With the Patriots fresh off their latest Super Bowl victory, a new offseason will be ushered in as all other 31 NFL teams begin preparations hoping to contend for a championship of their own.
After unexpectedly winning 10 games and clinching a wild card in the NFC, coach Pete Carroll and the Seahawks believe the foundation has been built for the franchise to return to the league’s elite in 2019.
Heading towards free agency and the draft, what do the Seahawks need to accomplish next season to close the gap and reach Super Bowl LIV? They should look no further than the Patriots latest run, which featured some key ingredients to a championship season.
1. Start fast, reclaim the NFC West division crown, and clinch homefield advantage.
Seattle has notoriously started seasons slowly during the Carroll era, with 2016 being the rare exception. In each of the past two seasons, the Seahawks have lost two of their first three games, while they started 2-4 in 2015. Though Carroll’s team made the playoffs in three of those four seasons, they played only one home game during the span and didn’t make it past the Divisional Round.
Home field matters, but it’s especially vital in the NFL. Only two teams that played in the Wild Card round have made it to the Super Bowl since 2011, with the fourth-seeded Giants beating the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI and the fourth-seeded Ravens stunning the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII the following season. As far as wild card qualifiers, the Packers were the last team to win three straight road games and advance to the Super Bowl in 2010.
Looking specifically at the Patriots, who have appeared in an unprecedented nine Super Bowls since 2001 and won six of them, the franchise made each of those appearances on the heels of an AFC East division title and clinching a first-round bye with the first or second seed. They’ve never had to win three playoff games to play for the Lombardi, showcasing the importance of home-field advantage.
Historically, the Seahawks have followed a similar blueprint, capturing a division title and earning the first overall seed in the NFC all three times they managed to play in the Super Bowl. Finding a way to get off to a fast start next season will be critical if Seattle wants to surpass Los Angeles in the NFC West and position themselves for at least one home game in the playoffs. Ideally, they’ll get to 11 or 12 wins and earn a first-round bye for the first time since 2014.
2. Don’t reinvent the wheel, but eliminate predictability on offense.
By most accounts, the Seahawks first season with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was a success. Seattle finished first in the NFL in rushing yards and scored 428 points in the regular season, tied for sixth-most in the NFL and the second-highest total in franchise history behind the Super Bowl-bound 2005 squad.
But much as he struggled with in the past with the Jets and Rams, the inability of Schottenheimer to creatively divert from his predictable play calling when opponents shut down Seattle’s run game finally caught up with the team in a 22-20 loss to the Cowboys in the Wild Card round. And these issues came to the forefront in several other games, including the season finale against a three-win Cardinals team.
As pointed out eloquently by Josh Hermsmeyer of Five Thirty Eight, the Seahawks opened with three-play sequences consisting of run-run-pass on 26 percent of their offensive possessions, 10 percent more than league average. Only 41 percent of Seattle’s drives that initiated with this sequence were successful, but yet, Schottenheimer kept reverting to the tendency more than any coordinator in the NFL.
There’s nothing wrong with emphasizing the run game, but even a top-tier running team like the Seahawks will eventually be snake-bitten by such triteness and that’s what exactly what happened in Dallas. Carroll and Schottenheimer don’t need to scrap their offensive philosophies entirely, but as the Patriots did once they lost receiver Josh Gordon to suspension, they need to be willing to make adaptations on the fly and be far less predictable on the offensive side of the football.
3. Prioritize adding an extra stud pass rusher and play maker in the secondary.
As shown during the final 12 games of the 2018 season, the Seahawks have enough offensive firepower with Wilson running the show to make noise in the playoffs next year. Led by a hyper-efficient Wilson and a dominant run game, Seattle averaged nearly 29 points per game while winning eight of those contests to eventually earn a playoff berth.
While continuing to improve the offensive line and enhancing the passing game with another weapon at receiver for Wilson would be wise, the Seahawks need to use this offseason primarily to retool a defense dearth of playmakers along the defensive line and in the secondary.
Along with re-signing star defensive end Frank Clark, Seattle should look no further than Sunday’s Super Bowl as proof the front office needs to be aggressive adding a complementary edge rusher across from him. The Patriots were able to wreck the Rams’ offensive line throughout the game, sacking quarterback Jared Goff four times and hitting him 12 times, including on a decisive fourth-quarter interception.
If the Seahawks want to rise back to the cream of the crop in the NFC, they’ll have to be better than a middle-of-the-pack team generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Whether that means using ample cap space to sign another quality rusher in free agency or taking advantage of a deep, deep draft class full of lengthy, athletic rushers, they must have better production at the other end spot than they did last season.
Changes in the secondary may not be as likely given the confidence the organization still has in young safeties Tedric Thompson and Delano Hill, but upgrading the position by signing a priority free agent such as Landon Collins would help bridge the gap between the Seahawks and the NFC’s elite offensive squads.