By Sam McPherson
Most NFL teams would be thrilled with the season the Seattle Seahawks just completed: Double-digit wins, a division title and a playoff win. But these current Seahawks aren’t just any NFL team. After five straight postseason appearances that include a win in Super Bowl XLVIII, this Seattle roster still wants more. After falling short of a second Super Bowl victory for the third season in a row, there is disappointment all around the Seahawks organization, although maybe the franchise shouldn’t be so hard on itself after overcoming a lot of injuries to achieve some pretty good things during the 2016 season.
Seattle posted a 10-5-1 record in the regular season, winning the NFC West Division for the third time in four years. The Seahawks flattened the visiting Detroit Lions, 26-6, in an opening-round playoff game before losing by 16 points to the Atlanta Falcons on the road in the NFC Divisional Playoff round. It was the worst postseason loss of the Pete Carroll era in Seattle. However, the Seahawks still are one of the best teams in the NFC, and they should be favorites to win the NFC West once again in 2017.
What Went Right In 2016
Defensively, Seattle maintained its place in the top tier of the NFL rankings, finishing third overall in points allowed and fifth overall in yards allowed. Those numbers would have been better if safety Earl Thomas had not been lost to a broken leg for the final games of the regular season. With Thomas in the lineup, the Seahawks defense helped fuel regular-season wins over the Falcons and the New England Patriots, the two home teams in the conference championship games scheduled for Sunday, January 22. Seattle’s defense can stop any team when it’s firing on all cylinders.
Quarterback Russell Wilson endured some serious challenges to once again prove he is among the best players at his position in the league. Despite posting a career-low 92.5 QB rating, Wilson threw for a career-high mark in yards (4,219) and yards per game (263.7). He struggled with leg injuries for most of the season, and the Seahawks relied on his arm more than ever before due to a stagnant running game. But Wilson remained the team leader in many ways, leading the team to the brink of the No. 2 playoff seed in the NFC despite all the challenges to the entire roster.
The emergence of tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Paul Richardson was very important in 2016. After a disappointing debut with Seattle in 2015, Graham recovered to post the best per-catch average (14.2 yards) of his career, and he combined with wide receiver Doug Baldwin to give Wilson two reliable targets on almost every passing play. Late in the season while filling in for the injured Tyler Lockett, Richardson made some dynamic catches and big plays in the postseason. Both these players made it clear they are key contributors to the offense’s success.
What Went Wrong In 2016
Replacing running back Marshawn Lynch didn’t happen, and it had an effect on the whole season from start to finish. Five times, the Seattle offense failed to score at least 13 points in a game, and the team’s record in those games was 1-3-1. RB Christine Michael led the team in rushing with 469 yards, but he was playing for the Green Bay Packers by the end of the season. RB Thomas Rawls was injured most of the season, and although he played very well in the playoff win over Detroit, the lack of a full season obviously hurt the Seahawks offense all year long. Overall, Seattle was 25th in rushing this season, a significant drop from the prior four seasons (third in 2012, fourth in 2013, first in 2014, and third in 2015, respectively).
While every NFL team suffers injuries, the specific ones suffered by the Seahawks this season were problematic. In addition to the aforementioned issues for Wilson and Rawls, the offense also suffered when Lockett went down late in the season with a broken leg. His per-catch average (14.6 yards) led the team, and his absence changed the playoff potential for the offense. Of course, the biggest injury was the one to Thomas: Before he went down, the Seahawks defense gave up just 16.2 points per game. After his injury, the team surrendered 23.3 points per game, including the postseason. His absence impacted the entire defense.
Outlook For 2017
Seattle will have the 26th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, and the team can still get an impact player there. The Seahawks will have a primary need on the offensive line: It is time to invest wisely there for the immediate future, to keep the running game potent and the star QB upright more often (Wilson has been sacked an average of 43 times per season since 2013). The defense can use more depth, of course, but more than anything, the Seattle organization needs to do everything it can to keep its roster healthier next season. With Thomas playing 16 games, the Seahawks probably would have had a first-round playoff bye and a home game against the Falcons in the Divisional Round, and that could have led to a Super Bowl berth.