Without being asked, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll informed beat writers on a conference call that then-rookie Russell Wilson would be his starting quarterback to open the 2012 season.
Because of Wilson’s 5'11" stature, plus his first-year status, no one had pressed Carroll about this possibility. No one realistically envisioned this happening. A year later, Wilson at the offensive controls makes perfect sense. The diminutive quarterback was the ignition point for an explosive zone-read offense, tied Peyton Manning’s rookie record for touchdown passes (26), and was as responsible as anyone for the Seahawks getting into the playoffs and coming up with their first postseason road victory since 1983.
Wilson’s presence has created so much momentum for the franchise — making it the preferred destination for high-impact free agent Cliff Avril and newly acquired (and well paid) Percy Harvin in the offseason — the Seahawks have people convinced that anything is possible this season.
Athlon Sports NFC Power Ranking: 4th
All Seattle had to do was find a steady quarterback to get this team over the hump. Free agent signee Matt Flynn was supposed to be the guy. Wilson relegated him to three mop-up appearances, and Flynn now plays for Oakland. With his strong right arm, Fran Tarkenton-like scrambling ability (489 yards rushing) and high-level efficiency (a club-record 100.0 passer rating), Wilson created nonstop problems for opposing teams. His challenge will be to counter the defensive adjustments that will come his way a second time around the league.
Yet the Seahawks took a proactive step to ease the pressure on Wilson and further frustrate opposing defensive coordinators by acquiring the triple-threat Harvin. He was the one thing the Seattle offense sorely lacked — a legitimate breakaway threat. He was expected to upgrade the team’s weakest offensive position area and allow the Seahawks to be more creative than ever. That was, however, until Harvin decided to undergo surgery in early August to repair his injured hip. Harvin will miss a significant chunk of the regular season, if not all of it, which changes the entire outlook of the receiving corps. Now Wilson will need to lean on wide receivers Sidney Rice and Golden Tate, who led the Seahawks with 50 and 45 receptions after battling chronic injury and inconsistency, respectively, even more than originally expected. Rice's surgically repaired knee remains a concern and it would help Wilson and the offense if tight end Zach Miller could become a little more reliable and productive. Harvin's absence also presents an opportunity for third-year wideout Doug Baldwin or rookies Chris Harper and Jermaine Kearse to emerge and provide more depth.
The slashing and durable Marshawn Lynch remains one of the NFL’s most productive running backs, regardless of who’s at quarterback. He was better than ever when on the receiving end of Wilson handoffs, coming up with a career-high 1,590 yards rushing (third in the league). He relishes his role as a violent runner.
When Carroll took over the franchise, he made rebuilding a sorry offensive line his first order of business. It took a while, but the coach finally got the desired results. Left tackle Russell Okung and center Max Unger stayed healthy for the first time in the same season and became Pro Bowl starters. Big and mobile, Okung is the closest thing to a dominant Seahawks lineman since Walter Jones retired. Okung has the ability to get out and run and mow people down. That said, he still needs to address a lingering issue: He and right tackle Breno Giacomini were two of the most penalized offensive linemen in the league, flagged for 13 and 12 infractions, respectively, making them drive-killers at times. Unger is deceptively strong and quick. Left guard James Carpenter boasts star quality but has been injury-prone. Converted defender J.R. Sweezy finished his rookie season as a starter and is the top candidate at right guard. Paul McQuistan started all 16 games last season and will serve as the first guy off the bench if he doesn't retain his starting job.
The back seven boasts as much speed and big-play ability as any in the league, but the line has been merely adequate. The lack of a pass rush was responsible for multiple fourth quarter defeats last season. Deeming this position a priority, the Seahawks added veteran tackle Tony McDaniel and ends Michael Bennett and Avril, the latter strong enough to bring added pressure and agile enough to play linebacker. They also drafted three more D-linemen. Avril (29 sacks over the past three seasons) is a ready replacement for Chris Clemons, whose timetable for a return from a playoff knee injury is unclear. Run-stuffing Red Bryant and speed-rusher Bruce Irvin are productive as situational ends.
The linebacking corps might have been the Seahawks’ most questionable group entering last season. Bobby Wagner made it one of the most secure. Another ready-to-play rookie, Wagner was surprisingly savvy and speedy while stepping in from the outset and leading the team in tackles (140). K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith, who moves up from a reserve role to new starter, man the outside spots, and few linebacking corps cover as much ground as these guys. There’s a big falloff in talent, however, with the backups.
The secondary is easily Seattle’s biggest stockpile of talent. They’re game-changers in every sense, with three of the four starters scoring twice each on interceptions or blocked kicks in their brief careers. Three of them have been Pro Bowlers. Cornerback Richard Sherman, the only one in his backfield who hasn’t gone to Hawaii yet, had a team-high eight picks, 24 passes defensed and plenty of swagger. He also returned a blocked field goal 90 yards for a score. Fellow corner Brandon Browner has nine interceptions in two seasons, two for scores. Free safety Earl Thomas is a productive center fielder and a two-time Pro Bowler, and strong safety Kam Chancellor is a ferocious hitter. Seattle also signed three-time Pro Bowl selection Antoine Winfield as its nickel back.
Dependable placekicker Steven Hauschka and punter Jon Ryan are accuracy guys rather than boomers. Hauschka connected on 24-of-27 field goal attempts, with each of his misses coming from 50 yards or more. Ryan dropped 30 punts inside the 20-yard line. Harvin's acquistion initially made Pro Bowler Leon Washington expendable. Now someone else will need to step up in that department with Harvin sidelined for much of the regular season. Tate will more than likely handle the punt return duties.
Final Analysis: 2nd in NFC West
Wilson is one of 20 starters returning, and one of six Seahawks players who went to the Pro Bowl. Offensive firepower abounds. All the pieces are in place for the Seahawks to make a deep playoff run, if not a second Super Bowl appearance in eight seasons. Wilson and Wagner, the precocious team leaders on each side of the ball, need to avoid sophomore slumps. The newcomers, minus Harvin, also need to contribute. There hasn’t been this much hype surrounding a Seattle team entering a season since 1985, and that one couldn’t handle it, finishing 8–8. Can these Seahawks measure up? Certainly the element of surprise with Wilson behind center is long gone. But don’t rule out anything with this team.
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2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:
New England (8/30)
NY Giants (8/30)
Green Bay (8/29)
San Francisco (9/3)