Asked what he liked about the Seahawks’ 2013 season, Carl Smith smiled and offered the obvious.
“I really liked our record,” the team’s veteran quarterbacks coach said. “And I liked our playoff run.”
For the record, the Seahawks went 13-3 during the regular season to tie the best record in franchise history and then dispatched the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers in the postseason before handing the Denver Broncos a 43-8 loss in Super Bowl XLVIII.
The players Smith coaches had a lot with that, of course, especially second-year starter Russell Wilson.
But Smith’s self-scouting session after the season also revealed a few warts from the most successful run in the team’s 38-season history – and those will be the focal point for improvement when the players return Monday to begin their offseason program.
“What we saw was lots of problems, regardless of the end result,” Smith said. “We saw the imperfections and there’s a lot of work that we’ve still got to do.
“What we did get cleaned up during our playoff run were penalties and our protections. We had problems with both of those during the season and it made a lot games harder than it could have been.”
The protection problems were obvious in the most obvious of ways – the number of times Wilson was sacked. He went down 27 times in the first eight games, compared to 17 sacks in the final eight games. And that can be traced to three of the starting linemen missing a combined 13 games in the first half of the regular season – left tackle Russell Okung (six), since-departed right tackle Breno Giacomini (five) and Pro Bowl center Max Unger (two).
The penalties were a problem when it came to offensive consistency, as the Seahawks were flagged at least seven times in 13 of their 16 regular-season games – not all on the offense, of course, but enough to stall drives, nullify big plays and put Wilson and company in third-and-too-long situations too many times.
The what’s-next question when it comes to Wilson is what he can do in his third season as the quarterback. He took almost everyone by surprise, and the league by storm, by winning the starting job as a rookie after being selected in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft and then tying Peyton Manning’s rookie record by passing for 26 touchdowns while leading the Seahawks to an 11-5 record and the franchise’s first road playoff victory since 1983.
Last season, his completions (257), passing yards (3,357) and passer rating (101.2) were up slightly from that rookie season, while his interceptions were down slightly (nine). In fact, Wilson had a seven-game stretch at midseason where he threw only two interceptions.
But even when Wilson was at his best, you had the feeling there was more to come as he continues to mature at the position at this level.
“Russell improved from year one to year two, and we look to improve from year two to year three,” Smith said. “We were real happy with his growth last season, and we’re working on continuing that. He made growth in a lot of areas.”
Another plus is the return of Tarvaris Jackson. He was signed as a free agent in 2011 and named the starter because the former Viking was familiar with the offense first-year coordinator Darrell Bevell brought with him from Minnesota. Jackson was then traded to the Buffalo Bills in August 2012, after Wilson had won the starting job and because Matt Flynn had been signed in free agency. Jackson did not play a snap for the Bills, was released last June and re-signed with the Seahawks.
“That was great having Tarvaris back,” Smith said. “He had a great preseason and was ready all the time. It’s good for Russ and me that he just understands the offense so well and he understands the league. So he’s a big help in the (meeting) room.
“So it’s good having him. He was better last season than when we had him before.”
Talk of the Seahawks repeating as Super Bowl champions began even before they had wrapped up becoming Super Bowl champions on that Sunday evening at MetLife Stadium. And a lot of it has to do with everything Wilson brings to the buffet – starting with his 28-9 record, including playoffs.
But it’s also one thing to talk about repeating and a completely different thing to go out and do it. Just ask the previous eight Super Bowl champions who failed to repeat since the New England Patriots became the last team to win back-to-back Super Bowls after the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
“There’s no repeat,” Smith said. “There’s just, do it again.”
Despite Super finish, there’s much more to come for Russell Wilson.