When all is said and done, the Pete Carroll-era Seattle Seahawks will almost certainly be remembered first for the defenses that helped the franchise reach such high levels of success. And that's both understandable and completely fair considering that the Seahawks have led the NFL in scoring defense for four straight years, something that has never been done during the Super Bowl era, and a feat that, not coincidentally, coincides with the most successful stretch of results in team history.
But if you look at this current Seahawks team and presume the defense is the only reason they are winning and back in the playoffs, where they'll face the Vikings on Sunday, then you're probably not paying very close attention.
The Seahawks finished fourth in the NFL in both yards per game (378.6) and points per game (26.4). That yardage total is a new franchise record, beating out the mark set by last year's Seahawks, while the scoring total trails only the 2005 team in Seahawks history. Or, if advanced stats are more your thing, the Seahawks offense ranked second in the league this season in FootballOutsiders.com's Defense-adjusted Value Over Average ranking system, which breaks down every play and compares a team's performance to the league average to determine a value over average.
Every time the Seahawks offense struggles for a game or a half or even a series, there are inevitably going to be complaints about the coaching and play-calling aimed at offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and offensive line coach/assistant head coach Tom Cable—few jobs in sports are subject to more second-guessing than that of an offensive coordinator—but the numbers show that the Seahawks offense is more than holding up its end of the bargain when it comes to contributing to Seattle's success.
"I think it's really exciting," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of his team's offensive performance. "I think last year we set a record for yards per game, and then we broke it this year. There's been a lot of conversation about what's going on with the offense, and the coaches and all that stuff, I think it's just a million miles off. I think Darrell and Tom have done an incredible job again. Not just now, again. They've continued to maximize the talent that we have. You've seen our guys blossom as players, you've seen young players fit in, you've seen your quarterback just continue to get better throughout the process, which really encompasses all aspects of what we're doing.
And as Carroll points out, the success of the offense contributes to the defense's impressive numbers, and vice versa. The Seahawks wouldn't lead the league in scoring defense year after year if the offense wasn't sustaining possessions to keep the opposing offense off the field, or if the Russell Wilson and company were careless with the ball, or if special teams didn't do things to shift field position in Seattle's advantage.
"We could not do what we're doing with the defensive numbers had the offense not done what they've done," Carroll said. "This thing ties totally together. With the kicking game, Jon Ryan's ability to punt the ball. Just look at his numbers inside the 20-yard line, how many times he has pinned people back and given our defense a chance to defend 80 or 90 yards. Taking care of the football is all part of that. Running the football. Working the clock. All of the things that we do, our whole football team, is connected in that regard. Without that, those kinds of results over the consistent basis could never happen. So yeah, it's the defensive players, starting with (Brandon) Mebane right in the middle on out, and all the way back to Earl (Thomas) at the back end. And the coaches that have done that too. But this is a philosophy that suits itself to maximize in that kind of stuff, and everybody's contributing. It's a really cool part of our game."
What makes Seattle's record-setting offense even more impressive is that the numbers were not very impressive midway through the season. With a young offensive line still fighting to find its way, the Seahawks ranked 19th in the NFL in total offense (353.1 yards per game), and 24th in scoring (20.9), but during the bye week the turnaround really started to take shape.
The Seahawks didn't do anything drastic to overhaul their offense, but they made the quick passing game more of a focus to cut down on sacks—without abandoning the downfield passing game, mind you—and found ways to help the line grow, all of which contributed to a second-half offensive explosion.
"The bye week was important for us," Bevell said. "That gives you a better opportunity to look in depth. There's so much going on during in a week that you don't look that much in depth at yourself. That was an important week for us, but as we went through that week, we kind of saw the things that we wanted to do and we were able to implement those during each and every game. We were able to continue to grow from there as well, and continue to move in a positive direction, that way."
The growth coming out of the bye was significant, and played a huge role in the Seahawks' ability to turn their season around with six wins in their final seven games. Beginning with the second half of their Week 10 loss to Arizona, the Seahawks have had one of the most efficient, high-scoring offenses in the league, and Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin have been two of the best in the NFL at their respective positions. Even with one off game against the St. Louis Rams in Week 16, the Seahawks still average 32 points and 404.3 yards per game during the second half of the season. To put it another way, the Seahawks scored only 21 fewer points over their last eight games than the Seahawks allowed all season. Last week in Arizona, facing one of the league's top-ranked defenses, the Seahawks scored 30 first-half points while playing without two starting offensive linemen, their top two tight ends and their top two running backs.
"Remember I told you guys, when we get this right it will be really cool, and I think you're seeing that—other than two weeks ago—for a good while now," Cable said. "That means doing everything better, from protection to runs to the penalties to the extra efforts to finish to just being smart in situational play, I just think collectively we're really, really growing up together."
No two players have enjoyed the second half of the season more than Wilson and Baldwin, who have been the most productive quarterback/receiver duo in the league down the stretch. Wilson struggled at times in that Week 10 Arizona loss, but since then he has a passer rating of 132.8 over the final seven games, throwing 24 touchdowns with just one interception. That strong finish helped Wilson finish with a league-best 110.1 passer rating, and team records for touchdowns (34) and yards (4,024). Wilson is also the first player in league history to have 4,000 passing yards, 30 touchdown passes and 500 rushing yards in one season.
Baldwin finished the regular season on an equally impressive hot streak, catching 47 passes for 724 yards and 12 touchdowns over the final eight games, allowing him to become the first Seahawks receiver since 2007 to eclipse 1,000 yards and set a franchise record for receiving touchdowns with 14, which also tied for the NFL lead in touchdowns.
"We just continued to focus and continued to grind, and I think ultimately it comes down to making the plays," Wilson said. "We were able to make the plays. We believed in one another, we kept playing for one another. Obviously losing guys like Marshawn Lynch, Jimmy Graham, and Thomas Rawls, those are huge losses. Those three guys are some of the top players in the national football league. So we all had to step up, in every way. We all made plays. I thought the line did a tremendous job continuing to work. Like I said to you guys a long time ago, we weren't far away."
Yet even as the Seahawks set records in the passing game, they remained committee to the run, and finished third in the NFL with 141.8 rushing yards per game. For a team that wants to be balanced, yet explosive and efficient in the passing game, having a quarterback lead the league in passer rating while being near the top in rushing yards as a team is a pretty good indicator of success.
"Yeah, that's ideal," Bevell said. "That's kind of what we've tried to build this thing on, and how we've tried to shape it, and it's great to see it coming out that way. That's ideal for us."
But no matter how well the offense is playing, everyone involved realizes that now is not the time to sit back and appreciate what they have accomplished. Thanks in no small part to the turn the offense made midway through the season, the Seahawks have another game to play this weekend in Minnesota.
"Not right now," Baldwin said when asked if he appreciates all the offense has done. "We're in the middle of the playoffs, in the middle of the hunt for a third Super Bowl berth. We've got to focus on the task at hand and we'll worry about all that stuff later."