Behind Enemy Lines: Seahawks/49ers, Part 2

In Part Two of an exclusive three-part series, SFIllustrated.com's Craig Massei and NorthwestFootball.net's Doug Farrar continue their back-and-forth interaction with five questions from Craig to Doug. What were the real reasons behind Tim Ruskell's departure, what does Seattle's long-term quarterback situation look like, and how does Jim Mora fit in to what will be a big transition?

Craig Massei: Everything is cyclical in today's contemporary era of the great NFL, and it is difficult for even the most solid of franchises to avoid the inevitable downturns of the cycle. Is that what is happening with the Seahawks? Have they taken a turn toward mediocrity, or are they still a potential contender that is just experiencing a rough stretch over the past year or so?

Doug Farrar: At this point, the differences between the two kinds of teams you're talking about leave me wondering if the Seahawks aren't in for a bit of a rough stretch. We'll go over Tim Ruskell's tenure as team president and general manager in the next question, but there are present or future holes at several marquee positions right now. In 2010 or soon after, the Seahawks will have to deal with positional deficits at quarterback, running back, possibly receiver, at least three of the five offensive tackle positions, defensive end, defensive tackle, cornerback, and safety.

Where do you start? The Seahawks need to start at quarterback and left tackle, and while it's possible to get your franchise player at both positions as the Atlanta Falcons did in 2008, the odds are against it -- especially in a 2010 draft class where there really isn't a guy at either position that makes your eyes pop out. This is a franchise that may have to rebuild over a three- or four-year cycle because the prior administration ignored the warning signs as so many positions, or simply filled those holes with subpar players.

CM: What's the deal behind Tim Ruskell's resignation as the team's general manager? Isn't Ruskell the ultimate reason that Mike Holmgren no longer is with the franchise? Now that he is gone, can you assess Ruskell's impact on the franchise? Are the Seahawks better or worse because of him?

DF: 2009 was the last year of Ruskell's five-year contract, and while he was directly responsible for adding components to the 2005 team that went to the Super Bowl, he struggled with the more franchise-wide decisions. Since the start of the 2008 season, this team is 8-19, or 4-19 if you take away the four wins against the Rams. By any measure, the last two years of Ruskell's time here were problematic at best.

When Mike Holmgren announced that he would be stepping down after one more year before the 2008 season, Ruskell announced Jim Mora as his successor in a public press conference, basically dooming Holmgren to lame-duck status. It was a shoddy way to treat a future Hall-of-Fame coach who had done as much for the franchise as anyone. But as the 2009 season came to a close, Ruskell wanted different treatment -- he press his suit for a new contract with management precisely to avoid the same sort of lame-duckism. When he was informed that his contract would not be renewed, he decided to quit now and avoid the long, slow death of his time here.

Are they better or worse because of him? Well, he took a team that was close to fully-formed and put it over the top when he came here, but some people are better off perfecting the works of others. From a personnel perspective, Ruskell proved to be remarkable ill-suited when it came to embracing the big picture. As a result, I think the team is slightly worse because of his time here.

CM: When quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was taken out by Patrick Willis during Week 2, it looked like his absence hurt the team and prevented the Seahawks from getting off to a good start this season. Now that Hasselbeck is back, how is he playing, and do the Seahawks have to start thinking about a new quarterback for the future? Seneca Wallace just doesn't look like the answer. Or is he?

DF: To paraphrase Dennis Green, Seneca Wallace is what we thought he was -- an excellent backup quarterback. He's a good runner with an excellent deep arm and improving touch on the underneath stuff. Where he seems to struggle is in reading his progressions -- my observation has had his best success with the Seahawks when they put him at two reads, tops -- and he might be better in a more option-friendly offense than Seattle's. If you liked what you saw from Dennis Dixon when he replaced Ben Roethlisberger against the Ravens last week, Wallace is a similar quarterback. I think he's kind of on the starter/backup periphery with the right offense.  

CM: We haven't heard much about Julian Peterson in Detroit these days – in fact, we've heard practically nothing. Do the Seahawks miss Jules? Peterson was a great player and locker room presence with the 49ers and, from what we've heard, offered the same kind of thing in Seattle. Has his absence left a void? What have the Seahawks done to replace him? How is the first-round draft pick playing?

DF: The Seahawks valued Peterson as a player, but it took a while for them to figure out how to use his versatility. They started out by using him as a rush end, then had him more in coverage, then in more of a general role, and I don't know if they ever really got the fit right. As time went on, Peterson developed a reputation for disappearing on a multi-play basis, then showing up with a highlight tackle. The trade to Detroit for Cory Redding was basically a swap of two overfunded contracts.

Seattle drafted Aaron Curry to replace Peterson, but they seem to have the same problem with Curry's versatility. They have taken him out of obvious passing situations -- which is where he may be most dynamic as a pass-rusher -- because they "put too much on his plate" to start. So, while fellow rookie linebackers Clay Matthews and Brian Cushing are learning on the job as every-down 'backers with the Packers and Texans, the Seahawks seem to have a real issue putting a real use to Curry's talent in a way that makes it intuitive. When the Seahawks have such a problem getting their most talented rookie -- maybe their most talented player -- on the field, you begin to understand why Ruskell was fired and why this organization is kind of a mess from a football perspective. Curry will be a force in the NFL over time, but he may be fighting an uphill battle with his coaching staff to get that done. .

CM: With the Seahawks headed for their second consecutive losing season, what's the verdict on Jim Mora in his first season as Seattle's head coach? Are the players and fans buying into Mora and his message up north? Is he the right guy to lead the franchise forward?

DF: In his recent interview with a local radio station, Holmgren said that it's generally unfair to judge a coach in his first year with a new organization, and while I would generally agree with that, I don't give Mora the same mulligan I would with other coaches. First of all, Mora was given as smooth an entry as was possible -- his job was reserved for him a year before it became his, and he got to spout all the hopeful stuff regarding what a bounceback season 2009 would be.

Faced with Ruskell's personnel mistakes and his own coaching liabilities, Mora was put in a bad situation that he's made worse. He's called out players who don't deserve it, and I don't think he's always been the kind of leader you'd want in a coach -- he talks a good game, but there's a hotheaded, petulant streak to Mora that makes me think he'd be better off in a college program. I was not pleased with the Mora announcement when it was made, and I'm not pleased with the results. Most likely, I'll have to put up with it for another season, as the Seahawks have thrown their support behind Mora and will likely insist that Mora be retained no matter who the new GM is.


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