skilled secondary, bet on the over.
Season Prediction: 11-6 and a Wild Card Team
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