Our midseason report card ran today. I gave the Hawks a B-minus overall. Injuries to Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander bought some leniency, as did the 5-3 record, which is not bad. The full report, with detailed explanations, is below. Darrell Jackson was our midseason MVP.
Seahawks midseason report: Feels like a B-minus
At 5-3, Hawks haven't folded like other recent Super Bowl losers, but they haven't looked like 2005 either
MIKE SANDO; The News Tribune
Published: November 10th, 2006 01:00 AM
KIRKLAND – Have the Seattle Seahawks lived up to expectations in the 2006 season's first half?
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The answer depends on another question: Whose expectations?
More than a few analysts suspected Seattle might become the sixth consecutive Super Bowl loser to miss the playoffs.
The Seahawks anticipated better after finishing last season 13-3 en route to the first conference title in franchise history.
The News Tribune predicted a 5-3 start with a 10-6 overall finish, for a few reasons.
The Seahawks seemed stocked with enough talent to make another run, but many things must happen for a good team to enjoy a great season.
Key players must remain healthy and play their best. A few role players must exceed expectations. The schedule must line up favorably. The front office can't make moves out of panic.
Some franchises never enjoy that kind of season. The Seahawks probably weren't going to make it happen twice in a row.
"I think honestly our expectation level was higher," coach Mike Holmgren said this week. "Sometimes the seasons don't unfold exactly the way you had hoped."
The defense hasn't been consistent enough. Special-teams problems hurt early in the season. The offensive line hasn't always appeared well coached, failing to improve until recently.
Championship teams don't suffer 31-13 home losses to middling teams such as the Minnesota Vikings.
But at 5-3, the Seahawks are leading the NFC West. They already own a road victory over St. Louis, their primary challenger in the division.
Seattle can still compete for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs in an intriguing NFC race. That's not bad for a team playing without its Pro Bowl quarterback and league MVP running back.
The first eight games feel like a B-minus.
"The fact that we're 5-3 at the halfway mark, considering we've been a little unlucky in the injury department, I think is OK," Holmgren said. "Now, hopefully, we'll start to get some guys back for the stretch."
RUN OFFENSE: D
Shaun Alexander suffered a foot injury in the season opener. He played two more games before X-rays showed a broken bone. He hasn't played since then and the Seahawks have missed him.
Backup Maurice Morris is coming off a 30-carry, 138-yard game against Oakland on Monday night. He ran effectively in the second half of that victory over St. Louis last month. The ground game has been ineffective otherwise, putting the offense in too many third-and-long situations.
The ground game was struggling even before Alexander left the lineup. Seattle misses left guard Steve Hutchinson, receiver Joe Jurevicius and tight end Ryan Hannam. All three left in free agency. All three were among the team's best blockers last season.
Tight ends Jerramy Stevens and especially Itula Mili have been liabilities in the ground game. Even Pro Bowl fullback Mack Strong hasn't been as consistent. His missed block on a fourth-and-1 play helped seal the humbling loss to Minnesota.
PASS OFFENSE: C-plus
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck tossed seven interceptions in his first five games, two fewer than he threw all last season.
Seattle's receivers already have suffered 22 dropped passes, matching their 16-game total from last season. Nate Burleson has four drops even though quarterbacks have thrown to him only 20 times.
Opponents have sacked Hasselbeck and Seneca Wallace 26 times, one fewer sack than Seattle allowed last season.
Injuries prevented Stevens from stretching opposing defenses down the middle. Once he returned, Stevens drew a 15-yard penalty before dropping a pass in the end zone.
There have been outstanding individual efforts in the passing game. Darrell Jackson has touchdown receptions of 72, 49, 49 and 42 yards, plus a 47-yard reception short of the end zone.
Newcomer Deion Branch has three touchdown grabs while setting a higher standard at the position.
D.J. Hackett is playing well enough to offset Burleson's slow start and Bobby Engram's health-related absence.
OFFENSIVE COACHING: C
The offensive staff has played to the Seahawks' strengths. The team used more four-receiver sets when injuries depleted the ranks at tight end and running back. Wallace has also appeared prepared despite entering the lineup unexpectedly.
And yet Seattle has struggled to work talented young players into the offensive line at left guard.
Opponents have repeatedly exploited the Seahawks' inability to pick up basic stunts and twists. That shouldn't happen to a line with four veterans and a first-rounder in Chris Spencer.
Plenty of teams, notably the New York Jets, have succeeded with young talent in key positions up front. Seattle isn't one of them. That's why veteran Floyd Womack is back in the lineup for Spencer.
RUN DEFENSE: C
Seattle's defense remains fast but undersized. That leaves the Seahawks vulnerable when they suffer assignment breakdowns against power running teams.
The Chiefs rushed for 191 yards against Seattle and there were times when players appeared out of position. The Seahawks encountered similar problems against Dallas last season.
Those 2005 Seahawks found a way to eliminate assignment errors without losing their aggressiveness.
That is the challenge again this season. Minnesota's Chester Taylor burned the Hawks with a 95-yard scoring run. Kansas City's Larry Johnson banged out 155 yards on 39 punishing carries.
PASS DEFENSE: D
The Seahawks have allowed pass plays of 67, 51, 51, 46, 40, 40, 40, 39, 38, 37, 33 and 30 yards. Their starting cornerbacks haven't picked off a pass since Nov. 6, 2005. Coaches have already made a lineup change at strong safety even though the pass rush has been adequate.
Seattle ranks second in the NFL with 30 sacks thanks to a nine-sack massacre of the Raiders.
The deep-ball problems have more to do with assignment errors than talent deficiencies. Marcus Trufant, Ken Hamlin and Michael Boulware were drafted in the first two rounds. They must prepare as if they were undrafted free agents and communicate as though their jobs were on the line every week.
That hasn't always happened. The Chiefs baited Trufant into biting on an out-route fake, allowing Eddie Kennison to escape for a game-altering 51-yard reception in the fourth quarter.
Hamlin is quietly enjoying a solid season. He was the NFC's defensive player of the month for September.
DEFENSIVE COACHING: C
Defense is largely about emotion and passion. Seattle fell short in those areas over a recent stretch.
John Marshall and the defensive staff were brutally honest in challenging players before the Oakland game, with positive results.
Beating up on the bumbling Raiders was a start.
The staff has gotten more out of newcomer Julian Peterson than anyone had before.
Adding veteran defensive assistant Larry Marmie might still help Trufant emerge as a shutdown corner, but it hasn't happened yet.
The secondary was more effective late last season.
KICKING GAME : B
Josh Brown's average kickoff distance has improved from 62.9 yards last season to 67.5 yards through eight games. He has five touchbacks, matching a career high.
And with game-winning kicks against Detroit and St. Louis, Brown has positioned himself for a lucrative run through free agency.
The field-goal team has suffered from two blocking breakdowns and a miscue by rookie holder Ryan Plackemeier.
Seattle has made improvements in those areas, however, and the kicking game appears solid.
PUNTING GAME: C
Plackemeier has had problems with consistency, no surprise for a rookie. His strong leg has produced a healthy 45.4-yard gross average, but punting is about more than power.
Plackemeier has as many touchbacks (10) as punts downed inside the 20. He shanked a few against Oakland, leading Holmgren to jokingly fear for his safety on the sideline.
Plackemeier's net average stands at a middle-of-the-pack 36.0 yards.
KICK/PUNT RETURN UNITS: C
The Seahawks have mixed up their personnel in the return game.
Straight-liner Josh Scobey is back on kick returns after Willie Ponder's release. Burleson had punt returns of 16 and 17 yards in his first game on the job.
Seattle ranks 11th in kick-return average and 24th in punt-return average. The numbers have improved from last season, and the team's punt-return fielding is no longer causing heart attacks.
KICK/PUNT COVERAGE UNITS: C
Holmgren often talks about the strength of his coverage units. For the record, Seattle ranks 17th against punt returns and 30th against kick returns. Opponents are averaging 25.3 yards per kick return; only New England and Oakland allow longer returns on average.
MVP: Darrell Jackson. He's on pace for a career-high 12 touchdowns.
Top veteran addition: Julian Peterson. The free-agent linebacker has eight sacks in eight games.
Top rookie: Kelly Jennings. Seattle has only four rookie draft picks on its roster. Jennings, a regular in the team's nickel and dime defenses, has contributed the most.
Pleasant surprise award: Free safety Ken Hamlin is playing at a high level one year after suffering life-threatening head injuries.
Unpleasant surprise award: Receiver Nate Burleson has eight catches and four drops in his first eight games with Seattle.
Pro bowl consideration: Peterson, Jackson. Walter Jones has been playing hurt.
Biggest win: Beating the Rams in St. Louis gave Seattle a clear edge in the NFC West race.
Worst defeat: The Hawks lost 31-13 at home to Minnesota. They lost their quarterback that day, too.
1. How many games will this team win? Our preseason prediction of 10 appears about right. The schedule gives Seattle a chance to win 11 or 12, but not the way the Seahawks are playing.
2. Will the Seahawks regain their Super Bowl form? Not likely. Too many things have to go right.
3. Where will this team be in January? The Seahawks are good enough to win a playoff game at home. Getting one could be the challenge.