Entering a year that will determine whether they are a fading superpower or an enduring force, the Seahawks went through a volatile offseason. They openly shopped star cornerback Richard Sherman before ultimately keeping him. They officially cut ties with beloved running back Marshawn Lynch, trading the previously retired bruiser to Oakland, per his wishes. Most significantly, their frays started to show.
The tumult stemmed from the tension between Seattle’s defense and offense, as detailed in a blockbuster story by ESPN The Magazine’s Seth Wickersham. Defensive players, led by Sherman, resented the offense and quarterback Russell Wilson for receiving star treatment and endorsements. They believed coaches took it easy on the offense and Wilson in particular, excusing their mistakes while harping on defensive miscues, even as Seattle’s success hinged on the defense’s dominance. Sherman could not get over the ruinous decision to pass from the 1-yard line at the end of the 2015 Super Bowl, which resulted in an interception and a Patriots victory.
Sherman insisted he and Wilson share a “phenomenal” professional relationship, but the relationship between Seattle’s two units will only be further tested one week into the season. Their season-opening, 17-9 loss in Green Bay could have only increased tension between a dominant defense and a floundering offense.
Seattle’s defense was just as frightening as expected. The addition of defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, a late arrival in a trade with the Jets, enabled an even fiercer pass rush from Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Frank Clark. Seattle’s secondary held up even without Jeremy Lane, who was ejected for throwing a phantom punch. The Seahawks hounded Aaron Rodgers and limited the Packers to 17 points in Lambeau Field, seven of which were set up by Wilson’s fumble at his own 5-yard line.
The Seahawks’ offense was a mess. They have not cleansed their offensive line woes from a year ago, and if anything their attempts at protecting Wilson and creating holes was worse. The Seahawks drafted two offensive lineman, neither of which cracked their starting lineup. They whiffed on a couple free agents, and they lost tackle George Fant to a season-ending injury. The result, for one game, was disaster.
Seattle did not score a touchdown. Wilson, under constant duress, completed 14 of 27 passes for 158 yards and took three sacks. The Seahawks ran for 90 yards, 29 of which came on a single Wilson scramble. Packers’ defensive tackle Mike Daniels wrecked Seattle almost single-handedly.
For most contenders, the defeat, on the road against another Super Bowl hopeful, would be cause for standard regrouping. For the Seahawks, the nature of the loss threatens to tug at threads already coming apart. If the defense came into the season believing it carried too heavy a burden, the opener would only exacerbate the feelings.
The Seahawks could find solace in how the game’s most important play unfolded. In the first quarter, Rodgers threw an interception into the gut of defensive tackle Nazair Jones. As Jones rumbled to the end zone, referees flagged Avril for an illegal block on Rodgers and ejected lane for punching wide receiver Davante Adams after the pair became tangled. What should have been a game-turning play had been eliminated.
Upon further viewing, both calls were bogus. Avril shoved Rodgers in the shoulder, not a clip and not even much contact. The flag shouldn’t have been thrown. The call on Lane was more egregious. Lane and Adams tangled and fell to the ground, Adams shoving Lane as much Lane shoved Adams. One of Lane’s forearms did catch Lane around the face mask. But overall, the altercation was nothing worse than what happens a dozen times a game. For shaky reasons, Seattle lost both a touchdown and a key player.
Still, Seattle’s defense did more than its part for the remainder of the game. Its offense only added to the defense’s degree of difficulty. Week 1 is the wrong time for sweeping declarations, and the Seahawks’ offense will have an opportunity to improve next week at home against the San Francisco 49ers, which lost 23-3 to the Panthers, at home, in their season opener.
The Seahawks have made it to at least the divisional round five straight seasons, and won a Super Bowl during that stretch. They have been the NFC’s dominant team for half a decade, through constant inner-conflict and controversy. Seattle has an uncanny knack for thriving on tension that would collapse other teams. But it can last for only so long, and their first performance of the year widened any existing gulf between offense and defense.