Monday, January 14, 2008

Reflections: The 2007 Seahawks Part II (Defense & Special Teams)

This was a key year for the Hawks defense. One could argue that the defense was the best unit on the team. It certainly was the most balanced. However, despite nearly setting the Seahawks single-season record for fewest points allowed, I still never felt like this was a shutdown defense that could really intimidate an opponent.

Teams feared the 2006 Bears defense. They feared recent Ravens and Bucs defenses. The Hawks weren't that type of team. If we could take the defense we have at home and play it on the road, we might have something. Until then, I consider this a strong, but not dominating defensive unit.

Running Defense
I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of our run defense. Losing Tubbs in the last pre-season game was brutal. As I said in the preview, we needed Pro Bowl seasons from our linebackers in order to have a shot, and we certainly got that. The tackling was superb. If we can add a game-changing defensive tackle that could clog running lanes, that could put us over the top in this department. I expect Chuck Darby to retire following his serious injury, and it's questionable whether Tubbs will be back after all his surgeries.

Brandon Mebane will be a long-time starter, but I thought Rocky Bernard's play leveled off quite a bit this year. After 9 sacks in 2005, we've seen 4 in each of the past two seasons. I don't consider him a starting quality DT. I doubt we'll have money to spend on a free agent here considering our more pressing priorities, but it remains an area of concern. Howard Green was a nice pickup who played some quality minutes and made some plays.

LeRoy Hill was our best defender against the run all year. Darryl Tapp was a liability against larger tackles. The Seahawks have consistently looked to upgrade their d-line in the later rounds of the draft, and I'd expect to see that again this year.

Passing Defense
We may really have something here. Kelly Jennings surprised me with how much he improved throughout the year. He seems to be a long-term answer at CB. Tru had his best season to date, and might have a couple of better years to come after gaining this confidence. Grant and Russell were the glue we needed to avoid those head-slapping big plays, and our linebackers excel in coverage. If anyone doubts the importance of good safety play, consider that in 2004 we had Shawn Springs, Ken Lucas and Marcus Trufant at CB and still were a mediocre pass defense.

Our pass rush recovered as well. The symbiotic relationship of the pass rush and pass coverage was the "theme of 2007" as we alternated hearing from Kerney and Trufant about how the other part of the defense deserved credit for their sacks and INTs, respectively.

The real question mark here remains third-down defense. Too many times we saw the Hawks put teams into 3rd-and-long situations, only to have them convert. I don't know what the answer is to good 3rd down defense, but we need to find it.

Special Teams
Nate was a spark on special teams again, and once we resolved "SnapperGate," Josh was his old self. Plackemeier was a piece of crap most of the year. He should be a weapon for us in changing field position, and somehow he went from a big-leg boomer to a Jeff Feagles wannabe in one year. Don't get me wrong. I'd love to have a Feagles in place that can place it inside the 20, but Plack has the leg to move teams 60 yards back, and I'd hate to lose that.

Coverage teams were average at best, and could use some additional talent, especially with Niko possibly moving on as an unrestricted free agent.

Overall
The emergence of the Hawks defense has made the slow degeneration of the Hawks offense less costly. We're not going to improve on that side of the ball without some upgrades at Tapp's DE spot and Bernard's DT spot. The rest of the guys are who they are, which is pretty good.

On offense, we need to retain the dynamic passing game and sprinkle in some toughness in the run. The addition of a tight end who can run block and require coverage would be a plus as well. This off-season may be the most critical in Hawks history. We are two-to-three strong moves away from being legitimate Super Bowl contenders, and two-to-three weak or non-moves away from wasting our championship window.

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