Saturday, November 8, 2008

Breakin' it Down With Bill T

by: William Tomisser

Well fellow Addicts, it sure looks as if we’re on the doorstep of packing it in for this season, doesn’t it? I’m about as optimistic a fan as you’re going to find and I don’t think any team has ever started with a 2–6 record and come back and won their division. With the records of some of the East coast NFC teams, we’re out of the wild card hunt so it’s a division win or out of the playoffs for us this season.

Of course, you could say that if we beat the Dolphins and the Cards lose to 'Frisco, we’re right back in it by virtue of the fact that we just need to keep pace with Arizona and beat them twice to get in but it’s becoming such a long shot that it’s hard to keep up the faith anymore for this season. It looks as if the reality of us being out of contention is going to be here within the next couple of weeks if it’s not here right now, and then we can start to think about last week's topic of playing the younger players and keeping the injured players off the field and let them get well next season while we let our backups and young players get valuable experience.

Life goes on. To Continue . . .

The Eagles Game

We started off with a big play that looked as if it would ignite the team and give us the incentive to play the Eagles tough. That lasted until the Eagles got the ball back and then the game was over. We didn’t score the rest of the game as the Eagles recovered from their momentary lapse of concentration and just dominated us through the air.

The Good

We held Westbrook to 61 rushing yards, proving again that our defense can stop a pretty decent running attack. We have been able to stop more than one name running back this season, but it seems to come at the expense of the pass defense (see the ugly).

We are a much better team than our record indicates and better than the other teams with a similar record. The good part of that is that we’re most likely not going to be in a prolonged rebuilding mode after Mora takes over. We are in this situation because of injuries to a lot of our starters and also somewhat because of the uncertainty of a looming turnover on the coaching staff.

Because of the coaching changes and maybe some player turnover too, there may be a year needed to integrate and adjust, but I can’t think of another 2–6 team that I’d trade places with as far as short term ability to bounce back goes. This is still a team stocked with talented players and young enough overall to still be a contender for a number of years yet. Contrast that with other teams at the bottom of the league standings and their much more serious problems and the time it’s going to take them to overcome their deficiencies.

Koren Robinson seems to be pretty much the same player he was when he left Seattle. He can turn the big play once in a while but then he drops a couple of desperately needed first down balls, or when we need a big play down field he doesn’t come through. He’s very inconsistent. I had high hopes for him that coming in here clean and sober he would be able to concentrate on football and focus on making those catches. Maybe it's a little too soon to judge him completely, but it was sure like a big flashback last Sunday watching him make that big catch for a TD and then drop a couple of hugely needed passes afterwards to offset the TD.

The Bad

Spencer is just not advancing at the center position. He’s a big strong guy, but seems to not be able to use that strength with enough agility to get the ball snapped and then make an effective play on his assigned man. I think that he’s not that fast on his feet mentally (so to speak), either. That not only makes it difficult for him to make the pre-snap line adjustments and blocking assignment calls, but it also makes it difficult to make snap decisions that effective linemen have to make to orchestrate their blocking with the guys to either side of them. When you would watch Robbie Tobeck work in tandem with Hutch or Chris Gray, it was a thing of beauty. Without any verbal communication, they could make snap judgments on coordinating their moves to form a single unified line of blocking for Alexander or pick up pass rushers to protect Matt and give him the time to throw. Spencer is throwing the line off because his job is to analyze the defensive alignment and give everyone else their assignments, but he’s having a hard enough time just making his own play. I think Spencer is playing like he has too much on his plate and I also think he might blossom at the guard position because his responsibility will be cut down to just getting his own assignment and being responsible for only that part of the play. We need an experienced center who is the equivalent of Tatupu in his instinctive feel for defensive alignments, one who can quickly determine the correct offensive set and blocking assignments and relate them to the rest of the linemen. As far as I’m concerned, that’s our number one need for the offensive line and that kind of talent and experience would be difficult to find in the draft. Most likely, a free agent is the way to go if there is one available that fits the criteria.

We’re not using Seneca Wallace right. With everything I hear about him being such a multi-talented athlete, we should be using him as a multiple threat. He could play as a RB, WR, H-Back, and maybe even cornerback on defense in some situations with his speed and athletic ability. As a quarterback, he’s going to be a career backup anyway, so why not use his athletic talents wherever he can be effective while he’s still in his prime and have him be the 3rd string QB? He could save us one or even two roster spots by being able to fill in at so many positions. I wonder if the coaches ever think about things like that?

Considering Wallace as a QB with his running ability, I don’t understand why they don’t have him deliberately just take off a couple of times in the first part of a game just to put the defense on notice that he’s going to kill them if they don’t shadow him all day long. All it would take is just one or two 10 to 15 yard scampers and the defense would have to watch out for him all day long. That puts an extra burden on the defense and keeps an extra man occupied shadowing him for the rest of the game. I’ve read that Seneca is reluctant to do so because he wants to prove that he can be a regular QB and not have to rely on his running ability to get himself out of trouble, but that’s ridiculous when he has that kind of ability. I’m not talking about running when he gets in trouble, just running a couple of times by design when the opportunity presents itself. What made Michael Vick so dangerous was his ability to just take off and burn you big time, and everyone knew he would do it too if you gave him the opportunity. Seneca is a much better passer than Vick and should be that much more effective because of it, since you can’t let him have all that time to find receivers either. That’s just poor use of a player’s talents if you ask me. If Seneca has any chance at becoming a first string QB, it’s because he’s got all that dangerous athletic ability and he needs to turn it all loose to be an overall threat to a defense to offset his weakness, which is his height. It’s just too easy to keep a shorter QB like him bottled up when he refuses to use his talents to burn you if you play to take away his passing lanes. I don’t know if this is because Holmgren's keeping his WCO in his iron-fisted control or if it's just Seneca’s reluctance to open up his game and be a specialty QB who can burn you in more ways than just as a drop back passer. For whatever reason, I believe that the Seahawks are missing a huge opportunity to make Seneca a much more effective threat at the QB position if that’s where they insist on playing him. It’s one of the reasons I’m ready for a change and I hope Mora’s going to take advantage of talented players like Seneca Wallace.

Bobby Engram’s not the same player he was last year. Aren’t you glad Ruskell didn’t sign him to 2 or 3 more years at a big salary? I can hear the Ruskell haters now crowing about how he stupidly signed an aged receiver and gave him the big bucks just when he started his big decline if Ruskell had caved into his demands. Of course, if he had a great season again, there would have been the other half out there saying that Ruskell made the big mistake in not signing him to a contract with the kind of money he was seeking. That’s why Ruskell doesn’t listen to anyone outside the circle of people he knows has solid knowledge of the game and why he just ignores all the clamorings from the fanbase and trusts his own judgment.

The Ugly

Once again, as Hugh Millen has pointed out time and time again, it seems that the defensive emphasis is on stopping the run this year, but it's our pass defense or lack thereof that’s killing us and we have seen no effort to change it from week to week. What the hell is Marshall doing about it? I think he must just gather the defensive players around him and preach that they’re just not knocking the guy in front of them down and looking for the ball carrier. The ball carrier would be the receiver they just threw the ball to 40 yards downfield while you were busy making sure you knocked down the man in front of you. That whole deficiency starts with no effective pass rush from our linemen, even when augmented with blitzing talented linebackers and defensive backs, because the blitzing schems are no good. We’re just too plain and ordinary to be effective.

As other teams have done all season long, the Eagles picked up just about everything we threw at them and let Donovan stand tall in the pocket and just pick the living crap out of us like he was carving up a big Sunday roast. Millen has pointed out that he believes that the scheme we started using this season where we just keep one safety back and use the other one in support of the run defense is stopping the run effectively, but is leaving us way too vulnerable to downfield passes and is therefore a bad defensive scheme. Donovan got 349 yards and 28 completions on us last Sunday. That’s worse than bad folks, that’s pure ugly! Can’t Marshall analyze that problem and at least try something different? Does he really think that one Sunday it’ll just click and our defense will turn it all around? As Tobeck said, once a team sees how someone else has game planned successfully against us, everyone will just follow that formula until we prove we can stop them. Does anyone think it’s just coincidence that we seem to see the very same plays being run against our defense every week both at home and away and it just keeps working? If San Francisco had put Hill in earlier, I believe that they might have beaten us, too. He was using the formula superbly and just didn’t have enough time or receivers to get it done.

Jennings and Babineaux are both big liabilities in our defensive backfield and should be addressed next offseason. Jennings is getting burned every week big time and seems to have regressed from the promise he showed last year. I can’t put that all on the fact he's a bit undersized, either. He’s just not playing the position with confidence and gives receivers way too much cushion. He doesn’t seem able to make last minute plays on the ball, and even after letting receivers make the catch doesn’t make sure tackles on them. He has trouble disrupting a receiver's route on the line of scrimmage. Too many big plays this year have come off his man. We call Babineaux “Big Play Babs” because he’s pulled off a couple of big plays over the last three years, but by and large he’s not an effective every down player. He does have the plus side of being able to play both CB and Safety, and as a last resort player might be good for the team because he can save a roster spot by being able to cover two positions. He’s just not a player that I want to continue to see in the regular rotation at cornerback or safety. He’s better as the third string player than getting someone off the streets, but that’s where I put his value at this time.

The Week From Your Comments

Some of you had comments about Mora’s building plans and what he needs to do to fix the problems from this season. I wanted to comment on that and give you my take on that subject.

First of all, I feel Mora needs to address the offensive line. You’ve already read my analysis of Spencer at the center position. I was leery of that becoming a big problem last off-season when they acquired Wahle and then said the line rebuild was done with the addition of Solari as the new line coach. I saw Spencer as not being able to come in here and handle the center position from both a skills and mental standpoint. So far, I don’t think he’s able to handle either part of the job. Mora would do well to get an experienced center, as the ability to make those line adjustment calls is an important part of any player's ability to play the position. Wahle looked pretty good in training camp and at the first of the season, but he seems to be causing a lot of big plays to be called back through his mental errors. Since we can’t replace the whole line, we can give him another year but he has to concentrate better to say the least. Mora would also be wise to start thinking about grooming an LT of the future because I think Jones’s remaining effective seasons are numbered. Pork Chop is playing well, but I wouldn’t trust his ability to stay healthy If I were Mora, I would be thinking of getting another young guard who is an above average player to be ready to take over if Chop returns to his injury-ridden ways.

A lot of you still want us to draft a QB if we have a high first round pick. I still say that is a very risky move, and while I agree that we need to start thinking of finding Hasslebeck’s eventual replacement, we should also be looking at other teams' young backup QBs and 2nd or 3rd round draft steals to fill that need. If we have a high first round pick, we need to lock in on a position that has a high rate of return at the top of the draft. That position isn’t QB, as ESPN reported and that I detailed in my last column.

Running backs and wide receivers are also fairly risky high first round choices. You can always find good RBs to run behind a good offensive line, and you can also find good receivers to catch balls from a good quarterback as free agents or as other teams' backups you can trade for. You are going to pay top dollar for a high first round draft choice anyway, why not pay that top dollar for a player who has already proven that he’s not a bust?

On defense, Mora really has to look at the defensive backfield and not just at the corners. I think Russell should be replaced, and the team also needs to find a bigger corner to compete with Wilson for the position opposite Trufant as well as one to play the nickel back position. He also needs to try his best to retain Hill. We have one of the best linebacker corps in the league and we should keep it that way. Ruskell should keep to his policy of drafting a defensive lineman or two and look for a pass rusher in free agency if Kerney has a serious problem that will affect him heading into next year.

Since he’s not going to fix all these positions in the draft, he’s going to have to address a couple of these positions in free agency. I think the center position is the biggest need from free agency, other than retaining Hill from our own roster. After that, CB, WR, OG, and safety are all positions that we should look at if there is a player available that would fit in with our team.

From the draft, particularly with a high first round choice, I would be looking for a pass-rushing defensive lineman, an LT, a shutdown CB, an LB if we didn’t resign Hill, or a highly touted center if we didn’t find one in free agency. In later rounds, we should be looking at safeties, CBs, WRs, RBs, QBs, offensive linemen, and linebackers. Of course that should all be tempered with the best athlete available philosophy at each pick and if there’s an outstanding player available at any position that was overlooked, we should grab him.

I think that through free agency and the draft, we can get most of our holes filled if the cards fall right for us next offseason and then we can return with a strong football team for Mora to take over. If we get our injured players all back healthy and Hasselbeck is fully recovered, there’s no reason that this year's expectations couldn’t carry forward to next season. As I’ve noted before, this team isn’t a run of the mill 2–6 team. We’re not going to be down very long, and we have the talent to bounce right back.

Odds And Ends

Mo Mo looks like a better runner than JJ right now and the platoon system isn’t working at RB. It seems as if neither back is getting enough playing time to get into a rhythm. Usually a RB gets stronger as the game progresses and needs to keep pounding it to get his game going. Neither back gets that opportunity when they keep switching them every series or so. I think they need to concentrate on one back, and if they want to alternate them then maybe using a different one as the primary back for each game would be a better strategy, thereby giving each one an opportunity to get enough carries to get hot.

I’ve been watching our punt return game for a number of seasons now under Holmgren and one thing I’ve noticed is that we never seem to be trying to a block the punt. Why don’t we ever trying to block the punt, but always seem to put the emphasis on setting up the return? When we desperately need the ball back to get into good field position, a blocked punt could really turn the game around. We never seem to be even close to the opponent’s punter, giving him all the time in the world to get it off. On the other hand. whenever we punt it seems as if our punter barely gets it off before getting hit. We’ve had several punts blocked over the past few seasons, but I can’t remember the last time we blocked a punt. I’d like to see us be a little more aggressive in those phases of the game where we could get the ball back in great field position, particularly when the game is still in question and we need a score.

I’m also thinking about exotic plays. We never shake up the other team with a trick play or something out of the ordinary. Of course that’s Holmgren being his conservative self, but when I watch other teams pulling off fake punts against us and flea flickers and end-arounds and stuff like that, it makes me wonder why we don’t occasionally try something just to put that team and every team that will watch that tape on notice that we could pull something off like that at any time. It’s the same concept as the Wallace suggestion I made earlier in the column where we have him run a couple of times to keep the defense honest. If we tried a trick play or something unusual once in a while, it would always be in the opposing defense’s mind that we might try it again on any given play. The more things you can make them aware of that you might do, the less prepared they will be to handle all of your surprises. I used to love Jack Patera when he was our head coach because he might try anything at any time during a game. The defenses were always leery of what we might do too, and sometimes played quite tentative against us because they were watching for anything that we might pull off. We don’t need to do all the trick stuff Patera used to do because we’re no longer an expansion team who needs to use guile to make up for experience and talent, but a couple of unexpected plays could really cause the opposing defense to play cautious and that can open it up for our offense.

I don’t see the Seahawk’s secondary making plays on the ball. It seems they are always playing the receiver, so they let him make the catch and then tackle him. I’d like to see the defensive secondary make more plays on the ball rather than always playing the receiver. When you make plays on the ball, you start getting interceptions and we’re having a year when those are in short supply. I think the way the secondary is playing the receiver is the culprit for a lot of our lack of turnovers this year. I attribute that to the defensive scheme, too.

Holmgren shouldn’t have announced his retirement. He should have either just played out the year and then announced that he was leaving or just left at the end of last season, but announcing that he would only be coaching for one more season and the way that’s ultimately played out leads me to believe it was a mistake after all. I think the Seahawks could have made the deal with Mora just the same and held back Holmgren’s announcement and then things might have played out better in the long run. With all the injuries that we’ve had I’m not sure how much difference that would have made for our season, but it might have alleviated some of the stress on the rest of the team and coaches.

Weekly Topic Of Discussion

Having been a Seahawk supporter and season ticket holder since 1976, I’ve seen all the coaches and players come and go over the years as well as the way fans have interacted with the team. As I said last week, I’d like to talk a bit about what it means to me to be a Seahawks fan and the relationship it takes to be faithful for many years of your life to a franchise that can at times frustrated you to tears, and at other times bring a great high into your life. The sacrifices you have to make and the rewards that can be returned for keeping the faith can be truly amazing. Here’s a little history of the franchise and how we got to where we are today.

I was 26 years old when I saw my first pro football game, an exhibition game between the Jets and the Steelers which was incidentally the first pro game ever played in Seattle. It was stunning to me in its intricacy and its crisp plays and well-orchestrated drives left me breathless. Having played football in Junior High and High School as well as watching the University of Washington Huskies play a number of times, I was still awed by how precise the pro game was and the talent level was obviously much higher than I’d ever seen before. Even watching the NFL on TV since I was in grade school didn’t prepare me for what I saw live that day. The next year the Seahawks came into the league and I stood out in the rain for hours to get my season tickets in 1976.

As the team started playing, it was understood that they wouldn’t win many game the first two or three years and most of us were patient. Jack Patera was the perfect coach for a young franchise because he was full of trick plays and kept us entertained even if we didn’t win many games. I looked forward to Sunday and game day as the highpoint of the week. Pioneer Square became the place to be on game day and the Seahawks were the darlings of Seattle. Later, when the Nordstrom family sold the franchise to Ken Behring, we all got a taste of how things could change for the worse.

After changing from an owner who had his heart and soul in the franchise to an owner who wanted to move us to California and didn’t seem to care whether we won or not, many of the fans got disillusioned and the Seahawks went from a team with a 20,000 person waiting list for season tickets to a team who had 20,000 seats unfilled and couldn’t give season tickets away. I had invested so much emotion into the team that when it was sold to the Behring family I just couldn’t stop being a fan even when we went 2-14 in our worst year ever under Tom Flores. I joined the SOS (Save Our Seahawks) organization that was fighting the move to California by Behring and did everything I could personally do to help keep the team in Seattle. The day I read that the moving vans had left with the Seahawks' gear to go to California was one of the blackest days of my life.

I had lived and bled Seahawk green and blue since the day the franchise was awarded to Seattle, yet at that time was so frustrated with the franchise that I burned the two jerseys and hat that I owned at the time. Every time the bill came for my season tickets though, I found the money somewhere to renew my tickets but I wondered if I was crazy to keep doing so when a lot of people were bailing out. It seemed like I was in a foul mood every Sunday because the franchise had become so degraded that it couldn’t win any games, and worse yet the team was demoralized and had a loser's mentality. They weren’t any fun to watch anymore and watching games like the one against the L.A. Rams when they set the still-standing record for offensive futility in the NFL was a painful experience. They seemed to expect to lose and didn’t seem to get particularly upset when they did. It was the darkest days of the franchise’s history, and it was the toughest time to be a fan who cared. Somehow I got through that and when Paul Allen bought the franchise and hired Erickson to be the coach, I was overjoyed.

I just knew with Allen at the helm, we wouldn’t stay in the basement for too long. Ever since then, the Seahawks have been in good hands like they were when the started under the Nordstrom family. Allen proved to be an exceptional owner by staying out of the way of the franchise's leaders and letting them use their expertise to run the franchise and giving them every bit of financial support possible. He got rid of Whitsitt and kept Holmgren when there was a front office dispute and showed he would do what needed to be done to keep the Seahawks moving forward. After Erickson kept the team at around .500 and displayed an overall lack of ability to be an effective NFL head coach, Allen lured Holmgren away from Green Bay and I felt we were finally on the eve of greatness. What I saw Holmgren do for the team in his first 5 years here was to instill a whole new team attitude and get rid of the loser's mentality that had pervaded the franchise for so many years. For the first time, I saw the team expect to win games and not point fingers afterward if they didn’t. All of a sudden, the Seahawks were a team that didn’t give up no matter what the situation and they held their heads high even after a loss because they knew they had given it their best effort. Holmgren got rid of any player who didn’t want to give the team that 100% effort and keep a winning attitude. Even when they didn’t reach the lofty expectations that were there when Holmgren arrived, I knew that we were a better team than we had been since Chuck Knox took them to the brink of the Super Bowl back in the mid 80s.

Finally, Holmgren was given an extension, Whitsitt was fired, and Tim Ruskell was hired as the GM. The team now had a winning attitude and always fought hard to win the game. As a fan, I was ecstatic about how the team approached games and how we always played hard. The stadium was filled again and season ticket sales were almost sold out again after so many down years. At this point, this team had been a large part of my life for 27 years and I couldn’t imagine going through life without them and was heavily involved with each and every NFL season as it came and went. Things were so much better now than they had been for so very long that, even if we hadn’t really got into the playoffs very often yet, the team was much improved and very entertaining to watch play every Sunday. We could win any game against any team on any given Sunday, and it had been a long time since that had been true. Finally, we made it over the hump and Holmgren gave us another 5 years to truly remember. We made the playoffs 5 years in a row, taking the division the last 4, and the team was a beautiful thing to watch. We were contenders every year and that was something that at one time seemed to be impossible to even dream about.

I sometimes see fans now complaining about this and that and wonder what they would have thought if they had been through the whole life of the franchise and had all the past to compare what was happening today to. Even this year with all the injury problems carries a hope that next season we will be back to being a division contender and back to the playoffs, a hope that would have been impossible to have at one time. The cancer of being a loser has been eradicated from the Seahawks over the last 10 years, and even the sports writers whom we abhor for being so negative don’t look at Seattle with the contempt that they once did--we’re not the poster child of being the perennial loser that we once were. As a fan, I can still hold my head up high even now and say that we’ll be back before you know it and once again be an annual contender for both the division and the crown.

I hope that gives a little perspective on how bad things can be and how, when you look at the big picture, things are now so bad now. We’re back to having a big waiting list for season tickets, even with only two wins this year the franchise is still looking like a team who expects to win, and the players still play hard and don’t give up until the final gun. They don’t point fingers and we have good locker room chemistry. I’m 61 years old now, and having spent over half of my life as a season ticket holder and giving my heart and soul to this team, I’m so glad we still have the best owner in football and feel that he is still the same guy who isn’t going to let this franchise get into anywhere near the state it was once in with the Behring family. We’ll work our way out of the slump we’re in and we’ll all be back on board and proud of our team. Right now even though we’re 2–6 we’re far from being down like this team was at one time, so hold your head up, put on that Seahawks jersey, and proudly go out and do your best to root this team to victory tomorrow against Miami.

I’ll talk to you guys next week. I haven’t got a topic in mind yet for the weekly topic, but something will pop up.


Bill Tomisser
Anchorage, Alaska