One angle that’s been touched on several times is the fact that there are many similarities between the Seahawks and the Jets, whether that be in terms of the way the teams are currently constituted, or in the ways John Idzik is setting up the team with the intention of building them in the Seahawks’ image. Rich Cimini wrote a thoughtful piece on that here.
After the jump, a breakdown of the main similarities that have been identified and a consideration of how accurate the comparisons are, as well as an analysis of whether there are any similarities that have been overlooked.
Clearly the most influential connection between the teams is the fact that Idzik is now the Jets general manager having been Seattle’s vice president of football administration from 2007 to 2012 as they built the team which would win the NFC this year. The simplest narrative would be that Idzik was going to follow the Seahawks’ blueprint to the letter, but as he says in Cimini’s articles, while there are parallels, that’s an over-simplified outlook on their approach.
There are some direct connections on the Seahawks coaching staff. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll was the Jets head coach in 1994 having been on Bruce Coslet’s staff as defensive coordinator for four years prior to that. While that connection has been the focus on much media attention in retrospective articles this week, it’s such a long time ago that it doesn’t realistically have any impact today. Similarly, Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn coached with the Jets in 2007 and 2008 as a defensive line coach under Eric Mangini, but they’ve changed systems since then. He did coach while David Harris and Calvin Pace were on the team, but they won’t have worked with him directly very often.
Surprisingly, there are no direct Jets connections on the Seahawks roster. However, it’s worth noting that they have two key players – Quarterback Russell Wilson and Wide Receiver Percy Harvin – who we know the Jets were high on in the draft. Then-senior personnel executive Terry Bradway was said to be so high on Wilson that they referred to the quarterback as “Russell Bradway” behind the scenes. Also, the Jets were rumored to have tried to trade up for Harvin in 2009. Harvin ended up getting drafted by the Vikings and was traded to Seattle this season, although he has missed most of the season through injury. Another offensive player – Tight End Kellen Davis – was a Jets free agency target back in March.
Despite Idzik’s arrival, he didn’t get much production from any of the guys he brought over that he would have known from his Seahawks days. He did bring four former Seahawks – Brady Quinn, Braylon Edwards, Ben Obomanu and Kellen Winslow Jr. – but only one (Winslow, who ironically never contributed for Seattle) made any meaningful contributions and he isn’t expected to remain with the team beyond this year.
One comparison the media has made is that each team’s coach would be characterized as a “player’s coach”. It’s certainly interesting to see Carroll lead his team to the big game in light of how critical the media has been of Rex Ryan’s coaching style in recent years. Perhaps this has some people rethinking their stance on whether it’s possible to be successful if that’s your style.
Another obvious comparison is the quarterbacks. Both Russell Wilson and Geno Smith are dual-threat quarterbacks with good athleticism. Of course, Wilson had a much better rookie season, although he was pretty inconsistent until midseason. While emulating Wilson might be an absolute best-case scenario for Smith in the short term and expecting that to happen would be seen as overly optimistic, there’s no denying there are some similarities in their playing style.
Also of note is the fact that, as is the case with the Jets, many people point to the Seahawks’ receiving corps as a weakness, something which they’ve been protesting is unfair during media week. However, the stats say that their leading receiver (Golden Tate) was only 46th in the NFL in receptions and 31st in yards so maybe Wilson deserves extra credit for producing when his best receiver isn’t in the top 45 in receptions or the top 30 in yards. The reality with the Seahawks is that the injury to Harvin (and an injury to Rice later in the year) limited the production of two key players and moved some other players into more prominent roles than originally planned for. Ultimately, however, using the numbers of the leading receiver is a flawed method of evaluating a quarterback because injuries can cause targets to be spread around more thinly and also because if the quarterback played better, then the best receiver would have had better numbers.
The defensive personnel is one similarity that Idzik pointed out in the quotes included in Cimini’s article. He talked about both teams being physical, fast and athletic on defense. However, they don’t really compare directly. The Seahawks’ strength is in their secondary, whereas their defensive line is founded more on strength in depth rather than impact play. Seven different players played more than 480 snaps and five more reserves combined for approximately another 300. Even if you count Quinton Coples as a defensive lineman, the Jets only used six defensive linemen all year. To make this comparison you have to get more into the strategic side of things.
Much has been made of the Seahawks’ use of the “4-3 under” defense under Carroll. Totally at odds with the Jets “3-4 base defense” of course…right? Not at all. As I wrote back in July, the Jets base defense actually has more in common with the 4-3 over/under defenses than the more vanilla Mangini 3-4 that some corners of the media still seems to think the team employs. Even when the Jets have four linebackers standing up, their alignment is often identical to a 4-3 over/under defense, just with the open side defensive end standing. The Jets regularly open the game in this look and actively use pre-snap shifts to vacillate between the over and under looks, adding a further hybrid element to the defense. This involves the defensive tackles shifting, often so that the nose tackle ends up in a two-gapping role.
Drafting Sheldon Richardson and tweaking Quinton Coples’ role so that he was almost exclusively on the outside provided the Jets with ideal personnel to employ this look and the easy narrative would be that Idzik brought it with him from Seattle, but the reality is that the Jets have been using these packages throughout the Rex Ryan era.
On the offensive side of the ball, Idzik made note of the fact that the teams are both strong up front and it’s true that they each employ a solid running game led by a back capable of making yards after contact. The Seahawks beat the Saints in the first round of this year’s playoffs while Wilson completed just two-of-nine passes in the second half. There aren’t many teams that could win a game against a playoff team with numbers like that, but the Jets are arguably one of the others.
One major difference, though, was the fact that the Seahawks maintained this solid running game despite all their lost man-hours on the offensive line. The Jets’ linemen didn’t miss a single game due to injury, whereas none of the Seahawks started every game and they had to change their alignment several times. We don’t know for certain that the Jets would have struggled with guys like Oday Aboushi and Caleb Schlauderaff forced into significant spot duty, but it does seem probable.
Building a contender
The Seahawks were 11-5 last year and then went 13-3 this year as they made the Super Bowl. However, looking back to the three years prior to that, they had to endure some futility. They won five, seven and seven games over the three previous seasons – although in the middle of those three seasons, they did win a division title and a first round playoff matchup.
The Jets will enter next year with eight, six and eight wins over their previous three seasons and will be hoping next year is where they can start to take things up a notch as the Seahawks did last year. The Jets are definitely a team in a position to invest in some talent (whether that be in terms of extending and retaining their own guys or via the draft and free agency), rather than being in a position where they need to consolidate their position and try to maintain continuity without compromising their cap situation.
The key to the Seahawks’ rebuilding process has been building through the draft. Scoring major contributors like Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson in the middle rounds is a surefire way to bolster your talent, but the Seahawks also had some good depth from their recent drafts. Like the Colts, their 2012 improvement came about with several rookies starting and contributing which obviously affords them the financial flexibility to make other moves. For the Jets, while it perhaps won’t be reflected in the win-loss column until next season – and there were undeniable teething troubles across the board – they did get significant contributions in terms of playing time from five of their 2013 picks, and should have plenty of picks this year too.
That brings us to the cap situation for each team. As you’d expect, with the Jets just getting started in the retooling process, they have much more cap room than the Seahawks. According to OverTheCap.com, only six teams have fewer cap dollars committed to 2014 than the Jets, whereas only six teams have more cap commitments for 2014 than the Seahawks. That doesn’t tell the full story, because the Jets have a few contracts they’ll be purging to create additional space and the Seahawks have a few key guys who will need to be extended soon.
For the Seahawks, it will be interesting to see whether the media overreacts to their upcoming cap situation, because it’s analogous to what the Jets went through over the past few seasons. They’re actually in a pretty similar situation to the Jets from 2010 to 2012, but should be absolutely fine for at least a few more years because (a) they don’t have many needs, (b) they have a few bigger deals that can be purged with younger and cheaper guys capable of replacing those players and (c) they have some scope to restructure deals to create more space and extend their window if required. Add to that the fact that Wilson cannot (by rule) get an extension until after next season and the Seahawks have plenty of scope to keep their roster loaded for years to come, especially if they keep hitting on draft choices which will make their more higher priced talent expendable down the road.
Idzik will get a lot of praise from the media for “fixing” the Jets’ cap situation and will likely get credit for following the sort of measured approach that the Seahawks are admired for, but in reality most of the moves the Jets made in 2013 were moves that Tannenbaum was destined to make anyway, due to the in-built flexibility in most of his contracts. The biggest difference here is nothing to do with cap management, but rather everything to do with personnel evaluation. Even with a cap structure in place, if you waste significant cap room on a player who under-performs – or cap room is wasted because a high-priced player misses a ton of time with injuries – then your roster flexibility might struggle to recover. Each of those things happened to the Jets too often over the last couple of years.
What about Denver?
Due to the Idzik connection, the comparisons between the Seahawks and Jets are inevitable, but what about the Broncos? If things went slightly differently, could the Jets have ended up more like the Broncos than the Seahawks by 2014? We can only speculate on how seriously the Jets considered trying to acquire Peyton Manning when he became available a few years ago. Most people seem to think he wouldn’t have wanted to play for Ryan, but that’s total speculation too. Who’s to say he wouldn’t have relished the challenge of playing across town (sort of) from his brother? It’s a major “what if?” but although it’s an over-simplification to suggest that Manning IS the Denver Broncos, there’s no denying the influence he has on his offensive line, his receivers and the perception of the organization as a place free agents would want to be – and it’s now obvious the Jets could have afforded to pay him if they got rid of Mark Sanchez, as I wrote at the time.
There are other similarities too. The Broncos employed the 4-3 under extensively over the last two seasons when Von Miller was available and he has produced incredible numbers, mostly from the strongside linebacker position that Calvin Pace plays, not – as you might expect – from the weakside edge rusher spot played by Coples.
It’s interesting to look at the parallels between the Jets and Seahawks. Obviously, Seattle must be doing something right and the fact that the Jets are doing some similar things is a positive sign – as is the fact that the man now in charge of the Jets played an influential role with Seattle.
The biggest difference between the teams right now, other than how far along they are in their efforts to build a contender, is the fact that Seattle’s roster is much deeper due to the success they’ve enjoyed in the draft in recent years. With up to 12 picks coming up this year, along with a favorable cap situation to try and fill some needs, the Jets have a good chance to start to make up some ground in that area.
Also critical is the fact that Seattle is getting consistently good play from the vital quarterback position. One way or another, the Jets will be hoping to close that gap too next season, but as we’ve seen in recent years, that’s easier said than done.