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The missed ankle tackle in week 11.
1.Running warm, but in the wrong position: Early in the season David Hawthorne didn’t appear to be comfortable at the weak side spot, a natural middle linebacker. Furthermore, I questioned whether or not Hawthorne had the range to play as the weak side, contain ‘backer in Carroll’s system, not as an attacking downhill middle linebacker.
In Week 1, he and Lofa clashed at times, cutting each other off to the ball; in week 2 Hawthorne looked uncomfortable with some of the weak side ‘backer coverage responsibilities, a trend I believe continued all season.
However, he continued to prove one key middle linebacker quality at the weak side position; he was the stoutest linebacker on the team around the goal line in 2010.
2. Running cold and out of position: Will Herring did not pick up where he left off in 2009, flying around the field as a safety turned linebacker and making plays. Instead, Herring looked uncharacteristically confused in coverage and was not able to make tackles with the consistency he did in 2009.
Herring’s week 4 sack was one of the few positives to the first half of his season, a cold start to follow a finish that showed a player hot in pursuit of more playing time. However, the second half of the 2010 season brought a second wind for Herring.
3. Running on a flat tire: From week six forward, Lofa Tatupu did not appear to be in the football shape the majority of the 12th man remembered; he was overpowered and out matched too often to be a consistent playoff team’s middle linebacker—the Panthers Jonathan Stewart shed Tatupu with a one arm shoulder press in week 13.
He had a few flashes of prior form—such as the first half of week 15 hosting Atlanta--, but Tatupu spent the majority of the season struggling to play with the same presence that made him a three time pro-bowler.
His biggest struggles came when covering the middle/deep middle in zone coverage, especially on third down, and minimizing yards after the catch on screen plays—he was alarmingly a non factor covering the screen in 2010. He also struggled to finish tackles and protect the goal line, issues that would persist throughout the year.
But, Lofa remained the most important player on this defense; the main component of the mind and body for the unit. He played 16 games, appearing on the injury report with knee issues for most of the final two months of the season due to his now surgically repaired knees; enough said.
4. Finding the right fit: Aaron Curry looked more comfortable early in the season, especially compared with early in his rookie season. Curry’s major fault was consistently jumping offside—a flaw that unfortunately stuck throughout the year--, but he was a more consistent tackler.
The team was going to have to live with his freakish abilities and frustrating unforced errors. His week 10 performance of eight tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and generally beast-like play helped fuel a Seahawks defense that had given up 74 points combined the past two weeks.
He remained inconsistent as the defense struggled as a whole, but he continued to show a relentless motor and the athleticism to become a factor attacking the line of scrimmage.
5. Dropping the ball: I’ll expand on Tatupu’s coverage issues mentioned above by highlighting the first half of the week 11 game in New Orleans. Marques Colston scored two touchdowns in the first half, both balls caught over the outstretched fingertips of Tatupu.
The first play was a 23 yard touchdown, a pass caught inside the 10 and a nice run by Colston; Tatupu reading the pass the whole play, not able to tip the ball and missing a long-shot ankle tackle near the goal line.
The second occurrence came after Drew Brees picked on Tatupu as he moved the Saints down the field inside two minutes remaining in the first half: two receptions out of the backfield with Tatupu covering, one for 25 yards, and a nearly identical play as the first score for the second; this pass to the left side 22 yards to Colston.
Brees went 4 of 5 for 59 yards and a touchdown when throwing at Tatupu on that drive, Tatupu having an interception go through his hands the only positive for the veteran.