Behind Enemy Lines: Cardinals/Seahawks Part I

Seahawks.net's Doug Farrar and AZRedReport.com's Amberly Richardson begin a four-part offseason series with five questions from Amberly to Doug. How will the Seahawks' secondary match-up against Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin? Are T.J. Duckett and Julius Jones what Seattle needs to hit the ground running? What made LB Lofa Tatupu go downhill? These questions and much more answered inside...

Amberly Richardson: What are your thoughts on cornerback Kelly Jennings? Coming into his third season, is he developed enough to face Larry Fitzgerald and/or Anquan Boldin?

Doug Farrar: Jennings is starting to come into his own. He's an undersized cornerback in a land of giant receivers, and the Boldin/Fitzgerald combo has given Seattle fits in the past. Jennings is renowned for his great raw speed -- whether backpedaling out of his breaks or catching up in space, he's got some of the best short-area speed in the NFL. He's still learning the intricacies of Seattle's zone assignments. At his heart, he's probably more a man corner than anything else. He will occasionally get turned around, and it's not an overstatement to call his tackling a real problem, but he is starting to show the potential that had the Seahawks taking him with their first pick in the 2006 draft.

AR: How does CB Marcus Trufant fit into the Seahawks long-term plans?

DF: Trufant signed a six-year, $50.2 million contract in the offseason, the reward for his best season to date. This deal put him in the same range as Asante Samuel and DeAngelo Hall from a financial perspective, though I'm not quite convinced that Trufant is an elite cornerback. I would say that he's a very solid player with streaks of true greatness, and some fundamental flaws that get in in his way. Trufant is as reliant on quarterback pressure and safety help as any cornerback in the NFL -- in a system where he was more on an island, I don't know that he'd be any more than league average. But the Seahawks upgraded their safeties before the 2007 season by signing Deon Grant and Brian Russell, and that helped Trufant a great deal. There are times when you will see him running step for step with the game's great receivers and displaying great ball skills, and there are other times when you will wonder who's piping the meditation music into his helmet -- he has a tendency to be late on coverage in the red zone. All in all, he's good enough for this system, and his signing was a move that had to be made for the sake of defensive continuity. I just wouldn't make the mistake of looking at his contract numbers and assuming that he's going to live up to them.

AR: The Cardinals loaded up on their defensive front seven this offseason and are getting more acclimated to the 3-4 defense. How will Matt Hasselbeck fare against a more demanding pass rush?

DF: Hasselbeck is savvy enough in the pocket to avoid constant disaster, but the offensive line has been a problem over the last two years. It finished 19th in Football Outsiders' Adjusted Sack Rate stat for 2007, and Hasselbeck found himself under fairly constant pressure, especially in the second half of the season when the running game shut down and the Seahawks basically had to implement the run-and-shoot just to win the division. The Seahawks need better pass-blocking from their line, their tight ends, and their running backs. Fortunately, the acquisition of left guard Mike Wahle should help up front, as should second-round pick John Carlson, the most balanced tight end in this year's draft. Hew running backs Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett are decent pass-blockers -- certainly better than the departed Shaun Alexander, and the ability of Jones and Maurice Morris to catch the ball out the backfield will provide the escape hatch that Alexander hadn't in a long time. I think he'll encounter fewer danger situations in 2008, especially if the Seahawks implement a few more shotgun or short-dropback plays.

AR: Arizona was in the spotlight for the offseason antics of Matt Leinart, but LB Lofa Tatupu took it to another level with his arrest for a DUI. How are the Seahawks handling the bad press?

DF: The weirdest thing about Tatupu's arrest is that if you asked me a month ago, "Which Seahawks player would you least expect to have problems with the law?", my answer would have been Tatupu, without hesitation. Since being drafted in the second round in 2005, he's been the emblem of Seattle's renewed emphasis on character. He's been the defense's unquestioned leader from his first day in the NFL, and he's never done anything like this before -- at least, not that anyone knows of. Still, Tatupu signed a six-year, $42 million contract extension in late March, and money can do some strange things to the most balanced individuals. Tatupu made all the right noises about being contrite and learning from his mistakes, and given his past history, he's more believable than most. Hopefully, it's an isolated incident.

AR: Are T.J. Duckett and Julius Jones the additions that the Seahawks need to post impressive numbers on the ground this season?

DF: I think the team will be better on the ground -- toward the end of the Shaun Alexander era, the offensive line's ineffectiveness coupled with Alexander's own hesitant style combined for disastrous results. Jones is a good committee back, though his boom-and-bust style will remind some of Alexander. He hits the hole faster and he's slightly more versatile.

Duckett is the third-and-short weapon for a team that desperately needs it. The Seahawks finished 26th in third-down conversion percentage in 2007, and a weak inside rushing attack was the primary trouble. He created 16 first downs on only 65 carries for the Lions in 2007. Instead of trying to replace Alexander with another elite back, the Seahawks have fallen in line with the running back by committee trend, which is the smart way to go for a team that needs drastic improvement on the ground. I would not expect top-five results from Seattle's rushing attack, but above league average is the idea.


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