Churchill: The Seahawks’ MVP is …
The Seattle Seahawks completed the 2013 regular season with a 27-9 victory over the St. Louis Rams Sunday at CenturyLink Field. The win clinched the NFC West title as well as a first-round bye and home field advantage. How did they accomplish such a feat?
The Seahawks finished the season with the No. 1 defense in the league, ranking No. 1 in fewest points allowed at 14.4 per game and total yards allowed per game at 273.6 per. The same defense yielded but 172 yards per game through the air, tops in the league, and after a stellar performance against the Rams and Zac Stacy, gave up an average of 101.6 yards per game on the ground, good for No. 7 in the NFL after a couple of worrisome weeks in a row back in late October, early November.
Thanks to 11 interceptions over the past three weeks, the Seahawks also tied for the league lead in turnover margin at plus-18. Richard Sherman led the NFL in picks with eight, Earl Thomas finished with five, fourth-best in the league, and three others had two or more, including Bryon Maxwell who picked off four passes over the last four weeks, and two by linebacker Malcolm Smith, both in the past two weeks, including one for a score.
Seattle finished the year with 44 sacks, ninth-most in football. Four Seahawks had five or more — Bobby Wagner, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Clinton McDonald, who was released in August. Chris Clemons, coming off ACL surgery, finished with 4 1/2.
So, yeah, the ‘Hawks’ defense was unbelievable all season, and combined with the special teams unit to threaten about a dozen team records and a few league records, too.
The team’s Most Valuable Player, however, is an offensive participant.
Russell Wilson’s final numbers are strong, including more than 3,300 yards passing, 26 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. He ran for 540 yards, too, and came up big in some big spots. But the reason he’s the team MVP has nothing to do with any of those statistics.
Wilson is the MVP for a lot of reasons. He does a lot of things, both tangible and intangible. He’s the most valuable Seattle Seahawks player, however, because he’s still standing on his own two feet and performing every week.
During the team’s Week 2 matchup at home versus division-rival San Francisco, the Seahawks lost Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung to a bad toe injury. He would go on to miss seven games and still isn’t 100 percent. The team also lost right tackle Breno Giacomini for seven weeks, too, and Pro Bowl center Max Unger missed three games and also has not been anywhere near 100 percent for much of the year.
During the 7-week span without Okung and Giacomini, Seattle went 6-1 and the one defeat can probably be laid at the feet of the defense in their one lapse of the year. In that 34-28 loss at Indianapolis, Wilson threw for 210 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT and ran for 102 yards on 13 carries.
Wilson was sacked 44 times this season, more than all but two quarterbacks in the league, yet still was able to lead the Seahawks to a 13-3 record and an offense that, despite the injuries to the offensive line’s three most critical pieces, finished No. 13 in the NFL in total yards per game and No. 4 in rushing yards.
There are a number of leaders on this team, from Wagner to K.J. Wright to Sherman to Thomas and Chancellor, with Unger anchoring the O-line. Through all of this team’s adversity this year, Wilson has been the most important leader. After all three losses, all the key injuries, the suspensions to Bruce Irvin, Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond and through all the scrutiny of not only being an NFL quarterback but being the quarterback for one of the league’s best team, Wilson has been the quintessential leader.
The 2013 Seattle Seahawks have lost as a team, won as a team and when things were a little tough, particularly when key players were either out or not performing well, Wilson held serve. When he made a bad throw, he owned up to it. When J.R. Sweezy missed a key block, Wilson owned up to needing to make a better play to avoid the sack.
While we can’t forget the deep balls to Tate, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, the laser beams to tight ends Zach Miller and Luke Willson and the plays Wilson extended and made with his legs, the second-year quarterback’s greatest strength is his accountability, leadership and work ethic.
I don’t care if he threw for 3,300 yards, 300 yards or three yards. Whether it’s 26 TD passed or none. Russell Wilson is the Most Valuable Player on the 53-man roster. And that’s one big-time accomplishment, considering there are several pro bowlers and at least three All-Pro’s donning Seahawks Blue every week.
Heck, the league’s best and/or most valuable defensive player may be a Seahawks star. Still, Wilson is the MVP.
Here is who I’d pick for other team honors:
Defensive MVP: Brandon Mebane, DT
There are at least four legitimate candidates, perhaps as may as eight. Wright, Wagner, Chancellor and Bennett certainly deserve a lot of ink here, and the two that will garner the most attention for league honors — Shermand and Thomas — are worthy, too.
But what would the Seahawks have done without Mebane this year? All he’s done is collapse the pocket, clog up running lanes and take on two blockers week-in and week-out. He did not record one single sack, but may be responsible for at least a half-dozen, plus numerous hurries and hits.
The Hawks have several pass rushers, and can rotate from depth and play matchup in certain scenarios on passing downs. Mebane is by far the most critical player for the Seahawks’ run defense, which otherwise may be their Achilles heel.
Special Teams MVP: Jon Ryan, P
Typically, this would be a one-man show for most teams. Either a great return man or a standout player on punt and kick coverage, or maybe a kicker or punter who had a great year. Seattle has multiple worthy candidates, including Ryan and placekicker Steven Hauschka.
Jeremy Lane and Heath Farwell made a name for themselves on coverage teams this season, and Hauschka was absolutely nails all year, missing just one kick that wasn’t blocked.
Ryan consistently set up the coverage team with hang time, distance and angle punting, and the unit threatened the all-time NFL record for fewest punt return yards in a season.
Most Underrated Player: Wright, LB
This could have gone to Mebane, but while it seems Wright gets some of the credit he’s due, it seems most don’t view him as the difference maker he is. Wright is among the very best coverage linebackers in football and was key in the shutdown of All-World tight end Jimmy Graham when New Orleans came to town.
Unsung Hero: Miller, TE
Miller caught 31 balls, five for touchdowns, but did his best work blocking in the run game where he’s among the top five or six in the NFL.
While the season is not over — the Hawks hope to make a Super Bowl run, of course — I’d be remiss if I did not mention the team’s coaching staff. Yes, GM John Schneider and his scouts put the team together, but head coach Pete Carroll is a big part of that, and the environment he and his assistants have developed for this team is nothing short of remarkable. It appears nothing fazes them, which speaks highly of the players, too, but the coaches set the tone for that with a consistent effort to promote such a culture.
Carroll should be coach of the year, but he won’t be. The voters always give it to a coach who did more with less or turned around a team from a loser to a winner. That means Arizona’s Bruce Arians, Philadelphia’s Chip Kelly or Kansas City’s Andy Reid will win the award, most likely.
– Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan
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