Otto Greule Jr
Thesis Statement: The Seahawks made excellent moves this offseason such that we will never be able to catch up. Oh, wait, nope. That's not it. That's not it at all.
I won't deny that the Seattle Seahawks have made some impressive moves this offseason. So far, they have traded for WR Percy Harvin, they have signed pass rusher Michael Bennett for one year at $5 million, and they signed another pass rush guy in Cliff Avril for two years at $15 million. These are big moves, and they address two of the three needs I argued Seattle would want to fix during the offseason in my preview/review of our NFC West opponent. Is it likely, then, that the Seahawks have gotten better in the short term? I do think it is likely.
But this in no way, shape, or form makes the Seahawks the best team in the NFC. While a lot of people have been level-headed about the Seahawks, others have been quite pessimistic. Don't get me wrong, the Seahawks are a good team, but it is incredibly hard to buy your way into a division title in the modern NFL. The cap problems just won't let you. And while the Seahawks have been able to work about that this offseason, things are going to change rapidly for them soon. They will run into cap issues.
But that still leaves this season. How, oh how, can the 49ers ever compete with THAT roster? Well, first off, we should recognize that the Seahawks will live and die with QB Russell Wilson. The rookie had a great season, and I think he will have a long and fruitful career in the NFL, but he still has a long way to go. NFL history is littered with flash in the pan QBs. Wilson still has a lot to prove.
And don't forget, we also have a pretty good QB ourselves. He also has a lot to prove. But, comparing both QBs last season using rate statistics (which is the only effective way, since Colin Kaepernick only played half a season), we can see that Colin comes out a bit better. Colin has a better Adjusted Yards per Attempt, with an 8.6 compared to Wilson's 8.1. This gives Kaep an AY/A+ of 125 (which is crazy good - remember, rate stats that end in "+" usually have 100 as average) compared to Wilson's 118. Kaepernick is also a better runner, carrying the ball for an average of 6.4 yards per attempt compared to Wilson's 5.2. Related to rushing is the fact that Wilson takes more sacks, with a Sack%+ of 88, while Kaep's is 95 (which means he is below average). And to jump real quickly to Football Outsider's evaluations of the two, Colin has a DVOA of 25.7% in contrast to Wilson's 19.7%. Does this mean anything going forward? Probably that the two QBs are going to be exceptional players. It should be exciting. But, we have already proven with Alex Smith that this team doesn't need a lights-out-Kaepernick to win. Can the Seahawks say the same? What happens when the league adjusts to Wilson next season?
But I should return to Seattle's newly acquired players. I'll start with Percy Harvin, who is probably their scariest pick-up. If Wilson is able to maintain his high level of play in 2013, it will be due in large part to the addition of Harvin. Wilson needed another weapon in that offense besides Marshawn Lynch, and Harvin is a good player with a lot of potential. However, the Seahawks traded for him as if he were an elite level wide receiver, and next year they are going to start paying him like an elite WR. Thing is, he ain't an elite receiver. Harvin has yet to accrue a 1,000-yard season, though part of that can be attributed to injury problems. He would easily have topped 1,000 last season, hitting 677 yards on 62 receptions in nine games. But, he was averaging only 10.9 yards per reception. A very good average, mind you, but compare that to Michael Crabtree's 13.0. Harvin did have Christian Ponder throwing to him (ugh, poor guy), but production is production - and he does not produce at an elite level. Can he get there with Wilson? Perhaps, but I'm not too worried. We have more difficult WRs in this division. Heck, Larry Fitzgerald averaged 11.2 yards per reception last season, and his QB situation was even worse.
That leaves us with the new pass rush DEs: Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. Both guys had good seasons, pulling in 9.5 and 9 sacks, respectively (which means that the two of them combined are still one sack less awesome than Aldon Smith). For Bennett, this was a bit out of nowhere; His second highest sack total was four in the 2011 season. Avril is more accustomed to producing at this level, with 11 sacks in 2011 (which, again, puts them right alongside Aldon's 14 sacks in 2011 - two for the price of one in Aldon? I think so). I won't deny the success these two have had, but I don't know how well it will carry over to the Seahawks. The question mark for Bennett is how hard he will regress to his career sack average. Can he build on the nine sacks next season, or was that an outlying season for him? With Avril, the big question is how well he can rush the passer on a team that doesn't already do it that well. In Detroit, Avril was surrounded by superior defensive line talent, and he used this to his advantage in getting to the quarterback. Moreover, Pro Football Focus was not overly kind to Avril's pass rush skills last season, giving him a -0.4 (compared to Aldon's 12.4). Was his 2012 season a mirage? Ultimately, though, it is likely that the Seahawks pass rush got better. I just don't think it did to such a degree that the 49ers won't be able to keep up.
Finally, I have one more comment about the Seahawks: they still need to do a better job of pass protection. I hate to circle around to Russell Wilson, again, but he really is the man who unlocks that team. RT Breno Giacomini did not have a great season, and I think the Seahawks probably need some work at the Guard position as well.
It's tempting to be afraid of the Seahawks in March. And it's smart too. That's a good team. But, I don't think they have gotten so much better that we should just roll over. As a whole, I think our roster is probably better, save the secondary, probably the d-line, and maybe (and this is a BIG maybe) the RB corps. This is the start of a good rivalry because both of these teams are good teams. We shouldn't be handing over the division just yet.