Midseason grades: Seahawks still seeking some consistency
ERIC D. WILLIAMS; The News Tribune
RENTON – To attain coach Jim Mora’s stated goal of reaching the playoffs, the Seattle Seahawks have some work to do.
Like last season, the Seahawks can partially blame their 3-5 start on an unforeseen rash of injuries that forced Seattle to juggle lineups on both sides of the ball.
However, the somewhat predictable wear and tear on Seattle’s aging cornerstone players such as quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, offensive tackle Walter Jones, defensive end Patrick Kerney and cornerback Marcus Trufant – the four positions most general managers build teams around – have resulted in this team underperforming during the first half of the 2009 season.
And the road to the playoffs doesn’t get any easier. The Seahawks will play the next three games away from home, with trips to Arizona, Minnesota and St. Louis. They finish the season with five of their last eight games on the road.
Mora evaluates the first half this way:
“It was definitely hard for us to find consistency, as I’ve said, because of the new staff, new scheme, and then the plethora of injuries,” he said. “But as we move forward, we’ve got guys back. Now, we’re not going to get Lofa (Tatupu) back, and we’re not going to get Walt back, so that’s out of everyone’s minds.
“The guys that are here, they’re practicing, and they’re going to be playing. I expect us to keep working hard, and every day, come in here and try to get better as a football team. We went 1-3 the first quarter, and 2-2 the second quarter. Now we’ve got to try and improve on that. That’s what we’ll do. That’ll be our focus.”
With that, here are the midseason grades for the Seahawks.
Starter Hasselbeck missed two games after suffering a rib injury against San Francisco. Hasselbeck has been solid when healthy, throwing for 1,307 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions in six games played. The Seahawks are 3-3 with Hasselbeck as the starter.
Backup Seneca Wallace had an uneven performance filling in for Hasselbeck, losing both games against Chicago and Indianapolis. Neither quarterback received great pass protection with the juggling of the offensive line. Hasselbeck showed toughness in his ability to run the offense efficiently while still being banged up. Because of the team’s struggling running attack, Mora might decide to put the ball in Hasselbeck’s hands more and let him manage the game.
The Seahawks are 30th in rushing, averaging 84.5 yards a game. The team has not had much consistency up front because of the injuries. That said, the switch to the zone blocking scheme has not been a smooth transition, with the running backs and offensive line still working on getting the timing down.
Seattle got rid of its best short-yardage back in T.J. Duckett and signed veteran Edgerrin James, only to release him last week. Julius Jones leads the team with 382 yards and two touchdowns, but he has only 97 rushing yards in his last three games.
Unlike last year, the receivers have stayed healthy. Nate Burleson is having a good season. A year removed from knee surgery, he leads the teams in receptions with 45, and also has three touchdowns.
The offseason signing T.J. Houshmandzadeh has been as good as advertised. He has 41 receptions and three touchdowns in the first half of the season. But Hasselbeck and Houshmandzadeh have not always been on the same page in reading the defense And Houshmandzadeh also received some unwanted attention because of the outward emotion he shows at times when things aren’t going his way.
In his second season, teams are now game-planning for John Carlson. He’s third on the team with 33 receptions for 372 yards and two scores, which puts him on pace to break last season’s franchise records he set for a tight end in receptions and receiving yards. Still, because of injuries on the offensive line Carlson has had to remain at the line of scrimmage more to help protect Seattle’s quarterbacks, and his run blocking is still a work in progress.
Backup John Owens has been a solid, and rookie Cameron Morrah looks like he has potential to contribute in the future.
They’ve had four different starters at left tackle, three different starters at left guard, and five different starting lineups in eight games.
Cornerstone offensive tackle Jones is on the injured-reserve list for the rest of the season, unable to return from offseason microfracture knee surgery. And projected starting left guard Mike Wahle did not pass a physical and retired before training camp. So the projected starting left side of the line for 2009 never played a single snap in a game.
Offensive line coach Mike Solari had done an admirable job coaching up this group, and now that they are getting healthier their performance should improve.
Seattle is tied for 12th in the league in sacks with 20, a big improvement over last season. New defensive line coach Dan Quinn has raised the level of play in young defensive ends Lawrence Jackson and Darryl Tapp. And along with rookie Nick Reed and veterans Kerney and Cory Redding, the defensive end position is a plus for Seattle.
Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane has been solid inside and is continuing to improve after making the switch to more of a pass-rusher.
The play of second-year linebacker David Hawthorne has been the story of the season on defense. He has started only three games, but he’s second on the team in tackles with 44, and also has three interceptions and two sacks. Hawthorne has done a nice job filling in for Lofa Tatupu, who is out for the season after having surgery on a torn pectoral muscle.
Rookie Aaron Curry has been impressive at times, making explosive plays, but he’s also shown some growing pains. He has 44 tackles on the season, along with two sacks and two forced fumbles.
The shift to more of a Cover 2 scheme as the team’s primary coverage has helped the Seahawks’ secondary, which has shown a marked improvement from last season, when they led the league in giving up passing plays of 20 yards or more with 59. This season, Seattle has only given up 15 passing plays of 20 yards or more, which is tied for second in the league.
Safety Jordan Babineaux has played better in the past two games, including getting a sack against Detroit. And veteran cornerback Trufant played better in his second game back after dealing with a back injury to start the season. Seattle had only three interceptions heading into the Detroit game, where they forced Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford into five picks.
After missing two field goals against Chicago in the third game of the season, Olindo Mare has made 11 in a row. He is 14 of 16 (87.5 percent) in field goals, with a long of 47 yards. He also has put 30 percent of his kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks, which puts him at fifth in the league.
Jon Ryan is fifth in the league in punting average at 47.4 yards per punt, and also has 13 punts downed inside the 20-yard line, tied for 13th overall in the league. Ryan also did a nice job of hooking up with Carlson on a 42-yard fake punt against Arizona.
Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437
SEAHAWKS’ OPPONENT THIS WEEK
Arizona Cardinals (5-3)
1:15 p.m. Sunday, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
Arizona leads the NFC West by two games over Seattle (3-5) and San Francisco (3-5).
The Cardinals finished 9-7 and won the NFC West, advancing to the Super Bowl, where they lost to Pittsburgh, 27-23. Arizona dismantled Seattle at Qwest Field a month ago, winning 27-3.
Against the Seahawks:
The Cardinals lead the series 12-9. Arizona has won the past three games and five of the past six. The Seahawks have not won in Arizona since a 33-19 victory on Nov. 6, 2005, and are 0-3 in University of Phoenix Stadium.
Stats and stuff:
Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner was named NFC offensive player of the week after throwing for five touchdowns in his team’s 41-21 victory over Chicago last week. His performance followed a five-interception day in a loss to Carolina at home the week before. … Arizona has struggled at home this season, with a 1-3 record, but is 4-0 on the road. … WR Larry Fitzgerald is fourth in the league in receptions with 56, and has 632 receiving yards and seven touchdown catches.
“We have to find a way to bottle what we’re doing on the road. It’s hard to believe the players aren’t taking a division game as a challenge.” – Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Eric D. Williams, The News Tribune
Sept. 1349ers 20, Cardinals 16
Sept. 20Cardinals 31, Jaguars 17
Sept. 27Colts 31, Cardinals 10
Oct. 11Cardinals 28, Texans 21
Oct. 18Cardinals 27, Seahawks 3
Oct. 25Cardinals 24, Giants 17
Nov. 1Panthers 34, Cardinals 21
Nov. 8Cardinals 41, Bears 21
Nov. 22at St. Louis
Nov. 29at Tennessee
Dec. 14at San Francisco
Dec. 20at Detroit
Dec. 27St. Louis
Jan. 3Green Bay