Every week before Falcons games, I like to take the opportunity to reach out to a counterpart at the opponent’s SB Nation NFL site and pick their brains. This week, I had the honor of talking to Mookie Alexander at Field Gulls, inarguably one of the best football sites our network’s ever produced.
My five questions and his answers are below. Read and learn a lot more about the Seahawks heading into 2020, if you would.
Dave Choate: Russell Wilson is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but at least to outside observers it seems like Seattle tries to lean on the run more than him. Is that somewhat of a myth, and if not, will we get a fully unleashed Wilson in 2020?
Mookie Alexander: It’s part myth and part truth. In 2018 they absolutely relied heavily on the run and that was a direct response to having a rushing attack so horrible (now adjusted to 32nd in the latest DVOA update) it just about broke Pete Carroll’s brain. Wilson was last in pass attempts that season and then in the playoff loss to the Dallas Cowboys both Carroll and Brian Schottenheimer waited until it was too late to find out that utilizing Wilson’s skills as a passer was indeed a better option than running into a brick wall over and over again. Last year there were games such as the overtime thriller against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where it was clear that the Seahawks were more willing to “Let Russ Cook.”
What has irked a significant portion of Seahawks fans is that the pass attempt distribution is so heavily shifted towards the 2nd half, where the Seahawks spent too much of 2019 playing catch-up. Combine the lack of 1st half attempts — usually to “establish the run” — with Carroll’s preferred slower-paced style when Wilson seems to work best in uptempo and it really looks to the outside observers that Seattle’s own coaching staff is letting their philosophy get in the way of brilliance. With that said, I think he’s proven that he should get a chance to control the game much sooner than in years past and my hope is that he’ll get those opportunities. They don’t have to abandon the run but they do need to pick their battles better and not waste everyone’s time with 2nd and 10 power runs that force obvious passing situations.
If “fully unleashed” means Seattle’s pass-run split is closer to what modern NFL analytics suggest it should be, then that ain’t happening. But I do believe Schottenheimer’s adaptability is better than it’s given credit for and the game script will be adjusted appropriately... and if not, log onto Twitter and enjoy the weekly show that is Seahawks Twitter.
Dave Choate: Not that I have a vested fantasy interest or anything, but how have the RB and WR depth charts shaken out in Seattle? Is this a true committee backfield, or is Carson going to dominate touches?
Mooke Alexander: Carson, Carlos Hyde, Travis Homer, and Deejay Dallas) touches against the Falcons but I wouldn’t read too much into that for the long term. Carson is still clearly the lead back and the only things of concern regarding him are his health (coming off of a cracked hip) and his really worrying fumble problems from last year. Otherwise he will get the lion’s share of carries while Hyde is the main backup uh... back. One of Dallas or Homer could end up rotating third-down duties throughout the season.
At wide receiver, Tyler Lockett is the #1 in theory while DK Metcalf is #2 but if Metcalf continues his development it might be 1a and 1b at the very least. From there, Josh Gordon is the presumptive #3 but until he’s reinstated those honors belong to Philip Dorsett (who’s injured). Seattle’s depth chart at both positions is really as solid as it’s ever been and that bodes well for an offense that figures to be among the best in the league once again.
Dave Choate: The offensive line has been a punchline for a while now. Is this an improved unit this year, or is it more of the same for Seattle?
Mookie Alexander: It’s a big ol’ question mark because of the roster turnover. Justin Britt is gone at center and replaced by Ethan Pocic, who’s finally healthy and ready to play at his natural position. DJ Fluker was released and replaced by rookie right guard Damien Lewis, who’s drawn rave reviews like no other Seahawks offensive lineman in recent seasons, which I’m not even used to. Lastly, Brandon Shell replaces Germain Ifedi at right tackle and given how much criticism Ifedi received (some of it unwarranted) for his numerous penalties and blown blocks, Shell does not have a high bar to clear to be considered an improvement. Mike Iupati remains the left guard and he’s a people mover in run-blocking, while left tackle
Duane Brown is the most accomplished and most experienced (aka “old”) player on the line. I have serious concerns about Brown’s health and the possibility that, as we sometimes see with linemen his age (35), his performances just fall off a cliff. Seattle lacks a legitimate backup tackle option following George Fant’s departure, and I cannot envision a scenario where this offense can survive either Jamarco Jones (who’s too slow and better suited for guard) or Cedric Ogbuehi (a known liability) for an extended period of time. The upside to Seattle’s OL is undoubtedly Pocic and Lewis, but the potential downsides are the aging Brown and Iupati on the left side and Shell at right tackle. I’m still expecting a lot of Russell Wilson running for his life, but I’d gladly take improved run blocking so Chris Carson and the other backs don’t have to work as hard for their yards.
Dave Choate: Defensively, I’m curious to see what you think is this team’s ceiling in 2020, especially for the pass rush. Will they be able to put the brakes on this Atlanta offense, or is this last year’s Matt Schaub debacle but with Matt Ryan healthy?
Mookie Alexander: Our own John Morgan did a little research that showed that it’s really hard to have an elite defense if the pass rush is weak. With rookie Darrell Taylor on NFI for half the season, that leaves the team with a front reliant on Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa as the main guys to get after the quarterback, while the hope is Rasheem Green (last year’s sack leader with four!), Alton Robinson, and especially LJ Collier can step up. I’m not exactly too optimistic that the Seahawks will be able to consistently generate pressure with four, so they’ll have to blitz more and blitz smarter and more creatively.
Their strengths on defense are clearly at linebacker with Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright at the helm, while the oft-criticized secondary of 2019 got a big boost with the Jamal Adams and Quinton Dunbar trades. Add that to the promising hype surrounding Marquise Blair’s ability to play nickel corner in addition to safety and suddenly the Seahawks should be able to avoid the hell that was playing so much base defense last year. In theory, this Seahawks defense is good enough to slow down the Falcons offense but I’d rather not give Matt Ryan ages to find Julio Jones or Calvin Ridley.
Dave Choate: What are your expectations for the game and for the season? Can the Seahawks win the NFC West this year, and will they?
Mookie Alexander: For the game: I expect the Seahawks to look really sluggish as they always do in Week 1, which means either a frustratingly close win or an outright loss. For the season: I really expect them to win the NFC West and if they don’t then I’ll be really damn disappointed because that would be the longest drought they’ve had without an NFC West title since moving back over in 2002. Failure to make the playoffs ought to result in firings, especially when the expansion to 14 teams means you should only need nine wins minimum to get in.
The Jamal Adams trade represents a level of “win now” that we’ve really not seen out of them for other big offseason moves. The offensive and defensive lines scare me greatly due to lack of depth and really a lack of top talent, but Russell Wilson has overcome bad offensive line play before and as long as the offense remains roughly as good as last year’s, all the defense needs to be is average to above-average and that should put them in prime position to contend.