Exit Interview: Is Seattle on the rise ... or the decline?

With the 2011 season in the rearview mirror, it's time for NFL.com's annual "Exit Interviews," a chance to review the ups and downs of each team's past season and spin it forward.

2011 in a Nutshell:Who You Are?) A city known for its music scene has a football team that could be ascending or descending, depending on your perspective. Most league observers don't consider the Seahawks to be overly talented, but this franchise is not Down in a Hole. So, up or down? As with most things in life, the account of the 2011 Seahawks lies somewhere in between.

What Went Right: More than you might think. Despite getting off to a horrid start, the Seahawks outscored their opponents 321-315. Not a huge margin, but certainly not bad for a football team that many fans feel is a lot worse than it really is. Pete Carroll's group rallied from a 2-6 start to go 5-3 down the stretch. In fact, they were 7-7 and still alive in the playoff chase before losing to a talented 49ers team and a red hot Cardinals club (which won seven of its last nine).

A significant cause for the turnaround was the motivated play of Marshawn Lynch, and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell's increased willingness to feed him the rock. After only getting 97 carries in the first half of the season, Lynch toted the ball 188 times down the back half -- 23.5 attempts per game.

Lynch's pounding efforts, which included a touchdown in 11 straight games, meshed well with an underrated 'Hawks defensive unit. Gus Bradley's squad finished seventh in the NFL in points allowed (19.7 per game). That's good enough to finish a lot better than 7-9. There's talent on this side of the ball with Brandon Browner, Earl Thomas, and older vets like Chris Clemons capable of creating disruption. And one guy to particularly keep an eye on is strong safety Kam Chancellor, who showed the potential to be a big-time player in his second NFL season. The Seahawks' secondary did a complete 180 from 2010 (when it was torched left and right), finishing 11th in pass defense.

Quarterback has been an issue for this team, but after recovering from a chest injury, Tarvaris Jackson played reasonably well the last eight games. The much-maligned former Viking threw eight touchdowns to four interceptions, posting an 85.3 passer rating during that span.

What Went Not So Right: The first eight games -- especially when Jackson wasn't healthy. The Passion of the 'Hurst wasn't the answer, and the injury-riddled offensive line was always in a giving mood, allowing 50 sacks over 16 games (though it did improve over the course of the season). Compounding the problem was the inconsistency of the run game in the first couple months.

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Meanwhile the lack of a playmaker on the outside continues to plague this franchise. Seattle's big offseason acquisition, Sidney Rice, missed way too much time. Don't forget that his one great season in Minnesota came courtesy of Brett Favre, not T-Jax. Doug Baldwin, Ben Obomanu and Golden Tate are OK -- in a complementary role. Tight end Zach Miller piled up 126 catches in his last two years in Oakland, but managed just 25 grabs in his first season with the Seahawks.

The lack of an explosive passing attack made it very difficult to convert third downs (24th in NFL) or mount any comebacks.

Offseason Crystal Ball: From a coaching perspective, righting the ship on special-teams coverage should be a top priority. Seattle finished 22nd in punt return average allowed, 29th in kick return average allowed, and gave up three return touchdowns combined. One of each came courtesy of the 49ers' Ted Ginn Jr., who singlehandedly beat the Seahawks on opening day.

From a front office perspective, what to do with 18 unrestricted free agents is a concern. The biggest names are Lynch, defensive end Red Bryant and linebacker David Hawthorne. The latter represents a position group that has no less than five free agents, two of whom are starters (Hawthorne and Leroy Hill.)

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But ask most fans of this team, and you get the sense the narrative of this offseason will center around other teams' free agents. Unofficially, Seattle is in the neighborhood of $20 million under the cap, and will have money to spend. Of course Peyton Manning's name comes up, but he isn't a free agent quite yet. Matt Flynn is. The former caddie for Aaron Rodgers totaled 490 yards and six touchdowns passing in his one start of 2011, and will command good dinero. Outside of Flynn, grabbing receiver help from this year's free-agent class is a real possibility. Ditto offensive line, especially with the fear that the best prospects could be gone by the time Seattle picks 12th in April.

Team Needs and Draft: So, don't be surprised if the Seahawks grab a linebacker like North Carolina's Zach Brown in the 12-hole. In my first mock back in mid-January, I had the front office tabbing defensive tackle Devon Still from Penn State. Would Seattle go for a wideout in the first round? Much of what this organization does draft-wise depends on how it handles outgoing and incoming free agents.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter _@HarrisonNFL_

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