The Seahawks are halfway through the 2023 season—OK, there's no true halfway point in a 17-game season, but close enough—which means it's time to look back at the first half of the year and recognize some of the players, plays and trends that stood out over the first nine games as the Seahawks built a 6-3 record that has them right in the midst of the NFC West race.
Offensive MVP: QB Geno Smith
Smith would be the first to tell you—in fact he frequently has in press conferences—that he can and needs to be better than he was at times during the first half of the season. But even with some turnover issues, which to be clear do not all fall on Smith, he has still done a lot of really good things in his second season as Seattle's starter, and is a big reason why the Seahawks are 6-3 and in the playoff hunt once again.
Including last week's game in which Smith threw for a career-high 369 yards and led not one but two go-ahead drives in the fourth quarter, including the game-winner in the final minute, Smith has led three game-winning drives in his team's six wins.
Smith and the Seahawks offense went turnover free in last week's game, and if they can keep taking care of the football moving forward, Smith has the ability to get back to last year's Pro-Bowl level of play and lead the Seahawks offense to new heights.
Another worthy choice here would have been running back Kenneth Walker III, who in his second season is on pace for another 1,000-yard season (595 yards on 145 carries) while leading the team in touchdowns (six rushing, one receiving), and also while adding more production as a pass-catcher with 175 yards on 16 catches, including last week's 64-yard touchdown reception.
Also worth a mention here, as is almost always the case, are receivers Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, who are such a big factor in making the offense go, and who both came through in the clutch late in last week's win. Those two have combined for 81 receptions, 1,046 yards and six touchdowns this season.
Defensive MVP: OLB Boye Mafe
Yes, this award could probably go to Bobby Wagner, our first-quarter choice for defensive MVP, seeing as he leads the team with 95 tackles to go along with 2.5 sacks, three passes defensed and four tackles for loss, and who provides invaluable leadership. We could also point to rookie cornerback Devon Witherspoon, the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month in October who is tied for fourth in the NFL with 12 passes defensed despite missing the opener, and who also has two sacks, an interception he returned 97 yards for a touchdown, and a forced fumble. Or there's Jordyn Brooks, who returned only eight months removed from ACL surgery and is playing the best football of his career, recording 80 tackles, a team-high seven tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery through nine games. Also worth noting is the play of cornerback Tre Brown, who despite missing the better part of two games due to a concussion, has filled up the stat sheet, recording two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown, six passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one sack.
But as deserving as players like Wagner, Brooks, Witherspoon and Brown all are, we're giving midseason honors to second-year outside linebacker Boye Mafe, who has developed from a solid contributor as a rookie to burgeoning as a young star in his second season. Mafe set a franchise record with at least one sack in seven straight games, a streak that is still ongoing, and he has also been strong in run defense, as is evident in his 32 total tackles. Mafe also has two passes defensed, a forced fumble and a pair of fumble recoveries.
"I'm thrilled that's what we're seeing," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Mafe's play. "Who would have predicted he'd set a record for consecutive sacks. The sky is the limit, and he's just getting started. He's still a new guy coming up, but he's playing with such consistency now that it gives him a chance to be available for those kinds of plays… He's causing problems and I'm really fired up about it."
Special Teams MVP: RB DeeJay Dallas
Kicker Jason Myers has been great of late, making 12 straight field goals, most notably going 5 for 5 on field goal attempts last week, including the 43-yard game-winner as time expired. Punter Michael Dickson is, like every year, one of the NFL's top punters, and rookie safety Jerrick Reed II is second in the NFL with nine special teams tackles.
In other words, there's a lot of good candidates for this one, because as is usually the case for the Seahawks, they are excelling on special teams this season under special teams coordinator Larry Izzo. But since there's only one midseason special teams MVP award to hand out, the choice here is running back DeeJay Dallas, who is not just excelling as a kick and punt returner, but is also a core special teams player on coverage units.
Dallas ranks third in the NFL with 441 total return yards, and is fifth in both punt and kickoff return yards, and in the latter he's averaging a career-best 25.7 yards per return, which is second best in the NFL among returners averaging at least one return a game.
And thanks in no small part to Dallas' play, the Seahawks have the league's best average starting field position, with drives starting on average at the 32.2-yard line.
It's no wonder then that Carroll was singing Dallas' praises after he played through a shoulder injury last week, calling him, "One of my favorite guys to talk about. He has been such an important part of our team and our makeup and the mentality and all. He's earned every bit of it all the way back when he first got here. He's just grown into a mature leader, he's one of the real tough guys in our program. A lot of guys would've found it really hard to play last week and he never doubted that he was going to play. He got injured. He had some stuff wrong. It showed up and all of that, but he just found a way to put in a place where he could function, and he played well. I made a point during the week, there's a lot of opinion that he can't play, but let's just watch. Let's watch what DeeJay does just to show the other guys what he's capable of. He's a fantastic leader for us in all of the right ways."
Best Rookie, Offense: WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba
A fractured wrist in the preseason didn't keep Jaxon Smith-Njigba from making it back for the regular-season opener, but it did limit his preparation leading up to that game, and require the first-round pick out of Ohio State to play with a brace on his wrist for the first month of the season.
As Smith-Njigba got fully healthy and more comfortable in the offense, he began to show why the Seahawks made him the first receiver selected in the 2023 draft. After catching 12 passes for 62 yards in his first four games, Smith-Njigba has seen his production increase significantly over the past five games, gaining 263 yards on 21 catches, including two touchdown receptions, one of which was the game-winner in Seattle's Week 8 win over Cleveland.
And Smith-Njigba is far from being the only rookie contributing on offense. Second-round pick Zach Charbonnet is the team's second-leading rusher and averaging 5.6 yards per carry while bringing an impressive combination of big-play ability and physicality. Fourth-round pick Anthony Bradford has played well in four starts at guard, while center Olu Oluwatimi has done well in his limited chances, starting one game at center and playing the second half of another when regular center Evan Brown had to fill in at guard. And of course, there's undrafted fan-favorite Jake Bobo, who didn't just make the roster, but has also come through with some big contributions, including two touchdown catches and one touchdown run.
Best Rookie, Defense: CB Devon Witherspoon
You could make a good argument for Witherspoon as defensive MVP, but even if he's not getting that honor, he is clearly the top rookie on defense on his team, and quite possibly in the NFL.
Despite missing a game due to injury, Witherspoon is near the top of the league with 12 passes defensed, he has been effective as a blitzer from the nickel corner spot, and has forced two turnovers, one a pick-six against the Giants, and the other a forced fumble last weekend. Making his rookie campaign all the more impressive is the fact that Witherspoon is having this kind of impact while playing two different positions, lining up in the slot as Seattle's nickel defensive back, as well as outside at left corner.
"He continues to show us he's a very special football player," Carroll said after Sunday's win over the Commanders. "We're lucky to have him on our side."
Another rookie making an impact on defense has been second-round pick Derick Hall, who has seen his workload at outside linebacker increase following Uchenna Nwosu's season-ending injury. While Hall so far hasn't had a ton of flashy plays, he consistently shows his power and athleticism at the line of scrimmage, particularly showing up on run defense.
Best Rookie, Special Teams: S Jerrick Reed II
Like Witherspoon, Reed has a strong case to not just be the best rookie in this category, but the top player overall. While Seattle's talent and depth at safety has kept Reed from making an impact on defense, he has consistently been one of the Seahawks' best special teams players throughout the season, recording a team-leading nine tackles, which ranks second in the NFL.
"He's been a big factor," Carroll said. "We keep a score of those guys throughout the year, he's competing to right on top of the list of stuff. (Nick) Bellore doesn't like it, which is good. He's been really committed and runs really well, and he's tough and he goes for it. He's been a factor. There's a certain nature about the special teams' guys that separates them. At an early observation of him, he looks like a real factor in what we're doing. At the halfway point, we want to really push it and even ask more of him because he shows that he's got an instinct for it and a really good motor for it."
Best Free Agent Addition: LB Bobby Wagner
It's strange thinking of Wagner as a newcomer seeing as he spent the first decade of his career in Seattle, but having spent one year away with the Rams, he qualifies in this category, and it's safe to say the Seahawks are very glad they were able to bring Wagner back. At 33, Wagner isn't just a veteran presence providing leadership, he's still an elite playmaker, leading his team in tackles (95) while adding 2.5 sacks, and he's a big reason why the Seahawks have been significantly better against the run in 2023 than they were without him last season.
"He's doing great," Carroll said. "The way we play him and the demands of the position really suit him well. The best we've ever done for him. We're trying to maximize everything that he brings. He's tackling well, really solid tackler, his pass coverage stuff and his own stuff has really been nice. He's doing great. Not to even mention all of the other things that he brings, it's the leadership, the direction, the toughness and all of that stuff."
The Seahawks have gotten big contributions from other free-agent additions on both sides of the ball, most notably Jarran Reed and Dre'Mont Jones on the defensive line, and center Evan Brown, who has been a steadying presence for an offensive line that has dealt with numerous injuries and lineup changes. Speaking of which…
Unsung Hero: C Evan Brown
When the Seahawks took the field Sunday with a line of, from left to right, Charles Cross, Damien Lewis, Evan Brown, Phil Haynes and Stone Forsythe, it marked the first time this season the Seahawks have had the same starting offensive line in back-to-back games. Through eight games, the Seahawks used seven different line combinations, and had nine different linemen start games, while a 10th, tackle Jason Peters, has seen significant playing time.
And through all of that turnover, the steading presence in the middle of it all—minus the one game he missed—has been Brown, who signed with Seattle this offseason after spending the last three seasons in Detroit.
"His consistency," Carroll said when asked what stands out about his center. "He's really strong. He plays strong, he doesn't get knocked around at all. We've had some guys over the years that aren't as physical as that, and just the solid element that he brings us. He's really smart. He's not a gregarious, outgoing communicator, but he gets the message across, and the guys really trust him. He adds that element that helps us confidence wise. It's been a tremendous get for us. He's playing great football."
Best Play, Offense: Jake Bobo's absurd toe-tap touchdown vs. Arizona.
The Seahawks have had multiple game-winning touchdown catches this season, with Tyler Lockett scoring the winner in overtime against Detroit, and with Jaxon Smith-Njigba scoring in the final minute of the game to secure a win over Cleveland. But while those scores might have carried more significance, given the moment, the best play, just from a degree-of-difficulty standpoint, was Jake Bobo's 18-yard touchdown catch in Seattle's win over Arizona. Initially ruled an incomplete pass—because in real time it seemed impossible that Bobo could have gotten both feet in—the rookie's absurd, toe-tapping catch was eventually ruled a touchdown, and a spectacular one at that. Not to be lost in the greatness of the catch is how good of a throw Geno Smith made to drop a pass over good coverage to the one place where Bobo could make a play and still, barely, stay in bounds.
Another worthy choice here would be Smith's touchdown pass to Lockett against Cleveland on which Smith escaped pressure, rolled out left, then floated a strike over the defense to Lockett in the back of the end zone.
Best Play, Defense: Jamal Adams' "Messi" moment leads to game-changing interception vs. Browns.
The best play from the first quarter of the season, Devon Witherspoon's 97-yard pick-six, would be a good choice here again, but in the name of sharing the love a bit, and also to just recognize a very big play, we're instead going with another interception, one that had a big hand (or should we say head?) in Seattle's Week 8 win over the Browns. With the Seahawks trailing late in the game and needing a third-down stop to get the ball back to the offense for a potential winning drive, defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt sent Jamal Adams on a blitz, and Adams, recognizing that a quick throw was coming before he would get to Cleveland quarterback P.J. Walker, leapt into the passing lane, leading to Walker's pass ricocheting off Adams' helmet and high into the air, with Julian Love eventually coming down with the interception. From there, Geno Smith and the offense did the rest, driving 57 yards for the winning score.
"I got that from Messi," Adams quipped after the game.
Trend To Continue: Finishing strong.
Seattle's run defense is another good choice here, though Cleveland and Baltimore ran the ball well, someone skewing what have otherwise been really good numbers for the run defense. But the trend that has been the most significant, especially given how the season started, is how well the Seahawks have finished games. As mentioned earlier, Smith and the offense have led game-winning drives in three of six victories this season, and while they weren't able to finish the job in Cincinnati, the offense got itself in position to take the lead late in the game, while the defense held the Bengals in check to make the comeback possible. Seattle's defense also had a stretch of four games in which they allowed a total of nine second-half points and no second-half touchdowns.
After Seattle's latest victory, Carroll said, "I like that we got back to playing 60 minutes of football. It was very similar and familiar to the other games that we have been playing that have been in the same fashion. To me, that's a big deal. We've got a way that we want to play football and that will take us all the way through the finish. I really like that, and it gives us a chance to win in every game."
Finishing well is always a big deal to Carroll, but particularly after his team started the season being outscored 23-0 in the second half after leading the Rams by six at halftime.
"That was alarming to me," Carroll said. "We were ahead at halftime, and we go in and we don't play well in the third or fourth quarter. So, after all of that time, this is what we are? I was really disappointed by that in the first game. That's probably why I may have overreacted heading in the other direction (talking about finishing) when I saw us start to put some games together and leave that one behind us. We didn't win the Cincinnati game, but we finished the Cincinnati game going for it. We were on it on both sides of the ball and had a chance, we just didn't convert to win the game. That one to me was in fashion that the other games have been."
Thing To Clean Up: Third down, on both sides of the ball.
The Seahawks have done a lot of things well this season, as you might expect for a team with a 6-3 record, but if they're going to hang with the NFC's top teams in the second half of the season, one area they'll need to improve upon, on both sides of the ball, is their ability to win on third down. Through nine games, the Seahawks offense is converting on 31.5% of their third downs, which ranks 30th in the NFL, while Seattle's opponents are converting 45.5 percent of their third downs, putting Seattle's third-down defense at 31st in the league.
"We can do better," Carroll said. "We need a couple more wins a day, just like we need it on offense. We're not asking for a wholesale change of stuff; we just have to make sure we finish our opportunities and cash in on them and don't screw them up by giving up a penalty and give stuff away. I'm not satisfied with where we are now. We're kind of moving in the right direction. Kind of a nudge in the right direction. You can feel it. I can feel it on both sides."
Here is the roster for the 2023 Seahawks.