1: A lot of analysts predicted the Seahawks to be the worst team in the NFL this year, and virtually nobody thought that they’d be having such a good season. How did you feel about them coming into the season, and just why are they playing so well?
Here’s what I’ll say about that: a lot of analysts are wrong about a lot of things. Analysts have a horrible track record. The best draft analyst in the world probably has like a 50% success rate. Imagine giving 100 predictions about football and getting 50 of them right. You got FIFTY of them right! That’s pretty good! But you also got 50 things wrong. Probably horribly wrong. Not a single team drafted Austin Ekeler. Not a single analyst cried foul when Ekeler wasn’t drafted. Not a single analyst said “Austin Ekeler might be better than Melvin Gordon this season.” Here’s my goal as a writer when I make predictions: Take in all the data that you can, consider historical evidence as a way to get you to the most likely potential outcome, then make your best guess but always frame it as just that: A GUESS. Benjamin Allbright has gotten a lot of flak on Seahawks twitter this season because he tweeted that he was telling people that Seattle would be picking first overall in 2019. Okay, that was wrong. But so what? He looked at the data and he made his interpretation of that data, and he decided that Seattle’s dramatic turnover of some big name stars would be enough to put them in contention for 12 losses. (I know that 4-12 will never get you the number one pick, but I think any analyst would tell you that it’s a little crazy to predict any team to finish worse than 4-12 or better than 12-4; of course a team or four will do better or worse than those records, but really you’re just pooling teams together in tiers; Allbright put the Seahawks in the lowest tier and the way they’ve played recently has proven that’s probably inaccurate... and so what? Every single person in the world who tries to predict the football season will get a lot of their tiers wrong. I thought the Jaguars would be great and Washington would be terrible. We’re all pretty bad at this to some degree.)
Anyways, I obviously disagreed with Allbright and any analyst that didn’t like Seattle’s chances.
I tend to be way more optimistic than most, but I saw the Seahawks with a 9-7 record and a two-game swing in either direction, so as good as 11-5 or as bad as 7-9. The reasons I saw them remaining in contention are really pretty simple: the historical track records of Pete Carroll, Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, and Earl Thomas. I trust those four guys and I never once expected Thomas to miss a game because of his holdout. If you have the coach and the quarterback, that’s enough for me to almost never expect anything worse than 6-10, but Seattle also had those pieces on defense and the head coach is a proven defensive genius. The bonus is that I saw a lot of young players that I have confidence in, but admittedly they had to step up in ways we could not guarantee they would. Still, this team lost Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman with seven games left on the schedule last year and they still went 4-3 in those games, including a convincing win over the Eagles. Really what did they lose from that team? Jimmy Graham, Sheldon Richardson, Paul Richardson, and Michael Bennett were the only big names to leave from that second-half Seahawks team last season and I didn’t really get worried about losing any of them except for Bennett. (That being said, for them to trade Bennett with virtually nothing to gain from it, they must have felt it was a significant addition-by-subtraction team chemistry move.) They had to go the discount route, but I liked almost everything they did in the offseason in regards to putting together their best 53 while adding a bunch of new faces on a limited budget.
They are playing better than I expected, but I did not expect them to be bad.
2: It’s funny you mention Okung being the first pick of the Carroll/Schneider era, because D.J. Fluker was the first draft pick that current Chargers GM Tom Telesco made! Weird, huh? D.J. Fluker was pretty poor for the Chargers, but it looks like he’s been having a bit of a career renaissance in Seattle. How’s he been doing, and how’s the rest of the much criticized OL group playing?
I would call Fluker the best signing of the 2018 offseason and potentially one of the top five fan favorites on a team overloaded with fan favorites (Russell Wilson, Shaquem Griffin, Michael Dickson, Chris Carson...) right now. The offense sucked in Weeks 1 and 2 without him and magically changed overnight, it seemed, when Fluker got into the lineup in Week 3. He’s mauling fools and the run game is right where Pete Carroll said he wanted it when they made all those personnel changes that geared towards a better run game (replace Graham with Ed Dickson, sign Fluker and J.R. Sweezy, hire Brian Schottenheimer as OC, Mike Solari at OL coach, draft Rashaad Penny in the first round) with Fluker getting a ton of credit for that. I also haven’t seen or noticed any issues in pass blocking though the team may be compensating for that by running play action, zone read options, and limiting their pass attempts (fewest in the league). Attitude wise though, I’d say that’s what puts Fluker as a player that every fan wants to see get an extension. He loves football, winning, having fun, and we all love him for it. I’m SHOCKED that Fluker didn’t work out in San Diego, it’s mindblogging to me, because he’s just so good for Seattle now.
The rest of the group is better too, which is to be expected when you replace Rees Odhiambo at left tackle with Duane Brown. Germain Ifedi’s blossomed from first round bust to quality right tackle. Sweezy’s having the best season of his career. It’s unexpectedly been very good.
3: The Legion of Boom aren’t around anymore, but this still looks like a pretty formidable Seahawks defense. Is that fair to say? Where do the strengths and weaknesses lie for the Seahawks on the defensive side of the ball?
Yes, it is formidable, and that’s why I said earlier that Carroll is a defensive genius. He belongs in the Hall of Fame just for his defensive record, spanning decades that started with the Minnesota Vikings in the 80s, continued with the Jets and 49ers in the 90s, took a hiatus when he dominated NCAA ball for a decade, then brought it back by building the LOB from scratch and having an elite stretch from 2012-2015. He’s awesome. I can’t say enough about what he’s done and 2018 has the potential to be his crowning achievement because the Seahawks are a top-five defense right now despite losing all those players I mentioned before, not having KJ Wright for six weeks, Earl Thomas breaking his leg again, and rotating some unknown pass rushers opposite of Frank Clark.
The breakout players in that time:
Bradley McDougald was signed as the number three safety last year and re-upped on an affordable three-year contract and he seems likely to represent the NFC as a Pro Bowl strong safety this season. He’s really, really good.
Jarran Reed has developed a pass rush to go with his elite run-stopping. He’s going to be a must-have-locked-down player when his extension comes up in 2019.
Clark is on pace to have around 15 sacks.
Tre Flowers was a safety at Oklahoma State a year ago and now he’s a fairly good starting cornerback for Seattle.
Shaquill Griffin’s had a nice season in year two opposite of Flowers.
Barkevious Mingo is never going to be a star but he did a nice job against the pass while filling in snaps for Wright.
It hasn’t been easy to pass or run on the Seahawks most of the time but they’re also likely to give up a frustrating third down conversion or a wide open player on busted coverage; Seattle is banking a lot of their success on long drives that they hope end in a turnover or field goal attempt. That kinda works for them! But against an offense that has Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, and Mike Williams, I kinda hate it. I expect to be tortured on Sunday when LA takes the field just because Rivers is so damn good and I remember well how easily he torched up Seattle’s defense four years ago. It’s gonna be a much different story than it is when they face guys like Derek Carr.
4: Could you give us a player on both sides of the ball that you think flies under the radar from fans of other teams and the media in general?
Right now a lot of Seahawks fans are expecting David Moore to develop into the best receiver they’ve found since Doug Baldwin. No offense to Tyler Lockett, who is playing well and earning the contract extension he just signed, but Moore has been an exciting player to watch get increased playing time over the last month. In the last four games, Moore has caught 11 of 13 targets for 221 yards and four touchdowns; the volume is low, as you’d expect in a Seattle offense, but the production per target is unreal. I love what Baldwin, Lockett, and Moore are doing right now but Moore, a seventh round pick in 2017 (same round as Chris Carson), looks like he could be the best of the bunch.
Defensively, I’ll highlight Flowers. When the season started, it was a very scary proposition to have a fifth round rookie college safety starting at cornerback, and he struggled immediately, but after missing Week 2, Flowers has come back and seemingly done more than hold his own. Flowers was drafted by Carroll for his frame and athletic abilities at 6’3 with nearly 34” arms and a 4.45 40-yard dash, but we all thought, “this could take a couple years.” Well, Richard Sherman was great way earlier than expected. I don’t know if Flowers is “great” and I won’t compare him to Sherman as a cornerback, but similarly, he’s ready to start sooner than expected. He doesn’t have an interception yet and I don’t know exactly what the numbers are when he’s targeted, but there’s no clear problems at that position despite his inexperience. Carroll has developed Sherman, Brandon Browner, Byron Maxwell, Jeremy Lane, Justin Coleman, Shaquill Griffin, and Walter Thurmond, among others, and Flowers has a ceiling to rival any of them.
5: Could we get a score prediction for the game?
Low scoring. A focus on the ground game. Who protects the football better? Who executes on special teams? I expect this to be frustrating for fans on both sides of the ball and exciting at times for fans on both sides of the ball. Seattle is typically very good at home, Russell Wilson is typically very good at home, and the lack of Bosa gives me hope that they’ll be able to protect Wilson just enough to get just enough gains to pull it out. Seahawks 24, Chargers 21
A big thanks to Kenneth for answering my questions! If you’re interested in seeing the questions (and answers) he posed to me, you can check that out here.