Behind Enemy Lines: 49ers/Seahawks, Part IV

In Part IV of an exclusive four-part series, SFIllustrated.com’s Craig Massei and Seahawks.NET's Todd Breda continue their back-and-forth interaction with five final questions from Craig to Todd. Is Seattle really as good as their record? Just how badly do they miss All Pro LG Steve Hutchinson? Are the Hawks looking past the 49ers? These questions and more are answered inside...

Craig Massei, Editor-in-Chief, SFIllustrated.com: Is Seattle really as good as its record and current No. 2 seed in the NFC? Or are the Seahawks just a good, experienced team that's barely getting by because they have been there and know how to win, and have been both fortunate and lucky because kicker Josh Brown has been there to bail them out with field goals at the end of three games that could easily have been losses?

Todd Breda, Site Owner, Seahawks.NET: Every team needs luck. It’s the nature of the beast. You can have all the talent and coaching and execution in the world but every team in the history of the NFL has needed a little (or a lot of) luck along the way. One of the things that get my blood boiling is when fans say, “Oh, they were just lucky to win.” As if none of the other aforementioned ingredients played any role whatsoever in the victory. For instance, I don’t consider a 54-yard field goal to beat the Rams “luck”. That’s getting in that position in the first place through perseverence, effort and skill in order to kick the game-winning field goal. That’s every player doing their jobs from getting into scoring position to the long-snapper doing his job, to the place-holder doing his job (laces away!) and finally the kicker doing his job.

Now a perfect example of what I consider luck entering the equation would be last year’s Seahawks/Giants game at Qwest Field. The Giants’ Jay Feely had a chance to win the game for them not once, not twice, but three times! Once to win in regulation and twice in overtime. Each kick sailing to the left or right of the goal posts or just short. Now were the Seahawks lucky to win that game? Absolutely. But every team needs some degree of luck here and there along the way.

So to answer, “Are they as good as their record?” I would have to say yes. The Seahawks started off poorly and were able to fight through adversity and injury to snap out of it and get their mojo back. To win without several key starters on offense, a backup QB and RB and an offensive line still fighting to find its identity and consistancy is a testament to the team’s overall talent, character and determination. The Seahawks could easily be 8-1 right now had the script gone as originally planned. Yet it has not and they have lost two (Vikings and Chiefs) that perhaps last year’s team would not have lost. Conversely, you could argue with the way things have gone we could easily be 4-5, 3-6 as well.

Right now the Seahawks are as good as their record and I am optimistic for the rest of the season.

Craig Massei: How much has that offensive line missed Steve Hutchinson? It just doesn't seem as good as last year, when it often was dominant. Is that an accurate perception?

Todd Breda: That is an absolutely accurate perception. When the Seahawks lost Steve Hutchinson to the Vikings in free agency during the offseason, there was never any doubt that there would be some drop off on the offensive line. However, LG Floyd “Pork Chop” Womack was going to be the natural replacement, a talented player who has some experience filling in on the line. There was at least some level of comfort in that. The theory was, anybody you plug in next to the All Pro, future Hall of Fame LT Walter Jones would automatically become better just from association alone. The problem? Womack is injury-prone so it didn’t take long before he was replaced by last-year’s first round draft pick, center Chris Spencer.

This became just the start of the musical chair production starring our offensive line. A cast of many characters. Further injuries and illness has given the front five a swinging-door flavor that is a detriment to one of the essential ingredients any good offensive line holds ownership: Continuity. As a result, Matt Hasselbeck was on pace for being sacked a record number of times and the running game - such a powerful characteristic of their offense in recent years - was incognito. As mentioned before, in recent weeks there has been a vast improvement on the line, even while there is still lineup changes. Once again, I think it comes back to depth and character. That coupled with one of the weaker divisions in the league should see the Seahawks in the playoffs for the fourth straight season.

Craig Massei: Now that Mike Holmgren has taken the Seahawks to the Super Bowl, how solidified is he as the team's central figurehead, and is he a better coach now because he was relieved last year of some of his personnel control and obligations?

Todd Breda: After the Super Bowl, the franchise didn’t waste any time entering into negotiations with Holmgren and his agent on a contract extension. While President Tim Ruskell quickly earned the team and fan’s respect with his football prowess and drafting adeptness in just his first year with the club, there was never any doubt whose team this was. Granted, it’s taken longer than expected for Holmgren to turn the perennially-mediocre Seahawks into a Super Bowl team, but that day has finally dawned. This is Mike Holmgren’s team. The players believe in him and buy into his philosophy. For those who do not, simply don’t last very long. Holmgren is currently signed through the 2008 season.

My guess is if he can win a Super Bowl with the Seahawks before that year, he will bow out gracefully with nothing but warm fuzzy feelings from Seahawks fans everywhere. If not? I believe 2008 will be the end of the road for a man who was able to do the unthinkable at this point – Get the Seahawks to the Super Bowl. There are some that likely believe that Hell currently sports a healthy dose of icicles.

Craig Massei: We've asked about our man Jules. How are the other big-money free agents such as Deion Branch and Nate Burleson working out and helping the team? We hadn't seen much of Burleson lately until that punt return against the Rams. Wasn't he supposed to be a good fit and big hit with his hometown team? Yet, you guys still had to go out and get Branch? Has Burleson been a bust at WR?

Todd Breda: When Nate Burleson came over from the Vikings, it was naturally assumed he would be a perfect fit. Coming home, a talented receiver in the NFL with some success in Minnesota, the general perception was that he would fit right into our West Coast offensive system. Unfortunately, his arrival was more of a splish than a splash. Outside of one TD he caught early in the season, he's been pretty much AWOL. He was having problems dropping passes and with the arrival of Deion Branch, he was phased out by default.

However, the Seahawks knew he was a talented player with good character and Mike Holmgren wanted to get him on the field even if it meant through other means. That’s when they decided to move him to punt returner…A position that has been one of the more stagnant areas on the team for too long. Burleson isn’t one to call a fair catch and his athletic ability gives the Seahawks a chance for a great return every time he touches the football. When he returned that 92-yard punt against the Rams, it was immediately apparent what Burleson can bring to the team. It’s my belief that he will eventually make his way back to the lineup as receiver to help them there as well. For now, he's precisely where we need him.

Deion Branch was simply a gift from the Gods. When a player of his caliber becomes available, even at the price of a first round draft pick, you don’t hesitate. This is a proven, Super Bowl MVP player who can immediately make an impact. Early on he eased teammates concerns of taking away catches, showed the classy individual he was and of course elevated the receiving corps the moment he took the field with soft hands, quiet leadership and the amazing ability to learn the system quickly and build a rapport between both QBs.

If one is to use a particular play when defining Branch, I look no further than the Chiefs game late in the 4th quarter. Seneca Wallace had a chance to drive the team into scoring position for the potential upset but instead he was picked off deep in Seahawks territory by the Chiefs’ Jared Allen. Instead of falling down, Allen tried to seal the deal and headed for the endzone. Most players would try to tackle him down at best or walk off to the sidelines dejected at worse.

However, Branch refused to give up. He refused to believe that the Seahawks were going to lose the game on that play. Branch flew in and jarred the ball out of the 6’6” Allen’s meat hooks and took the ball back to regain possession right as both were falling out of bounds.

It was probably the finest play I have seen by a single player in years.

Plays like that and players like that can be the difference between sitting home and participating in the playoffs. That kind of mentality and never-quit attitude is infectious. It spreads from teammate-to-teammate rather quickly and I think it is one of the primary catalysts that has the team back on the winning track.

Craig Massei: After sweeping the Rams, do the Seahawks feel they already have locked up the weak NFC West again, and are they already looking toward the playoffs? And last but not least, what are Seattle's chances of getting back to the Super Bowl again this February?

Todd Breda: Not at all. That’s the fans jobs to look ahead and make predictions. This team has been through too much – good and bad – over the past two years to underestimate their opponents. I’ve heard the players say time and time again just how difficult it is to win in this league. They will be the first to tell you that especially coming off a Super Bowl, every team is gunning for them. Each opponent is going to (and giving) the Seahawks their best game. It’s understandably a natural motivator to say you knocked off the NFC Champions. Especially division rivals.

There are some things I question. How bad is Alexander’s foot, really? When will we get Hasselbeck and Alexander back completely healthy? I have questions I do ponder but if the Seahawks are looking ahead is definitely not one of them. I can guarantee you that every player on the Seahawks is taking this weekend’s game against the 49ers very seriously. They all remember they were lucky to escape there with a victory last year. The 49ers are playing inspired football right now and they would like nothing more than to beat the NFC Champions. Win or lose, I promise you the Seahawks will not be taking the 49ers for granted.

As for the Seahawks chances of getting back to the Super Bowl? I like their chances. Right now the team is coming together at the right time. It appears that we will have our top guns back in time for December when every winning team is clawing for position and seeding, or simply trying to get that final wild card spot at the very least. This is the time to turn it up, maximize player performance and minimize mistakes. If the past two weeks are any trend at all, it appears the Seahawks are primed and ready to come back, make some noise and remind everyone that they are still the team to beat in the NFC until that crown is taken from them.

Outside of the Bears who appear to have the HFA in their grasp, the NFC is wide open. A lot of teams hovering around 6-3, 5-4, even 4-5. A lot can happen between now and January, but I really do like the way the stars are beginning to align for the Seahawks. Once they get Hasselbeck and Alexander back and healthy, the team will rally even more and should be a definitive force in the post season. I’m not as confident as some that the Seahawks can run the tables without home field advantage (yes, Qwest Field really is that much of a factor in January) but right now, we have as good a shot as any one else to make it to the NFC Championship and get to Miami.

Time will tell. It should be a great rest of the season! Good luck to the 49ers! Well, after Sunday of course. As always, I hope for a great game with no injuries to either team.

 

 

Todd Breda is the Site Owner of Seahawks.NET, created in 1998 for Seahawks die-hards world-wide. A die-hard fan of the Seahawks since the team's inception in 1976. A season ticket holder since 1997 and proud to be a small part of the 12th Man Phenomenon that intimidates any opponent daring to venture into Qwest Field with grand illusions of escaping with a victory. If you would like to email Todd, click here.

 


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