Pittsburgh beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl with no help from the referees. Walter Jones was overrated. Steve Largent was just a glorified possession receiver, not a Hall of Famer. Ken Behring always put the best interests of the franchise before his own. Qwest Field noise is piped in. Say any one of these things to a long-time Seahawks fan and you are likely to get an earful.
Every franchise has taboos. Trolls in the fan base, and rival fans, love to tweak people by bringing up these sensitive spots whenever they get the chance. As obnoxious as it sounds, we all have probably done it to an opposing fan at one point or another ("How's that Matt Leinart decision working out for you?"). The point is, certain topics elicit visceral reactions from fans. Take heed, because I'm about to talk about a few for our beloved Hawks. Cover your eyes if you start feeling queasy.
Most Seahawks fans acknowledge that we need to find an heir-apparent to Matt Hasselbeck. Make the same statement about Lofa Tatupu, and you're likely to get a much different reaction. After all, he's only 28, and has played a full season thus far after two injury-plagued campaigns. He still gets the defense set better than almost any other middle linebacker in the league, and is clever in coverage, as demonstrated by the pick-six he had last week jumping a route. In fact, in many ways, he's an ideal 3rd and 4+ yards linebacker. If passing is a high likelihood, he may be the best LB on the team to help the defense. The problem is that it's become more and more questionable whether he is even a viable player against the run. Take some time to study him on running plays and you will regularly see offensive players planting Tatupu on his back. The injuries to Colin Cole and Red Bryant obviously play a role since Tatupu has always been highly dependent on a defensive line that can "keep him clean," but Tatupu was not playing significantly better before the injuries. Take a look at the tackle trend for Lofa.
It's not only the tackles, but big plays by any measure are rare now for Tatupu. He has not had more than 1.5 sacks since his rookie season or more than 1 forced fumble or interception since 2007. The Seahawks don't have a great backup plan for Tatupu. David Hawthorne is the team's best linebacker, and would be the heir apparent, but there is nobody who is starting caliber that can play weakside linebacker if Hawthorne slides over. Hawthorne also struggles in coverage and pre-snap adjustments. He's the anti-Tatupu. There are no prospects coming up behind the three starters. There is no replacement for Curry, Hawthorne or Tatupu. Will Herring is a capable backup who can fill in a few games, but he is not a full-time starter on a good defense. Linebacker must be an area of investment this off-season. Seattle needs more production from linebackers to pair with this vastly improved defensive line. Hawthorne and Curry are unlikely to be the guys you replace. Tatupu has become the fan favorite whose past production is masking current struggles. Great franchises find ways to replace those players before it is embarrassing for both the player and the team. Tatupu can still be a valuable part of the team, if willing, but as a situational player the way the Patriots used their aging linebackers for years.
John Carlson is beloved by many Seahawks fans, especially those of the female variety. He's tall, strong, reasonably fast, modest, hard-working, and smart. His rookie season was the best a Seahawks tight end ever had. He appeared to be on track to becoming the best tight end in franchise history and a perpetual Pro Bowler. His last two seasons, though, have been major disappointments. His receptions per game and yards per game have declined each year.
Add in that his blocking, especially for the running game, makes you want to stab your eyes out with knitting needles, and we have a little problem. Potential must transition to production at some point. That's not happening with Carlson. Cameron Morrah, Anthony McCoy and Chris Baker all block better than Carlson right now, and McCoy and Morrah could at least be his equal as receivers. The Seahawks are better off, right now, when Carlson is not on the field. Subbing out a TE for an extra WR is a plus in the passing game as any of our receivers outside of Golden Tate are better targets for Hasselbeck. Subbing him out for any of the TEs or FB Michael Robinson for running plays is an improvement. The Seahawks must move on from Carlson, and only go back to him if he rips the job away from these other players.
Some of you that read my blog regularly may wonder how I can appear so loyal to Hasselbeck while being so ruthless with these other players. The fact is that Hasselbeck still can play his position better than any half the players at his position in the NFL. The same can't be said about Tatupu or Carlson. Even so, I will continue to be vigilant in stating that our #1 need in the draft is a future franchise QB. Hasselbeck does need to be replaced, but that probably can happen in 2012. The Seahawks will be a better team if they can find a player to push Tatupu in 2011 and commit to one of these other TEs.