The Seahawks wrapped up their 2021 season with an impressive win over the Arizona Cardinals, a victory that both gave the team confidence for what it can be in 2022, and that also showed what might have been had they played that well earlier in the season and avoided the losses that led to a 7-10 record and just the second season without a playoff berth in the last 10 years.
A day after that win, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll held a long, wide-ranging press conference to recap the 2021 season and look ahead to what figures to be a busy offseason as the team looks to bounce back from its first losing season since 2011.
In addition to some injury updates Carroll gave in his press conference, here are five things we learned from the Seahawks head coach before the team heads into its offseason:
1. The Seahawks showed "the team that we can become" with a strong finish to the season.
On one hand, finishing the year strong after being eliminated from the postseason can seem like something of an empty accomplishment for a team with championship aspirations, but on the other hand, the way the Seahawks won four of their final six games, including their last two with a combined 89 points scored by an offense finding its way late in the year, can be viewed as an encouraging sign for what is to come in 2022.
"I'll share what I talked to the guys about today—we were able to see the team that we can become over the course of this year," Carroll said. "We didn't get other things done, but we did see that. I told them today, I remember telling Kam (Chancellor) and (Richard Sherman) and those guys when they were in here years ago that in this room right now is the nucleus of a championship team that we'll add to and we'll bring in and support, but the guys in this room are the guys that are going to make this happen. That's what it feels like, and we should be excited about it. I am. I'm excited about the chance of coming back and playing cleaner, sharper, more physical football than we did this year more consistently. With attending to the issues that we had, we should clean those things and we should be good. We have a very challenging division, and we're going to have to be really good. Like I said before, if you make it through this division, you should have chance to win the whole thing. That's what we're aiming at."
2. Russell Wilson played his best football at the end of the season.
The 2021 season presented a new and significant challenge for quarterback Russell Wilson, who missed games for the first time in his 10-year career after suffering a finger injury that required surgery. Wilson made a quick return, missing only three games, but both he and the offense struggled to get on track after he returned. Eventually Wilson got back to looking like his old self, and it's no coincidence that as he heated up, so too did the offense, with Wilson throwing nine touchdowns with one interception in his final three games, posting passer ratings of 104.1, 133.0 and 110.7.
"I thought that he was at his best at the end, I thought that he really played his best down the stretch," Carroll said. "He was more resourceful, and he had a really good game yesterday, moving to find third-down conversions, connecting with guys, making big plays, took off running and made a terrific touchdown run. I just thought that he was at his best in the last few weeks. It's significant in recognizing that, I'm sure every day from this point forward that he will feel better and better and put the surgery behind him, which he already has, but it will be farther in the past and it will be less than a factor in any way. I was really excited for the finish. I was really pleased and proud of the accomplishment about the wins to start his career. That is an amazing accomplishment with only the greatest players to be compared to. The consistency that it takes and the dedication that it takes to be available for that kind of record is amazing. He did it, he pulled it off with teams around him, players around him, and I always like to remember that Bobby (Wagner) was right there with him too, for the most part of all of those numbers. It's still a great accomplishment and it was significant too that he got to do it in the last game of this year."
3. The Seahawks need to be better when it comes to their pass rush.
While the Seahawks finished the year out with a five-sack performance against the Cardinals, their pass rush wasn't as productive as they'd have liked throughout the season, with Seattle ranking tied for 22nd in the NFL with 34 sacks. Carroll noted that an inconsistent pass rush also contributed to Seattle having only 18 takeaways, which ranked 25th in the league. So it's no surprise that, when asked what he'd like to see improve in 2022, Carroll pointed to the pass rush.
"The lack of turnovers we were able to create, usually those come when you're ahead in games, and if you're well ahead, the ball gets more exposed, and you get more turnovers and that feeds off itself," Carroll said. "Also, you've got to create them, and you create them with pass rush. The quarterback is the number one critical aspect of turning the football over.
"We need to improve our pass rush. That is an area that we need to get better in. You saw how dynamic it is when you get going like we did yesterday, but we didn't have that consistency and that is the important part of it. So many things feed off of that, it is the disruption of the quarterback that leads to all of the issues on the positive side for the defense, so we have to, whatever we can do, we have to work there. That's one of the focal points for me."
4. Dee Eskridge is poised for a big second season.
Dee Eskridge, Seattle's top pick in the 2021 draft, missed much of training camp in the preseason with a toe injury, then after making it back for the preseason finale as well as the regular season opener, he suffered a concussion in Week 1 that turned out to be long-term injury, which led to the rookie receiver missing the next seven games. Eskridge stayed healthy after returning and played in the final nine games of the season, but his production wasn't what he or the Seahawks would have expected from a second-round pick, with Eskridge finishing the year with 10 catches for 64 yards and a touchdown, as well as four rushes for 59 yards and two kick returns for 54 yards. But despite those modest numbers, Carroll has no doubt that Eskridge is ready for a breakout second season.
"He's going to be a really impactful player, I don't have any hesitation in saying that," Carroll said. "He has so much going for him, he's such a talented kid, a good worker, and all of that, when we come back around, it's going to look so much different to him. The jump that guys make from year one to year two is the most significant jump for the most part. I was talking to Darrell (Taylor) about that last night, how things are going to look so much different to him. The day that they walk back in and get back with us, they jump so much. Dee Eskridge is going to make a huge jump and be a very impactful player. We will get him involved in the kicking game more so, we worked with him all year on that, but we weren't quite ready to feature his opportunity there. He can run it, he can catch it, he can block, and he has a great work ethic, so there is nothing holding him back."
5. The Seahawks got big contributions from their young depth late in the year.
After the Seahawks were eliminated from the playoffs, Carroll was at one point asked about the idea of getting a look at some young players, with the implication being that starters would be rested to get other players on the field. Carroll shot that idea down, saying the Seahawks were still fighting to finish strong, as they ended up doing, but injuries and COVID-19 absences ended up creating scenarios in which the Seahawks did indeed get a good look at some of their young depth, and Carroll liked what he saw from a number of those players.
"It did happen in these last couple of weeks because of COVID-19 and injury situations and all that, where guys did get chances to follow through and maybe come back," Carroll said. "Phil (Haynes) got to come back again, and Jake (Curhan) got to come back and play again. Such positive opportunities for those guys to show themselves, and they played well too. In that situation, they could have not done well, but they did well. Josh Jones for us on one side and Nigel Warrior getting in the game and playing. It was just great that guys got those opportunities. You saw a big hit by Josh Johnson on the kickoff coverage. All of those things are good signals for these guys. I'm really happy for them that they got the chance to show something before the season was over."
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