Overview: It was the worst season of Lofa Tatupu's career. It started with a six-year contract extension that signed Tatupu through 2015 and in the words of Tim Ruskell made Tatupu a "Seahawk for life". Tatupu, the face of the defense, was charged with a DUI on May 10 and pled guilty on June 7. He took that hot streak into the preseason, suffered his first serious injury, a bruised knee that looked worse when it happened and that dogged him into the season. In week seven, Tatupu was concussed and left the game. He would miss his first game of his career in week nine. It wasn't his concussion, or at least the concussion was not the listed reason for his sitting, but an injured groin that forced him out of action. The injury would hobble him in weeks ten and 11, too. Tatupu set or tied career lows in tackles, interceptions, tackles for a loss, passes defended, sacks, and forced just one fumble. He missed the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career.
What went right: He rebounded a bit by the end of the season. The only skill he showed improvement in is blitzing, and he looked quicker, more mobile in tight quarters and with better burst than anytime since his rookie season. Unlike his first season, he punished lead blockers. It didn't show up as sacks, but Seattle wasn't in sack situations and its secondary was almost prodigal defending third and long.
Quintessential Game: Jets at Seahawks
Forgotten man Lofa Tatupu had a classic Tatupu moment, chucking Tony Richardson with a double forearm shiver before closing on Thomas Jones after three.
What went wrong: This is the Tatupu scouts warned us about and it's likely the Tatupu we'll see again if his wheels get busted out. He lost enough quickness that he could no longer cut downhill and towards the ball carrier. Attempting tackles from the side or rear, Tatupu failed to wrap and was cut away from or dropped. It led to a lot of missed tackles, a lot of broken tackles and some tackles where that extra few yards gained turned a stop into a good gain. He didn't contribute in pass coverage, was probably thrown away from, but lacked the burst to get into pass plays and be a presence over the middle.
Quintessential Game: Seahawks at Giants
In which Lofa Tatupu "plays scared":
"But [Jacobs has] matured as a runner, and he's exploring his options, so to speak. He doesn't always take it downhill. He'll make guys miss. He'll sidestep defenders and make them look just as bad as if they were getting run over." -Lofa Tatupu
Third play, first Giants drive of the quarter. 1st and 10 from the Giants 24. New York breaks 2 WR, TE, I. Seattle in a base 4-3. Understanding how this run went down is a process of elimination. At the snap, Kevin Boss turns Lawrence Jackson in, opening the left "C" gap. Brandon Mebane gets a slow jump off the snap. He's a non-factor. Madison Hedgecock lead blocks right; Brandon Jacobs takes two quick steps right, but cuts left. The joint action has already drawn a response from Seattle's linebackers. Leroy Hill, Lofa Tatupu and Julian Peterson begin offensive right and extend their distance to the left "C" gap. Chris Snee and Rich Seubert pull left. Leroy Hill engages Seubert, holding his ground and opening a channel for Deon Grant or Lofa Tatupu to tackle. That's his job on this play, take out the lead blocker and setup the tackle, not greedily attempt the tackle himself, vacate his assignment and leave Peterson and Tatupu with Jacobs and two lead blockers. Snee, continues to pull out, nears Grant, misses engaging him and only accidentally contributes to the play. Unfortunately, Grant is no match for the charging Colossus, arrives at an angle that's best outcome is a broken arm tackle and doesn't even get that.
The remaining players are Tatupu, Peterson from the far side, Snee lead blocking and Jacobs. Tatupu decelerates, takes a false step towards the line of scrimmage, regains, but now with an impossible angle. He can be seen in Jacobs' dust cloud as he sprints past. Snee, running in, loses his feet accidentally tripping Peterson and removing the last barrier between Jacobs and Brian Russell. Russell runs around Jacobs and tackles him from behind. All things considered, it was the right move. Russell was the last line of defense. Do you trust him to take Jacobs head on?
Outlook: When you're a squatty guy with 4.83 speed, there's a premium on protecting the legs and adding strength without adding bulk. Tatupu can't afford to lose quickness. Seattle added Colin Cole and is moving Brandon Mebane to the three-tech in hopes that the increased size in the middle will benefit Leroy Hill and Tatupu. It might, but both linebackers have shown better ability to stuff, stymie, shed and tackle through lead blockers. The bigger improvement is the rotational line of Red Bryant and Cory Redding. Bryant and Redding should be stouter and more disruptive than Howard Green and Craig Terrill. Whoever's up front, the key to Tatupu regaining a legitimate Hall of Fame pace is health. Tatupu is athletic -- couldn't be great if he wasn't, but he's not a great athlete and specifically, he's not that quick. Compounding that weakness is a barrel-chested build and rather short arms. He can tackle head on like a freight train, but doesn't wrap well and loses a lot of tackles attempted from the side or when trailing. Tatupu can still tackle within the box, can still squirt through crevices, stuff and blitz, but without his full quickness, he lacks as a pass defender and lacks the sideline-to-sideline range that defines a great middle linebacker.