Marshawn Lynch's 67-yard "Beast Quake" touchdown run during the 2010 playoffs shook not only the city of Seattle but also the NFL hierarchy. With a punishing run game and a rising defense, the Seahawks were on the verge of becoming the NFL's next dynasty.
All they needed was a quarterback.
Matt Flynn was that guy. For six weeks. In the offseason. After signing the Packers backup in March 2012 and guaranteeing him millions of dollars, Seattle nabbed Russell Wilson in the third round of the draft.
In the seasons since, we've watched the Seahawks develop into a perennial Super Bowl contender. They've won one and fallen short by a yard in another. They rarely lose, and no one has dominated them in years. They haven't lost by 10 or more points since Week 9 in 2011 (the Cowboys beat them 23-13).
The team the Bucs will see Sunday, however, is much different from the team Wilson joined in 2012. The stars of the defense — Earl Thomas (out Sunday), Kam Chancellor, K.J. Wright, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner — are still there, and while the unit might not be as historically good as it was in 2013, it remains one of the best in the NFL. The offense, though, has undergone a dramatic shift.
During Wilson's first couple of seasons, the offense was a reflection of its running back. Blunt. Brash. Tenacious. Lynch's mentality: I'm going to run through your face. Over and over and over and over. And over and over.
Warning: Explicit language in video below.
Lynch ran the ball 315 times in 2012, more than all but four players. Wilson attempted 393 passes. The Seahawks were the least-balanced team in the NFL that season, with 57 percent of their plays categorized as runs. The percentage of runs has fallen since, and now — in the first season since Lynch retired — the ratio has flipped completely. Seattle has passed the ball 59 percent of the time this season.
Seahawks run and pass percentages
|Season||Run (rank)||Pass (rank)|
|2012||57.0 (1)||43.0 (32)|
|2013||54.8 (1)||45.2 (32)|
|2014||53.6 (1)||46.4 (32)|
|2015||50.6 (4)||49.4 (29)|
|2016||41.3 (18)||58.7 (15)|
Wilson's pass attempts and yards per game have increased each season. He's on pace to throw 36 percent more passes and gain 39 percent more yards this season than he did as a rookie.
Russell Wilson passing
|Season||Attempts||Percent increase||Yards/game||Percent increase|
|*Projected. Wilson has thrown 335 passes so far this season.|
Make no mistake: This is Wilson's team. This is what happens when your quarterback goes from occupying half a percent of your salary cap to 12 percent in two seasons. The Bucs will find themselves in a similar position in 2019, the last year of Jameis Winston's rookie contract, assuming they pick up his fifth-year option. How they apportion the cap will become a much greater challenge.
After spending to keep together its defensive core and extend Wilson, the Seahawks had to skimp somewhere. That place was the offensive line, which features only two starters from last season. Seattle is spending less on its line this season than any other team, and it's showing.
Because of the line's inexperience and generally poor play, the Seahawks' run game has suffered greatly. In two seasons, Seattle has gone from the NFL's leaders in rushing yards per attempt to among the worst.
Seahawks yards per carry
|Season||Yards per carry (rank)|
The line's troubles extend to the passing game, where the unit has allowed pressure on 22 percent of plays, the second-highest rate in the league.
Despite the line's struggles, Wilson has played well enough to warrant MVP consideration along with Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and Dak Prescott. Now that he seems to have worked through knee and ankle injuries, he's even more dangerous.
In recent weeks, the Seahawks have taken advantage of their quarterback's increased mobility. They used play-action on a third of Wilson's dropbacks last Sunday in a 26-15 win over the Eagles, and off those run fakes, he completed six passes for 105 yards.
Where Lynch used to wear down opponents by running right at them, Wilson breaks them by extending plays.
The Eagles, for example, appeared to have him contained on a third and 11 in the second quarter. When the pass protection disintegrated, Wilson abandoned the pocket and rolled left. Jimmy Graham, who was running an out route to the sideline, wasn't open initially, but once he saw Wilson on the move, he cut downfield. Wilson then flicked a pass to the 6-foot-7, 260-pound tight end, who shrugged off a tackle and sprinted to the end zone for the go-ahead score. The Eagles never got back in the game.
Graham's production has helped mitigate the deficiencies in the Seahawks' run game. It's the least Seattle could hope for after trading All-Pro center Max Unger in March 2015 to get him. The tight end has caught 45 passes (ninth at his position) for 639 yards (second). His 14.2 yards per reception and 71.4 catch percentage are career highs. He has scored four touchdowns, two of which he caught with one arm in a 31-25 Week 9 win over the Bills.
When the Bucs upset the Chiefs last Sunday, players and coaches cited improved communication on defense. The Seahawks' offense, however, presents a whole new set of problems. Kansas City operates a ball-control offense, while Seattle is much more aggressive. It can beat you with quick passes underneath, but it likes to take shots deep. Against the Eagles, Wilson completed 3 of 7 deep passes (20 or more yards) for 109 yards and a touchdown. Against the Patriots the week before, he completed 4 of 7 for 137 yards.
Wilson, a dual-threat quarterback, and Graham, a freakishly athletic tight end that also can line up as a receiver, are nightmare matchups for any team, but the Bucs' defense is particularly vulnerable. Tampa Bay has generated pressure on 12 percent of pass plays, the lowest rate in the NFL, burdening the secondary. At cornerback, Vernon Hargreaves has had an up-and-down rookie season, Brent Grimes is coming off a quad injury and Jude Adjei-Barimah has been suspended four games for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
The Bucs won't be able to stop Wilson and the Seahawks' offense, but they can minimize the damage with sound tackling. In one measure of tackling efficiency — yards after the catch — Tampa Bay ranks 20th, allowing 121.9 per game. Seattle has gained 126.2 per game, which ranks 10th.
The best defense of all, though, might be the offense. To win, the Bucs must keep Winston on the field and Wilson off it.
Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected] Follow @tometrics.