Although the Seattle Seahawks are not realistically playing for a playoff berth, there are still plenty of reasons to pay attention.
Head coach Pete Carroll has seven more valuable teaching opportunities this season, and the makeup up the 2012-13 team will greatly depend upon what he sees from the players in the second half of the season.
For the players, next year's jobs will be won and lost on the field in 2011-12. For the coaches, the next eight weeks will reveal just how soundly their message has been received and implemented by this hand-picked roster—and vastly inform their draft strategy for next season.
Expectations for this season centered around development. Will this season be a relative success, or just another in a string of inconsequential campaigns?
Find out what to look for inside.
Golden Tate only seems to make the spectacular plays.
Will the real Golden Tate please stand up?
The Seattle Seahawks' second-year pro has been an enigma for the better part of two seasons now—incredibly talented, yet inconsistent and unreliable.
After being inactive for much of last season because of his difficulty adjusting to NFL routes and timing, Tate has seen sporadic playing time behind Seattle's deep receiving corps. But as usual, when Tate is given an opportunity to make the outstanding look easy, he flashes the potential that had some scouts giving him a first-round grade last year.
"Whenever he has a chance to make plays, he always makes plays. We know that," quarterback Tarvaris Jackson said after Tate's clutch performance late in Seattle's 22-17 Week 9 upset over the Baltimore Ravens. With less than a minute left, Tate came through with two huge receptions to maintain Seattle's final drive, which sealed the victory for the Seahawks. He finished with a season-high three receptions for 46 yards.
But Doug Baldwin's breakout performance (a team-leading 28 receptions for 434 yards and two touchdowns on the season) from Tate's slot receiver position, coupled with the return of speedy Deon Butler from the Physically Unable to Perform list makes Seattle's future at receiver look awfully crowded.
Tate needs to show he can be the professional his coaches envision if he wants to justify a roster spot beyond 2012.
When Tom Cable was hired as assistant head coach and offensive line coach of the Seattle Seahawks over the offseason, his vow was explicit: This team's identity will be forged in the trenches.
But it might take some time. Four-fifths of Seattle's starting offensive line shares a total of three years professional playing experience. The other lineman, Robert Gallery, is also in his first year as a Seahawk.
Because continuity and experience are more crucial to the success of offensive linemen than perhaps any other unit in football, the actual fruits of their labor might not be evident for some time.
So, at the halfway point in the season, what can we tell about their progress?
Through nine games the Seahawks have shown their inexperience. They are second in the league in sacks allowed (29) and 30th in rushing yards—opposite ends of the spectrum from where they would like to end up.
However, progress has been evident to the discerning eye. Rookies James Carpenter and John Moffitt have steadily improved in power running situations—no surprise given their makeup as maulers—while also exhibiting slow progress in pass protection.
With back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances against the Dallas Cowboys and Baltimore Ravens, could the offensive line finally have turned the elusive corner? Keep your eye on the their progress down the stretch.
It may be the most important unit on the football field for years to come.
I'm right here!
At 6'5'' and 235 pounds, Mike Williams is hard to miss, yet the quarterbacks for the Seattle Seahawks have been doing just that. Through nine games Williams has been targeted just 22 times—14 less than his backup, Ben Obomanu.
With less than half the season left, Williams is on pace for just 26 receptions and 280 yards. After his breakout 2010 season in which he caught 65 passes for 751 yards, the once-dormant questions about Williams' tenacity will undoubtedly resurface unless he experiences a renaissance in the next seven weeks.
Williams seemed to have a certain chemistry with departed quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Will he be able to develop a rapport with Tarvaris Jackson before it's too late?
Oh, I'm sorry, were you trying to catch that pass too?
The Seattle Seahawks' two best cornerbacks (Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond) are out for the season with injury, leaving a very inexperienced group to pick up the pieces—with no help in sight.
Richard Sherman has played exceptionally well since being thrust into action. With six passes defensed and an interception in his last last three games, he may be auditioning for a starting spot on next year's squad.
Brandon Browner has been another story.
While showing flashes of physicality typically reserved for strong safeties and linebackers, Browner has been the most penalized cornerback in the NFL this season (10 pass interference or illegal contact penalties alone). He hasn't gone a single game without drawing at least one, and has been burned in deep coverage consistently.
Although he was named the starter out of training camp, it seems likely he would have lost his starting spot by now were there healthy alternatives on the roster.
Keep a keen eye on the secondary, as Browner, Sherman, Kennard Cox, Roy Lewis and Byron Maxwell should all get plenty of opportunities down the stretch to prove they can be viable pieces moving forward.
Marshawn Lynch already has 509 yards rushing, a 3.93-yard average and five touchdowns in eight games this year.
Look for all of those numbers to inflate somewhat dramatically as the season progresses.
"Now it seems like we're understanding what it is (offensive line coach Tom Cable) wants, and how the run game should look," Lynch said after his second 100-yard game in a row in Week 9 against the Baltimore Ravens.
Already on pace for 1,014 yards and 10 touchdowns, Lynch could conceivably break his career-best 1,115 rushing yards from his rookie season with just a slight uptick in production—a real possibility given the trajectory of the offensive line.
Lynch has now rushed for 244 yards the past two games, with two touchdowns and 66 yards receiving.
The only question might be whether the free-agent-to-be will reap the benefits of his career year in Seattle, or elsewhere.