Is 2008 Creeping Up on 2009?

The human mind excels at recognizing coincidence. It doesn't always analyze it very well. I had a coworker once tell me a flu shot had prevented him from getting a cold. My wife, who works with the elderly, hears "they always come in threes" every few months. Deaths, that is. The amount of time in which those three deaths occur is conveniently elastic, of course. Obvious exceptions are ignored.

Seattle is 1-2 and preparing to travel cross country to face a perennial powerhouse. That powerhouse looks less imposing after losing a valuable starter, but only a fool would underestimate them. It has one convincing win against St. Louis, a close loss and a somewhat lopsided loss that turned on a few big plays. Matt Hasselbeck is injured, but how injured and when he will play again is not certain. Health has been a problem, but one unit is getting healthy while another is more wiped out every day. Is this 2008 all over again?

I would like to say no, but I can't say no with great confidence until after this Sunday. Seattle is a better team through three games than it was in 2008. The Seahawks have performed well at the most important indicators of success: pass offense and pass defense.

It is in the top ten in pass defense by net yards an attempt, 5.3, and only has one interception on the season. Interceptions fluctuate quite a bit. If Seattle had a team full of Kelly Jennings, I might say it would underperform in forcing interceptions all season, but it has good hands men in Deon Grant, Jordan Babineaux, Ken Lucas, Aaron Curry and Lofa Tatupu. One could throw Darryl Tapp in there, if they wanted to adjust relative to position. In 2008, Seattle started mediocre, 6.5 NY/A, and got bad.

In reality, it already was bad. Seattle had posted mediocre pass defense stats after facing Trent Edwards, J.T. O'Sullivan and the collective Rams offense. That offense was awful and Edwards and O'Sullivan..well. Seattle had eight sacks against the 49ers, but its secondary was a tortilla Mary. That is, holy.

Seattle's passing offense is a bit below average, but it has faced two tough opponents. The Bears rank sixth and the 49ers rank 11th in pass defense as measured by NY/A. Seattle ranks 18th on offense, and has split the season between its starter and its backup. Matt Hasselbeck was brutal in 2008. Through three games, he had 4.9 NY/A. That compares him to 2009 Jake Delhomme (5.3), but without Delhomme's maddening picks.

In those crucial aspects, Seattle is a better team than it was in 2008, but football teams can change their season in one game. Or so it feels. Seattle is traveling to Indianapolis, and the Colts have stormed out to huge lead in NY/A: 9.9. The Cowboys rank second: 8.3. It is also top five in pass defense: 4.7. If Seattle plays at Indy and is crushed, it will be hard to see this season as anything but 2008 repeating itself.

I don't think it is though. The parallels are everywhere, sure. The 49ers are 2-1, including an impressive win and a tough loss on the road against a presumed powerhouse. See: Arizona 2008. But the 49ers passing offense is stagnant, their running back injured and his replacement  noted for the wrong reasons. Of course, the 2008 Cardinals were no world beaters. They were lords of a bad division. San Francisco can certainly be that. God knows, Seattle has worn that crown enough times.

The team isn't healthy and the injuries it is suffering do not seem abnormal or likely to reverse themselves. Matt Hasselbeck and Walter Jones are old and were injured last season. In fact, Jones is still recovering from last season. Josh Wilson, Sean Locklear and Chris Spencer have a history of being injured. Lofa Tatupu is continuing an alarming trend that started last season. Marcus Trufant is the only fluke injury. That happens.

The reason I don't see 2008, though, is that Seattle has shown the ability and has the talent to perform. It has been a very good pass defense and has created pressure without the blitz. The pass offense is talented, skyscrapers more talented than it was last season, and that talent is both at the skill positions and on a developing offensive line. Chris Spencer, Rob Sims and Ray Willis are bona fide assets, Unger is not, but being a rookie should develop, and Brandon Frye has been respectable as a fill in.

Maybe Seattle is going down that path and my optimism is ignoring the coming flood. A blowout loss coupled with a wave of injuries would put Seattle at 1-3 and without a good shot of crawling back. That team could easily finish 4-12. A win, of any kind, would put Seattle in the thick of the West and on path to get healthy and excel down the stretch. Teams with early injuries and new coaching staffs sometimes do that.

The most likely scenario, the most likely scenario before the season even started, is that Seattle is an average team in a bad division that someone will have to win. San Francisco could be this season's Cardinals and Seattle this season's 49ers. The Seahawks could squeeze out wins down the stretch, grasping towards respectability, but be eliminated early and never have a credible shot at the playoffs. San Francisco wins the West and does whatever in the playoffs. The Seahawks take their picks and continue to improve.

That's the real difference. Maybe Seattle tanks. Maybe it has a top ten and bottom twenty pick in 2010. But 2008 was definitely the last season of Mike Holmgren football, and the team tanked because Holmgren's talent had been cast off or grown old. 2009 is distinctly the work of Tim Ruskell and Jim Mora. Whatever Seattle's record, it feels like a team on the rise and not a team stumbling through an ending era. The best players are home grown and the injuries have disproportionately struck leftovers from before Ruskell. Of course, the other edge of a young team that loses is: The Seattle Seahawks could be bad. The young talent organized by Ruskell could be not at the end, but smack in the middle of a disappointing stretch of Seahawks football. We will know a lot more about this season and this team's future after this Sunday. I want a win. I need hard-fought, competitive football.

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