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. 


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