To look at the 2015 Seattle Seahawks, they don’t appear to be the same dominant team that they’ve been the last two seasons. But, as the world saw last year, after a slow start, Seattle has the talent and ability to run the table at any point of the season. Few teams in the modern era have been able to make back-to-back runs to the Super Bowl and, if not for a questionable play call in the final minute of February’s Super Bowl, we would be talking about the two-time defending Super Bowl champion.
However, at 6-5 and three games out in the NFC West with a loss in hand to division leader Arizona, if the Seahawks are to make it back for a third straight time, they’re going to have to do so on the road without some of their marquee stars. That hasn’t been easy all season. Seattle is 2-3 on the road with wins over only 3-8 Dallas and 3-8 San Francisco. When they’ve played quality teams on the road (St. Louis, Green Bay and Cincinnati), the Seahawks have struggled and lost. But with little in the way of wiggle room to keep their playoff spot, the Seahawks need a win to solidify their playoff spot.
The Seahawks don’t have a lights-out offense, but they have a lot of guys who do things extremely efficiently, know their roles and play at high level. Nowhere is that more true than at quarterback.
Russell Wilson is one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league and the numbers back that up. He has thrown more than 30 passes just twice all season and his 345-yard game last week was the first time all season he had topped 300 yards. Still, yards aren’t the aspect of his game that make him so effective. It’s driving the team down the field and keeping drives alive. He has thrown 18 touchdowns with just seven interceptions, he has at least one TD pass in every game and, over the last two games when the Seahawks needed wins, he has thrown for 605 yards with eight touchdowns and no interceptions.
How to truly measure Wilson is how the NFL does it – with passer rating. A rating of 90 or higher is considered strong and 100 or better is viewed as elite. Wilson has had a passer rating above 90.0 in eight of 11 games, has topped 100.0 four times, topped 125.0 three times and has a season-long passer rating of 102.9. He can beat teams with his arm and his legs and is a constant threat to make the big splash play that can kill an opponent, especially late in games.
The key to the Seahawks offense has been its running game. Since arriving in Seattle, Marshawn Lynch has been the focal point of the offense. But a sports hernia injury has forced him to miss all or part of six games and he has been replaced by undrafted free-agent rookie Thomas Rawls. In the five games he has played in relief of Lynch, he has topped 100 yards in three of them, including days with 169 and 209 yards. The Seahawks haven’t seemed to miss a beat with Rawls. He’s not Beast Mode, but he isn’t a big step backward. He will need to be accounted for. On third downs, veteran Fred Jackson has been a valuable receiving threat, but until the Vikings show they can consistently stop the run without Linval Joseph in the middle, don’t be stunned to see Rawls carry the ball 20-30 times.
The Seahawks don’t have a dominant go-to receiver in the same vein as players like Dez Bryant or Julio Jones, but they have a collection of players who get the job done with the combination of speed, hands and route running. Doug Baldwin leads the team with 50 receptions for 684 yards and six touchdowns. Jermaine Kearse has 29 catches for 429 yards (a team-best 14.8 yards per reception) and three touchdowns and Tyler Lockett has 28 catches for 346 yards and three touchdowns. Baldwin is the only one of the three with any 100-yard games, but they consistently pulled in four or five passes and do their job consistently.
The biggest blow the offense suffered came last week when tight end Jimmy Graham was lost for the season with a patella injury. While he wasn’t putting up the eye-popping numbers that he did in New Orleans, he was second on the team with 48 receptions and 605 yards. He was a key part of the offense, but with him gone the onus will fall on part-time player Luke Willson. He will be asked to play a bigger role, but the loss of Graham could negatively impact the offense in a significant way and will change the way defenses approach the passing game.
The offensive line has been a work in progress. Left tackle Russell Okung is one of the best at his position in the league and left guard Justin Britt, a second-round pick in 2014, and right guard J.R. Sweezy are both solid players. As part of the Graham trade, the Seahawks traded Pro Bowl center Max Unger, which created a big hole in the middle of the O-line. Patrick Lewis has done decent job, but a lot of the 37 sacks Wilson has taken have come up the middle.
Seattle’s calling card remains its defense. The team has the fourth-ranked defense and shares the wealth – being fifth against the run and ninth against the pass. With most stellar defenses, it begins up front and the Seahawks have one of the best defensive fronts in the league.
On the outside, they have Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, who have combined for 14 sacks. On the inside, Ahtyba Rubin and Brandon Mebane are very good at clogging the middle running lanes as well as collapsing the pocket on pass plays. The interior three offensive linemen for the Vikings will have their hands full with these guys because they bring relentless pressure.
The starting three linebackers for the Seahawks may be the best group in the NFL, thanks to an investment made by the organization in 2012. They used their first two draft picks to take outside linebacker Bruce Irvin and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. Irvin has a freakish skill set that combines speed, explosion and power. Wagner is a big thumper in the middle who consistently shoots gaps and stuffs plays up the middle and has the speed to chase plays to the sideline. On the right side, fifth-year man K.J. Wright is as steady as they get.
Whenever Seattle’s defense is discussed, the Legion of Boom typically starts with the secondary that has become infamous in its own right. Richard Sherman is a dominating presence, so much so that some teams don’t even throw his way, which takes away a third of the field for an offense to run from. It doesn’t get much easier with former Eagle Cary Williams on the other side. Like Sherman, he is often put out on an island with a receiver and asked to take them deep down the field.
What makes the secondary so dominant, however, is the play of safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. Both taken in the 2010 draft by Seattle, they are ball hawks who can not only deliver the knockout hit but create turnovers. They have combined for five interceptions this season and make throwing the ball over the deep middle a dangerous proposition for any team.
Their record may not indicate it, but the last thing any NFC playoff team wants in January is to land the two-time defending conference champ in the first round of the playoffs. That will likely land on the division winner of the NFC North. With a win Sunday, the Vikings could be setting a rematch at the Bank a little more than a month from now and the Seahawks won’t look any less daunting then.