My Expectations: Seattle Seahawks Will Regain the Perch

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My Expectations: Seattle Seahawks Will Regain the Perch
(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Unless you’re the New England Patriots, if you finish 4-12 you are not likely to be a favorite to win your division the following season. After a dismal 4-12 campaign, the Seahawks are underdogs in the NFC West to the one-year-wonder Arizona Cardinals.

The slight is not unjustified; The Cardinals are the defending NFC Champions and were within grasp of a stunning upset of the heavy-favorite Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII.

Even after a four-year reign atop the NFC West, and five straight playoff appearances, the Seahawks are now merely an afterthought.

Injuries decimated the team in 2008; still that aspect cannot be the sole blame for playing some bad and ineffective football. Whenever you lose a total of seven WR’s, you know the football gods are not on your side. Add in the mix of a Pro Bowl QB missing nine games, your entire OL going on IR, and a Holmgren in a pear tree, a dreary season was to ensue.

Hope is not lost, in 2008 three teams (Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, Atlanta Falcons) climbed out of the cellars to make the postseason after posting 1-15, 5-11, and 4-12 records, respectively in 2007. All three employed rookie head coaches, and new QB’s (two were rookies), that mix does not generally bode well in the first season.

We saw it when Matt Hasselbeck came over from Green Bay in 2001. It was two years before the Seahawks saw the playoffs with him at QB. He even had familiarity with coach Mike Holmgren from their time in Green Bay to boot.

The Seahawks have had the best off-season in the league so far. Instead of stripping down the team’s core, they went out and restocked the ammunition. They added pieces to a team that is built to win now. With their moves, I expect them to become the next 2008 Atlanta Falcons.

 

The Expectation

The Seattle Seahawks will be nothing less then NFC West champions in 2009. Seattle has won the NFC West four out of five years and it took an injury plague to wipe them from contention in 2008. They were not only playing terrible football, they were playing bad with a good portion of the reserves in as well.

With a healthy, and upgraded roster, the Seahawks will certainly push for the crown, and fly under the radar as the usual modus operandi. Despite their pathetic output last season they were only 14 points away from postseason contention (six-point loss to AZ, three points to WAS, two points MIA, three points NE). 

If healthy there is no reason to believe the Seahawks cannot dominate the West like they have in recent years, and for years to come.

The Cardinals have as many division titles in their history as Seattle does in the last five seasons. As of now they are the defending NFC Champions, and Seattle is coming off a third place finish. The Cardinals finally broke through the matra "Their going to do it this year, there going to win the West."

With magical QB Kurt Warner at the helm, they can certainly make another title run. Although I have yet to be convinced until I see a repeat performance considering their multiple shellshackings on the road (47-7 Patriots, 56-35 Jets, etc.). Regardless, the Cardinals deserve the respect they earned by making the Super Bowl last season.

If the Cardinals can drop bombs on people with their aerial assault as per usual, they have a strong chance to keep their crown. If they can find a running game with rookie Chris Wells at RB, the Seahawks could have their hands full. Someone the Seahawks will not be able to stop is WR Larry Fitzgerald, few CB’s in the league have an answer for him.

 

Seahawks Significant Offseason Activity

Their first signing was grabbing NT Colin Cole with a five-year, $21.4 million contract. Cole is massive (6'1", 330 lbs) and commands double teams on every down. He opens up the rest of the DL, and helps keep bodies off of the LB’s. Cole gives the Seahawks a much-needed run stuffer with good size.

The Cole signing was hardly on the minds of Seattle fans; I know my eyes were on a much bigger prize.

At the time the Cole signing commenced, marquee FA WR TJ Houshmandzadeh was making up his mind between the Seahawks, Vikings, and Bengal’s. Most Seahawks fans were skeptical they could even land him given GM Tim Ruskell said they were going to “wade cautiously” in FA.

One day after getting our run stuffer, Seahawks fans were beaming when the team lockedupHoushmandzadeh with a five-year, $40 million deal. Houshmandzadeh represents the best WR. Hasselbeck has ever had to work with. He is the team's best WR since HOF’er Steve Largent was catching balls.

The guy is a ball-catching machine, he has averaged averaging 98 catches, 1,043 yards, and 8 TD’s per season over the last three years.

It seemed the Seahawks had wadded up the cautious strategy.

Two weeks later the team announced the trade of five-time Pro Bowl LB Julian Peterson to the Detroit Lions in exchange for DT Cory Redding, and a fifth-round pick. A puzzling aura crept over the fan base, we were stunned.

It would take Seattle fans about a month to fully realize the strings Ruskell was pulling in the background.

As expected with the Peterson trade they used their No. 4 pick in the 2009 NFL Draft the snared LB Aaron Curry. The Julian Peterson trade in the end netted us a much-needed DE upgrade, and paved the way for them to get the drafts top rated prospect.

The Seahawks also made it out with one of the top three interior OL available in Oregon C/GMax Unger. The team also drafted blazing WR Deon Butler out of Penn. State, he posted times as fast as 4.28 in pre-draft workouts. All three of Seattle’s top rookies figure to see prominent playing time in 2009.

To put a bow on the successful day, the Seahawks swooped in and swiftly plucked Denver’s 2010 first round pick in exchange for their second rounder.

Now Ruskell was looking like a genius, until I came across a gut-wrenching headline in the Seattle Times.

“Report: Seahawks remove franchise tag on Leroy Hill”

What were they thinking? Tearing apart the best thing the team as going again?

With the $8.3 million cap relief they got they went out and signed a pair of veteran starters of the FA scrap heap. They brought back former Seahawk CB Ken Lucas to be the No. 2 CB opposite of Pro Bowler Marcus Trufant.

He is the big physical presence (6'1", 205 lbs) the Seahawks have sorely lacked while employing smaller CB’s Josh Wilson and Kelly Jennings at the no. 2 spot. 

Ruskell also went out and nabbed former Mora prodigy Justin Griffith to be the starting FB. Griffith is a better blocker then former FB Leonard Weaver and his rapport with Offensive Coordinator Greg Knapp should lead to a productive season.

Ruskell all made us smile again when the Seahawks locked him up with a six-year, $38 million contract. Our vaunted LB unit will stay intact for at least six years.

 

The Rest Of The West: Offseason Activity

The 49ers did add three potential upgrades during the offseason. Nabbing play-making WR MichaelCrabtree via the draft. Adding LT Marvel Smith to take over for Jonas Jennings, who was cut during the offseason.

Also getting CB Dre Bly to replace the injured Walt Harris could be a potential upgrade. The 49ers definitely carry the dark horse title in the NFC West. They were not that far away from the top 2008, just some nail biters against the Cardinals away from the division title.

I would not be surprised to see the 49ers slide ride in and snatch up the NFC West crown.

The Rams are in rebuilding mode, and will probably not be in contention for a few seasons. Cutting WR Torry Holt, LT Orlando Pace, and LB Pisa Tinoisamoa signaled a youth movement, and was a step backwards.

No. 2 pick Jason Smith, and FA acquisition C Jason Brown anchor a solid OL. QB Marc Bulger has scraps to throw to other then second year WR Donnie Avery. Promising rookie LB James Laurinaitis steps in to fill the void left by Tinoisamoa.

The Cardinals stood pat, and ended up taking some steps backward on a leaky defensive unit. They subtracted starting CB Roderick Hood, and let No. 3 CB Eric Green sign with the Dolphins.

They only replaced one with the signing of CB Bryant McFadden. On the DL they subtracted starting DE Travis LaBoy, and re-signed veteran Bertrand Berry, no upgrades were made. In fact, no upgrades were made anywhere expect perhaps the running game with the addition of Wells and former Brown’s RB Jason Wright.

 

Offseason’s Influence On My Expectations

The Seahawks are by far and away the most upgraded team in the league this off-season. A new Zone Blocking Scheme, and Tampa 2 Scheme on defense will cater to the Seahawks strengths.

Their athletic OL will thrive in the Zone Blocking System. Their defensive personal match the Tampa Two perfectly. They have a speedy undersized defense anchored by one of the leagues top LB units.

We should see a lot of blitzing from Mora in contrast to John Marshall’s scheme. Generating pressure and forcing turnovers will be vital to Seahawks success.

Across the board this team looks better then 2007’s playoff team. They have upgraded at WR, OL, TE, FB, DT, DE, and CB, so far this offseason. If QB Matt Hasselbeck stays healthy this team is poised and ready for a deep playoff run.

I will not count the Cardinals out, but they have to show me more to have me convinced. With a largely dormant offseason they have done little to improve in comparison to Seattle’s rapid improvement. If Arizona can keep their perch atop the West, they will make me more of a believer.

 

What Will Prevent Seattle From Winning The West?

As the blue and green donners saw last season, there is TOO MUCH that can wreak havoc on a season. Another plague on injuries will all but likely wipe division title hopes. Matt Hasselbeck going down for any extended period of time would also likely end chances of a deep playoff run.

The FA acquisitions and scheme changes could flop, leaving Seattle flailing and clueless. With a disoriented team in the wrong scheme, teams will be able to pick them apart at will like in 2008.

The Cardinals could actually find a running game if their first round steal Chris Wells can step right in and perform. If they pair a 1,000-yard rusher with their explosive passing game, good luck stopping them.

If the defense can step up and not get annihilated it will create a better overall balance for Arizona, and they will not have to rely heavily on just passing.

The 49ers have a solid running game, passing game, and defense. If any one of those three elements can break out in 2009, they will certainly be a threat to the Cardinals, and Seahawks. Michael Crabtree busting out “Fitzgerald” like could certainly thrust them into playoff contention.

 

Conclusion

Plague aside, this is how the NFC West is going to pan out.

1- Seattle

2- Arizona (Wild Card)

3- San Francisco

4- St Louis

I am not going to speculate about records solely because the regular season is three months away, a lot can happen up until then.

Seattle will have some tough competition indeed to reclaim the West. Seattle, Arizona, and San Francisco should be plenty battle tested when the playoffs role around (whoever makes it).

With the Seahawks being counted out and doubted in 2009, now is the time for them to step it up a notch. 2008 is over with, it's back to business.

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