Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Things I Think, 13 Games In

Sit back for a moment and soak in this 2011 Seahawks season. A season that may have never been had the lockout lasted much longer. A season that has delivered nearly unprecedented player development despite a complete lack of off-season. So much has happened and so much has changed, it almost feels like two or three seasons in one. Remember when Charlie Whitehurst was a polarizing figure? Remember when Marshawn Lynch couldn't break 50 yards in a game? Remember when fans were comparing Brandon Browner to Kelly Jennings? Remember when Doug Baldwin was on the roster bubble? Remember Marcus Trufant starting? Remember James Carpenter playing left guard? Remember Aaron Curry? Remember it taking two touchdown returns from Ted Ginn for SF to beat the Seahawks? Remember when John Carlson was our second tight end? Remember when Golden Tate was a bust? Remember when Kam Chancellor was a question mark? Remember the concerns about finding leaders to replace Lawyer Milloy, Lofa Tatupu and Matt Hasselbeck? Remember Matt McCoy breaking out as nickel LB? Remember when people said CB was a major need in free agency? Remember when you had low expectations?

Many folks are walking down memory lane this week as the Seahawks have kindly provided a perfect point for comparison to the 2010 Seahawks team that was also 6-7 after 13 games. People want to know which team was better. There are far more layers to that question than most fans want to consider. If Red Bryant and Alan Branch were injured for this year's Seahawks the way Bryant and Cole were last season, a game between the two teams might be closer than you think. As far as Tarvaris Jackson has come in demonstrating his worth, he would still be the inferior quarterback in a game against Hasselbeck. Where there is absolutely no doubt is that the full 53-man roster of 2011 is far stronger than what the Seahawks featured last season.

Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman, K.J Wright, Paul McQuistan, Breno Giacomini, John Moffitt, Max Unger, Robert Gallery, James Carpenter, Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin, and Leroy Hill all represent depth and quality that was not available last year (Giacomini and Unger were on the roster, but not playing). Even better, there are very few spots that are being filled by players on the downside of their careers. In fact, you could argue that every player not named Hawthorne, Hill, Gallery, Mebane, Clemons could be markedly better in the future than they are right now.

That's what being a fan is about for me. Show me that there is a ceiling that has yet to be defined. Indicate that greatness is not out of the question. Flash a vision a few times of what this all could look like when the pieces come together. The Seahawks have done all that.

There will be those that judge the success of the season on the outcome of the final three games. Not me. The thirteen regular season games and four pre-season games have told me everything I need to know. The secondary will be the best in the NFL, possibly as soon as next year. The defensive line needs an interior pass rusher and another edge rusher, but will be even better next season if the offense continues to control the clock. The linebackers could be the surprise of next year when Hawthorne finally heals his knee (he is about 50% of the player he should be due to injury), Wright plays even faster, Malcolm Smith challenges for a bigger role, and McCoy returns from injury.

The offensive line is becoming defined by the system instead of the players. That is why three starters can be out and the team can still rush for 150 yards and score 30 points, while the opponents are complaining about how hard it is to play without your starters. Tom Cable has implemented his system. This group could be Patriot-esque in their ability to plug'n'play. If Cable can stick around for another few years, this could become a Top 5 line in the NFL. Sidney Rice and Zach Miller are both part of the answer, despite their individual issues this season. Baldwin will be part of the team's championship run. The team may choose to add another dynamic receiver in the off-season even with Tate's development and some unknown potential for Kris Durham.

Marshawn Lynch is a joy to watch run the ball, but fans forget how impotent he was the first half of the season and all of last year. That says less about Lynch than it does about the line's development. This team does not need Lynch to have an effective rushing game. If the choice becomes Michael Bush for 2 years $14M or Lynch for 5 years $40M, that's not a hard choice. Running backs fall somewhere just above kickers and punters on my value scale, and there is a much bigger downside to a deal of five years for a running back than there is upside. Don't fall into the trap of thinking the Seahawks running game is working because of Lynch. He is a great multiplier to what the line and Cable is doing, but he's just fuel injection on a performance engine (I don't know shit about cars). This team will continue to run effectively with, or without, Lynch next year. That said, it would be great if the team could keep him for 2-3 years.

Jackson is a better quarterback than I'd expected but is not going to be the one who hoists the Lombardi Trophy for Seattle. I still believe that if there is a quarterback this front office loves this year, they need to trade whatever it takes to get him. The thing about football is that building a roster is like erecting a sand castle in that it can look gorgeous and stable one minute, and then is collapsing on itself the next after a wave rolls in. Building with young players reduces the risk of meltdown, but Seattle needs to start coaching up that QBOTF next year in order to be ready to compete for a championship in 2-3 years.

Pete Carroll has done splendidly in creating an identity for the organization and the team. There is little doubt the trajectory is overwhelmingly positive. There are still real questions about his judgment as a coach that will become hyper-magnified if he makes mistakes in crucial games. Substitution-based timeouts, wishy-washy decisions about how to handle things at the end of the half or the game, holding back players healthy enough to play, are all things that must become like the memories described above. Remember when Pete did that stupid shit? Norv Turner had a number of Chargers teams that were talented enough to rank #1 on offense and defense in the NFL, but still never won it all. Carroll must prove he can rise to the occasion as a coach.

Life is good. We are living the Corona commercials where we just get to sit back and watch the waves roll in. Seattle will be a better team next year than it is this year. It will not have a first-place schedule to contend with either. The Rams will very possibly have a new coach. The Cards will still have a fatally flawed quarterback and an aging defense. The 49ers are playing the best they can play. Frank Gore is not getting any younger and Alex Smith is doing the division a favor by forcing the 49ers to keep him around. Nothing would be sweeter than to see the Seahawks sneak into the playoffs and knock off the 49ers. Just the chance to see Jim Harbaugh whine his way to the locker room would be priceless. No matter what happens the rest of the year, few could argue that the Seahawks are the best bet in the division to be a better team next season, and they are already pretty darn competitive right now. Remember when they weren't?

8 comments :

Brandon Adams said...

The improvement isn't just the line, anymore than it's just the runner.

Lynch obviously wasn't confident in the early-season blocking, and it showed. Beast Mode was off. But the emergence of our line would not have turned just any old running back into a consistent 100-yard player, either. There was a lot more talent to unlock in Lynch than in a lot of other backs. Julius Jones would not be flashing to cutback lanes, staying upright and moving his feet in the hole, or bouncing off tackles the way Lynch is. He's just a special player right now.

The coming together of our line has created a symbiotic relationship that wasn't possible without the line, but wouldn't be as strong either without Lynch.

Jeff Simmons said...

Agree with Brandon.

Your way off on this Marshawn issue. I understand that RBs are generally replacable but for you to just correlate the recent success with the improved OL play is simply wrong.

Marshawns power/toughness will almost be impossible to replace. Love the Julius Jones example Brandon gives.

Brian, Marshawn's intangibles arent quite replacable. Hes the heart and soul of the team, especially the offence. Its a big error to assume a draft pick or a free agent can just easily replace Lynch.

The scheme helps, but the toughness/attitude is the biggest difference. You take a huge step back if you just lose Marshawn.

Brandon nailed this. I almost always agree with you but you couldn't be more wrong on this issue.

Dont get stuck into groupthink (rbs are replacable -- dont have much value). You have to look at the situation on a case-by-case basis. This isnt Shaun Alexander. Marshawn is only 25. You HAVE to re-sign him if you want to keep momentum of the PC/JS era.

If not, you take a massive risk in going back to square one in the running game.

hawkblogger said...

Love the debate. I agree that Lynch is getting yards that other backs would not get. Stating that the only reason he was not getting those yards last year or earlier this year was because he "wasn't confident in the line" is a stretch. There is no proof of that, or even real evidence of that. He ran extremely hard on the Beast Quake run last year, and has had hard runs in other games before this recent success. He was also traded by another team who felt it worthwhile to draft a RB early in the 1st round.

I am not a Lynch hater by any stretch, but there are a number of backs that could come in here and be a 1,000 yard rusher behind what this offensive line is becoming.

This debate becomes moot if Lynch asks for something on the order of 3 yrs $21M, but I'd bet he wants and gets more. That becomes a real issue. Running backs simply are not "must keep" players. Nothing Lynch has done this year changes that reality.

hawkblogger said...

One other quick note: Groupthink is never going to be my problem. It would be far easier to say, "sign marshawn at all costs!" than to say the team can live without him.

I got similar feedback when I said the team should shed Lofa last year and that Browner would be a good CB. I'm not always right, but I'll always think for myself.

Thanks a ton for reading and commenting!

Jeff Simmons said...

Thanks for the response. I agree with most of what you said there.

Good point about the groupthink -- I personally loved your Browner defence. Im from Canada and was really hoping Browner would stick.

Im just worried everyone is set in this mindset that RBS are replacable. In most cases, i very much so agree. Just think Marshawn is a very special player.

Danny Oneill brought up a good point that this week. As much as we say its easy to find Rbs in the draft. It took us about five seasons to re-establish a running game. That might have more to do with the flaws of the Ruskell regime but still, a scary thought for me.

Brandon Adams said...

I really feel there's evidence that Lynch's early-season struggles were a mental thing. He was dancing around a ton, not spotting obvious lanes.

As far as money, I trust John Schneider not to overpay anyone, and I would tend to agree that the current status of the NFL as a passing league makes RB's more fungible. BUT...I don't want to be dogmatic about it, either. It's pretty clear that this front office doesn't cater to conventional NFL wisdom. Does that include the "ZOMG PASS ALL DAY" trend of the league? Is that a bad thing? I don't know. I think that's the real discussion. A run-first approach that's super-consistent does have the benefit of keeping QB's like Aaron Rodgers off the field.

I think the front office has earned a little faith, but I too am intrigued to see what direction the team will be announcing through Lynch's new contract.

Anonymous said...

Good article here and I do agree with your assesment of Lynch. While yes he has been great these past 5 or so games, He is still missing running lanes. If you go back and rewatch the games frame by frame like i do (yes im a football nerd), you can see that our line is creating some big holes that Lynch isn't always running through.

Granted, Lynch fights for every blade of grass on every run, which is great, but... His physical running style doesn't translate to long-term success in the NFL as a RB. Also, He rarely has explosive runs.

Running back is one of the least valuable positions in football, and, quite frankly, one of the easiest positions to find elite talent.

Examples of this are late rounders to UFA's: A. Foster, M. Turner, F. Jackson, F. Gore etc.

Sure it would be great to have Lynch back, but there is no part of me that wants Lynch on a long-term deal

Anonymous said...

This is no run of the mill team. And make no mistake It's Coach Carrolls' team. When he is attacked by the critics they will be politely thanked for their opinion & dismissed.