NFL

5 players who must step up for Seattle to repeat as NFC champs

With a 5-3 record that includes some ugly wins, the Seattle Seahawks have not quite lived up to lofty expectations in 2014.

Injuries have hit Seattle hard, but this team clearly isn’t as good as its predecessor at the moment. Key departures in free agency and issues on both the offensive and defensive lines have set the Seahawks back well behind the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West.

There’s still enough talent on this squad to make another Super Bowl run. A few players need to step up for the Seahawks to repeat as NFC champs and they need to do it quickly.

Russell Okung, LT

Seattle’s offensive line was the biggest concern heading into the season and it has indeed struggled so far in 2014. The entire unit could play better, but Okung in particular needs to step up.

Right tackle Justin Britt has had his growing pains as a rookie, but has looked solid overall. Left guard James Carpenter is dealing with injuries and quickly heading towards bust status, while right guard J.R. Sweezy has been arguably the strongest member of the offensive line. Max Unger‘s foot injury has left a black hole at center, although he should be back this week.

However, we’ve seen Okung play at a much higher level in the past. Okung has graded out poorly in pass protection and committed the fifth-most penalties per game of any player in the NFL.

Okung has been playing through a torn labrum and missed last week with a calf injury, which could very well be impacting his performance. The Seahawks need him to get healthy and become more effective before they face a number of tough pass rushes over the final seven weeks of the year.

O’Brien Schofield, DE

It’s not fair to blame the drop in production on the defensive line on one person. Seattle’s scheme was largely dependent on a big rotation of defensive linemen to keep everyone fresh, which hasn’t been able to happen in 2014 due to injuries and key losses during the offseason.

Michael Bennett is among the league leaders in quarterback pressures and Cliff Avril has looked bery strong over the past few games. Still, the Seahawks need a third rusher to step up and turn those pressures into sacks, as Seattle ranks 28th in the NFL in that category.

Given the production the Seahawks got from the LEO position a year ago, it would be nice to see Schofield be that third rusher. Schofield has the physical tools to be a disruptive edge rusher, but has only really stood out in Seattle’s Week 8 win over the Carolina Panthers.

Schofield looked very good during the preseason, so the Seahawks will hope he can get back to that level down the stretch.

Jermaine Kearse, WR

The Percy Harvin trade means the Seahawks are comfortable rolling with Doug Baldwin and Kearse as their primary receivers. Baldwin is easily leading the team in receptions and yards, meaning the Seahawks need some others to produce more.

In particular, it would be beneficial if Kearse could get more involved as a deep threat. Kearse is averaging 13.9 yards per reception (compared to 15.7 in the 2013 regular season and 19.1 in the postseason) and has only found the end zone once.

Kearse hasn’t been a liability in any sense – he’s well on his way to career-highs in receptions and yards. Still, with little depth behind him, Kearse needs to break open a few big plays here and there as the No. 2 receiver.

Luke Willson, TE

Zach Miller‘s recovery from ankle surgery has gone slowly and it remains unclear when he will be able to return. That means either Willson or Cooper Helfet will have to take over tight end duties for the foreseeable future.

While he doesn’t have the blocking ability of Miller, Willson has some physical traits that could make him an appealing pass catcher. Willson is 6-foot-5, 252 pounds and can run close to a 4.5 40-yard dash, potentially making him a very difficult cover.

However, Willson looked poor last week against the Oakland Raiders, dropping four passes, including two that could have easily been caught. At the very least, Willson needs to be sure-handed when he does get open.

Russell Wilson, QB

Yes, Wilson single-handedly carried the Seahawks to victory over Washington and was basically the entire offense in a loss to the St. Louis Rams. He also played very well in Seattle’s key wins this season over the Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos and led a fourth-quarter comeback against Carolina.

However, Wilson has looked off the past two weeks, missing a number of wide-open throws he would normally make. Wilson had one of the worst games of his career against the Raiders, completing 17 out of 35 passes for 179 yards.

Poor play by the offensive line and drops by the receivers certainly didn’t help, but the Seahawks need Wilson to play much better than he has over the past two weeks. It’s not necessarily that Wilson is playing a whole lot worse than last season overall, but that this season’s squad needs more out of its quarterback.

Photo Credit: Paul Jasienski / 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.
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