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What expectations should Seahawks fans have of Mike Macdonald?

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For, oh I dunno, roughly the last eight offseasons, fans and addicts of the Seattle Seahawks have been trying to recapture that 2012 feeling. Personally I thought they were in an extremely 2011 mode last year, which isn’t a bad thing. Results were very similar, with young talent climbing the ladder, looking up at the stupid 49ers, bright future amidst average results.

And then, Pete Carroll got himself fired. Not sure why he would do that, but here we are, in the Seahawks’ first grand reset since 14 years ago.

Obviously everyone from the Super Bowl teams has departed. Tyler Lockett remains the longest-tenured Seahawk and the closest link we have to the glory days of DVOA crowns and playoff victories. (Unless you count the one-day contract Jon Ryan signed last month to retire a Seahawk, and honestly, why wouldn’t you? I am counting it again right this minute.)

So maybe folks don’t expect a lot of talk about how 2012-y this year might be. And we just did 2011. Is this another 2010? Short answer: no. For three reasons.

Division & League

This was covered extensively in Part 1, but the NFC West is brutal right now in a way… it really wasn’t when Carroll took over. This time, the Seahawks’ two main rivals are coached by accomplished men who’ve visited the Super Bowl four times combined. While one might still be able to win the NFC South with nine losses, in its present configuration the division does not lend itself to such shameful shenanigans.

(Click here for all of last week’s article.)

To the local challenges, I might add a more global difference: the NFL’s ongoing cultural revolution. Which is way more Chairman Madden than Chairman Mao, but the shift is real. Fourth down has ceased to be an automatic kicking situation. Head coaches are younger and younger; it’s no longer uncommon to see someone hired in their 30s. In fact —

Macdonald is the fifteenth active NFL head coach, hired by his current team, before turning 40.

Gonna let that sentence stand alone a bit longer. 15th guy. Essentially half the league. Count ‘em. Macdonald, Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Jonathan Gannon, Kevin O’Connell, Matt LaFleur, Nick Sirianni in the NFC. DeMeco Ryans, Zac Taylor, Kevin Stefanski, Mike McDaniel, Jerod Mayo, Brian Callahan, Shane Steichen, and Mike Tomlin in the AFC.

In addition, analytics inform coaches’ decisions quite a bit more than in the past. (In addition? Get it? It’s a math joke. The funniest humor.) We will quickly find out, in game-management decisions, just how traditional Macdonald is, or isn’t. I’m guessing the latter.

But mainly, two things prevent 2024 from being a 2010 rerun: the roster is vastly different, and the coaching staffs could hardly be more dissimilar in terms of experience.

Roster Comparison

Famously, the Carroll-led front office made 12,024 transactions* in their first year, something the current brass cannot and will not duplicate. In part because they won’t need to.

*284 is the actual number, which seems just as unreal

McDonald and Schneider “inherit” a roster with a better offense this time, but no halfway constructed Legion of Boom. They have an interesting mix of age, youth, and hungry players playing for their next contract. They don’t have a Marshawn Lynch, but literally no other team at any future point will ever have anyone quite like Beast Mode.


The 2010 Hawks ran the offense through Lynch (6 TD), Justin Forsett (2 TD), Mike Williams, Deon Butler and TE John Carlson. The 2024 edition will rely on Ken Walker/Charbonnet to produce more than eight scores, DK Metcalf is a couple tiers above Williams, Tyler Lockett is worth several Butlers, and Noah Fant can kick Carlson’s single-touchdown-making behind. Plus, there’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba playing the role of Golden Tate, only way ahead of schedule. Tate had 21 catches and never found the end zone his rookie season.

The 2010 Hawks dedicated 76 targets combined to Ben Obomanu, the corpse of Deion Branch, and the legendary Ruvell Martin. The 2024 edition won’t be doing such silly things.

The 2010 Hawks were not good on defense, or offense, and would’ve been hard to watch on special teams without Leon Washington, the man who single-handedly beat the Chargers in Week 3 with two kick return TDs. Remember? The 2024 edition will be good at scoring points sometimes and good at preventing them sometimes. They’ll make their kicks, mostly, and place their punts well, mostly.

The offensive line 14 years ago consisted of a stud young LT (Russell Okung), three journeymen in the interior, and a sometimes reliable, good but aging Sean Locklear on the right side. The offensive line today consists of a stud young LT, three unknowns in the interior, and a RT platoon of sometimes reliable (Able Lucas) plus good but aging (George Fant). Look at that, some weird, fun similarities.

Finally, at QB, people may say what they want about Geno Smith, and they do say a lot of words, but he’s a better option than 2010 Matt Hasselbeck. Hass was in the middle of a three-year stretch where he threw 44 picks to just 34 TDs. Geno’s not doing that.

But what about on D?

The 2010 Hawks started all of the following: Washed Lofa Tatupu, Kelly Jennings, David Hawthorne, Kentwan Balmer, Aaron Curry and 37-year-old Lawyer Milloy. Oof. It’s no wonder they folded at Thanksgiving, giving up 34, 42, 14, 40, 34 and 38 points through Christmas. The 2024 team sends out:

  • Uchenna Nwosu and Boye Mafe for Chris Clemons and Balmer (advantage present)
  • Leonard Williams and Byron Murphy for Brandon Mebane and Colin Cole (push)
  • Mystery Linebacker Crew for Tatupu, Curry and Hawthorne (advantage present, honestly)
  • Devon Witherspoon, Tariq Woolen, Mike Jackson/Tre Brown for Jennings and Marcus Trufant (still advantage now)
  • Mystery Safety Crew for Milloy and Earl Thomas (ok the past get to have this one).

I’m comfortable giving 2024 the advantage on depth, too.

That 2010 defense was bad and they played down to their badness. Finished 25th in scoring, gave up 30+ points eight times, got blown out by 17+ seven times, limped to the end with a -97 scoring differential. Then, of course, it was completely completely completely remade. Carroll kept cycling through players until the hits came, from the CFL if necessary. He and Schneider kept drafting projects with unconventional body types until those 6-4 cornerbacks and way-too-big-what-the-hell-are-you-thinking safeties proved everyone wrong.

Macdonald will be building around Witherspoon, Nwosu, Woolen, Williams, Mafe and Murphy from the jump. The pass rush will be better than 2010, the corner play figures to shine, and the wild cards at linebacker and safety will largely determine whether the defense is competitive in 2024. And if it isn’t, off to 2025 we go, with a cast of different weapons.

I said this a while ago: you can fight fire with fire but the Seahawks chose the water of Macdonald’s defense to douse whatever flaming sorcery the Niners and Rams cook up. It’s going to be a clash of styles that harkens back to, well, 2010. Macdonald does have plenty of work do do, like Carroll did, on defense. Just… less. They’re both innovators, trend-setters, erstwhile wizards, and leaders not followers. It’s a good place to start.

Summary? Macdonald has a slightly better head start than his predecessor. Except, here’s the thing:

Coaching staff is greener than action green

For all the pursuit of Mike Macdonald — and he was courted like a only child princess whose dad is on death’s door — the fact remains he has coached as many NFL games as you, dear reader.

For all the success Ryan Grubb had at UW, for which we had a front-row seat, he’s coordinated as many NFL games as Blitz the mascot.

For all the hype Aden Durde is getting as the new DC, he’s a rookie too. Same for OL coach Scott Huff.

Do we think this quartet of minds (great minds, probably!) will click right away at the next level? Do we believe their acumen and mental gifts will translate immediately, to the point that both sides of the ball hit the ground running? And sacking?

I don’t, actually. Believe that. Not for the first half of the first season. The learning curve in the NFL is such that college superstars usually take a while to acclimate, if they even stick at all. Countless first-rounders wash out altogether. Coaches must go through the same wringer. If they come through the other side, you’re in business. But until they do come through the other side, they haven’t yet. So you just don’t know.

Taylor guided the Bengals to the Super Bowl. Cincy hired him at the age of 36. Guess what? He went 6-25-1 in his first two seasons. A winning percentage below .200, no typo. If McDonald goes 4-13 twice that’ll be better than how Taylor started.

Sean McDermott produced average results (25-23) for three years before winning 13, 11, 13 and 11 games this decade.

In Miami, McDaniel’s teams score a lot but haven’t prevailed in a playoff game. Robert Saleh hasn’t had a winning season! People love them some Shane Steichen in Indy, and the Colts won all of nine games in Year 1.

LaFleur went 39-10 in his first three seasons and 17-17 since. Care to guess which part of his career is the Aaron Rodgers part?

Absolute ceiling for Macdonald is turning into Sirianni (9 wins, SB berth second year) or McVay (11 wins, in SB second year). But even McVay is 15-19 the last two seasons while Siranni’s Eagles just lost six of their last seven games.

Coaching is hard. It’s hard to be good right away. It’s impossible to be good every year.


Grubb doesn’t have the equivalent of a Heisman candidate under center. Macdonald doesn’t have Michigan’s superior talent or the Ravens’ back seven. Or their front four, for that matter, although one is allowed to like Seattle’s new-look D-line A LOT. Huff doesn’t have what looked like the best OL in college football. There are ways the Seahawks offense will be unable to assert itself like the Huskies did over, and over, and over again.

It’s encouraging and somewhat under-the-radar still that MikeMac was wise enough to surround himself with Leslie Frazier, who, like a Farmers agent, has seen a thing or two.

So, Macdonald is gonna get the best of Shanahan and McVay someday. It’ll happen once, and then if things go well, it’ll happen again. I just don’t think that’s necessarily a 2024 thing.

Verdict?

With so many moving pieces on the field and off, and the violent randomness inherent in every NFL season —


— it’s hard to set firm expectations. Seven wins this fall would be fine; not good, but fine. Eight would be proof Macdonald is on the right track. Nine means the retool/rebuild is ahead of schedule. Yay? Double-digit wins and maybe the Seahawks really did hit the coaching lottery, again. Don’t you dare talk to me about 11 or 12 though, least not until they’re 6-3 at the bye.

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