Ranking Seattle Seahawks' 10 Biggest Developments in Early Going

Shehan PeirisCorrespondent IIISeptember 30, 2013

Ranking Seattle Seahawks' 10 Biggest Developments in Early Going

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    Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks have proven that they shouldn't be taken lightly.
    Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks have proven that they shouldn't be taken lightly.Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

    The Seattle Seahawks are one of the few teams that have a realistic chance of finishing the year in the Super Bowl. At the quarter mark, some of the questions we had about them are being answered. There have been a number of good signs like the outstanding play of the defense and their dominance at home. There has also been some cause for concern, like the poor performance of the offensive line.

    Last year, they rallied around the brilliance of third-round pick Russell Wilson and surprised many teams and pundits with their success.

    In 2013, they’re not surprising anybody and they have high expectations for themselves.

    Here are the 10 most important developments that affect their Super Bowl dreams this season.

Honorable Mentions

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    Steven Hauschka (4) will be a big part of the Seahawks' success this year.
    Steven Hauschka (4) will be a big part of the Seahawks' success this year.Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    The Importance of Steven Hauschka

    Kickers rarely get any love in the NFL. In fact, they rarely make the news unless they are being blamed for missing a game-winning field goal.

    Steven Hauschka is incredibly important to the Seattle Seahawks.

    Having a reliable, sure-footed kicker is important to any team that plays the way Seattle does. If you grind it out on the ground, shut down opposition with your defense and have an offense that can struggle at times to make plays through the air, you need your kicker to make field goals.

    Hauschka has been perfect so far, and his performance will be vital to the Seahawks’ success.

     

    The Seahawks Are the Deepest Team in the NFL

    Every NFL team deals with injuries. That’s the nature of the game we love. As a result, it’s necessary to build the strongest 53-man roster that you possibly can, and Seattle has one of the deepest squads in the NFL.

    Their best receiver, Percy Harvin, hasn’t even played for them yet. Golden Tate, Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin have all made big plays and stepped up in his absence.

    Chris Clemons is still returning to full strength after an Achilles injury, and Bruce Irvin’s suspension just ended. Free-agent acquisitions Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett have combined for 4.5 sacks in 4 games to keep the pass rush alive without them.

    They went into Houston without their starting offensive tackles and center, and they still managed to score 20 unanswered points in the second half to come away with the win.

    Sometimes in the NFL, it just comes down to who has the better team. The Seahawks have one of the best rosters in the league.

     

    Penalties Aren’t Going Away

    The Seahawks were the seventh-most penalized team last year according to NFLPenalties.com. So far, they’ve been even worse this year, ranking as the fifth-most penalized team through four games.

    The flags were flying against Seattle in the preseason, and Seahawks.com reported that head coach Pete Carroll was understandably not pleased about it.

    If it continues to be an issue, penalties could play a part in costing the Seahawks an important game in the regular season or even the playoffs.

10. The Pass Rush Should Be Excellent

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    The pass rush is missing their two biggest contributors from last season, but the offseason additions have played well.
    The pass rush is missing their two biggest contributors from last season, but the offseason additions have played well.Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

    The Seahawks made a couple of under-the-radar moves over the offseason to add depth to the defensive front. First, they signed Cliff Avril to a 2-year, $13 million deal.

    Avril accumulated 39.5 sacks and 16 forced fumbles over his five seasons with the Detroit Lions and was one of the premier defensive free agents last offseason. In addition, Seattle signed Michael Bennett who was coming off a nine-sack season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Both defensive ends have played more than expected so far due to Chris Clemons’ recovery for a torn ACL and the four-game suspension of Bruce Irvin. More importantly, both of them have played very well for the Seahawks and have been major contributors to ProFootballFocus’ sixth-ranked pass rush (subscription required).

    Chris Clemons made his return to the field in Week 3, and Bruce Irvin will return for the Week 5 matchup against the Indianapolis Colts. That will give the Seahawks a rotation of four very talented pass-rushers, and they will continue to dial up the pressure on opposing quarterbacks for the rest of the season.

    That pressure combined with an excellent secondary means that the Seattle defense should only get stronger as the year goes on—a scary proposition for the rest of the NFL considering they are second in the league allowing only twelve points per game.

9. The Offense Could Be Explosive with Percy Harvin

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    Harvin has been on the sidelines so far, and his return date is uncertain.
    Harvin has been on the sidelines so far, and his return date is uncertain.Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

    One of the biggest questions facing the Seahawks at the end of last year was the receiving corps. Seattle ran the ball more than any other team last year, but to win in the playoffs you need to be able to make plays through the air.

    They addressed this issue by trading a first-round pick for Percy Harvin. The playmaking receiver is electric with the ball in his hands, and he’s a threat to score off receptions, runs and returns.

    Unfortunately, he had hip surgery before the season started and his return date is uncertain. According to Sports Illustrated, Harvin is targeting a Week 7 return, while The Seattle Times reports that Coach Carroll is being more cautious in his estimate and doesn’t know when he’ll be ready.

    His absence will give the other receivers a chance to separate themselves, and they’ve been adequate so far.

    Golden Tate, Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin have all had good games so far, but Wilson has only surpassed 20 completions once. If Harvin returns for the end of the regular season, the Seahawks will have four very talented receivers that can all make big plays down the field and the receiving corps will be very good.

    Without Harvin, the receivers will still be able to make big plays, but it is uncertain whether any one receiver will be able to do it consistently.

8. Russell Okung Will Be Back Before the Playoffs

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    Okung (76) was excellent protecting Wilson (3) last year.
    Okung (76) was excellent protecting Wilson (3) last year.Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    For a team that has some concerns on the offensive line, the loss of Russell Okung is problematic. According to ProFootballFocus, Okung only allowed one sack last year, and his absence means that Russell Wilson is without his trusted blind-side protector.

    Okung was placed on Injured Reserve-Designated to Return after he tore a ligament in his big toe against the San Francisco 49ers.

    It is considered to be a six-to-eight week injury according to ProFootballTalk, but the designation to return means that he must spend at least eight games on sidelines so the earliest he could play would be in Week 11 against the Minnesota Vikings.

    In the grand scheme of things, the good news is that he should be back before the end of the regular season with enough time to get in game shape for the playoffs. His absence shouldn’t cause a significant drop in wins, so it doesn’t affect their chances of making the playoffs.

    It could, however, play a role in losing a game or two which could be the difference between having home-field advantage and playing on the road as a Wild Card team. As we’ll discuss later, home-field advantage would be hugely beneficial for Seattle’s Super Bowl hopes.

7. These 'Hawks Can Win on the Road

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    The 'Hawks have won twice on the road in 2013, including an impressive comeback win in Houston.
    The 'Hawks have won twice on the road in 2013, including an impressive comeback win in Houston.Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

    Contrary to popular belief, this team can win games away from CenturyLink Field. They’ve won five of their last six games (including the playoffs), and are fresh off a huge comeback win on the road over the Houston Texans.

    In that game, they were trailing 20-3 at halftime. They responded by shutting out the Texans in the second half and forced overtime where Steven Hauschka made a game-winning field goal.

    That wasn’t a regular road win. It was a gusty victory that required mental fortitude. Head coach Pete Carroll has this team believing in themselves.

    Russell Wilson described the optimism in the locker room at halftime to The Seattle Times. He said that “We knew if we could just hang in there, if we could just play one play at a time, stay in the moment…and we did that, throughout the whole entire second half.”

    This team can win anywhere, and that’s crucial for their Super Bowl hopes.

6. Do the Seahawks Know How to Stop Colin Kaepernick?

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    The Seahawks have frustrated Colin Kaepernick in both of their meetings.
    The Seahawks have frustrated Colin Kaepernick in both of their meetings.Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

    To preface this slide, it is important to note that we have a sample size of only two games where Colin Kaepernick has faced the Seattle Seahawksboth of which have been in CenturyLink Field.

    In those two games, Kaepernick has been awful.

    His completion percentage is slightly higher than his quarterback ratingboth of them are below 50. He hasn’t been able to move the chains due to an abysmal 26.1 percent conversion rate on third downs.

    While he has a rocket arm, he is still learning the quarterback position and how to go through all of his progressions. The Seahawks dropped back in coverage and forced Kaepernick to make tough decisions.

    The 49er receivers had a difficult time gaining separation from the Seattle corners, and the result was two terrible games for Colin Kaepernick.

    It’s too early to say that Seattle has found the way to stop him and it is for this reason that this development is so low on the list.

    Nevertheless, there is a fairly good chance that the road to the Super Bowl will require a meeting with the San Francisco 49ers. If the Seahawks have the personnel and game plan to stop Kaepernick, their road to the Super Bowl will be a little easier.

5. Richard Sherman Is Making His Case as the Best Cornerback in the Game

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    Sherman has made big plays this year.
    Sherman has made big plays this year.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    All-Pro Stanford graduate. That’s what Richard Sherman would like to be called, at least by Skip Bayless. He would also probably like to add “Super Bowl champion” to that title, and the way that he’s playing could certainly lead to that for Seattle.

    Sherman has made waves in the NFL with his trash-talking and general brashness. He couldn’t be more different to Russell Wilson in personality and the sound bites he produces, but they do share at least one similarity.

    They are quickly establishing themselves as one of the best in the game at their position.

    Despite being one of the best young quarterbacks, Wilson still has some ways to go before earning his place in the conversation with Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Drew Brees. But Sherman?

    He’s already there.

    At the young age of 25, he’s ruffled many a feather with his complete lack of humility. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a quarterback (Tom Brady), wide receiver (Roddy White) or a fellow cornerback (Darrelle Revis); Sherman takes no prisoners.

    While I appreciate that he may not be going about it “the right way,” the man backs up his smack talk. He routinely shuts down No. 1 receivers, including holding Anquan Boldin to one catch just a week after his 13-catch debut for the San Francisco 49ers.

    According to ProFootballFocus, he was the best cover corner in the league last year and forced the third-worst passer rating when quarterbacks threw at him (subscription required).

    In a passing league, having a player that can lock down the opposition’s best receiver is a huge advantage—especially in the postseason when everything is on the line. If he happens to get under their skin and infuriate them in the process, it’s just an added bonus.

    Sherman is certainly not alone in the best secondary in football, but he looks like that rare lockdown cornerback who can completely take someone out of the game. That’s a trait that will come in handy when the playoffs roll around.

4. Russell Wilson Isn't Having a Sophomore Slump

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    Wilson has continued his excellent play from last year.
    Wilson has continued his excellent play from last year.Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Young quarterbacks took the league by storm last season. The “Fab Four” that will forever be associated with each other (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson) were all phenomenal and have given their teams incredibly bright futures.

    As is common for any rookie, however, questions about a “sophomore slump” began to arise about young signal-callers.

    Would defenses with an offseason to study film be able to pinpoint their weaknesses? Would the extra attention paid to the read-option make it obsolete? Could RGIII, Kaepernick and Wilson survive if that happened?

    While the Seahawks offense hasn’t set the world on fire, none of the blame should go to Wilson. He’s a top-10 quarterback in passer rating and yards per attempt despite being under a lot of pressure in the pocket.

    Having a great quarterback is the most crucial ingredient to Super Bowl glory, and the Seahawks have no cause for concern in that department.

3. Bad Offensive Line Play Is a Concern

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    Poor play from the O-line has resulted in Wilson seeing a ton of pressure and a weak running game.
    Poor play from the O-line has resulted in Wilson seeing a ton of pressure and a weak running game.Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

    Having a star quarterback can only help so much if he’s constantly under fire and scrambling for his life. Seattle’s offensive line has been really bad so far this season, and it’s hampering the ability to run or pass the football.

    ProFootballFocus’ analysts have rated them the third-worst run-blocking line and the ninth-worst pass-blocking line this season (subscription required).

    The running game that was so successful last season is not paying dividends yet. On 109 carries, the Seahawks are only getting 3.7 yards per attempt. Running the ball is a vital part of their offense, so the inability to do so is very concerning.

    The aerial attack has similarly been affected by a weak O-line. Russell Wilson has not had a lot of time to throw the football, and he’s been sacked 13 times this seasonthe sixth-highest mark in the NFL.

    Offensive line play has been the biggest weakness for the Seahawks so far and it could be the biggest impediment to their Super Bowl aspirations.

2. They Have a Championship-Caliber Defense

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    The best secondary in football and studs on the defensive front have made the Seahawks defense a force to be reckoned with.
    The best secondary in football and studs on the defensive front have made the Seahawks defense a force to be reckoned with.Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    This isn’t exactly a surprise considering their performance last year, but the Seattle defense is for real. The pass rush will continue to improve, and the secondary is unrivaled.

    They’ve held opponents to only twelve points per game, a number that is low enough before considering that 10 of the 47 points they have allowed came in garbage time when the Jacksonville Jaguars were playing against Seahawks reserves.

    With a weak offensive line, this defense can win games for Seattle like it did against the Houston Texans.

    This is definitely a Super Bowl-caliber defense, and there is not an offense in the league that won’t be fearful of facing them in the playoffs.

1. Home-Field Advantage Would Make Seattle a Near-Lock for the Super Bowl

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    Seattle fans are loud and proud, and they form a dangerous 12th man.
    Seattle fans are loud and proud, and they form a dangerous 12th man.

    We know how good the Seattle Seahawks are at homeRussell Wilson has never lost at home. The question has always been about how good they could be on the road.

    It turns out that they've been pretty good on the road, but they might not have to play a road playoff game until the Super Bowl if they can secure the No. 1 seed.

    That is a terrifying thought for the rest of the NFC, and given the poor starts by all of the NFC playoff teams from last year, the Seahawks have a good chance of doing it.

    TeamRecord
    San Francisco 49ers2-2
    Green Bay Packers1-2
    Atlanta Falcons1-3
    Washington Redskins1-3
    Minnesota Vikings1-3

     

    Seattle is going to make the playoffs barring a devastating injury. But if they’re thinking Super Bowl, then their priority needs to be locking up that No. 1 seed.

    With their phenomenal defense and an amazing home crowd, traveling to Seattle in the playoffs would be trouble for the opposition.

    The Seahawks have looked like the best team in the conference, but they’ll need to continue that high level of play to earn the No. 1 seed. Nobody wants to go to Seattle in the playoffs. Nobody.