Happy New Year.
Week 17 is the "it means something to finish 8-8, not 7-9, beating a division rival in the same situation as us" week for the Seahawks. It's been the mantra since Christmas Eve; a short memory for one more week, before a period of reflection on the 2011 season.
Both sides will say this game means something. Both teams relish the opportunity to win for second in the division, though Pete Carroll said during one of his pressers this week he's never understood the idea of "honorable mention."
Carroll seemed very pleased with the energy and attitude of his players on Friday during his presser. Hopefully they are hungry after losing a slugfest of a game last week. Finishing 8-8 and not being "in the red" is the goal heading into the offseason for both teams. It will be interesting to see if both teams play that way.
In honor of the New Year, turning over a new leaf and any other turning the page cliché you want to insert here; I decided to widen the scope beyond just Week 17 to a few things that are on my mind as the season comes to a close. Consider some of these thoughts a conversation starter for the offseason.
(And in case you were wondering, I had a lot of reasons for picking 24 things; it's my birthday, favorite number, Ken Griffey Jr.'s number, double the number 12 as in the 12th man, double the number 12 as in take off the 20 in "2012" and double the years...if you started this article with a headache, I apologize. On to football.)
Attitude in Arizona: This is the first game of the Pete Carroll era that technically means nothing, something Carroll is admittedly disappointed by. Hopefully there is zero difference in their play.
More Beastmode: NFL Films' Greg Cosell thinks Lynch is the most violent back in the league along with Adrian Peterson. Over the course of the season we've seen Lynch mature and grow within the system, not to mention he took a step forward as a professional. Running backs may be a dime a dozen, but a healthy and committed Lynch is not a dime a dozen back. I expect the front office will try and make the "right" deal; I personally see the Sidney Rice signing as an indicator the Seahawks will be willing to pay Lynch big money. Hopefully any big-money deal will not be fully guaranteed unless Lynch continues to stay healthy and perform as he did this season. Separate but related note; how crucial is Justin Forsett's presence in regards to Lynch remaining on track? Forsett is a free agent too, so that's something to think about.
Doug Baldwin and history: After today, Baldwin will be the first undrafted rookie to lead his team in receiving since the merger. WOW. Baldwin won't be sneaking up on anyone next season; can he meet presumably high expectations?
Coaching staff continuity: After last season the coaching staff endured major changes. Any big-time changes after this season would be much more surprising, especially considering the effect the lockout had on continuity. While all teams should be helped by a normal offseason, this staff in particular will benefit from time with the players. (Update: Special teams assistant Jeff Ulbrich is in line for a promotion at UCLA. Not a major change, but the first of a couple smaller changes perhaps?)
Which special teams core guys stay a factor: Guys like Heath Farwell and Chris Maragos have contributed on special teams consistently. Do they re-sign Stephen Hauschska, who has been solid in his first season in Seattle converting 85 percent of his field goals? Byron Maxwell was hurt or sick for the majority of the year and Jeron Johnson never made an impact. Kennard Cox has made a positive impact, when healthy. How much change occurs to the bottom of the roster?
Progression at quarterback for Week 17: Three things I'm watching this week; ball security, will Jackson take what the defense gives him, and can he minimize holding on to the ball for too long?
Progression at quarterback through the 2012 offseason: It sounds like Jackson is "right in the middle" of the Seahawks' plans for the offense this offseason. That said, Carroll acknowledged this week they will always look hard to find new talent. Jackson is signed through next season and the Seahawks won't be able to just replace him as they did Hasselbeck; Jackson was signed due to the familiarity and experience with Darrell Bevell in mind. He's proven to be adequate.
Does an offseason with this staff and a second year in row as starter help him take the step forward he's been unable to do to this point, or are Jackson's habits too well formed and his ceiling is limited? Can he become more adept at the "resourceful" play, the one where the quarterback makes something out of nothing when chaos occurs (like Alex Smith did in Week 16)?
And let's not forget the popular question; will Carroll "mortgage the future" for a quarterback he really thinks is it (presumably a Luck or RGIII)?
A more consistent two-minute offense: Carroll mentioned that he wants to prep for end of game and "finishing" situations even more so than he has done in the past during this offseason. Seattle's inability to comeback and/or close towards the end of games has been an Achilles Heel this season; losses to San Francisco (twice), Atlanta, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Washington come to mind.
Quick digression; the fans have left games that weren't over - in particular, the Redskins and 49ers losses - earlier than expected, as in game-minutes before the clock struck zero. Whether it's lack of faith in the offense, Special teams or neither, Seattle's ability to make plays at the end of games in comeback attempts has been less than inspiring. After the no huddle lost momentum towards the middle of the year, Seattle has struggled in hurry up/up tempo situations - Carroll did note he doesn't think the shift to the run-heavy style is to blame for their lack of quick strike passing offense. This is an aspect that could be overly scrutinized next season, especially if the struggles continue.
"No whole sale changes" for Week 17: Just like with the questions heading into last season's finale against the Rams - then draft position was on the line - Carroll is intent on trying to win the football game and the future isn't on his mind.
More Mike Morgan?: Carroll praised his versatility - able to play the Sam, rush backer or even Will. Furthermore, Morgan has lineage with the organization, notably his prior experienced under Ken Norton Jr and Brian Schneider at USC. He's a ‘backer of the program and the type of player who can replace a guy with the versatility of Matt McCoy. I'm curious to see where he fits in this puzzle, and how he affects the rest of the linebacker movement this offseason, if at all...
What about Ricardo Lockette?: On Christmas I said I wanted more Lockette in Week 17. Given the lack of depth and potential for Ben Obomanu to not be 100 percent this week, there could be a chance for Lockette to shine. Obomanu has been a depth threat for this team, and Lockette is best suited to fill that role in replacement... I want to see him on a quick screen as well. Can Lockette make Deon Butler expendable?
Offensive line depth: Towards the end of last season and the offseason (notably, heading into the combine) Carroll talked about John Schneider finding depth along the offensive line hadn't shown itself to the public. Now we've seen it in action with Giacomini, Jeanpierre and McQuistan getting significant playing time. Additionally there is Jarriel King, someone Carroll has spoken of previously as another draft pick from the 2011 class.
Seattle could have at least eight or nine guys capable of starting within the system in training camp next year, based on just the personnel they have now. This is a completely different story than the question marks surrounding the line heading into 2011. Does improved depth and more familiarity lead to less sacks in 2012?
Bigger numbers for ET?: Thomas' pass defense stats didn't reflect his efficiency in that area, but his Pro Bowl selection signifies that numbers don't always matter. Is 2012 the year that serves as Thomas' "breakout" season?
Can all 4 DB's get Pro Bowl recognition?: I know that sounds extreme but considering Seattle got ¾ of the puzzle completed this year (Richard Sherman the odd man out), I don't think I'm completely in crazy town with this one. Maybe I am. Who knows.
A statement game for Brandon Browner: When comparing his play to the outside expectations placed upon Browner going into the season; after being voted as first alternate for the Pro Bowl, it's hard to deem 2011 anything but a success despite the penalties and big plays allowed. This weekend is a rematch with one of the games' best in Fitzgerald and a chance for Browner to end the year on a big note.
Can Sidney Rice prove why he was signed for the big bucks?: I was critical of throwing a lot of money at a largely unproven, brittle, but talented receiver. I can't say this season has done anything to change my opinion, as he's now played one full season in his five-year career. And while he made some big plays for this offense, he wasn't as consistent as I personally hoped he could be. Recovering from a slew of injuries, Rice needs to prove in 2012 he can be as a long term playmaker for this team.
Can Robert Gallery keep doing as he's done in the 2nd half of 2011?: I was critical of this signing too (though, totally understanding of why we signed him) and bummin' pretty hard by the start to his year. That said, he's been a different player since he's gotten healthier and the rest of the offense has gelled a bit. A big game from Gallery this week would be a great way to start the offseason.
No more Pete Carroll on the "hotseat" talk: I thought this was erroneous earlier in the year. After watching this team rebound, It will be even more erroneous (in my opinion) talking about it this coming year. A good friend of mine spent his Christmas on the east coast with Cowboys, Jets and Giants fans. As he put it, they were all fired up about the Seahawks. If east coast bias may not be an issue anymore, hometown bias certainly shouldn't be.
What happens with Marcus Trufant?: I honestly don't know how I feel yet about what to do with Trufant because of his history and roots in Washington. That said, re-structuring his contact to be a veteran nickel corner competing with WTIII doesn't sound bad, at all, in my opinion.
Beanie Wells (make that Chester Taylor): Carroll praised the running scheme of the 49ers this week and admitted its tougher to defend than other systems. I took a closer look this week at their inside running scheme, something that intrigued me during the game. The 49ers ran a nifty trap play inside and Kendall Hunter was very dangerous out of the gun with nifty design. Those 73 yards by Hunter really bugged Carroll, who seemed at least satisfied with how they defended Gore. I bet this team is focused on keeping the Cards one dimensional. It's a big week for Mebane, Branch and the linebackers to stuff the middle and end on a strong note.
More "mayhem in the middle": That link is to a Seahawks.com article praising Brandon Mebane for a great year at his new nose tackle spot. It talks about his ability to control his gap, disruptive the flow of the offense and, well, create mayhem in the middle. But also, he's been playing sideline to sideline and hustling all over the field. If he can get to the quarterback more often and his numbers increase in 2012, maybe his name enters the pro-bowl fray?
More getting the QB on the ground: On a related note, this tidbit; "Not surprisingly, a look at the game-by-game stats shows a correlation between the score and Seattle's sack totals. Twenty-one of the Seahawks' 31 sacks have come in their seven wins. They've averaged 3.5 sacks in the four games they've won by at least 14 points and just over 1.5 in the other 12." Their 31 sacks are towards the bottom of the league. The lack of pass rush, or at least the inability to get the quarterback on the ground, has been a constant topic of conversation. It will remain a topic of conversation into the offseason and the draft.
Contract situations: The Seahawks have some key players (beyond Lynch) that are primed to hit free agency:
Red Bryant: Bryant blocked two kicks in two separate games (ironically, both games Seattle lost). Anytime a defensive lineman has 2 INTS in a season it stands out. But, he isn't a pass rush guy and had trouble handling 1 on 1 situations in space, which is understandable given his size. He's not a linebacker. Given his background and ties to this team (he won the 2011 Steve Largent award too), it's hard to imagine him gone. But at what price does he stay?
Paul McQuistan: McQuistan has filled in at right and left guard, and was the replacement for Russell Okung at left tackle. A former Oakland Raider under Tom Cable, McQuistan has proven vital as versatile depth.
David Hawthorne: Heater played with a hurting knee all season; remember, he didn't start Week 1. We saw him limp his way down the field on the touchdown return against the Eagles. Heater had an up and down year, but he's been in this locker room his entire career. The team extended him towards the end of last year; where does he fit after this season?
Leroy Hill: This is another difficult decision. Hill started 16 games for the first time in his career (assuming he starts today) and has a chance a career-high in tackles. The question is does the organization value youth over experience and look for a long-term upgrade? Is Malcolm Smith enough of a factor (after a quiet rookie year) to let Hill go?
Michael Robinson: After a down year in 2010, Robinson responded big-time. He's been solid as a receiver in the second half and his blocking is a major catalyst for Lynch's success. As of right now I'm of the opinion he needs to be re-signed.
The difference between the 2011 and 2012 offseason: When putting this season into context, it's pretty impressive that the Seahawks have come this far, especially considering this organization prides itself on preparation and preparation time was at a minimum last offseason. That won't be the case in the coming months.
This team is looking forward to coming back with a full season under their belt. Last year the goal was keeping/creating the mentality they had established during the short spurt at the end of the season. This year the focus is on keeping most of this team together and furthering the mentality, starting with a strong finish to this season.
They have "battled in a different fashion" than in 2010, hanging tough in most losses instead of getting blown out. Carroll told Brock and Salk he was most proud of the fact that this team found "our way to win football games...a formula that will give us a chance to be a championship football team for some time." Here's to hoping Week 17 serves as validation for a year of hard work, and also as a springboard for furthering the championship mentality that was created in 2011.