By: Casey Mabbott/Oregon Sports News
As you read this, we are less than a month away from Seattle’s first regular season game on Sunday, September 12th at 10am. Let that sink in. Football isn’t just on its way back to us; it’s coming back soon.
For the second consecutive season, Seattle will start their schedule on the road and in the eastern time zone. Last year it was in Atlanta; this time, they will start in Indianapolis. It’s too soon to preview the season with the entire preseason still to go, but it’s definitely time to see where they are as a team as they embark on their journey to rebound from the early end of their season a year ago.
One of the biggest questions is if they can recapture their torrid pace from the first five weeks of 2020 when they went 5-0 and were set to challenge or break scoring records (they did break a record for passing defense but not the kind we want to talk about). Whatever happened during their bye week must have upset their mojo, as they went 7-4 the rest of the season and regressed offensively. Their defense found their footing and became one of the most consistent units in the league after some massive struggles early on, but it wasn’t enough to right the ship. They still won the division and hosted a playoff game, but it ended up being their only one as they were sent home by their division rival LA Rams, who they had beaten handily just two weeks earlier.
The truth is that what happened last season no longer matters; we’re on to a new season and a blank slate. And with that comes some fresh faces, saying goodbye to some familiar faces, and getting to say hello again to some returning friends. And all of that arrives with a bunch of big expectations.
Shane Waldron has replaced Brian Schottenheimer as offensive coordinator, pass rusher Carlos Dunlap is back with the team on a new deal after playing last year as a half-year rental. There is still plenty of excitement that second-year player Darrell Taylor will provide a spark after sitting out his entire rookie season rehabbing from surgery. The hope is that Taylor will pick up where Bruce Irvin left off – playing a hybrid pass rusher and outside linebacker role and giving the defense many options to shut down the opposing offense.
CB Shaquill Griffin and LB Shaquem Griffin are playing for new teams in Florida, DT Jarran Reed is in Kansas City, LB KJ Wright, and CB Quinten Dunbar are free agents. There isn’t any report out there stating the team’s intentions to bring back LB Bruce Irvin – or if he is even interested in coming back. With both of their starting cornerbacks off the roster at the moment, we will have to wait and see who they give the starting jobs to and if they can hold up in coverage consistently. If the pass rush can get established early on, it might not matter if the cornerbacks are great – they will need to be good.
On offense, RB Chris Carson re-signed, new TE Gerald Everett might be the most athletic player at his position this team has seen, and Waldron personally advocated for the front office to sign him. Rookie receiver D’Wayne Eskridge has the potential to be the gadget player they’ve been missing since Percy Harvin and Guard Gabe Jackson could help solidify an offensive line that has looked good at times but has yet to get back to the solid unit that protected QB Russell Wilson and opened holes for RB Marshawn Lynch. The hope is that this year’s group is as good as any they have had in Wilson’s career, and for his sake, I hope they’re right.
If all of this comes together, this could be one of the best teams Seattle has had since going to back-to-back Super Bowls in 2013 and 2014.
Third-year receiver DK Metcalf absolutely destroyed expectations in year 2, breaking the franchise record for receiving yards in a season while putting up numbers we saw from Julio Jones and Calvin Johnson in their second seasons. Metcalf was named second-team All-Pro, finished with the 7th most receiving yards in the league, and he could have had an even bigger season. Metcalf had five games last season where he collected fewer than 50 yards. If you ignore those games, Metcalf had 1,142 yards in just eleven games for a per-game average of 103 yards. By comparison, Megatron had just two games in his second year where he had less than 50 yards, and yet he had just about the same total yards as Metcalf. If DK can get more yards on a more consistent basis, we might be looking at him as the best receiver in the league. Jim Schwartz was correct in his assessment that DK isn’t Megatron yet, but he’s on his way. If Metcalf goes after defensive backs all season the way he did in eleven games last year, he’s going to be nearly impossible to defend.
Reports from training camp indicate that Seattle intends to move DK around the formation more this year and give him more routes from the slot – which usually comes against the defense’s third-best corner. That has to be music to everyone’s ears on the Seattle offense and horrifying to defensive coordinators and defensive backs around the league. The message is clear – you’re going to see DK coming for you this year – more than you did last year. Get ready and get out of the way.
Most of these personnel changes may not jump off the page, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see an obvious change in culture from the team when they take the field this year. They expect to have a more player-friendly offense, one that emphasizes creating opportunities rather than just expecting great players to make plays on every down. Modern offenses get creative with plays that scheme their players into open space away from defenders and consistently produce big plays that demoralize the defense. Three receiver sets with a single back and a tight end on the line or split out can cause fits for even the best defenses – especially when you have a mobile QB like Wilson and a good running back like Carson working behind a quality offensive line. It’s not exactly under the radar, but you may recall that Carson noticeably improved in the passing game last year, and in this new offense, we might finally see his full potential – not just as a grinder between the tackles.
Since this is year one of a new offense, we can’t expect the big leap forward we saw in Atlanta in 2016, LA in 2018, San Francisco in 2019, or Green Bay in 2020, but we’ll likely see something new and exciting.
Until Seattle takes their first snap on September 12th, we won’t know what we’re going to get from them this year. But we expect to see something great.