Have the Seahawks Undervalued Special Teams This Offseason?

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 24: Punter Jon Ryan
SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 24: Punter Jon Ryan /

The Seattle Seahawks should have learned how important the kicking game is in 2016. Did they?

When the Seahawks failed to gain home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs last season, they could have blamed several things. Earl Thomas was injured and maybe that cost them a game. Tyler Lockett broke his leg and was about to explode on the Arizona Cardinals. Russell Wilson was injured most of the year and this cost Seattle a lot of its offensive diversity due to his being limited in his running ability.

Or, and maybe more directly, Seattle could point to the two games against Arizona where the kicking game cost them wins. Sure, the Dallas Cowboys gained home-field advantage by virtue of their having the best record in the NFC last year. But Dallas lost in the playoffs to the Green Bay Packers. As it turned out, if Seattle had won the last of their two games against the Cardinals, they would have been the second seed in the playoffs. The Atlanta Falcons wound up with the second seed. When Dallas lost to the Packers, Seattle was forced to travel to Atlanta.

Hauschka’s misses…

There was absolutely no guarantee that the Seahawks would have beaten the Falcons in Seattle in the playoffs, but there is also no way to dispel that. Seattle. Like most NFL teams, Seattle is much better at home. If former Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka had made his short field goal in Seattle’s first matchup against Arizona in overtime, that would have resulted in Seahawks home-field advantage. Had Hauschka made his extra-point with one minute left in the week 16 game against Arizona, Seattle again would have been the second-seed. (Probably; the Seahawks defense did allow the Cardinals to drive quickly into field goal position, however.)

GLENDALE, AZ – DECEMBER 21: Kicker Steven Hauschka
GLENDALE, AZ – DECEMBER 21: Kicker Steven Hauschka /

Now, Hauschka is gone. He was signed by the Buffalo Bills this offseason. Hauschka was a fairly consistent – and good – kicker for the Seahawks over the last six seasons. The change in extra point range, though, affected his efficiency. Hauschka missed six extra points in 2016, or two more than he missed field goals. Moreover, a miss against the Cardinals negatively impacted Seattle’s season to, as it turns out, an unforgivable degree. The missed extra points seemed to get into the head of Hauschka.

Blair Walsh project…

In Hauschka’s place they signed Blair Walsh. Walsh, to most 12s, was known as the guy who blew the Minnesota Vikings season in the 2016 playoff game against Seattle. Before that, Walsh was pretty decent. In his rookie year of 2012, Walsh made all ten of his field goal attempts beyond 50 yards. Since 2012, though, Walsh has made only 14 or 24 field goals beyond 50 yards. Worse, Walsh has made only 46 of 55 extra point tries over the last two years. He has been no better than Hauschka. Walsh was let go after nine games in 2016 by the Vikings. Seattle better have a lot of faith in Walsh that a change of scenery will do him good. Otherwise, they have doomed themselves to the potential of being even worse with Walsh than had they re-signed Hauschka.

Other special teams issues

One great aspect of the third phase of the game for 2017 is that Seattle will get a healthy Lockett back. Devin Hester filled in fairly well with the Seahawks in returning kicks after Lockett was injured late in 2016. The problem was that had Lockett been returning the kicks against the Falcons in the playoff game, Lockett could have easily scored twice. Hester is an all-time great when returning kicks; Lockett is simply better and faster now.

Punter Jon Ryan had a solid yards-per-punt in 2016 at 44 yards-per. But this was almost two-yards-per-punt less than in 2015. He was also inconsistent. For instance, in the Wild Card round of the playoffs he averaged 37.7 yards-per-punt. In the Divisional Round he was great at almost 60 yards-per.

For the Seahawks to reach the Super Bowl, they need the kicking game to be not just great, but reliably great. Walsh has to be better than Hauschka in 2016. Ryan needs to be better than Ryan in 2016. Lockett needs to stay healthy. If all these three happen, Seattle will not be able to blame a lost season in 2017 on the kicking game. Without that excuse, maybe Seattle will do great things again.