Behind Enemy Lines: Seahawks/Steelers, Part 2's Ryan Wilson and Seahawks.NET's Doug Farrar continue their pregame preview with five questions from Ryan to Doug. Was the Deion Branch deal worth it, why has Seattle's defense improved, and what have the Seahawks learned about the value of guards that Pittsburgh might want to consider?

Ryan Wilson, Last year, the Seahawks gave up a first-round pick for Deion Branch. At the time I liked the move -- a late-in-the-round pick for a proven wideout seems pretty straightforward -- but Branch has needed some adjusting to things in Seattle. How is he coming along? And did you like the trade initially? How about now?

Doug Farrar, Seahawks.NET: Oddly enough, I’m on the opposite curve. I hated the move when it first happened, because in September of 2006, you could already see that the post-Super Bowl Seahawks had many positional needs, and I wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence in the front office from a free agency perspective following the Steve Hutchinson blunder.

I’m also not generally in favor of first-round picks for wideouts unless you’re talking about one of the four or five best players in the draft. You don’t generally get those guys late in the first round, and I wasn’t convinced that Branch (who was drafted in the second round by New England in 2002) had reached that level. Yes, he was a Super Bowl MVP, but giving huge contracts to players who have that title and haven’t done much else was the kind of thing for which people used to rightfully slam Al Davis. And the fact that team president Tim Ruskell tried to justify the trade of that precious draft cargo by recalling studies he did in Tampa Bay about “bust ratios” among first-round picks seemed absolutely preposterous to me. Don’t you have to adjust for the Bengals and Lions in cases like that? What does the stupidity of Matt Millen and Mike Brown have to do with anyone else’s numbers? Plus, the New York Jets had offered a second-round pick for Branch, and NFLPA lawyer Richard Berthelsen deemed that pick to be of “commensurate value’ for similar players. I took the Branch deal to be more a desperation move than anything else, and I didn’t understand the desperation at that position.

Still, after watching Branch struggle in his first season with Seattle as he learned the team’s offense, I tried to keep an open mind going into this season. And I’m happy to say that the Deion Branch I’ve seen this season just might be worth what the Seahawks gave up for him. While ex-Seattle receiver Darrell Jackson is dropping passes for the 49ers, Branch has become an extremely valuable part of the Seahawks’ offense. He’s got great short-area speed, and the kind of deep acceleration needed to keep safeties honest. So, yeah … you could say that it took a year for me to come around, but I’m okay with it now.

Ryan Wilson: What did you think about the Charlie Frye trade? Obviously, he wasn't very good in Cleveland, and that Derek Anderson has fared well makes you wonder if it was mostly Frye. Mike Holmgren said the Seahawks liked Frye coming out of college, and now they've got him. Is the plan to groom him for the No. 2 job and use Seneca Wallace as a slash-type player, or does Holmgren have something else in mind?

Doug Farrar: I don’t have a problem with the trade per se if it gets Wallace on the field as a wideout. Do I take Charlie Frye seriously as a short-term solution at the position if needed? Absolutely not – at least, not at this point. He’s going to have to learn a playbook unlike anything he’s even seen before, and he’ll be tutored by perhaps the most exacting quarterback professor in the NFL in Mike Holmgren. This is a process that will take months. Frye’s in a good position in that if anyone can turn him into an NFL quarterback it’ll be Holmgren, but I’m not sure we should anoint him just yet.

Having said that, Seattle used Wallace more as a receiver in last week’s win over the 49ers than they ever had before, so I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he’s getting more looks in that direction as Frye learns the offense.

Ryan Wilson: In looking at the stats for this weekend's game, I was surprised to see how well the Seahawks' defense is playing. According to Football Outsiders, they ranked 20th in 2006. Now they're 6th. What changed over the summer?

Doug Farrar: The Seahawks acquired two new safeties, Deon Grant and Brian Russell, formerly of Jacksonville and Cleveland, respectively. Their value became evident in the win over the Bengals two weeks ago, when Seattle’s outmanned corners had to face Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Grant and Russell were able to stay assignment-correct in zone handoffs, and the Seahawks were able to prevent a high point total – though they did concede the underneath stuff.

Second, Seattle’s linebackers, the best 4-3 unit in the NFL right now, are being used correctly. Lofa Tatupu is playing at a Defensive Player of the Year level because he’s being directed to roam to the ball as opposed to waiting for lanes to clear. This allows him to utilize his ability to read offenses. Julian Peterson is using his freakish athleticism as everything from a hand-down defensive end to a help in coverage. And Leroy Hill, who came out of Tatupu’s draft class, is being implemented as he was in 2005 – a forward-moving scud missile, not a hesitant mismatch in pass coverage. These are not “read-and-react” players, and they were asked to do that far too often last year.

Opponent strength and small sample size are issues with early-season DVOA as you well know, but these rankings seem pretty consistent with what I’ve seem on the field.

Ryan Wilson: In your 10 questions for me, you asked about Alan Faneca and his future with the team. I speculated that he's gone after the season, and then made some excuse about how salary-cap dollars should be spent on tackles, and the interior line talent can be found on the cheap. After having lost Steve Hutchinson, how do you feel about paying a guard big money? I think I'm slowly coming around to the realization that it's a good investment.

Doug Farrar: You don’t need to convince any Seahawks observer that elite guards are worth the money – the Seahawks’ offensive line went from brick wall to turnstile in 2006 after Steve Hutchinson was poison-pilled by the Vikings. I’m a firm believer in line continuity – you can put the same people together week after week and get above-league-average results out of schlubby players (look back at the Arizona Cardinals in the second half of the 2006 season, when they went from last to sixth in the NFL in Adjusted Line Yards with the same five players in the last seven games). When you have linemen as good as Hutchinson and Walter Jones on a continuity streak, you then have a left side that a Girl Scout could score touchdowns behind. Also, the salary cap keeps going up, and there’s only so much you can spend on tackles and cornerbacks.

That said, I’m also a believer in SMART spending for guards, which is why I found the off-season run on Leonard Davis, who signed a $49 million contract with the Cowboys to play right guard in front of a right-handed quarterback after completely washing out as a left tackle in Arizona, to be beyond the pale. The Seahawks learned from the loss of Hutchinson, and tried desperately to sign San Diego’s Kris Dielman in the offseason. If Faneca is available in the 2008 offseason, I wouldn’t be at all averse to the idea of Seattle signing him to a big-money deal. Neither, I suspect, would the Seahawks.

Ryan Wilson: Every year, Arizona is the sleeper pick for a great many media types, and every year Arizona wins six games. This year seems different, though. And the 49ers have a defense that can keep them in most games. Do you think there's any chance either of these teams wins the NFC West? What about makes the postseason?

Doug Farrar: In Pro Football Prospectus 2007, I had my own thoughts right in line with the FO projections which had the Seahawks and 49ers fighting it out all season for the division crown. But that offense – yeesh. Alex Smith was playing so badly, it barely matters that he’s being replaced due to injury by veteran Trent Dilfer, who didn’t take a snap in 2006. The offensive line, for whatever reason, has been a complete disaster, and Frank Gore can’t break loose for anything. Until I see more from that offense, I can’t say with any confidence that they’ll sneak into a wild-card spot.

As for the Cardinals … well, I never took them seriously when Dennis Green coached them. People who got on that bandwagon were simply confusing fantasy and real football. Happens all the time. Arizona strikes me as a team that’s a year away from being a real contender because they’re still filling in the blanks, but their ability to beat the two teams we’re talking about – the Seahawks and Steelers – speaks well for the new coaching staff. Top Stories