Last year, the Seahawks entered training camp and the early preseason with a brand spanking new quarterback, former Packers backup Matt Flynn. The former NCAA champion was given a three-year, $26 million deal for a team expected to finish second or third in the NFC West. Then, Russell Wilson stepped up.
All of a sudden, the Hawks were a nearly immovable force in the NFC. They "beat" Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, then defeated Tom Brady and the Pats. Eventually, the Seahawks rolled all the way to the playoffs, nearly pulling off a second-half comeback for the ages against the No. 1 seed Atlanta Falcons.
A lot of the credit, however, was given to their top overall defense, which held opposing offenses to a measly 245 points per game in the regular season (just over 15.3 points per game). Defensive back Richard Sherman exploded onto the scene, with eight interceptions and three forced fumbles in just his second season in the pros.
Now, after several offseason acquisitions, some who we'll see soon and some who will not be present until at least a couple of months in, Seattle is once again ready to take the field. With their first preseason game taking place in San Diego on Thursday, here are five things to look for when watching the 2013 Seahawks:
1) Who will step up to replace the injured Percy Harvin?
NFC West defensive backs surely winced a little bit after learning that one of last year's most impressive rookies now had a brand new top target at wideout. Former Vikings receiver Percy Harvin was signed in the offseason to a six-year, $67-million dollar deal after catching 62 passes for 677 yards and three touchdowns in just over eight games before injuring his hip against...the Seahawks.
It turns out that the injury is more serious than the Seahawks may have initially anticipated—Harvin needed surgery this past week, and may be sidelined until at least Thanksgiving weekend.
Fortunately for head coach Pete Carroll, the Seahawks have other options. Former Notre Dame standout Golden Tate had a breakout season last year, catching 45 passes for 688 yards and seven touchdowns. Doug Baldwin was also a solid contributor, with 29 catches and three touchdowns.
Last year's top target, Sidney Rice (another former Viking), also returns, albeit with some offseason baggage behind him. Just a week ago, Rice was placed on Seattle's disabled list, disappearing to Switzerland for help with his knee pain.
Rice has since returned, and appears ready to go. But if he re-injures his knee or is not 100 percent, who else can step up for an offense that was 27th in total passing last season?
2) Can Seattle's defense remain this good?
The Seahawks defense was far and away the most dominant defensive unit in the NFL last season. In addition to Sherman, cornerback Brandon Browner (44 tackles, three interceptions), safety Kam Chancellor (101 tackles) and rookie linebacker Bobby Wagner (140 tackles, three interceptions, four passes defended) all had breakthrough seasons for the Seattle D.
No other defense in the league could even come within 30 points of their league-best points allowed total. With an improved NFC West awaiting them, including Colin Kaepernick in his first full season as the 49ers quarterback and Carson Palmer throwing to Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona, can the Seahawks remain in dominant form? Speaking of which...
3) With the signing of Cliff Avril, can the Seahawks defensive line get any better?
With opposing offensive linemen keying in on threats such as Ndamukong Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch for the last few seasons, Avril had a field day every week in Detroit. Avril's 2012 totals of 45 tackles and 9.5 sacks matched up nicely with his total of 19.5 sacks combined in the previous two seasons, including 11 in 2011.
Avril hasn't missed a game in the past two seasons, and he joins a front line already stacked with players such as Michael Bennett, another new Seahawk (nine sacks, three forced fumbles for Tampa Bay in '12) and Brandon Mebane (56 tackles, three sacks).
Former Eagle and Raider castoff Chris Clemons, who is coming off an injury, also had a bounce-back year last season, racking up 11 sacks. He was at his best against against offensive lines who couldn't figure out who they should double team, leaving all areas susceptible for hungry Seattle pass rushers.
Although Seattle had the best overall defense last year, they finished with 36 sacks, which was just under the league average. Is it possible that, with the addition of Avril, the 'Hawks defense might have gotten even better?
4) Can Marshawn Lynch keep it up?
Lynch has been a workhorse since the 2011 NFL playoffs, when he did this and almost broke ESPN. In the past two seasons, Lynch has carried the ball 600 times for a whopping 2,794 yards and 23 touchdowns. His 1,590 yards last season ranked third-highest in the NFL.
Seattle is hoping that Lynch doesn't break down, as he is still relatively young (27) and has never missed more than three games in a season. As the Seahawks look to improve their pass attack, the offense will, at least in the early going, continue to rely on Lynch and his Skittles for critical yards and plays like this.
5) Can Russell Wilson avoid a sophomore slump?
Wilson took advantage of defenses which underestimated his arm and mobility last season, compiling the fourth-best passer rating (an even 100.0) in the NFL and rushing for nearly 500 yards, as well. His remarkable second half against Atlanta, when he threw two touchdowns and ran for a third (with a total of 385 passing yards for the game), demonstrated that the Seahawks are never out of a game with him at the helm, no matter who the opposition is.
However, opposing defenses have had a whole offseason to adjust to Wilson's style. Since he stands only 5"11', undersized for a signal caller, defenses will try to force him to throw deep, taking away his intermediate passing lanes.
Will Wilson experience growing pains in his second season, or will that gutsy arm of his win out?
The Seahawks are a trendy pick to win the NFC this year, and for good reason. The team has added key pieces after a 2012 season that no one saw coming. Now, with a target on their backs, are the Seahawks primed to go even further. Their road towards doing so begins in less than two days.