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Athlon counts down to the kickoff of the 2012 NFL season with in-depth team previews for all 32 teams.
Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.
The Seattle Seahawks check in at No. 21.
The Seahawks, in Pete Carroll’s third season of rebuilding, have one of the league’s most physical running backs in Marshawn Lynch. They’ve invested a number of high draft picks on offensive linemen. Their secondary is surprisingly good. They made inroads on the road last year, namely upsetting the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants in New York. Yet until Carroll unearths an able-bodied quarterback, the Seahawks are no better than the two 7–9 teams he’s fielded.
After getting nowhere — not even a courtesy interview — in the Peyton Manning quarterback sweepstakes, the Seahawks turned to Matt Flynn, hoping he’s the second coming of Matt Hasselbeck: A learned Packers backup capable of invigorating the Seattle franchise. Flynn had two starts on his Green Bay résumé, including a record-breaking 480-yard, six-touchdown passing effort against Detroit that showed he had game. Otherwise, Flynn was asked to be patient as Aaron Rodgers’ stand-in for four seasons, making him virtually untested.
Hasselbeck, pulled from the shadow of Brett Favre 11 years earlier, eventually led the Seahawks to Super Bowl XL. More patience will be required with Flynn at the helm. There are far too many defensive shortcomings to expect more than gradual improvement.
Flynn should be an upgrade over returning starter Tarvaris Jackson, who struggled to move the team after replacing the iconic Hasselbeck. Jackson threw nearly as many interceptions (13) as touchdowns (14), and Seattle ranked among the bottom third of the NFL in most major offensive categories. The worst stat: 28th in total offense, at just 303.8 yards per game. Jackson, while highly mobile, showed a tendency to get jumpy in the pocket and struggled with his reads, whereas Flynn’s supposed strengths are his cool demeanor and field vision.
Seattle’s second offseason priority was re-signing Lynch, and that process went more smoothly than settling on a quarterback. Lynch wanted to return to a team that has helped him resurrect his career. He finished seventh in the league in rushing, churning out 1,204 yards. He further established himself as a player wholly capable of running inside and getting the tough yards. “He’s definitely one of the top two or three running backs in the National Football League,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh says. “He’s a violent runner.”
For two consecutive years, Seattle put an emphasis on upgrading the offensive line, but the Seahawks still don’t really know what they have. They used their top two 2011 draft picks on immediate starters up front, James Carpenter at right tackle and John Moffitt at right guard, only to have the newcomers tear up knees within four days of each other at midseason and head for surgery. Left tackle Russell Okung, the sixth overall pick of the 2010 draft, has been injury-prone since arriving in Seattle. He was lost last Dec. 1 with a torn pectoral muscle. Center Max Unger was the lone offensive line starter who played close to a full schedule. With so much lineup churn, the Seahawks were poor pass-protectors, which didn’t bode well for Jackson. A healthy Okung and Carpenter, guys with great feet and athleticism, will open a lot of holes for Lynch and give Flynn a chance to settle in.
The Seahawks’ receiving corps remains mediocre at best. There’s no established deep threat. There’s no draft help. Reserve Doug Baldwin, as an undrafted rookie, led the team with just 51 catches, ranking him 62nd in the league. Sidney Rice, signed as a free agent before the 2011 season, caught only 32 passes in nine games. He is coming off double shoulder surgery, putting his effectiveness in question. The team released Mike Williams, who caught only 18 passes in 12 games last season after catching 65 in 14 the year before, and signed free agent Braylon Edwards right before the start of training camp. This could be Edwards' last shot in the NFL as the No. 3 overall pick in 2005 has never played like a first-rounder, with the exception of one season (2007). He also finds himself on his third team in three seasons after wearing out his welcome with the Jets and catching a total of 15 passes in only nine games with the 49ers last season.
The tight end should become a bigger part of the offense in 2012. Zach Miller, who had a career-low 25 receptions last season, will be joined by veteran Kellen Winslow, acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay in late May.
The Seahawks’ secondary is young and promising, not to mention huge at nearly every position, and it is the strength of this team. There are unusually big and strong cornerbacks in 6'3", 195-pound Richard Sherman and 6'4", 221-pound Brandon Browner, All-Pro selections in 6'3", 232-pound strong safety Kam Chancellor and Browner, and a reliable free safety in Earl Thomas. They were largely responsible for Seattle ranking fourth in the NFL in interceptions with 22. None of the starters has been in the league for more than two years, leaving plenty of room for advancement. The oversized corners are especially good at jamming receivers at the line and disrupting routes.
Up front, Seattle still needs help. Defensive end Chris Clemons, who had 11 sacks, was the only adequate pass-rusher, compelling the Seahawks to use their first-round draft pick on speed-rusher Bruce Irvin, who still is strictly a situational player. Seattle’s inside guys often were overmatched, leading to an urgent free agent pick-up in defensive tackle Jason Jones, another speed guy. “Jason has unusual quickness for a long, tall guy,” Carroll says.
Where the Seahawks really need help defensively is at linebacker. This is a patchwork outfit. Free agent signee Barrett Ruud is the team’s third middle linebacker in as many seasons, and a step back in talent from the departed David Hawthorne. On the outside, veteran Leroy Hill is an aging player whose coverage skills are eroding, while K.J. Wright was forced to step in as a rookie and learn under fire. Each seems to be holding down a position by default. Second-round draft pick Bobby Wagner, fast and physical and capable of playing all three positions, should become a starter fairly quickly, likely in the middle.
The Seahawks mix the good and bad here. Returner Leon Washington, with seven career kickoff runbacks for touchdowns, and Aussie-style punter Jon Ryan, with a 46.6-yard average and more kicks downed inside the 20 (34) than anyone in the NFL, are among the league’s best. However, placekicker Steven Hauschka has limited range, and the Seattle return teams allowed three opposing scores, two on punts.
Final Analysis: 3rd in the NFC West
If Flynn can deliver consistently and the offensive line can stay healthy for a change, the Seahawks will be an improved team. A good goal for them is .500. Seattle should be able to put plenty of points on the board, especially through Lynch in a grind-it-out manner. Defensively, the Seahawks have reason to be encouraged by their secondary, but the lack of a big-play linebacker leaves them highly vulnerable. Plus, a testy schedule that includes Green Bay, New England, Detroit and Dallas as non-division opponents will keep this team from putting together win streaks of any substance.
Related: 2012 Seattle Seahawks Schedule Analysis
Outside The Huddle
After he scores a touchdown, Seahawks tailback Marshawn Lynch celebrates on the sideline by eating a handful of Skittles, those chewy and brightly colored candy balls. The company since has given him a free two-year supply and a dispenser for the locker room. On top of that, Seattle fans shower him with Skittles whenever he scores.
Dressed For Success
The Seahawks have the most radical uniform change of any NFL team, with Nike altering the color scheme some, adding a stripe here and there, and introducing a feather design, all changes readily endorsed by the players who will wear them and those who will try to tackle them. “Why do the Seahawks get the cool uniforms?” Buffalo Bills safety George Wilson asked.
Take A Number
In signing with Seattle, quarterback Matt Flynn asked if he could wear his college No. 15 (LSU), and Doug Baldwin, the Seahawks’ leading returning receiver, was willing to give it up and switch to 89, his college number (Stanford). “I couldn’t wear it in Green Bay because of a little guy named Bart Starr,” jokes Flynn, referring to the Packers’ Hall of Famer. Flynn wore No. 10 in Green Bay.
Leon Washington, second in NFL history with seven kickoff returns for touchdowns, needs just one more to tie the all-time leader, Cleveland’s Josh Cribbs. Washington had three runback scores for the Seahawks in 2010 but was held without one last season.
Cornerback Marcus Trufant enters his 10th season in Seattle having started all but one of the 124 games he’s played in. However, the former All-Pro player and Super Bowl XL remnant is now a sub behind Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman, and seems OK with that. “So I’ve got a role to play,” Trufant says. “I’m going to always compete, but I have a role to play and that’s what I plan to do.”
The Seahawks will host Green Bay on Sept. 24 in a Monday Night Football game, permitting Flynn an immediate opportunity to show up his old team. Three weeks later, Pete Carroll will coach against the New England Patriots for the first time since that team fired him in 1999.
Matt Carroll, in hoping for the best from Flynn, has had pretty good luck with quarterbacks named Matt: At USC, he recruited and signed future successes such as Leinart, Cassel and Barkley — all guys with that first name.
2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:
No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Oakland Raiders
No. 22: Washington Redskins
No. 21: Seattle Seahawks
No. 20: Mon., Aug. 6
Order your 2012 Seattle Seahawks Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here
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Related: 2012 Seattle Seahawks Schedule Analysis