Crushed Optimists

We are twin brothers who grew up in Central Washington. This blog is devoted to the life of Seattle sports fans, as well as various other topics that we will espouse for your enjoyment. We could be called another OFFICIAL SEATTLE SEAHAWKS site, but we'll take our uneducated crack at the Mariners, Sonics, and Huskies as well. A Seattle Sports Blog? Must be the land... of crushed optimism!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

NFL Preview: YOUR SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Well, it's about time. We've gone through every team and it's all led up to this. Time for the name of the website to shine through. After all, we're Crushed Optimists. Can't be crushed if you're not optimistic. So without further ado...

Seattle Seahawks:
2004 Record: 9-7
Projected 2005 Record By Every Pundit Known To Humankind:
6-10


I steal Colin's little joke to set an important tone for this preview. With as much hype that is surrounding the Cardinals and to a lesser extent the Rams the Hawks have had nothing. We have been forgotten one year after being everyone's sleeper Super Bowl pick outside of Philly. I just don't understand it. As we will see below, the Hawks are the only team that made real wholesale changes to their lineup. Quick rundown:

Arizona - 6-10 - Kurt Warner, JJ Arrington, Chike Okeafor
St Louis - 8-8 - Chris Claiborne, Dexter Coakley
Seattle - 9-7 - Peter Warrick, Joe Jurevicius, Chuck Darby, Lofa Tatupu, Andre Dyson, Kelly Herndon, Bryce Fisher, Jaime Sharper

Hmmm... can we see a difference here? Last year the NFC West was the picture of mediocrity. Everyone got bulldozed by everyone not in the NFC West. St Louis lost to the Miami Dolphins, for crying out loud. So those two teams pretty much hold serve and they're the ones favored? What? This is the kind of Bizarro World preseason prognosticators have been living in. Mediocre teams will remain mediocre.

Here is the solid truth. We had an absolutely fantastic offseason. We entered into it full of uncertainty, reeling from such a disappointing season and with pretty much every good player entering free agency. Everyone's best expectations were to lose at least one of the big three (Shaun Alexander, Matt Hasselbeck, Walter Jones) and most of the second-tier players as well. To retain them all was a minor miracle.

Before getting into all the specifics, huge kudos have to go to owner Paul Allen for the best offseason move... getting rid of Bob Whitsitt. The resulting moves left us with Mike Reinfeldt, Tim Ruskell, and a bunch of high quality acquisitions.

Mike Reinfeldt, you are the man. We had a hugely successful offseason because you, in the midst of so much turmoil, signed Walter Jones and Matt Hasselbeck to long term deals that were most definitely not outrageous. That allowed us to do whatever we wanted with Shaun Alexander, and put him into a "must perform" box for the 2005 season.

Tim Ruskell, you are the man. You have gotten rid of a ton of dead weight and replaced them with exciting talent. You have shown yourself to be one hell of a talent scout and I'm excited to see these players in action.

We finally, as Hawks fans, can have confidence in the front office. They made all these decisions that made sense! What do you know?! That's why I'm so pumped about this team... I believe in the strategy so much. This strategy is apparent in the following...

Key Losses: WR Koren Robinson, DT Rocky Bernard, DT Cedric Woodard, DE Chike Okeafor, LB Orlando Huff, CB Ken Lucas, LB Anthony Simmons, LB Chad Brown, T Chris Terry

Key Additions: WR Peter Warrick, WR Joe Jurevicius, DT Chuck Darby, LB Lofa Tatupu, CB Andre Dyson, CB Kelly Herndon, DE Bryce Fisher, LB Jaime Sharper

What did we get rid of? Injury problems and attitude problems. Chris Terry was a loser. Koren Robinson dropped every pass thrown his way and dealt with serious alcohol issues. Rocky Bernard and Cedric Woodard were just bad tackles. Chike Okeafor (as Colin wrote yesterday) was simply not an impact player. Orlando Huff was a terrible linebacker. Ken Lucas was a loss, but wore down as the year went on, and also was bad in run defense. Anthony Simmons (attitude) and Chad Brown just were always injured. This is what I call a significant overhaul and why I believe the Hawks can improve on their 9-7 mark.

Offense:

Quarterback: I almost did a backflip when we resigned Matt Hasselbeck, but restrained myself when I remembered that I'm an unathletic nerd. Still, Hasselbeck is the heart of our offense, as shown in both of our last playoff games. Shaun Alexander disapperaed, Hasselbeck shone. He will make big plays, and now that he has receivers that will actually catch the damn ball his numbers have nowhere to go but up. Hasselbeck still has the tendency of trying to do too much, but forces far fewer than in past years. Another current weakness is his ability to pick up the blitz at the line of scrimmage... he needs some improvement in that area. Arm strength isn't his forte, and Hasselbeck will never throw the prettiest deep ball. Still, he's the perfect QB for the West Coast offense. He is very accurate in short routes (why all the drops suck). Slants hit receivers in stride and my favorite Hasselbeck throw is when he hits Jackson running full speed down the seam. This is our team MVP. If he is what he can be (not perfect, but what he has been) our offense will be very productive indeed.
Backup: Seneca Wallace showed during the preseason that he can at least be as good as a Jeff Garcia of Jeff George. He has mobility and had much better pocket discipline. Although we hope never to see him on the field, we are not screwed (ala Chicago) if he does have to take some snaps.

Running Back: All right, I admit it. I'm not a huge Shaun Alexander fan. I've seen him run for a few years now and so am well acquainted with his warts. He is a terrible pass blocker, who allows defenses to game plan based on what package Maurice Morris is in. Even in preseason game number one he allowed a blitzing linebacker up the middle to lay the wood on Hasselbeck. People criticize his pass catching ability and he did have some issues last year, but I don't buy it. I think he's fine out of the backfield, and we screen very effectively. My favorite Alexander flaw is the "third and one". That's when we NEVER pick up third and one with Shaun, forcing Holmgren to use Mack Strong in those situations. That's absurd. Still, there is no one better than Alexander at finding the end zone. He is an absolute fiend in the red zone. Shaun also did run harder in most other situations, and was rewarded with a career high in rushing yards. Basically, there was nothing available in free agency that would have been an improvement, so I'm glad we kept him around, and I love the situation. He has one year to prove to Ruskell that he's worth the money. Let's see what that inspires him to do. He was already the best back in the NFC West. Let's make it the best back in the NFL.
Backup: Maurice Morris has been a decent backup for the past few years. Don't see why that changes now. He blocks well and can pick up yards if given the ball. Has huge problems catching the ball, though.

Wide Receivers: Oh, how this group let us down last year. We thought the tandem of Jackson, Robinson, and Engram would be elite. We forgot that Koren Robinson was a basket case and he dragged our entire squad down with him. This year we have had an entire offseason of tranquility and ended up with a far superior squad, especially with the significant recent addition of Peter Warrick. Warrick gives us the gamebreaker speed that we have lacked, and if he can regain the 70+ catch form of two years ago will help Hasselbeck reach the Pro Bowl. Darrell Jackson is a #1 receiver, and was more consistent as the year went along. Hopefully he'll not let his contract dispute affect his performance. Bobby Engram is most effective in the slot, but showed glimpses in the preseason of being an effective outside receiver as well. Joe Jurevicius gives Hasselbeck a tall target over the middle, and he will catch everything thrown his way. Frankly, I see this corps as the "Sonics" of wide receivers. Just like the Sonics, we can throw out multiple combinations lined up at different positions. Should be interesting.

Offensive Line: What a solid group we have. T Walter Jones is the best tackle in the league and we've finally had him for an entire training camp. G Steve Hutchinson has been recognized as a Pro Bowl performer and together we have what could be the strongest left side of an o-line in the entire league. C Robbie Tobeck is on his last legs, but is a strong leader on the line and in the locker room. Of course we're excited about C Chris Spencer, who gives us depth in case Tobeck goes down. On the right side we have G Chris Gray, who really isn't all that great, and if T Sean Locklear performs well in the first three weeks we might see G/T Floyd Womack replace him. Womack is a solid contributor and actually has a position now. Locklear has impressed the coaching staff but has to be seen as a question mark while Womack recovers from his injury. Together they open up large holes for Alexander. They are susceptible to the delayed blitz, although they made good adjustments as the season went along.
Bench: Have to like our depth here as well, with Locklear and Spencer we can plug holes with as little loss of productivity as possible, although if Jones or Hutch go down we will suffer.

Defense: This was the main reason why we weren't 12-4. The defense couldn't stop anyone, especially when it counted. That's why all the changes have been made. This defense has the talent to make large improvements.

D-Line: Whether or not this line makes the improvements necessary will completely depend on health, because the depth is weak. The starters should actually be fairly impressive. Chartric Darby has been the best offseason acquisition so far, solidifying the middle with a resurgent Marcus Tubbs, who hopefully can begin to touch his great potential. He has been a serious beast in the preseason, creating havoc at the point of attack. We haven't had that since John Randle. Bryce Fisher is basically a total replacement of Chike Okeafor. He is still a little undersized and will have issues being an every down player. Grant Wistrom is the key. When he went down last year our pass rush went down the crapper. He is our pass rush and can be the heart of the whole defense. We need him whole, sacking the quarterback (Mark Bulger), and making plays. The depth, as I said before, is worrisome. If anyone goes down this d-line could be in trouble.

Linebackers: By far our weakest spot last season and the reason for so many losses. Isaiah K (who is inexplicably back for another go-around, but at least at roster spot #53) was famous for being on TV only when taking the wrong route to the ball carrier and giving up huge gains. We built our corps last year around Anthony Simmons and Chad Brown, who then both got hurt... again. Our reserves were porous and dumb... zone passing defense was awful, allowing all those third and long slant completions. So what have we done to fix it? Start with the addition of Jaime Sharper. Sharper hasn't missed a game in six years, and has 100+ tackles in all those seasons. He is smart and attacks the ball. While he didn't have the greatest preseason, we have to love what he brings to this defense. In the middle is the most exciting rookie on the team, Lofa Tatupu, who has shown smarts that could be Bruschi-esque. While undersized, the coaches have fallen in love with the routes to the ball he runs and his skills in coverage. I care so much about that damn coverage... looking forward to seeing what Tatupu can do. Niko Koutivides has also impresed this preseason and will provide decent depth. The other backer is probably going to be DD Lewis, who missed all of last year. He has speed and athleticism, but has to be seen as a question mark. Rookie Leroy Hill has been solid as well, and I look forward to seeing him quite a bit too. So while there are plenty of questions, I think the talent is there at linebacker far more then in previous years.

Secondary: The strength of our defense, hands down. This is the best secondary in the NFC West, and only Philly can challenge them in the NFC. Marcus Trufant, who inexplicably led our team in tackles last season, is back for a third year and has turned into a top tier corner. He is a shutdown guy, and has worked hard on not gambling too often. Losing Ken Lucas (Carolina paid WAY too much money) seemed like a blow at the time, but we replaced him with Andre Dyson and Kelly Herndon. Dyson is smaller as well, but is a fighter and was the second corner in a great Titans defense. Everyone wanted Herndon this offseason and we got him. Suffice it to say... we have three starting corners, which is fantastic for going up against teams like St Louis. All three are good in run defense as well (unlike Lucas). If we can generate good pressure with our front four, the corners should help shut down opposing quarterbacks. The safeties are fantastic as well. 2004 MVP Michael Boulware saved us about four wins last year with big turnovers. He has a knack for being around the ball and I'm looking forward to a full year of him at safety after being converted from linebacker. Ken Hamlin is a hitter and an enforcer. Both will pick off the ball when given the chance. Both should be used as blitzers (worked great against Arizona). Both will get beaten deep... so we will need to hope that the corners help cover for that. Depth is again an issue, although I like Marquand Manuel.

Special Teams: K Josh Brown is good on field goals, with excellent distance. However, his distance on kickoffs was abysmal, allowing opposition good field position all the time. That has to improve this season. Our coverage on kickoff and punts was pretty darn bad too. Basically, no matter what, the opposing team started at the 35 yard line or better. New punter Leo Araguz has to at least be better than how bad we were last season. He's looked pretty good in the preseason. Alex Bannister hopefully will prove his worth in sticking around (since he's a crappy WR) and be a Pro Bowl performer again. Peter Warrick should provide a huge spark in the punt return game as well. We could use a large improvement in this facet of our game.

Overhyped Myth: Shaun Alexander is not the second best running back in the league. He is in the top ten. His problems with blocking and picking up hard yards put a bad taste in my mouth. If he cannot sustain drives, especially when we are trying to run out the clock we will have more terrible losses like last year.

Understated Reality: This is it for Alexander and Holmgren. If they don't produce, they won't be around next season. There are no expectations surrounding this team, no heightened outside pressure. They can just go about their business. If they don't, we will have changes.

General Prognosis: This is a very good team. A top 10 offense and a top 16 defense. We should easily be better than others in our division (although we have to actually beat the Rams before we can fully state that). Ruskell has done an excellent job bringing in good young exciting talent. I look for the Hawks to surprise a lot of people, improve on their win total of a year ago and take the NFC West.

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: Sept. 18 vs Atlanta... Not only because I'll be at this game, but because Atlanta was the #1 rushing team in the league next year. If we can stop them, our defense is where it needs to be for us to take the West.

posted by Gavin @ 2:20 PM  0 comments

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