Sunday, November 14, 2010

10 ways to fix the formula: Seahawks hope to rebound Sunday in Arizona.

In week 10 of the 2010 NFL season the Seattle Seahawks travel to face the Cardinals, hoping to successfully start over midseason; with a record of 4-4 and in the division race, the unexpected, early success of this new organization has both raised expectations and created critics eager to point out failure. After losing the last two games a combined 74-10, the Seahawks find themselves in the unfavorable position of facing a must win game, on the road, against the defending division champions. For the Seahawks to successfully start fresh going into the second half of the season they must actively focus on fine tuning Coach Pete Carroll's "formula."

The ball

Pete Carroll goes into Sunday refocusing his team on one crucial element of the game; the ball. "We are really starting all over again, need to play better in all phases and keep our opportunities. Our focus is to get the game and the ball right." The turnover margin has played a major role in determining the Seahawks success; a major part of Coach Carroll's formula is creating turnovers and taking advantage of field position, something the Seahawks failed at doing in week 7, going 1 for 7 inside the Cardinals 14 yard line. Hasselbeck needs to take care of the football and engineer drives using his ability to make quick throws and read the defense, not force throws and hold onto the ball. We must protect the football.

Key this week: Arizona has converted 6 of 18 turnovers into touchdowns. We don't want to give an opportunistic team chances, as that is their strength. The Seahawks must contain Joey Porter and Calais Campbell on the outside pass rush.

60 minutes for 16 games

As I noted earlier in the week, one of this teams strengths is the emphasis placed on the will to continually compete, even in defeat; the Seahawks must continue to grasp this concept even further as it is a major part of the formula that Coach Carroll relies upon. As Carroll noted after the Giants game, "our willingness to fight the fight was there and we got whopped at times because they are really good." He noted that while the line of scrimmage was dominated on both sides of the ball by the Giants, the Seahawks played with attitude and heart the whole game; first team defense stayed on the field. As the effort is there, the Seahawks need to find a consistent energy that doesn't peak at home and crash on the road. "We need to regain the kind of play we had earlier in the season, recover to our capabilities."

Key this week: The Cardinals are a tough minded football team. As Coach Carroll put it; "We've got to go on the road, bring our game and fight our fight."

Change up first down

The Seahawks inability to throw on first down has kept the offense from creating and sustaining drives; a part of that reason is the formations the offense has used in first down situations. When Hasselbeck throws on first down with less than two wide receivers on the field, not including three tight end sets, his quarterback rating is below 30 and completion percentage around 35%. By contrast, when he throws with three or more receivers on the field his rating is over 100 and he has thrown three touchdowns. Additionally, Hasselbeck has thrown from a two receiver or less formation 49 times on first down, compared to 28 with three or more receivers. This information shows that when the Seahawks show pass based formations on first down and follow through, it's working. Making a concerted effort to open up the field and throw on first down from spread formations will help Hasselbeck find a rhythm.

Key this week: Give the Cardinals different looks than in week 7; mix screens and underneath routes to the running backs into the game plan on first down.

Re-tool the running game

It seems like a long time ago the "Beast Mode Back Field" was the one of the most heralded aspects of this football team; funny how things can change in a month. Coach Carroll noted on Wednesday, "Our emphasis is getting offensive balance back. Trying to get this game going, play how we want to, starting with the running game." Marshawn Lynch had more carries than yards in Oakland and last week Justin Forsett was the odd man out. The aggressive mentality that defined this backfield only a month ago is nowhere to be found; the fluctuation on the offensive line has created hesitation off the ball, not control. Last week, Lynch looked uncomfortable after the handoff, stutter stepping and hesitating; this could have been partly due to the fact Lynch was being used to run off tackle on the edge as opposed to straight downhill. Lynch needs to be reestablished as the teams inside power runner and Forsett needs to be used as his inside the tackles complement; Forsett is an underrated inside runner who shows good vision and balance. Establishing them both inside will open the edge running game for whoever is in the backfield, possibly giving Leon Washington a bigger role.

Key this week: The Cardinals front 7 is banged up; attack inside early to establish a multi dimensional running attack.

Find our fab 5

As documented, the offensive line has undergone a rash of injuries and has not been able to create continuity. Offensive Coordinator Jeremy Bates noted this week we must "find five guys," allowing the line to get repetitions together. Furthermore, the left side we've all been waiting for, Russell Okung and Chester Pitts, are yet to play a game together. All is not lost, however, as the Seahawks have a solid performance to build from last week and have a chance to exploit the injuries and weak pass defense of the Cardinals. However, the continued absence of Russell Okung, who is "almost there," will only keep many wondering when, and if, this rookie can be productive.

Key this week: The Seahawks offensive line needs to build on last week's successful effort protecting the quarterback and give Hasselbeck time to throw the ball on, especially on third down.

Practice what you preach, Jeremy

The injuries on the offensive line have limited Bates' ability to open up the offense; as seen last week with Charlie Whitehurst, tight ends were used mainly in pass protection. Injuries, however, are not fully to blame for the discontinuity in Bates' game plans this season. Bates has shown the tendency to mix up the game plans week by week to the point where the offense is continually disjointed; Brandon Stokely, though injured, has disappeared from the game plan after a solid game against the Rams in week 4; Forsett's catches are diminishing by the week and our talented pass catching backs are rarely used as receivers; the inside running game, supposedly our biggest focus on offense, was abandoned last week even though there was some early success; after two dominant weeks by Mike Williams, the passing game was unsuccessfully run through Golden Tate in Oakland. Bates needs to integrate his players into the offense in a consistent fashion week to week, letting the player's roles in the scheme grow, not change.

Key this week: "Keep the symbol splashy;" Thanks Ron Burgundy. Establish Justin Forsett and his versatility; let the Beastmode Marshawn face a defense tired of containing Forsett. Get Mike Williams rolling, quickly—work through any early drops and keep going his direction. Get the ball out of Hasselbeck's hands on 3 step drops and screens, especially to Carlson. Try and work Deon Butler over the short middle of the field; he is a player the Seahawks need to be productive after the catch.

Stay inside the defense

The Seahawks defense has been guilty of over trying; forcing too many plays which ultimately leads to mistakes. On Wednesday, Coach Carroll stressed the defense must maintain the mentality of sticking with the plan even when we are losing; we can hang and get opportunities to turn the ball game; "We are getting outside the discipline of the defense, and that gets a team in all kinds of problems." As noted earlier in the season by Lawyer Milloy, it's crucial to get the players to "buy in" to the defensive scheme.

Key this week: We finally get to see Carroll coach against a former nemesis from his time at USC. Carroll said of Cardinals Quarterback Derek Anderson, "I have a lot of respect for him; he has thrown for a lot of yards against my boys over the years." When Anderson is accurate, it is imperative to maintain defensive discipline as he can fit the ball into very small windows and frustrate a defense.

Disciplined defensive backs

The defensive backfield was bent continually in the first half of the season and finally broke in Oakland. A large part of the early success was the play of rookie Safety Earl Thomas. Coach Carroll exclaims, "Earl is a neophyte. He's so young, he has a huge chance to help his team and bank on the lessons he is learning to help this team." He has is proving to be a ball hawk, a true playmaker, that can play center field and rely on his instincts. Unfortunately, his youth has shown in some of his decisions, especially the past two weeks; a poor angle on to the ball on the Heyward Bay touchdown and many flatfooted moments last week against the Giants. The more he can mature, the better our defense can be against the dreaded big play. Marcus Trufant is a player to watch in this second half as well; frankly, he was owned by Hakeem Nicks last week. Trufant looked confused in coverage, failing to turn around to make a play on the ball on several occasions. He showed persistence in improving as the game went on, but was not exemplary of a near elite corner.

Key this week: Trufant vs. Larry Fitzgerald. The corner and elite receiver have great respect for each other and look forward to the twice yearly matchups. Rookie Walter Thurmond helped shut down Fitzgerald in the week 7 matchup, but Trufant is sure to see Fitzgerald this week. Trufant must be patient and disciplined in coverage and not bite on fakes; Derek Anderson will look downfield to Fitzgerald.

Aaron Curry

The #4 pick in the 2009 draft came to Seattle with very high expectations that he is yet to begin fulfilling. While showing obvious talent, Curry has continually shown poor angles to the ball and over pursuit on the edge; he is simply not consistent in winning the 1 on 1 battle in his area of the field. It's now or never for Curry, who needs to show he can maintain discipline in his assignments and make a play when he is the first defender to the ball.

Key this week: Aaron Curry, meet Derek Anderson. Anderson is big arm pocket passer who does not throw well on the run. Seattle needs to both mix up blitz combinations and disguise pressure to get to Anderson and make him nervous; he does throw interceptions. Curry can be instrumental in this aspect and should be involved in many blitz packages. This is a big week for determining Curry's role going forward.

A new defensive front

The Seahawks must find a way to make up for the loss of Red Bryant, who fulfilled the lofty expectation Pete Carroll placed on him until his injury two weeks ago. The once 2nd ranked run defense has given up an average of 218 yards per game the past two weeks, largely in part to being without Colin Cole and Brandon Mebane as well. Mebane helps "enormously. We have missed him for four weeks. That's a long haul for a guy we like. He has fresh legs, should come out smoking." He could prove to be a good fit next to Junior Siavii, who played very well last week in his first extended action. Look for Jay Richardson to get time filling in for Cole, as his play as the last man in the defensive line rotation will be crucial in limiting Tim Hightower's tough yards. Carroll needs to find 3 man combinations at defensive line that can fill gaps against the run, allowing an extra man for Gus Bradley to use in coverage or on a blitz. Coach Carroll hasn't used injuries as an excuse; "For me, we have opportunities for guys to step up. We count on guys, we have to. It's the only mentality." If our defensive line can remain competitive until the return of Colin Cole, the Seahawks run defense may be able to refortify as the season continues.

Key this week: Coach Carroll called injured running back Beanie Wells "a force." His health will play a role, but when healthy, he is big, explosive and tough to tackle. Hightower ran well against the Seahawks in week 7. Stephens-Howling is dangerous on third down out of the backfield. The run defense faces a tough test this week, especially in a time of transition.

Plain and simple, the Seahawks must get control of the line of scrimmage. Carroll was adamant in explaining "our big focus is getting our second half rolling by getting better up front." The fact that the Seahawks are still awaiting the return of a few key players keeps the always optimistic Carroll believing in the potential of this team. "I feel uncomfortable saying this again, but we should get better. We should improve up front; find a consistency." Yes, I am uncomfortable hearing it again, but I don't want to ignore the fact that this Seahawks team was beaten, battered and bruised the past two weeks to a .500 record; our horrible performance the past two games followed an unexpected two game winning streak and surprising start. All that matters now is how the team rebounds going forward; Coach Carroll summed it up best, "17 teams are within striking distance, bunched at .500 or better. It's what you do with it now that counts."

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