Monday, November 10, 2008

Was Jones' Reemergence Only the Beginning?

by: Michael Steffes

While the game yesterday left many upset, I found it to be a bright spot in the Seahawks' season. Yes, the team was killed by stupid mistakes. False start penalties showed that the Seahawks as whole probably aren't putting the attention to detail in to practice every week that they need to. And yes, there were dropped passes. However, dropped passes is actually an upgrade over the early part of the season when absoulutely no receiver could even get open enough to have passes thrown to the outside. But putting that aside, yesterday for me represented hope for a quickly approaching future.

The thing that I found myself most curious about during and after the game yesterday was what happened to make Holmgren change the game plan to feature Julius Jones. Jones and the Seahawks put up the second best rushing effort an opponent has had against the Fins this year (Ravens had 139), and they did it in 12 fewer attempts. And for those who think these are still the Dolphins of last year, I think the Patriots and Bills would disagree. Their makeover has been remarkable.

So, what happened? Even as late as Wednesday, Mike Holmgren was adamant about his plan to share carries in the backfield going forward. However, come Sunday Julius Jones was again the team's feature back. Following this team, and knowing Holmy's stubbornness, my belief is that this decision came from above. Not only that, but it was the right call. Jones and Duckett represent the future of this team. Both fit the mold of--or in Duckett's case actually are--the players that Jim Mora used to lead the league in rushing two of the three years he coached in Atlanta. Jim Mora knows better than anyone that a excellent running attack can cure a lot of ails on both sides of the ball.

Clearly, limiting Jones' workload for the sake of Mo Morris, who likely won't be on the team next year, was doing nothing but upsetting our future back. It certainly wasn't winning football games. And with no long term benefits in using Morris, there is no reason not to use Jones more, despite what you may think of Morris. Even with the players' lack of focus causing penalties, the team has shown that its blocking and running is much improved over recent years. Unfortunately, the newly effective ground attack has been stymied by a coach who passes the ball 2/3 of the time. If the last few weeks have proven anything, it is that Mike Holmgren will not be dissuaded from passing the ball despite the presence of reserve level talents at nearly all the skill positions. The one player who has shined is rookie John Carlson, another bright spot for this offense's future. Hopefully decisions like the one to feature Jones, no matter who is making them, will continue.

Promising improvement wasn't exclusive to the offensive side of the ball, as on the defense the young players continue to shine. Brandon Mebane is a load on the interior. The move to lock up Craig Terrill long term has looked like genius in the last two weeks, as he has really played well behind Bernard. Even the defensive ends minus Kerney are showing some real skill. In watching the tape, Baratka Atkins can no longer be referred to as the "invisible man." He has played very well since making the game day roster. Lawrence Jackson is also coming along nicely in a position that rarely affords rookies success. Out of all the defensive ends yesterday, Tapp probably had the most trouble, but he has played well since his return to the lineup. Seeing the young players show something is important. They have proven they will be contributors in the future.

The question is, will the Hawks take a look at more youth in the coming games? Willis played well for the most part when given a chance at guard yesterday. Leaving him there could help answer questions about next year. Spencer played his best game to date yesterday, which also is promising. Clearly the team has begun a transition. These players, along with Mike Wahle, are evidence the team wants to move to a physical run blocking line. Unfortunately, they are too often being asked to play away from their strengths while the team throws the ball 40 times a game. Right now, the personnel just isn't made for a pass-happy approach, but that doesn't mean they don't have talent. Making use of the players who will be part of the transition to Jim Mora is the smart move, and it will pay dividends in the short term as well as the long term. It did yesterday.

The Hawks are a talented group, even if their record says differently. They unfortunately found themselves in the perfect storm this year: an uncommon amount of injuries to one side of the ball, along with a coaching staff with one foot in retirement, has led to the current difficult situation the team finds itself in. It shows up in the mistakes being made. Holmgren is stuck coaching players who know they will outlast him. Any huffing and puffing he might do likely falls on deaf ears. He knows this, which is why he is treating them like men, like employees. How much credence would you give a boss who screams and yells if you know that he will be gone before you? Yesterday was the perfect result for this team. They played hard and showed they are a talented group, but the resulting loss still improved the likelihood that the team will be in position to find the players it needs this April to make this transition smooth. Hopefully, they will have more games like yesterday in the second half of the year, and hopefully those who will be here next year will continue to show the promise they did yesterday. ~END~