Sunday, November 27, 2011

Outcoached and outplayed

Skins Coach Mike Shanahan cracked the code. He figured out how to defeat our offense and our defense.

Of course, many teams have managed to stop the Seahawk offense this year. It's easy: put the game in the hands of Tarvaris Jackson, and victory is yours. The Skins can credit Seattle's coaches with a major assist. We moved the ball well on the ground today, but when we still held the lead, we mysteriously abandoned the run and relied on T-Jack to win it for us; thus, we sealed our own doom.

On obvious passing downs, neither our offensive coaches nor Jackson had any answer for the Skins' all-out blitz.

Every decent offense should include blitz reads, where receivers shorten their routes to give the quarterback a quick outlet. Where were ours?

Every respectable offense includes screen passes to punish blitz-happy defenses. Where were ours?

Why would T-Jack take a sack on fourth down with the game on the line? Why not just throw the ball?

Why can't we get the ball to Zach Miller?

Why can't Mike Williams catch the ball anymore?

Stopping Seattle's offense isn't hard--we mostly stop ourselves, between the poor playcalling, dropped passes, stupid penalties, and inept quarterbacking--but Shanahan can take pride in exposing our defense.

Throughout the game, Skins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan outcoached Seattle's dim, manic duo of defensive bastardminds, Pete Carroll and Gus Bradley. Shanahan the Younger dialed up an inspired mix of stretch runs, screen passes, and crossing routes that kept our defenders on their heels, backpedaling. Few other teams have managed to run the ball effectively against the Seahawks. Our defenders missed many tackles. If Rex Grossman weren't so gaffe-prone, the Skins would have blown us out.

Usually, our second-half defensive adjustments take away whatever worked against us in the first half. Not this time.

Our offensive and defensive coaches need to find an answer for what the Skins did to us today. Future opponents will surely study and emulate the strategies that defeated us.

Our special teams are overdue for some love.

When it comes to putting the ball through the uprights, Steven Hauschka ranks somewhere behind Josh Brown, Norm Johnson, Olindo Mare and John Kasay. However, our current kicker has done well, having hit field goals reliably all year--today's 51-yard miss notwitchstanding.

Moreover, Hauschka's kickoffs have really come on lately. Every time he sinks a touchback, I miss Olindo Mare a little less. Anytime Hauschka can spare our leaky kick coverage unit from the chore of containing opposing returners, we win in terms of field position and by denying any possibility of a return touchdown. Today, Hauschka hit touchbacks every time, except for a called squib kick (ill-advised), and except for the time Golden Tate's asinine penalty backed us up 15 yards. (Hey, Golden: You're not good enough to taunt anyone. You barely made the team this year.)

Meanwhile, Ryan is punting at an All Pro level, coordinating well with the coverage unit, which has downed several balls near the opposing goal line. At one point today, he boomed a 67-yard punt. That's unreal.

Leon Washington continues to shine as a kick returner. He almost broke one today.

However, the most impressive special teams player is Red Bryant. Earlier today, I wrote a tribute to the big man. I can't believe I forgot to mention his field goal-blocking prowess. Today, the hulk blasted through offensive guards three times and got his paw on three field goal attempts, blocking two of them.

Red deserves better support from his teammates and his coaches.

Don't get cocky

For the first time this season, Seattle has compiled back-to-back victories. Not quite a winning streak... more of a winning hyphen.

By contrast, the Washington Schmucks enter Seahawks Stadium streaming the inglorious stench-clouds of a six-game stretch of futility.

Washington has won only one road game all year, in St. Louis, almost two months ago.

However, they have played close games against tough competition. They have faced the Cowboys twice, and both times came much closer to beating them than we did. The Skins competed better against San Francisco than we did. Like us, they defeated the Giants.

No team in the NFL is so good that they can take any opponent for granted. Seattle's 4-6 record should give us all the humility we need to take this game seriously. We have painted ourselves into a corner; if we hope to make the playoffs, we need to win out. Unless their team plane crashes, San Francisco will win the division, so Seattle can only hope for a wild card berth. 10-6 teams often qualify for the playoffs; 9-7 teams rarely do. No team without a winning record will make the playoffs in the NFC this year.

Last week, Seattle convincingly beat the Rams in St. Louis.

Our victory came despite two Tarvaris Jackson interceptions on his first two pass attempts and despite a continued plague of pointless penalties. Both factors--poor quarterback play and boneheaded behavior--will catch up to us soon and start costing us games.

I like T-Jack. He plays with grit. He seems to play best when he looks pissed off. However, I would prefer that he achieve that level of anger without making errors on the field that hurt the team's competitive prospects. (Jackson might consider the pregame ritual of Oakland defensive tackle John Henderson, who asks a coach to slap him in the face--several times, if necessary--before he leaves the locker room, thus to help him achieve the appropriate state of fury with which to face his opponents.)

Jackson has shown toughness in gutting it out through a nagging injury. However, I continue to doubt that he is a better quarterback than Charlie Whitehurst, even when healthy. Since Jackson's injury limits his reps in practice, he comes out rusty on game day. I am certain that a healthy Whitehurst would outperform a wounded and rusty T-Jack.Thus, I question whether Jackson's admirable self-sacrifice is necessary.

If I had been Coach Carroll, I would have benched Jackson after his second interception last week, and I would invoke his torn labrum as a pretext to keep him on the bench for the next few weeks, giving him time to rest and heal, while I evaluate whether Jesus of Clemson is the true savior of the Seahawks offense.

We generated fewer than 300 yards of offense last week. That's a losing formula in most NFL contests.

As new offensive line configuration gels, the false start and holding penalties should start to subside. The O-Line has provided good run blocking and fair pass protection for several weeks running. A good ground game is our only hope until we get better play from the quarterback position.

Presumably, heavy fines will eventually persuade Kam Chancellor to stop spearing opponents. At this point, he has surrendered almost a fifth of his salary to the league in the form of fines. After taxes, the bite must be quite large. Larger, perhaps, than the adverse impact the penalties have on our defense. Chancellor would make more of an impact playing within the rules than he has made thus far, coloring outside the lines.

The defense's domination of St. Louis was inspiring. Choosing not to challenge our stout run defense, the Rams ran a spread offense for most of the game, even lining up Pro Bowl running back Stephen Jackson as a slot receiver.

This was sound strategy for the Rams. It represented a logical effort to exploit the youth and inexperience of Seattle's defenders, and to attack the size and presumed slowness of our large defensive linemen. However, the defense rose to the occasion admirably, adjusting expertly to the novel challenges that St. Louis threw at us. Kudos both to our athletes and to our defensive coaches.

Today offers a different challenge in the form of Rex Grossman, who still veers wildly between brilliant accuracy and pick-prone idiocy. He played well last week against Dallas. The Skins rarely run the ball effectively, so their offense rests largely on Grossman's uncertain shoulders.

Hopefully, a 12th Man-fueled defense will punish him accordingly.

Go, Seahawks!

Red Bryant for MVP

Red Bryant is clearly the team's Most Valuable Player.

We suspected as much in 2010, when his season-ending injury transformed the league's stoutest run defense into the world's worst.

The first ten games of 2011 have further solidified his case.

Statistics vastly understate Bryant's importance. He ranks thirteenth in tackles, and has recorded but a single sack so far.

However, Bryant dominates his section of the line. From his position at right defensive end, he draws double teams, clogs lanes, snarls traffic, and creates opportunities for his teammates to make plays.

Lesser men aspire to inhabit "The Zone" occasionally, when the stars align and fate smiles upon them, but Bryant forges his own destiny, having established permanent residence in The Zone, that vaunted Elysium of elite athletic performance.

Many big men run out of gas fast and phone in a few plays while catching their breath.

Not Bryant. He plays with ferocious and unrelenting energy, a furious hulk bulling through double teams and triple teams, contemptuously pushing aside 300-pound opponents as if they weighed nothing and had no power of their own to pit against his awesome strength.

But Bryant is no mere brute. A player of extraordinary intelligence, he reads the offense expertly and never loses sight of his assignment, always maintaining disciplined containment on the right side. Lesser players bite on fakes and misdirection, but not Bryant.

One play last week illustrated what a complete football player he is.

With five and a half minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Seahawk defense worked to protect a 17-7 lead.

Having just shared a sack of Sam Bradford with Chris Clemons, Bryant lined up as the Rams came out in their spread formation, facing 2nd and 19 from their own 14-yard line.

Seattle knew that Bradford would throw. Our defensive linemen appeared to pin their ears back, ready to charge across the line of scrimmage, collapse the pocket, and sack the St. Louis quarterback again.

However, at the snap, instead of crashing into the offensive line, Bryant dropped back into shallow pass coverage.

I am generally skeptical when coaches assign fat, slowfooted linemen to defensive duties better undertaken by fleeter linebackers and defensive backs with better ball skills.

But big #79 made a believer out of me on this play.

Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane tipped Bradford's pass. As the leathery oblong spheroid tumbled through the air, Bryant read it like a kick returner and ran swiftly to get under the descending pigskin.

At this point, the practiced ball skills Bryant honed as a high school tight end kicked in. With soft hands, he snared the pigskin in stride and did what comes naturally to a right-handed player: he cradled it under his right arm. However, noting that he was on the left side of the field, he immediately transferred the ball to his left side, his huge paw securely clutching the pigskin to breast and bicep.

When a Ram--rookie wideout Austin Pettis--ran up to try to tackle Bryant, the big man shot out a stiffarm,
flinging the receiver aside. To his credit, the agile rookie recovered and dove at the lineman's knees, taking him down after a 5-yard return.

A few plays later, little Justin Forsett transmuted the turnover into 6 points with a 22-yard touchdown run, lathering backbreaking icing upon the slaughter of the lambs.

Red Bryant is the glue that holds our defense together. He is clearly Seattle's MVP. He should be in the conversation for the league's most valuable player. What other athlete has proven so pivotal to his team's success?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Go for two!

The Seahawks have an opportunity today to achieve something they haven't managed all season: win two games in a row.

St. Louis, the preseason favorite to win the NFC West, has reverted to form as the division cellar dweller, which is no mean feat in a division featuring two 3-6 teams.

Seattle is too fragile a team to take anyone for granted. Last week, the Rams managed a feat that eluded the Seahawks earlier this year: beating a bad Browns team in Cleveland.

Vegas picks St. Louis to win by 3 points. If you've seen any Seahawks games this season, you'll understand why we're not favored to beat anyone; thus, the highest compliment oddsmakers can pay us at this point comes in the form of a modest point spread.

Today poses yet another big challenge for our embattled offensive line. Once the foundation of the franchise, our front five foundered after Super Bowl XL, quickly becoming the team's Achilles' Heel. This year's young unit floundered through the first few games, but gelled convincingly over the last two weeks, providing decent pass protection and enough running room for a back in Beast Mode.

Unfortunately, just after the O-Line came together, it promptly fell apart. Rookie right guard John Moffitt suffered a season-ending injury against Baltimore. Backup lineman Lemuel Jeanpierre stepped in to finish the game, and the unit didn't miss a beat. However, earlier this week, a freak injury during a routine drill ended the season of rookie right tackle James Carpenter.

So, Seattle must face St. Louis with a reconstituted right side of its offensive line. Paul McQuistan will start at left guard today, presumably to free up Jeanpierre--also our backup center--to fill in if the injury curse next afflicts Max Unger. Breno Giacomini replaces Carpenter at right tackle, lining up opposite Chris Long, a fearsome pass rusher.

If the line can incorporate these spare parts and maintain some semblance of chemistry, then they should be able to exploit the Rams, who feature the league's worst run defense.

If our rushing attack can put the Rams on their heels, T-Jack might consider victimizing their injury-annihilated defensive backfield. Seattle's secondary--having lost only two cornerbacks this season--is a picture of health compared to that of St. Louis, which has lost nine corners thus far this year.

On defense, the formula is simple: stack the box to contain running back Stephen Jackson and to pressure quarterback Sam Bradford, and double-cover Brandon Lloyd.

Jackson remains the Rams' only potent offensive threat. A violent runner like Lynch, Action Jackson has averaged 140 yards per game over the last three weeks.

Led by the formidable Red Bryant, Seattle's run defense has dominated all year, except in Dallas, when we let DeMarco Murray pile up 139 yards.

If the Seahawks can keep Lynch in Beast Mode and Action Jackson in Least Mode, we should be able to win this one.

Unless we continue to beat ourselves with penalties. Even when functioning well, our offense struggles to produce yards and post points. Thus, Seattle cannot continue to forfeit 80-100 yards of field position per game to bonehead penalties like false starts, delays of game, illegal motion, etc.

These mental mistakes reflect poor coaching. Hopefully, Coach Carroll and his staff have worked to address this with our players.

Don't let the presence of Tom Cable on our sideline confuse you: We're the Seattle Seahawks, not the Oakland Raiders. The penalties have got to go.

Go, Seahawks!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Triumph of the 12th Man

I ascribe last week's win over Baltimore to the triumphant return of the 12th Man.

The Diehard has harshly criticized Seattle fans for frittering away the once-formidable reputation of Seahawks Stadium. The 12th Man had allowed Atlanta's offense to call audibles, and the fans had as much quit in them as Seattle's players when we hosted Cincinnati.

But last week, the 12th Man stirred from its torpor and took control of the game from start to finish.

Instead of waiting for the team to inspire them, the fans started out fired-up. From my couch, it appeared that the crowd became electrified by the raising of the 12th Man flag by Tuskegee Airman George Hickman. The resulting patriotic fervor apparently evolved into a rabid and deafening barrage of decibels that evidently rattled the normally unflappable Joe Flacco, prompting uncharacteristic errors, including an interception. Seattle's defense also forced four Baltimore punts.

Crowd noise made the difference, prompting another inspired defensive performance, and fueling a credible dominance display by our oft-maligned running game. For the second consecutive week, the offensive line pried open cracks in a tough run defense, and Marshawn Lynch spent the entire game in Beast Mode, bulling through those creases and fighting forward as if the fate of the world depended on every inch of conquered ground.

Our offensive coaches displayed impressive tenacity, running the ball up the gut again and again, challenging the middle of a Baltimore defense dominated by the league's best run stuffer, Haloti Ngata. Most of those efforts yielded few or no yards, but with dogged persistence, Seattle steadily wore down the Ravens, grinding out more than 100 yards for Lynch by the end of the game.

The defining moment of the contest came on one of those short-gain run plays in the first half. The Beast broke through the line of scrimmage, dragging along some Ravens who clung feebly to his hips and knees, but then Ngata--Baltimore's Samoan mammoth--bear-hugged Lynch, suddenly halting the runner's forward progress. At that point, Seattle left guard Robert Gallery peeled back and knocked Ngata off of his teammate and onto his ass. This allowed Lynch to topple the pile forward for another yard or two.

It was classic old school football: three yards and a cloud of dust, though in this case, "dust" should be read as a metaphor for little rubbery shreds of Field Turf.

Though hampered by a nagging pectoral injury that has sharply limited his repetitions in practice, Tarvaris Jackson rose to the occasion. He threw accurately, completed clutch passes to sustain several drives, and protected scoring opportunities by avoiding turnovers.

Seattle stole three turnovers. Our special teams kick coverage teams recovered two fumbles. David Hawthorne picked off one of Flacco's passes, ran it back 34 yards, and would have taken it to the house, if the quarterback had not horse-collared the Heater.

However, our offense still struggles to transform turnovers into touchdowns. In all three cases, we had to settle for field goal attempts.

Fortunately, Steven Hauschka was perfect, converting five out of five field goals.

If Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff had matched that rate of accuracy, Baltimore would have won.

The game was closer than it should have been. Officials flagged Seattle players 13 times for 100 yards of penalty yardage, plus a baker's dozen worth of do-overs for our opponents.

Fortunately, the sonic weight of our raucous home crowd tipped the scales in our favor.

Thanks to the 12th Man, Seattle emerged victorious last week. But to have any hope of salvaging the season, the offense needs to find a way to score more touchdowns, and the whole team needs to cut down on penalties. Sloppy play reflects shoddy coaching; the Seahawks must solve their penalty problem if they hope to compete credibly in subsequent contests.

Winning the hard way

Normally, 3-6 teams eke out meager victories over weak opponents, then lie down meekly to accept defeat at the hands of stronger teams.

This Seattle team got to 3-6 the hard way, by clawing itself out of the pit Pete Carroll dug.

We fielded a team without a proven quarterback, with an offensive line too young to drink legally, and with a defense populated primarily by kids who can't watch an R-rated movie without their mommies.

We forfeited road games to chumps like San Francisco and Cleveland. We let Pittsburgh and Dallas humiliate us in their houses. We choked at home, allowing Atlanta and Cincinnati to defile Seahawks Stadium.

But on October 9th, Seattle limped into New York at 1-3 and stunned the division-leading Giants. Then, last Sunday, having slid to 2-6, the Seahawks astonished everyone by ripping the Ravens from their nest atop the AFC North.

What accounts for our team's ability to rouse itself to compete against seemingly impossible odds, but then lay eggs of odious putrescence when faced with more beatable opposition?

Postscript: Are the 49ers "chumps"?

In the fourth paragraph of the foregoing essay, I called the 49ers "chumps." Certainly, when Seattle saw them in Week One, few respected or feared San Francisco, then recovering from a 6-10 season.

Currently, at 8-1, the 49ers own the league's second-best record. Although half of their wins have come against weak competition (Cleveland, Philadelphia, Seattle, Washington), they have beaten several respectable opponents (Cincinnati, Detroit, the New York Giants, Tampa Bay).

At this point, it is hard to imagine San Francisco failing to win the division. Five of their remaining games come against feeble rivals from the NFC Worst: Arizona twice, St. Louis twice, and Seattle once.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

12th Man now seen only on milk cartons

In our last home game, the 12th Man made only intermittent appearances.

Only when our defense was playing well, when our opponents faced 3rd and long, could the crowd be bothered to rouse itself.

A marginal team like ours needs better support from the fans in Seahawks Stadium.

I would have liked to write that our team deserves better support, but neither our coaches nor some of our  players have made that case.

Still, Seattle fans have a reputation to reclaim.

Thus, I continue to call out the 12th Man.

For those of you who missed it, please scroll down and read "Calling out the 12th Man," posted 10/30/11. Everything I wrote there remains true.

perpetuating the death spiral

Last week, Seattle's running game finally came together. Our young offensive line worked in concert with tight ends and fullbacks to open lanes for Marshawn Lynch, who spent the entire game in Beast Mode, pummeling the Dallas defense for 135 yards.

The Seahawks did that to a Cowboys team that entered the game with the league's fourth-best run defense.

Unfortunately, Tarvaris Jackson threw away the game by tossing three interceptions.

T-Jack's final turnover summed up the game with poignant eloquence. Our quarterback tried to throw the ball to Doug Baldwin, even though Dallas safety Gerald Sensabaugh stood between the passer and his intended receiver. If desperation prompts a quarterback to attempt such a throw, he should loft the ball high to give his out-of-position receiver a chance. Instead, Jackson threw it right at Sensabaugh's numbers, right into his hands. Baldwin demonstrated impressive cornerback skills, leaping over the Cowboy's back and reaching down to grab a share of the ball. Our receiver wrestled relentlessly for the pigskin. Until the official signaled Seahawks possession, at which point Baldwin let go. Whereupon the officials reversed themselves and awarded possession to Dallas.

To summarize: The whole offense plays extraordinary football, but T-Jack's errors rob the team of victory.

In "Tarvaris Jackson Pulls a 'Bad Hasselbeck,'" Seattle Times columnist Jerry Brewer likened our present quarterback (#7) to his Holmgren-groomed predecessor (#8). Both men, the analyst opined, threw picks when they "tried to do too much."

Brewer's superficial comparison ignores the fact that Hasselbeck only took too many chances when nothing else was working--when we could gain nothing on the ground, when we absolutely had to throw the ball, when the whole game rested on his shoulders.

But that wasn't the situation last week. The rest of the offense was firing on all cylinders. Run game? Check. Good pass protection? Check. T-Jack merely needed to manage the game, to complete a few clutch passes here and there to keep the defense honest, to prevent them from keying exclusively on Lynch.

In game after game, Jackson ignores open receivers and tries to force the ball to covered receivers. He ignores easy completions underneath and tries to complete longer, low-percentage, high-risk passes.

If I were Coach Carroll, I would invoke T-Jack's injuries as a pretext to give another shot to Charlie Whitehurst.

If Seattle had kept Hasselbeck, we'd be 5-3 right now, not 2-6. That's the difference between playing a Pro Bowl-calibre veteran quarterback and fielding castoff backups from other teams.

Today, we host the Baltimore Ravens.

Our defense should match up well with their offense, but probably not so well that we can hope to win at our offense, which seems stuck in low gear, scoring about 3 points per quarter.

Their defense will stack the box, stuff the run and dare us to throw.

We need to run a little to keep them honest. With the mammoth Haloti Ngata dominating the middle of their defensive front, our best bet would be to make limited use of Lynch (primarily an inside runner) and let Leon Washington and Justin Forsett run outside and catch some screen passes.

Deon Butler's activation is welcome, further augmenting the embarrassment of riches in Seattle's receiving corps. On almost any other team, Sidney Rice, Mike Williams, and Zach Miller would be posting monster numbers.

If only we had a quarterback capable of delivering the ball to them reliably.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Go for Brokeback Mountain

A month ago, Seattle upset the Giants in New York.

No one saw us coming.

The Seahawks don't win early road games against tough opponents.

We have a chance to do it again today.

Since we keep finding ways to lose winnable home games, we need to do something to salvage some semblance of respect.

Again, no one sees us coming.

Dallas assumes we'll lie down meekly and let them get healthy at our expense.

The Cowboys remain one of the most league's most odious franchises. Jerry Jones is a jerk.

Go, Seahawks.

A premature verdict on T-Jack

Conventional wisdom says the quarterback competition is over and Tarvaris Jackson is The Man.

This conventional wisdom represents the consensus of team coaches, journalists, and most fans, according to online polls and postings.

Apparently, those people haven't been watching the same games I've been seeing.

Certainly, Jesus of Clemson did not light it up against Cleveland or in limited action last week.

In both games, our offense struggled as a whole. It's hard for any quarterback to shine when the line can't block, receivers can't catch, and penalties derail any hope of progress.

Carroll's decision to yank Whitehurst last week was puzzling. During his three series, the quarterback threw only one bad ball--one of those low-percentage bombs that our coaches insist on calling with disturbing frequency. All of Whitehurst's other passes were on-target, though his receivers dropped some of them. Poor pass protection, penalties, and our inability to run limited our offensive production, but on the second series, Seattle posted 3 points.

Enter Tarvaris Jackson. On his first series, a botched handoff to Marshawn Lynch led to a fumble, forfeiting possession to Cincinnati on our own 31-yard line. T-Jack's next drive ended in a punt.

On the final drive of the first half, made enough nice throws to compensate for a stupid penalty (rookie right guard John Moffitt lined up in the neutral zone), another pointless long-bomb heave, and a sack and a throwaway due to poor pass protection. Seattle found itself in unfamiliar territory: the red zone. However, poor coaching deprived us of points. Lacking a timeout, with only a few seconds on the clock, Carroll called a handoff to Lynch, allowing the Bengals defenders to drain the remaining time by taking their time untangling  the ensuing pileup.

In the third quarter, T-Jack came out with our vaunted no-huddle offense. The result: punt, punt, field goal, a very nice drive culminating in a rushing touchdown, then a punt (returned for touchdown), a turnover on downs, and a pick six, followed by total surrender (running out the clock because the game was out of reach).

Jackson's game will not go down in the annals of quarterbacking greatness.

I'm not impressed that Jackson threw for more than 300 yards.

I'm distressed that our offense doesn't score enough points, no matter who runs the offense.

When you're playing from behind, it's easy to rack up passing yards. Putting points on the board is harder, and it's all that matters.

In the first quarter, Whitehurst posted 3 points. In the last three quarters, T-Jack posted 9. The rate of offensive production remained constant. Constantly anemic.

However, I argue that inserting Jackson actually retarded the offense's progress. Jackson has always been prone to the premature throwaway under pressure, but that tendency has increased now that he is banged up. Had Whitehurst stayed in, we would have probably completed a few more passes. Moreover, Jesus tends to show more discipline running through his progressions. For example, at the end of the first half, as Seattle neared the red zone, T-Jack ignored two wide-open receivers underneath to loft a longer pass to a covered receiver in the end zone. Result? Incompletion.

Postscript: Early in the game, I was ready to pronounce Jon Ryan an athlete when, after booming an epic punt, he compensated for poor coverage and prevented a touchdown by catching Bengals cornerback Adam Jones from behind and tackling him. However, Jones--once one of the league's most feared returners--had pulled a hamstring on the play, so we learned that the ghost with the golden toe can only outrun a hobbled Pacman. Moreover, Ryan looked very much like a punter when he whiffed on Brandon Tate during the latter's touchdown punt return.

Pete Carroll is no Chuck Knox

The Seahawks are 2-6.

Chuck Knox never went 2-6.

Other than that, Pete Carroll is in good company: Jack Patera, Tom Flores, Dennis Erickson, and Jim Mora all posted records as bad or worse at some point in their careers. Mike Holmgren did it twice.

Patera inherited an expansion squad at a time when the league severely handicapped new teams. Thus, he should be forgiven for those first two seasons, though he owns the meltdowns of 1980-82.

Flores, Erickson and Mora inherited flawed rosters from their predecessors, just like Carroll. And Chuck Knox.

Knox and Carroll have something else in common: In their first seasons in Seattle, both led their teams to playoff berths and to victories in the wild card round.

The similarities end there. Knox built upon his initial success by making the performers of 1983 the nucleus of a winning team for the next several seasons. Ground Chuck understood the value that veterans bring to the field and the locker room: experience, wisdom, stability, reliability.

By contrast, Carroll rewarded his players for winning the NFC West by taking a wrecking ball to the roster. In concert with general manager John Schneider, Slick Pete aborted the nucleus of Seattle's success by jettisoning several key team leaders, including Matt Hasselbeck, Chris Spencer, Lofa Tatupu, and Jordan Babineaux.

We are now the youngest team in the league, and it shows.

To Carroll's credit, our defense has weathered these changes remarkably well.

However, the offense and the special teams are not just an embarrassment. They are an abomination.

Our youthful offensive line leads the league in sacks allowed. The unit probably also leads the league in false start penalties. Their run blocking has made Seattle the league's penultimate ground gainers. That is, we're second-to-last in rushing yards. Feeble.

Neither Tarvaris Jackson nor Charlie Whitehurst have shown anything to validate the decision to ditch Matt Hasselbeck.

The Seahawks punt and kickoff coverage units lead the league in touchdowns allowed.

Strong coaching can help a team achieve Gestalt, playing better than the sum of its parts.

Carroll showed flashes of that kind of coaching last year--just enough to win a weak division and beat the defending Super Bowl champions in the playoffs.

We caught a glimpse of good coaching last month in New York against the Giants.

The indiscipline and inconsistency start at the top. Carroll's rah-rah spirit rings hollow when his players lack the fundamentals to compete and perform at a professional level.

Paul Allen needs to put the coach on the clock. Start winning, or start packing.

Carroll is no Knox.

The USC charlatan's smoke-and-mirrors showmanship will never hold a candle to the hardhat substance and integrity embodied by Chuck Knox.