The Road Back, Part 5: The Road Back

Let me preface this by saying that Seattle does not have a realistic chance of contending in 2010. If the purpose of playing Red Bryant at end is to reclaim a failed prospect and wring value wherever possible, that is a defensible decision. However, though Seattle lacks a realistic shot at contending in 2010, that does not mean Pete Carroll is coaching like 2010 is a rebuilding year, nor does it mean the Seahawks organization can justify starting anything but the best team possible to begin the season. If that lede alone angers you, frustrates or saddens you, you will not like the rest of this post.

Seattle did not have a great defense last year, but it was not as bad as it sometimes appeared. Losing Marcus Trufant hurt, and returning an injured Trufant to be burned weekly, hurt more. The entire secondary was a mess and hiring Pete Carroll is supposed to help that. Injury struck the linebackers again. The line was good at defending the run but couldn't create pass rush. That was the hardest fact to accept, because though Seattle lacked the talent to field a great pass-rushing defense, it had the talent to field a better pass-rushing defense than it did.

Jargon and lingo and scheme specifics and coach-speak obscure basic truths about defense in the National Football League. If we simplify for a second, think of only two divisions of a pass defense, the portion defending the receivers and the portion rushing the passer, we can see good pass defense is about creating time for the pass rushers by keeping the receivers covered and minimizing time for the offense by rushing the quarterback. That's it. There are infinite permutations that can be attempted to this end, but that is it, in black and white, that is the goal.

Seattle will rush four players on most downs and those four players will most often be Chris Clemons, Brandon Mebane, Colin Cole and Red Bryant. It doesn't matter if Clemons stands or squats in the four-point. It doesn't matter if Bryant is at end or tackle. When it's time to rush the passer, those four players will be entrusted to do so and if they can't, Seattle's pass defense will fail.

And they probably can't.

....

Field Gulls readership has grown about 300% each year since it was created. The single largest percentage growth was prior to the 2008 season. There was real reason for hope. Though old, Walter Jones and Matt Hasselbeck were returning from successful seasons. Patrick Kerney, Lofa Tatupu, Brandon Mebane, Josh Wilson, Leroy Hill..etc. There was talent and recent success. There was reason for hope and hope, only short of actual success, is the best tool for adding readers.

It wasn't false hope but it failed. A once-in-a-decade wave of injuries tore through the Seahawks and ended some careers. The team changed dramatically and 2009 didn't inspire nearly the same promise. Likewise, there was not a comparable jump in readership. We did not know what 2009 would produce but we knew it was very unlikely to produce a contender.

Since 2008, three months have been the most popular at Field Gulls: April, August and September. For the last two seasons, despite the season being in swing, November and December have suffered falling readership. There are different degrees of fair-weather fans and we all lose a bit of interest when the playoffs are unreachable and we all gain a bit of interest when a team plays well. Even in a micro sense, readership improves after a win, especially a big win, and drops after a loss, especially a bad loss. April is all about hope. It's all about the draft. August is all about hope. Everyone is performing well, everyone is taking to the scheme and every team starts on equal footing. The worst September feasible can not entirely kill hope for the season. It isn't usually until October that a team falls out of the chase.

And so you see, there isn't much incentive for me to deliver bad news. People don't want it, don't read it, don't tweet it, don't like me for writing it and stop reading when it piles up. From a professional standpoint, it is bad for the site. From a happiness standpoint, it is stressful. From a fan standpoint, it is dreary and discouraging. Sports fans want good news. Many even most sports fans struggle to enjoy their team when it is losing. Sports fans want to read that their team can make some noise every season. And because the NFL is particularly unpredictable, that message is particularly resonant among football fans.

It is sort of like Pascal's wager. If I started every season arguing the Seahawks couldn't win, people wouldn't like it, the "best" outcome is that the Seahawks do not win, and at most I have validated my position of bearer of bad news. If I started every season arguing the Seahawks could contend, people would like it, the "worst" outcome is that the Seahawks do not contend, but if they do, and if it seemed particularly unlikely they would have, then I am both fan and oracle and, most importantly, bearer of good news. So, my most practical and most successful strategy is to be guardedly optimistic every season. I sell a popular message before the season arrives, I cover my ass if things fall apart and I cash in if things break right.

This is the nature of new media. People can control where their news and opinions come from and insulate themselves with opinions that support their own, that reinforce their hopes and strike down their doubts. The most powerful media source now covering the Seattle Seahawks is the Seattle Seahawks, and there is never any lack of optimism about a company regarding its product. There is a never ending source of good news to be found at Seahawks.com, and when all is said and done, Seahawks.com will always outdraw Field Gulls 100 to 1.

....

Seattle probably can not contend this year. A big part of that is they lack the talent to consistently rush the passer. There is a cynical and opportunistic spin that uses jargon and lingo and coach-speak and scheme specifics to obscure this basic fact. There is a cynical and opportunistic spin that uses sloganeering and shaky statistics and rumor mongering and appeals to emotion to sell the lie of contention, and for obvious reasons. Success benefits everyone: Carroll, Schneider, the Seahawks proper, the fans, the media, ownership and the sponsors. It certainly would benefit me. I have a book I am attempting to sell and a surprise run would reignite the fan base and surely boost sales. Before the project got off the ground, before I signed or was even contacted, my publisher weighed whether to endeavor a book about a losing team, in the midst of losing, and nearly pulled the plug because losing is bad for sales. I know this because he told me. I know this because I asked him. Nothing I can write can help the popularity of Field Gulls or the sales of my book like a surprise playoff run.

But it's probably not going to happen. If you wanted to create a simple projection system, something very rough but no more or less likely to be accurate than your average expert or advanced metric, you could start at 8-8 and move up or down depending on two players' performances: the quarterback and the top pass rusher. Those are the two most coveted and essential players on each side of the ball, and great teams, almost without fail, have talent at quarterback and end or linebacker. In a lot of ways, I don't even mean essentially the quarterback and top pass rusher, but what those two positions represent: pass offense and pass defense.

Seattle should improve its pass offense. It added a supremely talented left tackle. It added Golden Tate and Mike Williams.

Seattle might improve its pass defense. It added a talented safety. It added a talented corner, depending on health. Trufant returns, and the difference between healthy Trufant and injured Trufant is striking.

Matt Hasselbeck and Chris Clemons are not a playoff pairing. One can hope but one can not meaningfully support Hasselbeck and Clemons leading or representing a top passing offense and a top passing defense. Rebound and/or breakthrough is not unthinkable, but it also is unlikely. It does not matter what the defense is called, what the coaching motto is, or how successful seeming the off-season, a team needs talent to win, and Hasselbeck and Clemons are just not likely to be that talent.

The last leg of the journey on the road back is the road back, met with patience. I don't know if Pete Carroll is a great coach. I know some will pillory me for writing this, but I do not assume any more of Carroll than I did of Mora this time last year. Do I care that Carroll's Trojans cheated? Not a whole lot. Do I think it is telling that even minor criticism of Carroll's connection with the scandal was met with angry and outspoken rebuttal? Only so much that it reveals how much fans need winning and how hostile they are to anything that threatens winning. Seahawks fans defending USC is, well, odd. If I may apply my own kind of spin, maybe the scandal illustrates Carroll will do anything to win. I wouldn't take umbrage with Seattle hiring the next Bill Belichick, so to speak.

Winning will not happen because of a coaching change. Hasselbeck and Clemons are probably not the horses to carry the Seahawks back to glory. Seattle will probably not make the playoffs this season, and unless Hasselbeck rebounds or Charlie Whitehurst develops, probably will not make the playoffs next season either. No one wants to read that. It is bad enough to be realistic about this season much less the next two. But that's the road back: solemn, craggy, lonesome and beset with detours and dead ends.

If you are a fan, this is being a fan. If you are desperate to win, the Texans start Mario Williams and Matt Schaub. I am happy to know this team is heading in the right direction. And when this path ends, and we arrive at winning again, we won't have to ask how we got there.

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