Despite being 7-1 at the midway point, the Seattle Seahawks season has been filled with adversity from an injury standpoint. Left tackle Russell Okung has been on the shelf the last six weeks with a nagging toe injury, right tackle Breno Giacomini has been sidelined the last five games with a bum knee and center Max Unger missed Weeks 4 and 5 with an agonizing triceps injury.
Without question, their inability to find the field on a consistent basis has crushed offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s plan of attack. Against the St. Louis Rams on Monday Night Football, the run game was baffling and the aerial attack was grounded outside of one ridiculously entertaining play from wide receiver Golden Tate.
To make matters worse, an already battered offense got even weaker. According to the Seahawks official Twitter account, the team lost seven-year veteran receiver Sidney Rice to a torn ACL. Rice has been placed on injured reserve, so his season and possibly his career in Seattle is over.
This poses big problems for an offense that was struggling to make plays before his departure. However, as we all know, injuries affect every team in some form, and they are a part of the game year in and year out.
It’s a good thing the Seahawks have adequate depth at the receiver position, because if they didn’t, their shot at a Lombardi Trophy would start to wane over the course of the next eight games. In Rice’s absence, there will be three wideouts who will need to step up and play crucial roles if they want to ensure continuity.
The first is Jermaine Kearse. Kearse is a second-year undrafted free agent out of the University of Washington. He’s a big-bodied receiver who is at his best when he is lined up as a split end. In 290 career snaps, he has made a name for himself by making spectacular plays deep down the field.
Of his 11 receptions, in two seasons, five have garnered gains of 20 yards or more. Which, in turn, means 45 percent of the catches he makes do damage deep down the field. The only player on the team who reels in more deep balls is third-year receiver Doug Baldwin.
Because of Rice’s injury, expect Kearse’s snaps to increase tenfold.
Even though he has been used like a one-trick pony up until now, it’s safe to say he will get plenty of looks on short and intermediate routes as well. Coming out of Washington, he was viewed as a player who did a great job of catching the ball away from his body and accelerating in and out of his breaks.
Good route running goes a long way in the NFL. Often times, possession receivers are considered more valuable than a speed guy. Why? Because some speed guys solely rely on their ability to blow by defenders. Proper route-running techniques go by the wayside in favor of their game-changing speed.
The NFL is predicated on speed to a certain extent, but everyone in the NFL is quote, unquote fast.
The second player who will be counted on is Percy Harvin.
In head coach Pete Carroll’s eye, Harvin was the Seahawks first-round pick this past year. The organization surrendered a 2013 first-round pick, a 2013 seventh-round pick and a mid-round pick next year to secure his rights from the Minnesota Vikings.
At 25 years of age, it’s safe to say the All-Pro wideout has plenty of productive football ahead of him. The only problem is Harvin has been sidelined for the first eight weeks of the season with a torn labrum in his hip. The good news is he’s scheduled to return in the coming weeks.
After he practiced for the first time last week, pundits believed he would make his season debut in St. Louis, Week 8. Obviously that didn’t happen on account of the fact his hip started to flare up at the conclusion of a long week of practice.
Nonetheless, his time is coming and ‘Hawks fans should be elated about it.
When healthy, Harvin is easily one of the most explosive and dynamic playmakers in the NFL. He has legit 4.4 speed, can make tacklers miss at a moment's notice and has the ability to score whenever the ball is in his hands.
In his career, Harvin has racked up 3,302 yards receiving, 3,183 yards on kick returns and 683 yards on the ground. Moreover, he has a nose for the end zone. On 501 career touches, he has scored 29 total touchdowns. The longest play of his career came in 2012 when he housed a 105-yard kick return.
Harvin doesn’t leave plays on the field. He finishes and makes opposing defenses pay whenever he is presented with the opportunity to. Yes, his injury was unfortunate, yet when he returns he will remind us all why he is regarded as one of the best at his position.
The last player the Seahawks brain trust is counting on is Baldwin.
As a rookie in 2011, Baldwin took the NFL by storm as an undrafted free agent out of Stanford. Amidst strong performances in training camp, he quickly recorded more snaps and eventually emerged as quarterback Tarvaris Jackson’s No. 1 weapon.
At the end of his rookie campaign, no undrafted receiver had ever put together the type of season he did. He piled up 788 yards on 51 receptions and scored four touchdowns while appearing in all 16 games. His productive ways didn’t carry over to the 2012 season, but that doesn’t mean things won’t turnaround for him with Rice out.
Which receiver will step up the most in Sidney Rice's absence?
According to Curtis Crabtree of Pro Football Talk, Coach Carroll told the media that Baldwin would be given the chance to split reps at split end with Kearse. In spite of Kearse’s big-play ability, Baldwin has earned the opportunity based on his past performances.
Couple the talent of these three players with the hopeful returns of Giacomini and Okung, and there’s no question the Seahawks will be on cloud nine sooner rather than later.
Giacomini and Okung will shore up Seattle’s pass-protection woes, Harvin will keep eight and nine defenders out of the box and the Kearse-Baldwin duo have the necessary talent to make Rice an immediate afterthought.
Seattle’s offensive struggles weren’t anticipated after last year’s explosion, yet there’s a reason the NFL is so hard to predict on an annual basis.
Fortunately for the Seahawks, they have excellent depth and a firm plan in place to ensure one injury won’t derail their hopes of a monumental season.