Leroy: "Who's a big boy?" Kam: "I am. I'm a big boy!"
You are what your record says you are. Bill Parcells said it once upon a time, and now you can't go an hour without hearing an analyst say it on sports talk radio (or five minutes on NFL Network). In a way, it's correct, because if you're 5-3, you're ahead of the teams that are 4-4, 3-5, et al and behind the teams that are 7-1, 6-2, etc. You occupy a place a in the league's standings that is based on the percentage of games you've won that season. In that sense, Parcell's statement is true. Last week, Tarvaris Jackson used this line of reasoning in grading his own performance this year:
"We're a 2-5 team, and a quarterback's (job) is to help the team win as much as possible," he said. "We've still got a lot of work to do, but 2-5 is failing. So I guess I got an F right now."
I appreciate the willingness to critique one's self honestly and harshly, and I admire Jackson's ability to say this publicly. I've got no problem with Jackson's comments because I think he's really doing all he can to help the team win and is hard on himself because they haven't been. He sees two wins out of seven (at that point) as objectively bad.
Then again, if that's the case, why are fans of the 2-6 Carolina Panthers so much happier than fans of the 3-5 Philadelphia Eagles? (Besides the obvious fact that all Philly fans are the progeny of the Grinch and Tom Sizemore?) If you are what your record says you are, why does Buffalo's 5-3 record feel extravagantly different than the Patriots' 5-3 record? I mean, if what the Big Tuna says it's accurate, why is Dan Marino's lack of rings more disappointing than, say, Spurgeon Wynn's?
I think it's because happiness is much more relative to expectation than it is to reality. For example, when I was young, my family got together and decided that instead of buying gifts for each other that Christmas, we were going to take all that money and donate it to charity. If I remember correctly, I used my paper route money to "buy" a milking goat for a Burmese family. I actually felt great about it, and went to sleep on Christmas Eve content, even knowing that I wouldn't have any presents waiting for me under the tree in the morning.
When I woke up that Christmas and saw a hand-wrapped box with my name on it under the tree, I almost went into conniptions with joy. I was so much happier with that one gift than I had been with the half-dozen or so presents I got every other year. When I view things through that lens, saying that "you are what your record says you are" sounds as hollow as if someone told me "you are what your degree says you are."
The Seattle Seahawks are 2-6, and I can honestly say that I feel better about where the franchise is at right now than where they were halfway through last season (4-4).
When you're rebuilding (and make no mistake, the Seahawks are rebuilding), you look for benchmarks outside of the austere and empirical win/loss record. Competitiveness is one of those benchmarks, if not the most important one. You look for development, signs of progress, indicators of future success that might not be reflected in the standings.
The 'Hawks have been, by my count, competitive in 12 of the 16 halves they've played this year. Last year, they were competitive in just eight of their first 16. This year, they've lost to teams with a combined winning percentage of .633 and have scored one-third of the total points in those six L's. Through eight games last year, they lost to teams with a combined Win% of .453 and scored only one-sixth of the points in those defeats
In 2010, Football Outsiders ranked Seattle 30th in total DVOA, ahead of only the 2-14 Panthers and the 5-11 Arizona Cardinals (for comparison's sake, they were 29th after eight games with a DVOA of -28.9). This year, the 'Hawks are an unglamorous but much more respectable -18.3. The 5-3 Chicago Bears are -16.2, although that was before they played the Eagles.
Before I get labeled as a Seahawks apologist cherry-picking stats to make a point, let me be very clear in telling you that I don't think Seattle is a good football team. I think now, as I have since the beginning, that they are a true-talent six-to-seven win team whose schedule will reduce them to four or five wins this season. I think that the 'Hawks have major shortcomings in special teams, man coverage, pass rush, run blocking, pass blocking, and decision-making at quarterback. I don't think Seattle has been screwed out of any wins that they deserved. I think they've won the two games in which they outplayed their opponents and have lost the six games in which they were outplayed.
That said, I'm not willing to overlook the team's youth, strength of schedule, injuries, and lack of experience playing with one another. Two wins at the halfway point seems about right, when you consider who they've played, and the Lazy Susan starting lineups they've been forced to trot out. Consider that Seattle has had to throw 5th round rookie Richard Sherman and UDFA Brandon Browner at the likes of Mike Wallace, Larry Fitzgerald, Roddy White, Julio Jones, Hakeem Nicks, AJ Green, Miles Austin, and Dez Bryant. Now consider that they've registered a positive Defensive DVOA so far. And it's not like the 'Hawks are generating a lot of QB pressure, either.
One need not look further than Kam Chancellor to see a microcosm of this. Last season, Chancellor looked over-matched in coverage and indecisive in run help. This season he looks like Jack Tatum. Is the Seattle pass defense good yet? No. But now they've got one-fourth of it playing at a much higher level than it was last season. I can't help but think that coaches look at that and feel good about direction.
Same goes for the offensive line. In the preseason and the first five or so games of the regular season, it didn't look like the line could successfully seal off a pickle jar, much less opposing lineman. They were a hodgepodge outfit that looked out of their league just a month ago, and yet there they were on Sunday, opening holes and finishing blocks to the tune of a 5.4 YPC against what was the seventh-ranked run defense in the league (and number one as recently as two weeks ago). The line's not good enough to impose its collective self on opponents at will, but they've shown that they're capable of it.
Ultimately, the Seahawks will need a quarterback. I don't spend much time on here talking about QBs, because it's a topic that already insidiously weaves its way into the majority of Seahawks-related conversations. That's not meant as an indictment of 'Hawks fans who enjoy QB talk; it's just an admission of the fact that the number of days where we can talk about which quarterback the Seahawks should get greatly outweigh the number of days in which the 'Hawks actually can get that QB. One thing most of us can agree on is that the QB we need in order to have long-term, sustainable success is not currently on the roster.
And so where does that leave us? We're fans of a team that is losing enough to be well out of post-season consideration, but not losing enough to be serious suitors for the one guy that makes all of our pants fit a bit tighter when we watch him play football. It's the awkward purgatory phase of fanhood. Too bad to contend for one prize, too good to contend for another. There's a difference here though, and it's something we ought to be grateful for.
This is not the 1992 Seattle Seahawks team, nor is it the 2009 Seahawks team. Those teams didn't win much either, but they were filled with players that you just knew wouldn't be around when the team was competitive again. Few things in the fan experience, if any, are worse than cheering for a bad team with no discernible future. This is not one of those teams, however. I can't express enough just how young and inexperienced this team is.
Make no mistake, the foundation upon which the Seahawks house is being built is shaky, but unlike the '92 and '09 models, it doesn't shake because the foundation itself is bad or old; rather, it shakes because the foundation is solid but has been set upon new soil. There will be times when, as the weight of the new structure settles into the fresh dirt, the floorboards will creak, a couple of pipes will burst, and the living room will lose it's right angles. I firmly believe that Pete Carroll and John Schneider are making sure the house is in order structurally before they let a quarterback move in.
And so I can watch this young, erratic, undisciplined but very talented team struggle and grow and become cohesive without fretting too much about it. Do I wish I was cheering for meaningful, jockey-for-postseason-position wins instead? Absolutely, but since I'm not in that position now, I can look for those bright spots, those indicators that it's getting better. Not all losses are created equal.