The first half of the Seahawks season didn’t exactly play out the way anyone could have predicted, not with injuries affecting the way their offense has functioned, and not with a tie on their record. But while there have been some strange twists and turns to the 2016 season through eight games, the Seahawks are still in a pretty good place with a 5-2-1 record, which has them in first place in the NFL West, two games ahead of second-place Arizona.
“I think we’re disappointed that we haven’t won every game that we’ve had a chance—we’ve been right there with all of them,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “However, we’re also fortunate to be where we are, because every game has been tight, it could have gone either way. To have a little bit of a feeling like we can control what’s going on here from this point forward is a good thing, but we need to play better and we need to improve.”
Before the Seahawks move on to this week’s game at New England and the second half of the season, let’s take a look back at some of the players and moments that stood out from the first half of the 2016 season:
MVP: QB Russell Wilson
This has not been Wilson’s best eight-game stretches from a statistical standpoint—his numbers are down from the insane second half he and the rest of the offense enjoye enjoyed last year, and in fact he is on pace for his fewest touchdown passes as a pro—yet in a lot of ways this has been Wilson’s most impressive season if only because he has been available and productive every week.
Wilson sustained a fairly serious ankle sprain in Seattle’s season opener, then a knee sprain in Week 3, then battled a pectoral strain two weeks ago, yet he has yet to sit out a practice, let alone a game. Carroll has mentioned recently that Wilson could have easily missed multiple games with the knee injury and that until recently, sitting the Pro Bowl quarterback out of games had been a real possibility. Considering how important quarterback play is to a team’s success, Wilson gutting it out through all of those injuries has played a huge role in Seattle sitting in first place at the midpoint of the season, even if he hasn't been at his very best.
“I don’t think people realize what he has gone through,” tight end Jimmy Graham said. “I don’t think people realize just how much it has taken him to get to every game, then to make it through those games. He has put in the time, he has put in the work, he has been in there early every morning with me doing his thing and grinding. I don’t think he gets enough credit for how tough he is. For what he has, most guys wouldn’t be in there, honestly. He’s got so much pride, and he’s just unbelievable.”
Wilson’s numbers are still solid this season—he was named ProFootballFocus.com’s first-half MVP for the entire NFL—and he only figures to be significantly better moving forward now that he is getting healthier.
Offensive Player(s) of the First Half: TE Jimmy Graham and WR Doug Baldwin
The Seahawks want to be a balanced team, but early this season, they’ve relied more heavily on their passing game than expected, and both Graham and Baldwin have been key to that passing-game success.
Baldwin leads the team with 44 catches for 570 yards, putting him on pace to be the first Seattle receiver with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons since Darrell Jackson in 2003 and 2004. Graham, who is coming back from a serious knee injury that ended his 2015 season, has 38 catches for 545 yards and three touchdowns, giving him a chance to be the first Seahawks tight end with 1,000 yards in a season. If both Graham and Baldwin crack 1,000 yards this season, it would be only the second time in franchise history (Brian Blades and Joey Galloway in 1995) that two Seahawks had more than 1,000 receiving yards.
Defensive MVP(s): LB Bobby Wagner and DE Cliff Avril
Hey, if the Seahawks had a tie this season, we can have two in our awards. It’s hard to pick between Avril and Wagner because both players have been phenomenal, as have, for that matter, so many other players on Seattle’s defense, including Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, K.J. Wright and Michael Bennett prior to his injury.
Wagner is again playing like best middle linebacker in the NFL and currently leads the team with 88 tackles, a total that is one off the league lead. Wagner has been even better of late, piling up 58 tackles in his past four games. And with the Seahawks blitzing more this season, Wagner has also become a very effective pass-rusher, recording 1.5 sacks and 12 quarterback hits.
Avril, meanwhile, is having the best season of his career in his ninth season, recording 9.0 sacks, which ranks third in the league. Even better, Avril’s big season is leading to good things off the field, with a house being funded in Haiti for every sack he records this season.
Special Teams MVP: LB Cassius Marsh
This almost went to Neiko Thorpe, who currently is tied with Kevin Pierre-Louis for the team lead in special teams tackles with 4, and who has been great as a gunner on the punt team, but we’ll give the narrow edge to Marsh, who has big roles on multiple special teams units and is regularly one of the leaders in special teams playing time. Marsh is one off the team lead with 3 special teams tackles, and he also blocked a field goal to help the Seahawks win a close season opener against Miami.
Best Rookie: DT Jarran Reed
There hasn’t been a rookie standout to make quite the impact that Tyler Lockett or Thomas Rawls did last year, but the Seahawks are getting contributions from a lot of different rookies, especially as players like running back C.J. Prosise, tight end Nick Vannett and right guard Germain Ifedi have returned from injuries. Reed gets the nod here because he has been a big part of Seattle’s defense throughout the season, helping anchor a very strong run defense.
Going forward, the Seahawks could see a lot of contributions from their rookie class with Prosise taking on a bigger role and Ifedi back in the lineup. The Seahawks have also been helped by the play of a big class of undrafted rookies. George Fant has started two games at left tackle, receiver Tanner McEvoy keeps making big plays when he gets a chance, and DeAndre Elliott and Tyvis Powell have both helped out on special teams.
Best Free-Agent Signing: DT Tony McDaniel
The Seahawks didn’t sign McDaniel, who played with them in 2013 and 2014, until mid-August, and that deal only came together because McDaniel happened to be vacationing in Leavenworth, but bringing back McDaniel has paid dividends for Seattle. McDaniel has started the last five games at defensive tackle alongside Ahtyba Rubin, and those two have been a big reason why the Seahawks have had one of the league’s best run defenses this season, with Richard Sherman calling them the team’s “quiet MVPs.”
Best play: Jimmy Graham’s One-Handed Touchdown Catch vs. Buffalo
Which one-handed touchdown catch against Buffalo, you ask? Well that’s for you to decide, but those two plays weren’t just impressive displays of Graham’s ability, but also a good reminder of just how far Graham has had to come to get to this point after suffering a torn patellar tendon a year ago.
For the overall skill involved, Graham’s first touchdown catch against Buffalo is probably the most impressive because it was also the result of an absolutely perfect throw from Russell Wilson, who had to make the throw off of his back foot while retreating from pressure.
Also worth a mention here is the game-winning hookup from Wilson to Baldwin in the season opener to win the game, not to mention the many big plays the defense made at the goal line against Arizona.
Weirdest moment: Seattle’s 6-6 Tie at Arizona
Ties are rare in the NFL, so just having a game end without a winner was strange enough, but the way that game played out made it even more difficult to comprehend. Seattle's offense, which struggled badly throughout the game, put together two impressive drives in overtime to set up a game-tying field goal, as well as what could have been a game winner (more on that in a moment). Seattle’s defense, despite being on the field for a whopping 95 plays, held the Cardinals to just 6 points, an effort aided by Wagner hurdling the line to block a field goal. Then, to cap things off, both teams’ usually-reliable kickers missed short attempts at game-winners on consecutive possessions, assuring that there would be no winner on that day.
Trend to Improve Upon: Lack of a Running Game
The Seahawks’ passing game was great against Buffalo last weekend, but they rushed for just 33 yards, continuing an uncharacteristic trend for what in the past has been one of the best rushing teams in the NFL.
“It stood out that we were not effective running the ball,” Carroll said of Monday night’s game. “The balance wasn’t there like we’re looking for. We’re going to keep looking for it… We have to stay with it, we have to keep working towards what we want to get done. We had 40-something plays again and it’s just been a season of out of balance play totals. There just wasn’t enough chances. That which we did wasn’t done well enough, too. We have a lot of improvement to make and we’re just going to keep banging away at it. We know where we’re going, we’re just not quite getting on that track yet. We’ll see if we can pull it together.”
Trend to build upon: Strong Finishes
As mentioned in the Carroll quote at the beginning of the story, almost all of Seattle’s games could have gone either way, but because the Seahawks continue to be a strong finishing team, they’re in first place. The Seahawks put together a game-winning drive on offense in the opener, then they came up with last-minute stops to preserve leads against Atlanta and Buffalo. And in the tie at Arizona, Seattle’s defense finished with big stops in the red zone to cap a great performance, while the offense put together its best play in overtime to preserve a tie.
Even in their two losses, the Seahawks moved the ball well at the end of the game to have a chance at a win, with their final drive in Los Angeles ending with a Christine Michael fumble, and their last drive in New Orleans coming down to the final play, a pass Jermaine Kearse caught in the back of the end zone, but with one foot coming down out of bounds.
That ability to fight until the end of the game is a big reason why the Seahawks have been competitive in every game for so long. Dating back to Week 2 of the 2011 season, the Seahawks have played 96 games, playoffs included, in which they have held the lead or been within one score of the lead in the fourth quarter. They haven’t lost by more than 10 points since Week 8 of the 2011 season. The Seahawks’ ability to finish also extends to the second half of seasons, which is why they have every reason to believe their best play is ahead of them. Even on days when they’re not at their best, the Seahawks are relentless until the end, a trait that has helped define the Carroll era in Seattle, and one that is evident once again this year in a team that is still not playing its best football, but is in a good spot with the second-best record in the NFC.
“It’s exciting to be making the turn, be in a pretty good position, and we haven’t found our best football yet,” Carroll said. “We have a lot to still accomplish and it’s going to be extremely challenging, we like this finish mode. It’s something that we take a lot of pride in, I’m counting on these guys to really execute and play great football down the stretch. We’ll see where that leaves us at the end.”
Team photographer shares exclusive moments from the Seattle Seahawks' Week 9 Monday Night Football matchup against the Buffalo Bills at CenturyLink Field.