Last season sucked. It interrupted an unprecedented run of success for the Seahawks. Seattle had made the playoffs five times before 2003 but had won only three playoff games. This season will decide if last season was an interruption or an ending. It could be either. Seattle is more than capable of again being one of the worst teams in football. It has a chance to win the Super Bowl.
Yes it does. And it's not as complicated or far fetched as it might sound.
5. Grow into a Dominant Rush Defense
I am putting the cart before the horse for a reason. Rush defense dominates in the playoffs, but it won't do much to get Seattle into the playoffs. The importance of rush defense is conditional on Seattle fulfilling the following four goals. This is the most easily attainable of the five.
It has three starters on defensive line that should be average to above average to elite at run defense for their position. I don't expect Patrick Kerney to be a big player on run defense. Its starting three linebackers could each be top-ten run defenders by season's end. There's no weakness there, and with Aaron Curry on board, Lofa Tatupu will have the wingmen to destroy the rushers he flushes out. Ken Lucas and Marcus Trufant are both good open field tacklers, and however much Josh Wilson plays, he is also an excellent open field tackler that brings some pop. Deon Grant is good from the third level and if Jordan Babineaux wins out at strong safety, Seattle will not have a single weakness against the rush.
4. Get Lucky
Seattle has some tough games ahead. Weeks three through eight are especially grueling. Wins earn playoffs, even if they aren't always the best indicator of quality. Earning home field would be huge, but even bigger would be getting a bye. The power of a playoff bye is simple: It's one less game a team must win to make the Super Bowl. To accomplish that, Seattle is going to need some close victories over tough opponents. While the 2005 squad was undoubtedly better than the 2007 squad, much of what separated them in the standings was close victories.
2005 pulled out close victories against Atlanta, St. Louis, Dallas, San Francisco, New York and Tennessee. It only lost two close games, one to Washington in overtime and a meaningless week 17 game against Green Bay.
2007 was even. Seattle won close games against Philadelphia, St. Louis and Cincinatti, but none were as close as they looked, but lost close games to Arizona, Cleveland, Carolina and Atlanta. The Atlanta game was meaningless when played, but would have been meaningful if Seattle hadn't punted victories in Arizona and Carolina.
Seattle needs to scrape out some close victories. It has four sure to be punishing away games: Colts, Cowboys, Vikings and Packers. The Packers game is particularly tough, because Seattle is a moderate weather climate and Lambeau, December 27 is anything but moderate. But it can. It can split those; it can win all four. It can win all four without being the best team among the four, because Any Given Sunday.
3. Channel 2007
Seattle's dominating pass defense in 2007 wasn't all smoke and mirrors. Yes, it dominated some bad quarterbacks. No, I'm not sure Troy Smith, A.J. Feeley or Alex Smith will ever see another professional snap. But seizing an opportunity is the essence of success.
Seattle has its pass rush in 2007. Sure, there was Patrick Kerney, but Darryl Tapp, Julian Peterson, Rocky Bernard and Leroy Hill were all major contributors. Seattle doesn't have a single elite rusher like Kerney this season, but it has a better contributing cast. Tapp is around and closer to his prime. Hill should be more active. Aaron Curry won't replace Peterson, but he could be excellent on more traditional linebacker blitzes. Brandon Mebane could ascend to the lower ranks of the elite defensive tackles. Josh Wilson runs a nickel blitz like no one else in the NFL. Seattle has loaded up on situational pass rushers, and in the right spots, Cory Redding, Tapp, Craig Terrill and Nick Reed could all cause havoc. And there's some depth with upside like Lawrence Jackson, Baraka Atkins, Michael Bennett and Colin Cole.
The Seahawks may not face a jobbers row of scrubs and backups, but if the rush is there, it could make some decent to good quarterbacks channel Feeley.
2. Complete 2007
Seattle had the defense. It definitely had the passing attack. Its special teams were strong. But, good God damn did Shaun Alexander suck. Say what you will about Julius Jones, Edgerrin James and Justin Forsett, the 2009 Seahawks could not field a rusher more inept or self-defeating as Shaun Alexander circa 2007. Seattle couldn't protect a lead. It couldn't convert a first. It couldn't disguise a play. Eventually, Mike Holmgren simply told opponents the Seahawks were going to pass and pass and pass.
Consider the value added on every snap by replacing Alexander's pass blocking with Jones or James' pass blocking. The value added on ever snap by replacing Alexander's pass catching with Jones, James or Forsett's pass catching. Then, remember how bad Alexander was as a running back, and take a breath and know average beats the hell out of cripplingly awful.
1. Field a Top Ten Pass Offense
Seattle had a top ten pass offense in 2007. It built that offense on -- in descending importance -- Bobby Engram, a good pass blocking line and Matt Hasselbeck playing out of his mind. He made Engram, less than a year recovered from Graves disease, look like a Pro Bowler. Passes from Hasselbeck to Engram were the tenth most valuable connection in the NFL. Hasselbeck to Marcus Pollard was the sixth most valuable per-play quarterback to tight end connection in the NFL. Passes from Hasselbeck to D.J. Hackett were worth 100 yards above replacement. Engram is now T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Pollard is now John Carlson. Hackett is now Deon Butler. This is a better passing offense. Depending on how the line gels, it could be a full step above 2007's ninth ranked attack.
Passing offense is the single most important quality of a contender. It gets you ahead and lets you crawl back when you're behind. By putting the opponent behind, it improves the defense and helps force turnovers. It puts the clock on your side and facilitates the run game. With a healthy Hasselbeck and Sean Locklear anything near average, this is a better passing offense than 2007. A better passing offense than 2007 lifts this team to the playoffs, and in the playoffs, especially with a great rush defense, anything is possible.