In their second season under Pete Carroll, the Seahawks finished with the same 7-9 record they posted during his first season as coach.
At least that was the view at first glance.
Look a little closer and it’s apparent that the Seahawks were more competitive and simply better in Year 2 P.C. than they were in Year 1 P.C.
Case in point – or points, in this case: In 2010, the Seahawks lost nine games by an average of 21 points and in 2011, the average margin of defeat was 9.8. And all nine losses in 2010 were by double digits, compared to four in 2011, and only one in the final 10 games. Also in 2010, they lost six road games by an average margin of 20.2 points and in 2011, it was five road losses by an average of 11.2 points.
Need more proof: The Seahawks upset the playoff-bound New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens, and also had two-point losses to the NFC West champion San Francisco 49ers and playoff-bound Atlanta Falcons. In 2010, they defeated one playoff-bound team – the Chicago Bears.
No matter how you stack it, that’s progress. And so was the Seahawks going 5-3 in the second half of the season, compared to 3-5 in 2010.
“We know we’ve got a better team this season,” said free safety Earl Thomas, a first-round draft choice in 2010 who in 2011 became the first Seahawk voted to the Pro Bowl since 2008 in only his second NFL season. “We’re young, but this experience we got this season and all the plays we made, we can build on that going into next season.”
The strengths of the 2011 Seahawks were their ability to run the football, and stop the opposition from running it. Marshawn Lynch, who was obtained in an October trade with the Buffalo Bills in 2010, found his legs in 2011, posting career-highs in rushing yards (1,204) and touchdowns (13).
“It’s very encouraging,” Lynch said. “Just to know that if we call a run play, we know we can run it and get success out of it. You’ve got to be pleased with that, being a running back, knowing that they’re going to get the job done.
“And they’re young and are going to get better.”
That’s what the running game did in its first season under assistant head coach/line coach Tom Cable. After the Seahawks averaged 77.7 rushing yards in the first seven games, they averaged 134.9 over the final nine to finish 21st in the league – up from 31 in 2010 – as Lynch had 941 of his yards and 10 of his TDs during that productive stretch.
The defense, meanwhile, finished ninth in the league in average yards allowed. It was the Seahawks’ first Top 10 finish since 1997 and only the sixth in franchise history. The Seahawks also forced 31 turnovers, and the only teams with more advanced to the postseason.
There were plenty of individuals who contributed to the team’s improvement in addition to Lynch and Thomas, who had 92 tackles:Jon Ryan broke his team records for punting average (46.6) and net average (39.3), erased the mark for longest punt that had stood since 1995 with a 77-yarder and also tied the club record for punts inside the 20 with a league-high 34 Red Bryant blocked a club-record four kicks Heath Farwell had a league-high 21 coverage tackles on special teams despite not joining the team until Week 7 Tarvaris Jackson, in his first season with the team, passed for 3,091 yards despite playing most of the season with a damaged pectoral in his throwing shoulder Doug Baldwin, a rookie free agent, led the team in receptions (51) and receiving yards (788) the cornerback tandem of first-year starters Brandon Browner and rookie Richard Sherman combined for 10 interceptions strong safety Kam Chancellor had 94 tackles and four interceptions Leo end Chris Clemons produced 11 sacks for the second consecutive season and Leon Washington averaged 25.2 yards on kickoff returns and 11.3 on punt returns.
And the Seahawks displayed – and at times flaunted – their improvement in a season when the 136-day lockout erased the offseason and Carroll and general manager John Schneider continued to scramble the roster with 231 transactions after making 284 in their first season together.
“I always liken it to the ‘Three Little Pigs.’ You can build it with straw or sticks,” Schneider said after the team started 2-6. “Or you can work your tail off and know that you’re doing the right thing and kind of do it the old-fashioned way and have a big, strong, sturdy foundation. Then you can weather all the storms.”
And Carroll could sense that the Seahawks had built a base for the good things to come.
“We’re at the foundation of building this program, and it’s taken us a couple of years to do that,” Carroll said. “We know the formula. We know the style.”
And now, we all know what was to come.