Behind Enemy Lines: Skins vs. Seahawks

In this exclusive preview of Sunday's Seahawks-Redskins game, Doug Farrar of Seahawks.NET and Rich Tandler of go back and forth with twenty questions about their respective teams. Here is Part One of the exchange of insights.

.NET: Washington head coach Joe Gibbs is in Year Two of his second go-round with the Redskins. In his initial 12-year campaign (from 1981 through 1992), Gibbs won three Super Bowls with three different starting quarterbacks - an astonishing feat – and comprised a 124-60 regular-season record. However, Gibbs' Redskins went 6-10 last year. Is this representative of a rebuild after the Spurrier era, or is there concern that the game may have passed Gibbs by? To what do you attribute last season's disappointments? Are fans and pundits of the belief that Gibbs has what it takes to make this team elite again? 
Last year's record was the result of both the turmoil that the team has undergone in the past five years, not just the Spurrier era and, to an extent, Gibbs not yet having caught up with the changes in the game that happened during his 12-year absence. He has since brought himself up to speed both strategically and in terms of dealing with today's players. By and large people think that Gibbs can get the job done (although you could find very few of those in the middle of the fourth quarter a week ago Monday!).   

WarpathInsiders: Mike Holmgren is one of the few active coaches out there who has hoisted the Lombardi and that can be a great deodorant that lasts throughout one's career. What's your assessment of Holmgren the coach right now? How does he rate as a game manager, strategist, motivator, teacher, molder of talent? Is he a top-five coach or is he living off a couple of years with Favre in his prime?
When Holmgren came to Seattle in 1999, he was given the whole show to run – made head coach, general manager and executive vice-president – and that was too much for just about anyone. Holmgren's impressive success in Green Bay was due to a number of factors beyond his reach – Ron Wolf running the team and putting the personnel together, one of the best coaching staffs of all time (his assistants included Andy Reid, Jon Gruden, Steve Mariucci, Dick Jauron and the late Fritz Shurmur), as well as the acquisitions of Brett Favre and Reggie White – and it was foolish to expect such results with a dysfunctional franchise and a depleted staff.

Holmgren rebuilt the team in his image, and the results from 1999 through 2002 were mediocre at best. Before the 2003 season, Holmgren's GM title was taken away from him. With Ruskell's hiring this year, Holmgren is most certainly being pointed in a coaching direction to the exclusion of most everything else. And after seven years, it's time for him to provide more compelling results than a near-.500 regular-season record and three playoff losses.

.NET: What, specifically, makes Gregg Williams such an effective defensive coordinator? What should the Seahawks be looking out for when Williams unleashes his sets and schemes?
As departed cornerback Fred Smoot said last year, "We preperate better than anyone else." How preperated, er, prepared are they? According to Williams every linebacker needs to know how to play the Mike, or middle, position which entails knowing how to call the defenses. In his defensive packages, he says, any linebacker could end up having to play the Mike so, no matter how remote the odds that a player will have to use the knowledge, they have to have it. This attention to every detail is what makes Williams so effective. What made the performance of last year's defense so amazing was that four starters were out for the season before the midway point and the replacements didn't miss a beat.

As far as what Seattle should be looking for, your guess is as good as anyone else's. It was expected that he was going to blitz Dallas' immobile QB Drew Bledsoe about 80% of the time last Monday. As it turned out Williams crossed them up, callingblitzes maybe 10% of the plays, challenging Bledsoe to find an open receiver and making sure that the YAC was limited when the receivers did catch the ball. So none of us really knows what to expect until they line up on Sunday afternoon.

WarpathInsiders: Ray Rhodes was the Redskins' defensive coordinator in 2000 and, by some accounts, he was first in line for the team's head coach opening until some old guy named Gibbs jumped into the fray and got the job. How is he perceived as a DC? Could his schemes best be characterized as aggressive (blitzing) or conservative?
Many fans were hoping for a defensive turnaround when Rhodes was hired as Seattle's defensive coordinator before the 2003 season, but that really hasn't happened yet. Rhodes is known for putting a base defense on the field with little added in terms of schemes and stunts – he wants the defense to be defined by emotion and inspiration – getting guys flowing to the ball and a lot of talk about "kicking butt". What that doesn't really account for is offensive adjustments – quite possibly the reason that Rhodes' defenses traditionally start out hot and implode down the stretch.

Two factors have been added to the mix in 2005 – first, new team president Tim Ruskell cut his teeth as a scout and player personnel man in Tampa Bay, so he's very aware of what a championship defense does (and does not) look like, and how it is constructed. Second, Rhodes suffered a mild stroke in early September. He is slowly coming back to the job, but linebackers coach John Marshall, Carolina's former defensive coordinator, has run the defense very ably in the interim. This season, the blitzes seem more creative and effective and the defense more integrated overall. We'll see how that lasts down the stretch.

.NET: With the QB situation in flux as it seems to be, the Redskins would seem to base their offensive success on the running game and a strong offensive line – just like the days of yore. Is the current line at all comparable to the "Hogs" of old? Does franchise running back Clinton Portis run most effectively behind Gibbs' blocking schemes, or has Gibbs altered his plan to take specific advantage of Portis' specific skills? 
The current line can be a darn good one, perhaps even an elite unit. LT Chris Samuels has been to multiple Pro Bowls and bookend RT Jon Jansen should have been to at least one or two. RG Randy Thomas is a solid pro as is C Casey Rabach. LG Derrick Dockery could be the best of the bunch as he possess massive size and great athletic ability, but his technique needs to improve in this, his third year, if he's going to reach his potential. They're not the Hogs yet as they have yet to throw a block in a single postseason game, but they can be darn good.

Gibbs has tinkered with the blocking schemes and play calls to try to spring Portis on some more long runs, but it's simple, really. When the line gets a good surge, Portis often has a chance to get a good gain, perhaps even bust off a long one. If they're defeated at the line, Portis goes nowhere.

Warpath: How many players drafted by the Seahawks will either start or play prominent roles on Sunday? Since about 2000, how well have they drafted?
Players actually drafted by the Seahawks? On offense: RB Shaun Alexander, WR Darrell Jackson, T Walter Jones, T Sean Locklear, G Steve Hutchinson. On defense: DT Marcus Tubbs, LB Lofa Tatupu, LB Leroy Hill, LB Isaiah Kacyvenski, CB Marcus Trufant, S Ken Hamlin, S Michael Boulware. Special Teams: K Josh Brown.

2000 and 2001 were great drafts for frontline talent – the former draft produced Alexander (1st round) and Jackson (3rd), two of the team's top offensive weapons. 2001 was notable for the acquisitions of G Steve Hutchinson (1st round), CB Ken Lucas (2nd round) and Alex Bannister (5th round). Hutchinson and Bannister have been to the Pro Bowl, and Lucas led the Seahawks with six interceptions last year before heading off to Carolina as a free agent.

2002 was probably the weakest draft in the timeframe you're asking about – the first two rounds produced TE Jerramy Stevens and RB Maurice Morris, two players who haven't really reached the top end of their potential for various reasons.

2003 brought half of the team's talented young secondary, with CB Marcus Trufant in the 1st round and S Ken Hamlin in the 2nd. 2004 provided three current starters in the first three rounds – DT Marcus Tubbs, S Michael Boulware and T Sean Locklear, in order.

Of course, the results of 2005's draft are inconclusive at this early date, but MLB Lofa Tatupu (2nd round) is starting already, and OLB Leroy Hill is a potential impact player.

.NET: Team owner Daniel Snyder is known for…shall we say…"mercurial" behavior. Has he cooled it a bit, a la Jerry Jones in Big D upon Parcells' arrival, now that he has his marquee coach? Who runs the show in D.C. and how effective is the brain trust?

WarpathInsiders:Joe Gibbs runs the show, period. Snyder signs the checks and runs the business side of the operation and loans out his private jet to wow potential free agents.Vinny Cerrato offers advice from a sort of super-scout perspective. But at Redskins Park no player is acquired or disposed of without Gibbs' signing off on it. Player personnel wasn't exactly one of Gibbs' strong points during his first run here. As his success grew so did his power and, among other missteps were his pushing for the team to give up some high draft picks for an aging Gerald Riggs and for trading up in 1992 to draft Desmond Howard. In this go-around the early results look good with Portis, Marcus Washington, Shawn Springs, Sean Taylor, and Cornelius Griffin coming on board last year. Time will tell, however, on how effective he has become in building a contending team.

WarpathInsiders: This just in: the Seattle receivers have a reputation for dropping a lot of catchable balls. Is this reputation overblown? If it's a real problem, is there any rational reason as to why it exists? And if not, if it really is an issue, has anything unorthodox been tried to fix the problem (I'm talking something equal to, say, having Tiki Barber carry a football with him wherever he went to cure his fumbling problem).
Over the last two seasons, the problem wasn't overblown at all – Seattle's wide receivers led the NFL in drops in both 2003 and 2004. In a precision-based offense like Holmgren's, such bugaboos are deadly. Receivers coach Nolan Cromwell has taken a lot of the heat for the problem, as has Holmgren himself for his irrational patience with receiver Koren Robinson. Robinson, finally released by the team this June, was incapable of reliability, frequently missing practices and meetings. There seemed to be an atmosphere completely absent of accountability in the receiver corps because of this. Drops are caused primarily by a lack of concentration and proper technique, and these were critical issues for Seattle's wideouts.

In 2005, the Seahawks did cut ties with Robinson, bringing in more reliable receivers like Joe Jurevicius and more recently, Peter Warrick. The drops have decreased significantly this season. Was the solution as simple as releasing one malcontent player? That's probably a chicken/egg scenario, but Robinson was a real problem.

.NET: The quarterback situation in Washington reads as follows to this outsider: Patrick Ramsey is done in D.C., and Mark Brunell is keeping the pilot's chair warm until Jason Campbell, their second first-round pick in 2005, is ready to fly the plane. True? Does Ramsey have any lives left? What does Brunell bring to the table at this point in his career, and what's your take on Campbell?
Pretty accurate read, although Ramsey isn't going anywhere in 2005 unless someone makes just a stupid offer for him. Should Brunell get injured, his replacement would be Ramsey at least as long as the team is even on the fringes of contention. After the season, though, Ramsey is probably gone. Brunell brings experience, good game management skills and, as we saw on Monday, an arm that still has some good throws left in it. Campbell could be good, very good. He has size, smarts, and a very lively arm. He's probably not going to be ready until 2007, anything he could contribute before then would be a bonus.

WarpathInsiders: What are the expectations that the Seattle media and fans, both in Seattle and around the nation, have for this team, both at the start of the season and now?
The expectations are not what they were last season, to be sure – in 2004, the Seahawks were a glamour pick for a lot of the national media. In retrospect, I'd say that had a lot to do with taking the team's talent at face value without taking into account the weaknesses – a fatal lack of commitment and character. After a 9-7 record, a wild-card playoff exit and one of the emptier division championships in NFL history, Seattle went full-on into rebuilding mode. There's a new front office and a new emphasis on character. There are seven new starters on defense. Such radical change doesn't auger well for playoff perceptions, although some still see the Seahawks as the leaders of a very weak division.

The Seahawks are now on the right path – of that there is little doubt. The real question is how misguided the team was before, and how long it will take them to get out of the wilderness and on a championship course.

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