Friday, November 14, 2008

The Beginning of the End?

by: Michael Steffes

A lot of the talk about the Seahawks this week, especially on KJR, centered around whether or not the Seahawks are an injured team who can return to form next year or if this is the beginning of the end of their reign on top of the NFC West. Well, Aaron Fentress of the Oregonian has checked in with his take. He doesn't share nearly the optimism that many of you expressed while talking about whether or not the Seahawks could come back strong next year. Let's take a look at his argument.

To begin with, Fentress claims that the Seahawks probably won't win 7 games next year. This is the first statement that I have a problem with, not because I am going to tell you I am certain that the Hawks are better when healthy, but because predicting the NFL from year to year is a difficult proposition. How many of you would have picked the Dolphins and Falcons to exceed 7 wins this year? Not many, I suspect. If there is one thing that everyone can agree on about Tim Ruskell, it is that he moves and moves aggressively when something isn't working. Does he always get it right? No, but he has sometimes, and who is to say he doesn't hit with a few big moves next year? It is too hard to predict wins and losses for next year right now, so that is a proposition best avoided.

So why does Fentress think the Hawks' demise is at hand? In general, he states that "Veteran stars are aging. Young players aren't producing. And competition within the NFC West has risen." Let's look at these one by one:

His argument that veteran stars are aging centers around Matt Hasselbeck. He questions both his health and his effectiveness once Holmgren leaves. His health will be key, but it is hard to base this on his age. Plenty of QBs having success this year are older than Matt, including Kurt Warner and Keary Collins. Both of these QBs also suffered through some discouraging years before rebounding. In fact, Matt has seemed to struggle consistently during even numbered years (mostly due to injury), but so far he has always bounced back. There were questions on his health heading into last year, but he had his best season to date. He has an offseason to get right, and if he does there is no reason to think he won't bounce back. He has a couple good years left, but will need to have the pressure taken off a bit.

To continue . . .

Which brings me to Holmgren. While Holmgren has been his mentor, and a noted QB guru, you only have to look as far as this year to see that his stubborn refusal to change his offense hasn't always benefited the team. One thing we do know about Mora, and Knapp if he is the OC, is that they were top 5 in rushing while together in Atlanta, and led the league twice. A commitment to rushing the football like that will certainly make life easier on Matt. With the running backs in place, the only place to upgrade this part of the offense further will be on the line. The team will select a linemen in April, the only question is how high and what the immediate impact will be.

Next Fentress attacks the Seahawks' defense, calling them the most overrated unit in football. While their play this year hasn't proved this argument wrong, it is not a stretch to have faith in this unit going forward. Fentress said that young players are not performing. I disagree, especially on defense. Brandon Mebane is one of the better young defensive tackles in the league, and Red Bryant has played well when on the field. They could easily become a great paring going forward. On the ends, while not dominant, Tapp, Jackson, and Atkins are not liabilities. It often takes ends time to find themselves in this league, and the promise is there. Josh Wilson is improving every week, and safety will be addressed in the draft, I have no doubt. Add to all this the entrance of a head coach who is not only defensively minded but widely praised by the players on that side of the ball, and this unit is poised to take the next step. It doesn't take a genius to see that coaching has held them back in recent years, and with change a coming, the defense seems poised for better days.

They will need some help from the offense, though. Leading the league in 3-and-outs negatively affects even the best defenses. However, the offense is getting contributions from young players as well. Carlson and Schmitt have lived up to their billing. We will learn more about the wide receivers now that Taylor is back, but who is to say that a change in system won't benefit the wide receivers as well? Mike Holgmren runs an offense based on timing and rhythm. That does not suit every receiver. It is possible that the WRs were even selected with the knowledge that the system would be changing. In fact, the team probably expected to make the change this year. Clearly their are question marks on the offense, but things are not as dire as some would have you believe. This weekend may be the first sight of that.

So has the Seahawks' window slammed shut? Are we in for a long rebuild? I seriously doubt it. Even this article admits the Hawks have money to spend. They have spent it wisely in the past, getting Pro Bowl performances from free agents like Patrick Kerney and Julian Peterson. Now they just have to do it on the other side of the ball. ~END~