When one covers a bad team, there's an urge to look for the positive in everything. Seattle lost badly last week, but at the same time, the Seahawks netted 424 yards of total offense against a top ten ranked defense and hung with the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. And "hung with" is ambiguous enough that I can write that, but it's sort of bogus.
That inclination to accentuate the positive can become habit, and soon enough I lost perspective. I thought good players on the Seahawks were NFL-good, and many are not. They are NFL-ok on a team rife with NFL-bad talent. I thought injuries could probably be weathered, but for the most part that hasn't proven true either. Seattle's rush defense has not collapsed entirely because of Red Bryant, some of it is a big step up in quality of opponent, but it's suffered and suffered badly. There was a contradiction there to begin with. How can a player be good and simultaneously replaceable?
The more one becomes gut-invested in something, the less clearly they see it for it what it is, and though I have made a point to say Seattle is not a good team, is in fact a bad team, I don't think I've always recognized where and why they're bad.
For instance, at what point do we wonder aloud if Marcus Trufant is a capable corner? Yes, he's often facing the opponent's top receiver, but that's his job. That is why Tru is signed to a six-year, $50.2 million contract. He's supposed to run with the big dogs. And he hasn't. Against New York, he was burned by Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks. Dwayne Bowe is electric, for sure, but he's not unstoppable. He was today. We know Kelly Jennings is bad, but which Seahawks corner is good? And I don't mean relatively good. I mean, makes plays, performs, shows up against the good and the bad, good. The standard we would hold any other corner to.
Or, how about this linebacker corps? Kansas City ran wild against around the edges, and though the Leo package contributes, the linebackers have to step up. That's the trade off. Seattle was supposed to have the talent to contain rushes on the edge, but not today.
This was the line going into the half: 4, 0, 3, 23 (Cassel), 4, 27, 12, 2, 7, 0, 4
And runs listed as "end" in the second half: 8, 5, 6, 29, 2, 10, 16
That's backyard football. Seattle looked like Portland State playing the Ducks.
I certainly have defended the defensive brain trust, even if I was dubious about the Leo package, and went a long ways to champion every little thing they did right, but this defense is terrible, and we just cannot excuse Gus Bradley, Dan Quinn and Pete Carroll forever. It's not enough to occasionally craft a creative blitz or exploit a weakness. Seattle needs more young talent. It hasn't found value in undrafted free agents, and most of the young players are a lot closer to replacement-level than capable. It needs better coached talent. Some things have paid off. I love the tip drills the Seahawks emphasized in training camp, but contain, coverage when quarterbacks scramble and plays break down, zone awareness, recovering from misdirection, defending the screen -- a team can't have this many glaring and fundamental weaknesses and still compete.
And this season's grinding and rather sad run for the NFC West is beginning to grow very sour. It's between Seattle and St. Louis and St. Louis is starting a rookie quarterback. That seems like two ships passing in the night; One heading towards prosperity and the other choking out wins through fortune and hired guns. I'm wrong a lot, and the less I look into the something, the more fallible I am. I didn't watch Sam Bradford a ton because I knew Seattle would not draft him. I watched Trent Williams and Gerald McCoy and noticed that a lot, and I mean a lot, of Bradford's production at OU was created by scheme and run after the catch. My impression was that he was risky and that his ceiling isn't very high. I didn't think he couldn't be good. Eleven regular season starts later, a lot more and a lot better evidence argues Bradford is good and can be great. He's a rookie, and he's playing at a near league average level. He's blooming. He's giving St. Louis a future.
And if Bradford becomes a franchise quarterback, the NFC West will be the Rams division to lose. And while Seattle is winning today, or winning enough, the Cardinals and 49ers are establishing draft position. Think the 49ers couldn't use an elite edge rusher? Think the Cardinals couldn't use a young quarterback? Both should have top ten picks and the player of their choosing.
The Seahawks just are not good, and they're not particularly young, and I don't think the talent they need is going to fall to them. I was in the habit of finding good in everything, as best as I could and still swallow it, but things seem pretty bleak. Franchises do crumble and franchises can become mired in defeat, and this is what it looks like.
Now, that said, nothing is ever hopeless.
After week two, I said Seattle should start Charlie Whitehurst. It wasn't because I thought Whitehurst was excellent or would turn around the franchise, but because the Whitehurst scenario had more potential winning outcomes, in my opinion. If Whitehurst was terrible, then Seattle would know that they needed a young quarterback and likely be bad enough to be in a position to draft one. If Whitehurst was good or average, then Seattle would likely be a better team and have a bridge quarterback that could get them through a few seasons while the search for a franchise quarterback continued. The problem with continuing to start Matt Hasselbeck isn't that Matt is just horrible horrible horrible, though sometimes he is. It's that he's never likely to get any better. Even if Hasselbeck continued to have a strong end of the season, and today suggests otherwise, would it be prudent to re-sign him? Does he want to re-sign? And, seeing this team for what it is, why sacrifice any future potential for a better team in 2010?
When I say nothing is hopeless, it doesn't mean I think Seattle can recover this season. I've mostly lost faith in that possibility. And if a new quarterback is more than likely next year, it doesn't mean I think Seattle will be good in 2011. It means I know Seattle can be good again, and I don't believe that Carroll is a bad head coach or talent evaluator and I don't think John Schneider is a bad general manager. Maybe they are, but I don't want to assume that. I think things might get worse before they get better, but that's exactly what happened when Mike Holmgren was in charge too. Things got worse, but then things got better. Way better.
This team was not going to turn on a light and become great again, but it can become great again. We can escape the endless cycle of making the best of the bad, rationalizing consistent failure, overestimating what little good talent is on this team, and actually become a good team with good talent and good coaching again. It's that hard thing that doesn't come right away: progress. It's not that thing I've suffered and sometimes spread because I myself wanted to believe: false hope.
Seattle should lock this guy up to something exorbitant, because he is quite possibly the best special teams coach in the NFL. Before he coached for Seattle, he coached for Oakland and check some of the those Oakland special teams. He's an honest to God NFL talent and one of the big bright spots in a benighted season. Craig Terrill blocked a field goal and Kennard Cox blocked a punt, and though both plays proved irrelevant over the long term, both plays gave the Seahawks a stay of execution. Special teams kept Seattle in the game. Helped delay the blowout this truly was.