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Published: Wednesday, November 10, 2010, 12:01 a.m.

Don’t give up on the Seahawks

Losing in two blowouts is how Seattle wound up the season’s first half, but the team is still in the playoff race and can find success in the final eight games.

  • Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll congratulates the defense after it stopped the 49ers on fourth down in the teams’ game on Sept. 12.

    Jennifer Buchanan / The Herald

    Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll congratulates the defense after it stopped the 49ers on fourth down in the teams’ game on Sept. 12.

At 4-4, the Seahawks are at the midway point of their first season under head coach Pete Carroll, and despite losing two in a row, they’re still tied for first place in the NFC West with half a season to go.
And while the Seahawks are eager to put the past two games behind them — it’s hard to blame them considering they lost by a combined score of 74-10 — it’s worth looking back at who these Seahawks are at this point, and what they need to be in the second half to keep alive their playoff hopes.
When the season started, most Seahawks fans would have taken a 4-4 record at the midway point had you put that offer on the table. After all, this was a team that won just nine games over the past two season, was on its third coaching staff in as many years, and was starting the season with a roster that had undergone a massive overhaul in the weeks leading up to the season opener.
But then expectations changed, and rightly so. The Seahawks jumped to a 4-2 start, while at the same time San Francisco, everyone’s preseason favorite to win the division, went into meltdown mode. Yet just when people were starting to believe in the Seahawks, the injuries piled up and the losses came in embarrassing fashion.
Even with blowout losses to the Oakland Raiders and New York Giants fresh on fans’ minds, it’s worth noting, as Carroll pointed out Monday, that the Seahawks are still in the thick of a playoff race. So as we leave the first half of the NFL season behind and prepare for the second act, here’s a quick assessment of where the Seahawks are, and what they need to do moving forward.
OFFENSE
What have they done so far?
The short answer is, very little. The Seahawks are scoring just 16.2 points a game, 31st in the league, and have been held to one score in three of their four losses. Seattle ranks 30th in total offense, but has gained just 324 yards in the past two games combined. That two-game total is lower than the per-game average of 20 teams.
But it’s a bit more complicated than that. The line — also known as the engine that makes an offense go — has been in a constant state of change. Through eight games, the Seahawks have started five different line combinations and used nine different linemen. First-round pick Russell Okung has played just over six quarters thanks to a pair of high ankle sprains, and even in that limited amount of time, it’s clear this offense works better with him on the field.
At quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck has been solid, though unspectacular, and save for the game in Denver, has taken care of the ball, which is the biggest thing Carroll wants out of his quarterback.
“It really is, as always, about the ball for us,” Carroll said. “That’s the huge factor that jumps out at you.”
Charlie Whitehurst was forced into duty last week, and while Whitehurst may be a good quarterback someday, it was clear that Hasselbeck still gives Seattle the best chance to win right now. It’s been hard to gauge the running backs and receivers because of the inconsistent line play, but we’ve seen glimpses that indicate the Seahawks have legitimate weapons in wide receiver Mike Williams and running back Marshawn Lynch that they desperately lacked over the previous two seasons.
What do they need to do going forward?
The Seahawks need to get some consistency out of the line, which will start with players getting healthy. The line Carroll envisioned for his team after starting guard Max Unger went down was, from left to right, Russell Okung, Chester Pitts, Chris Spencer, Stacy Andrews and Sean Locklear. We still haven’t seen that group play together, so judgment needs to be reserved until later.
Before Hasselbeck’s injury, he threw just one interception in the past three games, and that ball bounced off Deon Butler’s hands. Hasselbeck needs to elevate his game with the rest of the offense, but if he can stay healthy, the Seahawks should be OK. This isn’t a team built around an explosive offense. If Hasselbeck and Co. can take care of the ball, capitalize on short fields, and put together a few solid drives per game, that can be enough.
Seattle also needs to find a way to get consistent performances out of Williams. After catching 21 passes in two games, Williams looked like a legitimate No. 1 receiver, but a knee bruise along with a pair of top-notch defenses made him a non-factor the past two weeks.
And finally, people need to stop falling on Okung’s ankles.
DEFENSE
What have they done so far?
The defense was the biggest reason Seattle won four of its first six games, but like the rest of the team, it has struggled over the past two games, allowing more than 1,000 yards of offense to the Raiders and Giants.
When things were going well, everything started with stuffing the run. Through six games, the Seahawks had the No. 2 run defense in the league, but then they lost three quarters of their starting linemen, and not surprisingly struggled to adjust. After the last two games, the Seahawks have dropped to 19th against the run.
Stopping the run put the defense in a lot of favorable positions, allowing Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock to pressure quarterbacks, and putting opposing offenses in situations that led to turnovers.
What do they need to do going forward?
The Seahawks need to get back to stopping the run. The good news is that Brandon Mebane should be back this week, and fellow defensive tackle Colin Cole will return eventually. Defensive end Red Bryant won’t be back, however, meaning Kentwan Balmer needs to elevate his game in the second half.
The rest of the defense, despite the desire to make plays, has to get back to the basics. After each of the past two games, Carroll lamented the big plays allowed by his team, noting that a lot of it came from players trying to do too much. The desire to make a game-changing play — which intensifies when the offense isn’t doing anything — has allowed games to go from bad to worse in a hurry.
“We try to do a couple too many things to try to make some plays to change the game, which is really an issue that is at hand right now and we made some mistakes in doing that,” Carroll said. “Over-pursuing, trying to knock a ball out when we really didn’t have a shot and needed to just make a tackle and the runner goes for another bunch (of yards). So we have to maintain our mentality of doing things right and sticking with the plan and hanging in there, even if the score isn’t in our favor.”
SPECIAL TEAMS
What have they done so far?
While not perfect, special teams has been the most consistent part of Seattle’s play this year. Footballoutsiders.com, a website that uses statistical analysis far too complicated to explain in this space, ranks the Seahawks’ special-teams play as the best in the league, and the basic stat — kick return yards, kick coverage, etc. — backs that up.
Leon Washington’s two second-half touchdowns on kick returns won the game against San Diego, and despite a few miscues here and there, punter Jon Ryan and kicker Olindo Mare have been two of the team’s most consistent performers.
You can’t blame this unit for any of Seattle’s four losses, but it’s safe to say the Seahawks wouldn’t have four victories without this group.
What do they need to do going forward?
Keep up the good work, though it’s going to get more difficult. The biggest game-changing play the Seahawks have in their arsenal right now is the kick return, but the longer the offense struggles, the less effective a tool that becomes.
The Giants, well aware of Washington’s return ability, spent most of the day kicking short or away from him. The tradeoff of that approach was consistently giving the Seahawks the ball at the 30 or 40-yard line, but until the Seattle offense starts putting consistent drives together, opposing teams will take their chances with that rather than Washington.
Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com. For more Seahawks coverage, check out the Seahawks blog at heraldnet.com/seahawksblog.
Story tags » Seahawks

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