If someone had told me at the beginning of training camp the Seattle Seahawks would enter the second half of the 2010 season 4-4 and in the thick of the division race, I would have felt somewhere between encouraged and excited; believe it or not, that scenario has become fact. However, fast forward approximately 14 weeks after the start of training camp and encouraged is not how most fans, reporters and analysts feel about this Seahawks team after the crushing 41-7 defeat against the New York Giants.
A quick, painful review
I attended the game against the Giants last Sunday and can say it was one of the most brutal and gutting losses I have ever witnessed, and I don't just include NFL games; it felt like watching a 7 year old sibling lose a soccer game 11 to 1 and having no idea what to say afterward. I watched Charlie Whitehurst never really settle in as he became increasingly uncomfortable with his throws; all hopes of him successfully leading the Seahawks to victory last Sunday were about as accurate as his throw to Chris Baker on the third and one trick play. As I stated after the loss to Oakland, it is not time for Charlie Whitehurst. The energy and fight in the crowd diminished with each early defensive penalty, multiple on Marcus Trufant, that negated successful 3rd down stops. Coach Carroll acknowledged the Giants are a really good football team, and they started fast just as the Seahawks hoped to, but couldn't: "They took control. We gave it to them 3 times, a classic recipe for trouble." Down 14-0, the stadium needed a successful Leon Washington kickoff return to get a feeling that resembled momentum; he fumbled. Two plays later Giants 21, Seahawks 0. After penalizing ourselves out of the Red Zone and another Mike Williams dropped ball incident inside the 5 yard line, it was 28-0. Nearly three quarters remained, and the game was going in a clear direction; a giant defeat. At the 5:13 mark in the second quarter Whitehurst followed up his best NFL pass thus far, a 17 yard completion over the middle to Mike Williams, with an interception to a waiting defender; knockout. The only silver lining was that for the first time in six games, the knockout was not due to a Giants sack—the Seahawks Offensive Line did not surrender one all game. In no way, however, does this small glimmer of good play shorten the shadow cast by the throttling that occurred last Sunday, a defeat that is leading many to wonder about the capabilities of this team.
Set up to compete
Not to be lost in the sour mood of Seattle sports after last week's loss is the fact that Coach Pete Carroll and General Manager John Schneider have wasted little time in building a new, solid foundation to this roster. After the draft, I developed the opinion that the Seahawks would be competitive in the NFC West and an 8-8 record would be an undeniable success; Coach Carroll and GM Schneider were building a competitive foundation, using the blueprint of arguably the most successful college football program of the last decade. Operation "clean house," a top to bottom gutting of the organization and its personnel, was something I was highly in favor of following the loss at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season. I'll make this clear; I'm a California Golden Bears fan. I did not like having to compete against Carroll and USC. But I was jacked up when he was hired because I knew how successful his program was, up close and personal. I knew the type of talent that Carroll was capable of attracting as a coach and the reputation John Schneider had for evaluating personnel. The duo showed diligence and direction in the offseason plan: first, rebuilding a horrible special teams unit early in free agency instead of signing big contract players; second, finding lineman, Chester Pitts and Ben Hamilton, who had experience in the zone blocking offensive line scheme; third, find players that were ready to play via the draft and acquire players who were available through trade as the draft unfolded, such as Leon Washington; lastly, continually try out new talent, whether it be in an off season workout or week 6 of the season. Carroll gave as many players as possible a chance to compete their way into the program, exemplified by 239 roster changes through this week. The question was who is going to fill these roles, not how are we going to adapt to our personnel. It was obvious to me this organization was growing; the product put on the football field, no matter the players, was going to be superior to the Jim Mora led Seahawks; I felt that Pete Carroll would have his team competing for the entire season and John Schneider was showing a phenomenal effort in continually finding new opportunities. This was a team that may not have a chance to win every game, but would sure compete for 60 minutes. I was also aware that the program being installed was battle tested in the college game, not the NFL, and was bound to endure some growing pains.
A tale of two teams
Let us go back to before week 1 of this season; the roster merry go round was fiercely spinning as the organization made a plethora of changes, acquiring veteran talent such as Raheem Brock, Michael Robinson and Stacy Andrews to play a major role on this team; many wondered whether or not the Seahawks would have the continuity to be competitive in the division, let alone against 49ers in the opening game. When asked about this possible oversight in the organization's plan, Coach Carroll responded, "This doesn't have anything to do with the game plan, as far as I'm concerned. We've been working on this game plan for months. We're all over it, so it doesn't affect it." As planned, the defense stopped the run, forced turnovers and gave the offense opportunities to take over the game; fundamentally sound special teams filled in the cracks. The Seahawks used this formula to go 2-0 at home, beating the Chargers in a classic "bend, don't break" defensive performance in week 3 that was also Leon Washington's kind introduction to the casual Seahawks fan, breaking two 2nd half kickoff returns for touchdowns. Unfortunately, the Seahawks formula didn't quite manifest itself as planned on the road; debacles at Denver and St. Louis left the Seahawks searching for a way to "bring it on the road" and a 2-2 record. Out of the bye in week 6, the Seahawks brought it to the Bears introducing us to "beast mode" Marshawn Lynch and a Mike Williams led passing attack. As I noted in my post The Bears to the Birds, the offense needed to continue to capitalize on the momentum the defense was creating for this football team to be successful going forward; off five Arizona turnovers in week 7, the Seahawks scored only one touchdown. Even though the Seahawks stood 4-2 on top of the division, this team was showing cracks. The lack of momentum generated against the Cardinals haunted the Seahawks on Halloween as a rash of major injuries and continued trouble on third down led to the team's disappearance in Oakland and absence against the Giants. Four wins vs. four losses; inconsistent production, half glass full results.
My biggest concern about Pete Carroll coaching in his first NFL season in over a decade was the 20 game schedule, preseason included, would wear on him and his program, a program that was tested over a maximum of 14 games. The Seahawks sit 4-4, a half game by tiebreaker out of first, unofficially 12 games into the season. At USC, Carroll would be approaching the end of the Pac-10 schedule and preparing his team for a bowl game; the program would be embarking upon a 4-6 week rest and recovery period. In the NFL, Pete Carroll finds himself gearing up for the second half of the season, another eight games. Fortunately, he realizes how important it is to approach his players with the correct mentality; "It's about helping them do the right thing next, not drill them into the dirt on what was wrong."
Monday during his press conference, Coach Carroll wasn't dejected by the loss, but determined to get this program back on track. On Wednesday, he gave a little insight as to how he handles setbacks to the program as a coach, especially after his first back to back losses since 2001 at USC. "I'm not sleeping as well as I like, wracking my brain, competing, trying to figure things out. I'm ok about taking defeat, but I'm anxious about fixing it. It keeps cranking at me and hopefully with the help of everyone well keeps moving in the right direction. It's important to recognize where we are, and we have a chance at the division which is the goal of the program. But it's hard, it's challenging. I'm proud of this group, they take on the adversity and the cool thing is to try and come out the other end together."
One thing was made clear on Wednesday by Coach Carroll. We are "starting over" and looking at the team and players from a new perspective, going as far to switch players' seats for Wednesday meetings. Even as Coach Carroll acknowledges "we know our formula well," he also openly realizes it needs to be represented correctly and actively, adding Wednesday, "we are in high gear today, actively trying to put together a terrific plan this week." Carroll's idea of how to create change parallels an idea founded by Karl Mannheim, an early 20th century Hungarian sociologist; he developed a different understanding about the idea of a utopia, which is commonly understood as enjoying social or political perfection. Mannheim's utopia is identified by bursts of thought that present an overwhelming desire and intention for change; these intentions are active in pushing through challenges and minimizing any limitations that may hinder success. Last Sunday after the game; "We've got no quitters," Lofa Tatupu said. "I'm not worried about our attitude or anything like that. We've got the right attitude, we've got players, we've just got to make plays, bottom line." Sounds like coaches and players agree; it's time to actively change this season and make a legitimate push to win the division.
Check soon for the week 10 preview; 10 ways to fix the formula: Seahawks hope to rebound Sunday in Arizona.