I hadn't the notion nor ability to break down Super Bowl XL in 2006. I looked on wide-eyed and furious, all balled fists and confusion. Well, one of my goals writing this book is to reclaim the greatest and worst day in Seahawks history. So I've begun breaking down the tape of Super Bowl XL.
That's on my mind today along with a few other thoughts.
- There's few players on that XL roster that is not worse now. Walter Jones was some kind of amazing. Matt Hasselbeck was lithe, fluid and his passes soared like arrows into his receiver's hands. Shaun Alexander was just fast enough to kill you, and he ran with an ease that eventually fueled his haters. Lofa Tatupu was unmistakably smaller, swifter and more agile. Watching little Lofa bring boom across the field renders debate over whether he's bulked up borderline absurd. Seattle was a great team that year, overrun with great players playing the greatest football of their careers. It was a special team, and if most of that greatness has since been lost, that only reminds us how special it was.
- Seattle has never returned to the glory of 2005, and it hasn't in part because it never regained the precision it had in 2005. Mike Holmgren ran a tight ship. Passes soared before players finished their breaks. Linemen pulled in orderly patterns, and plays unfolded as designed. Machine may be a manly way to put it, but the coordination and timing was akin to a dance. It underscores just how messy and disorganized Seattle's offense was in 2009.
- For all the words committed to bemoaning the loss of Steve Hutchinson, Seattle never adequately replaced Darrell Jackson either. Now, Jackson wasn't lost in some backroom fiasco. Jackson was traded just before his expiration date. No one has to screw up for a player to age poorly. But Jackson's steadiness as a receiver, as a route runner; the chemistry he and Hasselbeck formed, the trust, the timing, has never been duplicated since. Bobby Engram came closest, but 2007 sometimes felt as much about as desperation as trust. Where once Hasselbeck could survey the field and know where and when every receiver would break, he had but Engram by 2007. And it became all Engram all the time.
- So what does that mean for the Seahawks future? It means Jeremy Bates has an awful lot of work to do.
- Hasselbeck isn't just broken because his body is failing him. He spent years becoming a great quarterback in Holmgren's system. He knew the routes, the timing, the players, the plays, and 34, 35 in September, he doesn't have the time to begin again. Hasselbeck mastered what Holmgren could teach him, and it was glorious.
- The Seahawks offense of the future needs a core. It needs players that play together, for seasons; it needs a quarterback that can master a new system and an offense that can master it with him.
- Holmgren didn't pack an encyclopedia to camp, and the more I think about it, the more I think simplicity is a virtue in an offensive playbook. Better to master the plays you have, better to be able to master the plays you have, than to become familiar and move on. Consistent offensive success can not be won through surprise. It must be won through execution. And I'd rather Seattle have forty plays that work, than 200 they've barely been able to practice.
Speaking of the future:
- This statistical look at the Seahawks was sent my way. Its method is not flawed per se, but maybe it's time we accept almost all football stats are deeply flawed. What does a sack mean? It's definition is not clean like a home run or strike out. And how much does it tell us about the player that recorded it? Is a sack, because the defenders intention was consummated, worth more than a pressure that arrives two seconds earlier? What stat can we really piece out that describes who was at fault, who is to credit, and how 22 players interacted to make an outcome. Almost every time I endeavor to do statistical research anymore, I find myself discouraged. I see my intentions and my tools and know I can't find what I want with the information given. Maybe this revolution is just not suited for the NFL.
- And so a plodding, qualitative approach is necessary. That won't fly and I know it. Stats have allowed baseball fans to become experts without much effort. One could skim a page at FanGraphs and know more about a single baseball player than one could know about a football player in a thousand hours of tape study. It's not so much about luck or sample size as attempting to appreciate abilities that can only be understood relativistically. I know, what a buzzkill.
- On the subject of flawed stats, Seattle might just get that health boost it was promised last season. Injuries are unpredictable. One might be watching tape of Gerald McCoy and look up from their notebook to see someone with their foot on backwards. The human body is not so unpredictable. Once injuries start, the body seems to gang up on the injured until they're forced to stop. Seattle's awaited health boost will likely come because its unhealthy players will be dropped or demoted. That's sort of how it happens. In their stead, unknown players, but younger, less beat up and likely healthier. You'd believe me if I made a metric out of it.