Sunday, December 26, 2010

Hawks Holiday Wishlist

In an effort to share the holiday spirit with my readers, I created a wishlist as my week 16 preview for Sunday's road game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Included are a few thoughts about week 15's hard fought loss to the Atlanta Falcons and how the team can improve going forward…

The first 27:55: The Seahawks proved they can start a game with the fourth quarter mentality against Atlanta, as the first 27:55 minutes of football against the Falcons was a highly competitive, even game. The Seahawks played with a "toughness, energy" that is exemplary of what Coach Carroll wants from his players, but has yet to see on a consistent basis; despite poor spots, two horrific bounces on back to back Atlanta fumbles and a Falcons team that brought their A game, the 'Hawks hung tough. It is imperative the Seahawks bring the same energy and focus to Tampa Bay in week 16, as the Bucs are out for blood after a crushing home defeat to the Lions last week.

Another 4th and 1: On the Falcons first drive Matt Ryan converted a 4th and 1 at the Seahawks 17 yard line on a quarterback sneak. I re-watched that play ten times, or more, and Lofa Tatupu delivered his best hit of the season in stopping Ryan; Tatupu baited Ryan into a "bubble" over the Left Guard to sneak forward, but timed Ryan's snap count perfectly and filled the bubble with 2005 like explosiveness. The Seahawks thought they had stopped Ryan and the announcers agreed. I did, too. The Seahawks displayed a newly found backbone, especially against the run, in this game for almost a half that got broken only because the Falcons are an elite football team. The Seahawks defense needs to convert on any 4th downs that may occur against Tampa, as the Falcons went 2/2 on their opening touchdown drive, not letting the Seahawks hold the lead.

Ho Ho Hasselbeck: Matt Hasselbeck has been practicing the gift of giving this holiday season with 13 turnovers in the last four games, 8 in the past two. All three of his turnovers against Atlanta, including the amateurish fumble in the endzone, were the result of Hasselbeck trying to be a Quarterback he is not; a big armed, mobile Quarterback. He must be the distributer and practice the gift of giving to his receivers, not opposing defenses.

The first drive: The Seahawks first drive against the Falcons supplanted the final scoring drive against Carolina as the drive of the year; 12 plays, 80 yards in 7:32 on the game's first offensive possession. Hasselbeck distributed the ball in the horizontal passing game involving Cameron Morrah and Mike Williams; Mike Gibson showed why he was moved to Right Guard, paving the way for his college teammates Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett to run the football. The Seahawks showed great balance and used the sidelines to open the middle of the field for the power running game; The Seahawks need to use more more of this and less of the forced, downfield passing game that resulted in 3 turnovers against Atlanta.

Earn everything: It's posted on the tunnel where the Seahawks come onto the field; it's one of Carroll's main mantras. This is a time, more than ever, where the Carroll needs to hold his players accountable and be willing to make changes.

  1. Practice should have been a 50-50 split at quarterback this week. Hasslebeck needs to earn his job, not have it be assured to him. Whitehurst showed progress against the Falcons; his roll out pass to John Carlson and consecutive goal line runs showed athleticism and fortitude. I wish for Hasselbeck to be on a very short leash in Tampa Bay; if he gives the Bucs opportunities, the Seahawks shouldn't hesitate to give the ball to Whitehurst.
  2. Cornerback Kelly Jennings continued to struggle mightily last week. Kennard Cox struggled early, getting burned on the Michael Jenkins touchdown catch that was mostly Rookie Safety Kam Chancellor's mistake; Cox played his area of the field well, while Chancellor completely misplayed his deep coverage assignment. With Marcus Trufant back this week, Cox deserves 5-10 plays on defense; try him as a blitzer, a role more similar to special teams or in press coverage against a secondary receiver.
  3. Linebacker Will Herring played very well last week, especially in coverage against Tony Gonzalez, often at the line of scrimmage or around the first down marker. This week, Tight End Kellen Winslow provides another test for the Seahawks Linebackers and Herring needs remain in the game plan.
  4. Simply put, the Seahawks have committed too many penalties on defense, especially on third downs, that have led to opponents' scoring opportunities; the only Sack on Matt Ryan last week was negated by an Aaron Curry facemask penalty. Players need to take responsibility for their mistakes and focus on clean football
Jordan Babineaux: One of the longest tenured Seahawks, the versatile Safety needs to be a primary factor for the Seattle defense in the season's final weeks; he can cover, play run defense and blitz off the edges. He is a smart, high energy player and an experienced leader; remember his shoe string, season saving tackle on Tony Romo's botched extra point hold in January of 2007? "Big play Babs" needs to make a difference for the young, struggling Seahawks secondary.

7-series holiday event: Big Mike Williams got rolling again last week, receiving 14 targets, and was a full participant in practice this past week. Buccaneers All Pro Cornerback Ronde Barber gives 8 inches to Williams and struggled last week versus the 6'5 Calvin Johnson. The Seahawks need to isolate Williams on Barber in short yardage and red zone situations, creating a dependable extension to the running game and be willing to use short receptions to set up bigger plays. Barber is a technician and possible future Hall of Famer, but he is 35 years old. This is a matchup the Seahawks need to not abandon this Sunday.

Olindo Mare: The Seahawks kicker was thrown under the bus by Coach Jim Mora last season after missing a field goal in an early season loss against the Bears; since then, Mare has quietly been one of the NFL's most consistent kickers. The Seahawks rode the leg of Josh Brown into the playoffs for multiple years of the Mike Holmgren regime and will depend on Mare to provide a similar sure-footedness the remainder of the season.

Four: The Seahawks need to earn a complete football game, one that is decided inside the final two minutes because both teams have fought and executed. Earl Thomas sealed the week 3 victory over the San Diego Chargers with a ball hawking pass deflection in the final seconds, the only game this team has truly had to compete for 60 minutes to seal the win, or the loss.

The Seahawks can't be considered a playoff team; they must win a four quarter football game before anyone can legitimately speak of them as contenders, or even a rising team. They have proven you can't win a game in the first quarter, but you can certainly lose it in the 2nd, 3rd and especially the 4th. Yes, if the 49ers beat the Rams, Sunday's game in Tampa becomes all the more important. To bench any starters in this situation would be foolish, especially as an organization that wants to win championships. They believe they are better than we, media or fans, have for weeks; number one on my Seahawks wish list for the holiday season is for this team to show us what they believe they've got for a full 60 minutes; just one game that follows the formula and uses a little holiday spirit to turn hype into hope.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hawks blindsided in the bay, NFC leading Falcons flying in fast: Part 2

For an analysis on the Seahawks' mindset and a preliminary game preview for week 15, scroll down or follow the link on the right!

The Atlanta Falcons bring the NFC's best record to Qwest in week 15 for a highly anticipated late season matchup that has playoff implications for both teams. Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll has given nothing but praise to the Falcons organization this week; "Obviously you can tell I'm impressed with what they are doing—they epitomize what you look for in this league." The Falcons take care of the football, have a balanced offense, consistent special teams and solid defense. "Across the board, a formula for winning; a team that is having success in a type of formula we regard highly." The Seahawks are simply hoping to play hard and rebound from a disappointing loss to San Francisco; The Falcons come here expecting to be the first NFC team to clinch a playoff spot.

Flying high

The Falcons come in as winners of seven in a row, four of the seven wins coming in fourth quarter comebacks. Led by third year stud Quarterback Matt Ryan, they are one of the NFL's dangerous, young teams. In their third year under Head Coach Mike Smith, the Falcons have become one of the league's consistent game finishers, led by Ryan's 13 career game wining drives. On Sunday, they hope to finish their three game road trip, 3-0, in a celebratory fashion; expectations are on the Falcons as one of the teams being picked to play in February. Simply put, they are a team that is good enough to carry the weekly expectation of competing at the highest level. A pesky, inconsistent Seahawks team is just another weekly challenge, but likely victim.

Bring out the best

Coach Pete Carroll's message to his team this week was clear; "we are calling on a tremendous week of preparation for our best shot at them, we have to find our game and get clean; it's a matchup that calls to be the best you can." Matt Hasselbeck describes the Falcons as a team that is exemplary of what the Seahawks believe they can become.

The Seahawks have shown great potential, only to be undone by major mental lapses and injuries; only two Seahawks games have been decided by 10 points or less, both victories; the Falcons are 8-1 in games decided by that margin. The Seahawks seven losses have all been blowouts and the season can be described as inconsistency in "grand fashion," a quality Safety Lawyer Milloy called "not good, at all" earlier in the week.

Coach Carroll has acknowledged his team is not capable of consistently performing to the level they had hoped, yet the team is in the thick of a division race. A team not ready for January football has a rare chance to get hot in December and sneak into the playoffs. Carroll explained to his players Wednesday morning this is a playoff game. This is the type of team that you have to beat to advance in the playoffs. Were in a playoff situation; it's win or go home. The Seahawks need compete with their 4th quarter mentality for 60 minutes Sunday.

Four offensive factors

Protect Hasselbeck and protect the ball, part 2: Coach Carroll noted after the Carolina victory that poor ball security could, but had not yet, cost the team a game; Matt Hasselbeck had one of his worst games as a pro last week, turning the ball over five times, validating Carroll's sentiment. This week, Hasslebeck faces an opportunistic and aggressive defense that has 17 interceptions, among the best in the league. The Falcons secondary has been improving in recent weeks, playing more press coverage and winning the battle at the line of scrimmage against opposing receivers; the Seahawks must win the battle versus the Falcons shorter corners, as both Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu are expected back. Coordinator Jeremy Bates called Hasselbeck a "true pro;" Hasselbeck took the poor performance personally and is eager to bounce back. Bates will not reign back the offense as aggressive is his M.O.; Hasselbeck needs to consistently make the smart throw, aggressively, in a game that will ultimately be used to evaluate his status as the starter this coming off season.

Bait the defense: The Falcons run defense had been a top 10 unit until allowing 100 yard rushers the past two games, both road games. The defense thrives on maintaining gap discipline, a strong "read and react" unit; they find the football. They were outwardly frustrated this week with the struggles against the run and are focused on attacking the line of scrimmage, playing physical and disciplined run defense. Offensive Coordinator Jeremy Bates has an opportunity to attack the Falcons, baiting them into over pursing the run, setting up the play action pass on 2nd and 3rd downs. If the Seahawks can get themselves into 2nd and 5 situations, there is opportunity for big plays; throwing on first down from "21" and "22" or running from "20" will help keep the Atlanta defense off balance by breaking tendency and "mixing" formations. The Seahawks need to counter the Falcons discipline with creative play calling if they want to consistently move the football.

More Offensive Line changes: After three games in a row starting the same five linemen, it's time for more change. Veteran Left Guard Chester Pitts returns to the lineup for the Seahawks after a three game absence, replacing 3rd year player Mike Gibson; Gibson is being moved to Right Guard, replacing 6'7, 340 pound Veteran Shawn Andrews, who has started 12 games at the position this year. Gibson is a smart, hard working lineman that plays with attitude. The shift says more to me about Gibson than it does Pitts, who has been expected to play the left side with Russell Okung since the preseason, or Andrews; Gibson has clearly made an impression on Offensive Line Coach Art Valero, enough to bench a well respected, pre season acquisition. The Seahawks are sacrificing continuity for potential on the right side of the line, a move that will be under scrutiny Sunday.

Attack Abraham: Defensive end John Abraham has been one of the league's most consistent edge rushers for the past decade, with over 100 career sacks. He has already achieved double digit sacks this season and his presence allows the Falcons defense to focus an extra man on stopping the run or vary their coverage and blitzes. The Seahawks can attack Abraham, who is not a stout "point of attack" defender against the run, using two back formations with Michael Robinson as the lead back. Furthermore, rookie Sean Weatherspoon plays the Strongside linebacker position behind Abraham and has struggled the last four games returning from a knee injury. The Seahawks need to neutralize Abraham and force the Falcons to adjust their pass rush.

Four defensive factors

Stay on balance: The Falcons offense displays a unique balance that is driven by an efficient quarterback, power running game, the leagues #2 third down conversion percentage and #4 turnover margin. Coach Carroll explained, "Put it all together, it's a powerful, potent offense. And if you can't adjust, Coordinator Mike Malarkey will hammer it home." Last week, the Seattle defense produced a staggering statistic: The Seahawks allowed 227 of 336 total yards on 6 of the 56 defensive plays. The Seahawks played very good defense except for six "physical breakdowns and missed opportunities to corral the football." The Seahawks must stay both balanced and aggressive, not allowing the Falcons to "ball control" the defense onto its heels and capitalize on the big play.

A lethal connection: Matt Ryan is one of the most polished and consistent young quarterbacks in the NFL; Roddy White leads the NFL with 99 catches. Ryan has the ability to throw to all areas of the field and is particularly dangerous working with White "outside the numbers," 15-30 yards down the field. Ryan has good recognition against the blitz and has great anticipation and chemistry with his receivers, especially on 3rd downs; his poise in the pocket allows him to throw precise sideline, timing routes or fit the ball in a small window over the middle. If the Seahawks are to get the Falcons offense off the field on 3rd down they must find a way to take away one side of the field, from the numbers to the sideline. Marcus Trufant struggled greatly against the Giants' Hakeem Nicks defending sideline, timing routes and Kelly Jennings continues to look confused and overmatched, especially in press coverage. The Seahawks need to bracket White with the deep defender taking away the outside; both forcing White to primarily work inside and minimizing Ryan's ability to make his preferred throw. Ryan will look towards his second target Tight End Tony Gonzalez, forcing throws over the middle and giving the Seahawks opportunities; Linebackers Aaron Curry and Will Herring need to be utilized in containing Gonzalez. Ryan is turning into a great player, but he overly features his preferred targets. Limiting White and Gonzalez, especially on third down, is of the utmost importance for the Seahawks to be competitive against the Falcons.

Contain the running game: The Seahawks need to focus on minimizing, not stopping, the Falcons diverse power rushing attack that is led by Runningback Michael Turner. Coordinator Mike Malarkey uses a variety of formations to engineer a diverse, balanced and consistent run game. The Falcons offensive line has gained experience and created a continuity playing together that is rare in the modern NFL; they have worked together under Head Coach Mike Smith for the majority of three seasons. The unit ranks in the top 10 in yards, touchdowns and first downs over both sides of the line, while the right side is especially prolific; the right side is among the leagues best in consistently gaining positive yards and first downs. Colin Cole and Brandon Mebane need to play stout inside and the Seahawks must adjust quickly to find the right combinations of lineman and linebackers; 5-2-4 is a defensive formation I believe the Seahawks can use to offset the running game, only if the Seahawks are willing to rotate linebackers. Additionally, backup Jason Snelling is used as an extension of the running game in the short passing game, a crucial secondary factor the Seahawks must continually be aware of. They need to use the entire defensive playbook if they are going to slow down the Falcons.

Falcons Wide Receivers vs Seahawks Cornerbacks: The falcons entire receiving corps is 6'0 or taller; the Seahawks have one Cornerback, Kennard Cox, who is 6'0. As Roy Lewis is a game-time decision and Walter Thurmond is most likely out, Cox will see time on defense, something I have advocated for at times in the past five weeks. He played well filling in for Thurmond in Oakland and blocked a punt against the Chiefs. He needs to tackle well and use his physicality against the Falcons secondary receivers, red zone target Brian Finneran and speedster Harry Douglas. Secondary depth has been an Achilles heel for the Seahawks this season and Cox has an opportunity to provide unexpected depth.

Three less obvious factors

Do the Seahawks take the ball if they win the toss: The Seahawks offense is more reliable than the defense; the Falcons are fully capable of taking control of the game with a six minute, opening drive touchdown. If possible, I want to see the Seahawks take the ball instead of deferring, with the intention of starting the second half strong; they need to create the momentum, not let the Falcons control from the start; if on defense, they must get off the field in less than six plays, no points, as more than two first downs for the Falcons will let the offense begin to find a rhythm.

Go Go Gadget Flow: Jeremy Bates has shown gadget plays are a part of his offensive repertoire; Leon Washington has attempted multiple halfback passes and Michael Robinson ran a successful wildcat play, with Hasselbeck split wide, versus the 49ers. Bates likes to use the versatility of his offensive players, but Bates needs to not outsmart himself; a quick developing trick play that uses a handoff then throw, such as a Wide Receiver reverse and throw instead of a play that slowly develops with two backwards passes, would qualify as the smart, aggressive balance Bates looks for in running the offense. A "gadget" play turnover against the Falcons would be among the Season's most boneheaded mistakes.

Special teams: Both teams are strong on Special Teams; The Seahawks are very explosive in the return game while the Falcons players are phenomenal in maintaining their "lanes" covering kickoffs and punts— more so than other games, a trick play for the Seahawks is a possibility. Furthermore, both teams have strong all around kicking games. The Special Teams battle will be a factor in deciding this game

Get to the 4th quarter

Coach Carroll has continually stressed competing in the 4th quarter, possibly too much, as a key part of his "formula." Unfortunately the Seahawks have had very few competitive games in the 4th quarter, a lack of experience that Carroll acknowledged is concerning. The Falcons have plenty of fourth quarter experience, as they fought their way through tough 4th quarters in the early part of the season and learned how to separate from teams as the season progressed.

There is one 4th quarter moment that stands out in my mind; The Chiefs' Jamaal Charles 3 yard touchdown run is a play I highlighted in my post Seahawks waive white flag vs. Chiefs, as it
is exemplary of the Seahawks' season long struggles, with two missed tackles in the backfield and a Seahawk at the bottom of the pile in the end zone; down three heading into "their" quarter, the Seahawks meekly let the game slip from their grasp.

The consequences of that play remain clear; the defense is still broken, too damaged for the offense to make up the difference. Sunday, the defense needs to earn itself a similar situation; the game on the line, in the 4th quarter, a chance to change the consequences.

No Seahawks fan can be rightfully upset at this point; the team is playing below their expectations, similar to Coach Carroll's first year at USC, but is tied for the division lead. The Seahawks are nearly 300 roster moves removed from last year's pathetic week 15 loss to the Buccaneers; the fact that this team won't quit Sunday is refreshing, even exciting.

Coach Carroll on Wednesday, "I won't back off of where or what we can be for a second. That's the mindset they will hear and must have-- This is where we can go and we're on our way." The only way they will get there is for Carroll to aid his players in creating the results of clean, competitive football; the Falcons provide an excellent canvas for reflection on Sunday.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hawks blindsided in the bay, NFC leading Falcons flying in fast: Part 1

The Seahawks traveled to San Francisco in week 14 for a pivotal division matchup; feeling confident and prepared for a crucial opportunity to separate themselves from the division, the Seahawks never displayed the attitude and discipline they intended to build upon from the prior week. They allowed another first drive touchdown to the opponent and were behind the entire 40-21 loss to the 49ers. Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll noted prior, "this game means the world to this team;" both Sunday and Monday in his presser's, disappointment was the overwhelming tone; the Seahawks fell drastically short of his expectations.

A mindset lost

The Seahawks were "looking forward" to building on the attitude and execution of week 13's second half comeback versus Carolina. Coach Carroll and the Seahawks had been looking to "get it right," find consistency in executing "the formula." After beating Carolina, he fully acknowledged that from the Oakland game in week 8 on, he could have had his team more prepared and maintained a better mindset. Carroll said he needed to convince his men "they could own it;" if they played as close to the "formula" as possible, just working on bringing it every day, consistent execution will come. Against Carolina, "it clicked;" the 'Hawks found it.

The Seahawks had a unique opportunity to build on their momentum going to Candlestick Park, as many members in the current Seahawks organization have recently, or not so recently, been a part of the 49ers; The Seahawks are an organization that prides itself on preparation and had great knowledge of the 49ers; the results did not show. After the game Carroll noted, "The field has always been like that, where it doesn't feel as firm as it is. I didn't do a good job of preparing our guys for that, I hoped that it wouldn't be an issue and it was." Clearly things were missed in "the challenge going into San Francisco," the hope "to find that attitude and make sure we bring it with us going forward." Wait, find it?

Coach Carroll finally said his team "got it right" against Carolina, after a rough stretch through "a tough month that took its toll." The goal should be to maintain the momentum that was created, not look for it week to week; letting the momentum ride, maintaining an "attitude" is how teams find winning streaks. Continually looking to find it, week by week, stunts growth and creates the expectation that it can continually happen; also creating disappointment and frustration when it doesn't. By acknowledging the fact that the Seahawks aren't "where we planned to be," not focusing on the disappointment, the organization will better accept their frustration; harnessing the energy of disappointment to increase the collective desire to work harder, together, is the desired result.

Five thoughts to bring forward

I noted in the halftime update, "I haven't lost my belief in this organization for current or future success, but I have released my expectation for this season. The Seahawks can still win the NFC West." However, they are no longer my pick and it's a three horse race to the finish. The Seahawks poor tackling was an obvious factor and needs to be a major focus—after the New Orleans game Coach Carroll strictly noted it was unacceptable for poor tackling to be a factor. Pre game I discussed the importance of protecting the ball; the offense needs to put in overtime this week working on ball security. In an effort to turn disappointment into hard work, below are five situations or sequences of plays from the week 14 loss that I hope are acknowledged and implemented into planning this week for the Atlanta Falcons.

The first defensive third down: San Francisco Quarterback Alex Smith got booed by the 49ers fans after the first two plays and was forced into an uncomfortable 3rd and 10; On the third play, the Seahawks blitzed five and Vernon Davis got a free release off the line of scrimmage; I noted pregame that Aaron Curry, a player who was strong in press, 1 on 1 coverage in college at Wake Forest, or veteran Safety Jordan Babineux needed to be used in disrupting Davis' release off the line of scrimmage. On the play, Davis released into the area of Lofa Tatupu, who dropped loosely in coverage off Davis instead of being aggressive, attacking him near the first down line; Tatupu established inside position and had an opportunity to break up the play. Instead, Davis completed his "Stick" route approximately 2 yards short of the first down line, made the catch and gained 15 more yards for a 22 yard gain on the play. Tatupu must be aware in this situation the 49ers intention is to get a first down; he had safety help over the top if Davis was to beat him deep. The Seahawks failed to grab early momentum because they failed to throw off the timing of Davis' timing based route, using tight coverage or different personnel are two easy adjustments that would have helped in this situation.

Against the Falcons: Future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez presents another brutal test for the Seahawks defense. His height creates a major mismatch and his 13+ years of experience makes him a primary target for third year Quarterback Matt Ryan.

Outside the defense: The Seahawks have allowed big plays this season against the run partly because they haven't stayed "inside the defense," and have allowed runners to cutback or bounce outside. On a 1st and 10 at the Seahawks 49 yard line with 2:59 left in the first quarter, 49ers Runningback Anthony Dixon had a 37 yard run that was the result of both a good cutback and poor pursuit angles; Both Junior Siavii, who moved outside to Strong Side End with the return of Colin Cole, and Safety Lawyer Milloy a leader who preaches defensive discipline, were guilty of getting outside the defense. The play was a toss to the right that the defense covered well, except Siavii failed to maintain the backside of the play by fortifying the line of scrimmage; instead of being in a position to slow Dixon's progress, Siavii fell to the ground as Dixon ran free to the other side; Milloy, whose role was to keep Dixon in front of the second level, over pursued as well, creating the lane for Dixon to run free into the secondary. The defense held Brian Westbrook and Dixon to a combined 49 yards on 22 carries other than that play; the Seahawks defense played the run well, but the lack of discipline on the Dixon run, an easily preventable play, stands out as a major momentum killer for the defense.

Against the Falcons: All Pro Runningback Michael Turner is a powerful, low center of gravity runner that will make the defense pay for its mistakes; the Seahawks must maintain assignments and look to minimize Turner's success, not stop it.

The turning plays: The Seahawks had an opportunity to cut the 49ers lead to six points towards the end of the first half; coming out of a timeout 2nd and 5 at the 49ers 32 yard line with 4:29 left, the Seahawks deployed the "11" 1 back, 1 tight end formation with Justin Forsett in the backfield. The Seahawks have shown a strong tendency to hand off to him from "11;" the fact that he was yet to carry the ball was an obvious key for the defense in this situation. He carried for 1 yard as the San Francisco Lineman and Linebackers were not fooled; play action would have fooled them. On 3rd and 4, the Seahawks ran Forsett from "11" again. My question is, if the defense had keyed in on the fact that the Seahawks offense brought in Forsett to establish him and its "4 down territory," why not throw a five yard route to Stokley, an out to a tight end, or swing to Forsett from the backfield on third down? The third down run was not disguised and based on the failure of the previous Forsett running play, it was too obvious an attempt to run again in hopes of gaining 3 yards; earlier in the season Leon Washington was "mixed" in similarly- the small amount he was used was poorly disguised.

The 4th down call again resulted in the dastardly 20-30 yard "fade" route, though not to Golden Tate, that I have questioned the previous two weeks. Coach Carroll acknowledged the play is not primarily designed to be a fade, but it is an option on that play, and he would prefer it not be; he does not, however, have plans of removing it from the playbook. This sequence of plays stalled a crucial, momentum grabbing drive. If the Seahawks wanted to continue the power running game, they should have used a clicking Michael Robinson, who was used phenomenally I must note, or Marshawn Lynch who averaged 2.9 yards per carry in the game; not force Forsett to find a rhythm in a tough, power running situation with his first carry.

Against the Falcons: The Falcons are solid against the run, but vulnerable against the pass. The Seahawks need to come out throwing in run based formations and mix Forsett into other formations besides "11." As I have advocated for weeks, get him on the field in new formations and give him a minimum of 14 touches. His involvement will open up the offense, especially for Lynch.

Big play Brian Westbrook- I noted pregame Tatupu's job should be to "spy" Brian Westbrook, one of the all-time best receiving backs, which would help Earl Thomas in the defensive backfield; mission not accomplished. On 3rd and 8 at the Seahawks 42 yard line with 12:00 left in the second quarter, Tatupu and Safety Jordan Babineaux dropped into zone coverage, with the responsibility of covering late releasing receivers from the backfield and protecting the first down line. The Seahawks were nearing Alex Smith when Westbrook leaked out of the backfield, right in front of Tatupu and Babineaux, caught the ball and got the first down. Tatupu failed to recognize that Westbrook was still in the backfield, and would be Smith's only option; furthermore, Babineaux had the other half of the field covered, giving Tatupu an opportunity to attack the check down area before Westbrook leaked. Tatupu did a great job of "finding the ball" in pass coverage versus Carolina, but again struggled versus San Francisco. The lack of attention on Brian Westbrook ultimately led to a 62 yard touchdown on a quick throw, catch and run, on a 3rd and 4 after the 2 minute warning.

Over the past month I have chronicled the improvement of Linebacker David Hawthorne, "the heater," and advocated he receive more playing time. He is described by his teammates as a "player who knows how to find the ball, make plays;" his goal line interception in New Orleans, a goal line stop of Jamaal Charles against Kansas City and 14 tackles against Carolina creates a strong case. Tatupu was on the field for all 56 defensive plays, Hawthorne only 42; Hawthorne deserves an open competition at Middle Linebacker.

Against the Falcons: If healthy, backup Runningback Jason Snelling is an excellent, powerful receiver out of the backfield; he is used on screens and as a slot receiver. He can make big plays when forgotten about by the defense, similar to the Westbrook touchdown this past week.

Hard working Washington: Leon Washington's 84 yard punt return to the 2 yard line in week 13 was well documented; he slowed at the 40, raised one arm in and air and got "ankle slapped" by the punter inside the 15 yard line; Coach Carroll even opened his press conference the Monday after the game mentioning that Leon just wanted to give the red zone offense a chance to punch it in. The criticism, as joking and "rah rah" as it may have been, worked; Washington slipped away a possible touchdown on his first return of the game and scored on a 92 yard kickoff return where he busted through the defense and finished, strong, in the third quarter. Washington showed that this team can perform when challenged, a silver lining that must be taken from the loss.

Against the Falcons: The Falcons don't make many mistakes; Washington is an X factor, crucial in helping the Seahawks get good field position and put unexpected Special Teams touchdowns on the board.

Hard work, no expectations

Coach Carroll must make sure his team knows "you can't expect success," and then ask the question "but do you want it?" Expectations can break you, but if you let expectations go, emotional boundaries will widen and desire can strengthen. There is no value in recapturing the momentum gained in the Carolina victory; it's gone. Harness past desires, lost expectations, to grow together. Explore new avenues of growth, such as "mind body work:" Yoga, Imagery and Mediation. Give your players and coaches mandatory alone time outside, rain or shine, on Friday for 10 minutes; Let the defense think about all the missed third down opportunities and the offense think about the turnovers. Then let them go practice with a little contact, a little consequence.

November and December in Seattle brings brutal weather; The Falcons are a notoriously good dome team and the preliminary forecast is a high of 45, 70% chance of rain; there will be consequences of feeling the wet, December air for both teams. The Seahawks, however, start with a small advantage. They need to build on being back home at Qwest.

But most importantly, this team must be taught one grows by trying, not by being afraid of the consequences. There are always consequences. The Seahawks need to realize that by working harder together this week, consequences can turn positive.

Part 2, an in depth game preview, will be posted in the coming days!


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Halftime update: A week of empty preparation

A poor game plan and lackadaisical attitude has left the Seahawks trailing 30-7 at half. I have continually stressed the importance of starting fast and stealing momentum on the road; Once again, they have given up an opening drive touchdown. My largest criticism with Pete Carroll is his overwhelming focus on the fourth quarter. While closing a game is vital, the Hawks must find a way to start a game in winning fashion.

Furthermore, I have major concerns about the game plan executed thus far. Where is Justin Forsett? Why is Lofa Tatupu covering Vernon Davis on the first drive and how did Davis get wide open, on first down, for a 42 yard catch and run touchdown? Has this defense worked on tackling lately? No-contact practice on Friday's is proving to be a poor change in the weekly routine. I expected a very different game plan and thought this team would be better prepared. I haven’t lost my belief in this organization for  current or future success, but I have released my expectations for this season. The Seahawks can still win the NFC West, but I no longer expect them too.

Seahawks look to sweep 49ers

The Seahawks travel to a place very familiar to many within the organization for a week 14 matchup at the San Francisco 49ers. Coach Pete Carroll, Linebacker Coach Ken Norton Jr., Special Teams assistant Jeff Ulbrich, Fullback Michael Robinson and personnel executive Scot McCloughan all have strong ties to the 49ers organization; McCloughan was their General Manager only nine months ago. The Seahawks are in a unique position to capitalize on the abundance of knowledge their 2010 roster and staff has from their time in San Francisco; This is an opportunity the Seahawks cannot squander.

Four Wheel Drive: As noted earlier in the week, the Seahawks will start the same five offensive linemen in three consecutive games for the first time this season; they are coming off their most complete rushing performance under the new regime. Simply put, Sunday's game against the 49ers is the biggest gut-check the Seahawks running game will face all season. They took an enormous step forward last week, but based on the inconsistent trend of the season I imagine many feel a letdown coming.

All Pro Middle Linebacker Patrick Willis and the 49ers have not allowed a 100 yard rusher in 18 straight games; Franchise Tagged Nose Tackle Aubrayo Franklin is a large part of that success, but he is questionable for Sunday's game with a groin injury. While having a Seahawk run for 100 yards on Sunday would be impressive, I do not think that is a statistic the Seahawks should be focused on, even as Coordinator Jeremy Bates puts together a game plan that will be focused on maintaining the run. The 31 carries last week were split between four complementary players that each brings a unique element to this offense; Justin Forsett averaged 10 yards per carry on six carries and was, as Coach Carroll noted Monday, "On fire." He isn't flashy, but neither was former Falcons and Buccaneers Runningback Warrick Dunn. Forsett is one of the most underrated, well rounded running backs in the NFL; Marshawn Lynch runs in "Beastmode," showing balance, toughness and creativity; Leon Washington is an X factor, capable of breaking open a game at any time; Fullback Michael Robinson, a player whose all around skills and importance I have chronicled the past few weeks, completes the backfield as a undersized, tenacious blocker and a capable receiver. The Seahawks were finally able to mix their formations, keeping the defense off balance, and showed a glimmer of the versatile, power rushing attack Coach Carroll has been envisioning for this offense. Carroll on Wednesday; "The whole time were talking to those guys, encouraging them; keeping it going. They never griped. The fact that we now have it pointed in the same direction, we want to keep it going."

Who will catch the ball? Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu are likely out for Sunday's game, putting pressure on Coordinator Jeremy Bates to create a well rounded game plan without his top two playmaking receivers. Fortunately, last week's 28 point second half was played without them, giving Bates an idea of what can work with a limited receiving core. Veteran receiver Brandon Stokley, who Matt Hasselbeck coined the best slot receiver ever, has caught four or more balls in three straight games and that streak must continue Sunday; the more catches he has, the more first downs the Seahawks can get.

Rookie Golden Tate and receiver Ruvell Martin, a special teams contributor and career backup receiver, will compete to take the place of Williams; Hasselbeck has consistently targeted Tate, but the two are yet to develop a solid rapport; Martin is 6'4, 220 pounds and showed playmaking ability, especially over the middle and in the red zone, as a Green Bay Packer. Stokely must be the safety blanket, but Tate or Martin needs to be "the noticeable factor," as Cameron Morrah against the Panthers, this week.

Protect Hasselbeck and The ball: Matt Hasselbeck has five turnovers in four games since returning from injury; all five have been in the past two games. Coach Carroll noted earlier in the week, "Matt's been working real hard on keeping the football. It could lose us a game, it didn't Sunday. But he's been working. Somewhere they are going to get you and he he had that long streak without one. He needs to remember it's OK to take a sack." The 49ers have an aggressive defense that has 36 takeaways in their last 16 home games and sacked Packers Quarterback Aaron Rodgers four times last week; 49ers coach Mike Singletary noted this week, "we want to play our best game of the year." The 49ers rely on their defense, especially at home; The Seahawks need the reliable, veteran Matt Hasselbeck to show up Sunday, minimizing the 49ers opportunities to create turnovers.

Pointed downhill: The Seahawks pass rush reappeared last weekend after two straight sackless performances, both losses. The 49ers are without stud Left Tackle Joe Staley and start two rookies on the Offensive line, including rookie Right Tackle Anthony Davis. The Seahawks need to mix the pass rush by attacking Anthony Davis' side with overload blitzes, "stunts," and delayed pressure that blitzes after the offensive players have committed to their blocking assignments. As the 49ers will look to spread the field more with Alex Smith using three receivers on first and second down, there will be opportunity to attack; the Seahawks need to confuse Smith and not let a Quarterback who struggles to get rid of the football quickly beat them with quick throws.


Take away the middle of the field: Alex Smith can get very hot if he and Vernon Davis establish a rhythm; ESPN's Mike Sando noted this week that 18 of Smith's 46 career touchdown passes have gone to Davis. The majority have come on routes down the middle, especially on first and second downs. The Seahawks need to use bigger defenders on Davis, such as Aaron Curry and Jordan Babineaux, to stop Davis from getting a free release at the line of scrimmage. If the Seahawks can take away the middle, it will force Smith to throw to the sidelines, a weakness in his game; the Marcus Trufant pick six in week 1 was a result of a poor Alex Smith, sideline throw. If Vernon Davis is contained, Alex Smith tends to panic.


Force Smith to throw deep: Not surprisingly, Alex Smith is among the NFL's best in the red zone because he is a passer that thrives in the short and intermediate passing game, which covers less than 20 yards down field; receiver Michael Crabtree has matured in his second year, proving to be a reliable possession reciever. Receivers Josh Morgan and Ted Ginn are both capable of attacking down the field, but Smith is not a strong armed quarterback that throws a dangerous deep ball; he can only be successful when the short passing game is opening space to throw down field and often forces throws into double coverage when his short options are taken away. Lofa Tatupu needs to continue the stellar pass coverage he exemplified last week, containing Runningback Brian Westbrook who is an excellent receiver out of the backfield. If Tatupu is successful, look for Earl Thomas to play a role in contributing to forcing Smith into making mistakes, especially in intermediate and deep coverage.


The Seahawks needs to maintain their discipline and remain "inside the defense" this week, as the 49ers have not shown the consistency of a playmaking, dynamic offense; they thrive on a steady running game and smart play calling by Coordinator Mike Johnson to move the football. This game will be a true test for Pete Carroll's  "formula," an opportunity to keep precious momentum going. In my article Squished, sideways and searching written after the Giants loss, I noted my concern that the NFL season, including the pre season, is about six games longer than the college season; Coach Carroll spent the month of December at USC recovering and preparing for a bowl game, not intensely battling to win the Pac 10 conference. I wondered if Carroll would be able to maintain his competitiveness and mentality for his first full NFL season in over a decade; Could he keep his players together, keep them believing in an untested program? I'm most likely in the minority, but I believe this team is just getting started; The Seahawks intend to gain more believers with a victory on Sunday.



Friday, December 10, 2010

The mystique clears and confidence rolls in as Hawks’ fly towards the bay

The Seahawks enter week 14 of the NFL season focused on maintaining the momentum created in the comeback victory against the Carolina Panthers, looking to build on 30 minutes of football that is exemplary of what Head Coach Pete Carroll believes his team is capable of; the challenge for the Seahawks is to maintain that attitude throughout the week and bring it to San Francisco.

Representing the symbol: The change in attitude the Seahawks showed after halftime last Sunday was a result of tough times, hard work and brutal motivation. Coach Carroll challenged his players to harness the mindset of the "formula," the championship mentality he is working so hard to build, and represent, in Seattle.

In my October post On top of the NFC West but looking up at the ceiling, I explained Sociologist Emile Durkheim's theory of the Totem: In short, the Totem is a universal symbol of expression, a flag for example, that is a representation of a "clan;" there is no obligation towards following a particular culture of beliefs and practices, but each clan possesses a moral authority that emanates a psychic energy associated with the totem; the stronger the energy of the leader, the more inclined the members of the clan are to bend their will in compliance towards the "totemic principles" surrounding the toem; the more infectious the spread of the principles, the stronger the "Collective Effervescence" surrounding the totem can become. The New Orleans Saints provide a current, concrete example of Durkheim's theory in the modern NFL (for a full explanation of the Totem and its application to the New Orleans Saints and Seahawks:

At halftime, Coach Carroll's power as the Seahawks' moral authority was realized when he projected his frustrated, yet active tone onto the group; it's important to understand the collective force of the group comes from two places: the disciplined principles of the orator and the collective desire of the group. During halftime last Sunday, Carroll reoriented his team's mindset, elevating and enlarging the team's capabilities. "We've had a tough month. It took its toll. I didn't do a good enough job of keeping ahead of that, maintaining the mindset. I had to convince these guys of their capabilities until they owned their potential; the moment of the challenge was obvious and then it snapped." The past six games have been a rough road for the Seahawks, going 2-4 and continually searching for the right identity. The breakthrough against Carolina isn't a springboard for Coach Carroll. It's the result of hard work; the payoff of continually fighting to "hang around" and wait for the opportunity.

16 Quarters, 16 games: The Seahawks final four games is a new season for the team, a season that has the same goal as when these two teams met in week 1. A decisive win in the first game of the 16 quarter stretch is crucial if the Seahawks hope to build on the 31 unanswered points they scored to close out the "pre-season," which began after "eight game training camp" that concluded with the week 9 bludgeoning by the Giants. The main cause of the Seahawks' six losses have been the result of opponents jumping out of the blocks as the Seahawks stumble through the first quarter; they have been down 10 points or more at halftime in five of six losses. The theme of this week is start where the Seahawks finished, 31 points and counting.

Questions closer to being answered

A change in the secondary: Coach Carroll noted in his Monday presser that rookie Cornerback Walter Thurmond would receive increased playing time going forward; when asked if that meant less for Kelly Jennings, Carroll defended Jennings noting the Panthers unexpectedly went to Jennings' side of the field early and often, but was evasive to the topic of Jennings ensuing playing time all together. My hope to see Kennard Cox getting an opportunity at Cornerback stems from his exceptional Special Teams play, not logic; the increased usage of the rookie Thurmond shows a concerted, bold effort to get better at a crucial time in the season.

The likely return of Colin Cole: The Defensive Tackle is expected to be active this weekend after missing the last five games, one of the two missing pieces from the defense that was 2nd in defending the run after six games this season. Cole's size, 6'2 and 330 pounds, allows for greater flexibility in using Junior Siavii, possibly placing Junior in the strong side defensive end spot, and enhances the Seahawks defensive play calling capabilities; I wouldn't be surprised to see coordinator Gus Bradley loosely experiment using five lineman, or four lineman and a roaming Aaron Curry, coupled with various combinations in the defensive backfield. Furthermore, Cole's return removes some of the strain being placed on Lofa Tatupu, who has done his best in directing the defensive line during the absences of Cole and Red Bryant. Cole will provide support for the entire defense and help regain some consistency defending the run.

The fab five: The Seahawks offensive line played with tenacity against the Panthers that had been hard to find this season due to injuries. Coordinator Jeremy Bates noted before the week 10 game in Arizona that the offense needed to "find five guys" who could earn starting positions up front by competing hard and remaining healthy. For the third game in a row, the first time all season, the offensive line will have the same five men starting; From Left Tackle to Right: Okung, Gibson, Spencer, Andrews, Locklear. Last week Okung and Gibson displayed displayed toughness and continuity on the left side, sealing backside blocks and creating cutback runs for Marshawn Lynch, especially dominating the line of scrimmage inside the Panther 10 yard line. Center Chris Spencer stated after the Chicago game in week 6 the offensive line was gelling; he let the whole line do the talking in week 13 and if this group can remain healthy, there will be a whole lot of chatter the rest of the season.

Questions that still remain

The status of Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu: Both receivers are hopeful to practice Friday, but more than likely the game plan is being designed assuming one, or both, will not play. As noted in my previous post, Bates successfully adjusted to the personnel and focused on using the lack of depth at receiver to create an explosive running game against Carolina. This week, Bates has time to integrate Tight End Cameron Morrah into the game plan to help replace some of the size and dependability lost by missing Williams and Obomanu; John Carlson is expected back too, adding some of the toughness after the catch that is lost without the team's top two receivers. Bates would be wise to use the Tight Ends down the middle of the field, with the intention of opening the sidelines for the backs and receivers in the short and intermediate passing games.

A continually changing 49ers offense: The change in Quarterback, from Troy Smith to Alex Smith, alters the defensive game planning for Seattle; Troy Smith is a strong armed quarterback that excels using play action and throwing the deep ball, especially on third down, while Alex Smith is a smart, veteran Quarterback that uses his IQ and accuracy to outsmart the defense. If Alex smith gets into a rhythm, he can get hot. Smith is accustomed to having the injured Frank Gore as a safety valve out of the backfield, often a key piece for Smith in finding that rhythm. The Seahawks need to apply pressure on first down and make Smith uncomfortable, forcing the 49ers into 3rd and long situations, not a strength of the 49ers offense.

Friday's practice will help provide the final answers as to which direction to point the game plan, especially on the offensive side of the ball. A combined 19 players and staff, including Pete Carroll, have ties to the Bay area or 49er organization and are fully aware of the environment the Seahawks will compete in on Sunday. Coach Carroll has his team ready for the challenge they will face; the task that remains is making sure the right Seahawks team flies to the bay on Saturday.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Seahawks “get it right,” score 31 unanswered to beat Carolina

The Seahawks 31-14 home victory against the Carolina Panthers showed the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde character of this football team; the Seahawks were thrashed by the Panthers in the first half, trailing 14-3 at halftime. The Panthers attitude on offense was exemplified by the ballistic Steve Smith after his 39 yard catch and the manner by which Jonathan Stewart bowled his way through the Seattle defense, refusing to lose yards. For a little over 28 minutes, the Panthers made them look silly.

To start the second half the Seahawks offense ran nine plays in 4:14, covering 96 yards and scoring on a 1 yard Marshawn Lynch touchdown, the drive of the year; they scored 21 points in less than nine minutes to begin the second half, taking the lead for good. The first half left me wondering, if last week's performance was garbage how would Coach Carroll describe this week. Little did I know my mystification caused by the pathetic first half would only increase as the Seahawks marched to 28 unanswered points in the second half. Carroll called the change in the game "a little bit mystical, but it just happened." I can't say I know exactly what it was either, but it was something.

Getting it right: Coach Carroll delivered a brutal truth to the team during the Saturday night meeting; he believed they had not yet "arrived mentally." He acknowledged post game that it took a half, but the point at which the message set in was obvious. "The difference between the two halves was totally attitude and getting right. I'm happy it happened for our guys so they could feel what it felt like again and regain a sense of what we are doing, playing as we are capable." Of the many accounts as to what Carroll said to his team at halftime, Lofa Tatupu's version is most jarring: "Look, you guys don't want to hear it, but you're getting outmuscled. I don't know if you want to hit or not, but do something about it. If you're a man, do something about it."

Ouch. Pete Carroll was tagged as a rah, rah "players coach" after his stint in New England, but at USC he learned how to tell the harsh truth with the same honesty and passion he used to build up his players.

What exactly is the vague "getting it right" Carroll keeps speaking of?

Competing, playing with toughness and attitude, maintaining discipline, operating with a sense of urgency, responding to adversity as a unit, "hanging around," believing you can win in the fourth quarter and seizing the opportunity; The "formula." The Steelers, Saints, Colts, Patriots and Giants are arguably the five most consistent teams at executing a similar formula in recent NFL Seasons.

And now the Seahawks, obviously too a much lesser extent, excelled at executing a version of the formula, albeit for only a half. They learned what it means to win a game in the fourth quarter; the defense played a full 60 minutes, stopping the panthers 4th and goal inside the 10 yard line within the final minute. The Seahawks proved they learned something from losing to the Chiefs; they didn't want to fail to finish, again.

A healthier heartbeat: Lofa Tatupu's 29 yard interception return for a touchdown on the Seahawks third defensive play of the second half helped the defense rebound in a big way Sunday, as the unit allowed 92 yards and 0 points in the final 30 minutes.
I have been critical of Lofa recently and I stand by my criticism—my only Seahawks jersey is a Tatupu replica I bought during his rookie season—because I know the type of player he once was. Lofa showed off his football IQ Sunday—and despite injuries—he is still the captain of this defense. He intercepted the ball because he recognized the play action fake and made a "veteran" play; timing, not speed, put a much-needed score on the board for the Hawks. Defensive End Chris Clemons said after the game, "Lofa's our leader; we go as our leader goes and that's how we know how to play." Tatupu and the defense played particularly poorly for the majority of the month before the Carolina game. He only had two solo tackles Sunday, not what a defense expects in tackle numbers from its Middle Linebacker, but he made big plays defending the pass. If he is to maintain his role as an every play Linebacker, which he was unable to do as he was replaced by David Hawthorne in the 4th quarter, he needs to find a way to contribute like he did Sunday and help his unit's heart beat stronger.

Give the organization credit: Sunday's victory highlights two moves made by the organization that deserve recognition:

  1. Brandon Stokley has continued to contribute to this offense as a first down machine, moving the chains almost every time he catches the football. His impact in Sunday's win, however, cannot be fully appreciated without knowing how instrumental he was on a play by play basis. Matt Hasselbeck noted with the complexity of the offense and the absence of the Seahawks top two receivers in the second half, players were forced into roles, and formations, which they were unfamiliar with. Said Hasselbeck, "We had the help of Brandon Stokley to steady it, as he helped everyone figure out who they were and what their jobs were on each play." Last week, we realized how much of a luxury having big Mike Williams truly is. This week, I realized Stokley is the most important, and unnoticed, receiver on the roster.

  2. Tight End Cameron Morrah noted after the game, "You don't want to honor someone like Walter Jones and come out and lose." I noted pregame that Jones' honoring, a retirement of the #71 for the Seahawks, would bring the NFL's bottom ranked rushing attack under the microscope. Hasselbeck noted after the game that Coordinator Jeremy Bates explained how Jones was perhaps the most effective tackle ever at helping an offense run from a three receiver, two back formation; Bates insisted on running one play from the formation in honor of Jones and as Hasselbeck noted, "it was a six yard rush. We liked the look and we ran it again and we kept with it." It worked continually, just another part of the mystical second half on Sunday.

A big one for Bates: Offensive Coordinator Jeremy Bates called one of his best games of the season Sunday, despite losing both Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu by the end of the first half. The Seahawks made "more adjustments than any game this season" at halftime, notably using many shotgun, three receiver formations and the three receiver, two back formation, "20," mentioned above to open up space for the running game and ultimately succeed in the red zone; the Seahawks finished with a season high 161 yards rushing and went 2 for 3 in the red zone. The final touchdown drive, eight plays and 78 yards in 4:31, was the drive that was most exemplary of Bates' growth; Bates called a Michael Robinson fullback dive for 14 yards at midfield, and though I don't like the Leon Washington halfback pass that followed, a call from "22" on 1st and 10 in Carolina territory while comfortably up 10 in the 4th quarter,  I like the aggressiveness and the new involvement of Washington; a Washington screen would have been a much more appropriate call. A Justin Forsett 23 yard run and Lynch 22 yard touchdown, sprung by great "seal" blocks by Center Chris Spencer and Fullback Michael Robinson, finished off the drive strong. Worth noting is that Hasselbeck had his worst game in the past four, throwing two interceptions and finishing with a 53.3 passer rating; on a 3rd and long from the 29 yard line early in the 4th quarter Hasselbeck missed a wide open Forsett, who was lined up outside as a receiver pre snap and ran himself open on a double move that would have been a touchdown. Bates got his offense, especially the running game, rolling without a solid performance from his quarterback and showed he is gaining a better understating of how to use the personnel available to this offense.

Five thoughts to carry forward:

  1. The secondary is proving to be one of the weakest links on this team, as Kelly Jennings had another poor day in coverage and Marcus Trufant is not attacking receivers; Trufant let Steve Smith break completely clean off the line of scrimmage on a season long 39 yard catch. The Seahawks need more physicality at Cornerback; Kennard Cox, a special teams leader, deserves to see the field on defense and rookie Walter Thurmond has shown promise.

  2. At least once a game, and multiple times in the Oakland game, Hasselbeck attempts a 20 to 30 yard sideline fade route that Golden Tate usually catches out of bounds; Get this play right or get it out of the playbook. That said, Tate's outstanding effort near the goal line on the first drive of the second half was shows why we drafted him; get him the ball quickly, in the middle of the field, and let him make plays.
  3. Can Colin Cole get healthy for week 14 at San Francisco? The Seahawks continued to tackle poorly, especially behind the line of scrimmage. To be a playoff team the Seahawks need continue working on the basics defending the run; maintaining gap discipline and wrapping up defenders. They also need their muscle in the middle of the defense.

  4. In the absence of John Carlson, is it possible Cameron Morrah earned more targets going forward with his unexpected, team leading three catches for 69 yards? He is very athletic for his size at 6'3 and 250 pounds. He showed strong hands and playmaking ability in multiple dimensions of the passing game; two weeks in a row he has made a big play with the ball in his hands. He can be an asset over the middle of the field against a safety or on screens versus a corner.
  5. The Seahawks don't care about the division standings; says Hasselbeck, "We're not focusing on the playoffs. Were focusing on improving, finishing strong." This weekend's matchup's, however, are bound to draw some comparisons. The Seahawks go to San Francisco, where the St. Louis Rams lost by three points in Overtime. The Rams travel to New Orleans, where the Seahawks competed and hung tough for a full 60 minutes in a not so lopsided 15 point loss. Comparing the performances this weekend will be inevitable; Carroll and this team should continue to focus on controlling their own game.
    Mindful preparation: If the Seahawks are to build on the victory against the Panthers they need to be mindful of their situation. Coach Carroll needs to bring his team's attention to the present moment, focusing on the game plan for how to beat the 49ers. The key for Carroll, however, is to make sure his players aren't focused on the future, but are mindful the division will be won by finishing strong, every day, for the next 26 days.

    Sunday, December 5, 2010

    Check out the Hawk Zone Blog!

    Hey readers! I just wanted to inform you that I have been picked up by the Seattle PI and my posts can now be found on the Hawk Zone blog at in addition to Thanks!

    After a week of soul searching, Seahawks prepared to host Panthers

    In week 13 of the NFL season the Seattle Seahawks look to regain their winning ways at home as they host the Carolina Panthers. Despite the Panthers 1-10 record, Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll stressed "we're not playing weeks past;" the Panthers record doesn't reflect the effort displayed on the field and Carroll knows "we would really make a big mistake if we didn't realize the focus is on just this week." Unusually uptight and reigned in, the Seahawks look to capitalize on the opportunity to bounce back at home against one of the NFL's most underachieving teams. Panthers Coach John Fox knows firsthand the demoralizing effect the atmosphere of Qwest can have on an opposing team, as his teams loss in the 2006 NFC championship game, a game I attended, was over 20 minutes before kickoff. After two poor home performances the Seahawks understand the home crowd is growing restless and regaining the support of the 12th man is crucial in helping rattle Panthers rookie Quarterback Jimmy Clausen; by focusing on "the ball," the Seahawks will look to re-create the raucous atmosphere that is the hallmark of Qwest field and gain momentum early against a slow starting Panthers team; the Seahawks started well this week in practice and appear confident heading into Sunday.

    Practice to play

    In my previous post I noted the Seahawks needed to practice this week with a sense of urgency, implementing the "back to the basics" approach Coach Carroll used to get his team to a 4-2 start, but an admittedly underachieving 5-6 record overall. Carroll is focused on having his team believe one idea; they are capable of putting themselves in the "champion position," and for that to happen they must prepare to a level that "allows us to be comfortable on game day." It doesn't matter the opponent. Ben Malcolmson of quoted Carroll; "This is how you find consistency, finish the season and win championships." The Seahawks came out sharp and worked hard Wednesday and Thursday, allowing an unconventional Friday practice to take place; 40 minutes of touch free, pad free rehearsal. The light workout kept legs fresh, as Carroll noted this was a planned opportunity to adjust the routine to keep players mentally and physically energized, rewarding everyone for the hard work that has gotten the team to this competitive, yet criticized, point. Coach Carroll pushed his players this week with the goal of getting their minds right, regaining the mentality of the "formula," for Sunday.

    Great timing

    The Seahawks defense has flat out underperformed in the past six weeks, continuing to lack the answer for how to stop the run without Red Bryant. Furthermore, a newfound lack of pressure on the Quarterback has put too much strain on the secondary. The Panthers offense is among the worst in the NFL and presents a great rebound opportunity for the defense.

    Another week, another 1-2 punch: Pete Carroll is very familiar with Panthers lead Runningback Jonathan Stewart, as the 5'10, 235 pound bruising, explosive runner is a former Oregon Duck; Change of pace back Mike Goodson was the "top guy one year" Carroll recruited at USC and in no way is he surprised by success of the second year player from Texas A&M. Not forgotten is the fact that the Chiefs duo of Jones and Charles gashed the Seahawks for 270 yards rushing last week and Colin Cole is likely to remain sidelined. Junior Siavii has continued to play well at Defensive Tackle as Kentwan Balmer has struggled of late filling in for Red Bryant at the strong side end spot; the Seahawks need to explore their personnel by moving Siavii to the strong side end, opening time for Jay Richardson and Craig Terril at tackle. Additionally, the potential of recently signed 6'7, 300 pound rookie Clifton Geathers needs to be explored in the attempt to find Bryant's replacement and slow down the Panther running game.

    Third down defense: The Achilles heel of defensive success for the Seahawks has been the unit's inconsistent ability to stop opponents on third down. Last week the Chiefs dominated the third down battle; "we pressured and got done the things we do on 3rd down; we just couldn't convert." The Panthers will look to attack on third down, especially in short yardage, using their Runningbacks in both the running and passing game. The Panthers have dialed down the offense under rookie Jimmy Clausen and the Seahawks will look to apply extra pressure; the Panthers will attempt to attack a weakness of the Seahawks defense, throwing screen passes and running draw plays, as Goodson caught eight passes last week and three or more in five straight games. The Seahawks defense needs to crowd the line of scrimmage with Safeties and Cornerbacks to confuse Clausen as a way to neutralize the Panthers third down attack. Additionally, starting Cornerbacks Marcus Trufant and Kelly Jennings are under the microscope, as both have let poor play and penalties devastate this defense, especially on third down.

    Support the Defensive Line: Seahawks Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley needs to creatively use Linebackers and Defensive backs to support the injury riddled line; Physicality is strength of this defenses depth. Lofa Tatupu has struggled to consistently practice due to an unhealthy knee and his continued every-play presence on the field is beginning to hurt the defense. David Hawthorne was deservingly given a one year extension this week and Will Herring has continued to contribute on special teams and situational defense; these Linebackers need to be more involved in the rotation. In the Defensive backfield rookie Safety Kam Chancellor has an opportunity for increased playing time; his size, 6'3 and 230 pounds, provides a tactical counter against Stewart as the Seahawks will look to put an extra man in the box for run support. The Seahawks must rely on new faces, play together and be accountable if they are to provide a backbone to this injured Defensive Line.

    The good ol' days

    The Seahawks organization made a savvy move this week in deciding to honor retired, soon to be Hall of Fame Left Tackle Walter Jones during the two minute warning; honoring the legend brings the current offense in focus as they have failed to perform to the level of the Jones led offenses, especially in the running game. The Seahawks look to take advantage of the weak Carolina Defensive line to regain some traction on the ground.

    Take the training wheels off: The Seahawks have allowed only four sacks in last four games, but have averaged a disappointing 3.2 yards per carry. For the third time this season, the Seahawks Offensive Line will start the same unit in consecutive games; the last time that happened was the two game winning streak against Chicago and Arizona, the birth of the "Beastmode" backfield. Coach Carroll noted, "It makes me really uncomfortable about how we are running the football," and I fully agree; luckily, the Panthers are among the league worst in run defense. The hamstring injury that sidelined Fullback Michael Robinson, whose importance I chronicled in my week 12 preview, limited the offenses ability to mix personnel and balance play calling. Robinson's return should give Coordinator Jeremy Bates the flexibility to open up the running game and involve Justin Forsett in more formations, using Marshawn Lynch to wear down the defense as a change of pace back; The Seahawks need to explore new options if they are to be effective running the football.

    An underrated back seven: The Panthers Defensive Line is among the league's worst in mounting a pass rush; Seattle should not have to use extra blockers to "max protect," allowing offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates to use more three and four receiver sets. The Seahawks must be careful, however, in attacking the Carolina pass defense, which ranks in the top 13 overall. Coach Carroll noted in his Wednesday presser, "The Panthers have been trying to cause problems with their coverage scheme and they are aggressive in their style of play." They do a good job of mixing and rotating their zone coverage as the Linebackers are good in pass coverage, allowing Carolina often run their base 4-3 defense; Starting Cornerback Chris Gamble is doubtful for the game, which will provide an opportunity to attack the Panthers secondary. Matt Hasselbeck needs to avoid making bad decisions or this Carolina Defense will keep the game close.

    The realized importance of Mike Williams: In my October post Hawks Flyin High, written before week 1, I noted "Realize how important this organization believes the success of Mike Williams is to this Seahawks team;" a little more than three months later I hear Pete Carroll saying the same thing, loud and clear. "Mike brings the dominant presence of the big guy; that is unique and I really have enjoyed it in our offense;" It was clear Carroll badly missed him last week, but was cautiously optimistic he could play Sunday. On Friday when Williams practiced, the weight of his shoulder pads brought the expectations that have once again been placed on him, a notion that seemed impossibly foreign at the beginning of the season; Carroll noted "we are counting on him." On pace for nearly 1000 yards receiving his on the field production is undeniable; his off the field comments make me think he is capable of even greater success. In a live chat Thursday afternoon on Danny O'Neil's Seattle Times Seahawks Blog Williams revealed insight into his personal life, work ethic and professionalism. Williams admitted he has a low pain tolerance and that he was not yet an elite receiver, noting Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Wes Welker are the three receivers who inspire him every week; three receivers who exemplify work ethic and toughness. He also acknowledged his favorite NBA player is Kevin Garnett,—in my mind, the 2008 NBA MVP as he changed the culture of the Boston Celtics and lead them to a championship—perhaps the NBA's most intense, focused player. Mike Williams unknowingly told me he isn't just doing work on the field; he is studying, learning from his most talented and dedicated peers how to consistently improve his game and maximize his abilities. He realizes that if he is to succeed, the expectations that were placed on his shoulders at USC will always remain. The cherry on top; he noted on his twitter page this week he doesn't need, or want, a big contract to stay in Seattle. All that matters is that he stays important to this Seattle offense.

    Coach Carroll has been talking a lot recently about "getting it right" and "the ball;" you can tell its weighing on him as he continually notes "I've been saying this for weeks now that we are close, but it's just not quite right. We are in this mode of flux." It may be the "irrational optimism" Carroll exudes about the potential of his program, an optimism comparable to the concept of Karl Mannheim's Utopia explained in my post Seahawks lost in the breeze, but floating up; Though Carroll is a coach his players believe uses his words wisely, his words are getting worn. Beating a 1-10 Carolina team at home won't do too much to change opinions, no matter the outcome, as most think this Seahawks team is on the downfall; if they beat Carolina, it was a lob. But that does not necessarily mean that inside the locker room the players and staff share that negative belief; for a team looking for something, a little win can end up going a long ways. The Seahawks still have great intentions of winning the NFC West and look to kick start the push by beating Carolina; baby steps.


    Wednesday, December 1, 2010

    Seahawks waive white flag vs. Chiefs and begin search to regain the NFC West.

    The Seahawks returned home Sunday after a successful 1-1 road trip, hoping to ride an unusual momentum that was gained in the loss 10 days ago at New Orleans. Days before the Seahawks 42-24 home defeat against the Kansas City Chiefs in week 12, Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll noted the "seasons had changed" and it was time to improve, finish the final six games strong and win the division. In the post game press conference, his tone changed as well; "we played like garbage;" He called it "disturbing" that the team would play so poorly when embarking on a push to finish the season. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck added, "Coach's advice was to shut up and watch the film." Coach Carroll told his team to be quiet because they didn't have any better ideas than he did about why this happened and how to fix it.

    Hey, Pete Carroll; let's brainstorm.

    Too little too late

    The Seahawks possessed the ball for less than 19 minutes on Sunday, both failing to establish the running game early and throwing away opportunities in the second half; the Seahawks took two consecutive kneel downs to end the game. Hasselbeck said after, "We knew how they would play us and we had some idea of how to do things. But we didn't accomplish our goals." Not even close.

    20: The Seahawks gained 20 yards rushing Sunday, which includes two -1 yard kneel downs, dropping their season average to 77.9 yards per game, last in the NFL. I must note in the pregame post I clearly expected Fullback Michael Robinson to play Sunday and his absence was yet another example of the Seahawks running game needing it's versatile Fullback healthy. The offense, again, failed to show a commitment in attempting to establish a balanced offense; Marshawn Lynch continued to receive the majority of carries, managing a paltry 9 yards on 4 carries in the first half, while Justin Forsett had 0 carries at halftime. Coach Carroll explained during Monday's press conference, "We never got our chance to get a focus on the running game. This is not the way we want to play; we want to get back to more balance." I disagree that the Seahawks truly attempted to balance the offense Sunday, as the more versatile, effective #20 had 0 carries and one catch at halftime. If the Seahawks are going to "start over," re-allocating touches in the running game, expanding Forsett's role, would be a wise decision. Attempting to find a place for Leon Washington—he crept in front of Cameron Morrah on the Seahawks first kickoff return to throw a crucial block and springing Morrah into Chiefs territory, the start of an outstanding day for Seahawks Special Teams --or Golden Tate in the wildcat could be beneficial; the nifty formation where a Receiver or Runningback lines up as the quarterback in the shotgun could create big play opportunities down the road. The Seahawks need to change the rotation and use their running backs more effectively; they need to start next week vs. Carolina.

    The fourth down follies continue: On the Seahawks first possession, down 7-0, the offense faced a 4th and 1 on the Chiefs 38 yard line. Hasselbeck lined up under center for a passing play that ultimately resulted in a 20 yard lob down the left sideline, a ball Golden Tate never really had a chance of catching. I do applaud the aggressiveness of the call, as the play looked eerily similar to the USC 4th and 9 call late in the 4th quarter vs. Notre Dame in 2005, a Matt Leinart drop back, lob pass down the left sideline to a 6'4 Dwayne Jarrett. On Sunday, without the 6'5 Mike Williams, the 5'10 Tate was put in the position to make the play; why did Coordinator Jeremy Bates call a 4th down sideline throw to a slot receiver, best at gaining yards after the catch on short passes? A better way to use Tate in that situation would be to line up in a Shotgun, 4 Receiver formation; putting Tate in the slot for a quick throw would have been a much better way to get one yard and his utilize his strength and yard after the catch abilities; at worst, Brandon Stokely would likely be open on the other side of the formation. Bates' failure to adjust to his personnel on short yardage passing plays has penalized the Seahawks two weeks in a row and for the second time in three games, a crucial 4th and 1 was not converted.

    Break the mold: The Seahawks needed to game plan creatively and effectively to both work around the absence of Mike Williams and re-establish the running game; the offense was successful at neither. Instead, they tried to replace Mike Williams and abandoned the running game. The Seahawks had an opportunity to work two new wrinkles into the game plan:

    1. The return of Tate created an opportunity to experiment with 4 Receiver formations. As pass protection has become strength, lining both Stokely and Tate in the slot to work the middle of the field would have been extremely in helping establish the short, quick passing game, a strength of Matt Hasselbeck and the absent Mike Williams; They ran 1 play, an incomplete pass, from this formation and did not find an answer for missing their top receiver.

    2. The Seahawks run the majority of the offense out of two formations: "11" is primarily a passing formation-- 1 Back, 3 Receivers and 1 Tight End; "12" is more balanced in play calling—1 Back, 2 Receivers and 2 Tight Ends. Justin Forsett plays primarily in the "11" and Lynch plays primarily in the "12." Coordinator Jeremy Bates has done a poor job of disguising the running plays in the pass heavy "11" formation and Forsett has struggled to find room to run; giving Forsett an opportunity in the "12" formation, as well as Lynch in "11," is a simple way to change the look of the offense and make it a little harder for the defense to identify the play; this could help bring balance to the running game.
    Full of cracks

    The Seahawks defense emphatically showed it was nowhere near capable of regaining its form from over a month ago. The unit hasn't been able to consistently compete at the line of scrimmage and have allowed opposing teams to both run and throw on them at will in four of the past five games.

    The defense, or lackthereof, against Dwayne Bowe: The Seahawks approach towards covering Bowe on Sunday was less than effective; the Secondary continually failed to account for Bowe when he would motion across the formation pre snap, allowing him to begin his route cleanly with no defenders legally jamming him within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Bowe was often uncovered, or might as well have been; Kelly Jennings was torched by Bowe all game and a meek bump at the line of scrimmage by Lawyer Milloy, a physical leader of this defense, left Bowe free for his 36 yard touchdown catch. He was targeted 17 times, catching 13 balls for 170 yards and 3 touchdowns, bringing his total to 13 touchdowns in his last seven games. The Seahawks failed to play man coverage against a weak receiving core—without Dexter Mccluster-- none of which, other than Bowe, had more than 3 targets Sunday. Additionally, neither Kennard Cox, responsible for the punt block, nor versatile, veteran safety Jordan Babineaux got much of an opportunity to use their size, 6'0, in defending Bowe. The Seahawks failed to create a game plan focused on containing Bowe; they paid the price, as he had the biggest game of his career.

    270: The Seahawks badly missed injured Defensive Tackle Colin Cole Sunday as Thomas Jones established his efficient running style on the Chiefs first drive and Jamaal Charles slashed the Seahawks with his big play ability on a 26 yard run to start the second drive; even Quarterback Matt Cassel contributed to the Chiefs' rushing total on a 23 yard first down scramble late in the first half, as they ran for 270 yards against the Seahawks and were able to do whatever they wanted running the football. Coach Carroll's explanation on Monday for his teams' poor play: "We got outside the discipline of our run defense. We were not in right spots. Guys took opportunities to make plays, 'outside' the defense and it didn't work." In my post 10 ways to fix the formula I noted for the Seahawks defense to be successful in the second half of the season they must continue to adhere to the discipline of the defense and not try to force plays, which causes mistakes. Sunday, case and point.

    The Jamaal Charles 3 yard touchdown run to start the 4th quarter proved to me no one man is responsible for the poor play of the defense; Brandon Mebane was 5 yards deep in the backfield but behind the play; the Charles stiff arm turned Kentwan Balmer to goo; Earl Thomas over ran the tackle; Lofa Tatupu was late to the play and underneath Charles in the endzone. Charles made "a heckuva run" but the Seahawks certainly aided the process; the run shows a defense that prides itself on stopping opponents at the goal line breaking, providing evidence that changes need to be made.

    A personnel review: Pete Carroll noted on Monday he will have to wait and see how his players respond at practice Wednesday; He could make some changes to the defense that would illicit many responses. David Hawthorne made a great play to stop Charles on the goal line in the 2nd quarter and as noted above, Tatupu failed to make a similar play. Kelly Jennings had a game he needs to quickly forget; Kennard Cox made a touchdown saving tackle on Darren McFadden and tipped a pass filling in for both Jennings and Walter Thurmond in the game against Oakland and continued to show his playmaking ability Sunday. Craig Terrill showed push at the line of scrimmage on special teams resulting in a blocked field goal, yet saw little time on the field defensively. As an organization that focuses on constant competition, consistent preparation and continually trying to get better, the Seahawks need to show that they are willing to be critical of themselves. Coach Carroll emphasized on Monday there was a "strict focus in meetings on staying inside the defense" and noted the importance of both players and coaches "being overly critical on this critical day." When the Seahawks take the practice field Wednesday, I expect to see that the early week critical thinking session had an effect on this defense.

    A sense of urgency

    Coach Carroll made it clear "We wanted to keep the momentum going (after the loss to New Orleans) and now we need to re-create it. We must start again with an utmost sense of urgency." He acknowledged instead of improving, peaking at the right time, the Seahawks started their race to win the division in reverse. Coach Carroll also acknowledged his goal from day one has been to win the NFC West, a goal that becomes more irrational to fans and analysts by the week. One of Carroll's most interesting, and telling, remarks Monday; "Teams need to learn what it means to be in the champion position." Based on the performance last week, a game that was supposedly approached with the mindset of a championship game, this team has not learned what it means to be in that position. Back to the basics will be the theme of the week for this team, as we refocus on "program competition." If the Seahawks want to win the division, they better start by focusing on competing like a champion in practice starting Wednesday as the Seahawks prepare for a week 13 game at Qwest vs. the Carolina Panthers.

    Sunday, November 28, 2010

    A rivalry renewed as Seahawks host Chiefs

    The Seahawks return home to Qwest in week 12 of the NFL season to host the AFC West leading Kansas City Chiefs. As I noted in my last post, the Seahawks are going into the final six games of the season looking to surge into the postseason. Coach Pete Carroll noted in his Wednesday press conference, "The seasons have changed this week; it feels like we are shifting into the final stretch. We know this weekend is a great opportunity against another division leader and this is a championship game for us." The 6-4 Chiefs are only 1-4 on the road, as they too enjoy one of the most advantageous home fields in Arrowhead Stadium and rely on their crowd to help them win games. Chiefs Head Coach Todd Haley noted his team is in a "tough stretch and trying to push through the marathon" that is the NFL season. The last time the Seahawks played a home game was the Charlie Whitehurst experiment against the Giants; since, Matt Hasselbeck has since excelled running the offense, especially the passing game, but Carroll still uses phrases such as "very, very good" and "suspect" to describe the Jekyll and Hyde nature of our defense. The Seahawks begin the push to the finish, looking to fix the defense and continue to rely on the passing game.

    Can the Offense continue to carry the team?

    Rotating receivers: The expected absence of Mike Williams changes the approach of the Seahawks passing game, one that has thrived the past two weeks by using Mike Williams as the centerpiece. The Seahawks must rely on rotating receivers and finding matchups to move the ball; they need to find a way to convert short throws on the outside on first and third down, a crucial element of the passing game added by Williams. Golden Tate returns from injury and will have an opportunity to make plays after the catch as he will be involved in the passing game, much like he was when Williams was hurt in Oakland. Brandon Stokely is the veteran Hasselbeck trusts, especially on third down. One remaining question is do the Seahawks have plans for Leon Washington to play a role in the offense; Williams' absence provides an opportunity to try. Hasselbeck finds his most effective tempo when the passing game is built around short passes and quick drops to set up downfield throws; he is best when he can orchestrate the offense on the move. The Chiefs are most likely without top Cornerback Brandon Flowers, putting more pressure on rookie Safety Eric Berry to continue his solid play. Furthermore, the Seahawks need to attack rookie corner Javier Arenas who is likely to see more playing time in Flowers' absence. Hasselbeck and Stokely must efficiently lead our young offense and if the offense hopes to take advantage of a very young Chiefs Secondary.

    Attack Tamba Hali: Hali is the Chiefs best pass rusher, a 3-4 outside linebacker that has 8 sacks for the Chiefs this season. He is explosive off the edge and can cause havoc for the Offensive Tackles, but is poor in pass coverage. To neutralize his aggressiveness, the Seahawks need to use screens and quick Tight End throws to his area of the field to slow down his pass rush; by throwing over his rush, the Chiefs will be forced to alter their pressure package. Furthermore, the return of Fullback Michael Robinson will allow John Carlson to become more involved in the passing game and should be used as a counter to Hali; continuing to use Justin Forsett as a receiver out of the backfield on first and second down, helping him get to the 22 touches I advocated for in my last post, will further help slow down Hali's pass rush. The Seahawks can succeed in the short and intermediate passing game if Tamba Hali can be blocked.

    Welcome Back Michael Robinson: The Fullback, one of the Seahawks most complete, versatile and tough players, returns from a hamstring injury after a four game absence and will provide a much needed boost in helping the offense consistently run the football. The former Penn State Quarterback prides himself on being a multifaceted player, a special team's ace, that does anything needed to win. His presence should help restore the "Beastmode" mentality the running game has been lacking; Robinson must be effective in blocking Defensive End Tyson Jackson, who has problems recognizing his assignment against zone blocking offenses, and Inside Linebacker Derrick Johnson for Marshawn Lynch to find holes to run downhill and attack the line of scrimmage. Expect the Seahawks to use Robinson in running behind the left side of the offensive line especially as Guard Mike Gibson returns from injury to replace the injured Chester Pitts; if the Seahawks are to score touchdowns Sunday running the football, Robinson must be effective.

    Can the defense recapture early season effectiveness?

    Stop Thomas Jones: The Chiefs running game is a two headed attack led by the 11 year veteran. He has received 19 or more carries in six of ten games this season, averaging approximately 4.5 YPC in those games; Jones is an extremely reliable option on all downs and will test the inside of the Seahawks Defensive Line. Defensive Tackle Junior Siavii must play a large role in disrupting the middle of the Chiefs All-Pro Offensive Line and the Linebackers must stay disciplined in playing their assigned gaps. The toughness of Jones opens lanes for Jamaal Charles in both the running and passing games; the Pro Bowl third year player has had 19 carries only once, but has had three or more catches in seven games, with a catch of 20 yards or more in six games; Three of Jones' four worst games came in losses. The balance Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis achieves by using his backfield is dynamic and versatile. The "Coal Miner's Son" Jones is the key to consistently moving the ball.

    The Chiefs miss Arrowhead: Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis has revamped this Chiefs offense, as the unit ranks in the top 10 in scoring and total yards per game, while committing a NFL-low seven turnovers. However, the Chiefs offense is averaging 6.6 fewer points on the road, and their league-best rushing attack is cut in half, in terms of yards, in road games. Coach Carroll noted earlier in the week his familiarity with Chiefs Quarterback Matt Cassel, as Carroll coached him when he was the backup to Matt Leinart at USC; Cassel has been extremely responsible with the ball, always a major point emphasis for Coach Carroll, and made it difficult for opposing teams to win the turnover battle. As always, the Seahawks need to exploit home field and force Cassel to make mistakes. The Chiefs are in a tough position coming into Qwest as a poor road team and the Seahawks need to take full advantage of the mismatch.

    A new personnel package: The Seahawks have done a good job of mixing personnel this season, notably resulting in the creation of the 7 Defensive Back "Bandit" formation. The matchup Sunday against the chiefs brings the need for a personnel combination that can cover 2 Wide Receivers, 1 Running back and 1 Tight End while still pressuring the Quarterback. While Coach Carroll noted that Lofa Tatupu feels the best he has in weeks as he was able to practice this week, I still believe David Hawthorne and Will Herring give the Seahawks versatility in covering Runningbacks and Tight Ends, a major strength of the Chiefs passing game, and help provide a backbone for the Defensive Line in the running game. As the Chiefs are not a spread formation team, the "Bandit" formation needs to be tweaked this week exploiting the Seahawks versatility at Linebacker, putting less Defensive Backs on the field.

    Bracketing Bowe: Chiefs Wide Receiver Dwayne Bowe has 10 touchdown catches over the past six games, but he has had only one game with more than six catches; the challenge Bowe presents is with his size and ball skills, as both his yards per catch and red zone targets are among the best in the league. Marcus Trufant, healthy after a concussion in New Orleans, needs help covering Bowe. The Seahawks must use taller, reserve corners such as Cornerback Kennard Cox and Safety Jordan Babineaux, the only Seahawk corners over 6'0, to help in coverage against the 6'2 Bowe. The Chiefs are not deep at wide receiver, with depth lacking behind #2 Chris Chambers—If active for the game, rookie Dexter Mccluster is an X factor that must be accounted for—and the passing game can be slowed down if Bowe is unable to break free for the big catch.

    Like Chiefs coach Todd Haley said earlier in the week, "this is the true grind-it-out period of the season where I think teams are going to start to define themselves as good teams, in-between teams and not-so-good teams." The Seahawks have an opportunity to prove they are closer to being one of those good teams if they can beat the Chiefs, one of the NFL's worst road teams but AFC West Leaders none the less; it's time for this Seahawks team to back up their words and finish strong, as the Seahawks look to successfully pass the first of six checkpoints in the race to win the NFC West.