The Morning After: Seattle's bet is paying off
We were all wrong to write the Seahawks off. Not only did this team off-load Russell Wilson for a boatload of picks... they chose the right players. Now, they're atop the NFC West.
This was the lamest team into the 2022 season. Honestly, nobody beyond the Pacific Northwest gave a damn about the Seattle Seahawks.
Mainly because the math didn’t make any sense.
Why would the oldest coach in the league, 71-year-old Pete Carroll, sign up for a rebuild? As reported here, GM John Schneider was ready to move on from Russell Wilson two years ago while Carroll was not. Carroll wanted to clutch to his quarterback as any aging coach would. But once Wilson was finally — and wisely — dealt to the Denver Broncos for a package of picks, this sure appeared to be a franchise in an identity crisis. Yet here we are, two months in, and the Seahawks sit atop the NFC West at 4-3. Given the wild inconsistency of the Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals, there’s no reason to think they’ll die off, either.
This is what guts looks like in an NFL front office.
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Seattle made an unpopular decision. For years, all we’ve heard is that the team has failed Wilson. We’ve said as much in this space and, without question, there was some merit to that argument for a while. But the Seahawks deftly moved on from the nine-time Pro Bowler before the quarterback’s play outright fell off a cliff — they boldly maximized peak value. Good on Schneider getting Carroll to come around after last season’s 7-10 finish. Teams cannot be afraid of life on the other side. The GM’s former co-worker, Brian Gutekunst, must be watching the events in Seattle with gritted teeth. The Green Bay Packers went halfway — they drafted Jordan Love in the first round of the 2020 draft — but then pivoted as an organization when Rodgers won an MVP.
We’re all quickly seeing that Tom Brady is the exception, however,
As quarterbacks inch closer to 40, they’re bound to lose athleticism and a few RPMs on that fastball.
There was no use talking themselves into Wilson any longer.
Of course, it takes more than just a singular bold decision at QB. Any team can load up on draft picks… you’ve got to actually draft the right players with those picks. And these Seahawks may look back at their 2022 class as the foundation of something special. Here’s what they found in one draft alone: two starting offensive tackles (Charles Cross, Abraham Lucas), two starting cornerbacks (Tariq Woolen, Coby Bryant), a starting edge rusher (Boye Mafe) and — best of all — a legitimate rising star in running back Kenneth Walker Jr. My goodness. Have you seen his 74-yard touchdown from Sunday’s 37-23 win over the Los Angeles Chargers?
This isn’t normal acceleration. The other 21 players appear to be slow-motion. And Walker has been making an early habit of this, busting runs into the secondary every week. With explosive plays down across the entire league, the Seahawks possess a weapon capable of going for 20-plus any carry in this 41st overall pick.
The Seahawks could realistically finish with the offensive and defensive rookies of the year because over on the other side of the ball, Woolen already has four interceptions. The giant 6-foot-4 corner from Texas-San Antonio is developing faster than anyone could’ve expected.
Readers here learned all about Woolen in Bob McGinn’s excellent draft series.
At some point during the season, personnel people did make the journey to see the player nicknamed “Riq the Freak.”
“I told him I came all the way out to UTSA because you are the most unusual prospect in the country,” said an NFL personnel man. “Woolen is the ultimate length and speed prospect in this entire draft.”
My combine/pro day archives date to 1986. If Woolen goes in the first two rounds, which is certainly possible, he would become the first 6-4 corner drafted there in that span.
When NFL scouts get together, they constantly compare players. Scouts always can come up with a comparable. With Woolen, there was mostly crickets.
“Don’t have one,” an AFC personnel director said regarding Woolen. “I’m not kidding. I don’t have one for you.”
The future’s bright. But so is the present.
There isn’t only a promising young core of players. Unlike the one-win Detroit Lions gambling on the youngest roster in the NFL, the Seahawks actively filled out the roster with hungry vets. Quarterback Geno Smith leads the NFL in completion percentage (73.5 percent) and is third in passer rating (107.7). He’s not dinking and dunking — OC Shane Waldron is letting Smith take shots downfield. This renaissance is stunning. Smith’s career should’ve flamed out long ago. Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, a 31-year-old on his fourth team, should’ve disappeared as well. He caught two touchdowns Sunday and backflipped after the final kneeldown. We forget how important it is to have a handful of tested, ornery vets in a locker room. Every team tries to play the underdog card — Seattle sincerely can and, so far, it’s a dangerous tonic.
The win did come at a steep price. Wide receiver D.K. Metcalf was carted off with a knee injury and is getting an MRI on Monday. He’s fresh off signing a three-year, $72 million extension. The passing game may need to adjust. But given the way this entire Seahawks team is playing, I don’t think losing Metcalf for an extended period of time is a poison pill.
A bad sign?
The icy relationship between Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy truly started to go south when the quarterback turned freelancing into the foundation for the entire offense. Perhaps McCarthy’s scheme was woefully outdated and it was out of necessity. There’s no denying Rodgers was mostly doing his own thing by the end.
And that’s what makes this comment following Green Bay’s 23-21 loss to the Washington Commanders so telling.
Shortly after the team’s third straight loss, Rodgers was asked if he’ll need to make more plays outside the pocket for Green Bay to win.
"I might need to do that a little bit more,” he said, trying to hold back a smile. “I had a mindset to do that a little bit more. Didn’t do it enough today. It was a lot of two-shell. We didn’t run the ball particularly well. Didn’t catch it particularly well. And I didn’t really move a whole lot to extend plays until that last drive.”
There will be many generous platitudes exchanged between player and coach and coach and player again this week. Remember that actions always speak louder than words when it comes to the Packers and all NFL teams. The key is interpretation. On its face, a comment like this may not seem like much. Or it could mean that the offense will devolve back to what it was with McCarthy in 2018. Improvising works when there’s an asinine amount of talent at wide receiver. Not quite with the youth on this roster.
We’ve all seen what the answer is to those “two shell” looks, too.
Running the ball.
Green Bay, again, hardly gave it a shot. Aaron Jones is the best player on this team, and he was given eight carries. Eight carries to Rodgers’ 35 pass attempts. We said it last week, we’ll say it again. That’s how you lose to Daniel Jones, Zach Wilson and Taylor Heinicke with a near-loss to Bailey Zappe for good measure.
Why you trade it all
One play, one overthrow was undoubtedly on Kyle Shanahan’s mind when he mortgaged the farm for Trey Lance in the 2020 draft. On the world’s grandest stage in sports, the Super Bowl, the head coach dialed up the perfect play to win it all.
Third and 10. Ninety seconds left. Down 24-20.
There was Emmanuel Sanders — wide open — straight down the middle of the field and Jimmy Garoppolo’s ball sailed long. KC won the Super Bowl. San Francisco, one year later, traded away three first-rounders and a third to acquire Trey Lance. The world must wait yet another full season to see Lance after his grisly ankle break. By necessity only, it’s the Jimmy G Show again in 2022 and Shanahan shipped off more picks for Christian McCaffrey. If this roster ever gets healthy, it has a shot. But Sunday’s rematch with those Chiefs didn’t come down to 90 seconds left, no. Ignore the final stat line because Garoppolo was very bad.
This time, with 1:32 left in the first half, at the KC 5-yard line, trailing 14-13, Garoppolo lollypopped an interception into heavy coverage. The 49ers squandered a chance to take the lead and then were smashed in the second half. For a veteran quarterback who has played in 75 games, he’s almost always flustered by the rush. Probably because general movement is a problem for him. Garoppolo also failed to feel the backside rush on a safety.
Adding McCaffrey is fun. The 49ers have a team full of playoff-tested vets.
But has anything changed if Garoppolo is under center? What a damning stat this is:
Tom Brady couldn’t hit 300 yards on 49 attempts. The Bucs rushed for 2.9 yards per carry. A run defense that made a mockery out of offenses last season was gashed for 173 yards. Mike Evans dropped a walk-in touchdown. P.J. Walker and a Carolina Panthers team that just fired their head coach walloped Tampa Bay, 21-3. Not sure how anybody could watch this game and think age and off-field stress wasn’t getting to Brady. The 45-year-old won’t have much time to rest. Baltimore comes to town Thursday.
We can officially re-insert Joe Burrow back in the Josh Allen-and-Patrick Mahomes discussion. He’s back. He shredded the Atlanta Falcons for 481 yards and three scores in a breezy 35-17 win. His chemistry with Ja’Marr Chase is unlike any in the NFL. Per Next Gen Stats, this TD had a 19.9 percent completion probability. There was only 0.7 yards of separation. That’s the sort of throw quarterbacks need to make deep down the field with all defenses so determined to eliminate the big play. Tackle of the day? Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie stonewalling Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts a sneeze from the goal line. This is textbook. Pitts catches a quick out from Marcus Mariota in the flat and is immediately blasted by the Bengals corner. Awuzie was the cure for a Super Bowl hangover. Cincinnati still has the quarterback and the secondary to hang with Buffalo or Kansas City.
The Chargers are a funky 4-3 team to read. It’s probably not a bad time to point out they also chose Branden Staley over Brian Daboll back in 2021.
Oh, Lions. The poor, poor Lions. Once again, a promising season is getting away from this franchise and it’s hard to see how they’ll talk themselves into sticking with Jared Goff if this keeps up. There are more problems than Goff around here, but his four turnovers killed any shot of an upset in Dallas. He has an NFL-high 61 turnovers since 2019. Equally bad is this stat from beat writer Jeremy Reisman: Goff does not have a completed pass that has traveled more than 26 air yards downfield.
The Matt Ryan roller-coaster continues. He threw a pick to Andrew Adams that was returned 76 yards for a touchdown. An unblocked blitz in his face hurried the throw. Before the game, owner Jim Irsay said Ryan’s leadership is “right up there with Peyton Manning.” Maybe that’s the case. The danger is if his arm’s similar to that of Manning in the Hall of Famer’s final days.
What a weird season for quarterback play. The New York Jets are doing everything they can to hide Zach Wilson, yet improve to 5-2. Keeping this pace just got a lot harder with Breece Hall’s suspected torn ACL.
Yawn. The Giants came from behind to win again. This time, Daniel Jones led a 10-play, 79-yard drive in the fourth. At some point, everyone will have to accept that the Giants are flat-out good and that this formula can work. Jones and Saquon Barkley each rushed for 100-plus yards. Most importantly, Jones didn’t turn it over and was sacked only once.
Remember when the criticism of Kayvon Thibodeaux was that the Oregon pass rusher was too high-maintenance? Get a load of this chase-down of Travis Etienne. (And re-read our profile on the Giants’ top pick here, too, if you’d like. All of that talk was overblown.)
“Blood and Guts” special
Thanks again to everyone for adding The Blood and Guts: How Tight Ends Save Football to your libraries. If you haven’t received your pre-order copy yet, hopefully that’ll arrive ASAP.
Thinking about ordering your copy? You can always purchase the Hardcover, Kindle and Audiobook on Amazon and everywhere books are sold. When you buy a book, email me proof of purchase at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you a signed bookplate, a Go Long decal and — why not? — a few random tight end sports cards stashed away.
Let’s have some fun. Let’s keep this momentum going!
Will share my conversation with T.J. Hockenson soon. Here’s our tight end coverage at Go Long…
You're killing me, smalls!
Gutekunst allowed a player to change his QB succession plan. The Packers could not be worse with Love starting at QB plus the addition of multiple first and second round picks that could have been used a vet WR (AJ Brown comes to mind) and still have an abundant haul of available high draft picks. As a fan, I'd much rather watch a 3-4 ascending team with young talent than a 3-4 veteran team that may have not hit bottom yet. The decision to make a 39 year old QB the highest player in the game will cost Gutekunst his job.