2008 was the first year the Seattle Seahawks did not win the NFC West in four years and missed the playoffs in five years, finishing with a 4-12 record and in third place behind the Arizona Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers.
I believe last season was an aberration. Seattle should be back on top of the NFC West in January, battling for the playoffs and the Super Bowl again. For that to happen, a few things need to happen. Here’s my list.
1. Defense: Seattle’s defense was overhauled in the offseason. Gone are linebacker Julian Peterson and safety Brian Russell for defensive linemen Colin Cole, Cory Redding, and safety Lawyer Malloy. The thinking is to make Seattle stouter in the middle and against the run, areas that have killed the team in the past. A bigger defensive line should allow the Seahawk linebackers, arguably the best in the league with Lofa Tatupu, Leroy Hill and Aaron Curry, to fill the gaps and do what they do best; create havoc on opponents’ running backs and quarterbacks. At safety, Lawyer Malloy, even if he is a quarter of his old self, is an upgrade over Russell because Milloy will allow free safety Deon Grant to play the deep ball, his strength, and not move up in the box to help with the run which is where he spent last season because the team knew Russell didn’t have the speed or the tackling ability to do either well.
2. Injuries: Every team has injuries but 2008 for the Seahawks was unprecedented in NFL history according to Doug Farrar of Football Outsiders. No Seahawks offensive player played in all 16 games. Only three players managed even 12 games, wide receiver Koren Robinson and offensive linemen Floyd Womack and Walter Jones. Robinson was not even with the team before the season and only Jones is still with the team now. The team was auditioning wide receivers off the street by week three, not a good thing in an offense designed around timing like Mike Holmgren’s. The offensive line, the most important part of the team, didn’t field the same lineup once all season and all five starters ended the season on the disabled list. The injury bug has not completely left the team in the offseason. Left guard Mike Wahle is already gone due to injury. All Universe left tackle Walter Jones and center Chris Spencer have spent time on the sideline. On defense, cornerback Marcus Trufant has been out all preseason with back problems. All are key parts of Seattle’s plans and need to get healthy quickly. If there is a silver lining, they have all been gone for most of the preseason, allowing Sean Locklear, Max Unger, Rob Sims, and Ken Lucas the opportunity to get quality reps.
3. The Quarterback: Matt Hasselbeck is the key to the Seahawks’ chances. As he goes, the offense goes and if he goes down, the season will go with him. This is what makes Wahle’s retirement, Walter Jones and Chris Spenser’s injuries so critical. Opposing defenses are going to try and overload a shaky Seattle line. I see a lot of screen passes, bubble screens, quick slants to T.J. Houshmandzadeh and draw plays to counter the over aggressiveness.
4. Coaching: It’s a new regime in town with Jim Mora, Greg Knapp, and Gus Bradley replacing Mike Holmgren and Jim Marshall. While most things will be the same, it’s the little details like the two-minute drill, clock management, play calling and penalties that will show up the most. How the team reacts, especially to any adversity, will be vital.
5. Tim Ruskell: 2009 is the final year of general manager Tim Ruskell’s contract. He is determined to prove 2005 was not a year where he got lucky with a team already built when he got his office. He has made some moves with veteran players, like running back Edgerrin James and safety Lawyer Milloy, that, if they pay off, will be a major boost in his stock. If not, Mike Holmgren was recently interviewed on a Seattle sports radio station saying that he would like to work for Paul Allen again in some capacity. It is no secret that he would also like to be in control of personnel decisions, a la Bill Parcells in Miami. There is no question about Holmgren’s eye for offensive talent. The problem when he was GM and coach in Seattle was on the defensive side of the ball. Being able to concentrate on one job would allow him to see both sides better. Ruskell’s job may not be in total jeopardy but his seat is not too comfortable right now either
6. Luck: Like it or not, it’s not all skill that wins. The football is an odd shape and takes some very odd bounces. In 2005, the bounces went Seattle’s way and the team rode them to the Super Bowl. Last season, the Cardinals did the same, getting hot, and lucky, late in the season and into the playoffs. This does not mean you don’t need skill. That is vital also but all the skill in the world cannot help you win if the ball keeps bouncing the other team’s way.
Overall, the Seahawks have come through the preseason relatively healthy and looking good. They are not ideal with Jones, Spenser, and Trufant ailing but at this time last year, they were in a lot worse shape.
One aspect that has me very curious is seeing how the team has changed from the Holmgren-led rigid scripted offense that ran a play and believed if it was run perfectly, it would succeed to a more go with a flow and take what the defense is giving offense that is not afraid to run a trick play once in a while. I am not knocking Holmgren, his results speak for themselves and he probably could care less what I think. Nevertheless, I felt at times his approach did not allow for improvisation and surprise enough, especially if adversity struck like the injury plague did last year.
The Seahawks are still loaded with weapons on both sides of the ball. They were able to replace an aging wide receiver Bobby Engram with a younger and bigger Houshmandzadeh and get some depth on the defensive line. Question marks remain on the offensive line where they are depending on rookie Max Unger and third year lineman Mansfield Wrotto to hold the fort while Chris Spenser and Walter Jones heal.
Like every other team, they need to stay healthy and get a few good bounces. Matt Hasselbeck going down will drop this team from a 10-6 or 11-5 year to 8-8 or worse. Barring that disaster, this team will challenge again in the NFC.Powered by Sidelines