I will be taking a second look at the Vikings game tomorrow and perhaps my perceptions will change slightly. However, I came away from the game with a few thoughts and some concerns.
The offense looked poor, rhythmless and lacking focus. This isn’t a big surprise and major context is required here – we’ve not seen anything like a natural off-season and groups are being put together on the run. Teams that have a long term structure such as New England and Pittsburgh will likely dominate this upcoming season simply because of familiarity. Teams that are rebuilding like Seattle are going to suffer.
Yet there’s still something about the Seahawks offense that bothers me. The offensive line was flat out bad. For me it’s further evidence of a point I’ve often made amid constant promotions of ‘building through the trenches’ - that lines are not built around high picks and instant chemistry doesn’t exist. The best offensive lines in the league blend talent, execution, consistency, health and pure time on the field to create a perfect storm. You can’t just throw picks and dollars at the offensive line and hope to turn a major weakness into an overnight success.
The Seahawks have maybe the most expensive group in the NFL in terms of draft stock, yet you couldn’t tell last night. There’s going to be teething problems for a while and this is just something we’re going to have to live through. Hopefully James Carpenter and John Moffitt develop, Max Unger becomes a solid center and Russell Okung stays healthy. It may be that some of those guys don’t work out. Either way we’ll have to roll with the punches because this isn’t getting sorted any time soon. Enough stock and energy has been placed in the line and it’s time to let the things grow naturally. Seattle’s continuing issues on the offensive line are not going to be solved with even more first round picks.
When Sidney Rice and Zach Miller were signed, together with the investment and effort made to improve the line, I wondered if the Seahawks were creating an environment for a quarterback to at least be competitive. This was a reckless judgement on my behalf that went against everything I’ve argued in the past. Maybe I got caught up in the post-lockout euphoria coinciding with Seattle becoming big players during free agency? Whatever the cause, it was my mistake.
Tarvaris Jackson had basically no opportunity what so ever to succeed against Minnesota. Those still grumbling about Matt Hasselbeck playing elsewhere should be relieved their favorite former Seahawk isn’t faced with the situation that Jackson had last night. In fact Jackson’s ability to actually scramble away from pressure is looking more and more like a major positive, just because it at least extends the play momentarily giving him a slightly better chance than nil to make a completion or run for positive yardage. The Seahawks signed some very good players in free agency and certainly I cannot criticise the franchise for significantly upgrading several positions. Yet it comes back to the big issue I have always had with this type of rebuild. It is mind blowingly difficult to improve every single area of a team in order to create an environment fit for a fill-in quarterback to succeed.
People love to quote the New York Jets and point to Mark Sanchez as a counter. What they don’t realise is that the Jets are the poster example of the exact opposite argument. What was the first thing Rex Ryan and the Jets did upon their marriage? They made an aggressive trade to get Mark Sanchez. They then built around their quarterback, adding a number of big name veterans and developing a patented Ryan defense. Inheriting an offensive line containing two former first round picks is not ‘building’ a team before drafting a quarterback. The Jets did it the right way – get your quarterback, establish a direction and try to make his life easier. The Jets glorious success and the fact Sanchez hasn’t put up amazing numbers clouds the truth somewhat, but that’s to Ryan’s credit for doing such a great job building around his QB.
Look at New Orleans – a team going nowhere fast a few years ago. Sean Peyton arrives, the first thing they do is sign Drew Brees and establish an instant identity to build around. Championship.
The Atlanta Falcons – left with a severe Michael Vick sized hangover and awful football team, they go from bad to contender with one inspired move – drafting Matt Ryan. This enables them to play to their quarterbacks strengths and limit his weaknesses. They knew Ryan could manage a possession-based offense that controls time of possession. They get a power running back in free agency and then supply Ryan with an elite tight end, a new left tackle and most recently another dynamic weapon at receiver. Who would bet against that formula winning a Championship in the next few years?
Look across the league at the teams who have gone from bad to contending and a common theme emerges – they built an offense around their quarterback. The Seahawks appear to be doing the exact opposite.
A quarterback will make up for weaknesses elsewhere. They control so much of a game that a talented signal caller can manipulate things to his favor. A team that has invested in strength everywhere but the QB rarely bails out bad quarterbacking. It is much harder to win being great at several positions than it is to win being good at just one position – behind center.
So far the Seahawks regime has pumped two first round picks into the offensive line. They’ve made a big splash at receiver with a second round pick and a free agent grab and they’ve traded for a big name running back. They’ve gone through two offensive coordinators and two offensive line coaches. They’ve signed a tight end to a deal comparable to that awarded to Antonio Gates.
Yet at quarterback they’ve coasted along.
The trade for Whitehurst was promising in that if nothing else it was aggressive. Yet the investment has never been matched with an opportunity to prove it was all worthwhile. The only other significant move was to sign a quarterback seemingly based around the fact he was familiar with the new offensive coordinator and was mobile. That relationship between Bevell and Jackson leads me onto another grumble which I’ll come onto in a moment.
There seems to be a faceless vision for the future at quarterback. We know the Seahawks want someone who can move around in the pocket, that has been made clear. Yet when you build a team around a vision without actually committing to it’s central figure, you end up backing yourself into a corner. What if the team is well placed to draft a potential franchise quarterback who doesn’t match the criteria? Do you avoid them and prolong the agonising search? Or do you rip up the blue print and start again in spite of what you’ve built towards so far? At the moment I’m a little bit concerned that the Seahawks’ grand plan will forever be incomplete until they have ‘that guy’ at quarterback.
And to counter myself slightly I appreciate the lack of options the Seahawks have had so far regarding quarterbacks. Drafting 25th overall took the team out of any potential race for the Gabbert group this year and the 2010 class was just flat out poor. But eventually they either need to pull the trigger or they need to make things happen by being aggressive. This team will not be able to fully rebuild with stop gaps and re-treads at quarterback.
What confuses me a little is that while the Seahawks move along this off season, they appear so tied to Jackson. Where’s the competition? Isn’t that the mantra of this organisation? I understand the thinking behind backing Jackson – less time to work out the offense, his familiarity with Bevell etc etc. Even so, it seems somewhat selective and hypocritical that this isn’t an open competition. What if Whitehurst is the better guy? Is it really beyond comprehension that the much maligned Jackson isn’t the best option? Is Carroll now handcuffed to Jackson for 2011 just because of the Bevell connection? How does it relate to Sidney Rice, given how he was almost certainly recruited on the basis he would get to play with his friend?
Are we creating an environment of competition for some unless you’re a coaches favorite? Carroll has done a great job showing no defining loyalty to his USC guys, but does that extend to other coaches and their guys? If you make competition the heartbeat of the team, does it weaken the beat if it appears to be an inconsistent message?
This brings me on to the point I said I’d eventually get onto. Do the staff under Carroll have too much input on personnel?
My own view is that a NFL franchise needs a long term vision beyond it’s coaching staff because there are constant changes in that department. Appointing a General Manager is supposed to be a long term plan. Coaches tend to come and go a lot more regularly without instant success. You also have to factor in that succesful DC’s and OC’s will be poached.
When the Seahawks appointed Alex Gibbs last year, they went about making the offensive line in his vision, which Carroll agreed with. That completely changed when he abruptly departed and since then it’s changed again with Tom Cable coming in. Gibbs, Cable and Jeremy Bates have all had a go at designing a successful offensive line. Carroll wants a zone blocking scheme, but that in fairness is so vague and only scratches the surface. Why in just 12-18 months has this team lurched from one type of player to another, one ideology to another on it’s offensive line? Does there not need to be consistency and a departure from a position coaches vision to a franchise vision?
It appears Cable had strong input into the team’s two early draft picks and the signing of Robert Gallery and Zach Miller. Darrell Bevell must have had significant input into the signing of Jackson and Rice. What if in 12-24 months it’s two others trying to run Seattle’s offense? Do you start again by bringing in more favorites and changing ideas? It’s not like there hasn’t been major turnover within Carroll’s staff so far, so how can you rule such a proposition out?
The offense in fairness does seem to be being built around a master vision from Carroll, but it’s the staff below putting it together. Is that really a good idea? Of course coaches have input, but in Seattle they appear to have carte blanche.
As the Seahawks build this offense towards hopefully a productive unit, they’re going to need to roll with the punches and stay on track. Is it wrong to be slightly concerned that the major influencing factors in this personnel rebuild right now are not necessarily the team’s GM and Head Coach?