RENTON – With only 11 players still left from the initial roster they took over, Seattle head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have cycled through some 500 roster transactions since January 2010.
So if last year’s improbable playoff run had you thinking Seattle had any real shot of repeating as NFC West champions with one of the youngest rosters in the league, you weren’t paying attention.
Seattle is smack dab in the middle of a years-long rebuilding effort, and sitting at 2-6 at the midpoint of the season, it isn’t pretty.
Only four teams score fewer points than the Seahawks (15.2 points per game), and the Hawks are third-worst in total rushing (88.2 yards per game).
They are the second-most penalized team in the league with 70 accepted penalties, well ahead of the team record for a season of 128 established in 1984. And they don’t do a good job of holding onto the ball either, with a -5 turnover differential (tied for 23rd in the league).
But even more than the awful statistics is a sense that this young team is regressing, having lost four or its last five games in Year 2 of Carroll’s rebuilding effort.
“It’s tough,” Seattle defensive end Red Bryant said. “We didn’t envision being in this situation. We’re a young team, but that can’t be an excuse. We’re still trying to figure out who we are, and going forward we’ve got to find a way to play consistent football for four quarters. And so we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
But Seattle’s second-half schedule offers some hope.
The Seahawks have five of their last eight games at home, and they face teams with a combined record of 27-29 down the stretch.
The Seahawks are five games behind division leader San Francisco (7-1) and out of any realistic hope of playoff contention. But Carroll needs to see some tangible progress down the backstretch of the season to give fans hope that in 2012 they won’t see the same inconsistent team Seattle has field this year.
“We need to gain some momentum,” Carroll said. “We need to feel the improvements that we’ve made now turn into victories.”
That said, here’s the midseason grades for the Seahawks.
Let’s start with the good. Tarvaris Jackson twice had career-record, 300-plus-yard performances. He’s played with pain because of a strained pectoral muscle he suffered in the fifth game of the year against the New York Giants. Jackson’s emerged as one of the team leaders, and players like his toughness, solidifying Pete Carroll’s decision to name him a starter before he took a snap with the team.
Now the bad. Jackson’s nine interceptions are tied for fifth-worst in the league, and his 73.2 quarterback rating is 29th overall. He’s thrown one touchdown and five interceptions in his last three games. Backup Charlie Whitehurst has been even worse in spot duty, completing only 48.2 percent of his passes, getting sacked eight times and finishing with a 62.9 passer rating. The inconsistent play at quarterback means the Seahawks likely will select their quarterback of the future in next year’s draft.
Year 3 of Seattle establishing a dominant run game has been much like the first two years – a disappointment. The Seahawks have 406 rushing yards on first down – 24th overall in the league. And they’ve run the ball a league-low 175 total rushes. So even with the renewed emphasis with renowned zone blocking guru offensive line coach Tom Cable on the staff, the Seahawks have not run the ball enough.
But Seattle did show a marked improvement running the ball last week at Dallas, with Marshawn Lynch rushing for 135 yards on 22 carries – the first time he’s carried the ball more than 20 times this season. Lynch’s and Justin Forsett’s contracts are up the end of the season, while Leon Washington is in the first of a four-year deal, so Seattle could see some personnel changes with this group in 2012.
Undrafted rookie free agent Doug Baldwin has been a pleasant surprise for the Seahawks. The Stanford product leads the Seahawks with 28 receptions for 434 yards and two touchdowns. He also is tied for third in receptions among rookie receivers.
But Seattle’s big splash in free agency, Sidney Rice, has not lived up to lofty expectations. Part of that is because of a shoulder injury that forced him to miss the first two games of the season, but with 27 receptions for 435 yards and two touchdowns through six games for Rice, the Seahawks need more of a impact from their explosive playmaker. After leading the team with 65 catches last season, Mike Williams also has been a disappointment, with just 12 receptions on the year
The Seahawks expected more from Zach Miller when they signed him to a five-year, $34 million deal. Miller’s been an upgrade as run a blocker at tight end for Seattle, and part of the reason for his low catch numbers is the Seahawks have asked him to stay in and block to help a young offensive line.
Still, Miller has had at least 56 catches in the last three seasons, but only has 11 catches this year and did not have a catch against Dallas on Sunday. Back up Anthony McCoy has nine catches for 95 yards. McCoy also has a team-high four drops.
The Seahawks had hoped to start the same starting five linemen all 16 games for the first time since 2007, but that didn’t happen, as Seattle already has started four different offensive-line combinations this season – after 10 different starting offensive-line combinations last year.
And with starting two rookies on the right side of the line, the result has been predictably inconsistent play up front. The Seahawks have allowed 29 sacks, second-worst in the league, and are averaging just 88.2 rushing yards a game.
The strength of this team, Seattle’s bruising front line of defensive ends Red Bryant and Chris Clemons and defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Alan Branch have been effective for the most part in controlling the line of scrimmage. The Seahawks are holding teams to 3.4 yards per carry, which is tied for second in the league.
However, the Seahawks have not consistently put pressure on the passer, with just 13 sacks on the year, tied for third-worst in the league.
David Hawthorne, Seattle’s leading tackler the past two seasons, is second on the team with 54 combined tackles. Hawthorne’s play suffered early in the year because he was slowed with a knee injury, but he’s played better of late.
Veteran linebacker Leroy Hill is playing fast and physical like he did when Seattle first drafted him in 2005. And replacing Aaron Curry with rookie K.J. Wright helped to solidify this group. Still, the number of missed open-field tackles is a concern.
With such a young group, the thought was Seattle might give up a bunch of big plays in the passing game. But so far young safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor have done a good job of being assignment-correct and keeping plays in front of them.
And Pete Carroll’s experimentation with bigger corners has paid off, with CFL product Brandon Browner and Stanford rookie Richard Sherman both playing a very physical game at the line of scrimmage and attacking the ball in coverage. Seattle has given up just six touchdowns through the air, No. 6 in the league. Last year the Seahawks gave up 31 passing touchdowns.
A strength of the Seahawks last year, this unit has been a disaster in 2011. The Seahawks are the only team in the league to give up two punt returns and a kickoff return for touchdowns.
Washington, an electric punt returner, has yet to get going and has had trouble fielding punts. And the one return Washington had for a score was negated because of a questionable block-in-the-back call. Seattle also let Dallas block a 41-yard Steven Hauschka field goal attempt.
Punter Jon Ryan has been the lone bright spot (leads league in punt average at 49.0 yards a kick), along with the play of gunner Kennard Cox on punt coverage. The two punts Seattle allowed for touchdowns occurred when Cox was not on the field.
Head coach Pete Carroll still is learning how to get the most out of his young roster. But he must figure out how to minimize all of the unforced errors and penalties that are keeping his team from winning games.
The issue with discipline also affects Carroll himself, who has made a questionable call or two this season, most notably going for it on fourth down at the end of the first half against Cincinnati and winding up with no points.
Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437 firstname.lastname@example.org