Behind Enemy Lines: Seattle/Tampa Bay, Part 4

In the conclusion of our four-part preview of the Seahawks' regular season opener against Tampa Bay, Seahawks.NET's Doug Farrar answers the final five of ten questions from Matthew Postins of Can Lofa Tatupu be even better, is Deon Grant the real deal, will the Seahawks repeat as NFC West Champs, and what on Earth does the 12th Man have in store for Luke Petitgout?

Matthew Postins: It’s hard to talk about this being a “breakout” season for linebacker Lofa Tatupu. But is there a sense that he’s ready to take a step from being a great NFL linebacker to becoming an elite one, or is he already there?

Doug Farrar: Oh, I think he already is. As you know very well, having seen enough of the Cover/Tampa 2 from your team, middle linebackers are asked to both shoot gaps and back into coverage in this system, and it’s the rare player who can do both with relatively equal aplomb. Tatupu is really underrated as a coverage linebacker. I have a feeling it’s because he’s built like a chunk of bricks, and people think that Mikes who can cover have to be built like big safeties, a la Brian Urlacher.

Tatupu’s primary value is his talent in reading and making plays – he has a near-psychic ability to discern what opposing offenses are about to do, and that was an ability very much evident from the start of his rookie season. The problem is that he is slightly undersized, and without a good run-stopping defensive tackle in front of him, he will get caught up in traffic and diverted by blockers. The loss of Marcus Tubbs for the season to an ACL injury was a big blow in this regard; the Seahawks have to hope that rookie Brandon Mebane can pick up most of the slack.

MP: The safety situation with the departure of Ken Hamlin in the offseason was one I’m sure Seattle wanted to address. Have they done so adequately?

DF: I have to give the same answer that I gave to the Kerney question – I’m just not sure yet. The Seahawks blew out their safety lineup and sent it to Texas, letting Ken Hamlin sign a contract with the Cowboys, and trading Michael Boulware to the Texans. In their places, veterans Deon Grant and Brian Russell were acquired. Grant is really on the hook to produce, because he got an $11 million signing bonus, which I believe is the second-highest for a safety in NFL history behind the guaranteed portion of Ed Reed’s new deal.

This just in: Grant may be good, but he ain’t Ed Reed. So far, he’s not been as impressive in games as he has evidently been in practice, because all you hear about in practice is how Grant read this play, picked off that pass, or whacked some poor receiver into next week. In the preseason, we saw him tackle a lot, but many of those tackles were recoveries. The hype told us that veteran acumen was taking the place of pure athletic ability at strong and free safety. We’ll have to wait and see if that’s for the better.

MP: I think many people are ready to hand the Seahawks another NFC West title. What are their chances? They sort of limped in a bit last year.

DF: Most people see a tougher NFC West this season, and I agree. Some see the primary challenge coming from the Rams, but it’s my opinion that St. Louis wasted career years from several offensive players with a truly abysmal defense last year. While their front seven will be a bit better with Adam Carriker and Chris Draft, regression on offense is almost inevitable, and their secondary may be worse than last year’s.

San Francisco’s been the trendy pick to the point that I think people are starting to go against them to be different, but I can’t ignore what their front office has done over the past two years. I think the 49ers will begin the season stumbling all over themselves as all the new pieces come together, but they’ll repeat their second-half surge from 2006. The difference will be that the 49ers will be less a team picking at the bones of a negligible division and more a team setting up for the future. Should all the pieces fall into place, I think they could leapfrog the Seahawks and take the division.

MP: How might the famous noise and “12th Man” have an impact on the game? Qwest Field is notorious for being inhospitable to opposing teams.

DF: Ask Luke Petitgout and his Traveling False Start Festival. Luke and Qwest Field do not get along. No stadium has been responsible for more opponent false starts over the last two season than Qwest; the fifty flags thrown far outpaces the 38 brought about in side the unfriendly confines of Minnesota’s Metrodome. Quarterbacks can’t hear themselves think, line calls are tough, and you have to believe that such fan support makes a difference in the hearts and minds of the Seahawks players.

The best thing about the Seahawks fanbase is that while the numbers have grown over the last few years as the team has become a perennial contender and people want to be par of the “12th Man” phenomenon, there aren’t so many of the trendy people who go to games and don’t know what sport they’re watching. Qwest Field may be like a jet engine when the Seahawks are on defense, but it’s like a library in comparison when Matt Hasselbeck is under center. These fans know the effect they have on the game, and they spend it wisely.

MP: Finally, can you give us your prediction for Sunday’s game?

DF: Seahawks 31, Bucs 20. Jeff Garcia will find ways to pick at Seattle’s secondary, and there will be some production from Cadillac Williams, but I’m not convinced that Seattle’s offense will be facing anything like the great Tampa Bay defenses of years past. The Seahawks will have better receivers and just enough of a rushing attack to make the difference.

Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association and has won national awards for his Buccaneers coverage from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is also a contributor to the Scot Brantley Show from 4-7 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1490-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, a staff writer for Football Outsiders, and a contributing author to Pro Football Prospectus 2007. Top Stories