MMQB: Seahawks 10 - Bucs 20

If there was ever a time for Seattle to win on the East coast, it was Sunday Evening against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Late at night in front of a team and scheme that Holmgren and Seattle have had prior success. Yet, Seattle promptly fell on its face as part of a 20-10 loss to a Tampa squad that got revenge for prior defeats in 2004 and 2007.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20, Seattle Seahawks 10.
October 19th, 2008
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida

Play of the Day: Tampa, predictably, is driving toward their second 1st-half touchdown. QB Jeff Garcia hits WR Ike Hilliard for a short gain near the goal line, where Hilliard is greeted by LeRoy Hill on one side and Lofa Tatupu on the other. The force of that hit jarred the ball loose. CB Josh Wilson picked the ball up and sprinted upfield, with almost the entire Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense behind him. The officials blew the whistle and ruled Hilliard down by contact. After a challenge by Holmgren, the refs overturned the ruling and gave Seattle the ball, but instead of scoring a momentum-changing defensive touchdown, Seattle got the ball on their own four yard line. Predictably, Seattle did nothing with it, and Tampa got the ball right back, with good field position, and promptly scored a touchdown.

Handouts to the Standouts: CB/KR Josh Wilson looks downright special returning kickoffs, and actually had a quiet day in coverage, which counts as an improvement… RB Maurice Morris had an incredible run where he evaded five would-be tacklers on his way to a 45 yard run… FB Leonard Weaver absolutely demolished Tampa with his blocking… Linebackers DD Lewis and LeRoy Hill both had strong games, with Lewis coming into the game after an injury to Lofa Tatupu… As a unit, led by the terrific play (on run-downs at least) of DTs Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant, Seattle held a dominant Tampa Bay rushing attack to 2.6 YPC… CB/S Jordan Babineaux somehow notched 10 of the quietest tackles ever, but earns his spot on this list with his good play as a special teams gunner… Seattle forced four fumbles…

Things that made me go "Blech!": Unfortunately, of the aforementioned four fumbles, Seattle recovered only one… The pass defense was downright terrible, especially on third downs… CB Kelly Jennings continues his abysmal play in the secondary, getting burnt by WR Antonio Bryant for a 45 yard touchdown bomb… CB Marcus Trufant was repeatedly targeted in coverage as well and lost most of those battles… The secondary was terrible, but, as hard as it is to believe, the pass rush was worse, though they did improve as the game went on… QB Seneca Wallace looked absolutely terrible against a great Tampa Bay defense… Head Coach Mike Holmgren abandoned the run early in the game, only running the ball 14 times despite Maurice Morris and Julius Jones each averaging over 6 YPC… Watching former Seahawks TE and worthless-human-being Jerramy Stevens catch 4 passes for 55 yards was probably the low point of the game…

Referee Report Card: Well, if you take away the touchdown that was stolen by us thanks to an overenthusiastic whistle-blower, and forgive the questionable holding call on Wahle the play after (so much for a makeup call, though it did appear like a hold to me), and don't mind the several more serious holds committed by Tampa Bay G Davin Joseph, then the game was well officiated. If those things bother you, then this game was terrible. However, I can't really be honest, or the NFL might fine me (since the league seems to be fining everyone - from Bears LB Brian Urlacher to Dolphins LB Joey Porter - for criticizing the officiating).

Offense:

Seattle learned one important lesson the hard way this season: Untalented wideouts do not suddenly become good players when a Seahawks helmet is strapped to their head, or because they're in Mike Holmgren's offense, or because they get to catch passes from Matt Hasselbeck. If you want a good wide receiver, you have to be willing to actually get someone with physical skills. You have to be willing to go after top talents. Seattle tried to get by with a constantly injured Deion Branch, an aging Bobby Engram, a dynamic but inconsistent Nate Burleson, and a bunch of unproven late round picks. That move has backfired. Even if they miraculously manage to get separation on the short routes, these wideouts present limited value on deep passes and no YAC ability. That was evident against the Bucaneers, where the protection was generally solid but nobody was able to get open, and nobody made big plays. Seattle's passing attack is not only incompetent, but there is never the threat of a big play.

Seattle needs to open up the offense. Holmgren tries to coach every game with the same general idea. He isn't going to do anything very risky, he is going to try to call what the defense isn't expecting, try to put his guys in positions to make plays, and play to avoid becoming a laughingstock. A lot of this offense depends on beating the guy across from you. Normally, this works. Seattle has, under Holmgren, been pretty competent at putting up points on the board. However, it should be clear to everybody that this isn't working. Seattle has no dignity right now, and needs to open up the playbook. Call WR screen passes, use a Wildcat formation or the Shotgun more. Send guys deep. In all likelihood, this won't make much of a positive difference - we simply lack the talent to compete. But this will bring some excitement in, and who knows, it might just open things up for everyone else to do the things Holmgren expect them to do. I know one thing: What Seattle is doing, isn't working.

One thing that probably needs to be addressed is John Carlson. After two games of the passing game pretty much ignoring Carlson, he was targeted a few times this game, which is only an improvement compared to the non-existent role he played against New York and Green Bay. He dropped a crucial 3rd-down pass that was well thrown by Wallace, but otherwise played well. His blocking has improved as well. Given that this season is lost, there is no reason not to throw at Carlson often. He may be the best receiver on the field, and even if he doesn't play like a seasoned vet, that experience will help turn him into a seasoned vet.

There are two members of the starting offense, aside from possibly Carlson, who are really earning their keep: LT Walter Jones - about whom much has been said - and FB Leonard Weaver - about whom not nearly enough has been said. So let us talk Weaver. Everyone reading this should recognize that Weaver is one of the few healthy members of the team capable of breaking open-field tackles. He has shown that ability for years, though this season Seattle seems to be struggling to get him the ball in space. But what you should know is that as a blocker, Weaver has been downright dominant this year. I went back and watched Weaver on the few running plays Seattle ran this week, and Weaver was aggressive and won all but one battle, when the Tampa defensive end exploded into the backfield and Weaver merely held his ground against the heavier linesman, which is as much as you can ask of a fullback anyways. Walter deserves to go to Hawaii, but we expect that. The only other Seahawk who has a strong case is Weaver, and it is good to see at least two Seahawks who have improved upon their 2007 form.

Notice I said only two members of the starting offense are earning their keep. That is because RT Ray Willis, in a travesty of justice, has not been starting since Sean Locklear returned from injury. Whether it is because Willis fits the current scheme more than Locklear, because Locklear is recovering from injury, or just because Willis is the superior football player, Willis deserves to start for Seattle. Locklear has been ineffective this season, and was last season as well, while Willis has been imperfect but very good this season. He has his weaknesses, most of which are due to his limited experience, but he shows an aggressiveness and desire that is missing from this Seahawks offense.

Defense: After a few downright dreadful performances, this Seahawks defense did quite well given what they were up against. I'm usually the first person to point out that the defense has a responsibility to get themselves off the field, but the Seahawks offense has been so terrible the defense had no chance to rest in between series. This defense isn't perfect, and it definitely is not living up to the expectations Seattle had for them, but the defensive effort this game would've been enough for a win if Seattle had anywhere near their 2007 passing attack.

It is important to note that while the defense was good enough, it appeared to be in spite of defensive coordinator John Marshall rather than because of it. I doubt his scheme demanded that Brandon Mebane be three yards in the opponent's backfield every snap, which was much of the reason that Seattle had such success against the run. Marshall's blitzes were easily picked up by Tampa on most occasions, and despite fairly aggressive blitzing, I didn't note Seattle's pass rush making a positive difference on a pass until halfway through the third quarter. As I said in last week's MMQB, it does no good to blitz if the offense knows it is coming and knows how to stop it. Despite huge resources being spent on pass-rushers, Seattle is unable to effectively generate pressure from either a 4 man set or from a blitz, and that blame falls on John Marshall.

Even if the blame is not largely Marshall's, there is no reason to keep him around. The defense is terrible, we know that, so what is the harm of replacing him? It is unlikely that future head coach Jim Mora will retain Marshall as coordinator after this awful performance, and there is nothing for this team to lose by replacing him. Give the play-calling duties to Mora and see what kind of a job he does. If Mora doesn't succeed, the franchise can look for a new head coach or chalk it up to a poor season. If Mora does succeed, it gives the defense positive momentum for next season, gives free-agent-to-be LeRoy Hill a reason to stay in Seattle, and creates a spark of excitement for next year. The worst thing that can happen is that, upon further review, the team decides Mora isn't their guy - but it is better to make that decision now than next year.

Special Teams: Josh Wilson is special, folks. He doesn't appear to have the most vision, but if he gets any kind of a crease he has rare acceleration. He also does a very good job of remaining upright and breaking tackles, and it really looks like only a matter of time before he takes one to the house. In other news, K Olindo Mare finally missed his first field goal of the season, and the coverage units were pretty solid. Wilson gives this team some much needed excitement, but otherwise Special Teams is merely average.

Conclusion: Well, there isn't really a nice way to say this, but we're bad. Seattle would be very lucky to avoid a top-10 draft choice, and could very possibly not win another game until we face teams resting their starters for the postseason. I don't think we'll have that terrible a season, but you know a season is shot when your optimistic projection is 4-12.



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