It isn't always easy to see improvement, especially in complex situations like, say, building a football team.

My father was a truck driver. He spent most my formative years driving a delivery truck around King County, Washington. Back in those days, air conditioning was controlled by a handle on the door. In short, if you wanted air, you rolled down the window. Dad almost always drove with the window down. As the youngest child, I was the one who most often found myself sitting directly behind dad, with that wind in my face. To this day, I can’t stand a strong breeze in my face in hardly any situation.

One of Dad’s bad habits was dipping snuff. Yep, he always had a small disk shaped box of Copenhagen in his pocket, or somewhere on his person. It was an added reason to not want to sit behind him and his open window.

So, one day my sister thought she would do a good deed. She washed Dad’s car. She did a bang-up job of it, too. She even washed all the windows.

I guess you can see where this is going. Dad went out to the car, started her up, turned his head and launched a big oily wad of snuff laden spittle…….right into the rolled up window. Apparently, the window had never been so clean, and for so short a time. I’m not sure, but I don’t think my sister ever washed his car again.

You’re probably thinking, “What’s the point? What does this have to do with Seahawks football?” I’m glad you asked.

At this stage of the offseason, it is popular to try and analyze the team to determine beforehand just how good we might expect next season to be. The coaching staff, of course, has the duty to do this and so determine where improvements need to be made. Obviously, they need to do this long before now, but for our purposes, it is useful to do a check now, after the draft picks are set.

The point of my little personal anecdote is to illuminate the fact that it isn’t always clear how much improvement has already been accomplished. When building a football team, much like cleaning windows, the better job one does, the less you might see.

Take, for example, scoring. In 2001, we scored an anemic 301 points. Now, this was Matt Hasselbeck’s first full year under center, and the entire offense around him was very young, with some notable exceptions, like Robbie Tobeck and Ricky Watters. In 2002, we improved to 355 points. In 2003, 404. So we have made some nice improvements year to year.

More importantly, we outscored our opponents in 2003, 404-327. I’m not sure how long it has been since we had more points than our opposition across the season, but I think it has been a long, long time. In 2001, we had a deficit of 301-324. and in 2002, it was 355-369. Part of that is because of defensive improvements, of course. But most will agree that the offense has improved substantially.

The yardage numbers work out a little differently, which shows how that stat can be misleading. We actually gained fewer yards, overall, in 2003 (5627) than we did in 2002 (5818). The truth is that we were more efficient at turning those yards into points, which is what really matters when you get down to it.

Our much maligned defense deserves a bit of a comment here, too. Most people tend to focus on the 2002 season, which was pretty dismal. However, 2001 was not that bad. We ranked in the middle third overall at 20th, 15th in rushing (surprised?), and 23rd against the pass. Probably why two things happened. First, 2002 was judged as somewhat of an aberration, but it proved that the backups in place were not adequately prepared. Thus the firing of the defensive coaching staff, almost entirely. Secondly, it probably also helped Ray Rhodes decide to come here, thinking that it wasn’t really as bad as 2002 would seem to indicate.

It really is too soon to grade out the 2004 draft, but it looks pretty promising up front. Tubbs is a great addition to a D-line that finished 2003 with games in which the opponent rushed for 86 (Rams), 79 (Cards), and 59 (49ers) yards rushing. In our playoff game against the Packers we only allowed 78 yards in 5 quarters. It would almost be tempting to say that the rushing defense is fixed and build elsewhere. However, it would be frivolous to think that we could go into 2004 with the same D-line, given the off-season losses. It’s beginning to look like we will have a fairly good rotation for the line this year, something that the former DC didn’t seem to grasp. Rhodes is more likely to rotate these guys, and keep them fresh over the course of the game and the season.

Adding a safety and a middle linebacker was just sensible. One can argue about the particular players chosen, of course, but one has to admit that the team made some effort to shore up those positions.

The offense is returning nearly intact, which should bode well for continuing the trend of outscoring our opponents, always a good way to pile up wins. Yards are nice, and so are rankings. The bottom line is points, though. Score high and prevent the opponent from doing so. This is the essence of the West Coast Offense.

It appears that the car is washed. To those who are overly critical of our team, try to notice that the window is clean before you hawk up a big loogie and go to spit.

Steve Utz writes a column for Seahawks.NET every Sunday. Send your feedback to Steve at Top Stories