Intangibles

"The Seahawks, like any team, must prove itself, not only to the outside world but to their own selves. Five weeks ago, they were flying on top of the football world. That all collapsed in a mere 10 minutes of playing time."

Mid-season is the traditional time for pundits to make judgments about how well a team is doing. It seems to be a logical milestone on the journey to the postseason, including evaluating how good a team’s chances are of actually making the playoffs. It makes a good time to break down the various aspects of the team and grade them out.

I’m not going to do that.

I will say the Seahawks’ chances of making the playoffs remain pretty good. We are above .500 at the midway point, and with 5 of our last 8 games at home, and we stand a good chance of making a late season run.

The question remains, however: Just when do we start the late season push?

Obviously, now would be a great time to start. Arguably, the Seahawks starting winning games a couple of weeks ago. That is all to the good, but as many pundits are quick to point out, we have two consecutive wins against the bottom feeders of the league. Not a ringing endorsement for a team that disappointed many in Week 4 against today’s opponent, including themselves.

No victory can be discounted in importance, of course. It is always difficult to win in the NFL, especially on the road. And, since winning can be considered a habit, much like losing, it is always good to win a game, no matter who the opponent is.

One of the most difficult problems with trying to predict how well teams will perform on any given Sunday are what are known as intangibles. It is a poorly disguised fact that the “best” team doesn’t win every Sunday. The biggest, fastest, most talented team will sometimes get upset by a less well-staffed team that has some intangible emotional factor it can bring to bear. The biggest muscle in the NFL is the heart.

Which brings us to the subject of today’s game.

Today’s matchup against the Rams will be decided by intangibles.

The betting line reflects the ambivalence the experts and the gambling public feel about this game. Most give the Rams a slight edge, based mostly on the intangible factors of home field and history of both teams. In short, there seems to be a consensus the Seahawks have superior talent, but the Rams hold the psychological edge.

So, do the Rams truly have a space rented in the Seahawks’ heads?

The Seahawks, like any team, must prove itself, not only to the outside world but to their own selves. Five weeks ago, they were flying on top of the football world. That all collapsed in a mere 10 minutes of playing time. It is easy to see they were overconfident. Following that came a period that arguably saw them sink to the lowest they had ever been in the Holmgren era. Probably, that vision was enhanced by the high expectations of the pre-season and the successful overcoming of the adversity faced in the first 3 games of the season.

Today is a great chance to prove that all of that is behind them.

One of the most important of the intangibles is confidence. Confidence in one’s own abilities. Confidence in one’s teammates. Confidence in the coaching staff. A team must have all of this to do well and win games.

Of course, a team has to guard against overconfidence. Over-confidence leads to over-weaning pride, and everyone knows that pride goeth before a fall, right? There is a thin line between the quiet self-confidence of a team like the Patriots over the past couple of seasons and the exuberant overconfidence the Seahawks felt midway through the 4th quarter of last month’s game against these same Rams.

One is almost tempted to call for a moratorium on all celebrations until after the final gun. This, however, might dampen the spirits of the players in what is a very emotional game. It is a quandary. While you want the players to be up for games and feel good about their successes, as the old song says: You never count your winnings until the dealing’s done.

A lot has been made of this game as a rivalry game. In truth, though, the Seahawks have not really elevated themselves to this level vis-à-vis the Rams. In the old AFC West, most of the teams never thought of the Seahawks as real rivals, mostly because they beat us pretty consistently for 25 years, and for most of those years, we were never a serious playoff contender. The only team in the division we really were competitive with were the Chargers, and somehow, that never really felt like a rivalry.

In our new division, the Rams are the Champions. They remain so until they are unseated. Most of their fans and probably their players don’t necessarily think of the Seahawks as rivals yet.

Rivalries have to have a couple of facets for them to be real. One is strong head to head competition. The other is that both teams should be consistently vying for playoff berths. In short, rivals must not only fight each other well, they must be fighting for something. The Seahawks are approaching that status with the Rams.

The most important aspect of today’s game is intangible. The cold mathematical truth is that the Seahawks could still win the division if they lose today. The intangible fact is that a loss today would make a division title won under those circumstances a rather hollow one. The team knows that they are fighting for more than just a game in the standings. They will be fighting for respect.

Injuries and their affect on the outcome of a season are often discussed. In one camp is the argument that injuries are part of the game and good teams win despite them. The other side of that argument is that some injuries cannot realistically be overcome, and will cost teams games. The ultimate truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

But there is one important indicator concerning injuries that separate teams.

Often, losing teams will have extensive injury lists. But there is a certain chicken vs. egg logical impasse inherent in that statistic. Is the team losing because of the injuries? Or are the injured players less motivated to heal and get back on the field because the team is losing?

Recent actions by Seahawks players regarding their injury status are encouraging.

Ken Lucas, who suffered a bruised lung last week against the 49ers, is expected to start today.

Darrell Jackson, after missing practice all week, won a game ball against the 49ers.

Grant Wistrom, with obvious motivation to get healthy and play against his former teammates, has seemingly made a quicker than expected recovery and will quite probably play today.

Anthony Simmons returned from shoulder surgery after only two weeks to play last week, and made a game-clinching interception and touchdown.

These are probably only the most visible of the sacrifices that Seahawks players are making. It shows that they want to be involved and contribute to the team’s success. There is an air of urgency that permeates all of this. The players obviously feel that there is a window of opportunity here, and have a sense that if they don’t do it now, they may not have another chance.

Today’s game carries a lot of intangibles attached to it.

Win, and the Seahawks establish themselves as real rivals with the Rams for the NFC West crown. Lose, and we remain a team looking up at them, regardless of the final standings.

Win, and the Seahawks prove that they can reach out and grab control of their own destiny. Lose, and we go into the stretch drive hoping someone else will beat the Rams so we can win the division.

Win, and the Seahawks gain some confidence, some tangible evidence to show they have earned the right to walk with that swagger that successful teams display. Lose, and any such posturing will be seen as false bravado.

Win, and the Seahawks serve notice that they are team to be reckoned with. Lose, and we stay that “almost there, can’t win the big game” Seahawks team of the past quarter century.

While this game may ultimately not mean much in the final standings, it nevertheless carries a lot of weight in how the NFL world views the Seahawks. More importantly, it will critically influence the way the Seahawks view themselves.

Today, it will be the intangibles that matter.

Seahawks 38
Rams 27

Steve Utz writes a column for Seahawks.NET every Sunday. Send your feedback to Steve at wisecoyote1@cox.net.


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