At midseason, most fans were blaming Tim Ruskell for this lost Seahawks season. Well, he’s gone now and the Hawks have only gotten worse, so now those No. 1 fan fingers are pointing directly at coach Jim Mora.
And Mora’s foam finger should be pointing at his offensive coordinator.
There’s a good reason most of us greeted Greg Knapp with a yawn and dismissive wave of the hand (with fingers crossed in hope) when Mora brought his old 49er and Falcon buddy to Seattle. Knapp’s offenses have been like Geo Metros: They run fine, but they can’t pass.
In San Francisco, Knapp learned the West Coast offense from Steve Mariucci and Steve Young, when the 49ers still had one of the best offenses in the league. Mariucci made Knapp his offensive coordinator in 2001, but it was still Mariucci’s offense (which he learned from Mike Holmgren, who learned it from Bill Walsh).
Knapp remained as offensive coordinator in 2003, when Dennis Erickson replaced Mariucci and married his own scheme to the West Coast offense in which quarterback Jeff Garcia had played four years. That unit was still a top-10 offense, but it wasn’t Knapp’s.
In 2004, Mora, then the 49ers’ defensive coordinator, was hired to coach the Falcons and brought Knapp with him. That’s when Knapp had his chance to finally define himself as a coordinator.
Knapp’s biggest failure in Atlanta was not channeling the immense talent of Michael Vick, who preferred to run because he couldn’t figure out where to throw the ball.
The Falcons led the league in rushing in each of Mora and Knapp’s three seasons, but they were so bad throwing the ball that they ranked 16th, 14th, and 25th in total offense.
While Vick obviously is not that bright, a good coach could have turned him into a passable quarterback. Knapp couldn’t, so he just let Vick do whatever he wanted.
Even though he trained under West Coast offense experts, Knapp obviously doesn’t know how to run a passing offense. And his zone-blocking scheme has been a bust in Seattle, netting the two worst rushing performances in franchise history. That must be scrapped.
With one game left, the Hawks rank 28th in rushing offense and 22nd overall. They have scored just 267 points this season. It’s not the impotent 1992 Seattle offense that scored the fewest points (140) in NFL history. But it’s a far cry from where the Hawks were just two years ago, when they averaged a full touchdown more per game.
The Seahawks have been shellacked by scores of 27-3 (vs. Arizona), 34-17 (at Indianapolis), 38-17 (at Dallas), 35-9 (at Minnesota), 34-7 (at Houston), 24-7 (vs. Tampa Bay), and 48-10 (at Green Bay). They would need to score 27 in the finale against Tennessee this weekend even to match the point total from last season’s 4-12 team.
Matt Hasselbeck is taking heat because he has turned the ball over nine times in the last two games. As pointed out earlier this week, Hasselbeck is trying to carry the entire offense on his shoulders and fix a broken system.
After the loss in Green Bay, Hasselbeck said he was "looking for answers," which—even if the quarterback didn’t mean it as such—is an indictment of Knapp’s offense.
It has become pretty obvious that the Seahawks’ offensive players do not believe in Knapp’s schemes. Receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh all but admitted it on the radio Tuesday.
“You have to trust the people that are making decisions,” Houshmandzadeh said on KJR. “You've got to trust the people that are calling plays. You've got to trust everything that is going on in order for things to work. If that trust is not there, you're always going to second-guess things.”
Obviously deluding himself, Knapp told reporters Wednesday that his players still believe in him and his system.
“Most definitely,” he said. “A lot of it, too, is just growth with each other. What do certain guys do well? A lot of times that doesn't occur until games when you find out which plays are good for which individuals...with me getting to know what routes are best for certain receivers and tight ends and the more reps we get of that, the closer we’ll get to being more consistent.”
OK, but Knapp has had a full season to figure out what everyone does well, and the offense has only gotten worse. There has been zero growth. None. Nada. Zip. Diddly squat.
In the first half of the season, Knapp had the built-in excuse of injuries to his offensive line, which at one point was down to its fifth left tackle and third left guard. But the Hawks have been pretty healthy in the second half, and they have been blown out in almost every game.
If Knapp hasn’t figured out his personnel by now, he never will.
Max Unger should have replaced Chris Spencer at center weeks ago, not last week. Sean Locklear should be back at right tackle, where he actually is quite serviceable.
Knapp should have done everything he could to make sure John Carlson was thrown the ball eight to 10 times per game.
Justin Forsett, one of the team's few positives, should be starting over the injury-prone Julius Jones.
Rookie Deon Butler should have replaced Deion Branch as the third receiver long before Nate Burleson’s injury gave Butler more playing time.
Seneca Wallace should have been used more frequently as a multi-purpose back and return man.
As a condition of retaining his job, Mora should be told to fire Knapp and replace him with someone who knows the West Coast scheme Hasselbeck learned from Mike Holmgren.
They could look at bringing back Gil Haskell, who was Holmgren’s OC in Seattle, or Jim Zorn, who was Hasselbeck’s position coach before making the ill-fated move to Washington, D.C.
Or perhaps the Hawks could hire Gary Kubiak, if he’s fired by Houston and doesn’t join Mike Shanahan in Washington. Mora also could look at someone like Philadelphia QB coach Pat Shurmur, who has learned from West Coast master Andy Reid, a Holmgren protégé. Or maybe Green Bay QB coach Tom Clements, who has picked up the offense from Mike McCarthy.
Whatever they do, the Seahawks have to get rid of Knapp. If he comes back in 2010, it will be more of the same offensive dysfunction. And Mora will have sealed his fate through his allegiance to a failed offensive coach.