RENTON — The Seattle Seahawks have become rooted in being average.
This was the season Seattle expected to become more of a threat in the NFC West. The Seahawks believed they made enough moves in the offseason and their talent was to the point that they could close the gap with San Francisco in the division.
Instead, the Seahawks finished in third place at 9-8, missed the playoffs for the second time in three years and spent part of locker clean-out on Monday explaining why they were smoking cigars in the locker room after Sunday’s 21-20 win over Arizona despite being eliminated from the postseason.
The cigars were a minor blip and ultimately an innocent gesture in celebration of Pro Bowl safety Julian Love becoming a father.
“That was the last moment I can be with everyone that’s guaranteed. Everyone’s on flights. It turns over pretty quickly. I just wanted to clear it up,” Love said Monday.
But there were bigger issues for this group of Seahawks — the run game and run defense specifically — in a season that could have turned out much worse.
Each of Seattle’s final five wins were by four points or fewer, and all five were decided inside the final two minutes of regulation or overtime. So while the Seahawks finished with a winning record, they were dangerously close to having the kind of season that would lead to calls for wholesale changes.
“We needed one more. We should have had three more to have the season that we could have had,” coach Pete Carroll said after the Arizona game. “We were capable of doing that. I’m really disappointed about that. Really disappointed because I think we should have been better.”
Carroll sounds steadfast that he intends to return for a 15th season in 2024. The Seahawks suffered their first four-game losing streak of Carroll’s tenure this season. But even though he’ll turn 73 next September, Carroll seems determined to try and make one more run at leading a championship squad.
“I’m not worn out. I’m not tired. I’m not any of that stuff,” Carroll said on his radio show Monday. “I need to do a better job and I need to help my coaches more, and we need to do a better job of coaching.”
Geno Smith was 8-7 in 15 starts while missing two games due to injury. He played through arm and groin injuries and had a season that mirrored his team — great in some moments, cringeworthy in others.
For the most part, Smith was excellent in late-game situations. He led Seattle to wins over Detroit, Cleveland, Washington, Tennessee and Arizona with scores in the closing moments or in overtime. After some midseason struggles, Smith and the offense committed to getting the ball out quicker and the result was 334 yards passing and three touchdowns in a loss at Dallas.
But he finished with just 20 touchdown passes and six games with a passer rating over 100. Some of that could be attributed to a run game that was 28th in the league.
Smith has a manageable cap number for next season relative to other quarterbacks, so short of Seattle taking a QB in the draft, he should be in line to be the Seahawks’ starter in 2024.
Carroll said it from the end of last season through every step of the offseason program and into training camp: The Seahawks had to be better defensively at stopping the run.
And they were better — for all of five games.
Beginning with Week 7 against Arizona, the Seahawks couldn’t stop anybody running the ball for 10 of their final 12 games. The Cardinals rushed for 206 yards in the finale, a week after Seattle gave up 202 yards to Pittsburgh.
The Seahawks finished the season 31st in rushing yards allowed and 27th in yards per carry. Considering the priority placed on that area, it’s a failure by Carroll and his staff not to find the right mix of players to improve.
“I think when you give up 200 on the ground, almost everything went wrong. You can’t just point it at one person or one coach. You can’t single out one thing. It was a lot of things that happened,” linebacker Jordyn Brooks said.
Assuming Carroll is back, the Seahawks are likely to make significant changes. Offensive coordinator Shane Waldron and defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt had seasons that could be called into question. Waldron was inconsistent with his play-calling and Seattle was awful on third down at times; Hurtt oversaw a defense that started strong but regressed. The offseason is likely to include significant personnel turnover with the likes of Tyler Lockett, Jamal Adams, Bobby Wagner, Leonard Williams and Brooks all possibly gone.