Character Study

Some people mistype it "parody". One wonders if the slip is entirely unintentional. The real word is, of course, parity. It is the legacy of former commissioner Pete Rozelle, and it permeates the National Football League. It is intentionally designed in to the current drafting and salary cap systems. It is the source of the "Any Given Sunday" cliché that gives hope to fans around the nation.

The nature of the beast is that parity helps ensure that one team does not get a competitive advantage, just because of its geographical location or the wealth of its owner.

Ironically, the Seattle Seahawks have the wealthiest owner in the league. It is perhaps questionable whether Mr. Allen would spend more on the team if he could, but we’ll never know, unless the current negotiations on the CBA break down and the “uncapped year” actually happens. I suspect that Seahawks fans would be disappointed in their expectations if there were no salary cap.

Meanwhile, parity helps keep all teams except the New England Patriots from building a dynasty. It helps spread out the talent pool. It forces teams to make spending decisions about how many “superstars” the team can sign, and what that means to the rest of the roster. Pay one Mike Vick many millions of dollars, and how much is left to pay his backup?

The Seahawks recently signed two of its “stars” to big multi-million dollar, multi-year contracts. Meanwhile, they have managed to sign several journeyman players at discount rates. That has been the subject of much off-season debate and, dare we say, controversy.

The Ruskellization of the Seattle Seahawks is probably not complete. It is well-nigh impossible to completely change the roster and attitude of a football team in one season. Plus, nobody outside of the organizations really know just how much Tim Ruskell had to do with the turning around of two of the more problematic franchises in recent NFL history, the Buccaneers and the Falcons. Certainly, the two teams became powerful franchises at the same time that Ruskell was on board and contributing.

Now he has the reins in Seattle, and his team faces a major test.

For months now, we have been hearing the mantra of “character”. Player evaluation would place more emphasis on such intangibles as character, motivation, desire, etc. Suddenly, down one game in the standings already, the team faces a game against a divisional champion in a near must-win situation. A second loss may not be a disaster, but digging out of an 0-2 hole is never easy.

This game, more than anything else, is a test of our team’s character. In any loss, there is a danger that a weakness has been exposed. Based on last week’s game, the Seahawk’s weakness seems to be pass protection.

The NFL is a copycat league. When a team exposes a weakness, every team it faces will test that weakness until the team corrects it. Everybody sees everybody else’s game tape. There are no secrets on the field.

Expect the Atlanta Falcons to test our offensive line and running backs to see how well we can protect Matt Hasselbeck. Most likely they will blitz, early and often. If they succeed, they will press the advantage and it will be another long day for the Seahawk faithful. If they fail, and our pass protection holds up, we will be able to run our game plan and win.

The big question about last week is: was it a physical breakdown, or a mental breakdown?

The Jacksonville game was really a tale of two halves. The Seahawks won the first half, but lost the all too important second half. Was it really just the affects of the oppressive heat and the long travel, or was it a lack of mental toughness? The former sounds like an excuse, the latter like a condemnation. Where is a fan to pin his or her hopes?

When the schedule was first published, it was obvious that the first two games would be enormous tests of the team’s character and ability. Jacksonville, while it missed the playoffs last season, are up and comers, and Atlanta pushed its efforts to the conference championship game. Neither is a team to be taken lightly.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks brandished an apparent flair for giving up big fourth quarter leads and snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, sure signs of a lack of mental toughness and character.

Enter Tim Ruskell. Can he turn around this moribund franchise that seems ever destined to languish somewhere around .500 forever? Can he find the right mix of players to provide that final spark of character and mental toughness to get over the hump and win some close games in the fourth quarter?

On the bright side, the Seahawks defense was not too bad against Jacksonville. Presented with numerous short field situations following turnovers, they tended to give up field goals instead of touchdowns. Even late in the game, when giving up a touchdown would have sealed the game, they kept our team in it. The final three drives started on Seattle’s 15 and 31 yard line, and Jacksonville’s 46. The result: two field goals.

On the prior three Jacksonville possessions, our D forced punts.

Make no mistake, even with every reason to do so, our defense never stopped playing.

Our offense, however, played poorly. Pass protection broke down completely late in the game and the team could not sustain any rhythm. It is early in the season, and our offense typically starts slowly, but it is a concern. Another poor performance like last week’s and it will start to look like a trend, a bad one.

Last season, our home record was 5-3. That is unacceptable. This game needs to be a positive trend setter. A statement needs to be made that teams cannot come into our house and walk away with a win. And, no, it shouldn’t matter how good that team plays elsewhere. If it truly is a “home field advantage,” it must apply equally to division champions and doormats.

The first step is done. Enough tickets were sold to lift the local blackout. The stands will be full; the fans will be loud and rowdy. Now, it is up to the team.

Talent in the NFL is pretty evenly distributed. Often, it is the intangibles that determine the outcome of games. Character matters. It is early in the season, to be sure. It is perhaps far too early to think that one game is completely make or break. But make no mistake, this is gutcheck time.

It is time to show that Ruskell character.

GO SEAHAWKS!


Steve Utz writes frequently for Seahawks.NET. Send your feedback to Steve at sutz12@comcast.net.


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