Behind Enemy Lines: Seahawks-Packers, Pt. 2

What's gone wrong in Seattle, which just lost to Tampa Bay? Was Jim Mora Jr. the right choice to replace Mike Holmgren? Does 34-year-old Matt Hasselbeck have what it takes to be a winning quarterback? That and more as we get inside the Seahawks.

We continue our three-part Behind Enemy Lines series with Brian McIntyre of NorthwestFootball.net. If you missed Part 1, click here.

Bill: I'd say that losing to Tampa Bay is a sign that the Seahawks are among the dregs of the league, but the Packers have been there and done that. Can you give us a Cliff's Notes version of what's gone wrong?

Brian: A poorly constructed roster, with an overmatched coaching staff, is as poor a recipe for a successful NFL team as one could have.

Former general manager Tim Ruskell spent the bulk of the team's most valuable resources (high draft picks, well over $100 million in free agent contracts) on cornerbacks, defensive ends and linebackers. The result of which has been a defense line that has zero ability to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks without bringing additional pass rushers, and a secondary that can't play man coverage well enough to allow the defense to send additional pass-rushers after the quarterback.

The best example for how inefficiently Ruskell constructed this roster can be found in the linebacking corps. Seattle has three excellent linebackers — Lofa Tatupu, Leroy Hill, and Aaron Curry — but in a division in which you play Arizona twice a year, and they can remove Hill and Curry by simply putting any slappy off the street in a jersey with a number in the 80s onto the field, why would you invest as heavily in the position as you did? Tatupu, Hill and Curry are pulling in $8.35 million in salary this year and were on the field together for eight plays this season. Not eight games, not eight quarters, not eight series — eight plays, or $1.04 million per play. (Hill tore a groin muscle early in the season-opener, and by the time he came back, Tatupu was on IR with a torn pectoral muscle.)

With the bulk of the resources spent building the NFL's 24th-ranked defense, very little attention was paid to the offense.

Ruskell not only botched the Steve Hutchinson situation, he went four drafts without taking an offensive tackle. So, when Walter Jones — who was 32 years old when they appeared in Super Bowl XL — finally broke down, there was no one on the roster remotely capable enough to replace him. Seattle's post-Jones plan was to slide Sean Locklear over to the left side, and as you'll see on Sunday, as a left tackle, Locklear looks like the right guard he's ideally suited to be.

Ruskell dutifully ignored the skill positions, as well. Aside from John Carlson —w ho is needed more as a blocker because of the state of the offensive line — Seattle's receivers average-to-below average, incapable of getting much separation from even the most pedestrian of cornerbacks. On the bright side, they are wildly overpaid.

The Seahawks have drafted more fullbacks the last four years (two) than running backs (one), and the one they drafted (Justin Forsett), they were willing to cut before last season. Forsett has emerged as a solid third-down back, but he does not possess the size or breakaway speed to be an every-down back in the NFL.

Bill: I always say that talent wins games. Ask Bill Belichick, who seemed like a bum in Cleveland all those years ago. But looking at Jim Mora Jr.'s coaching record, he was 11-5 in 2004 with Atlanta as a rookie head coach but hasn't posted a winning record since. Was he the right choice to replace Mike Holmgren, and considering that the Seahawks are looking for a general manager, is he one-and-done?


Jim Mora Jr.
Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images
Brian: Like most things Ruskell did, naming Mora the successor was a reactionary decision. Daniel Snyder had his plane all gassed up and was ready to take Ruskell's binkie away to D.C., so Ruskell made the commitment to Mora, which put the ‘Hawks down a certain, Holmgren-free path 12 months before they even knew what other potential head coaching candidates would be available.

Mora was an easy sell to the fan base, because he's from Seattle, which despite being a city of transplants, is a fiercely provincial town. A common call to Seattle sports radio stations about Mora begins with "He's a local guy, and I would've liked to have seen him coach at the University of Washington, but I guess he'll be OK for the Seahawks," which would be a completely asinine statement if it weren't 100 percent true that his shtick isn't better-served at the college level.

Mora also says enough football-y things in the right football-y way that convinced the non-football executives in the front office that he was the right person for the job. Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke, who has a direct line to owner Paul Allen, has expressed confidence that Mora will be back in 2010. That's going to complicate the team's search for a general manager, because whoever that person is, they're going to want to bring in their own coach as soon as possible, if not immediately.

Bill: Matt Hasselbeck got his start in the NFL as a sixth-round pick by the Packers in 1998. That seems like a lifetime ago. Does he have what it takes to be a winning quarterback?

Brian: Hasselbeck led the Seahawks to five straight playoff appearances, including four consecutive division titles, so absolutely, he's a winning quarterback.

He's 34 years old now, so there is the obvious question of how long he can continue to be a winning quarterback in the NFL. The back issues that plagued him in 2008 are a thing of the past, and he works extremely hard on his conditioning during the offseason. If the Seahawks can supply him with an offensive line and some playmakers at receiver and running back, there's no reason why can't continue to play at a fairly high level for another three to four years.

Bill: Let me ask you about a couple of your new players. The Seahawks took linebacker Aaron Curry at No. 4 overall. Some people considered him the "safest" pick in the draft. And the Seahawks signed former Packer Colin Cole in free agency. How's the big guy done?


Colin Cole
Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images
Brian: Since he's doubtful for Sunday, you may not get to see this for yourself, but Curry is by far the best athlete the Seahawks have on defense. Nobody on that side of the ball has consistently played with as much intensity and passion as Curry has throughout this season. He has struggled in pass coverage, though, and he occasionally overpursues on running plays. These are totally correctable, rookie mistakes, which increased in frequency once Tatupu was placed on IR.

If the Seahawks used Curry as a pass rusher off the edge — instead of usually removing him from the field on passing downs — he may not have Clay Matthews- or Brian Orakpo-type numbers, but he'd have a lot more than the two acks he's got right now. That the coaching staff has been so reluctant to let him do that, though, has me wondering if the Seahawks drafted a Humvee-sized Lamborghini, but hired Mr. Magoo to drive it.

As for Cole, he's played the way I think the team expected him to when they signed him. He's never going to be a havoc-wreaking force at defensive tackle, but he takes on double teams well enough to let guys around him make plays. I was kind of surprised at how nimble he is for a man of his size. Against the Minnesota Vikings, he diagnosed a screen pass to Adrian Peterson at the start of the second half and brought Purple Jesus down behind the line of scrimmage.

Bill: I'm the owner of the Seahawks and I've just hired you to be the general manager. How long until you get this thing turned around and what are your first-months-on-the-job priorities?

Brian: Be sure to thank Mr. Allen for giving me this opportunity, Random Assemblage of Vulcan executives. I'll assume I've got the authority to make changes to the coaching staff (otherwise I wouldn't have accepted the job) and in two to three years, this team will be back competing for an NFC title.

I do believe that a head coach deserves a second year, so while I'd bring a moderately sized broom with me to work that first day, I would be inclined to give Mora a second season, provided he replace both of his coordinators. If not, I'm bringing in a new head coach. Roster-wise, the top priorities in those first few months would be to use the draft to start rebuilding the offensive and defensive lines, as well as to add playmakers at receiver, running back, and the back-end of the secondary.

Oh, and I'd ban the lime-green gloves and cleats so fast, people would think they were made from crushed up StarCaps.


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