The defending Super Bowl champions are quickly closing in on the start of their 2014 season Thursday night against the Green Bay Packers.
The Seahawks were able to keep most of their young core in place this offseason and were able to sign Michael Bennett, Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin to contract extensions as well. While they did lose some key contributors off their championship team, an inevitability for any team in the salary cap age, Seattle has kept a roster together every bit as a talented as the one the won the title last year.
There aren’t many areas that remain in doubt for the Seahawks as the season gets set to begin. However, we take a look at five questions that could determine if Seattle is able to repeat as champion this season.
1. Could the Seahawks be even better than last season?
If the offense can translate its production from this preseason over to the regular season, they almost certainly will be better.
In 13 offensive drives led by Russell Wilson this preseason, Seattle scored on 11 of them with nine touchdowns, two field goals, a missed field goal and just a single punt. Richard Sherman said Monday that Wilson is being more decisive this season. Head coach Pete Carroll said Wilson has had a near-perfect offseason. With Percy Harvin fully healthy, the Seahawks offense looks much more explosive.
With a defense that looks to still be a force and a special teams unit that is strong as well, if Seattle’s offense can take several steps forward they could be tremendously difficult to beat this year.
2. Will Seattle’s offensive line hold them back?
The Seahawks offensive line was the one area of the team that underperformed consistently last season. Tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini missed a combined 15 games. Center Max Unger missed three more and the depleted unit struggled mightily in their absence.
This year, Seattle is going to start a rookie at right tackle in second-round pick Justin Britt and Okung is still working into game shape after missing most of the offseason following foot surgery.
On the positive side, left guard James Carpenter has lost a considerable amount of weight and looks more capable of moving adequately this year. Right guard J.R. Sweezy has appeared to take his game up another level as well.
The unit is much more adept at run blocking, which is still going to be the main focus of the team with Marshawn Lynch in the backfield and Percy Harvin potentially being used as a rusher at times as well. If they can adequately provide protection for Russell Wilson in the passing game, the offense should be able to accomplish much more this season.
3. Can the Seahawks get 16 games out of Percy Harvin?
Percy Harvin is noticeably exhausted about answering questions about his health. However, when you miss most of the last two seasons due to injury, it’s one of the only things to ask about.
Harvin has missed 22 regular season games over the last two years due to ankle and hip injuries. He’s only played all 16 games of an NFL season once in his career in 2011 with the Minnesota Vikings. But it’s already evident this preseason that the dynamic athlete that was firmly in the MVP conversation in 2012 is back.
Harvin says he’s as healthy now as he’s been since even before he got to college at the University of Florida. His presence on the field expands the field both horizontally and vertically for Seattle’s offense. The Seahawks are counting on Harvin being a big part of their offense. It’s now on Harvin to see if he can put all those questions about his health in the past.
4. Will the Seahawks run defense take a step back?
The Seahawks cut defensive ends Red Bryant and Chris Clemons this offseason for salary cap reasons. However, both players had been important pieces of Seattle’s run defense the last few seasons.
In their absence, Seattle has toyed with moving tackle Tony McDaniel to end in rushing situations with Kevin Williams replacing McDaniel along the line. There are also some new young cogs in their defensive line rotation as well that will be called upon for increased roles.
The Seahawks allowed Tampa Bay and St. Louis to rush for 200 yards against them in consecutive weeks last season before making an adjustment and getting the run defense righted. With key pieces such as Bryant and Clemons gone, it remains to be seen if they can find similar performance up front against opposing rushing games.
5. How does Seattle handle being the team on top?
It’s a position the franchise has never been in before. Several key players got big paydays this offseason as well.
But Russell Wilson and Earl Thomas swear they will be able to keep the focus in the right direction this season. The two talk about how they are competing on a daily basis to see which one of them is the last player to leave the team’s facility each day. Both players obsess over every minute detail they can find on tape in hopes of being completely prepared for games.
That focus trickles down to the rest of the team and the players and coaches are convinced they have turned the page on last season. The only way to truly know now is to play the games.