As a loyal fan of the Rams for over a quarter-century, I could have easily reached this conclusion solely with my heart. Fortunately, the same conclusion also results from objective analysis of the facts at hand.
The starting point of this analysis is an undeniable fact: the Rams were the better team in 2003. Not only did they have a better record (12-4 to 10-6), they scored more points (447 to 404), allowed only one more point (328 to 327), had more takeaways (46 to 28), a better turnover ratio (+7 to -1) and more sacks (42-40) than the Seahawks.
So, I ask… what has changed since then that would cause me, or anyone else, to conclude that the outcome will be different in 2004? The answer again is simple: in the aggregate, virtually nothing has changed. The teams enter the 2004 season with rosters that are not markedly different than last years’ versions. Consequently, when fan loyalty is taken out of the equation, the only logical conclusion is that the Rams will reign supreme again.
On offense, the Seahawks begin the season with the same starting lineup as last year. In fact, the team has not added a significant offensive player to the roster, either through free agency or the draft. So where will the improvement come from? Seahawk fans might suggest that key players like Matt Hasselbeck will progress and become elite players. But isn’t that what they said about Koren Robinson? You remember Koren, right? The guy who had a break out year in 2002, was on everyone’s “next big thing” list for 2003, only to fall from grace in a year marred by drops, internal disciplinary actions and an overall downturn in productivity. The bottom line is that the progression or regression of players cannot be predicted with any accuracy, and therefore cannot form the basis of a logical prognostication.
Stated another way, while the Seattle faithful may hold out hope that last year’s lineup will produce greater results on offense in 2004, its just that… hope.
By contrast, the Rams are objectively likely to improve on offense. They, like the Seahawks, return with all eleven starters. However, at the same time, they have addressed the offense’s biggest problem of the past two years – depth behind Marshall Faulk. By adding rookie Steven Jackson, rated by most as the top running back in this year’s draft, the Rams now have a far more talented understudy than Lamar Gordon and Arlen Harris to take over if Faulk cannot stay healthy (if he can, all the better). Jackson can also be a significant upgrade in the Rams’ short yardage and red zone running game, as he is a bigger, more powerful back than anyone on last year’s roster.
Thus, the Rams offense, which outscored the Seahawks by 43 points last year, has added a blue chip running back, while the Hawks merely hope for improvement from within. Advantage: Rams.
On Defense, the Seahawks have made a few changes. Many have praised the addition of cornerback Bobby Taylor. But how much of an improvement is the 30 year old Taylor over departed Shawn Springs? Perhaps that’s an upgrade, but it may be tempered by the loss of starting strong safety Reggie Tongue. The Seahawks are counting on either Damien Robinson or rookie Michael Boulware (a college linebacker) to fill this role. At best, this is a risk. At worst, a recipe for disaster.
The Seahawks are also engaging in intense finger crossing with respect to their inside run defense. At defensive tackle, a problem area for the past two years, the Seahawks are counting on the rapid emergence of rookie Marcus Tubbs. This is not likely, as defensive tackles typically do not make an impact as rookies – just ask the Jets (Dewayne Robertson), Saints (Jonathan Sullivan), Rams (Jimmy Kennedy) and Giants (William Joseph), who all learned this lesson last year. The Seahawks also no longer have the safety blanket of veterans Norman Hand, Chad Eaton and John Randle, and have failed to upgrade the middle linebacker position.
The Seahawks’ biggest defensive free agency coup of the offseason was the signing of defensive end Grant Wistrom. While Wistrom is a solid player, and an upgrade on the Seahawks defense, to suggest that he will be a true impact player is untenable. Remember, this is the same player who has been unable to record double digit sacks despite playing opposite Leonard Little, one the league’s premier pass rushers.
In all, the Seahawks have arguably upgraded their defense, though not by any significant degree.
The Rams, on the other hand, have made few changes on defense. Wistrom’s departure leaves a question mark at defensive end, likely to be filled by a committee consisting of players such as Tyoka Jackson, Bryce Fisher, Erick Flowers and rookie Anthony Hargrove. At defensive tackle, the Rams lost solid contributor Brian Young, though if Damione Lewis can stay healthy and second year prospect Jimmy Kennedy progresses at all, it is likely his playing time would have been greatly reduced anyway.
At linebacker, the Rams return their three starters, and have added depth with players like Brandon Spoon, Trev Faulk and rookie Brandon Chillar. Likewise, the starting defensive backfield returns, with rookie Jason Shivers adding depth at safety.
Thus, the Seahawks have made minor upgrades, while the Rams defense looks to be about the same as last year. Slight advantage: Seattle.
It is a credit to both teams that they have been able to maintain their rosters despite salary caps and free agency. However, for a team like Seattle, which is playing catch-up with the Rams, this will be of little comfort.
The good news for Seattle is that the schedule makers have set up a scenario that could resolve the issue early on. Seattle opens by traveling to Tampa Bay and New Orleans. Given their difficulty (2-6) on the road, the Seahawks may very well find themselves in an 0-2 hole before getting in the win column in week three at home against the 49ers, and going into their fourth week bye with a 1-2 record.
Meanwhile, the Rams will open at home against Arizona, and have very winnable games at Atlanta, home against New Orleans and at San Francisco. A 4-0 record after week 4 is a distinct possibility.
The Rams will then travel to Seattle in Week 5. If the Rams win that game, they would open a very large lead less than a third of the way into the season, with a home game against Seattle looming in Week 10. Not a favorable position for the Hawks.
The press is constantly in search of new angles. In St. Louis, the drama of Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger has dominated the offseason. Great for beat writers, commentators, and fans. But, in the end, the Rams decided to go with the younger Bulger, the same quarterback that lead them to a division title last year.
In Seattle, hopes have been raised by high profile free agent signings. But, while signings of known players always make for good print, they don’t always make for improvement on the field.
In the end, the Rams and the Seahawks are essentially the same teams that took the field last year. The Seahawks are a legitimate playoff contender, but the Rams are still the class of the division.
Rebuttal: The Sea Change Is Coming!
David, David, David…while your well-articulated position seems reasonable on the surface, there are several flaws in the overall logic of your argument, not to mention a few things you’re just plain overlooking. As a result, I’ll have to take you to task. Don’t worry…it won’t hurt TOO much:
When you flatly state that the Rams were the better team in 2003…well, the fact that you have to use certain select statistics to buff up your case proves what Seahawks fans know – these two teams were closer in ’03 than Ram fans would like to admit. In your statistical drive-by, I noticed that you conveniently omitted the following:
The Seahawks created more overall yards per game (351.7 to 341.1), more rushing yards (125.6 to 93.5), and had a more balanced offense (53.3% pass-to-run ratio to the Rams’ 59.3%). In addition, the Seahawks’ run defense outclassed the Rams’ by far, allowing 109.9 yards per game to the Rams’ 123.8, and the two teams allowed essentially the same number of points per game (20.4 for Seattle, 20.5 for the Rams). The one stat that worries me in the overall argument is turnover ratio – as you pointed out, this number heavily favors your team. However, you should be far more concerned about your team’s run defense than you’re letting on, especially with the opponents you’ll be facing in 2004 and the fact that the Rams will be putting together a patchwork line at best.
As to the matter of
the supposed inability to project future performance on past numbers…well,
that’s what prognostication is all about, my friend. This is the number
one off-season sport – pretending we’re the “experts”
and projecting what our team did last year into this season. When looking at
the Seahawks, factors such as excellent rookie campaigns (Trufant, Hamlin, Rashad
Moore), “breakout” campaigns (D.D. Lewis, Ken Lucas, Itula Mili),
increased support around an individual player (Chike Okeafor) or intangibles
such as the “walk year” factor (Shaun Alexander, who will probably
have the best numbers of his career to inflate the value of his impending free
agency) do indeed matter, and can indeed, to a point, be used as approximate
In addition, your contention that since neither team has really made significant changes the results will be the same goes completely against conventional NFL wisdom these days. In the first place, the Seahawks did make some fairly significant personnel improvements, but even if they hadn’t, the “status quo” in the NFL simply doesn’t exist anymore. From 2002 to 2003, exactly ONE TEAM (the Philadelphia Eagles, who went 12-4 both seasons) retained their record from the season before. In addition, only 10 of the 32 NFL teams retained their identical division positions, and only five of the twelve 2003 playoff teams were involved in the postseason in 2002. Neither the Panthers nor the Patriots made the playoffs in 2002, not even as a wild-card. Moral: “Staying put” is practically a death sentence in such a change-oriented league.
Regarding the Seahawks’ offense…who’s asking for huge improvements? I think most Hawk fans would take a carbon copy of the offense we saw in 2003, drops and all (although losing said drops would be a good thing). It was unquestionably the Seahawks’ DEFENSE that prevented the team from taking the division and quite possibly advancing much further in the playoffs. Your question about Bobby Taylor and whether he’ll be an upgrade over Shawn Springs…did you SEE Springs play last year? The guy had no speed, no vertical ability, he was getting napalmed by receivers in every game he played, and the fact that he was found whistling a merry tune in the locker room after the heartbreaking loss to the Ravens alienated him from every fan he ever had in Seattle. The only defensive back in the NFL who wouldn’t be an upgrade over Springs at this point would be your very own Jason Sehorn. Springs is done. Taylor might not be at his best ever (although he could be a big surprise if he stays healthy), but he’ll be an improvement simply by showing up.
As far as Koren Robinson being a disappointment in 2003 – I’ll give you that one. But I don’t think that anyone watching Matt Hasselbeck is hoping he’ll “progress and become an elite player”…he’s already there. In 2003, Hass was seventh in the NFL in passer rating (ahead of Tom Brady and your own Marc Bulger, who was 13th). There’s absolutely nothing to indicate a fluke season, either. In fact, I’m wondering if any anti-Hass faction (if such a thing exists anymore) could say why 2004 won’t be even better for him.
Your points about both teams’ schedules, and the Rams’ possibility of getting a quick head start are…ummm…creative, but I’m not really sure where you’re coming from there. Based on the 2003 winning percentage of their opponents, the Seahawks will have the third-toughest schedule in the NFL in 2004, while the Rams will have the eighth-toughest. It’s going to be a dogfight all year for both teams.
So, as we come into
the 2004 season, you’re right…the Rams are still the “class
of the division” (at least that’s what the standings say). Something
tells me that once the games have been played, however, you’ll be whistling
a different tune…
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET and writes a .NET column every Monday. Feel free to send him your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Spalter (a.k.a. “AvengerRam”) is a writer and moderator for GridironGateway and the ClanRam boards. Feel free to send him your feedback here.