Thursday, October 28, 2010

On top of the NFC West, but looking up at the ceiling

As Head Coach Pete Carroll worked his way down the bench dropping a hail storm of Hell Yeah on his defense, notably Roy Lewis and Lawyer Milloy, at the end of the victory over the Cardinals, I imagine his words to echo something similar to the following: "You competed like hell; you brought it how this Seahawks team brings it. You are tough, fast, physical. Enjoy this. Build on this!" He knew he had to build up his boys. He knew pointing out the fact that by playing together, individual players abiding by the same defensive principals as a collective unit, buying into what the team had worked on all week in practice, is why the team won. They bought in; everybody won.

So when Pete Carroll stepped to the microphone for his post game press conference Sunday, victorious as coach of the NFC West leading Seattle Seahawks, what I expected and what I saw didn't completely line up. Somehow, the most jacked up coach in pro football seemed somewhat disappointed after a tremendous win. I was confused. But as I listened further, my gut didn't change. Carroll, "we had so many chances; we left so much on the field in terms of points. It was great to get the win and we had fun in the locker room. A lot of good happened but we have so much room for improvement. That's what's really exciting." Let me quickly translate: our defense and special teams led by ball hawking rookie Earl Thomas, the best Center fielder Seattle has seen since Griffey, played tremendously creating five turnovers combined between the 2 units; however, Seattle's offense scored 1 touchdown, a dismal 1 for 7 on possessions inside the opponent's 14 yard line. The defense was highly effective on third down, but uncharacteristic on first and second allowing 100 yards rushing to a team for the first time all season. Mike Williams finished with 11 catches only after dropping balls early, a common theme for his performance's this season; He also got stopped on the 1 yard line, again. Olindo Mare made an astonishing 8 field goals, but only five actually counted. We're showing we can be tough and physical on offense, but did I mention an average of 3.8 yards per play? We learned this football team is good, and has work to do before its closer to great. We also saw, however, the tough as nails, disciplined mindset this football team, and organization, operates under; to learn more about this mindset, look no further than the words of veteran Safety Lawyer Milloy.

In his 15th season as a strong safety, Milloy has a reputation of toughness, longevity and a Super Bowl victory. He played for Carroll in New England in the late 1990s, leading a Carroll influenced defense, and has been the leader of the defensive backfield under Carroll in Seattle. Milloy has logged more snaps than most in the NFL, and knows a winning formula when he sees one. He sat at his locker after the victory and praised the defined direction of the organization. Milloy told Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times, "Our team was built through competition. It started in the offseason. The 53 guys in here, we know we belong. We earned it. Our roster is still changing, but the one thing that's a constant is effort. A lot of times, effort gets you through the tough times." As I noted in my previous entry Hawks Flyin' High, to be on this team you have to compete like hell, and if you aren't willing to buy in and put in the effort to stay on the 53 man roster, someone else will; notice how some players, Quinton Ganther and Chester Pitts to name a few, are willing to compete in the program without a guaranteed spot. Even though most outside the organization questioned the roster moves at the end of the pre-season, most notably the release of T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Milloy explained the clear vision Carroll and General Manager John Schneider have for this team; the certain types of guys they wanted. Even though many faces are fresh, the team is coming together to find ways to win. Milloy, to the Seattle Times' Steve Kelley, "And the thing about it is, that no matter what position we're in, the thing I'm happiest about is that this team understands that if we play our ball we can beat anybody. And that's the bottom line." Milloy made it very clear there is a universal understanding inside the organization as to how the program runs and what it takes to be a part of its success, and this understanding has been growing stronger throughout the pre-season and through 1/3 of the regular season; the more each individual invests in representing this Seahawks organization, the stronger the team and the collective energy surrounding the team can become. This program doesn't cater to individuals; it breeds the success of the collective. The focus is on breeding a team that plays every snap to protect the Seahawk logo on Sunday. To further understand the potential associated with this approach to team building, let me introduce you to the idea of the Totem.

In his work The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, Emile Durkheim, the founder of the science of Sociology, explains the Totem as a symbol of expression. "It is a flag. It is the sign by which each clan distinguishes itself from others, a visible mark of personality and embodiment." The flag is a universal representation of any individual who is fully associated with the culture of the flag. The conscious respect of the flag "automatically stimulates or inhibits behavior regardless of any relative consideration of its practical or harmful effects. When one obeys a moral authority we recognize him because a psychic energy immanent to the idea we have of this person makes us bend our will and incline to compliance." The stronger the belief of those most intimately involved with group that is solely responsible for representing the Totem, in this case a football team, the more infectious the spread the "Totemic principle" of that symbol will be; the end being a  "Collective Effervescence." To rein this abstract idea to concrete ground, a recent NFL example is the New Orleans Saints. The city of New Orleans ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, grabbed onto this organization, its fresh faces and most importantly, Hope. (The link is footage of the first post Katrina game in the Superdome vs. Atlanta. Unofficially, the loudest noise ever produced by a sports crowd. <>. Seahawks fans, you will be rewarded for watching the full 1:40.) The organization made it their responsibility not just to represent the team, but to have that Saints logo represent the city as a whole; The Saints logo ultimately represented a city of people outside the organization caring just as much about the success of the team as the players and staff working towards a collective success, the "Collective Effervescence" that was the nation wide celebration of the Saints victory in Super Bowl XLIV.

The comparison to note here is the similarity in the type of organization the Saints built and the Seahawks are building. While I cannot say if the Seahawks will win a championship this year, or any year, I can say that this team and organization have built a rock solid foundation, mentally and physically. The "psychic energy" Pete Carroll has brought, look no further than the high five parade Sunday, is defining how the Seahawks operate; that everyone involved understands that to win a team championship it takes continually working to develop a team and staff devoted to representing, and distinguishing, itself to the fullest. Milloy's post game comments show me that, as I noted previously, GM John Schnieder said, "It's not a patching thing. It's not a rebuilding thing. It's continuously building as we go." The Hawks are now sitting above the division, and the thing I'm happiest about is that this organization believes there is only one direction to keep flying; up.

In week 8 of the 2010 NFL season, the Seahawks fly into Oakland to face the Raiders in an unfamiliar position. Going into the Chicago game, the Hawks focus was bringing a "home" energy on the road and competing like hell; bringin' it on the road. The focus of the Arizona game was protecting our turf and taking over the division. The matchup versus Oakland carries a very different theme. For the first time all season, the first time under the new regime, we are no longer the "in rebuilding mode," underdog football team that most outside the organization expected; we now have the targets on our backs. There is an expectation sitting on this team to win in Oakland; we are expected to come fully prepared and ready to compete every week. This week's theme is focused on protecting our flag, taking care of our business, and building the anticipation of winning, wherever we play. We fly into Oakland looking to thrust above the gray skies, avoiding the pull of the black hole along the way.

A post outlining keys to the game will come Saturday; we just learned Jason Campbell is likely starting at QB for the Raiders. However, as a bay area resident who watches a lot of Raider football, I want to share three quick thoughts on the Raiders performance last week at Denver and the week before at San Francisco. First, the football team that dropped a record setting 59 point bomb on the Denver Broncos last Sunday was not the same team that lost the week before against the 49ers, San Francisco's first win. The Raiders are a very inconsistent football team that struggles to find its identity, especially at quarterback, and bring a consistent energy weekly. Last week, The Raiders took advantage of having an unexpectedly healthy and impressively explosive Darren McFadden, walloping a disinterested and thoroughly unprepared, mostly for McFadden's health, Denver team. Second, in the game against San Francisco, the 49ers were able to use formations and motion to get Michael Crabtree into coverage against second corner Stanford Routt, not stud Nnamdi Asomugha; The 49ers mainly used motioning out of Trips into a standard 1 RB-4WR set to get the matchup's they wanted. Matchups are critical for Seattle Sunday. Matt Hasselbeck acknowledged in his post game press conference last week that Arizona used more double coverage than expected, even with the presence of Pro Bowl corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, to contain Mike Williams early. Asomugha's role is often to play one side of the field, not one man, in coverage. The Seahawks can take advantage of that tendency. My last thought; Lynch and Forsett, The Beast Mode Back Field, is back in the bay. Memorial stadium is 20 minutes from The Oakland Coliseum. I can't wait. I am confident Coach Carroll and his staff is fully preparing the team for all of the possibilities come Sunday, and whatever the game plan, it will surely be focused on executing it not as 53 pieces, but one unit.

1 comment:

  1. Man. That kid can write! Shouldn't he be studying or something. I think it's great he is so passionate about a football team but lets be realistic here. We are talking about the Seahawks. I've been known to dig deeply into the Packers but reading all that about the Seahawks is making me a bit seasick.

    I am impressed though. He gets my vote for 12th man of the year. Let's hope the Hawks can hold the Raiders to less than 59 points this week. Then it's the New York Giants who might suck all the hope out of any hawks fan from here to Berkeley.