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Roster Roundouts: A Seattle Seahawks Season Preview

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flickr.com/Bernzilla

flickr.com/Bernzilla

West coast sports fans are quick to note that media is largely east coast biased, and there’s some validity to this principal.  Every individual major sport began in the east, and migrated west, leaving it’s historically most rabid fan bases in the east.  These franchises are the cash cows of the professional league, and so it makes sense to promote your biggest teams, and often, west coast teams are limited in their coverage.

It’s not an east coast bias as much as it is a big market bias.  But in football, a remarkable trend has occurred regarding super bowl winners: the St. Louis Rams won Super Bowl XXXIV.  The next nine super bowl winners have come from the eastern time zone.  Roughly about half the franchises play their home games in the east, so it’s not like it’s completely circumstantial: the dominant teams of the era have been the Steelers, the Patriots, the Ravens, the Colts, and the Giants to a lesser extent.  Even when other teams have broken through to win their conference: the 2002 Raiders, the 2005 Seahawks, the 2006 Bears, and the 2008 Cardinals, none have won the big game.

So it’s with complete respect to this history that I make the prediction that a west coast team is winning the Super Bowl this year.  If not the Seattle Seahawks, someone who outlasts them in the NFC West.  And if not them, why not the Chargers?  But since this article isn’t about all the other West Coast teams, allow me to make a case for the Seahawks as the best team in the NFC West, and maybe even the NFC.

First of all, the Seahawks QDS of 12 is the second highest of any team in the wide open NFC-other-than-East, second only to division rival Arizona.  The 4-12 record last year is irrelevant.  No one blames the Seahawks for the offensive injuries, and while you can make a case that the defense should not have collapsed like it did last year, dropping the team to the depths of the league’s worst, in a season where they expected to be one of the very best.  It was a humbling experience for all involved, but you can’t argue that the team didn’t make the necessary defensive changes to fix what ailed them.

Is there reason to believe that the necessary changes won’t work?  Well, the team didn’t replace S Brian Russell yet, and he was a major coverage issue last year.  But they’ve all but given up on Kelly Jennings, who was another major coverage issue, and they’ve brought back a proven cover man in Ken Lucas rather than push nickelback/return man Josh Wilson into a role where he could potentially fail.  It’s hard to imagine CB Marcus Trufant having a worse year in coverage than he did last year given his impressive track record, and with Patrick Kerney returning from injury, and given the depth that the Seahawks feature on the DL, this breaks down to be a great coverage team.

There’s cause for concern though.  One of the things that the Seahawks can’t expect to improve to the mean is their pass rushing numbers.  The trade for Cory Redding pulls two pass rushers off the field: Julian Peterson, who was traded to Detroit for Redding, but also the LE position, which is where Kerney had been playing, as Redding is only a pass rusher in the nominal sense: he plays a position where they make him do that.  But the trade off is that they should see a boost in the run defense when blockers are not getting to superstar LBs Lofa Tatupu and Aaron Curry, and mere mortal LB Leroy Hill.

Tatupu isn’t much in coverage, which is where Curry will help the team the most.  Linebacker coverage was a major issue last year, and Curry and Hill offer two very strong coverage options for linebackers.  This is not your father’s cover two defense; Tatupu isn’t going to be running vertically here.  The other thing Curry will help is that when he gets enough experience so that he doesn’t have to come off the field in third down, it will virtually eliminate the need for a dime back in the Seahawks defense, which is good, because safety is one of their thinnest positions.  DT Brandon Mebane is a largely unheralded tackle against the run and the pass.  While it’s not certain that they’ll have a top 5-10 defensive unit, it’s certainly looking good.

The veteran offensive line collapsed last year, and it’s really hurting right now.  Walter Jones’ status for the season is very much in question after arthroscopic knee surgery, he might miss the rest of the preseason, or the entire regular season.  The team already released veteran LG Mike Wahle earlier this month due to health concerns and performance issues.  C Chris Spencer’s performance is a major question mark, and you have to be disappointed that a 2005 first round pick as an interior lineman has not become a force on the the inside.  Rob Sims and Manfield Wrotto are no ones idea of a top guard tandem, though they might end up being the strength of the offensive line.  If Walter Jones is healthy enough to play, they’ll have their bookend RT back in Sean Locklear.

Other than that, the Seahawks will plant their franchise (Matt Hasselbeck) behind Center, and ask their very volatile skill position players to help them win games.  The tight end position is the most solidified, where John Carlson was everything the Seahawks wanted coming out of Notre Dame.  He’s the ideal west coast tight end: a blocker who is functionally athletic and is better in the red zone than any other part of the field.

They made a brash signing in T.J. Houshmandzadeh.  He has a contract that may look bad in three or four years depending on the outcome of the CBA negotiations, but in the immediate, gives the Seahawks exactly what they need on the outside.  He makes the Seahawks better at three positions, because now Nate Burleson is not out of place as a complementary target, and Deion Branch is a functional number three receiver.

Where you could argue that the Seahawks are weakest is behind Matt Hasselbeck.  Not on the depth chart.  In the I-formation.  Julius Jones will look to start 16 games this year for the Seahawks.  He’s not your ideal feature back, but in an era where everyone is sharing the load, Julius Jones is basically a lock for 300 carries this year, and he happened to put up a very respectable 4.4 YPC last year behind a mess of an offensive line.  Jones only has one 1,000 yard season to his name in the NFL, but he’s not a bad player.

The problem is that he’s not the kind of player you spend a lot of time trying to work him into space.  He’ll be plugged into this machine, and if he doesn’t fit perfectly, the Seahawks will just throw the ball 45 times a game.  Can this team win like this?  Yes, but only if it doesn’t result in Matt Hasselbeck being injured again.

So, a likely top ten defense combines with one of the most efficient passing games in the NFL, and a functional running game, and you have a super bowl contender.   This is a stronger t0p-to-bottom, September-to-January team than the Cardinals are, in spite of the higher QDS rating, and it’s a blessing that this team does not play in the NFC East.  While the East will produce at least ONE team capable of winning it all in January, the Seahawks figure to show up in the playoff field in pretty much all scenarios, and in many of them, are capable of riding a west coast home field advantage back to the NFC Championship game and a favorable strategic match-up.

That’s why a 4-12 team from last year is perhaps the safest pick to win the NFC and play in the Super Bowl.

Seahawks Headquarters, Kirkland, WA

Lets look at some of the players on the Seahawks who are still fighting and clawing to make the roster.

-QB Mike Teel is in a tight QB battle with former Nevada QB Jeff Rowe, and holds a slight lead in that he usually gets to play before Rowe.  I think Rowe is the better player of the two, but the Seahawks will probably give Teel a year on the roster based on his draft status as a 6th round pick.

-RB Devin Moore is a smaller sized running back with explosive skills.  Unfortunately, the Seahawks are already trying to feature Justin Forsett in their offense and special teams, and that makes Moore expendable no matter what he does.  There’s diminishing returns to having multiple diminutive backs.

-WR Jordan Kent is trying to make the Seahawks roster AGAIN this year after falling victim to the same voodoo that cost Ben Obomanu, Courtney Taylor, Nate Burleson, and Logan Payne their 2008 seasons, and give refugee to Koren Robinson, of all people.

-TE Cameron Morrah is a rookie tight end from Cal who looks like he’s going to be able to hold onto the third tight end job.

-DE Michael Bennett is the brother of Martellus Bennett, and like his brother, he’s making a lot of noise in August.  He combines an impressive frame with really good athleticism and is making it very hard on the Seahawks’ brass to make a decision on their defensive line personnel.

-CB Travis Fisher is a cast off from last year’s Lions who is trying to push Kelly Jennings for a roster spot in training camp.

Surprise Cuts?

  • RB Justin Forsett
  • WR Deion Branch
  • OT Walter Jones
  • C Chris Spencer
  • S Brian Russell
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