Seattle Seahawks: Reflecting on 2010 for Success in 2011, Weeks 1-9
It’s time to take a quick break from looking towards the NFL draft and glance back at the Seahawks 2010 season.
The Seahawks caused their fans to leave few emotions untapped during the 2010 season; the first team to enter the post season with a sub-.500 record. The fact that the seven loses during a horrid 2-7 streak equaled the regular season win total is a true testament to the roller coaster season Seattle endured.
This analysis is a group of moments and themes I believe were in some way detrimental to the teams' overall success in 2010, yet some of the situations and themes highlighted are hidden under positive short-term consequences and results.
There is much to be found in the silver lining of losing and the downside of victory. A win doesn’t necessarily translate to a sound 60 minutes of football or positive trends becoming prevalent in the game plan.
However, the Seahawks played some of their best football during losses against elite competition. Winning can serve as a band-aid; that is certainly the consensus for many pundits regarding the Seahawks’ NFC West title and the state of the team into 2011.
The themes and moments that could be highlighted go beyond this list; these were chosen because they bring more to the discussion than the obvious results—not necessarily interested in ‘what if’s,’ but rather ‘what’s next.’ The analysis is mostly chronological, but some themes may cover the entire season.
The foundation for a championship program was built in 2010, but the Seahawks must be critical of both the good and bad from 2010 in their off-season preparation for 2011.
Early Season Coaching Blunder, Week 3
Up 10-0 against the Chargers at the end of first half, the Seahawks sat first and 10 at the 11 yard line with 34 seconds left. After a quick pass to Golden Tate on a slant to the two-yard line, Hasselbeck spiked the ball on second down with 18 seconds left as opposed to a quick snap, quick pass into the end zone.
Spiked ball or incomplete pass, clock stops. But catching the Chargers in the wrong formation, touchdown? The Chargers bunched the box as Hasselbeck spiked, and had an opportunity to exploit the formation. Regardless, a wasted play.
After a failed shotgun QB draw on third down with no timeouts remaining—a play exemplary of the Seahawks' red zone running game struggles under Jeremy Bates—the clock ran out as 12 men were on the field and the Field Goal snap wasn’t in time. What should have been a sure seven points or even disappointing three, turned into zero.
Carroll acknowledged after the game that he had to be more careful in the NFL, scoring opportunities weren’t going to come as often as at USC. Including the timeout taken after a converted first down, the first play after the two minute warning on the previous drive, the inside two minute strategy was completely mismanaged.
The Seahawks proved early in the Season they needed the defense or special teams to create opportunities and good field position; the 31 point surge against San Francisco included a Trufant Pick 6 and Babineaux interception into the red zone. Leon Washington kept the Seahawks ahead in the San Diego victory with his two return touchdowns.
Less bold and more reason was Carroll’s desired approach going forward, as opportunity and luck are not constants in the NFL.
Early Season Coaching Blunder, Week 4
The Seahawks came out of the two minute warning, third and one near midfield, and executed a Michael Robinson to Leon Washington trick pass; Robinson split out wide to receive a quick lateral from an under center Hasselbeck.
The trick play is exemplary of the offenses' struggle to find a true identity in 2010—a finesse offense in a smash mouth situation. The Seahawks consistently failed on shotgun running plays inside the five yard line against San Diego the previous week.
The trick play was Washington’s first reception of the season; the explosive, out of the backfield receiver had his first reception—not even thrown by the quarterback, on a trick play in week four; an early season example of Washington’s limited, dubious role in Bates’ offense.
The play put the Seahawks into field goal range. A stalled drive resulted in a failed 51-yard fake field goal attempt, a Jon Ryan run that was easily snuffed out by the Rams player defending the edge.
Just a week removed from Carroll acknowledging the need to be more conservative and calculated in the NFL, the Seahawks ran two trick plays within a minute of each other and ultimately created another major gaffe inside the two minute warning, inside the opponent’s territory, the second week in a row.
The sequence proved to be a major momentum swing into halftime down 10-3 after a St. Louis field goal, and the ‘Hawks sputtered their way to a 20-3 loss. The Seahawks' offense hit midfield for the first time in the second half on the final play of the game.
The end of the first half proved to be the end for the Seahawks. Going into the Bye week, then facing a road game at Chicago, Carroll faced an unfortunate dilemma; 2-0 at home, 0-2 on the road. The motto coming out of the the Bye week, as dubbed by Leon Washington, "bringin' it on the road."
Early Season Coaching Blunder, Week 6 and a Blunder Review
Leading 23-13 in Chicago with less than 2:20 to play, the Seahawks faced the classic 'don’t punt to Devin Hester' scenario. 89 yards and a touchdown return later, this is among the coaching staff's biggest errors in 2011.
Not only did the punt team give the league’s best return man the opportunity to return a ball punted on the numbers instead of towards the sideline, but the coverage team let him cut across the entire field untouched before breaking past the defense with ease.
One of the biggest gaffes of the season covered up by they fact they brought it on they road; a three-point victory created by the newly found "beast mode" backfield and the offense's most well-rounded performance of the season’s first eight games.
The Seahawks went 2-1 in those games, a crucial three game stretch that gave the Seahawks the confidence to believe they were on the right track, a 4-2 start and a spot as division leaders.
However, Carroll proved early in his first NFL season in over a decade that his inside four minute game management was flawed, partly due to differences in NFL clock stoppage rules inside two minutes. Furthermore, he displayed the transition from college to the NFL would require time, his aggressive nature in 50/50 situations, such as fourth downs or challenges, needed to be refined at the pro level.
The Seahawks need a rust free Carroll at the start of next season if they expect to continue their reign atop the division; with the schedule of a division champion, 4-2 would be an impressive and encouraging start to next season.
An Incomplete Season
The Seahawks' young receiving core was under constant flux in 2010 as an unheralded group of players each contributing at times during the season. No surprise was bigger to most than the play of Mike Williams, who came back into the NFL to lead the team in receiving. That title does not give a full understanding towards the up and down nature of his 2010 season, but it suggests the even greater impact he can have for this team next season.
Williams, along with the rest of the group is under immense pressure in 2011, facing a possible quarterback change and two new offensive coordinators. Charlie Whitehurst throws a very different ball than Hasselbeck, already acknowledged as a challenge during the 2010 season.
Receivers will have to be physical and disciplined blocking for the running game under Tom Cable. Darrell Bevell will require precise route running and commitment towards extending the play after pocket breakdowns. Do the Seahawks have the right receivers to match a more physical offense?
Ben Obomanu finally stepped into a starting role in his sixth season with the Seahawks, a special teams contributor and tough all around player. When healthy in 2010, Williams and Obo formed a physical, underrated and productive duo. Ruvell Martin held a physical presence through his contributions in limited playing time, but may be replaced by Isaiah Stanback.
Golden Tate is a player I believe can help create an explosive offense, but he has a way to go before making a consistent impact. Deon Butler had an inconsistent season but played his best game week 14 in San Francisco, only to break his leg in two places catching a touchdown at the end of the game. He is reportedly on schedule to play next season. Can either step up as a down-field complement to the bigger Obomanu?
However the biggest loss could be currently unsigned Brandon Stokley. He earned the title “possibly the best slot receiver ever” from Hasselbeck after continually orchestrating the receiving core—down Obo and Williams—during the season, saving a second half comeback against Carolina, a comeback to be further explored in part 2. This receiving core would be leaderless without Stokley’s 14 years of winning, veteran experience.
Nobody is sure what to expect from this group next season, especially with the uncertainty at quarterback. Deion Branch’s departure opened the door for the round robin to spin at the receiver position in the season’s first half, and injuries played a major role in the discontinuity of the unit during the later part of the season. The talent at the position has potential to elevate this offense, but they must develop as a group and learn how to complement one another on the field during the transition into the newly refined system.
1 of 7 Inside the Arizona 14 Yard Line
In the week 7 victory versus Arizona, the Seahawks' offense flashed one of the major flaws from the 2010 season, a true ineptitude scoring in the red zone. They went one of seven, scoring touchdowns when first and ten inside the Arizona 14—the only score coming after a turnover that put the Seahawks' offense on the Arizona two-yard line.
The first drive of the day set the tone: a Marshawn Lynch 39-yard cutback run sprung by an Okung backside seal block and a Brandon Stokley third down reception to the 14 yard line primed the Seahawks to start fast.
Note: Before the third down play, Fox flashed the following graphic: Arizona 95 points allowed in the first half, most in the NFL. The Seahawks 41 points scored in the first half, 28th in the NFL.
Okung gets hurt on a Lynch second down run and Williams makes a strong third down catch, but is stopped on the one yard line, another first down conversion.
A Sean Locklear false start—runs for loss on first and third down due to poor blocking, mostly by Locklear and slightly Stacy Andrews on the right side—eventually set up a chip shot field goal. It was blocked, but ultimately goes on the board due to a defensive penalty on the first attempt.
The result was a ultimately a 22-10 Seahawks win, the foreshadowing that this team was still young and facing growing pains as a unit in year one was covered under the mask of a 4-2 record and division lead.
This win was the band-aid game of the season’s first half. The high five, hell yeah hail storm Carroll dropped over his defense and special teams on the sidelines towards the end of the game was worthy, as those units were responsible for the Seahawks victory—the case in three of four victories to that point. The ability to finish both a drive and a game had come into question for the Seahawks.
The failure to get the ball in the end zone in the week seven victory showed the Seahawks couldn’t quite capitalize on the early season momentum they had created, and a 4-2 record had its cracks; especially facing a week eight Halloween game in Oakland’s Black Hole against a Raider team coming off a 59 point outburst.
The Seahawks spoke of owning the division after this victory; the Cardinals had taken what Seattle felt was theirs, and for the players still remaining from 2007, this victory meant a lot. I felt uneasy the week before Oakland, as a bay area resident fully aware of the magnitude of their whopping on Denver. The Seahawks didn’t convincingly seal the deal as they took the division lead early in 2010.
The Seahawks didn’t close in week seven and Oakland was about to expose the cracks from the victory. A Seahawks team ready to raise the program to the next level will show up if facing a similar situation next season; able to close the door on lesser competition and not worry about “Bringin’ it on the road” as late as week eight.
A Horrid Halloween a Sign of Things to Come
The week eight game in Oakland was the game that broke the Seahawks’ back. Eight players were injured during the game—Red Bryant and Ben Hamilton—out for the year. Colin Cole sprained his ankle, out for the next six games and already without Brandon Mebane. The Seahawks second ranked run defense plummeted. Hasselbeck suffered a concussion behind a decimated offensive line. The 33-3 Halloween bludgeoning would send the Seahawks into a two-game tailspin.
Early season reliance on the friendly confines of Qwest Field coupled with an unexpected ability to win with defense and special teams was tapped; the team proved their reliance on the will of the Qwest crowd might actually be a problem going forward for this team, now 1-3 on the road.
Hosting the Giants in week nine, a 21-0 first quarter deficit grew to 35 at half. Charlie Whitehurst did throw his first career touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, only to be seen by about 10,000 fans; a stadium scared empty by a historic defeat for the franchise.
As an attendee of opening Sunday and the Giants game, the larger than life, digitally imposed image of a jacked up Pete Carroll that hung on the stadium opening Sunday—which came to life against San Francisco—was a distant memory.
On Top of the Division, Down in the Dumps, a Blueprint for 2011?
The Seahawks hot 4-2 start is somewhat of a paradox when compared with how the Seahawks struggled mightily during the first quarter the entire 2010 season; the first two plays of the Seahawks' season were a touchback and a Matt Hasselbeck interception.
They held the end of first quarter lead only three times this season, 1-0 through eight games in such situations. By contrast, they trailed after the first in nine games this season, 1-4 through eight games, all losses by more than 15 points.
The Seahawks finished the first half of the season 4-4, on top of the division and down in the dumps, battered and reeling—Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. As always, the glass was half full for Pete Carroll and his Seahawks; he understood the team had just undergone two straight whippings, but he stressed the importance of remembering the larger goals of the program.
One question was evident: Did Carroll have the energy to lead this team to the NFC West title, their preseason goal? At USC, his program would be finishing the season, ready for 4-6 weeks of recovery and bowl preparation.
The Seahawks moved on from the Giants defeat, reflecting upon the first eight games as a “regular season training camp” to learn their identity; now, they were provided a unique chance to proactively start the second half of the season on a high note week 10 in Arizona.
A win could jettison the program towards achieving the year one goal, winning the NFC West, and create a second chance to capture solid momentum going into the final stretch of the season.
A loss would bring white noise; is Hasselbeck healthy? Is this going to be a 4-2 start followed by a 2-8 finish? How long is the rebuilding process going to take?
The Seahawks would pick themselves up off the mat and march towards the desert intent to re-own the division. The Seahawks were about to learn one valuable lesson week 10 in Arizona; the introduction to the approach of championship football. A chance to begin experiencing Pete Carroll’s “formula"—playing disciplined football through the adversity, adopting the mentality it takes to be a champion.
Next season, the Seahawks will know what it feels like to play like a champion, week one at kickoff.
The first half of next season won’t be about chasing the division, but focused on owning the NFC West and looking towards higher goals; a more confident program that will be disappointed if there is another regular season training camp during the first half of the 2011 season.
Part 2, highlighting the rest of the 2010 season, coming soon.