What Must Happen For Seattle Seahawks to Win NFC West in 2024? (2024)

After narrowly missing out on the playoffs last season, the Seattle Seahawks intend to compete for an NFC West title immediately under new coach Mike Macdonald in one of the NFL's toughest divisions.

With a blend of proven experience and rising young talent, the Seahawks have many of the pieces in place to make a run at the 49ers, who have won the division each of the past two seasons, as well as the Rams, who returned to the postseason last year after a one year hiatus. But several critical areas that dogged the team last season will have to be shored up to create a legitimate opportunity to win the rugged NFC West.

What will it take for that ambitious goal to come to fruition for Seattle? Here are five keys to Macdonald's squad winning the west in 2024:

Only two years ago, Cross and Lucas became just the third pair of rookie tackles to start for the same team in Week 1 and they wound up starting 17 total games together for Seattle, including a wild card round loss to San Francisco. While both players endured typical rookie growing pains, they finished the season strong, providing optimism that a long-maligned offensive line finally had foundational pieces at the bookend spots to build around.

Unfortunately, both players exited a season-opening loss to the Rams last September with significant injuries. While Cross only wound up missing three games with a sprained toe, he likely played most of the season at well below 100 percent, while Lucas only played in six games with lingering knee discomfort that eventually led to surgery in January. Even when healthy, each player took a step back performance-wise, as Cross allowed 42 pressures and six sacks and Lucas surrendered 17 pressures in just six starts.

For the Seahawks to have any shot at threatening the 49ers or the Rams in the NFC West, Cross and Lucas not only need to stay on the field, but they have to demonstrate substantial growth under the tutelage of new line coach Scott Huff. If Geno Smith finds himself under frequent siege with both tackles struggling or backups unable to fill the void again, it won't matter how much talent the team has at the skill positions and the offense won't stand a chance at coming close to full potential.

2. Capable young starters must emerge as part of a rebuild interior offensive line.

Staying in the trenches, Seattle's chronic offensive line issues haven't been limited to the tackle positions as they have played musical chairs in the interior. Over the past five seasons, the team has had four different Week 1 starters at center and right guard, and that ugly trend will continue again with a new starter projected at both positions on September 8. Making the situation even more unideal, four-year starter Damien Lewis left in free agency, leaving another opening at left guard that will likely be filled by veteran Laken Tomlinson.

If there's a reason for optimism, however, the Seahawks have invested significant draft capital in the trenches over the past two years. Former Rimington Award winner Olu Oluwatimi played well in his lone start behind former starter Evan Brown as a rookie and looks poised to step into the lineup as a potential long-term option at center. Next to him at right guard, Anthony Bradford started 10 games as a rookie and now will have quality competition to fend off in third-round pick Christian Haynes and second-year blocker McClendon Curtis.

Of course, as has been evidenced by several previous draft whiffs by the franchise, youth only will benefit Seattle if Oluwatimi and one of Bradford, Haynes, or Curtis seize a starting job in training camp and steadily improve over the course of the season. With NFC West opponents featuring plenty of firepower on their defensive lines in the interior, a youth movement has the potential to backfire without proper development and instruction, putting a lot of pressure on Huff entering his first year as an NFL coach.

After finishing in the top-10 in scoring offense in 2022, the Seahawks took a significant step backward last season, plunging to 17th overall. Though offensive line injuries certainly contributed to that regression, the team's inability to sustain or finish drives served as the biggest culprit behind the decline in performance putting points on the scoreboard.

One of the worst teams in the NFL at executing in key situations on offense, Seattle struggled to move the chains and earn a new set of downs all season long, ranking 23rd in the league with a dismal 36.23 percent third down conversion rate, which led to the worst average time of possession. In addition to not being able to consistently extend drives, the Seahawks also bombed inside the opposing 20-yard line, regularly turning six points into field goals or turnovers and ranking 26th in red zone touchdown rate.

Considering the Seahawks have a Pro Bowl quarterback in Smith, a talented running back tandem in Ken Walker III and Zach Charbonnet, and one of the NFL's premier receiving corps featuring DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, such dreadful numbers are inexcusable. With offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb now calling the shots, nothing may be more critical to his odds at success as a first-time NFL play caller as well as Seattle's NFC West title hopes than fixing that situational wretchedness.

4. Previously portraying Swiss cheese, the run defense cannot function as a sieve again.

Numerous factors led to the decision to move on from former coach Pete Carroll back in January, but a strong argument can be made that a porous, helpless run defense sealed his fate more than anything. For five weeks to open last season, the Seahawks showed marked improvement after finishing 30th in run defense in 2022, jumping into the top five in yards allowed, yards per carry allowed, and 10-plus yard runs allowed.

But those strides wound up being little more than a disheartening mirage. Once outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu went down with a pectoral injury in Week 7, Seattle's run defense suffered a historic meltdown. Closing out the season losing four of their final seven games, they yielded at least 136 rushing yards in each of those contests. During that span, they surrendered a mind-blowing 1,226 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns with teams averaging five yards per carry.

As bleak as those numbers look and sound, the Seahawks have the personnel in place to quickly rectify this problem, starting with a talented defensive line that added first-round pick Byron Murphy II to go with Leonard Williams, Jarran Reed, and Dre'Mont Jones. If that group plays to their potential and veteran linebackers Tyrel Dodson and Jerome Baker do their jobs replacing Bobby Wagner and Jordyn Brooks, a bounce back should be on the menu, which would be a game changer for a defense that greatly underachieved in Carroll's last few seasons at the helm.

While lackluster run defense doomed the Seahawks last season, Carroll's defense unfortunately had other issues as well. Though they were respectable finishing with 45 sacks as a team, they finished in the bottom third of the league in 20-plus yard explosives allowed and ranked in the top four in missed tackles, giving up chunk plays and whiffing on tackle attempts far too often. Such numbers would have made members from the vaunted "Legion of Boom" hurl.

After leading the NFL's best defense in Baltimore last season, Macdonald will have his work cut out for him trying to remedy so many issues. But as is the case stopping the run, Seattle has the talent on defense to suggest that a rapid turnaround in both aspects could be orchestrated with a new scheme and more dedication to fundamentals, starting with a star-studded secondary featuring do-it-all cornerback Devon Witherspoon, cornerback Riq Woolen, and Pro Bowl safety Julian Love as tone setters.

With Witherspoon being a weapon both in coverage and as a hard-hitting blitzer, Macdonald will look forward to the opportunity to unleash him as a defender opponents will have to game plan for. Woolen led the league in interceptions only two years ago, while Love came on strong late last season and led the team with four picks, giving the Seahawks a trio of playmakers who can turn the tide giving up big plays. Getting the most out of a pass rush led by Nwosu, Boye Mafe, Williams, and company should only further help the cause.

What Must Happen For Seattle Seahawks to Win NFC West in 2024? (2024)
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