Seahawks look ready to make the JUMP!
Why Super Bowl contention could be closer than we thought: Seaside Joe 1617
The Seattle Seahawks could make “the jump” this season. Following in the footsteps of the Bengals and Eagles, I see the Seahawks in a small group of “jump-worthy” franchises in the NFL.
There are enough players on the roster right now who have the potential to get significantly better or upgrade their predecessors that I’ve identified through an exact scientific and mathematical process known as — “I think so” — that the Seahawks are among the four teams most-likely to make: The Jump.
Last season’s biggest jumpers were the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that improved from 15th in DVOA to third. The Eagles ranked 25th in defense in 2021, then with the help of second-year defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon and consultant Vic Fangio, improved to sixth by DVOA.
Philadelphia went from allowing 22.6 points per game to 20.2, but more impressive than that is an improvement of 22nd in points per drive allowed to 10th.
The 2022 Eagles defense was of course also helped by an improved passing offense, as Jalen Hurts was given A.J. Brown as a third legitimate receiving weapon and on a similar number of throws from his first season as starter increased his completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown rate, and his passer rating went from 87.2 to 101.5.
Hurts didn’t do this on his own.
He had Brown; he was going into his second season with offensive coordinator Shane Steichen; he had weapons like DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert; help from a good offensive line; and a defense that was giving the offense many more good opportunities to score. The Eagles went from 22nd in average starting position to 12th, while the defense went from 26th in turnovers forced (16 total) to fourth (27).
Are their comparisons to be made between the 2022 Eagles and the way that the 2023 Seahawks could be setting up?
The intro would have been for nothing if I didn’t think so: Signs indicate that Seattle will score more points, be more efficient on offense, do a better job of protecting Geno Smith, catch more passes and do more to gain yards after the catch, play better run defense, boast a top-five secondary, and with a little more luck, force more turnovers. Better than all of that, the Seahawks should play better against better opponents, including the San Francisco 49ers.
Yes. I’m starting to believe that Seattle’s on track and closer to now than later.
The Eagles were the most notable team to make “the jump” because Philadelphia went from a 9-8 season to 14-3 and reached the Super Bowl, but there are other examples. Though the Bengals went to the Super Bowl in 2021, they actually improved their DVOA from 17th to fifth in 2022, so in a way Cincinnati made “the jump” last season even though their playoff run ended earlier than the year before.
The Baltimore Ravens went from 19th in DVOA to seventh and had it not been for Lamar Jackson missing the last five games, their improvement may have been much more significant. The Miami Dolphins were in a similar predicament, going from 25th in DVOA to eighth before the Skylar started falling. The Detroit Lions went from 29th to ninth and the Jacksonville Jaguars went from 32nd to 13th.
What may be most surprising to you is that not only did Seattle not improve their DVOA ranking last season, they dropped from ninth to 10th.
So the Seahawks actually don’t have to show quite as much improvement (technically speaking and strictly referencing DVOA) as the Eagles did in order to reach the top-five of the NFL hierarchy. However, there is still a dramatic difference right now in how we perceive last season’s top five—Chiefs, Bills, Eagles, 49ers, Bengals—and how we perceive the next tier after them and I think that’s largely due to their explosive and efficient offenses.
All five of thsoe teams ranked in the top-six of offensive DVOA with the lone exception being the Lions, who ranked fifth in offense by finished 9-8 after recovering from a 1-6 start.
For Seattle to reach that upper echelon of NFL teams and make “the jump”, they would most likely need to follow a model like the Eagles or 49ers, as they clearly don’t rely as heavily on the arm of their starting quarterback as Kansas City, Buffalo, and Cincinnati all do. Hurts may be a good enough passer and Josh Allen may be a dual threat, but I think that San Francisco and Philadelphia are obviously more reliant on supporting cast than these AFC teams with Mahomes, Burrow, and Allen.
It’s fair to say that Geno Smith’s path to the Super Bowl will look more like Brock Purdy than Patrick Mahomes.
As we complete the second week of training camp and get closer to the regular season, I believe there’s reason to be optimistic that the Seahawks have players who could make their own leaps that could add up to Seattle being a Super Bowl contender.
How to identify the jump?
I’ll start with the three-non Seahawks teams I see making the jump
I will use the Philadelphia Eagles as an example because they did the thing that all the teams and fans want to do each season, minus a victory, but it’s important to note that some of these other teams have just as valid arguments for why they should be models of improvement.
I think we could just as easily examine the Jaguars or the Ravens or the Dolphins and come away with valuable information on “How To Get Better by Mike McDaniel”, and the only reason I’m not doing that is because they got a little unlucky. Miami went into Buffalo in the wild card round with Skylar Thompson at quarterback and lost by three points.
Jacksonville went from 3-14 to winning their division.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are one of the four teams most likely to be elevated from the middle to the top tier
I don’t think the Jaguars were much like Super Bowl contenders last season, but we could have said the same thing about the Bengals in 2021 if they had lost any of their close games in the AFC playoffs that year. That’s probably what made it so easy to forget that Cincinnati won four games in 2020, then they improved, and then last season they made their true “jump”.
The Jags have their quarterback, a head coach who has won the Super Bowl, at least three receiving weapons (Calvin Ridley, Christian Kirk, Evan Engram), a “good enough” defense, and play in a division with two of the worst teams in football.
A second AFC team that could make the jump is the New York Jets
In head coach Robert Saleh’s second year, the Jets improved from 26th in DVOA to 16th, bouyed by an improvement on defense that saw New York’s go from 32nd to fifth. The Jets then addressed their most obvious weakness and the reason that they didn’t make the playoffs last year by trading for Aaron Rodgers. As hard as it is to bet on the Jets, Rodgers has a number one weapon (Garrett Wilson), a top-five defense, and four MVP trophies.
I see their holes at tackle, the question about Breece Hall’s health, the possibility of defensive regression. I’ll take my chances because even if they don’t win the AFC East, I don’t see three better non-division winning teams in the AFC. I’ll bet on Rodgers over any quarterback not favored to win his division with the exception of a Justin Herbert toss-up.
My biggest surprise to make the jump is the Panthers
The third team I’ll choose is one that I know isn’t probable to make a deep playoff run, but instead could be poised to take that step forward like the 2022 Jaguars to get into the playoffs, and similar to the Jets, Carolina is a team that is going to take dramatic leaps forward just from having a new quarterback.
This is on a level similar to why I picked the Rams to win the Super Bowl after they traded for Matthew Stafford: I thought Stafford was good, sure. But most importantly, I thought Jared Goff was terrible.
The Panthers ranked 28th in passing last season and it’s a miracle they weren’t lower because they gave equal snaps to Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield, plus a few starts for P.J. Walker. I’m a huge fan of Bryce Young, but he’d only need to be about the 22nd-best quarterback in the league to be a lot better than his predecessors. He also has a lot more help.
Left tackle Ikem Ekwonu, who went before Charles Cross in the draft last year, reportedly looks like a franchise player in training camp. The pass catchers lack one elite talent but is deep in good players; I think we could see a big season from D.J. Chark. But the two most important factors are the dramatic improvement in coaching staff (Frank Reich, who is far more qualified than Matt Rhule, has assembled a staff that looks impressive, at least on paper) and the fact that they play in the worst division.
The Panthers won seven games last year and I think they could win at least 11 this year. Carolina was 28th in DVOA, but if they improve their pass DVOA (28th) and defense (25th), I think they’ll be approaching the top-10.
Those are three teams that I think should make “the jump”, but tell me three teams you think could make the jump in the comments.
Why the Seahawks will make the jump
What the Seahawks have that they don’t have
Seattle’s jump is far less dramatic than those three teams because they’ve already been in the top-10 of DVOA in each of the last two seasons and Pete Carroll has coached the Seahawks into a playoff appearance in 10 of 13 campaigns.
But in another way, Seattle also has the biggest obstacle to overcome because unlike Trevor Lawrence, Aaron Rodgers, and Bryce Young, the Seahawks are trying to win without making a huge investment at quarterback. Instead, Carroll is banking on Seattle’s moves in the draft and free agency over the last two years (all kickstarted by a trade) and that their moves will click together better than even the Eagles.
That’s a pretty big gamble considering that Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Devon Witherspoon, and Zach Charbonnet are completely unproven…and yet I’m starting to believe.
The Seahawks are already good
As I said before, I hate choosing teams like the Jaguars and Jets because I have always believed that problems start with ownership. I’m just assuming that Lawrence and Rodgers can overcome bad ownership in the same way that Peyton Manning did for the Colts and Broncos.
Conversely, Pete Carroll is a Hall of Fame coach and Seattle is a perennial playoff contender. He’s even managed to find a way to get the Seahawks into the playoffs in two of the three years that he hasn’t had Russell Wilson. Think about that: Carroll got into the playoffs in two of three years without Russ. But Jacksonville and New York have each made two playoff appearances in the last 15 years.
I don’t have to worry if the Seahawks are coached right and that’s a HUGE advantage towards making the jump.
It’s probably harder to bet on somebody who has been in the NFL for three or four years without success and is only now standing out in training camp for the first time. D’Wayne Eskridge being a great example of that right now. However, I always assume players will struggle as rookies, no matter how high they are drafted, so I’m quite hopeful for Charles Cross, Abe Lucas, Ken Walker, Tariq Woolen, Boye Mafe, and Coby Bryant to all get a lot better.
They were mostly already good!
Pete has called Mafe “the most improved” in training camp. He said after the mock game on Friday that Cross and Lucas are way ahead of where they were at this time last year. Walker and Woolen basically just need to go from Pro Bowl to All-Pro.
Look no further than some of last season’s sophomores: Lawrence, Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, Penei Sewell, DeVonta Smith, Micah Parsons, Travis Etienne, Jaelan Phillips, Christian Darrisaw. Players we now consider either very important-to-elite talents who we think can help teams win Super Bowls.
Then there are guys who aren’t rookies but in a way are entering their second season: Geno Smith, Mike Jackson, Uchenna Nwosu, Tre Brown.
Seahawks DEFENSE DVOA 2022:
Why not start with the easiest to identify, the change from Cody Barton to Bobby Wagner? And the linebackers should have easier assignments given the upgrades on defensive line, most notable going from Poona Ford to Dre’Mont Jones and also getting back Jarran Reed.
If Seattle’s defensive line deserved a C- or D+ grade in 2022, I could see that unit getting to at least a B- based on their changes and what’s been seen in training camp. I’m hesitant to say that I have confidence in Mario Edwards or Devin Bush being upgrades at this point, but Pete seems happy and less worried about the front-seven now than he did at the end of last season.
And though I’m putting a lot of faith in reports from people who really want it to be the case, I’m extremely confident that Julian Love will make the defense better. I don’t know if Jamal Adams will play or how he’ll play, but I think he will at least play in more than one half of one game.
The Seahawks were 17th against the pass and 25th against the run by DVOA last year. Could they shoot for 10th against the pass and 15th against the run? Those expectations would give Seattle a borderline top-10 defense (I’m optimistic that like with Gannon, Clint Hurtt just needs a second season to get everything installed) and a shot at winning the division.
By the way, the vaunted Eagles defense was 21st against the run. (And first against the pass.)
Seahawks OFFENSE DVOA 2022:
Offensively, I don’t know what to expect of Evan Brown or Olu Oluwatimi, but I did think Austin Blythe was a weak link at center.
And I hesitate to say this but I also can’t wait to say it…I think Jaxon Smith-Njigba is one of the most gifted players ever drafted by the Seahawks. If that seems obvious because he’s a first round pick, let me add that I’m actually still hesitating to make the prediction that I want to predict.
But a more reserved prediction is that I think his value to Seattle will be at least as good as Garrett Wilson’s (2022 Offensive Rookie of the Year) was/is to the Jets.
Then I’d just ask, given Geno going into his third year with Shane Waldron’s offense, could the Seahawks go from scoring 23.9 points per game to scoring 26.5 points per game? That’s how many the 49ers scored last year with Jimmy Garoppolo and Brock Purdy and they ranked fifth in the NFL in scoring.
Combining that offensive improvement with the defensive improvement, the Seattle Seahawks would definitely make the jump from 9-8 and not being a serious contender in the playoffs, to at least 11 wins and probably being capable of beating anybody on a good day.
I’ve read a lot of reports of players having training camps at a high level. Brandon Aiyuk on the 49ers. James Cook on the Bills. Ekwonu on the Panthers.
I probably haven’t heard of another team in the NFL that has as many “he’s having a great camp” guys as the Seahawks seem to have so far. More news like that will make you jump.
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