Through the first nine weeks of the 2020 season, the Seahawks possessed the most potent offensive attack in the NFL, averaging north of 34 points per game. Playing the role of conductor at an MVP level, Russell Wilson threw 28 touchdown passes, putting himself on pace to eclipse Peyton Manning's single-season record.
But looking back months later, after a second half in which Wilson and Seattle's offense cooled off tremendously and laid an egg in a Wild Card round defeat to the Los Angeles Rams, there were warning signs the team would crash back to reality. Among them, the lack of weapons behind Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf created major problems as opposing defenses began to scheme to take away deep balls to the two star receivers.
In the first half, when Wilson was cooking at optimum levels, Lockett and Metcalf were on a historic pace unlike any pair in NFL history. After eight games, both were on pace to eclipse 1,400 receiving yards and produce 14 touchdowns, marks that had never been reached by two players on the same team in the same season.
During those first eight games, Lockett (53 receptions) and Metcalf (43 receptions) caught 96 of Wilson's 211 completions, combining for 1,403 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. Coming in distant third, David Moore amassed 20 receptions for 316 yards and contributed four touchdowns, turning in the best half of his four-year career. Rookie Freddie Swain also pitched in seven receptions for 97 yards and a touchdown.
Overall, 10 different Seahawks reeled in touchdowns from Wilson, aiding the league's highest-scoring attack.
As teams started to utilize more two-deep safety coverages and mix up blitzes to turn the heat up on Wilson, however, production waned across the board in the final nine games. Lockett and Metcalf still played fairly well while catching 47 and 40 passes respectively, but they scored a combined five touchdowns and saw substantial dips in yards per reception.
Meanwhile, the overall differences in production from anyone not named Metcalf or Lockett were staggering, particularly from a yardage and touchdowns standpoint.
A relative non-factor most of the second half and postseason, Moore caught just 15 passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns in the final nine games. That's an average of 11 receiving yards per game. Swain's numbers dipped a bit with just six receptions for 62 yards in the final nine games. Penny Hart was the only other receiver who made a single catch in the final two-plus months of play.
Tight ends weren't much better, though the position group never really became involved in Seattle's passing game as envisioned heading into the season. Greg Olsen caught just 24 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown, while neither Jacob Hollister or Will Dissly eclipsed 260 receiving yards for the year and combined to score five touchdowns. In the final nine games, none of those players caught more than 14 passes or two touchdowns.
Even running back Chris Carson, who finished the season third on the team with 37 receptions, saw his overall receiving production decline in the second half. After making 22 receptions and catching three touchdowns in the Seahawks first six games, he caught 16 passes for 145 yards and one score in the last seven.
Injuries and suspensions certainly hindered Seattle's receiving depth throughout the course of the season. Speedy receiver Phillip Dorsett, who signed a one-year contract in free agency, aggravated a foot injury in training camp and eventually underwent season-ending surgery without playing a single down. Josh Gordon didn't play a down either after failing to meet terms of his conditional reinstatement in December and received another indefinite suspension.
If Dorsett and/or Gordon would have been available in the second half, the presence of either player may have had a profound effect on the passing game and the regression that ultimately took place may not have been quite as steep. It's possible the team could be preparing for an NFC Championship Game in Green Bay by simply having a better No. 3 option behind Metcalf and Lockett to keep defenses honest.
Unfortunately, nobody will ever know how things may have played out under such circumstances and the franchise now enters the offseason with major question marks at the receiver position. As things stand, Swain would be Seattle's No. 3 receiver behind Lockett and Metcalf. While the sixth-round pick performed well overall in his rookie season and could develop into a quality player in time, he would have to make a remarkable leap in his sophomore season to emerge as a viable third target for Wilson.
Aside from Swain, the only other Seahawks receivers currently under contract are John Ursua, Aaron Fuller, Hart, and Cody Thompson, who have combined to make two NFL receptions. Yikes.
With Moore, Dorsett, and Gordon all set to become unrestricted free agents - and no guarantee any of the three will be brought back - finding an upgrade behind Lockett and Metcalf through free agency or the draft stands out as one of Seattle's most critical needs to address this offseason. But trying to do so will be difficult given the team's lack of assets.
Due to limited cap space, it's improbable general manager John Schneider will try to reel in a big fish such as Allen Robinson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, or Will Fuller in free agency. The Seahawks also only have four picks in April's upcoming draft after shipping three of them to the Jets and Bengals in trades for safety Jamal Adams and defensive end Carlos Dunlap, further complicating efforts to add talent in the receiving corps.
Instead, Seattle will likely have to go bargain shopping again and hope for better results this time around. The team could re-sign Dorsett to a veteran's minimum one-year deal or look at a couple potential reclamation projects in former Washington star John Ross and Dede Westbrook. This year's draft class has plenty of talent as well, but with only one pick before the fourth round, it will be a tall task to find an immediate contributor who can take pressure off the top two receivers.
Regardless of what the Seahawks choose to do, after seeing the offense implode at the end of the season, Schneider needs to find reinforcements for his franchise quarterback. Improvements from players such as Swain and tight end Colby Parkinson will certainly help the passing game, but to return to a championship-caliber level, they will somehow need to bolster talent and depth at the skill positions without breaking the bank in coming months.