It was a pretty disappointing defeat in San Francisco, but Seahawks fans shouldn’t be too concerned about the direction this team is going. When you can hang with this version of the 49ers on the road, then something is working. Execute better in the passing game and maybe you win the game? Either way, there’s no reason to feel too depressed about this one.
The big thing people are talking about today is the passing game. Again. When people aren’t second guessing the quarterback position, it’s the receivers. I actually think Russell Wilson did pretty well for the most part yesterday. He had an extremely good first half and the team came out running in the second. He wasn’t really asked to move the ball until San Francisco scored a touchdown to take the lead – and that’s a thankless task against such a strong defense. His pick was ugly, but he’ll learn from that. Statistically he looks worse than the reality.
No such excuse for the receivers though, unfortunately. After a good performance against New England where everyone contributed, this was a let down. Golden Tate had maybe his worst game as a pro – dropping passes, missing chances, whiffing on a key block and looking disinterested afterwords. Braylon Edwards was OK but didn’t really back up a provocative tweet stating the game was ‘personal’ after his recent release from the 49ers. Sidney Rice was both good and bad, while Evan Moore also had an ugly drop. Was Zach Miller on the field? Only Doug Baldwin earned any credit and he didn’t make the second half due to an ankle injury. We can only imagine what could’ve been had he remained on the field.
One of the big issues for me is the definition of roles within the receivers. They’re kind of just a group. Nobody’s a true #1, nobody’s a consistent short target. There’s no productive tight end. It’s just a group of guys who play for the Seahawks. New England has to be the role model for this team unless they’re able to draft that generational talent like Calvin Johnson. The Patriots make life easy for Tom Brady with precise role players. Two big, athletic tight ends who create nightmares for linebackers in coverage. An athletic downfield player who can stretch the field in Brandon Lloyd. The best slot receiver in the NFL who just makes consistent plays and finds ways to get open. There’s a method to the madness here and while it helps having a Hall of Fame quarterback, the Pats’ offense operates like clockwork.
The Seahawks have good players. Sidney Rice can make big plays and stretch the field. Golden Tate is a capable playmaker. Doug Baldwin could end up being a great third down guy and safety valve. But what are their roles in the offense? Baldwin’s seems to be working out, but for the rest it’s not obvious to the humble observer. Rice and Tate are all over the field, one of the most expensive tight ends in the league doesn’t appear to have much responsibility in the passing game as a receiver. Suddenly the teams other ultra-athletic tight end – Anthony McCoy – isn’t getting many looks despite a ton of chemistry with Russell Wilson in pre-season. Braylon Edwards drifts in and out of the line-up. It’s such a mixed bag and as a consequence I’m not sure we’re seeing the best from any of these guys.
You can watch a game and see Wilson seemingly throw the same (or similar) pass to a different guy each time. Is there not a way of simplifying the roles of each? Perhaps turning to more shorter passes rather than relying on big plays downfield to extend drives or score points? Is a greater pass/run balance needed? Is it just a case of getting better and upgrading positions? Or is there a concern that even if you replace a guy like Miller, the tight end position just isn’t being used as an effective pass-catching threat? If you draft a 6-8, 260lbs monster like Levine Toilolo, is he going to spend every game blocking down?
There are some good receivers eligible for the 2013 draft and increasingly it’s looking like the most likely option with the teams latest first round pick. But even then, merely adding another body to the equation won’t solve all the problems. The entire passing game needs to have more of a focus with more defined roles. The off-and-on nature of the passing game (we’ll come to you when needed, for example) almost encourages inconsistency. Throwing in another young rookie into the system next year won’t necessarily solve any problems. But it’s a start.
I used the Patriots as an example above, but the one other team I keep coming back to are the Atlanta Falcons. They too started a rookie quarterback – albeit the #3 overall pick in 2008 rather a third rounder. Matt Ryan inherited Roddy White, but the Falcons front office quickly went out and grabbed Tony Gonzalez as a safety net at tight end. They created a running game with Michael Turner and drafted a left tackle in Sam Baker. In 2011 they felt obliged to get another weapon and traded up to get Julio Jones. That is the very definition of building around a quarterback and it’s probably why Ryan has succeeded in the pro’s.
Russell Wilson has a left tackle and he has a running game. He’s inherited Sidney Rice, who could be as good as if not better than Roddy White. The Zach Miller project hasn’t worked – he’s no Tony Gonzalez and almost certainly won’t be playing for the $11m he’s currently due in 2013. The Seahawks have to find their version of the great Gonzalez or even their version of Julio Jones. Keep building, refine the passing offense and make sure Wilson feels comfortable with guys he can trust to make plays. He needs to know where certain players are going to be on the field, and the receivers need to know what their role is. Improving the passing game has to be the #1 priority in the off-season because right now it’s the only thing holding this team back from being a serious contender.
Games on the schedule this weekend: LSU @ Texas, South Carolina @ Florida, Alabama @ Tennessee, Utah @ Oregon State.