Loss at Cleveland Takes Wind Out of Seahawks' Sails. What Now?

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 23: Wide reciever Greg Little #15 of the Cleveland Browns celebrates after a first down run during the third quarter against the Seattle Seahawks at Cleveland Browns Stadium on October 23, 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Browns defeated the Seahawks 6-3. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

With the Playoffs now more of a pipe-dream, how do we go about measuring progress for this young team?

The Hawks, and by extension, their fanbase, were riding high after going into the New Meadowlands Stadium two weeks ago and beating a heavily favored Giants team. The offense was clicking, the defense was looking very stout, and people were even talking about a Wild Card playoff berth as a possibility. Well, what a difference one week can make. The Seahawks failed to show up in Cleveland - well, let me say - the Seahawks' offense failed to show up in Cleveland and more or less put those playoff conversations to rest.

Also put to rest were any arguments about a possible budding quarterback controversy for the Seahawks. Charlie Whitehurst played poorly - 12 for 30 for 97 yards and an interception. If anything, I suppose one silver lining in this game is the thought that maybe we won't have to listen to calls for the backup for a week or two at least. People have short memories, and if Tarvaris Jackson starts struggling I'm sure the those will start up again, but for now, Tarvaris is the unquestioned quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks

At 2-4 the playoffs are pretty much a pipe dream so the angle to take now is as a team whose aim is to grow in character and in identity. The desired identity this coaching staff, particularly Pete Carroll, is striving for is that of a hard-nosed, high energy, and balanced offense paired with a stout, athletic, playmaking defense. The defense is going in that direction at a more visible pace. They've become one of the best run stopping units in the NFL and their defensive backs, particularly Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, are making a name for themselves as game-changing, versatile, and hard-hitting. The offense, on the other hand, hasn't come along quite so well. There has been some significant investment made on that side of the ball this past offseason but obviously the biggest need is a true franchise quarterback. 

With the playoff conversation all but put to rest, the obvious measuring sticks for a team become more muddled. How do you measure progress? The statistical angle is one way, and it's certainly a valid enough method, but stats don't always tell the whole story. Here are a few things that I'll be looking at, apart from stat comparisons, during the rest of the year as a way to try to measure improvement and progress. 

Depth Development: 

Elite teams have the depth to weather the injury storm that inevitably hits every team during the course of a season. The Seahawks lacked depth badly in 2010, especially on the offensive and defensive lines, and it hurt them down the stretch. As injuries happen, the guys behind them need to step up and hope to play at least well enough not to hurt the team significantly. In some cases, these 'replacement' players end up being more effective than their predecessor. A perfect example of the depth factor is the 2010 Green Bay Packers. Despite 15 (FIFTEEN!!) players on the injured reserve, including key starters in LB Nick Barnett, TE Jermichael Finley, and RB Ryan Grant, the Packers weathered this and went on, without skipping much of a beat, to win the Super Bowl. 

Obviously, this won't happen for Seattle this season, but as the injuries pile up it will be interesting to see which former backups come on and perform well, possibly even winning a starting position moving forward. WIth Marcus Trufant and now Walter Thurmond going to the Injured Reserve, the Seahawks young cornerbacks will get their shot at some playing time. Marshawn Lynch is having back trouble, it will be interesting to see if the Hawks call up or sign a lead back with his skill set to take his place. The tight end position has experienced some injuries - John Carlson is on the IR, Zach Miller has head/neck issues that are always pretty tricky, and Anthony McCoy and Cameron Morrah will have a chance to show their mettle. 

The Seahawks are running young on both sides of the ball and the core nucleus of this team will be fleshing itself out over this season. This is something I'm going to be looking for as the year goes on.

Body Language:

The Seahawks just didn't look like a confident team out there on Sunday, at least on offense. Now, obviously success is a pretty good prescient for how confident you'll be, and the Seahawks have been up and down this past year or so, but you could just see the timidness and uncertainty in the players' body language. Further, confidence is contagious, and the worse off it went for the Seahawks on Sunday, the more mistakes and miscues were made. Dropped passes in key places late, false starts, stupid penalties. Sulking, arguing. No fight. 

The Seahawks have had glimpses of this confidence as a team in a few games this year but the consistency isn't there. The elite teams have it nearly all the time. If you're up, you're flying high. If you're down, you're fighting hard to take back the game. The Ravens have this. The Steelers have this. The Patriots have it. The Packers definitely have it. It's that swagger. Red Bryant has swagger - making plays and staring at the opponents sideline. Kam Chancellor has swag - making big hits and flattening opposing players. The offense - well, right now there's not much of that swagger that you'd like to see. I'll be watching for this emerging or disappearing altogether.

Perseverance: 

Because the Seahawks are young and inconsistent, there are going to be some tough games ahead. There will probably be some good games too, but I'll be watching this team as they go through the tough games  and see how they rally around each other. Are they calling others out in the media? Are they bickering on the field? Are they throwing in the towel and quitting on their team and coach?

These things must be avoided if the Seahawks are going to take a possibly losing season and build on it for next year. Momentum is a real thing, though intangible, and instilling a winning culture starts with getting players to buy in and believe. If there is infighting and discord, this severely limits progress. Something to watch if the Seahawks start struggling and their fans and the media start picking them apart. 

Check out more Seahawks analysis and discussion over at FieldGulls.

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