Monday, December 5, 2011

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Seahawks' 2011 NFL Draft Board, Version 1.0: A closer look at O-line and Secondary

The Seahawks have needs on the interior offensive line and in the secondary, but what happens if they don't take a first round pick at either position? Here is an in depth analysis of seven later round prospects highlighted in the draft board, version 1.0 that can fill major areas of need for Seattle.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Seahawks meet Frantz Fanon and Alexis De Tocqueville

Frantz Fanon was an early 20th century French Psychologist that studied the effects of decolonization and the psychology behind the process of colonization. Alexis de Tocqueville was a 19th century political historian that focused on the evolution of social conditions for both the individual and society in western society.They both look at how power is generated, and applied, in society.

Fanon focused on decolonization and the effects a conquered nation faces through the violent process, leading to colonization.

Tocqueville focuses on how power is ineffectually distributed and then redistributed throughout society, particularly in his analysis of French society and it's transition from the "Old Regime" to the "New Regime" in his 1865 work The Old Regime and the French Revolution.

In both of their analyses, the role of the working/upper middle class is vital in determining societies' overall view of the government and its social institutions. In 2010, and looking forward into 2011, its crucial to look at which players on the Seahawks played that role and how they performed on the field and in the locker room.

Which players carried the message of the organization, relayed an understanding of the principles of the football schemes to a young team; did any young players step up, define themselves as immediate leaders for the young core of the team?

The organization showed in 2010 that roster turnover, weeding through the old regime Seahawks to find new regime players, was a central part of the rebuilding process; with no CBA and likely limited preparation for the season, what is the impact of one, or many, of these players leaving in 2011?

However, can there be more value in wiping parts of the slate clean? Fanon believes the idea of Tabula Rasa is a driver in the de-colonization process, while Tocqueville believes power is most effective when its applied within the system, with the greater good in mind, in a trustworthy fashion--that means making changes if/when necessary.

I believe both theorists provide some insight as to how the team can proceed forward, especially when circling back to Mary Douglas' idea of transition; how would these two forward thinkers work through the difficulty and dangers she associates with transitional states?

Comments/questions? Next, I'm going to circle back to some ideas I explored during the season. More on those topics later in the week. Thanks for continuing to take interest in my off-season project; the continued interest is definitely inspiring me to share more on the blog as I explore these somewhat offbeat ideas. I appreciate the support!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Seattle Seahawks 2011 NFL Draft Board Version 1.0

My initial Seahawks draft board. Currently a list 76 prospects, and growing, that fit for the organization. The board includes an analysis of 'Hawks team needs and a group of top prospects not on the draft board. The board will be updated every 10 days or so until the draft. Check out version 1.0!

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Seahawks and Michel Foucault

Foucault was a prestigious French theorist who studied social institutions, influential until his death in 1984. He published Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison in 1975, a work that largely focuses on the birth of the prison system and the modern application of power and punishment in society.

He brings a stark contrast to Weber, interested in shaping and manipulating individuals rather than letting them work with their own free "calling." Obviously this work was meant to investigate the reigning in of the individual, not free will, and provides insight as to how the Seahawks formula can be sharpened.

1. A major Achilles heal for the team, notably the defense, in 2010 was staying inside the scheme. During the lockout, where there is no communication to players, how can the organization indirectly impose it's will upon signed players, un-signed free agents and possible new players? Foucault's Panopticism provides insight as to how the watchful eye of authority is designed to have strong psychological effects on subjects within a given system; how the tentacles of authority can permeate into and subconsciously drive the every day life of a given subject. The key is, the more unnoticed the watchful eye, the greater its power.

2. Foucault studies in depth the efficient mechanisms and methods used when asserting the authority of the watchful eye upon these subjects, "docile bodies" within the prison system. The appeal of the docile body is that the individual is effectively treated as a blank slate, a willing and able individual looking to adhere to the principles of the given system. Are any of these methods applicable in preparing 2011 draftees and perspective free agents, especially given the time crunch created by a lack of CBA?

Again, comments and questions are welcome. A couple Bleacher Report articles to come this week, while Frantz Fanon and Alexis De Tocqueville will be introduced over the weekend.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Seahawks and Max Weber

German Sociologist Max Weber was one of largest late 1800's- early 1900's influences on social theory. His writings cover the majority of social topics during his time. I am currently applying some of his ideas to the Seahawks in my research, and wanted to share a few questions I am facing.

1. Weber extensively analyzes the Protestant idea of Calvin's "calling;" how the daily pursuit of eternal salvation effects the lives of individuals in society. Weber goes into great detail about the practice of this idea, and the effect it has on society as a whole. Are practices of his ideas reflected in the Seahawks 2010 season?

2. How much validity is there to the idea that Pete Carroll "willed" the Seahawks at points during the season? Weber talks extensively about the power of the "Orator," the leader of a given group, and how the Orator's energy can effect the outcome of their collective goal.

Any thoughts? I will continue to post questions every few days to give an idea of where my research is going. Thanks for keeping up during the off-season.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Seahawks and Sociology in the 2011 Offseason

Hey readers. Just wanted to inform you over the next 4-6 weeks I will be circling back to analyzing the Seahawks from a Sociological perspective. I am going to draw upon the theories of numerous Sociologists and apply those ideas to the Seahawks.

Throughout the season I introduced the concepts of Karl Mannheim's Utopia and Emile Durkheim's Totem rather thoroughly; I will be expanding upon those concepts and introducing further ideas. Frantz Fanon, Michael Foucault, Alexis De Tocqueville, Max Weber, Mary Douglas (sporadically referenced throughout the 2010 season) will all be part of my analysis, and possibly more.

Where to begin? Below I have listed eight, 2010 season articles that incorporate Sociology; some articles feature a couple sentences, others a couple paragraphs on the subject. These should introduce, refresh or deepen your understanding of the concepts introduced during the season--Just going back and looking at these ideas broadened my scope going forward.

I'm excited for this project, as the research is for my first major Sociology essay independent from my studies at Berkeley. Please, keep following and any/all feedback is welcome.

Hopefully these ideas will bring better clarity as to how I see the 'Hawks and Sociology in the same realm, but also broaden your own interest in following sports, and the 'Hawks, beyond a purely physical level.

The introduction of the Totem

A brief reference to Douglas

The introduction of Utopia
A an example of Utopia
An example of the Totem
Useful for a glimpse of new theorists to be explored, though none are referenced. 
More on the Totem .

An introduction to continuity and transition, Douglas.  

Douglas on transition and continuity

Finally, I have certainly not forgotten about part 3 of my offseason series. My articles on The Bleacher Report and in-season analysis give a solid indicator as to how I feel about most of the 2010 roster. Part 3 will be posted after my Seahawks Big Board on B/R.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Should the 'Hawks really re-sign Mebane?

Take a look at my latest Bleacher Report article examining the Brandon Mebane situation.

Thoughts on 3 under contract players

I wanted to share some thoughts on 3 Seahawks under contract for 2011:

Golden Tate, WR: Tate showed promise in during the 2010 preseason, but was active only 11 games due to injury and inconsistent play. He has the physical tools as a strong, inside receiver that consistently gains yards after catch, 125 of his 227 receiving yards were of this nature, on all areas of the field; he had a knack for making extra effort plays in the red zone, such as week 3 against San Diego.  However, raw route running and an inability to finish the catch downfield. Week 8 in Oakland sums up Tate’s season; often lined up against Nnamdi Asumghoa, Tate was physical, generally impressive releasing off the line of scrimmage, but was constantly out of position to make the catch downfield, often a half step out of bounds; 7 targets, 2 catches, 0/4 finishing downfield throws along the sideline, ultimately finishing the game on an injured ankle that would keep him out three weeks. He displayed his talent, but he ultimately showed it wasn’t enough to earn him playing time in 2010.  
2011 outlook: Tate needs to ignore the CBA uncertainty and spend the offseason preparing like a professional; no more donut incidents. Deon Butler’s health is questionable for 2011 and, though he doesn’t have the same speed, Tate will have the opportunity to assume part of the downfield role.  Tate is talented enough to assume a version of the Percy Harvin package Bevell used in Minnesota; Harvin had 75 touches his rookie season. Tate had 93 catches and 25 carries, with a 7.4 per carry average and 2 touchdowns, his senior season at Notre Dame. Tate is more physical, less speed, but also showed in college he was a capable downfield threat, which Harvin has become in the NFL. 46-plus offensive touches for Tate in 2011, double his 2010 regular season total, would result in a more explosive offense in 2011.

Justin Forsett, RB: He started the 2010 season as the primary back, getting 20+ touches in weeks 3 and 4. After the acquisition of Marshawn Lynch, Forsett had only 1 game with 10+ carries and 10+ touches in 4 of 14 games; by contrast, Lynch had 6 games of 17+ touches, 3 games of 20+ carries.   
An underrated, tough inside runner and good receiver out of the backfield, Forsett has proven since his days here at Cal he is a capable 15+ touch back, with over 300 carries his senior season. Good vision, acceleration, a relentless motor and a compact, sturdy frame make him difficult to tackle. He was more durable than Lynch in college, concerns that have continued in Lynch’s pro career. 
2011 Outlook: In 2009, Forsett had 5 games of 4+ catches, but only 1 such game in 2010. New Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell utilized Chester Taylor as the primary receiving back in Minnesota from 2007-2009, but his carries reduced as Adrian Peterson flourished.  Pete Carroll has preached balance as a primary goal for the offense; 12-15 touches a game for Forsett in 2011 should bring balance to the offensive play calling and create a more versatile rushing attack; the screen game could become a primary part of this offense, a welcome change to many Seahawks fans.  

Brandon Browner: Signed by the Seahawks to a futures contract on January 21. A 3 -Time CFL Allstar at Defensive Back, listed at 6’3, 210 with the Calgary Stampeders. Coming out of Oregon State (Note: then listed at 6’4, 220) he was raw, but a potential ball hawking safety that could be physical in run support and press coverage; he refined his game into one of the CFL’s elite Cornerbacks. A Calgary teammate called Browner “a perfect fit out there in Seattle with Pete Carroll,” due to man-press coverage being further implemented and the need for physical corners in run support. This is among the organization’s most savvy offseason signings, one that exemplifies the scope of Schneider’s personnel pool this off-season. Browner’s size, and initial projection as a safety coming out of college, means he could be very versatile for this defense, stealing a roster spot from a more experienced Seahawks Secondary member.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Post on Bleacher Report

Hey readers. I just wanted to share an article I posted on Bleacher Report, where I will now be contributing frequently. Part three, a comprehensive personnel report, will be delayed a week or so as I put together a few pieces to represent the perspective I have given up to this point for BR. However, I will begin to use this blog as a journal as well--short, rougher posts on secondary Seahawks topics.

Thanks for your continual readership. This off season is crucial to the future of the NFL and there is plenty going on inside the 'Hawks organization.

Monday, February 7, 2011

NFC West Champion Seahawks fly into offseason raising the ceiling, Part 2 of 3: a solid foundation, a sound plan, a championship goal

For Part 1, NFC West Champion Seahawks fly into offseason raising the ceiling, Part 1 of 3: Program "buy in," year two, scroll down or click the link to the right.

Note: "Part 2" is a three part article. If you only have a couple minutes, read the first part and come back to finish. Read all three separately. No pressure, at all. I just don't want you to feel slighted because football season is over; there is plenty to talk about. Please keep following this off season.

Defense and Special Teams

A more cohesive front seven: Todd Wash replaces Dan Quinn as the Defensive Line coach. Wash comes from the Buccaneers, where he spent the past three seasons in the same position. His hiring did not attract nearly the attention the offensive changes received; he seemed to be somewhat of a mystery, so I did some research.

  1. Wash was a two time all conference Linebacker at then Division II North Dakota State from 1988-1991; as a player, he was winner of two national championships and preseason All-American and Captain his senior season.
  2. He failed to make the NFL and went back to school earning a bachelor's in Physical Education and masters in Athletic Administration.
  3. He has experience as Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator at D II and DI levels respectively, as well as Defensive Line coach at all levels.
  4. He reportedly turned down an extension in Tampa Bay to pursue the same position in Seattle.
He was a standout and winner as a player, prolific student and has an extensive coaching resume. On the surface, the Seahawks have hired an experienced, hard working position coach. However, there is more.

Wash played with Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley on the 1988 NDSU championship team and was coached by Bradley in 1990-1991. Wash replaced Bradley at Fort Lewis College in 1996 and again at various coaching positions at NDSU in the early 2000s. They coached together for two years in Tampa. They have a working, football relationship dating nearly a quarter century.

Wash has high expectations to fulfill in succeeding Quinn. However, this hire truly signifies the importance of both fit and coaching lineage to this organization. The experience Bradley and Wash have working together is a tremendous advantage when installing and coaching the defensive scheme, especially in creating a pass rush; the familiarity these coaches have with each other will allow the players to gain a different perspectives towards running the same defense.

Linebacker coach Ken Norton Jr. brings championship experience as both player and coach, and a full understanding of Carroll's scheme from his tenure at USC; he developed Clay Matthews, Lofa Tatupu, Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga among others. The combination of Norton's expertise and the familiarity of Wash and Bradley should help create continuity for the defensive front seven and the coaches, as the unit needs to improve "playing inside the discipline of the defense," a concept the Seahawks consistently struggled with in 2010.

A Secondary in transition: Secondary coach Jerry Gray left for the University of Texas; based on the performance of the unit last season, it is hard to call his services a major loss: Safety's caused major breakdowns that led to big plays in crucial games; Corners consistently struggled to play press coverage, often trailing the receiver.

New Secondary coach Kris Richard has a unique history with Pete Carroll; as a senior in 2001, Carroll credits Richards' Pick 6 against Arizona as "the single play that turned the USC program around," a play that jettisoned the program to a 85-10 stretch over the next seven- plus seasons.

Interestingly enough, Richard provided some insight as to what happened in Carroll's first year at USC; "It took a while for us to figure it out during Coach Carroll's first year, but when that light bulb turned on, there was no turning back."

That year, Richard told Carroll he wanted to coach when he was done playing NFL football. Carroll told Richard to "look him up" when he was done playing. Six years later in 2008, Richard was appointed as Graduate Assistant at USC.

Rocky Seto, promoted from Quality Control, is now the assistant Defensive backs/Safety coach; he has spent over a decade under Carroll, in various defensive capacities on USC's staff and in Seattle. Richard and Seto have a working relationship in the Carroll program and had success together as both player and coach.

Richard brings experience as a player, but the duo is inexperienced on the NFL coaching level. I am curious as to whether or not the organization plans to bring in another mind to help in the Secondary or as Quality Control advisor. Ultimately, the responsibility falls on Carroll to provide the resources to sure up the backend. This is an aspect of this team that is under great scrutiny going into 2011, as the pass defense looked overmatched the majority of the 2010 season.

A leading unit: The Seahawks Special Teams unit was the identifiable bright spot of the 2010 team.

  1. Leon Washington was a Second Team All Pro return man, largely due to a disciplined, high energy unit that blocked well on returns.
  2. The Seahawks were strong on the line of scrimmage in the kicking game, with multiple blocked kicks and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown against Kansas City.
  3. Multiple players contributed to good coverage on punts and kickoffs, finishing plays strong with sound tackling.
  4. Kicker Olindo Mare remained among the most consistent in the league.
  5. The unit focused on energy and consistency, displaying an attitude the team hoped to work towards as a whole.
Special Teams coach Brian Schneider and assistant, former 49ers Linebacker, Jeff Ulbrich preached passionate pursuit of the football; those involved bought in. Ulbrich extended his career as a player by dedicating himself to Special Teams excellence, a quality he has brought to the Seahawks. The team will continue to rely on this aspect of the program as an example to follow.

Reflection for 2011

The following is a list of seven specific sequences or themes that had a negative impact on the 2010 season and must be evaluated going into 2011.

  1. Early season coaching blunders: Amidst the teams 4-2 start, Coach Carroll made questionable decisions that brought negative attention in weeks 3-6. In week 3 against the Chargers at the end of first half, up 10-0, Hasselbeck spiked the ball on 2nd and 1 at the goal line, instead of a quick snap, quick pass. After a failed shotgun, QB draw on 3rd with no timeouts remaining, the clock ran out as the Field Goal attempt was snapped. What should have been a sure seven points, or even disappointing three, turned into zero. In week 4, the Seahawks failed a fake field goal attempt. In week 6, leading 23-13 with less than three minutes to play, the Seahawks punted to Devin Hester; the resulting 89 yard return touchdown magnified the already poor decision. Carroll proved early in his first season he wasn't fully prepared to finish an NFL game; punting to Hester, especially given the game situation in a road game, is unacceptable. With a full season under his belt, Carroll will need to be free of early season rust in 2011.

  2. Too many tune ups: Mike Williams developed a few nasty habits early in the season: getting stopped at the one yard line on numerous occasions and dropping balls early in games, tied for the NFL lead in drops through the season's first eight games. He spent much of the season on the injury report; partly due to the fact his body hasn't endured a football season in three years. Of his 65 catches, 32 came in weeks 6, 7 and 10. He averaged a paltry 3.5 catches over the team's final four games; however, he did catch 4 TDs in that span. His season was flashy, yet inconsistent. The two, or three, drops against Chicago leave a sour taste to the season. The million dollars plus bonus for workout attendance in this off season should keep Williams motivated. The Seahawks cannot get better on offense without an improved, more durable Williams.

  3. 1 for 7 inside the opponents 14 yard line: In the week 7 victory versus Arizona, the Seahawks offense showed a true ineptitude scoring in the red zone, also a sign that the team had yet to learn how to finish; again, the fact the Seahawks offense was not truly dependable was masked, somewhat, by a 4-2 record and division lead. The Seahawks spoke of owning the division after this victory; a 2-7 losing streak and a gut wrenching, week 17 victory hosting St. Louis was needed to actually own the division when the season ended. The ability to finish was in question for this team the entire season. The Seahawks had a strict focus on finishing strong the season's final six games, producing a disappointing a 1-4 record going into week 17; the failure to get the ball in the end zone in the week 7 victory was just a sign of things to come.

  4. Third down disaster: The Seahawks defense was in the bottom third of the league converting on third down; they were rarely able to execute and was a defensive Achilles heel. Two moments in the middle of the season standout: First, the roughing the passer penalty against Raheem Brock, on a successful 3rd and long stop, at New Orleans proved to be a costly mistake for the teams mindset; Drew Brees drove down the field for the touchdown, keeping control of the game into halftime. A week later, Chiefs back Jamaal Charles scored on a 3rd and goal, three yard touchdown run to start the 4th quarter, the quarter the Seahawks pride themselves upon. Four Seahawks had a chance to tackle Charles, but he slipped away; a play exemplary of the inconsistent defensive production and tendency to break, not bend.

  5. Lofa Tatupu Pick 6, week 13: Why is a play that vaulted the Seahawks to a season continuing comeback victory on a list of questionable moments? Because it masked some major deficiencies of the 2010 Seahawks team. Tatupu had played poorly and looked overmatched in recent weeks, especially in pass coverage at New Orleans. Football IQ put Tatupu in position to make the play, not health and athleticism. Furthermore, the win built a "mystical" feeling going forward, confusion as to how the comeback occurred and how to maintain the momentum going forward; three blowout losses followed. I hope the Seahawks take a more critical look at possible in season changes in 2011. I believe the Seahawks missed some personnel changes last season: David Hawthorne at Middle Linebacker, moving Lofa to a situational defender considering his poor health; Kelly Jennings looked overmatched the entire season and could have been replaced at multiple points. The Seahawks must remain innovative and ahead of the curve in evaluating their roster during the 2011 season.

  6. 4th and short: The Seahawks were in the bottom five in 4th down conversion percentage, not a surprise to those who are aware of the teams' season long, scrutinized struggle in the situation. The change in offensive philosophy will hopefully provide a fresh approach, different from the "fourth and 1 fade" that Jeremy Bates made famous. The Falcons were 2/2 on 4th down during their opening drive in Seattle, an example of the importance of 4th down success for a ball control, power offense. To take a step in the direction of becoming a championship team, the Seahawks need to focus on winning the 4th and short battle in 2011.

  7. Jordan Babineaux dropped interception, Divisional Playoffs: This moment is simple. As a fan, I remember it to be my most disappointing of the season; clearly, the Seahawks run in the 2010 Playoffs was over after this play. One of the clutch players in recent Seahawks memory had three interceptions slip from his grasp in the 2010 playoffs, none bigger than the drop while protecting the goal line at Chicago. The play highlights the fact that another wave of players from the Old Regime will remain unsigned or be released by the Seahawks. Matt Hasselbeck, Jordan Babineaux, Craig Terrill, Chris Spencer, Sean Locklear, Brandon Mebane lead the list of free agent veterans truly familiar with the Holmgren regime; Leon Washington, Brandon Stokley, Roy Lewis, Will Herring, Raheem Brock, Michael Robinson lead the list of New Regime contributors, 29 players total by my count, that are free to sign elsewhere in 2011. The Seahawks have plenty of space for progress. 
The Schneider Way

The Packers Super Bowl victory provides unexpected insight into the future of the Seahawks.

Current Seahawks GM John Schneider spent 2002-2008 as the Packers top personnel assistant and was promoted to Director of Football Operations for the 2008 and 2009 seasons. Realize Schneider played a meaningful role in assembling that team; creating a young core of players that play with passion; finding players that fit, as the organization re-worked the defense into an aggressive, 3-4 scheme and had to facilitate the transition from Favre to Aaron Rodgers and a spread offense. Note the hire of veteran coach Dom Capers as Defensive Coordinator was vital for that organization. A complex puzzle, scheme and personnel wise, was put together quickly.

Rodgers, the only Quarterback Schneider and his superiors have taken in the 1st round during his 17 years as an NFL personnel evaluator and executive, described this Packers team as a group of "high character guys who stepped up;" Receiver James Jones, "we stayed together as a family and kept believing."

The mantra sounds familiar; based on recent history, there are few personnel executives I'd rather have building an NFL team in 2011 than John Schneider.

A diligent plan

The Seahawks head into an offseason of uncertainty, due to the lack of Collective Bargaining Agreement, with a confident plan. Carroll, "John has a great plan laid out, I'm very impressed:" An in-depth, nationwide scouting operation of NCAA players available in the draft, continual signing of young, free agent talent to future contracts and re-signing of 2010 Seahawks is the focus of the plan. No trades or signing of players that finished the season under contract with other organizations is allowed until the new CBA is in place. If a new CBA is agreed upon, Schneider will surely take his "no stone unturned" approach to sifting the Free Agent pool. He is willing to be more aggressive than his recent mentor Thompson in Free Agent acquisitions.

Schneider won a Super Bowl in his first season as personnel evaluator with the Packers and Mike Holmgren in 1996; his list of mentors further includes Super Bowl winning GMs Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson and Coaches Jon Gruden, Andy Reid and Marty Schottenheimer. Schneider's football education has been taught by an elite group.

The Seahawks understand they can't depend on Free Agency and must focus on building; "we need to be diligent and come together from within." Developing players that are readily available to the program will be the main approach this team takes.

A clear direction

I want to share two quotes I heard during Super Bowl pregame coverage on ESPN:
  1. Steve Young speaking on team mentality: "teams need to develop something that can be held on to, year by year, where players can show up and continue to master the program."
  2. Sean Peyton speaking on what it takes to be a championship organization: "an organization must have a sound relationship between Head Coach and GM in terms of personnel, character and defined directions the team wants to go. When you have that, you have a dangerous program. You must have patience, ignore the white noise and stick to the plan."

I remember reading a description of the mood of last year's draft room, particularly the relationship of Carroll and Schneider, being described as "one was on the other's shoulders, running around the room." The level of enthusiasm and diligence was uncanny.

Carroll simply stated in the 2010 post season presser" we're going to work as hard as we can and not settle until it's as good as we want it;" An NFL Championship.

They worked with what they had going into year one, successfully achieving the preseason goal of winning the division; after tasting the possibility of a hosting a conference Championship game, year two brings new expectations, new goals.

The Seahawks have a plan put in place to make noise this off season, maybe even break the sound barrier; part of the plot to raise the program to an altitude where an NFL championship is on the horizon.

Part 3, focusing on the composition of the 2011 roster and preliminary draft coverage, coming soon.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Super bowl Predictions on SeatGeek Blog

"Check out my predictions for Super Bowl XLV on SeatGeek.  SeatGeek is the leading ticket search engine that enables fans to discover the best deals for sports and concerts -- Check out SeatGeek next season when you are looking to buy your NFL tickets."

Monday, January 31, 2011

NFC West Champion Seahawks fly into offseason raising the ceiling, Part 1 of 3: Program “buy in,” year two

Pete Carroll finished the season 2-1 coaching "championship football" in his first year as Head Coach of the Seattle Seahawks.

The Seahawks 35-24 loss at Chicago in the Divisional Round was disappointing to a program on the rise, but expected by most outsiders who saw a young, inconsistent team in its first year under new leadership.

They started strong, a 4-2 record through six games, and finished with a division title and playoff win; losers in seven of nine games bridge the gap between the two.

The Marshawn Lynch Beastquake run; the video of Lawyer Milloy chanting "we all we got," the team giving back a resounding "we all we need." Before the loss in a slippery Soldier field, this program was coming together; no matter the result in Chicago, the season had turned positive.

A Mentality Solidified

Snow shocked: As soon as the snow started to fall at Soldier Field, the Seahawks looked spooked; they started the game in the typical "west coast team, 1 PM Est. game" manner. Flat.

  1. The uber consistent Brandon Stokley slipped off the line on the first 3rd down of the game, incomplete.
  2. A coverage breakdown by Safety Lawyer Milloy on 3rd and short, first defensive drive, allows for a long Greg Olsen touchdown catch down the seam.
  3. Safety Jordan Babineaux, "Big Play Babs," dropped a sure interception protecting the goal line down 7-0, leading to a Jay Cutler 3rd down, touchdown scramble.
  4. Momentum and the game, Bears.
The 4th quarter surge of three Hasselbeck passing touchdowns made this the only loss by less than 15 points this season, a true hallmark of this team's inconsistency in 2010, but also a sign this program gained traction in their playoff run; a better understanding of how to "buy in" for four quarters, no matter the score.

Credit Ben Malcolmson for the words of free agent to be Leon Washington, who provided the last words in the locker room this season; "The best is yet to come, believe that."

A strong finish: The loss at Soldier field solidified this unit as a team; a group of players and coaches who had bought into their roles, but furthermore, played hard for the success of the organization. "We are a football team of guys we like and guys who want to work here next year." The "mystical" team that came back against Carolina in week 13 would have lost 35-3 to Chicago.

In the last three games of the year, "championship football," the team hung together and validated their beliefs in Carroll's mentality; the struggle to "get it right," the streak of losing seven of nine, was just part of the growth process of learning to be a championship team; Carroll continually reminded his players if they kept believing, the best would come.

Why it matters: They accomplished the preseason goal of winning the division; Carroll took advantage of the opportunity and beat the "model organization" Saints at home, in the playoffs. I have chronicled the similar mentality of these organizations, using the concept of the Totem ( to describe the active, structured and permeating qualities of both programs--the Seahawks in the early stages of learning to build a program competitive with the Saints. Coach Carroll believes in many aspects the organizational and football methods the Saints used in building their championship program. 

Matt Hasselbeck described after the loss that any time you lose a game, especially a big opportunity like hosting the NFC Championship game, there is a really negative vibe; yet, the talk around the accomplishments of the season and the programs outlook was positive.

A little nugget of history--The Seahawks lost a playoff, snow game in Chicago just as a young New Orleans team did, 39-14, four years ago. 
Will it work? At his introductory press conference a little over a year ago, Pete Carroll displayed enthusiasm and confidence in welcoming the challenge of both building and coaching the Seahawks. His recent resume: nearly a decade building a college dynasty; 2 national championships and 7 consecutive Pac 10 titles.

Remember, this isn't Carroll's first jump from college to the NFL; his first move of such nature was from college coordinator to NFL position coach in 1984. This is his third NFL Head Coaching position; in his second, he took the team to the playoffs twice in three years.

The way Carroll runs this program is by the "formula" he has been shaping for nearly three decades. He acknowledged in the Divisional week press conferences that he has grown as a coach and teacher since coaching New England; priorities have changed and he understands the aspects of his program that need extra focus. The philosophy is communicated with more clarity.

Coach Carroll may have been a "rah rah" guy, but he is a more focused, confident and experienced coach than in the 1990s.

When asked where the program stands and what the focus of the team is going into the off season, Carroll's message was clear. "We are the division champs and that is a major part of the focus we will take going forward. We intend to own the division and grow from there." The Seahawks earned the right to create higher expectations and are aimed at surpassing year one's success. 
Year Two

Going into year two Seahawks players and coaches were informed of one, very crucial element of the offseason program. Each person would have to earn back their job; no one was going to feel fully comfortable in their current position. Competition starts again, pushing to a higher level. Earn everything.

The fit of the individual, "buying in" to this program, has been of the utmost importance since day one; the words of General Manager John Schneider last offseason, "this is not a patching thing, it's not a rebuilding thing; it's continually building as we go."

What will these changes do to the continuity of the organization; does each change start the process over?

Carroll revealed his perspective as to how these changes affect the players and the organization: this is just progress, as there "is a philosophy in place that we believe in and it's not difficult to stay on course." Carroll acknowledged the importance of hiring coaches from the same lineage; "these new coaches will keep the flow of the mentality, use the same language."

He iterated, "I'm very experienced at this—I don't feel uncomfortable at all."
The Seahawks have made significant changes to the coaching staff since the loss to Chicago. Carroll spoke a promising dialogue when explaining; part of his role as a leader is to make sure the new coaches come into Seattle both supported in achieving their personal goals and affect the players and team in the desired manner. New hires are approached as assets to the organization, not patchwork change. This attitude has made working with this organization an attractive position and created the opportunity for quality hires.


Bye Bye Bates: Offensive Coordinator Jeremy Bates had hit or miss success as coordinator of the Seahawks, finding a rhythmic, explosive passing games at times, but engineered a rush offense in the bottom of the league. Carroll attributed this firing to a difference in philosophy; "this has more to do with me doing a better job of teaching the philosophy of the program than it does with Jeremy." I agree with the sentiment of many inside sources that Bates' personality and demeanor didn't fit, perhaps the main reason he was let go.

While his firing was due to general themes that existed over the course of the season, the Chicago game exacerbated some of the negative aspects of the offense this season:
  1. The loss of John Carlson on the second drive severely limited the Seahawks; Hasselbeck noted the play calling was reduced to a "corner" of the play card. Bates' season long inconsistencies of both calling a balanced game and adapting to personnel were magnified.
  2. They poorly mixed and eventually abandoned the running game with 12 carries for 34 yards in a road, snow playoff game. They continually ran into the Bears defense on 2nd and short and failed to run on any 3rd down, when Urlacher often dropped into coverage, in the first half.
  3. The offense predictably threw into the Bears on 2nd or 3rd and long, failing to set up play action on 1st and long or 2nd and short.

On the season, The Seahawks offense was efficient on 1st down in both the passing and running games. However, the running game on 2nd was easily identifiable by formations and often created negative plays; poor 2nd down play calling in the red zone, sans the Mike Williams misdirection play versus St. Louis, was an Achilles heel for the Seahawks offense. Furthermore, inconsistent 3rd down execution and very questionable play calls on 4th down were consistent problems this season. Bates did display a better understanding of personnel in the passing game the final three games of the year, but proved too little, too late.

An offense "back on track": The hiring of former Raiders Head Coach Tom Cable, now the Seahawks assistant Head Coach and Offensive Line Coach, and former Vikings Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell, in the same capacity with the Seahawks, forms a duo with experience and attitude; one that is exemplary of the style of coaching, and football, the Seahawks looked to establish from day one.

The key to this change is simple. The argument that breaking continuity of the offense is valid, but the factor here is that the language doesn't change; the communicators are simply more effective at communicating the message Carroll wants to send. "A lot of the change had to do with my ability to facilitate the attitude with the coaches in place." He mentioned continually during his post season presser the hiring of Cable "will permeate a certain attitude to the entire team. He is a younger version of Alex Gibbs." Yes, Cable comes with the some baggage—he reportedly punched an assistant in the mouth and had spousal abuse issues during his tenure in Oakland. However, Carroll understands the opportunity Cable brings to the table and is more than willing to support Cable in achieving both personal and professional success.

Some changes to expect under the new coaching duo:

  1. Think of Cable as the run game coordinator and Bevell as the pass game coordinator. They share an aggressive, tough minded mentality. Bevell is even keeled and focused, while Cable teaches tenacity.
  2. The offense will feature a tough, smash mouth run game and short passing game that creates yards on early downs, paired with a timing based, play action passing attack that uses a variety of short routes to create the vertical passing game; I do expect some "spread" elements to be integrated from the 2010 offense. Running backs will be heavily involved in all aspects of this offense.
  3. Bevell worked in Green Bay in the early 2000's as a Quarterback coach before going to Minnesota; he has worked with Hasselbeck and comes from the Holmgren coaching tree. He continually improved the Minnesota offense with a lack of Quarterback talent—Tavaris Jackson, Gus Ferotte and Kelly Holcomb led the offense before Favre's arrival. Familiarity with pocket passers and his lineage in the "West Coast" offense played a huge role in his hiring.
  4. Cable "was born to be an Offensive Line coach;" he will change the makeup of this offensive line. No more small Guards and the Tackles will be tenacious. Practices will focus on technique, tempo and toughness.
  5. This offense will focus on controlling the clock and wearing down opponents. The number one emphasis is winning the line of scrimmage, which will set up the big play. I expect these two coaches to work well together.
The Quarterback needs a coach: One unanswered question is who will replace Quarterback Coach Jedd Fisch, who left for the University of Miami; the Seahawks did make a last ditch effort to regain his services as Offensive Coordinator before hiring Bevell. Carroll said he wants this position to be separate of Bevell's position:

  1. Former Seahawks QB coach Jim Zorn was just released from the Baltimore Ravens and would be a savvy hire; the team has not been public in their pursuit of a new coach thus far. Zorn is a premium Quarterback coach that knows Hasselbeck and can develop depth at the position, but also creates an interesting power triangle on the offensive coaching staff.
  2. A second option would be to bring in a younger coach to serve under Bevell, someone with a "West Coast" offensive lineage or tie with a major member of the organization.
Update: Add Former USC Quarterback coach Carl Smith to the mix. He has over 30 years of coaching experience, including with Carroll in New England and as Matt Leinart's coach during his 2004 Heisman season. His extensive history with Carroll makes Smith a legitimate possibility. 

The change in direction on offense was executed for immediate success; I don't believe Carroll is operating on anything than more than a "four year plan," and that might be a generous assessment. The Seahawks have established a very good knowledge base to install a more traditional "West Coast" offense; justifying the decision to fire Bates by clearly upgrading the coaching staff and putting the offense in position to improve in 2011.

Part two will evaluate defensive coaching changes, take a look back at some crucial 2010 moments and focus on how this team intends to build this offseason, especially given the uncertainty of Free Agency and the lack of a new collective bargaining agreement. Part three will focus on Personnel and the composition of the 2011 roster. Check back later this week for part two!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Seahawks shake Northwest, shock the Saints: Look forward to battle in the midway, take two

Pete Carroll's Seahawks are 2-0 playing "championship football."

The Seahawks knocked out the Saints in seismic fashion; they came back from 10-0 and 17-7 deficits in the first 22 minutes, leading to a 27-3 run. The champs crept back to within four in the final quarter, only to be undone by the Marshawn Lynch "Beastquake Mode" 67 yard touchdown rumble. I am fortunate enough to have witnessed the last 120 minutes of Seahawks football in person; this is a new team, one that believes in the feeling of championship football.

What is different about Championship football?

After blowout losses in weeks 14 and 15 to the 49ers and Falcons, Coach Carroll talked about the struggles that his "program" faced in prior first seasons; The Seahawks struggled to consistently play by the "formula," becoming a team that only wins or loses in "grand fashion." Carroll admitted he felt unprepared as to how to use the correct language while communicating with Hasselbeck when the team was making mistakes and losing.

This time Carroll was prepared; ready to be down 10 early in a playoff game, ready to get his team going after the defending champs came out hot. Carroll kept his game plan on track.

Down 3-0, Carroll spoke with Hasselbeck on the sidelines. Hasselbeck heard that whatever the Saints were about to do, which was go up 10-0, was out of his control; all he could control was what the Seahawks offense did going forward.

We all know what happened next.

41 Points: The Seahawks unexpected offensive explosion was fueled by many factors; Matt Hasselbeck took advantage of the absence of Saints Safety Malcolm Jenkins to throw four touchdown passes against a defense that allowed 13 all year. The offensive line protected Hasselbeck against the Saints pressure packages and consistently controlled the line of scrimmage. This was a complete, team effort.

  1. Great preparation: The Seahawks got results from the "championship" level of preparation that went into the offensive game plan. They attacked, and beat, Saints Defensive back Roman Harper all game. Coordinator Jeremy Bates took the design of John Carlson's second touchdown from the Bengals' game plan against the Saints weeks prior; Carlson dove to cut block a player and stayed on the ground as all 21 players moved away from him to the right; he got up, wide open on the left side of the field, and caught an easy touchdown. Credit the offensive coaching staff for their diligence in game planning for the Saints.
  2. Mixing and matching: I commend Bates' willingness to open the playbook against the Saints, using a variety of formations and play calls to outmatch the defense. The Seahawks opened the game in their first five Receiver set of this season and later lined up Ruvell Martin and Brandon Stokley side by side in a five Receiver set on 3rd down, which resulted in a crucial Martin conversion. The Seahawks used two receiver stacks or three receivers bunches to create picks and rubs, opening space for the intended receiver to make the catch. The Runningbacks were sent in motion, both split out and brought back into traditional set, to move defenders and create 1 on 1 matchups. The Seahawks persistence in creating mismatches was a key factor in the victory.
  3. A "Beastmode" offense: The Seahawks offense has been downright nasty the past two games. The offensive line has blocked for two straight 140 yard+ rushing performances and Guard Mike Gibson continues to standout; the unexpected retirement of coaching legend Alex Gibbs is nearly forgotten. Fullback Michael Robinson's blocking has opened the second level of the running game; Ben Obomanu, Cameron Morrah and Golden Tate are running with a "beastmode" attitude after the catch. The offensive unit has acquired toughness and attitude and it showed in the victory against the Saints.
  4. Welcome back, Matt Hasselbeck: Hasselbeck channeled his disappointment about not playing in week 17, executing one of the best performances of his career against New Orleans. Mike Williams noted that Hasselbeck was more vocal than usual after sitting out week 17; he communicated to receivers how he wanted plays to work and how to attack the Saints defense; the result was a level of anticipation not seen all season. Furthermore, Hasselbeck made much better decisions; instead of forcing throws down the seams, he usually settled for the smart incompletion. His one interception occurred on a questionable play call and his poor throw into triple coverage was luckily tipped incomplete.
  5. Third and touchdown: The Seahawks turned in their most impressive offensive third down performance of the season; they converted 43% of their opportunities. More impressive is the fact that
    Hasselbeck threw two of his four touchdowns on third and long and the Cameron Morrah 39 yard catch was mistakenly called out of bounds inside the 10 yard line. The Seahawks were aggressive in the passing game on third down and created big plays when they were needed.
Up and Down Defense: The Seahawks defense played inconsistently against the Saints, but made enough big stops to never surrender the lead. They held the Saints below their season average on third downs and harassed Brees enough to keep him below both his average completion percentage and average yards per attempt.

The front four: The Seahawks have rushed four or less players on more than 90% of defensive plays the past two weeks, partly to counter the fact that both Brees and Bradford like to get the ball out quickly; improved play of the defensive line has allowed this new scheme to work. Defensive Ends Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock continually pressured the pocket and forced Brees to extend the play. Furthermore, Brandon Mebane played one if his best games of the season, continually getting penetration in the run game. The Defensive Line forced Brees into enough miscues to keep the Saints offense from continually creating scoring drives.

Touchdown or check-down: The Saints came into the game without their top two power backs Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory;
Head Coach Sean Peyton did a great job of replacing the power running game with screens and dump off passes. Brees played a touchdown or check-down style of football; the Saints called plays to attack vertically down the field, but if the receivers were covered Brees dumped the ball to the Runningback or Tight End underneath. These plays often converted first downs. The Saints were able to create an extension of the running game with short passes by taking advantage of a soft defensive scheme, making up for the lack of a conventional run game.

A suspect secondary: The Seahawks defensive game plan successfully negated the Saints vertical passing game, allowing one pass play over 40 yards. The secondary could not, however, consistently cover the Saints Receivers and were often well off in coverage.
The defense often played soft zone coverage, giving receivers room to run routes to the first down markers; the Saints converted 32 first downs, yet had the ball for less than half the game. Furthermore, the Seahawks secondary failed to communicate at times, exacerbating the soft spots in the zone.

Get down the field: Seahawks special teams did a phenomenal job tackling against the Saints. Ruvell Martin continually tripped up the return man. Will Herring and Michael Robinson covered with discipline. Punt coverage was consistently near the football when it landed. Though the Seahawks failed to create an explosive play in the return game, the coverage units consistently forced the Saints to cover a long field.

The championship mindset

The Seahawks had a "championship week" of preparation leading up to the Saints, as they maintained focus after winning the NFC West. For the second pregame speech in a row, Pete Carroll told his team they were going to win; last Friday, he told his players they knew the feeling that would come Saturday; he created an image in his players' minds of what the practice week would look like after the victory; the team would receive a three day mini bye and get right to it on Wednesday. Carroll told his team someone has to win the Super Bowl and he thought his team was just getting started. provided footage of the team after the victory; you see a team in the middle of the playoff storm. In the locker room Matt Hasselbeck grumbled, "This is great guys, but we're not done." Lawyer Milloy chanted, "We're all we got, we're all we need." The Bears got a bye; the Seahawks shocked the champs and nearly everyone else; except themselves.

Ben Malcolmson of quoted Carroll Wednesday morning; "We've got to understand how important it is to be humble with what's in front of us. There's only one way to get into this — with hard work. What we need to do is simple; it's not mystical. We've got to work hard this week, and that's something that's completely in our control."

This Seahawks team is well beyond the mystical comeback win against Carolina.


A completely different game: The Seahawks go to Soldier Field with the week 6 victory in the back of their minds; they are cognizant and appreciative of the experience, but understand that result is irrelevant. Here are four key differences to the re-match:

  1. Different personnel: In the first meeting the Bears were without All Pro Linebacker Lance Briggs; his presence on the field makes a tremendous difference for the Bears Defense. On the other side, the Seahawks offense has a plethora of emerging, secondary weapons; Martin, Morrah, Stokley and Washington have all found a role as situational playmakers since the week 6 meeting.
  2. Jay Cutler's first playoff game: Cutler has thrown three touchdowns in five games this season, but also taken six sacks in three other games. Cutler's decision making will play a key role in Sunday's game; a bad decision early and the Chicago fans won't hesitate to let him know their opinion.
  3. Defensive front four: The Seahawks used Defensive Backs to blitz on nearly 50% of the plays in the first meeting, sacking Cutler six times and consistently pressing the line of scrimmage. Bears Offensive Line Coach Mike Tice has since re-shuffled the offensive line and the protection breakdowns that occurred in the first meeting will not happen again. The Seahawks will rely on Clemons and Brock to continue their effort up front so Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley can create different blitz packages; the Seahawks must find ways to force Cutler to make the quick, not correct, decision. On the other side of the ball, the Bears will rely on their front four to create enough pressure to drop seven players and mix coverage schemes; their zone defense relies on a consistent four man pass rush to create pressure.
  4. A more balanced Bears offense: The Bears made a concerted effort to stick with the run game the second half of the Season; Bears Runningback Matt Forte had 90 yards rushing or more in his final three games. The Bears would be wise to employ a similar touchdown or check-down philosophy in this weekend game; the Bears need to limit Cutler's mistakes and get the offense in favorable third down situation, as they went 0-12 on third down in the first meeting. The Seahawks must not let the Bears establish the short passing game like the Saints; the screen game paired with an effective running game could be disastrous for the Seahawks.
Coach Carroll is making one message clear to his team; just because we beat the champions, don't expect that energy to keep going; don't rely on the mystical feeling that was lost during a week of sloppy preparation before the 49ers game. He told his team in the locker room after the Saints victory that they were going to do it again next week, no matter what anyone says, but it starts with working hard every day; "We're going to do this again and we need to focus each and every day. Don't change a thing."



Saturday, January 8, 2011

Seahawks prepare for championship football, week 2: Part 2

The Saints come to Qwest Field for the Wild Card round as the largest road favorites in playoff history. They carry the expectation of being the defending champions, but also carry the burden that comes with defending their title; the Seahawks will look to "play our ball and see if we can get a win." The Saints are simply looking to take care of business. Here are five more keys to victory for the Seahawks.

The early momentum: As I noted in part 1, the energy in Qwest field well before kickoff of the Rams game was reminiscent of the 2005 NFC championship game. It's imperative the Seahawks recapture that energy and come out of the tunnel, nearly an hour before kickoff, with the same tone. Coach Carroll noted "We know they are well equipped and will jump out fast. We have to play fundamentally right from the start." The champs will aim to come out fast and firing, using play action to give Brees easy throwing lanes and seam routes to accomplish the big play. Trust that Sean Peyton has made his team fully aware that falling behind early at Qwest is different than other stadiums; the 12th man is relentless on all downs, especially during a four quarter football game. The Saints will aim to make the fourth quarter a non factor; I'd be surprised if the Seahawks let that happen.

Ball control: The Seahawks need to formulate a game plan reminiscent of the week 15 loss against Atlanta; the Seahawks created a horizontal passing game early, aimed at slashing the middle of the Falcons defense with the run game. More importantly, it was a game plan focused on chewing time off the clock, keeping the ball out of the opponent's hands. Coach Carroll," We have to be efficient and keep that mentality. We have to find opportunities: In the kicking game, remain balanced in our approach, do the whole game well. We're going to use what we have to be dynamic, but I'm not going to say we have to extend our package to win this game. We must stay inside the game plan." The Seahawks will lose this game if they try and out gun the Saints; the Seahawks must take care of the ball, and the clock, to prevent the Saints from finding their rhythm.

The second time around: The Seahawks two biggest struggles in the first matchup was their inability to tackle and poor disguise of defensive coverage. The Seahawks took extra time this week to work on the fundamentals of tackling, an elementary yet savvy move to make sure poor tackling is not a factor for the Seahawks. The Seahawks are cognizant of the fact that the Saints big play offense presents defensive opportunities and a large part of creating those opportunities comes with coverage schemes; the Seahawks must mix and match their defensive coverage so the Saints are unable to key on tendencies. Expect defensive coordinator Gus Bradley to use blitzes and stunts in spurts, as well use motion to counter the Saints ability to find matchups.

Reggie Bush and Julius Jones: The Saints come to Qwest banged up; they are without power running backs Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory, as well as Tight End Jimmy Graham and Safety Malcom Jenkins. Increased playing time for Bush and Jones change the complexion of the Saints offense; Bush may be uncharacteristically used as a traditional running back, running between the tackles on first down and staying in for pass protection on third down—when split out wide, the Seahawks must press Bush at the line of scrimmage and throw off his timing. Jones was cut by the Seahawks before the season; he is a fast straight line runner with decent hands, but has poor vision and an inability to run through piles. The Saints are lacking their power run game, but do not expect them to abandon the run; the Saints will use draws and sweeps to complement the passing game. The Seahawks must stay disciplined against the run and not give away an unexpected advantage.

This opportunity: In the 2006 season the Saints made an unexpected run to the NFC Championship game, ultimately losing to the Bears; though it took four years to reach their goal, the organization showed the NFL they had arrived and they were for real. The Seahawks find themselves in a similar position.

Just four weeks ago no one, including myself, expected this team to be hosting a playoff game.

They are a double digit, home underdog in the most raucous stadium in American professional sports, as the first ever sub .500 playoff team.

To quote a fan made sign from last week's game, "7-9, No Body Cares."

Coach Carroll on Monday, "After last night, more than ever, our guys believe in what we are setting out to do. Lofa, Lawyer, Matt, Leon, Mike Rob kept the message alive and in line, not distracting from the mission."

He added, "There is something about the playoffs that is unlike college football, the suspense and opportunity to play again."

This week's message is simple; if we play our ball, we can play again; lord knows very few are expecting that.

Welcome to championship football. Win or lose, enjoy the suspense. Expect the unexpected.



Friday, January 7, 2011

Seahawks prepare for championship football, week 2: Part 1

Pete Carroll is 1-0 in championship football as Head Coach of the Seattle Seahawks.

The Seahawks succeeded in their final attempt to get it right; in a 16-6 victory over the Rams, the Seahawks produced a steady, not flashy, version of championship football. The victory was a performance exemplary of the caliber of football this team has believed it could play: the offense, especially the running game, was efficient and created big plays; the defense took the idea of "a successful third down game" to a whole new level, forcing seven three and outs for the Rams offense; special teams made plays in coverage and limited the Rams return yardage. The Seahawks "got stronger off the ball as the game went on," finally playing a complete football game, unexpectedly bringing it in the team's first national TV appearance.

Impressions from week 1 of Championship football

The most convincing answer yet: In my pregame post I acknowledged the Rams game would provide the most convincing answer yet to the mystery of Coach Carroll's Seahawks; a potential playoff team that had suffered all of its loses by 15+ points. Ben Malcolmson quoted Carroll during last Saturday's pregame speech, "Every single step we go it's a statement of who we are."

Statement made.

Coach Carroll on Wednesday, "Now it's what you do with that, it's just a step in the process of getting a club to the mindset it takes to prepare and perform like a champion. We have to understand what it takes to get there and how to use the language properly in pursuit of maintaining that. We got the first step of it with many lessons to be learned."

I would be quick triggered to say the Seahawks are a legitimate playoff team, but they did take the step I've been anticipating for the last three weeks; four quarters, a decisive victory.  A much needed first step in the championship direction.

Running right:  Guard Mike Gibson anchored the right side of the Seahawks offensive line against the Rams, helping lead the team to 141 yards rushing; this performance justifies Offensive Line coach Art Valero's decision to replace Stacy Andrews with Gibson three weeks ago, a decision I noted at the time would be crucial to the team going forward. Gibson is a third year pro out of the University of California, where he blocked for a dynamic duo; Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett. I commend the organization's foresight to realize the familiarity Gibson has with the Seahawks duo could be a factor for a struggling rushing attack. The offensive line is thin at the moment with the loss of Chester Pitts and Andrews may find a new spot on the line as a versatile backup. The Seahawks were able to seal the division behind a powerful, agile right side that will be an instrumental piece of the game plan in attacking a weak, injury riddled left side of the Saints defense.

A division championship, not the starting job: Coach Carroll revealed on Thursday that Matt Hasselbeck would start for the team Saturday despite Charlie Whitehurst's solid performance. Whitehurst managed the game well, escaped pressure with his mobility and didn't turn the ball over; he did what was needed to win. He did win in a championship situation in his second career start.

But he missed some major opportunities, especially down the middle of the field; his hesitation on many throws actually created some of the trouble he successfully got himself out of. He exposed himself when sliding and is feeling the effects this week.

Matt Hasselbeck gives the Seahawks the best chance to win in the playoffs.

I believe Carroll made a smart decision in splitting reps in practice; he was able to see that Hasselbeck was OK, but more importantly that Whitehurst was not 100% after a physical game last Sunday. Hasselbeck has the playoff experience that comes with winning four division titles and the capability to score points in bunches. He shredded the Saints for a season high 366 yards passing in week 11, the week that began an unexpected plummet for the veteran; a plummet that has most calling for the end of the Hasselbeck era.

Trust that Hasselbeck does not want this to be his last start in a Seahawks uniform.

The Qwest Factor: I entered the north gate of Qwest approximately 45 minutes before kickoff to the tune of the Blue Thunder band and a barrage of green towels behind handed the fans way. I was just in time to see the Seahawks take the field for pre game warm ups. After a couple minutes of looking around, I turned to a good friend and told him the last time I had felt this sort of energy in Qwest was the 2005 NFC Championship game; you could tell the whole house was about to bring it.

In the speech to his team Saturday night, Carroll: "When we win, let's gather at the 50 to celebrate together; there isn't any doubt to how we are going to play. It's going to be awesome." I witnessed the gathering after the game, a group with a championship spring to their step; a team that earned a taste of what Carroll has been preaching all year. A team that is hungry for another bite.

They met at the 50 because they played to protect their totem, their symbol; at the core of championship football is taking advantage of playing at home. The Saints protected the Superdome en route to the Super Bowl.

Mixing and matching: Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley did a very good job of mixing players and formations against the Rams; they're willingness to use the entire playbook was a major factor in the Seahawks victory.

The 4 headed monster: All four Seahawks backs touched the ball in the first quarter against the Rams, an occurrence I noted pregame was crucial for this offense to get going. Washington and Forsett both saw time split out at wide receiver, as well as numerous snaps together in a two back, shotgun formation.  Forsett still needs more touches, but I commend the Seahawks commitment to their backfield.

Will Herring: Herring was used as a linebacker in Nickel formations Sunday, playing only 25% of the defensive snaps, but made a tremendous impact; he was instrumental in coverage against Rams go to slot receiver Danny Amendola, maintained a strong backside presence in run support and capped the night off with his interception. Herring has been one of the team's most consistent performers this season; the Seahawks have extended David Hawthorne's contract, now its Herring's turn.

A stuffed Steven Jackson: Jackson had 3 catches and 67 total yards in the first half; he had 4 catches and 84 total yards for the game. The Seahawks made one of their best adjustments of the season at halftime; after continually letting Jackson leak out of the backfield and run with authority in the first half, the Seahawks committed a spy to Jackson and turned him into a non-factor in the second half.

Relying on Ruvell: Ruvell Martin assumed the role of the #3 receiver in the absence of Brandon Stokley; his 61 yard reception and two first downs on three catches led to 10 of the Seahawks' 16 points. His size, good hands and route running ability make him a factor for this offense; look for Bates to keep him involved, possibly creating a package that places both Martin and Stokley in the slot.

Week two

On Monday, Coach Carroll couldn't have been clearer about his team's attitude towards Saturday's matchup against the defending champion New Orleans Saints. "We're really fired up about bringing this game to Qwest. The champs come in and it perfectly sets up for a great opportunity. We see that coming."

Wednesday brought different circumstances than the regular season, as the Seahawks play a Saturday game and therefore started practice Tuesday. The Wednesday presser gave a unique opportunity to see and hear Carroll's mindset in the midst of a championship week. "We are in the middle of the week now. We've had good start. The guys are spirited, upbeat, have an attention to the detail and the focus your looking for at this time is there. I like the feeling of how we are preparing." Sounds like the Seahawks are continuing to "cross your T's and dot your I's," the way Aaron Curry described last week's attitude.

The Seahawks have tremendous regard for what the Saints have done; they carry their expectations because they have proven themselves. They have a "model" program, a program Coach Carroll aspires to replicate in building the Seahawks.  The Saints are a program that thrives from the energy and excitement of a championship situation, a mindset Coach Carroll is continuing to build into his players this week.

"I can tell from our players they are really pumped about this game; they are not afraid of the opportunity. They are not in the wrong state of mind about this thing, and that gives us a chance."

After last week, there is no convincing this Seahawks team otherwise. They believe in championship football.

Part 2 coming soon!

In the meantime, please scroll down for my guest post on SeatGeek Blog, Seahawks vs. Saints: Showdown in the wild, wild Qwest.