NFC West Writer
Well, at least they got the win.
On the fortune of two missed field goals in the fourth quarter by usually reliable Arizona kicker Matt Prater, the Seattle Seahawks eked out a 21-20 road victory over the Cardinals in the final regular season game, finishing without a penalty for only the second time in the Pete Carroll era.
And while the Seahawks earned an identical 9-8 record as last season, the feeling for Carroll and his players was much different this time.
Instead of sneaking into the playoffs after moving on from the franchise’s best quarterback in Russell Wilson last season, the Seahawks fell short of reaching the postseason when the Green Bay Packers won their game to punch the final ticket.
“My assessment is we didn’t do enough,” Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith told reporters after the game. “We didn’t meet our goals. We have high expectations. We believe that we can do some great things as a team. And for us to not make the playoffs was a disappointment.”
Now that their season is over, the Seahawks have several questions heading into the offseason. And at the top of that list will be whether Carroll will remain with the organization in 2024, along with the coordinators on both sides of the ball and veteran players such as Jamal Adams and Bobby Wagner.
Let’s look at the issues for the Seahawks as they enter the offseason.
Seahawks are not built to win NFC West
The easiest way into the playoffs is to win your division. The Seahawks have won the NFC West just once since 2017 after Carroll’s teams captured the NFC West three of his first five seasons in Seattle.
Seattle finished 2-4 in the division this season, the worst record for the Seahawks in the Carroll era. And they don’t appear to be anywhere close to competing with the San Francisco 49ers, who have won back-to-back NFC West titles.
Smith is 0-4 as a starter against the 49ers since taking over for Wilson at the start of last season. Seattle has averaged just 14 points a game against San Francisco with Smith under center, and the Seahawks have lost by an average of 16 points a contest.
Seahawks QB Geno Smith on competing despite playoff elimination
Run defense remains an issue
Seattle’s run defense had shown signs of improvement earlier this season but then turned back into the poorly performing group that consistently missed tackles last season.
“Starting early on, we were putting so much emphasis on making sure that wasn’t a thing,” Wagner said about the run defense. “And you saw teams start to throw the ball. And then you try to balance that, and stuff happens. So I think it’s just more so finding ways to get off the field and making sure you do your job.”
The Seahawks finished the season allowing 138.4 rushing yards a game. Only the Cardinals allowed more. Seattle also allowed 1,568 yards after contact. Only the Carolina Panthers (1,627) allowed more.
The Seahawks brought back veterans in linebacker Wagner and defensive tackle Jarran Reed in free agency, along with signing newcomers in defensive lineman Dre’Mont Jones, safety Julian Love and linebacker Devin Bush. Seattle drafted Devon Witherspoon and defensive end Derick Hall. But the defense still struggled to consistently tackle, and now Carroll must determine if current defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt can fix the problem, or if it’s time to hire his sixth defensive coordinator since he’s been with the team.
The Seahawks also are paying safeties Adams, Quandre Diggs and Love good money for what is not considered a premium position. And although 33-year-old Wagner topped the league in tackles and made a Pro Bowl, Seattle will have to make a decision on whether to bring him back to lead the defense.
Getting back injured edge rusher Uchenna Nwosu, the team’s best run defender, should help. But a scheme change could be in order.
Seahawks lack a franchise quarterback
Smith played well the last month of the season, fits Carroll’s culture and understands how the coach wants his quarterback to play, protecting the football and creating explosive plays when the opportunity is there.
Over the last four games since returning after missing a road contest against San Francisco with a groin injury, Smith completed 66% his passes for 706 yards, with five touchdowns and no interceptions for a 104.6 passer rating. But it’s fair to question if the Seahawks can compete with the 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams at the top of the division with Smith at the helm.
Quarterback wins are not a great barometer for how someone plays the position, but Smith is 17-17 as a starter in his time in Seattle.
Will the Seahawks replace Geno Smith in the NFL Draft?
Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron also deserves closer scrutiny, as Seattle struggled to consistently run the football and did not always have answers against some of the top defenses in the league.
“I felt like I got better as a quarterback, better as a leader,” Smith said. “I gained so much perspective this year and battled through injuries. … I know I can be a lot better in some areas. And I’m working to improve on those.”
Is Carroll still the guy to lead the team?
Asked by reporters if he plans to be back next season, Carroll said, “I do.”
But then he added: “At this point I do.”
The 72-year-old coach is signed through the 2024 season with an option for 2025. But does Carroll have the energy to stomach a significant reclamation project for the Seahawks?
“I really do feel like our youth shows up,” Carroll told reporters this week. “That’s a positive moving forward, and as you look to the future, you can see that this club can go places and do stuff.
“But at times we’re not reacting as consistently as we’d like to. You see really bright spots, and it maybe doesn’t resurface. And that’s because we haven’t solidified the mentality of our guys, in terms of being NFL players.”
For now, this young group is Carroll’s to lead. But this is a different era for Seahawks football, and this is a franchise that has won just one playoff game in the past eight years.
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.
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