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!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS PREVIEW: OFFENSE

Gavin: I'm getting a huge adrenaline rush even starting this post, because it means the season is almost underway. After months of having to watch Sonics basketball and Mariner baseball, Seattle sports fans are FINALLY going to get to watch a premier pro team in action. It has been hard, the waiting almost painful at times, but we have perservered, myself through golf, Colin through organizing his stamp/insect collection.

Now, we understand that most of the readers of this site know who the personnel of the Hawks are. We also know that you've (hopefully) read all the previews out at ESPN, CBS, etc. Our goal is (as always) to provide a slightly more unique (i.e. thoughtful and less vapid) analysis of our chances.

If you are new to the Hawks, welcome to our insanity! Good luck keeping track of all this.

Colin, I'm going to throw out Question #1 about the offense to you... how do the Hawks cope with the loss of Steve Hutchinson?

Answer: At first, poorly, but better as the year goes along. It is extremely important to remember that Hutch was out with a broken leg for a large amount of the (remind me, 2003?) season, and the Hawks averaged, per Clark Judge(!), 390 yds per game, with a 464 ypg average the last five games.

The reason I still say poorly is that it takes time for an offensive line to gel together, to learn each others tendencies and play off of those. The stability of the Hawks offensive line the past few years was a gigantic key to their success. Tobeck isn't that special, and neither is Chris Gray, but they perform above themselves when they work as a cohesive unit. It's that simple. You could see inklings of that in the preseason, especially as multiple units had to work together due to injuries to Womack, Jones, and Tobeck. The Hawks offense always seems to take until about Week 3 to get into sync. This season should be no different.

Now, the reason that I say it will improve and be fine in the end is due to the tremendous overall depth of our unit. In reserve is Tom Ashworth, Rob Sims (who made a great impression during camp), and last years first rounder Chris Spencer, who looked dominant at times and inexperienced at others during the preseason. There are people ready to step up in Hutch's absence. Also note that, as much hype as was given to the left side, the Hawks also ran on the RIGHT side with impunity. Wasn't just a left-strong line here.

With all that said, if you look back at the Hawks offseason, the Hutch situation proclaims itself as the first real huge mistake of the Tim Ruskell era. There was zero reason for Ruskell to not franchise Hutch, especially with the revamped salary cap providing a lot more cap room. Ruskell got caught tight-fisted, the Vikings responded, and Hutch left, miffed at Ruskell and Reinfeldt. It was a stupid mistake by the execs, and I sure hope they learned their lesson. An additional $600K is worth it to retain the services of a premier left guard, especially one who, coupled with Jones, created the best left side of an O-Line in the NFL. Stupid, stupid move, and one that could bite us a few times over the course of the season.

However, we struck back with Nate Burleson, our "big" new threat on offense. Gavin, how does the Burleson addition affect one of the top offenses in the NFL?


Gavin: I made you the "italics" man, in a probably inadequate attempt to differentiate our ramblings. I also believe that the loss of Hutchinson is one of the more overhyped stories of the offseason, even if it was a dumb, avoidable move by our front office. If it had been Walter Jones, we would have been jumping out of tall buildings. Luckily, Hutchinson plays this position known as GUARD. It is, easily, the least important position on the offensive line, and in some ways, the entire offense. It is also the easiest to fill, and with, as you mention, the impressive depth we have assembled, we should have a lot of confidence that by Week 5 or so our offensive line will cease being a weekly topic of debate. Remember, it always takes the West Coast offense, predicated so much on precise timing rotues, a few weeks to get cranking, this will just exacerbate it at the beginning. All the more reason for our defense to show improvement, but that's a topic for the next roundtable.

Perhaps I should get around to actually answering your question. Pro Football Talk and other "whisper" sites believe that Burleson has not adapted as quickly as hoped to the Hawk offense, one of the reasons we were reportedly ready to sign Deion Branch last week. I'm not called an optimist for nothing, however. In 2004 Burleson ranked sixth both in DPAR (Defense-adjusted Points Above Replacement) and DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average). In other words, he was more valuable even then Terrell Owens that year (when T.O. was going off for Philly). That level of talent doesn't simply disappear. Minnesota had an abysmal season offensively, with an offensive line that was one of the worst in the league. Burleson's numbers were significantly altered because of these factors. Now, we all are aware of the complexities contained in the West Coast offense. I would not be surprised if it takes Burleson most of the season to become truly comfortable. Remember, even the great Jerry Rice, who had spent his career in the West Coast, couldn't get comfortable a couple of years ago... he was also a geriatric, but that's beside the point.

Burleson is going to be dependent on the other receivers around him, Engram and Jackson, because he will not be able to carry us week in an week out. As a #2 we can get excited, and Burleson provides us the first deep threat we've had in... well... forever. Matt Hasselbeck will actually be able to answer the questions surrounding his deep accuracy. At the least, he should be able to draw a few more deep interference penalties. His hands are solid and his routes and generally clean. The timing is what needs work, and that is just going to take much of the season. We're going to enjoy what we see from him, but only in spurts. Look for about eight million "I finally feel comfortable" articles to be written.

That's the great thing about this offense, Burleson doesn't have to be a huge star, because we already have the NFL MVP. Colin, what's the prediction for Shaun?

Colin: Prediction for Shaun? Is "super-awesome" a prediction? What about "fan-diddily-tastic"? I see no reason not to predict another 15 TD, 1500 yd season from Mr. Touchdown. The offensive line remains solid, he still has Hasselbeck calling correct audibles, Holmgren trusts him fully for the first time in his career, and he still wants to prove that he is a Hall of Fame back. This isn't just about the money for Shaun. He wants to go down as one of the greatest running backs in the history of the game. His running style allows him to survive and avoid tough hits, Mack Strong is back and still amazing.... man, I could list more reasons, but I guess the real note here is that I seriously can't come up with a reason why Shaun would NOT have a big season, though Bill Simmons ranks him as a potential fantasy disappointment (whatever). Shaun has, once again, been given all the tools needed to succeed, and I trust that he will, um, run with that.

Seriously..... give me a reason why not to expect a solid season from him. Anyone. That's really all I have to say about that; Gavin, add something if you want to. I want to backtrack for a second, however. Gavin, you asked me about the departure of Hutch, and that's the departure that's getting all the press. Before the offseason, however, you and I BOTH agreed that our top free agent was Joe Jurevicius, and we failed to resign HIM, as he took a hometown discount to ship off to Cleveland. How much does that hurt?

Gavin: I'm not sure why anyone with sense would pick Shaun as a "fantasy disappointment", except if said person was expecting another NFL touchdown record. In our offense, with his skills, he will again challenge for the NFL rushing title. Ask me again in two years about whether or not he might be considered a disappointment. Just look at the replay of the touchdown run he had against Oakland last Thursday. It was enough to put my doubts to rest.

On to your question. We did state that the top free agent to sign was Joe Jurevicius, who absolutely carried our WR corps at times last year (the St Louis game especially). It's hard to put any kind of a silver lining on the loss. We offered him more money than Cleveland, but the lure was too strong for him. Jurevicius gave us a dependable over-the-middle target, especially in the red zone, evidenced by all the touchdowns. Now? We don't have anyone with his skill set on the roster. I think Holmgren had hoped that Jerramy Stevens would be ready to take over most of those roles, and perhaps Itula Mili (an underrated TE in his own right) can do so. Still, this is my biggest question mark going into the season. We have receivers who struggled with dropped balls. We had one season with a sure handed WR, and the dropped ball phase lifted. Now?? It's the combined question mark of Darrell Jackson's knee and Nate Burleson's experience. Is it a worry? You better believe it. We have to replace the #10 DVOA in the NFL. In my opinion, we need someone else to step up... and that has to be DJ Hackett. Hackett showed signs of brilliance last season, but had serious mental lapses (dropping balls, finishing routes early) that flared up in the Super Bowl. Hasselbeck has shown no reticence in bringing him into the offense, but we need him to be that tall target over the middle. Hackett has all the skills, but needs to put it together. Any other thoughts on the WRs?

If not, how about educating the audience on why the return of Itula Mili is quite the blessing?

Colin: We have serious depth at the WR position, even without Deion Branch. D-Jack is a premier talent. Burleson has the capability to be a premier talent. Engram was our top receiver last year. Hackett has shown flashes of brilliance, and Mann, well, I haven't watched him that much, but I saw him make a few really nice catches against Oakland. This group is deep, fast, and talented, but it does remain to be seen if the dropsies are, truly, a thing of the past.

As for Mili, people might have forgotten with the emergence of Stevens last year, that the main reason why Stevens could never get any playing time was that Mili was always outperforming him, whether in practice or on the field. He was one of Matt's favorite targets down the field, with sure hands and a bruising tendency to knock over a few linebackers after the catch. I was seriously bummed last year when I heard he was going to be out, though that stopped once Stevens started to perform like an actual first round pick. Is Stevens the more talented player as of now? Absolutely. Is Mili a HUGE drop-off for the beginning of the season. Absolutely not.

Alright, Hess. We've touched on the O-Line, the wideouts, and the running backs. That leaves one Matthew Hasselbeck. Thoughts?

Gavin: Besides the huge man-crush I have on him?

Matt Hasselbeck has arrived, ladies and gentlemen. Arrived as a premier quarterback in the NFL. The confidence was already there (at times too much so), but with the improvement in accuracy has come a quarterback who makes good solid decisions and gets the job done. He doesn't force it into coverage nearly as much as normal (that one ball in Super Bowl XL notwithstanding), and really, with all the praise Brett Favre gets for being willing to "take risks" and such, we should acknowledge that Hasselbeck has one of the best ideas for where to put the football as anyone in the league not named Peyton Manning. He ended up 5th in DPAR and 6th in DVOA, and probably would have ended up higher if Shaun didn't take a few of his touchdowns away.

I thought Matt really showed up nationally against the Redskins in the playoffs with Shaun out. He rallied the team against a very good defense and basically carried them into the next round against Carolina. The call to audible to a Mack Strong run showed the confidence he had in his offensive line to move away from the pass, and is indicative of the unselfishness he displays consistently.

Hasselbeck is also one of the best quote machines ever created (along with Robbie Tobeck) and is one of the few pro athletes who can make me laugh on a regular basis. I call Hasselbeck a fantasy sleeper, because he is going to get more TDs this time around, and he was already pretty darn good without them.

Overall, this offense is ridiculously loaded, with depth and talent at every position. There isn't a point of true weakness outside of a few question marks. When it gets clicking, as it will towards the end of the season, it is difficult to stop, just ask the Redskins/Panthers/Steelers.

One other unsung hero Colin didn't mention is Sean Locklear, who looks like he's going to become a star at the other tackle position, another reason why Shaun is going to have success running to either side of the line.

I'm not sure I have any more thoughts. Colin, take us home!

Colin: Nothing really more here to say. This should be one of the top offenses in the NFL, bar none. We have the best quarterback in the NFC, the best running back in the NFL, the best tackle in the NFL, a deep offensive line, and a deep wide receiving corps. Weakness? Adjusting to the absence of Hutch and relearning, perhaps, how not to drop the football. This is part one of a championship roster. Defense/special teams tomorrow!

posted by Gavin @ 1:23 PM  0 comments

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