The initial dust has now settled on the unfortunate news that Sidney Rice has been lost for the season. It is time to move on with the reality that the Seattle Seahawks are down a receiver. Could Rice have played his last game in a Seattle uniform? Will the timing of this injury and his 2014 salary cap number lead to him eventually being cut?
Those questions must be addressed later. Right now the Seahawks have decisions to make. Will Percy Harvin be hurried back? Will the ‘Hawks go shopping for a cagey, veteran receiver on the free agent market? Or, will someone else step up and fill the void left by Rice?
Before answering that question, we have to tackle that “void” and look at what has actually been lost. On paper, Rice was not having a statistically dominant season. Here are the top seven ball-catchers this season:
Golden Tate: 32 catches, 53 targets
Doug Baldwin: 23 catches, 30 targets
Sidney Rice: 15 catches, 35 targets
Zach Miller: 15 catches, 24 targets
Marshawn Lynch: 15 catches, 20 targets
Luke Willson: 10 catches, 15 targets
Jermaine Kearse: 8 catches, 13 targets
Through eight games, 15 catches is not much. In addition, he caught only 43% of the balls thrown his way. In his defense, Rice is more likely to be a “big play” guy, so it makes sense for him to have a lower catch-to-target conversion rate. Since Marshawn Lynch is going to catch more balls out of the backfield, his conversion rate is theoretically going to be higher.
Granted, Rice’s 15.4 yards per catch does not exactly dwarf Lynch’s 12.1 yards per reception, but the principle still holds that Rice’s catches are typically going to be more difficult to convert.
Now, you could argue that Rice’s very presence has opened up opportunities for Tate and Baldwin, and that the threat of Rice catching the ball acts as a sort of ongoing decoy. There is some credence to that theory, but if Rice is still a dominant receiver one could assume that he would have a few more catches. He was Seattle’s designated “big” target, which is a loose way of categorizing receivers that are sometimes taller or have breakaway speed.
The overall numbers suggest that Rice was on the decline. He caught 83 balls in his best season, which was back in 2009. He had 50 catches in 2012 and was on pace for 30 this year. It doesn’t take a mathematician to spot a generally downward trend.
It may take a game or two to see if Rice was really a threatening presence for opposing secondaries. With Rice gone, will someone fill his role and give Wilson a viable target?
Percy Harvin is the logical choice, but in the short term that may not be the most obvious solution. This may be an opportunity for Jermaine Kearse to prove that he is ready to be a consistent receiving threat. Kearse was not guaranteed to make this team in the offseason, but he parlayed a strong preseason into a roster spot. Now that Rice is gone, he may be called upon to demonstrate a stronger presence on the outside.
On a side note, the loss of Rice is much less of a problem compared to the issues with the offensive line. As noted by 12thmanrising, the situation with the line is grim, and receivers won’t matter if Russell Wilson is constantly running for his life.
Sidney Rice will be missed, but this isn’t a season-killing injury. The Seahawks can win without him.