Just seven teams have repeated as Super Bowl Champs in NFL history. This series will examine how teams similar to the 2013 Seahawks fared the following season. Some flourished. Some failed. We will explore the keys to their success and their failure and look for clues for what lies ahead for this 2014 Seahawks team.
The 2010 Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers won his first, and only, Super Bowl title in the 2010 season with the Packers. People remember Rodgers from that team, but it was the defense that stood out for much of the year. Clay Mathews, Charles Woodson, Nick Collins, Cullen Jenkins, and others, led the Packers defense to a #2 rank in points allowed and #5 rank in yards allowed. Their strength was in their young secondary that included names like Tramon Williams and Sam Shields. The offense ranked just 10th in scoring and 9th in yards.
Rodgers was injured late in the season, leading to one Matt Flynn making his first start versus New England. It took wins over the Giants and the Bears in the final two weeks of the season to earn a Wild Card spot in the playoffs, where they went on to win @Philadelphia, @Atlanta, and @Chicago before earning their rings by beating the Steelers 31-25 on the strength of a 3-0 turnover advantage.
Seattle won a Super Bowl in the 2013 season with young quarterback in his second season as a full-time starter. Green Bay won the Super Bowl in the 2010 season with a young quarterback in his third full season as a starter. Both teams featured a young secondary that led the league in opponent passer rating. Seattle was the top-ranked team in turnover margin. The Packers were second-best. Each team exited with a Super Bowl victory and expectations of a sustained run of success due to young talent throughout the roster. The 2013 Seahawks were the youngest team to win a Super Bowl, and the second-youngest (by a few hundredths of a year) to ever play in one, with an average age of 26.4 years old. The Packers were a year older at 27.6, which made them the 25th-youngest team to play in a Super Bowl, and 15th-youngest to win one. It was the fifth year of Mike McCarthy's tenure as head coach, and the fourth year of Pete Carroll's time with Seattle.
Seattle was built around great defense and a relentless rushing attack. The Packers ranked 24th in the NFL in rushing yards and 25th in yards per rush attempt. Their defense was good, but the Seahawks defense was historically good. Seattle had the best record in football and earned the top seed in the NFC despite playing in the toughest division. The Packers squeaked in, and had to claw their way to the title game.
The Year After
Green Bay used the Super Bowl win as a springboard into their 2011 season. The team started with 13 straight wins (15 dating back to the 2010 regular season), and finished the regular season with a sparkling 15-1 record. Rodgers was no longer in Brett Favre's shadow, and had transformed from "The Next Big Thing," to actually being the big thing in the NFL.
He led the offense to a #1 ranking in point scored, and #3 in yards, while being second-best in giveaways. His ability to compile what ended up being MVP numbers was remarkable given he was saddled with the 27th-ranked rushing offense and the worst defense (yards allowed) in the NFL.
Rodgers was filthy. He threw for 45 touchdowns, and ran for three more, while only throwing six interceptions. It was Rodgers best season as a pro, and in the argument for best quarterback seasons in history.
Only one other player in NFL history has thrown over 500 pass attempts in a season and had 6 interceptions or less, and that player (Jason Campbell, 2008) threw only 13 touchdowns
Even a historically great season from Rodgers and nearly perfect regular season record was not enough to get the Packers back to the Super Bowl. They lost in the divisional round at home to the eventual SB XLVI Champs, the New York Giants, by a score of 37-20.
Where they failed
The NFL is a brutal business. So brutal, that a 15-2 season is a failure. Ask any Packers fan about that year, and what it has meant for the franchise since. The team has yet to return to even the NFC Championship game since their Super Bowl run, and have just two playoffs wins against three losses.
The splendor of Rodgers obscured weakness throughout the rest of the team. When he had a below average game against the Giants that included an interception and a lost fumble, there was nobody there to keep the team from falling. Pete Carroll talks so much about relieving pressure off the quarterback. This is why. Passing in the NFL is an intricate game of timing and talent. Even the absolute best passers, like Rodgers or Peyton Manning, have days where they are human. The Packers and 2013 Broncos were not built to win when their quarterbacks were human.
Packers receivers had problems with dropped passes at times, and that issue came back to bite them in playoff loss to New York. More importantly, that defense that had been the strong suit of the team in 2010, became a liability the following year. Cullen Jenkins, and his 7.0 sacks, moved on to the Eagles as a free agent. Nick Collins was injured, and played only two games.
"We play to win championships. You win a championship and you're kind of at the top of the mountain, and you forget kind of how bad this feeling is. We had a championship-caliber regular season and didn't play well today." - Aaron Rodgers after losing 37-20 to the Giants
There were also changes along the offensive line, where long-time left tackle Chad Clifton was replaced by rookie Marshall Newhouse, and left guard Daryn College was replaced by T.J. Lang. That meant a whole new left side of the line. The Giants exploited the line, gathering four sacks, in the playoff game.
The Giants were good enough to eventually win the Super Bowl. They featured a ferocious four-man pass rush and a strong passing game. Manning and his receivers dominated the Packers secondary.
Relevance to the Seahawks
This could be spun a lot of ways if you are a Seahawks fan looking for insight. A young team, with a young quarterback, broke through and won a Super Bowl and continued their winning ways the next year with an almost perfect regular season. Expecting the Seahawks to go 15-1 this season is more than a little optimistic. Expecting them to be stronger this year than last year is absolutely realistic.
There are cautionary signs, though, in the Packers story. They lost a valuable interior pass rusher. They replaced two members of their offensive line. Their Pro Bowl safety was lost to injury. Seattle let Clinton McDonald walk. They let Chris Clemons walk. They will be replacing two members of their offensive line with Paul McQuistan and Breno Giacomini moving on. One of their Pro Bowl safeties is already recovering from a surgery.
Russell Wilson is probably not going to go out and throw 45 touchdowns with only 6 interceptions this year. Not because he is incapable of it. This offense is not designed for it. That is a good thing. Carroll has built a team designed to beat opponents in every possible way. They will restrict your yards gained on offense and on special teams. They will maximize their yardage gained on offense and on special teams. The defense is adept at stopping the run and rushing the passer. The offense is capable of running or passing. They are the hydra; cut off one head, and two take it's place that are just as deadly.
It is hard to imagine a scenario where this defense goes from best in the NFL to among the worst, like the Packers did from 2010 to 2011. A worst-case scenario is finishing somewhere in the 5th-10th ranked group of teams. The offense has every reason to believe it will improve.
No team is infallible. The 2011 Packers had deficiencies all over the field. That will not be the case with the 2014 Seahawks. The Packers used the confidence they gained from a championship to overcome many of their shortcomings and post a 15-1 record. Seattle will enter the season with that same sense of confidence.
The key lessons learned from the 2011 Packers are that the link between pass rush and secondary play cannot be overstated, and that one-dimensional teams will always be vulnerable, no matter how strong that dimension is. Seattle has to prove they have sustained their pass rush, but took important steps to do that this off-season by re-signing Michael Bennett and adding Kevin Williams recently. And they are far from one-dimensional. While the 2010 Packers are a worthy comparison of the 2013 Seahawks in some ways, the 2011 Packers should look nothing like the 2014 Seahawks.
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