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!

Friday, September 29, 2006

Week Four: HAWKS at Chicago

Here we go... what could easily be called the biggest game of the season. It is just plain nutty that is the case, but when so many teams have been disappointing out of the gate in the NFC, it is the truth. Colin will (poorly, more than likely) go into this next week in his much-anticipated Land O' Conclusions (again, poorly, remember this), but there have been basically two teams in the NFC right now that look like they could win a playoff game. Chicago and Seattle. Everyone else has giant question marks (although Dallas gets a little bit of a break since they've only played two games).

Who has the easiest schedules as well? Chicago and Seattle. After this game, the Hawks have exactly three games on the schedule where I wouldn't be surprised if they lost, and I'm stretching this a bit. At St. Louis, At Kansas City, and At Denver (I think both San Diego and Seattle will have wrapped up playoff berths by Dec. 24, and it's at home). In other words, these are two teams who more than likely will both end up 13-3 and with first round byes. Whoever holds the tie breaker will hold the advantage in the NFC Championship Game. If Chicago goes to Qwest Field, they will be destroyed, as recent Seahawks convert Bill Simmons said (finally): "For one thing, they have the only discernable home-field advantage in the NFL right now. It's impossible to win there. The crowd won't allow it, and they're the only team that can definitively say this." Look, I try to compare crowd noise when I watch other NFL games, and it's not even close. Qwest Field is an absolute nut house right now and we want the Bears to come to us in late January. I also don't want to have to consider buying a plane ticket to Chicago, because I'll probably go.

With the importance fully established, let's move on to a really difficult preview. Straight up, I'll mention that I have absolutely no idea what to look forward to in this game. In the playoffs last year Colin and I could look at the statistics and our experience from watching the season and pretty much knew what the strategies would be. This time? No clue.

Five "Gut" Reasons for Optimism

1. The "Patrick Ewing" corollary. Seattle and Maurice Morris have gotten an entire week of "what will you be without Shaun" questions, and I'm sure the offensive line especially would like to reintroduce the league to Seahawk football. Often teams can ride this wave for one game, and I think we may see something like this (and yes, I think Mo Morris is WAY better than Nick Goings).

2. Morris plays into a probable game plan better than Shaun anyways. What are Morris' strengths? Catching the ball out of the backfield and blocking. While we will miss Shaun's running abilities (man, will we ever), Morris will give the Bears yet another possibility to account for in that four wide receiver set, because he won't drop balls like Shaun, who could use some lessons from Michael Boulware on how to catch the damn football.

3. Four wide receivers who can easily beat you. Yes, I know the Bears have a decent secondary, but they're really going to have to commit to getting to Hasselbeck in order to force us out of the formation. Any week we will have a mismatch. I don't remember Ricky Manning Jr having this amazing game against worse talent last year when we blasted Carolina. This is what's so nuts about this lineup. You can have two top tier corners, alright, you've covered Darrell Jackson and Deion Branch. Now the #3 covers Nate Burleson (mismatch) and the #4 covers Bobby friggin' Engram (big mismatch). I don't see how Engram doesn't have several big games in this scheme.

4. Teams do not beat the Hawks only rushing four. I know in the nice exchange Field Gulls had with his Chicago counterpart that's what the strategy was stated as being. I'd like to see how that works. The Giants tried it, and we sliced them up. There's only one x-factor, and I'll get into that in the pessimism section. It is true, though, our offensive line will protect against a front four, and if Hasselbeck has time he rarely misses a receiver. With the type of quick drops he utilized against the Giants as well, it can get frustrating for a pass rushed like Michael Strahan (just reread his quotes after the game) to take three steps, and the pass is already out and complete for a seven yard gain.

5. Hasselbeck is good on the road. Although many of our key performers enjoy making crucial mistakes the road, Hasselbeck (outside of the Jacksonville game to start last season) keeps himself under control and only a few quarterbacks have a better road rating the past few years. If the game is going to be on his shoulders (and I would be shocked if it wasn't) he has the track record to step up.

Five "Gut" Reasons for Pessimism

1. I noticed I went through all five reasons for optimism without mentioning our defense, so my first "Pessimism" will be a joint effort. Our defense has faced in consecutive weeks Anquan Boldin/Larry Fitzgerald and Plaxico Burress/Amani Toomer. Exactly why should we be concerned with Muhsin Muhammed and company? Because I think our secondary still can be a place of weakness, and just because it hasn't bit us yet doesn't mean it won't.

2. I'm concerned we might stack the line to stop the run and let Grossman wing it. That would be a mistake and unlike how we've been successful in the past. Let's not get cute. We play a base defense and win games. Our linebackers are fast enough to cover the gaps. Still, Chicago has a darn good offensive line and I'm concerned about our ability to shut down holes or rush the passer.

3. Chicago has a good defense. Perhaps you've heard of them?

4. The aforementioned pass rush x-factor. If there's one time a team's gotten consistent pressure on us using only the front four, it was Detroit in the form of mega-demon Shaun Rogers. Chicago has the next best thing in Tommie Harris, who blew past that Steve Hutchinson guy (I think you remember him) to force the game-clinching turnover last week. Tommie Harris vs Chris Spencer could make or break this game.

5. We've forced way too many turnovers the first few games... I think the law of probabilities is about ready to go against us (remember how many Cincinnati had last year at the beginning before remembering that their defense sucked?).

It's All About The Stats

1. When you hear all the pundits drone about how the Hawks have such a bad running game right now, remember this... the Bears have been worse. Now, this is early season stuff obviously, and teams have stacked the line, but the numbers don't lie. Chicago has a Power Success (short yardage situations) of an abysmal 33% compared to the sterling 100% from Seattle, and a Stuffed percentage of 31% (compared to a last week second half induced 29% from the Hawks). The Bears have been this bad going against Green Bay, Detroit and Minnesota, so it's not like Tampa Bay or Denver. I'm surprised this hasn't been a bigger storyline. In fact, you know who's been better running the football? Arizona. We did alright against that passing attack.

2. The bad news... Chicago's only given up two sacks all season. Again, if we can't get pressure on Rex Grossman, we're in trouble, because he will make bad throws and give Ken Hamlin the ability to make interceptions (or at least try vainly to catch a ball).

3. Check out the Team Defense DVOA (and yes, this does take into account the fourth quarter)... Chicago (-22.2%), Seattle (-22.0%). Against the run it's CHI (-27.8%) and SEA (-28.8%). Against the pass it's CHI (-18.0%) and SEA (-18.1%). In other words, statistically these defenses have been IDENTICAL. That is a ridiculous assessment, especially again, considering this does take into account our nice Prevent defense in the 4th quarter last week. Again, Detroit/Green Bay/Minnesota vs Detroit/Arizona/NY Giants. Who's played better? In fact, which defense is better right now?

4. If we want to focus on Chicago's passing attack, currently Muhsin Muhammed is ranked #2 in DPAR, while Bertrand Berrian is at #24. Let's compare that to Arizona, which has Larry Fitzgerald at #12 and Anquan Boldin at #22. So on one hand, we shouldn't underrate what Chicago's done through the air so far, but on the other hand, Fitzgerald and Boldin have had two consecutive bad games and are still ranked that high, so the Hawks did a good job keeping them in check (Amani Toomer's #6 right now as well).

5. I know, it's hard, but our special teams have been and continue to be abysmal. Chicago, on the other hand, has the #1 special teams unit in the league in DVOA by a large margin. In a slug-it-out defensive battle, that really matters. We cannot allow field position to be dictated in such a way, but I've seen nothing to indicate we will do anything but continue to be pushed around.

If our defense plays as well as they have this year so far, we win this game. If Chris Spencer wins the battle with Tommie Harris, we win this game. I'm leaning with Colin in the whole "we have to lose sometime, might as well be this one" camp, but there are several legitimate reasons why we win, and I can't wait for Sunday night.

posted by Gavin @ 1:31 PM  1 comments


At 8:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a lot of merit to Ewing Theory (see 2001 Seattle Mariners), I'm glad you brought it up as a reason for optimism.


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