ST. LOUIS - OCTOBER 3: Matt Hasselbeck #8 of the Seattle Seahawks looks to pass against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on October 3 2010 in St. Louis Missouri. The Rams beat the Seahawks 20-3. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Every team uses the bye week to regroup and focus on what's ahead the rest of the season. What should you be looking for in the Seattle Seahawks over the final 12 games of the year? Start at the top with the most important player on the field -- quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
The bye week offers a chance for teams to regroup and get healthy. The Seattle Seahawks stand at 2-2 after the first quarter of the season, and have made big waves since their last game by acquiring Marshawn Lynch and trading away Deion Branch. But every team has questions to answer during the week off. Here are the top five facing the Seahawks.
1. Is Matt Hasselbeck Nearing The End Of The Line?
Hasselbeck has been the starter for the Seahawks for nearly a decade, and the last two years have been marred by injuries. We had been told he was healthy, even given the old "best shape of his life" line. Many fans held out hope that Hasselbeck would be able to come back as the quarterback of old -- after all, his last full season (2007) could arguably be considered his best.
But this year has hardly been up to that standard so far, and at 35 years old, he's looking more like an aging quarterback well on the back half of his career. It's not just the arm strength that seems to be fading -- although it's clear that's happening. It's that Hasselbeck's decision making seems to be reverting to its early-career form. Upon his arrival from Green Bay, he used to drive Mike Holmgren nuts with his cavalier attitude toward throwing the ball. In time, Holmgren reigned that in, leading to his seminal 2005 season.
But without a rushing attack -- and, perhaps most importantly, without Holmgren for the last year-plus -- Hasselbeck has gotten careless with the football once again, apparently trying to do too much to carry the team. But is it just a matter of trying to get him to do less? Or is his 33 interceptions against just 26 touchdowns over the past three seasons an indication that he's washed up?
What, exactly, does the team need to see to keep from pulling the plug and handing the reigns to Charlie Whitehurst, whom they invested a lot to acquire?
2. Is Marshawn Lynch The Answer At Running Back?
Seattle fans can point to the moment Seattle's rushing attack started its precipitous nosedive: March 6, 2006. That's the day Shaun Alexander signed his $62 million megadeal coming off his MVP season. Of course, he would get injured the next season and never be the same, eventually being released in 2008. Whether his drop in performance and the signing of the contract are coincidental will forever be argued by fans, but this fact cannot: The Seahawks have not run the ball effectively since the Super Bowl season.
The previous front office regime didn't see the need to invest heavily in running backs, bringing in Julius Jones and TJ Duckett to plug the gaping hole left by Alexander. That plan never worked. And then, rather than investing in a running back in the draft, this regime elected to enter the season with Justin Forsett, Leon Washington and Jones. That hasn't really worked either.
Enter Lynch, a still-young runner who has been a feature back before, although he fell out of favor in Buffalo. Can he be a guy who can average better than 4.0 yards per carry, toting the ball 20-plus times a game? If he's not, it's not like the team invested a tremendous amount to get him. But if he is, it could go a long way towards helping the team. (Not to mention Hasselbeck.)
3. Can This Coaching Staff Get More Out Of Aaron Curry?
We bought the rhetoric hook, line and sinker on Curry as he was coming out of Wake Forest. Best linebacker prospect in the last decade? Sure hasn't played like it yet. And while it's certainly far too early to call Curry any kind of bust, it's getting to be about time when it's fair to wonder if he's ever going to live up to the considerable hype, given that we've seen so little.
Curry was billed as a game-changing linebacker. He hasn't been that yet, exhibiting just average tackling skills and below-average football smarts. This coaching staff promised to try and take advantage of his supreme athletic ability by putting him in positions where he could just attack the ball, but so far, it hasn't resulted in much of a change in performance. Does the light bulb simply just go on at some point? Or is Curry's ceiling just that of an above-average linebacker?
For this defense to be what Pete Carroll wants it to become, it simply must get more out of Curry.
4. Is The Rush Defense For Real?
In terms of raw statistics, the Seahawks have the second-best rush defense in the NFL, allowing just 72.8 yards per game -- this from a franchise that hasn't allowed under 100 yards per game since the Super Bowl season in 2005 (94.4). And if you're not a big fan of counting stats, even Football Outsiders has the Seahawks ranked as the second-best run defense by its DVOA measure.
A large part of that can be attributed to the play of Colin Cole, who has been an absolute gap-stuffing beast on the interior, occupying blockers in a way not seen since Marcus Tubbs had a pair of working knees. When combined with converted tackle Red Bryant's considerable size on the left end, it's freed Brandon Mebane to penetrate with his quickness on the interior and allowed linebackers to attack the ball carrier, rather than fight off blockers.
However, in the first four games, the defense has faced just one rushing attack that could be considered above average, and even that one (San Diego) came to town without its best runner (Ryan Matthews). It has also faced two of the worst rushing offenses in the league (San Francisco and Denver). Are we seeing a mirage?
5. Will The Players Continue To Buy Into The Coaching Staff?
It's early in the Pete Carroll regime, but it seems fairly obvious that the players are buying what he's selling. But theirs still this sneaking suspicion in the back of my mind that it will wear off at some point, that Carroll's boundless enthusiasm will eventually cease to be a motivating factor for players that are most interested in dollars. Maybe that's unfair. But there's too long a history of coaches like Carroll eventually losing the players' ears.
Carroll is already getting more out of this team than Jim Mora ever did, albeit with a vastly different roster (of Carroll and GM John Schneider's creation). The players appear more interested, and they appear to believe more in the plan than they ever did under Mora. If it continues -- after four games, the jury's still out -- I have no doubt that this team will make a strong run at the NFC West.
But if the team starts facing a lot of adversity? If Hasselbeck continues to throw the ball to the other team? If Lynch becomes a problem child like he was in Buffalo? If Curry continues his laissez faire attitude towards tackling? If the run defense falls apart when it actually faces a competent rushing attack on the road?
Then we'll find out just how much the team has bought into Pete's "always compete" mantra.
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