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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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.