Sports Out West

Seattle Seahawks: Grading a Super Bowl championship season

Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson holds the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the NFL Super Bowl XLVIII football game against the Denver Broncos Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. The Seahawks won 43-8. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

In one night, three decades of professional sports misery was erased for a city starved for a championship. The Seattle Seahawks earned their first Super Bowl win by dismantling the Denver Broncos in all three phases of the game en route to a 43-8 blowout.

This one game reflected and magnified all the things that made Seattle successful this year, namely getting contributions from just about every player on the roster and a relentless defense that will now enter the conversation of being among the all-time greats. It feels like this team is just scratching the surface of what it could possibly accomplish, but for now Seahawks’ fans will have the offseason to reflect on the greatest season in franchise history. Here’s a look at what went well, what went really well, and what could have been even better for the Super Bowl XLVIII champions.

Quarterbacks

For all the flak that Seattle’s offense got at times this season, Russell Wilson’s numbers this season were just slightly better than those in his outstanding rookie campaign. Wilson was efficient and didn’t make mistakes, completing over 63 percent of his passes and throwing 26 touchdown passes to just 9 interceptions.

There was a stretch near the end of the regular season were Wilson made some bad decisions and didn’t use his legs when he had the opportunity. He had his worst game as a pro in Week 16 against the Arizona Cardinals. But Wilson bounced back with a remarkable effort in the NFC Championship Game despite being hit on just about every dropback, and had an outstanding Super Bowl.

It’s impossible to be critical of a quarterback who has 28 wins and a Super Bowl win in his first two years in the NFL. Wilson is much more than a “game manager.” The only reason Wilson doesn’t get a perfect grade is because he can be even better in the future.

Grade: A-

Running Backs

Another year, another 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns for Marshawn Lynch. Lynch took a fairly significant step backwards in yards and yards per carry, but the punishing running back remained the focal point of Seattle’s offensive identity.

Lynch had a stretch where he was not particularly effective in late November and early December, and never really got going in the Super Bowl. But he more than made up for it by being the star in the Seahawks’ other two playoff games, running for a combined 249 yards against the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers,.

Robert Turbin had a disappointing year after looking like a strong second option in 2012. Rookie Christine Michael only had 18 carries but looks to have a bright future. 

Grade: A-

Wide Receivers

Words like “pedestrian” and “average” were used to describe the Seahawks’ wide receivers leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII, but that is severely underestimating the talent of the group. Seattle may not have a traditional number one target, but Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse are all skilled receivers who all have the ability to make big plays.

The group had an impressive season despite playing without Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice for the majority of the year.  Harvin earned his contract in the Super Bowl by looking like the most explosive player in the NFL and making everyone around him better.

At times they had difficulty getting open, and the Seahawks’ offense really struggled when it lost that ability for big plays in the passing game. But add a full season of Harvin and a big, physical receiver in the draft, and this unit could be scary next season.

Grade: B+

Tight Ends

This group wasn’t a huge part of the Seahawks’ passing game this year. Zach Miller had 33 catches and 5 touchdowns on the season, including a big game Dec. 2 on “Monday Night Football” against the Saints. Rookie Luke Willson had 20 catches and a touchdown, and is a fascinating prospect moving forward. Still, the Seahawks could have used more productivity from the unit in the red zone, where the offense had problems at times. 

That’s only part of a tight end’s job, and Miller and Kellen Davis did a great job in run blocking.

Grade: B

Offensive Line

All year long, this was the weak link of the team. The unit had to fight through multiple injuries and struggled in pass protection, particularly from the guard position. Wilson was sacked on over 10 percent of his dropbacks, worst in the NFL, and it would have been more if he wasn’t so mobile. The offensive line did step up to keep Wilson clean in the Super Bowl.

In contrast, the group did a good job blocking for Lynch, ranking in the top-10 in run blocking according to Football Outsiders.  

Grade: C

Defensive Line

The defensive line was the unheralded unit of the Seahawks’ defense, which is quite a statement considering the season it had. Michael Bennett came in and was a difference-maker rushing the passer and Brandon Mebane was a premier run stopper to lead a deep group of defensive tackles.

Pressure made the difference in the Super Bowl, as the Seahawks constantly influenced Peyton Manning despite sacking him only once. Cliff Avril was the cause of Manning’s two interceptions and easily could have won Super Bowl MVP honors, while Chris Clemens had the best game of his season.

Grade: A

Linebackers

The Seahawks are a tremendously deep team, with the linebackers being one of the deepest individual units. Former seventh-round pick Malcolm Smith didn’t even have a starting spot for some of the season and was named Super Bowl MVP.

Speed is a big reason why Seattle’s defense is so successful, and Bobby Wagner might just be the fastest linebacker in the NFL. K.J. Wright did a great job in coverage in the Super Bowl and all season long, while Bruce Irvin totaled 40 tackles and 2 sacks. Overall, this unit completely eliminated the second level for opponents.  

Grade: A+

Secondary

The Legion of Boom is the heart and soul of the Seahawks and best represents the attitude the team tries to carry. Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas both earned Defensive Player of the Year votes, and the hard-hitting safety Kam Chancellor deserved to as well.

Sherman is the best corner in the NFL, as teams simply don’t throw at him anymore. Byron Maxwell emerged off the bench as a top corner in his own right, and Walter Thurmond and the suspended Brandon Browner would start for just about any other team in the NFL.

The secondary had the perfect game plan against the Broncos, punishing Denver’s receivers every time they touched the ball and completely eliminating big plays.  

Grade: A+

Special Teams

Lost in the domination of the defense, the Seahawks’ special teams was a top-five unit by DVOA despite missing the most electrifying return man in the NFL for most of the year. Until the last week of the season, the Seahawks had a chance to set the record for fewest punt return yards in NFL. Steven Hauschka was automatic and made a huge difference in terrible weather conditions in the Divisional Round. Tate made some big plays returning punts.

Harvin brought the exclamation point for the unit with the 87-yard touchdown return to begin the second half of the Super Bowl and end any hope of a Denver comeback.   

Grade: A+

Photo Credit: Matt Slocum / Associated Press

 

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Nathaniel Reeves

Nathaniel Reeves is a journalism student at the University of Washington, currently covering sports for The UW Daily in addition to Sports Out West. He has been closely following Seattle sports his entire life.