Monday, November 29, 2010


We just let an average team post a fortyburger on us in our house.

That cements us as decidedly subaverage. Just like our record.

Hasselbeck didn't have a great game. As he did late last year, he was pressing, as if the entire weight of the offense rested on his shoulders. Because it basically does, in the absence of a credible running attack. He made several brilliant plays, but threw two picks and was spared from another only through the magic of an instant replay challenge.

The special teams played well, blocking a field goal and returning a blocked punt for a touchdown.

But our defense has emerged as a real liability. Our makeshift defensive line can't stuff the run or pressure the quarterback, and our secondary failed to shut down a passing attack that can boast only one really good receiver.

Can we even talk about a home field advantage anymore?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Early games & Thanksgiving review

If you're interested in following the progress of Seattle castoffs, there is not much to see in this morning's early games.

Deon Grant continues to play for the New York Giants, who host the Jaguars today. Grant is listed as the backup strong safety, but he has started four games, and he often appears in nickel packages. To date, he has 36 tackles, 1 sack, and 3 interceptions.

Meanwhile, Mansfield Wrotto will be playing for the Buffalo Bills. Although listed as the third string right tackle, Wrotto started last week at the position. The hapless Bills host the Steelers today.

If you want to see All-World left guard Steve Hutchinson bulldoze Redskin defenders, you can check out the Vikings visiting D.C.

Floyd "Pork Chop" Womack still starts at right guard for the Cleveland Browns, who host Carolina today. Evidently, Eric Mangini wants to lose this very winnable game, because he has elected to replace injured rookie quarterback Colt McCoy with interception machine Jake Delhomme. Perhaps Mangini thinks Delhomme will know how to exploit the weaknesses of his former team, but I think it's more likely that the Panthers defensive backs will know how to capitalize on Delhomme's generosity with regard to turnovers.

Mangini would have been wiser to start Seneca Wallace. So far this year, Delhomme has thrown 1 touchdown and 4 interceptions. Wallace has thrown 4 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions.

I guess Delhomme looks really good in practice...

On Thanksgiving, Seahawks fans who watched the Lions game saw several Seattle castoffs in action. Rob Sims make several nice blocks, including two that elicited praise from the play-by-play guys, who generally ignore the offensive line. Maurice Morris started at running back, carrying the ball 9 times for 55 yards and two touchdowns, and catching balls for 20 yards. Nate Burleson turned in a pedestrian performance, catching 3 passes for 35 yards. Third-string tight end Will Heller caught his first pass of the year for a 13-yard gain. Julian Peterson logged just three tackles.

Deion Branch had a great game for the victorious Patriots, catching 3 balls for 113 yards and 2 touchdowns. You might recall that Branch had a great outing in his first game back with the Patriots in Week 6 (9 catches, 98 yards, 1 touchdown), and assume that Branch is having a Pro Bowl year. But in the 5 games in between, Branch averaged 4 catches for 55 yards and did not score. So, the Patriots are getting better production from him for less money than the Seahawks paid, but getting Deion back wasn't the steal of the century.

Later on Thanksgiving, Jon Kitna had a good game for the Cowboys, posting a completion rate in excess of 75%, throwing for more than 300 yards, and getting robbed of victory by a Roy Williams fumble.

Julius Jones was the leading rusher for the winning Saints, carrying 10 times for 45 yards, and catching 3 balls for 21 yards. I still don't miss him.

Bring back the fear

Visitors used to fear Seahawks Stadium.

That fear is now gone. In 2008, our home record was a miserable 2-6. We managed a mediocre 4-4 in 2009. So far this year, we are 3-1, but that one loss was a humiliating 41-7 blowout at the hands of the New York Giants.

That one loss showed that the team is not yet serious about defending its house.

We once had one of the most formidable home-field advantages in the league.

The 12th Man remains a factor, blasting foes with deafening noise, rattling opposing offenses, and forcing false start penalties.

But the team needs to step up its game to match the intensity of the fans.

We need to dominate at home. We must overpower and destroy any invaders who have the temerity to imagine that they have a chance to prevail in Seattle. Our foes should not exit the stadium under their own power, but carried prone on their shields, with punished bodies and broken spirits, forever scarred by the hellish torment to which we have subjected them.

Today's matchup against Kansas City won't be easy. Like the Seahawks, the Chiefs have come back strong this year after a few seasons of futility, and now lead their division.

The good news is that the Chiefs are 1-4 on the road this year, and have dropped four straight road games. However, Kansas City has been competitive in almost every contest. For example, the Seahawks got blown out in Oakland, but the Chiefs pushed the Raiders to overtime before losing. However, Kansas City and Seattle both share the dubious distinction of letting a bad Broncos team manhandle them at Mile High Stadium.

We have our work cut out for us. Mike Williams remains hurt and probably won't play. Our recent offensive renaissance has depended almost entirely upon passing the ball. If we hope to sustain that, the rest of our receiving corps will need to step up in a big way, including rookie Golden Tate, who returns today from an ankle injury. And, of course, Matt Hasselbeck will have to log a third consecutive week of near perfection.

Some help from the ground game would be welcome. Rookie left tackle Russell Okung played passably last week, but he clearly was not yet 100%. The rest of the offensive line did not have a good week, either, and an injury to left guard Chester Pitts has forced yet another reshuffle of a unit that hasn't been stable all year. If, through some miracle, the line can achieve some chemistry today, take control of the line of scrimmage, and open some holes for our runners, that would help a lot in terms of sustaining drives and maintaining time of possession.

That is, if Marshawn Lynch can shift out of Butterfingers Mode and find Beast Mode once again.

On the other side of the ball, our makeshift defensive line will need to mount a stout defense against Kansas City's tough running attack. Marcus Trufant returns from a concussion to bolster a secondary that must shut down Dwayne Bowe, who has emerged as one of the best deep threats in the league. The Chiefs are stingy with the ball, so Seattle will need creative blitz and pressure packages and suffocating coverage to extort some turnovers today.

Few active players remain from Seattle's AFC West era, but the 12th Man needs to remember how much we hated the Chiefs when we were division rivals, and bring the noise accordingly.

Walter Jones gets hosed

I had modest hopes for Seahawk representation on The Top 100: The NFL's Greatest Players. No current Seattle players belong on the list, and among retired Seahawks, only Steve Largent and Walter Jones could boast a body of work that merited inclusion in such lofty company.

Both should have been on the list. But, factoring in East Coast media bias, and considering the strength of the competition at the wide receiver position, I assumed that Largent would get left off the list.

However, I thought Jones was a lock.

I was wrong. He did not make the cut. In fact, no Seahawk made the list. (Unless you count Jerry Rice, the #1 finisher, who spent one season in Seattle.)

You can see the whole list for yourself at

Here are the offensive linemen who did make the cut:

12. Anthony Munoz (Bengals)
24. John Hannah (Patriots)
32. Jim Parker (Colts)
54. Forrest Gregg (Packers)
56. Gene Upshaw (Raiders)
63. Jim Otto (Raiders)
68. Mike Webster (Steelers)
72. Jonathan Ogden (Ravens)
76. Art Shell (Raiders)
78. Bruce Matthews (Oilers/Titans)
96. Mel Hein (Giants)

It is hard to argue with most of those selections.

However, note the suspiciously high number of Raiders on the list. Since the careers of Upshaw, Otto and Shell overlapped, one would expect Oakland to have been absolutely dominant during the years when all three played. So, how many Super Bowls did the trio win? Zero. (After Otto retired, Upshaw and Shell helped win Super Bowl XI.)

Raider overrepresentation on the list defies logic. The Steeler team that won four Super Bowls has 5 players on the list; Oakland has just as many from that era (5), but won only two NFL championships in that period.

The Raider mystique trumps reason.

Apparently, Jonathan Ogden edged Jones as the representative of the modern left tackle. Certainly, Ogden was a great player, and I would not argue for his exclusion from the list.

Instead, I would argue that the list should have included fewer running backs and quarterbacks to make room for great players at other positions. Members of the offensive backfield comprise more than one-third of the list, with 16 running backs and 18 quarterbacks. One would expect this of fan voting, as it reflects the childlike belief that the person who touches the ball most often is the most important player on the field and the one most responsible for team success. I like to believe that "experts" might possess a deeper understanding of the game.

But the vaunted authorities chose to include marginal greats like Joe Namath and Tony Dorsett at the expense of true greats like Walter Jones and Steve Largent.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Dave Krieg gets a modicum of love

In an earlier post, I complained that NFL Top Ten slighted Dave Krieg by failing to list or even mention him on their "Top 10 Backup Quarterbacks" program.

Fortunately, Mudbone did receive some recognition earlier this month in another episode of the same series, "Top 10 Quarterbacks of the '80s." Here is the list:

1. Joe Montana
2. Dan Marino
3. Dan Fouts
4. John Elway
5. Phil Simms
6. Boomer Esaison
7. Joe Theismann
8. Dave Krieg
9. Bernie Kosar
10. Jim McMahon

Krieg should have been higher on the list. Higher than Theismann, who played only half the decade, and who made the Super Bowl on the strength of his team's defense and running game. And higher than Simms, who had only one great year in the '80s.

Sadly, the segment on Krieg starts with a few arrogant East Coast media jerks dismissing him. New York radio d-bag Craig Carton earnestly states, "Never heard of him." (That's OK, Craig. I've never heard of you, either.) Bloated ignoramus Adam Caplan of allowed that Mudbone "may be the 90th best quarterback." (If he passes for an authority on that site, beware of advice from Don Banks of Sports Illustrated threw down this gauntlet: "I would challenge you: Give me one highlight moment from Dave Krieg's career. I can't remember any."

OK, Banks. Here goes:

1. Leading Seattle to its first playoff berth in 1983. Beating the Broncos at home in the wild card round, defeating Dan Marino's Dolphins in Miami in the divisional round, and advancing the Seahawks to the AFC Championship Game
2. Leading Seattle to a 12-4 record in 1984, despite losing Curt Warner to injury in the first game of the season. Throwing for 32 touchdowns and more than 3,600 yards that year, and getting voted into the Pro Bowl. Beating the Raiders--defending Super Bowl champions--in the wild card round.
3. Leading the Seahawks to a 5-game winning streak and getting named AFC Offensive Player of the Month in December 1986
4. Leading Seattle to its first division title in 1988, and getting named to the Pro Bowl again.
5. Making the Pro Bowl yet again after the 1989 season, and leading the AFC to victory.

Oddly, the program neglects to mention most of the above achievements.

They do show Mudbone throwing several touchdown passes. And they quote several more intelligent observers, like Gregg Easterbrook of The New Republic (they have a sports section?), who says of Krieg, "Statistically, he was one of the finest passers ever." They note that he ranked 4th in passing yards and touchdowns among all quarterbacks of the decade.

And, inevitably, they mention that Mudbone ranked first in getting sacked and coughing up fumbles. They invoke the "small hands" myth, eschewing the more prosaic explanation that he played behind porous offensive lines, so he got hit a lot.

Steve Largent lauds Krieg for his uncanny ability to transcend the limits of his athleticism and make plays.

Finally, they show a piece of footage that eloquently sums up Krieg's career: against the Los Angeles Rams, Mudbone fumbled a snap on an extra point. A Rams defender ran back and bent down, trying to grab the ball in stride, but Krieg shoved him aside and chased the ball as it bounced away to the right. As several Rams closed in on him, the pigskin suddenly bounced up into the quarterback's hands. Rolling right, Krieg lofted the ball to a teammate in the back corner of the end zone.

Since I'm on the subject of Krieg, I can take this opportunity to address a question that came to me via e-mail. To whit: How did Krieg get the nickname, "Mudbone"?

This is shrouded in mystery. Even the vintage of the appellation is in question. The nom de guerre surfaced sometime in the mid-'80s. Former Post-Intelligencer beat writer Clare Farsworth claims the nickname dates to the 1984 season, but I don't remember hearing of it until Dave came off the bench in November 1986.

At any rate, the closest thing we ever got to an explanation for the nickname came from right guard Bryan Millard, a UT-Austin and USFL alum who wore #71 and was the team's best offensive lineman before Walter Jones. Asked why they called Krieg Mudbone, Millard enigmatically explained, "He's like an old bone that you find in the mud. That's Dave, he's our mudbone."

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Turkey & Sea Lions

It's been awhile since we looked in on former Seahawks playing around the league.

The Thanksgiving games give us a good opportunity to see some Seattle castoffs in action.

People often complain that Detroit doesn't deserve their annual televised holiday game, since they've been so bad for so long. It is often tempting to skip watching the Lions lose. Certainly, today's matchup against the Patriots looks daunting, but despite their poor record, Detroit has distinguished itself by keeping it competitive in most contests this year. So, the game may reward watching on its own merits.

But Seahawks fans have another reason to watch: our team's castoffs comprise about one-eighth of Detroit's roster. Seattle exiles now playing for the Sea Lions include:

Nate Burleson, starting wideout
Will Heller, backup tight end
Lawrence Jackson, backup defensive end
Maurice Morris, backup running back
Julian Peterson, starting outside linebacker
Rob Sims, starting left offensive guard

Detroit signed Burleson with the expectation that he could complement Calvin Johnson. Since Johnson goes by the Transformer nickname "Megatron," Burleson dubbed himself "Recepticon." In the first four games, Burleson produced little and missed two games due to injury, leading me to call him "Receptican't" and "Receptinot." However, over the last six games, he risen to the occasion, catching four touchdowns and averaging six catches for 70 yards each game. Receptibadass now wears #13. I wish he were still playing for his hometown Seahawks.

Will Heller plays exclusively on special teams and as a blocking tight end. Seattle fans will recall that Heller can catch, but Detroit hasn't thrown a ball to him all year.

Former 1st-round pick Lawrence Jackson has seen spot duty in six games for Detroit, rotating into a strong defensive line that includes Ndamukong Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch. Despite limited time in those six games, Jackson has 3.5 sacks, including 2.5 in the last two games.

Maurice Morris gets few touches, playing behind rookie star Jahvid Best and solid veteran Kevin Smith. However, injuries gave Mo the start last week. He performed acceptably, carrying 10 times for 31 yards and catching 4 passes for 40 yards. But he'll be on the bench most of the game today, as Best appears set to start.

Julian Peterson continues to play at a high level. However, he missed the Pro Bowl last year, and Detroit has demanded that he return to form in order to justify his high salary and keep his job. Peterson ranks among the team's leading tacklers, but hasn't made a lot of big plays (sacks, interceptions, etc.). Peterson was benched near the end of Detroit's loss to Philadelphia. Here's a link to a story about that incident, which is also interesting because it includes a photo of the linebacker tackling fellow ex-Seahawk Owen Schmitt (the fullback is now an Eagle):

Rob Sims has blossomed in Detroit, becoming a key cog in their productive rushing and passing attack. Given Seattle's continuing problems on the offensive line, we probably could have used him this year.

After the Sea Lions play, we can see if Jon Kitna can build on last week's stellar showing. If the former CWU and Seahawks quarterback can maintain that level of performance, he could steal the starting job from a frustrating Tony Romo.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Indelible stains & silver linings

The game was not close. Losing never feels good. Still, a few good things happened on the field for Seattle today.
But first, let’s get the negatives out of the way.
A running back with a mane of braided locks shifted into Beast Mode today, repeatedly bursting through a clogged line of scrimmage to gouge the opposing defense. Unfortunately, it wasn’t Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch. It was Cedric Ivory of the Saints, and for much of the game, the Seahawks could not stop him.
Nor, for most of the game, could our defense stop Drew Brees. The league’s most accurate passer dissected Seattle, generally operating in a pocket so serene and with coverage so soft that the Saints offense resembled a 7-on-7 drill conducted by the first unit against waiver wire scrubs.
It hurt that Marcus Trufant exited the game after sustaining a head injury.
I lost count of all the missed tackles. It will take a long time for Ivory’s textbook stiff arm of Jordan Babineaux to fade from my tortured memory.
Meanwhile, when Seattle had the ball, Marshawn Lynch often reverted to Butterfingers Mode, dropping passes and coughing up costly fumbles to end promising drives.

Our offensive line continues to provide decent pass protection, but still struggles to open holes for our running backs.
Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates generally called a good game, but he botched a few big play calls. For example, in the fourth quarter, after Hasselbeck audibled into a Justin Forsett run to the right that took the ball close to the goal line, Bates called essentially the same running play again. Of course, the Saints were ready for that. They easily stuffed the little running back at the line.
There are a number of reasons why that was a bad call:
1.       New Orleans had stacked the box; they were ready to defend against the run.
2.       Our offensive line—especially the wretched right side—is unable to dominate a defensive front that expects us to run the ball.
3.       Forsett is not a short-yardage back. If you want one yard, give it to Lynch.
4.       By that time, Hasselbeck had a hot hand. Why not let him throw for the touchdown?
Seattle players committed several costly penalties. Aaron Curry continues to be a sucker for the hard count, jumping offsides for the millionth time this year. Lawyer MIlloy’s idiotic personal foul after a New Orleans extra point deprived Leon Washington of a possible kick return opportunity. Chester Pitts got flagged twice, once for holding, denying us a field goal, and later for a false start. Perhaps he wants to join Stacy Andrews and Sean Locklear on the No-Pro Team.
A few questionable calls went against Seattle. Raheem Brock’s helmet-to-helmet late hit on Brees—which nullified what would have been a drive-killing defensive stand--was not particularly late, nor did the lineman appear to knock heads with the quarterback.
Similarly, Roy Lewis got flagged for hitting a defenseless returner, but the cornerback had been locked up with a Saints blocker and may not have seen the returner’s perfunctory fair catch signal
But even in the gloom of defeat, some silver linings shone through.
The biggest positive for Seattle was that the team never quit. A squad that had laid down for Oakland and the New York Giants just a few weeks ago stood steadfastly in the ring today, trading punches with New Orleans until the end. The Saints kept decking us, but we kept getting back up. Even when we knew we would lose the decision, we refused to let it be a knockout.
Dexter Davis didn’t quit. When Daniel Chase botched the hold on an extra point and ran for it, Davis showed great hustle and knocked the backup quarterback out of bounds just short of the goal line. (By the way, you have to admire the Saints’ protocol for botched holds on PATs. Rather than run for it immediately, the placekicker pretends to follow through on the kick, and the holder waits a split second for the defense to relax before taking off.)
Will Herring didn’t quit. The special teams stalwart demolished a New Orleans return man on a kickoff.
Neither David Hawthorne nor Earl Thomas quit. Both grabbed touchdown-saving interceptions in the fourth quarter.
And, of course, Matt Hasselbeck never quits. He had another great game, throwing for more than 300 yards in defiance of a New Orleans secondary geared to stop the long ball. Despite his broken left wrist, the quarterback competed heroically, scrambling, improvising, executing. At one point in the fourth quarter, when a Forsett run bogged down in a scrum, the aging quarterback charged into the fray, leading with his damaged left arm, trying in vain to push the pile.
Our receiving corps finally appears to be coming together. Ben Obomanu has emerged as a legitimate starting wideout. Although hobbled by an early injury, Mike Williams returned to the game and went as long as he could, making several clutch catches. When the big man finally left the game, our reserve wideouts stepped up, especially Brandon Stokley, who assumed his natural role as a dependable third down slot receiver. (Now, could someone please find Golden Tate?)
Tight end John Carlson emerged from several weeks in the witless protection program to catch a few good balls.
Justin Forsett injected new life into the offense in the second half.
Olindo Mare has reclaimed his title as the most dependable kicker in football. He makes even long field goals look as easy as extra points, and he nails touchbacks on kickoffs nearly as often as he splits the uprights on PATs.
Yes, the Saints beat us, but they did not humiliate the Seahawks. No one expected Seattle to field a Super Bowl caliber team this year, but by avoiding a blowout, the team made the case that we might indeed eke out a winning record, maintain the lead our weak division, and make the playoffs.
Atlanta helped us out today by keeping St. Louis a game behind us. If the Seahawks can build upon the positives in today’s defeat, perhaps the team can take its future into its own hands.

Seahawks on the No-Pro Team

Current and former Seattle players were well-represented on Shutdown Corner’s recent No-Pro Team. Writing for the popular blog, Doug Farrar posted a list of the biggest underachievers in the NFL this year.
Quite justifiably, that list included the starting right side of our O-Line, Stacy Andrews and Sean Locklear. Shutdown Corner nailed the titanic Andrews for having racked up five false start penalties, and excoriated Locklear for being “a liability in run-blocking and pass protection most of the season. He's had four drive-killing holds and has allowed 2.5 sacks.”
Seattle was rumored to have shopped Locklear late in the preseason. Evidently, we kept him because there were no takers. At this point, he might have trouble making a CFL team.
Meanwhile, several viable alternatives--serviceable ex-Seahawk offensive lineman--are starting around the league: Rob Sims in Detroit, Pork Chop Womack in Cleveland (both at guard), and Mansfield Wrotto at tackle in Buffalo.
However, the poster boy for the No-Pro Team was former Seahawk wideout TJ Houshmandzadeh. (A photo of the dejected receiver sitting on the bench illustrates the article.)
Housh’s selection to the list depends upon Seattle’s decision to cut him, despite owing him $6 million, coupled with Farrar’s contention that Housh has done “almost nothing” for the Ravens. This strikes me as unfair. There have been games this year where Seattle could have used Housh. Moreover, his role in Baltimore has been limited by the fact that Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason are established and effective starters. Finally, although Housh only had 13 catches before today, he did catch a game-winning touchdown on the road against bitter division rival Pittsburgh.
And, as if to rebuke Farrar for putting him on the No-Pro list, Housh caught a 56-yard touchdown pass today.

Decanonize with extreme prejudice

For the third time this season, the Seahawks go on the road to face an opponent no one thinks they can beat.

The first time, we stunned everyone by beating Chicago. In the second case, we shook off the humiliation of two consecutive blowouts and took care of business against Arizona.

Could Seattle shock the world again today by beating the defending Super Bowl champions?

The odds are against us. Literally. Along with Carolina, we are the biggest underdogs in the league this week. (The line is 11.5 points.) In other words, Vegas oddsmakers estimate the 5-4 Seahawks' chances of beating the 6-3 Saints in New Orleans are as bad as the 1-8 Panthers' prospects of winning at home against the 6-3 Baltimore Ravens. Relevant note: Injuries will force Carolina to start their third-string quarterback, Brian St. Pierre. It will be his first NFL start. He has 12 career passing yards. (So the real question is why the Panthers aren't 30-point underdogs.)

Speaking of the Panthers, they were the last team the Saints beat, allowing them to go marching into their bye week on a two-game winning streak. This constituted a nice recovery from a rocky second quarter of the season, wherein New Orleans lost in Arizona, blew out the Bucs in Tampa Bay, got upset by the Browns in the Superdome, and then rallied to beat the Steelers at home before going to Carolina to collect an easy win.

Our opponent's recent history of inconsistency--beating solid teams but losing to relative mediocrities--offers some hope to the Seahawks today, but it's hard to imagine the Saints taking us lightly as they did the Browns a few weeks ago.

Moreover, New Orleans has had two weeks to rest up, heal, and forumlate a game plan against us.

Our own team history doesn't favor us, either. The last time the Seahawks won three road games in a single season, or two road games in row, was 2007. I don't know the last time we won two consecutive road games as underdogs.

Matt Hasselbeck lit it up last week, but that broken left wrist has visions of dropped snaps, botched handoffs and easily forced fumbles dancing in the heads of Saints defenders.

Our offense played well against Arizona, but the strong Saints secondary specializes in taking away the deep ball. If our wideouts can't get open, our passing attack will need a strong performance from tight end John Carlson, who was held without a catch last week, and who has produced little thus far this year.

Russell Okung's return from injury could upgrade the offensive line, if he proves truly healthy as he was against Chicago, when he shut down Julius Peppers, one of the league's most dominant pass rushers. But if the rookie has been rushed back from injury and comes out at half strength as he did at St. Louis, it could be a long game.

A healthy Okung could help Seattle gain traction on the ground. Establishing a balanced offense and controlling the clock has never been more important than this week, when we face Drew Brees, the league's most accurate passer.

Today Reggie Bush returns from injury to augment Sean Payton's gaudy offensive arsenal. This game poses a severe challenge to our defensive coaches and players, and will test particularly the depth of our secondary.

Commenting on today's game, discussing the challenge of playing a tough team in the Superdome, Matt Hasselbeck said, "I can't imagine a tougher scenario. But it's OK. I think we're excited to try."

As a former coach, I cringe at the t-word. Often, when people say they will try, they mean that they will give it some effort, but they expect to fail, and because they recognize the difficulty of the enterprise, they won't feel too bad about failing.

But perhaps I should focus on the word "excited." If the team is indeed excited to compete in New Orleans, that is the right attitude. In Chicago and again in Arizona, the Seahawks have shown what they can do when no one expects them to win.

Certainly, Hasselbeck has proven that he is a competitor. I have never seen him quit. I can't say the same for the rest of the team. The debacles against Oakland and New York continue to haunt me.

Which team will we see today? The hapless losers who laid down for the Raiders and the Giants? Or the valiant heroes who brutalized the Bears and conquered the Cardinals?

Simply competing--making a game of it against the defending Super Bowl champions--would constitute a strong step forward for this rebuilding team. Historically, we have struggled on the road, but today offers a chance to begin decisively to change that history.

Go, Seahawks!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

That was Seahawks football

Seattle salvaged its season prospects with today's triumph over Arizona.

Our offense came convincingly alive for the first time in more than a year. Matt Hasselbeck returned to Pro Bowl form, throwing for 333 yards and a touchdown. And, to silence everyone who salivates over Charlie Whitehurst's big arm, Hasselbeck completed bombs of 66, 44, 40 and 32 yards.

Mike Williams looked unstoppable, catching 11 passes for 145 yards. Ben Obomanu and Deon Butler stepped up, catching balls and running reverses for a combined 150 yards.

After Marshawn Lynch softened up Arizona's defense, Justin Forsett gouged them, averaging more than 7 yards per carry. Both running backs wound up with touchdowns.

Seahawks offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates got into a serious playcalling groove today. An endlessly inventive, Stan Getz kind of groove.

Bates rediscovered the secret of moving a Seahawks offense whose only reliable feature is a Pro Bowl quarterback: Throw to set up the run. And then throw some more to keep the defense off balance.

Even when Hasselbeck exited briefly due to injury, Bates did not miss a beat. He continued to dial up pass after pass, and Charlie Whitehurst was money, except when he threw an interception to remind us why he is not the quarterback of the present.

Our offense held the ball for 35 minutes, giving our defense time to catch their breath and maintain their intensity.

The defense did their part and came up big.

Linebacker Aaron Curry finally looked like a first round draft pick, recording 7 tackles, 2 sacks, and 1 forced fumble.

Philadelphia castoff Chris Clemons also twice sacked Derek Anderson.

Rookie free safety Earl Thomas flew around the field, hitting Cardinal ball carriers like a guided missile. Late in the game, Arizona wideout Early Doucet declined to haul in an easy pass, evidently because Thomas was closing in fast.

For most of the game, the secondary provided smothering coverage, while the front seven exerted consistent pressure on Derek Anderson. "Slim" Kelly Jennings--our oft-maligned undersized corner--grabbed a pick.

We held Arizona to negative yardage in the third quarter.

The special teams did their part. Olindo Mare kicked 5 field goals and put the ball in the end zone on 8 out of 9 kickoffs. Leon Washington returned one punt for 48 yards.

Best of all, for a team that appeared to quit in the two previous games, Seattle never let up. For example, when Arizona attempted an onside kick in the fourth quarter, Will Herring entered the scrum belatedly. Several Cardinals and only one other Seahawk started closer to the ball than he did. Yet, minutes later, Herring emerged from the pile, clutching the pigskin. Seattle led by 11 at that point, but the reserve linebacker and special teams stalwart refused to let Arizona have the ball. (Herring's efforts proved academic, as an illegal touching penalty awarded the ball to the Seahawks. Moreover, it is not clear that the officials would have recognized Herring's recovery of the ball, absent a penalty. But none of those qualifiers detract from the glorious and ferocious tenacity demonstrated by Herring.)

Of course, no win is perfect, and the Seahawks still have plenty to work on.

Olindo Mare, eerily clutch for so many months until last week, missed a chip shot field goal again today.

Hasselbeck threw a few bad balls that should have been intercepted.

Starting tight end John Carlson continues to be a non-factor. Arizona held him without a catch. He did get open once, in the end zone, but failed to haul in the ball.

Our offense left a lot of points on the table, settling for field goals far too often because we couldn't score touchdowns.

We still struggle to establish the run. Our offensive line remains too feeble to convert any of the multiple short-yardage rushing attempts we hazarded. If the other team knows we're going to run, they can stop us almost every time.

Seemingly heedless of our feeble inability to run the ball, Pete Carroll continues to coach like a gambling addict at times. Early in the game, when Seattle led by only 7 points, he opted to go for it on 4th and 1 rather than kick an easy field goal and take a two-score lead. (Although we needed less than a foot, our line proved unable to push even that far, and Hasselbeck fell down short of the mark, turning over the ball on downs to the Cardinals.) Fortunately, we did not need those points, but in a closer game, those kinds of decisions can be deadly.

In a similarly encouraging vein, Carroll wisely reverted to conservatism after that, opting invariably for easy field goals over uncertain 4th down conversion attempts for the rest of the game.

But fine tuning can wait a few days. Tonight we can enjoy the most significant victory of the season, which has given us sole (albeit tenuous) possession of first place in the NFC West. (Thanks to San Francisco for knocking St. Louis back a game.)

Losing Streak Showdown

When this many losing streaks converge, something has got to give.
The Seahawks have lost two in a row, getting blown out on the road in Oakland before being humiliated at home against the Giants.
Arizona has dropped three straight, though they were competitive in the last two losses, getting edged at home by the Bucs, then stumbling in overtime against the Vikings.
Seattle last won in Arizona in 2005; that’s a 4-game losing streak.
The last time the Seahawks savored victory, it tasted like Cardinal.
However, Arizona typically finds a way to win at home; the team is 2-1 on its own turf this year.
To put it mildly, the Seahawks struggle on the road. We are 1-3 as visitors this year, recording our only victory in Chicago.
This week looks a lot like that one, in that no one is picking Seattle to win this game. Maybe this is the kind of team that rises to the occasion when everyone assumes they’re doomed. But it doesn’t seem wise to count on lightning striking twice.
The stakes are high. At 3-5, Arizona lurks just one game behind the 4-4 division leaders, Seattle and St. Louis.
With a win, Seattle could essentially eliminate Arizona from the race for the division title. A loss would hand sole possession of the division lead to St. Louis, if the Rams can beat San Francisco, or create an ignominious three-way tie for first place, if the 49ers eke out a home victory today. People have derided our division for years as the NFC Worst, but imagine the scorn that will be heaped upon us if Arizona, Seattle and St. Louis wind up tied atop the west with losing (4-5) records.
The players and coaches on both teams are on record recognizing the magnitude of this game.
It is tempting to imagine the Seahawks picking up where we left off three weeks ago, when we last played the Cardinals.
But this time, Arizona won’t do us the favor of starting rookie Max Hall under center. Instead, they will field the more competent veteran Derek Anderson at quarterback.
The last time we played the Cardinals, our D-Line stuffed the run and exerted consistent pressure upon Arizona’s passers. Since then, our injury-riddled defensive front has allowed opposing quarterbacks and running backs to have their way with them.
If we intend to compete today, the linebacking corps and the defensive backfield will need to pick up the slack.
When we beat Arizona last month, our offense was anemic, scoring only one touchdown. Since then, our offense has been pronounced legally dead.
As always, the trouble starts up front, with a feeble O-Line that keeps Marshawn Williams in Least Mode, struggling just to avoid negative yardage. His shifty counterpart Justin Forsett only needs a few inches of daylight, but our front five hasn’t even been able to manage that.
Incredibly, the offensive line provided good pass protection for Charlie Whitehurst last week, holding the fierce Giants pass rush to zero sacks. Perhaps they can build on that and branch out into the largely unexplored frontier of run blocking.
Hopefully, Matt Hasselbeck will return rustless and ready to lead his unit to unaccustomed competence. Given our uncertain ability to execute, offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates will need an inspired playcalling performance to make us competitive. In past weeks, his predictable calls have posed perhaps the greatest obstacle to our offense’s inability to gain any kind of traction.
How we perform today will say a lot about the character of this team and its coaches.
Go, Seahawks!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Losers unmasked

The mirage dissolves, revealing the truth: despite new coaches, a thorough roster overhaul, and some early wins, these are the same Seahawks we saw last year and the year before. There's still a lot of quit in this team.

Last week, our defense wore down and gave up the second half. This week, they tucked their tails between their legs in the second quarter. Incredibly, even when New York stopped passing entirely, we couldn't stop their run game.

Our defensive coaches seemed to quit, too. Once the Giants jumped to a lead, they evidently ceased to dial up anything creative.

Even the 12th Man quit.

Note to offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates: When a novice quarterback gets his first start, the defense expects you to run on every first down. If you fulfill that expectation with relentless and stultifying predictability, they will stack the box and stop you, often for negative yardage. In the future, please consider some variety in your playcalling.

Whitehurst played reasonably well, considering the circumstances. Only one interception was his fault; Mike Williams caused the other one by bobbling an on-target throw into the defender's hands.

But Whitehurst belongs on the bench. He throws a nice deep ball, but Hasselbeck remains our best bet. The usual starter's accuracy and touch, his ability to read defenses, and his leadership and veteran savvy all distinguish him over his once and future backup.

Perhaps, after taking it easy this week, the team will show up ready to play next week in Arizona. But that's unlikely: Losing and quitting are habit-forming.

Is Hasselbeck Really Hurt?

It surprised me that Hasselbeck was ruled out of today's game so early in the week. Usually, concussions are a day-to-day thing. Maybe Matt's bell got rung so soundly last week that the doctors knew midweek that he wouldn't play today.

But maybe it's not medical. Perhaps the concussion story gives the team a chance to take a look at Charlie Whitehurst without publicly humiliating our starting quarterback.

The clueless legions of Hasselbeck haters welcome the change. Their understanding of football is so poor that they blame Matt for our inability to score or gain yards this year. They believe that the backup with the Jesus hair will be the savior of the Seahawk offense.

The haters are wrong about Hasselbeck. His play has been as solid as is possible, given our coaches' uninspired playcalling, and our O-Line's inability to protect him or open holes for our running backs.

But starting Whitehurst may give us the best chance to win today, and our best chance to win for the rest of the season.

Many are enamored of the backup's strong arm, but it is hard to see how he will get off many deep passes against the sack machine that is the Giants defense. Whitehurst is more mobile than Hasselbeck, and he'll need that mobility when the tough New York pass rush steamrolls our feeble, injury-depleted offensive line. Whitehurst's elusiveness should allow him to get off more passes than Hasselbeck might have managed.

Best of all, by playing the backup, we spare our banged-up starter from gratuitous abuse that could keep him out of games down the stretch, where we will need him if we intend to win the division and compete in the playoffs.

Of course, if Whitehurst lights it up and proves himself a better quarterback than Hasselbeck, then he should be the starter.

But I think that's very unlikely. If the Seahawks eke out a victory today, it probably won't be on the strength of our offense. It will be because the defense stepped up, because the 12th Man brought the noise, and/or because the special teams made some plays.

Go, Seahawks!

A Revealing Missed Opportunity

Earlier this week, owner Paul Allen, Coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider passed up an obvious opportunity to upgrade our dubious receiving corps when they declined to place a waiver claim on Randy Moss.

The Titans were the only team to claim the future Hall of Fame wide receiver. However, because Seattle's win-loss record is inferior to Tennessee's, our claim would have prevailed.

Financially, the Seahawks could have afforded Moss. Claiming the wideout on waivers would have obligated the team to pay him a prorated portion of the many millions owed him under the contract originally concluded with the Patriots. But there is no salary cap in the NFL this year, and Paul Allen is the league's richest owner. Which raises the question: Is Allen "All in"?

Since Carroll took over, character is no longer a criterion for membership on our team. So, why not Moss?

Claiming him would have entailed little risk. If it didn't work out, we could have cut him, just as the Vikings did, without suffering any ill consequences.

The payoff, however, could have been considerable: Moss is a truly great receiver, a big target and a legitimate deep threat.

Currently, the Seahawks have no dependable wideouts. Mike Williams occasionally shows up and has a good game, but the rest of the receiving corps had been anything but clutch. Their mediocrity was on painfully ignominious display last week, when their failure to catch several on-target throws from Hasselbeck contributed to our inability to compete with Oakland.

We're still paying for the unwise decisions to let Burleson go and pay Housh $6 million to ride the pine in Baltimore. If they were still in Seattle, they would be starting. The availability of Moss gave the team leadership an expensive opportunity to atone for those mistakes.

But I guess Carroll's "Always compete" slogan only applies to the players. Neither the coaches, nor the front office, nor the owner seem clear on what the concept might mean to them.