Pictures of the Seahawks' starting offense and defense, according to the team's depth chart.
On Sunday, the 5-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the 7-2-1 Seattle Seahawks at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. It will be the 13th meeting between the two teams in the regular season and a chance for the Buccaneers to win for the fourth time in their last five tries against Seattle (more on that series history). Tampa Bay is also trying to win its third straight game overall and its second in a row at home after a slow start to the season on their own turf.
To move above .500 for the first time this season, the Buccaneers will need to slow down Cliff Avril and a Seattle pass rush that is tied for the NFL sack lead. On defense, Tampa Bay will have to contend with the red-hot duo of quarterback Russell Wilson and tight end Jimmy Graham. Here's a closer look at the challenges the Buccaneers will face on Sunday when they play host to the first-place team in the NFC West.
Pete Carroll has helped produce an almost unbroken run of success since he took over as the Seahawks' head coach in 2010.
Carroll's first Seattle team finished 7-9, but that was still good enough for the team's first division title in four years. The 2011 Seahawks also went 7-9, this time missing the playoffs, but Seattle has reached the postseason every season since and looks like a very good bet to extend that streak in 2016. The Seahawks are 7-2-1 and have a three-game lead in the NFC West with six weeks to go. Overall, Carroll's Seahawks are 67-38-1 (.637) in the regular season and 8-4 in the playoffs.
Carroll's first NFL job was with Buffalo in 1984, as he took over as the Bills' defensive backs coach after a decade of coaching on the collegiate level. After one year in Buffalo and five more coaching DBs for the Vikings, Carroll took on the defensive coordinator post for the Jets under Bruce Coslet. He later succeeded Coslet as the Jets' head coach in 1994, a job that lasted just one year. After two seasons as the 49ers' defensive coordinator, Carroll returned to a head coaching position with the Patriots in 1997. New England made the playoffs in two of his three years at the helm, but he was succeeded by Bill Belichick in 2000.
Carroll returned to the college ranks in 2001 and built a powerhouse at USC, as the Trojans won two national championships in his decade at the helm. The Seahawks came calling in 2010, and it is in Seattle that Carroll has truly found his NFL comfort zone. He is one of the increasingly rare NFL head coaches who also has final say over player transactions. Carroll is also the sort of leader who has completely changed the culture of his franchise, as described a few years ago by ESPN The Magazine's Alyssa Roenigk.
Carroll has constructed a relatively young roster in Seattle, the eighth-youngest in the league, just behind the Buccaneers. The Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII – the franchise's first NFL title – at the end of the 2013 season and came within one very memorable goal-line interception of being the league's first back-to-back champions since New England in 2003-04. Carroll's Seahawks are almost unfailingly competitive, as they are riding a streak of 88 straight games in which they've either led or been within one score of the lead in the fourth quarter.
Seattle's win over Philadelphia last week was the 100th of Carroll's career in the regular season (he also has nine postseason victories). He is just the 39th head coach in league history to hit that mark.
Seattle's offense ranks 20th in the league at 21.9 points per game but at times has been quite prolific. The Seahawks have been held to 12 or fewer points in three of their 10 games but also have surpassed 30 points in three others. And, with quarterback Russell Wilson and tight end Jimmy Graham heating up in the second half of the campaign – likely due to both players gradually overcoming nagging injuries – the Seahawks are on a roll, with 88 points scored during a current three-game winning streak.
Wilson, as has been the case since the Seahawks struck gold by taking him in the third round since 2012, is the key to the Seahawks offense. Over the last three games he has averaged more than 300 yards passing, thrown six touchdowns and no interceptions and compiled a passer rating of nearly 120. On the season, he has a stellar passer rating of 99.3, which is actually a tick below his career mark of 101.4, which is second best in the NFL since 2012 only to Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers (102.7). Wilson, and by extension the Seahawks' offense, plays a nearly mistake-free game, with just two interceptions all season. As a team, Seattle has turned it over a league-low six times all year (tied with Buffalo) including just once in the last seven games.
If there is any difference to Wilson's game this year, it's in his legs. After averaging over 600 rushing yards per season from 2012-15, and 38 yards per game in that span, he has just 79 rushing yards in 10 games this season . Still, while he is known as an excellent improviser and extender of plays when forced to scramble, Wilson is actually one of the NFL's best from inside the pocket. Last year, according to ESPN, he had a 118.6 passer rating on throws from inside the pocket, the best in the league. Wilson is also a fantastic crunch-time competitor, with 21 fourth-quarter or overtime comeback wins on his resume.
Wilson's two favorite targets this year are wide receiver Doug Baldwin and tight end Jimmy Graham. Now in his fifth season after entering the league as an undrafted free agent, the 5-10, 190-pound Baldwin broke out with his first 1,000-yard season last year and is currently on pace to top that, as his team-leading 54-733 line projects to 86 catches for 1,172 yards. After leading the league with 14 TD catches last year, Baldwin has a team-high five so far in 2016. Graham, who came over from New Orleans in a blockbuster trade during the 2015 offseason, has been slowed by injuries as a Seahawk but is beginning to hit his stride. With 197 yards and three touchdowns in his last three games, Graham is looking like the dynamic player who put up an average receptions-yards-TDs line of 89-1,099-12 from 2011-14.
With those two weapons plus Jermaine Kearse and Tyler Lockett, the Seahawks have done well throwing long and short. They have gained at least four yards on first-down passes on 61.8% of their attempts, the third-highest mark in the NFL. They also have a stellar 131.1 passer rating on balls that travel more than 20 yards in the air, the second-best mark in the league. The Seahawks have tended to pass early, ranking fourth in the league with 64.9% pass plays in the first half, then turn to the run to put the game away. Seattle's pass-play percentage drops to 55.6% after the intermission, the seventh-lowest rate in the league.
Seattle's offense has always run the ball well under Carroll, leading the league with 144.4 yards per game from 2011-15. However, that number is down precipitously, to 85.1 yards per game, in 2016, and there are three obvious reasons. As noted above, Wilson is not running the ball nearly as often. In addition, Marshawn Lynch retired after last season and, to the surprise of some, has stayed retired. Finally, the running back corps in Lynch's absence has been hit by injuries, first to Thomas Rawls and most recently to emerging rookie C.J. Prosise. The team's leading rusher on the season is Christine Michael, but he was released two weeks ago and is now a Green Bay Packer.
Still, the ground game has been better of late, particularly in a 152-yard outing in last week's win over Philadelphia. Prosise had a lot to do with that and is now out of the picture, but Rawls returned after a nine-week absence and added 57 yards on 14 carries and three catches for 31 yards.
The Seahawks' offensive line, which has been considered a weak spot for the team in recent seasons, has a new look in 2016 and boasts some very interesting backgrounds. Left tackle George Fant is an undrafted rookie who played four seasons of basketball but just one of football at Western Kentucky, seeing action at tight end and on the defensive line. He has taken over the job from Bradley Sowell, out with an injury since the sixth game. The right tackle, Garry Gilliam, is a 2014 undrafted free agent who played tight end at Penn State. The line does boast a 2014 second-round pick at center in Justin Britt and this year's first-rounder, starting right guard Germain Ifedi.
That line has allowed 20 sacks, which is ninth-best in the NFL, but the running game has struggled as noted, including on first-down handoffs. The Seahawks rank 28th in percentage of runs that gain four or more yards, and 26th in that category on first-down plays. Seattle also has broken off only 17 runs that gained 10 or more yards, the third-lowest total in the NFL.
However, the Seahawks do a great job of taking care of the ball, as noted earlier, and have allowed only 21 points off turnovers all season. The offense also ranks eighth in yards per play once inside the red zone and Wilson has led the team to a 107.8 passer rating on plays snapped inside the 30, 12th-best in the NFL.
The Seahawks' defense has allowed the fewest points per game in the NFL this year – 17.3 – and that's nothing new. If Seattle holds onto that title, it will mark the fifth straight year it has had the league's stingiest scoring defense. The only other team to do what was the 1953-57 Cleveland Browns.
As has been the case throughout the Seahawks' current run of playoff seasons, the defense is loaded with playmakers at every level. It starts up front with a defensive line that has produced 22.5 of the team's NFL-leading 31 sacks on the season. Seattle joins Tennessee as the only two teams in the NFL with two players in the league's top 12 sack artists.
Defensive end Cliff Avril is tied atop the rankings with 10.0 sacks and fellow end Frank Clark has added 7.5. That defensive front may be getting Michael Bennett back after a four-game injury absence, too; Bennett has just three sacks so far in 2016 but he led the team with 10 last year. Avril, Clark and Bennett have combined to rack up 47 quarterback pressures. Avril also has four forced fumbles this year and is an absolute master of the strip sack, with 25 of them since 2008.
The Seahawks operate out of a 4-3 front but their linebackers do get into the pass-rushing business from time to time. Bobby Wagner, who leads the NFL with 108 tackles and has surpassed 100 for the fifth straight year, has 2.5 sacks and 13 quarterback pressures, the same number as Bennett and only one less than Clark. An asset in run support, in coverage and as a blitzer, Wagner is consider one of the NFL's best middle linebackers, and he's ably flanked by outside backer's K.J. Wright and Brock Coyle, who have combined for four sacks.
Pictures of the Buccaneers' practice on Wednesday, November 23rd.
That front seven is difficult to run against. The Seahawks rank 11th in rushing defense overall, allowing 98.4 yards per game, and they've held seven of their 10 opponents below four yards a carry. That's a strength – Seahawk opponents gain four or more yards on just 38.8% of their attempts, the sixth-lowest mark in the league. Seattle has also not been gashed for many big gains, ranking second in carries of 10+-yards allowed (19). Only two of those runs went for 20 or more yards, tied for the lowest total in the NFL.
Seattle's secondary is a star-studded and extremely physical unit, as made clear by its "Legion of Boom" nickname. That crew may be without Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas, who sustained a hamstring injury last Sunday, but still boasts two of the best at their respective positions in cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Kam Chancellor. It's a far bigger than usual secondary – Sherman is 6-3 and 195 pounds and Chancellor runs 6-3 and 225. Even the relative newcomer to the Legion, fifth-year cornerback DeShawn Shead, stands 6-2 and weighs 212 pounds.
That group has held opposing passers to a combined 79.9 passer rating, fourth-lowest in the NFL. Sherman leads the way with four interceptions, and that's when he's tested. Some teams, noting Sherman's league-best 30 interceptions and 92 passes defensed since 2011, simply steer clear of the part of the field he is occupying. Buccaneers Head Coach Dirk Koetter, noting the Seahawks' 2016 tendencies as seen on game tape, believes Sherman will move around the formation in order to stay on the Bucs' top receiver, Mike Evans.
PHOTOS: BUCS' 53-MAN ROSTER
Chancellor is the type of hitter who makes opposing pass-catchers keep an account of where he is on the field, and he also has an interception and five passes defensed this year. If Thomas can't play, the Seahawks may turn to veteran Kelcie McCray, a former Buccaneer who filled in well for Chancellor two weeks ago in a win over New England. The play of the Seahawks' safeties has made it hard for opposing teams to go deep; Seattle has allowed a passer rating of 67.4 on balls thrown more than 20 yards in the air, the seventh-lowest in the league. Seattle has given up 31 pass plays of 20 or more yards; only three teams have allowed fewer.
Unsurprisingly given their aggressive style of play, the Seahawks have been particularly hard to move the football against when the field gets short. Opponents are averaging just 2.16 yards per play inside the red zone, the fourth-lowest mark in the NFL. Even when foes get into a goal-to-go situation, the Seahawks have denied the touchdown 42.1% of the time, the third-best percentage in the league.
The Seahawks are getting god results this year from their long-time kicking duo of punter Jon Ryan (with Seattle since 2008) and kicker Steven Hauschka (a Seahawk since 2011).
Ryan has a gross average of 45.5 yards per punt and a net of 40.3, and he's dropped 19 kicks inside the opposing 20-yard line versus only three touchbacks. He has had a punt blocked this season, however, and he's had four blocked over the last three seasons combined. The Seahawks' punt coverage team has been reasonably strong, allowing 7.0 yards per return and none longer than 20 yards.
Hauschka has made 21 of 24 field goal tries this year, an 87.5% success rate that is right in line with his career mark of 86.9%. That makes Hauschka the fourth-most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history (minimum 100 attempts). He missed his last one against Philadelphia, breaking a streak of nine in a row made, but was able to connect on his only attempt from beyond 50 yards earlier in the season. Hauschka handles Seattle's kickoffs and does it very well, getting touchbacks 77.8% of the time to rank third in the NFL in that category.
Speedy second-year wideout Tyler Lockett gives the Seahawks a very dangerous weapon in the return game. Lockett scored once each on a punt return and a kickoff return last year in his rookie campaign. He has yet to find the end zone on special teams this year but does have a 62-yard punt return and a 43-yard kickoff return.
As a unit, the Seahawks' special teams crew has usually provided Carroll with a winning edge. Seattle scored 18 13 touchdowns on special teams – including returns and recoveries – from 2010-15, averaging more than two per year. The Seahawks also blocked 17 kicks in that span, and they have another one already this year on a punt.