I really can't believe I'm saying this. I'm too used to being the counterweight of popular opinion. If a crowd of people goes one way, I go the opposite. It's just how I am. I suppose that at one point I learned that being the eternal contrarian a) becomes too obvious and b) makes you WRONG a lot of the time. I've found an odd, laid-back agreeability to going with the flow these days. It's a nice change.
And then there are the obvious times when the crowd is right and there's a LOT more reason to follow them. The Seahawks' 2013 campaign falls into this category. It's exciting on several fronts. There's proven success to build upon. Russell Wilson is a legend already as a sophomore QB, and the defense has shown it can hold up even when incomplete. There's no reason to think we won't repeat our challenge for the division.
But...and this is where I just have to be an independent thinker, I suppose...the reason I'm really excited about this upcoming season is what we HAVEN'T seen. And I think there's going to be quite a bit of that.
One of the things I appreciate most about Pete Carroll and John Schneider, and the thing that I believe gives them the greatest edge over the rest of the league, is that they are innovators. We could talk here about the Moneyballesque revolution that they started with their front office strategies, their love of roster churn, their genius at finding diamonds in the rough, and all the things we've highlighted before. Those are great. And there's real leadership and synergy as well.
But for me, it goes beyond that. These guys are innovators on the field as well. Their X's and O's savvy has gone underappreciated by some, and has a great deal to do with our success this far. The NFL is a copycat league, a testing ground for constantly shifting strategies. Pete and John have been riding the leading edge of that wave ever since they arrived.
I used to hate this team's emphasis on the run. I felt that the ratings-greedy NFL would allow nothing to come between them and their quest for higher-scoring games, and their slow but steady alterations to the rules to protect QB's and promote passing games seemed to bear that out. Therefore, in my eyes, Seattle capitalizing on the run was equivalent to sticking their head in the sand and relying on coaching cliches. "Draft Ryan Mallett," I whined. "There's nothing to be gained unless you accept the paradigm."
The reality as I see it now, IMHO, is that Pete and John were well aware of the passing paradigm and were actually thinking one step ahead of it. They knew that the rush toward the pass would make the crucial components of a running game, i.e. physical runners and mauler O-linemen, much easier to find in the draft. They knew that teams falling over themselves to adopt a purer passing approach would leave them, at least in the short run, vulnerable to a physical, run-first offense. They were right. Seattle spent all of 2012 outlasting their opponents time and again, on both sides of the ball. Where most of the league read the signs and saw only a depressing ultimatum to find that perfect QB and a bevy of pass rushers, Pete and John saw an opportunity. They weren't ignoring the present or living in the past as the advanced stats insisted; they were thinking of the future. They knew the pendulum would eventually swing back the other way, and they wanted to be in position to take advantage of it.
And it doesn't stop there. As the Pete-and-John regime soldiers on, I see more and more cutting-edge moves that showed they have their finger on the pulse of the league.
You know how Rex Ryan is often credited for the popularity of the "amoeba" passing defense? Seattle with their Bandit concept was not far behind, if they were behind at all. Leo defensive ends? The next evolution of the 3-4. Press coverage? A terrific way to mitigate the quick-hitting passing option that Brady and Manning have relied on for years. The athletic scrambling QB with the read-option? Seattle was right there amongst the leaders of that wave, except unlike Washington, they had a QB with the build to handle some beating. Valuing YAC receivers? Check. Kam Chancellor? A forward-thinking tactic to counter those hyper-athletic tight ends that every team is drooling over. The departure of Michael Robinson? Maybe it was a cap move, but it was also a tacit admission that the league is moving away from the pure fullback position.
I get encouraged every time I see another move meant not to address the current "way of doing things", but to attack whatever vacuum or unbalance gets created by it. This front office has the ability to anticipate the league's back-and-forth. It's an awesome quality to have. I don't think our 2013 campaign will rely on pure 2012 tactics - Wilson scrambling, frequent read-option - because this team's evolution just doesn't stay still that long. Wilson will be finding more open targets. Seattle's running game, whether through Turbin or Michael or the H-back tweaks, will find new dimensions. The defensive front seven is new this year even while injury-depleted. Nobody has film on this team. It changes too much for that to happen. And if Green Bay's utter faceplant against the 49ers in January is any indication, teams with innovation on their side enjoy a healthy period of dominance before anyone figures out a response.
The injuries are frustrating. Tight end, defensive line, and our guard positions remain frustrating uncertainties despite years of attempted solutions. And defenses were starting to figure out Wilson's weaknesses towards the end of last year; we'll need better options against secondary blitzes and Cover 4. I do think September might have some unpleasant "wakeup call" moments before we hit our stride.
But Seattle has already gone further with less under Pete and John. This team thinks ahead. That's why, when the regular-season dust settles and a pack of ten-win teams starts courting the playoff luck that puts teams in the Super Bowl, it will be Seattle that nobody knows what to do with. And while the injuries are annoying in the present (especially Harvin), the gradual stream of returning pieces will provide the team with another midstream transformation. We've already seen this team change identities on a monthly scale. It could prove to be the deciding factor in the NFC race.
That's what has me using my 10,000th post on Seahawks.net, on my 30th birthday, to predict a Seahawks Super Bowl win over the horse-face this year. I don't care if I'm wrong. This isn't desperate fans grasping at the blind potential of a couple of draft picks. I'm extrapolating off something that's very difficult to extrapolate - smart innovation - and taking comfort that other teams won't have it any easier. I think it's our turn.
Who's with me?