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What is the Seahawks ceiling this year, and window moving forward?

Seattle Seahawks v Oakland Raiders Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks are on a roll lately. They have won four straight games and at 8-5 hold the top wild card berth in the NFC. If they beat the San Francisco 49ers this weekend, Seattle will clinch a playoff berth. If they win and the Minnesota Vikings lose, they clinch the fifth seed. They won’t surpass the division-winning Los Angeles Rams, but they have a chance to head into the playoffs with some momentum.

I chatted with Field Gulls editor Kenneth Arthur this week. This is the second time in three weeks the 49ers and Seahawks are squaring off, so we wanted to shake things up a bit with our questions for each other. I decided to mix in some questions about how this team has gotten to where it is, and what the coming offseason holds.

Prior to Jimmy Garoppolo’s injury, it felt like the general thoughts was that the Seahawks would be competing with the 49ers for second place behind the Rams. LA entered the season as the heavy favorite in the NFC West, while the 49ers were expected by most outsiders to take a step back.

Seattle struggled out of the gate before finding their footing. The o-line improved, Russell Wilson is doing his thing, the run game has looked dominant, and their defense has rounded into form. I asked Kenneth how much of the team’s recent success he attributes to the players, how much he attributes to Pete Carroll and whatever philosophy/scheme/etc he brings to the table, and how much he attributes to something else.

I think the o-line improvement is at least mildly overstated/overrated. Wilson is taking sacks at a career-high rate and Chris Carson is still having to create much of his yardage after contact and after forcing missed tackles. The biggest change happened in the middle of last season with the acquisition of Duane Brown, who is a monumentally better tackle than Rees Odhiambo, who was a guard -- and not even a starting guard. Justin Britt is fine at center, he gets the job done. Germain Ifedi’s progress at right tackle is probably overrated too, he can still get embarrassed by good pass rushers like Danielle Hunter. And the offense didn’t miss a beat when guard D.J. Fluker got injured and replaced by undrafted Jordan Simmons, which likely makes Fluker expendable in the offseason depending on the cost. To me the only personnel change worth mentioning is Brown, though certainly guard play is improved as compared to Luke Joeckel and Oday Aboushi in 2017.

The run game I attribute a lot to Carson, Rashaad Penny, seeing Mike Davis earlier in the season than we did a year ago, and a new plan by offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to consistently run out of shotgun with Carson. The pass game is about as efficient as we’ve seen with Russ in the past, with the added benefit maybe of having David Moore instead of Brandon Marshall or Paul Richardson. I think Doug Baldwin, who was out during Monday’s game, is still critical to the success of Wilson.

My core attribution goes to Carroll, because he opted to make a change at offensive coordinator. Then I think Schottenheimer deserves a lot of credit. The health of Carson and the addition of Penny as opposed to Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls is somewhere in the mix. Moving on from offensive line coach Tom Cable and getting back Mike Solari of course. And a full season of Brown. There’s a lot that goes into it, but I’d still say the overall “improvement” is not as clear as people think.

I also asked Kenneth what he thought the Seahawks needed to address this offseason. It’s not at all surprising that like much of the league, he thinks the Seahawks will look for help at edge rusher. You can never have too many good pass rushers, and the Seahawks will look to find a complement for Frank Clark (assuming they re-sign him!).

In my opinion, they only have one edge rusher, and that’s Frank Clark. First they need to re-sign or tag him, because he’s a free agent. Next they need to add one or two notable defensive ends in free agency. They aren’t likely to go for the biggest names (Clowney, etc) because that’s not their style. The biggest I could see them going is Ezekiel Ansah, if he ends up being cheap because of injuries and inconsistencies. He could potentially be lured on a one-year deal to reload his value for 2020. Next they need to draft a defensive lineman with their first pick probably. Then they’ll be looking to see how 2018 third rounder Rasheem Green develops in camp, plus Martin, who is intriguing also, though he’s a linebacker right now and they don’t typically rush those guys. The other key player is Jarran Reed, who is set to be a free agent in 2020 and he’s a potential 10-sack player from the interior. He could get a huge payday next year.

What do you think the Seahawks ceiling is this year, and what about their window for the next couple seasons? On the former, if they get in the playoffs, anything is possible. That being said, I see them most likely as a team that has a very good shot of winning a road wild card game, but probably losing a close one to the Rams or Saints in the divisional round.

As to the latter, that’s a tough one. If Jimmy Garoppolo is 100 percent next year and stays healthy, the 49ers will likely be in the thick of the playoff push. It remains to be seen how they’ll compete with the Rams, but they will at least be a wild card contender. But where will Seattle be in that? I don’t see them dropping out of wild card contention the next couple years, but it will be that much tougher for them.