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Winning With the Team We Have

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The team is 3-3, looks good in spurts but is hardly a contender. In the opposing conference a team has sprinted out to a 6-0 record and one of the three best DVOAs ever. That's the scenario that faced the New England Patriots in 2001 and it's the scenario that's facing the Seattle Seahawks in 2007. New England was clearly not the best team in 2001, the Rams were in the middle of their "Greatest Show on Turf" era, and, in fact, 11 teams finished ahead of the Patriots in overall DVOA. In many ways New England just got lucky, but the Super Bowl victory certainly was no less sweet. Seattle, likewise, has virtually no chance of being the best team in football or even close. They do have a very weak division and an easy schedule. If this team can play to even part of its potential it makes the playoffs. Once there, anything is possible.

Here is a list of eight things the Seahawks could do with the roster they have to improve their chances at contention.

  1. Give Maurice Morris Carries: --Especially on first down. Despite Shaun Alexander's struggles Morris is being used less than in years past. The few times he's subbed in, he's almost always audibled wide. Over half of his carries came in week four running out the clock against the San Francisco 49ers. An achievable goal, one that wouldn't step on toes or have to be scrapped if Seattle falls behind, is five carries before halftime. Morris is a single cut rusher, he doesn't need the exquisite run-blocking Alexander needs to succeed and when he fails, he usually fails forward. What's killing Seattle's offense more than anything else is its complete inability to put itself into manageable yardage on second and third downs. When Alexander runs for 2 or fewer yards on first down, he forces the team to pass on the next two plays. A predictable gameplan is a failed gameplan. Morris doesn't need to be great or even very good, he just needs to legitimize the running game. Four yards on first down, a second and six instead of second and nine, would do wonders for this offense.
  2. Sub In Mansfield Wrotto for Chris Gray: Gray doesn't need to be benched, but subbing Wrotto in for a series or two at right guard would keep Gray fresh. The added benefits are that Wrotto is a superior run blocker to Gray, Wrotto will get starting experience and the Hawks will the have a better idea how aggressively they must pursue line talent in the offseason.
  3. Run Weaver from Four Wide Receiver Sets: Weaver is a mismatch against DBs and running him more from four wide receiver sets protects Seattle from blitzes.
  4. Blitz with Leroy Hill: Hill does two things really well, he blitzes and he stuffs the run. He does not, can not and should not work in coverage. If Hill is in on a clear passing down he should be blitzing. If Seattle is adamant at using his position to play cover on passing downs, Hill should be subbed out in favor of a superior cover linebacker, like Will Herring. That is, after all, why Seattle drafted Herring.
  5. Cover with Julian Peterson: Peterson is an excellent pass rusher, but he's also tremendous in coverage. The essence of this argument is thus: The discrepancy between Peterson and Hill's pass rushing is far less than the discrepancy between Peterson and Hill's coverage skills. Players should be played to their strengths. Seattle may lose some pass rush by blitzing more with Hill and less with Peterson, but they will also add much better coverage underneath. Seattle is currently 28th at defending opposing tight ends, with Peterson and Lofa Tatupu on the roster that is absolutely unacceptable.
  6. Throw More Wide Receiver Screens: Every time Seattle has used the wide receiver screen this season it has been successful. With the running game struggling, screen passes could pick up some of the slack. Nate Burleson and Bobby Engram have skill-sets well matched for the wide receiver screen.
  7. Call Play-Action from 3 WR/I-Back Sets: On the Hawks second play of the second half Holmgren called a run from this staple formation. Fans booed him vociferously. The reason? Everyone in the stadium knew a run was coming, including the Saints. Saints linebacker Scott Fujita was visibly excited to see the package and immediately began to crowd the line. Calling play action from this formation keeps opposing defenses "honest"--that is, from cheating up to stuff the run. It does not necessarily have to be successful, nor does it have to be a thirty yard bomb, it just has to counteract the blitz. Even a PA FB screen could keep the opposing linebackers from seeing this formation and immediately blitzing the ball carrier.
  8. Call More Man Coverage on Third and Long: Seattle attempts to force a turnover on every third and long play, and like a ballhawking corner with poor coverage skills, sometimes they get the pick but most times they just get beat deep. John Marshall must learn to pick his spots, attempt turnovers at times, but more often simply prevent the third down conversion. I appreciate Marshall's bend but don't break style, but opponents are regularly extending drives to the detriment of the offense. In each of the last two games, opponents have put together lengthy third quarter drives that completely took away the Seahawks' rushing attack. To which, when Seattle forced a fumble from Reggie Bush in the waning seconds of the third quarter, it was only half successful. That's because the drive had already taken 6 minutes off the game clock. Preventing third down conversions may not, in isolation, be as beneficial as forcing a turnover, but it's a much more reliable way to get your offense back on the field.