I was wondering what I should write this week when I read that the Niners resigned “Pro-Bowl Punter” Andy Lee to a contract extension. This made me think of the Seahawks’ punter Jon Ryan, a great punter but one who is just a smidge behind Andy Lee in the eyes of the league and fans. This got me thinking, when are the Seahawks finally going to move out from just behind the Niners and pass them?
Punters are just one example. Admittedly, Lee’s numbers are better than Ryan’s. Part of this is due to injuries on Seattle’s special teams unit which was much more dominant in 2010. Lee averaged just over five more yards a punt than Ryan (44.6 to 39.3), but Ryan is right there. Another example is the position of kick returner. Leon Washington, who was deadly in 2010, was a shadow of his former self in 2011. Instead Ted Ginn, Jr., a receiver who couldn’t cut it in Miami, became a star returner for the Niners. You can blame it on the rule changes if you want, but both had to deal with the same rules. Ginn returned two kicks for touchdowns (one punt and one kickoff) while Washington had none, and Ginn averaged 2.5 yards more per kickoff and 1 yard more per punt. It might not seem like a lot, but over many returns it adds up. I hope this is an area that we can improve upon this season.
In the last ten months Seattle acquired two Pro-Bowl tight ends – Zach Miller last season and Kellen Winslow this week. Miller, unfortunately, had to block most of the 2011 season which didn’t allow Seattle to maximize his potential. Meanwhile Vernon Davis was resurrecting his career and lighting it up in San Francisco. This month, Seattle traded for Winslow who is a physical freak, but has some attitude issues that I hope Carroll can resolve. Seattle lost the tight end comparison with San Francisco in the 2011 season, but they have the pieces to move ahead this year. Seattle now has two top-tier tight ends and hopefully we can utilize them to stack the box and pass or throw after forcing the defense to show its hand.
At running back, Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch have incredibly similar stats. Both average about 4.3 yards a carry with just over 280 carries each last season. Lynch had more touch downs (12 to 8 ) but Gore had more carries for 20+ yards (11 to 4). Lynch finished much stronger than he started, however, largely due to an offensive line that was finally getting its act together. If Lynch had played all season the way he played the last third, his stats would blow Gore’s away. I’m looking forward to watching Lynch go full-on Beast Mode for 16+ games this season. (I’ve already stockpiled some celebratory Skittles in anticipation.)
You might be asking yourself why I am comparing Seattle to San Francisco and being a little down on Seattle, and those are fair questions. I hate the 49ers. (They are right up there with the Stealers and Patriots in my opinion. I lived in San Francisco for five years and there was nothing I wanted more than to stomp on San Francisco twice a year.) If I ever hear the fallback argument of “how many rings does your team have” again, I’ll break something. Both teams, however, are being built around a similar model: a smash-mouth running game, brutal defense, and quarterbacks that are more game managers than game changers.
San Francisco, however, has managed to turn itself into a Super Bowl caliber team. You can argue that the pieces were all there and that they just needed a coach that could get the players’ heads on straight. Harbaugh is a guy that can do that. Comparatively, Seattle had a roster that was old, injury-prone, and unable of playing to the level that Seahawks fans had come to expect after the Holmgren era. Pete Carroll and John Schneider are surely turning that around. The Seahawks are younger, more hungry, and, I would argue top-to-bottom talented than the Niners, and I am tired of being just behind San Francisco in the NFC West.
I can see the pieces there, now if only I, as a fan, could just will them into place. In 2012, I want Ryan’s punts to go just a few more yards than Lee’s. I want our tight end tandem to have around 100 receptions for 1000 yards and 10 TDs. I want Lynch to run over defenders the way he did at the end of 2011 all season and smoke Gore’s stats. I want Leon to return to his 2010 form, rule changes be damned. And I want to see it showcased in week 1 against Arizona in the desert. Let’s set the tone right from the beginning. Based on what the Cards and Seahawks have done in the offseason, there is no reason Seattle should lose that game.
I realize that all Seahawks fans want this, but I needed to vent some frustration that was triggered by the Andy Lee extension headline. It also gave me a reason to dig around in my beloved Excel and stats databases to see just how close Seattle’s key players are to being better than San Francisco’s. Hopefully some of you have been able to vent your frustration vicariously through this post as well, and I thank you for indulging mine.