Behind Enemy Lines: Seahawks-Raiders, Pt. 2

In Part Two of our final preseason preview feature, NWFootball.net's Doug Farrar answers five questions from Michael Wagaman of Silver & Black Illustrated. How much difference has T.J. Houshmandzadeh already made, can Edgerrin James do the same, and what's the story with Seattle's new coaching staff?

MW: Edgerrin James will make his Seattle debut against the Raiders this week. What was behind the team's decision to bring him in and how much does he have left in the tank?

DF: Team president Tim Ruskell thought that T.J. Duckett would be able to replicate his short-yardage excellence in Seattle's backfield, but after scoring eight touchdowns and grabbing 26 first downs on only 62 carries in 2008, Duckett looked slower and more tentative to the line in the 2009 preseason. He doesn't really have the outside speed to do much more than short-yardage, and I think Ruskell realized that he couldn't recreate Atlanta's DVD backfield, no matter how much he might like to. James brings the ability to spell Julius Jones as the feature back – he still has reasonable wheels, and he can pass-block and catch the ball. Plus, his familiarity with Seattle's zone-blocking from his days running that stretch play in Indianapolis helps a lot. I think he'll be a nice cog in the machine. His superstar days are over, but you need depth guys who can play in your scheme and that's exactly what James is.

MW: The Seahawks' biggest offseason move was the signing of WR TJ Houshmandzadeh. Will he be Seattle's No. 1 receiver and how much has his presence helped QB Matt Hasselbeck?

DF: Houshmandzadeh will be the team's top receiver this year, and he's already exceeded expectations. When the Seahawks signed him to a five-year, $40 million contract in March, there were questions about paying $15 million guaranteed to a slot receiver who will turn 32 in late September. But what he's shown is that he can play anywhere – slot, out wide, red zone, end zone. He runs great routes, has wonderful hands, and he's already built a great rapport with Matt Hasselbeck that Hasselbeck has really only had with one other receiver – Bobby Engram. Hasselbeck has recently said that he greatly appreciates Houshmandzadeh's toughness in key situations, and I think this will turn out to be one of Ruskell's more astute deals. And it's not just what he does on the field – he's already become a leader and mentor to young receivers like third-round rookie Deon Butler.

MW: Greg Knapp had his play-calling duties taken away last year while he was coaching with the Raiders. Now that he's in Seattle, has he been able to put his fingerprints on the offense, and if so, what changes has he made? Does he have autonomy over the offense?

DF: Knapp previously worked with Seahawks head coach Jim Mora in San Francisco and Atlanta, and Mora is a defensive coach by nature. Therefore, it's fair to say that Knapp has control of the offense. The scheme will be a bit more run-heavy that Mike Holmgren's (though the pass-wacky aspect of Holmgren's playcalling was always overstated). The Seahawks' offensive line will go from one that employed some zone concepts to one that deals almost exclusively in them, as Oakland's has over the last couple of years. The ideal Knapp offense would probably be described as a run-based West Coast Offense, not unlike what the Denver Broncos ran in the late 1990s. The Seahawks don't have the talent on their line or among their running backs to quite pull that off, but that's the idea. Knapp has always had at least reasonable success wherever he's been, and I'd attribute his demotion in Oakland to yet another example of Al being Al.

MW: How different is Seattle's defense with a new coordinator? And what happened to John Marshall over his final two years with the Seahawks? Why did it go bad for him?

DF: Gus Bradley, imported from Tampa Bay, will want to run a lot of the same Cover-2 stuff the Seahawks have done in previous years, though there may be more of an emphasis on the Tampa-2, which puts linebackers in coverage and has cornerbacks manning up on receivers a bit more often. Marshall's primary problem seemed to be an inability to adjust for his personnel. Brian Russell is one of the worst deep safeties in the NFL, and while it wasn't Marshall's fault that Russell was on the team (as he still is), putting Russell up top in a bunch of Cover-1 looks wasn't the way to go. I really have no clue how well he'll so in Oakland because I can't say how any coach will run that gauntlet.

MW: It seemed like every year for the past few seasons people have talked about Seattle as a legitimate playoff team but the Seahawks failed to live up to expectations. That being said, the division seems open for the taking. Is this the year the ‘Hawks finally get it done?

DF: I don't think they're there yet, if you define getting it done as doing anything more than winning a weak division. I'm not convinced that the Cardinals are just going to lay down and die like everyone anticipates, and the 49ers could be a decent spoiler this year. Fortunately for everyone in the NFC West, the Rams will most likely still be horrible. But the Seahawks have too many question marks right now to make a deep playoff run. The offensive line, the running game, and the secondary all need reinforcement. I can see a division win under the right circumstances, but I think this particular Seahawks team is an 8-8 squad with the potential to grab 10 games with some luck.


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