Field Gulls, the SB Nation Seahawks blog, is one of the best written football blogs around. Shrug does a phenomenal job and he took the time to answer 5 Questions about the Seahawks. I answered some questions about the Cowboys over at Field Gulls that you can read here. Below are Shrug's answers.
BTB: Matt Hasselback and Shaun Alexendar are the players most fans associate with the Seahawks and their recent success. Both were injured mid-season and are now playing again. How have they looked since they've come back? Is there anything missing from their games?
Field Gulls: Matt looked a lot better over the last few games. The knee didn't appear to be hampering his mobility all that much. Although that may be because the offensive line had gotten a little better at protecting him and he didn't have to run for his life as he had to earlier this year. Matt really developed into a leader this season, even during and probably because of the struggles we were having. I actually became more of a fan of him this year than last year.
Shaun's season also seemed to wrap up on a high note. He had a couple breakout 100-yard games -- actually, one of them was a 200-yard game -- and started to show old flashes of his scoring dependability in the red zone. But I've noticed something a little off about his timing this year -- his juke moves weren't as sharp, he wasn't slashing through the line, and he seemed to be a little more hesitant after taking his first couple of steps. He seemed to be making his decisions a half-second more slowly this year.
Of course, this also might be due to the o-line, but nobody's really certain how much his foot injury has affected him this year. He may have been playing on the fracture for most of the season, for all we know he still may be. But l've seen enough lately to feel optimistic about his 2007 season. (Not that I'm throwing in the towel now, heh.)
BTB: The injuries in the Seahawks secondary have to be a major concern. How will the Seahawks try to cover this up? How has the rest of the defense been playing? Do they have other major flaws on defense besides the injuries?
FG: They're a gigantic concern. Rookie Kelly Jennings and converted safety Jordan Babineaux will be cornerbacks on Saturday. I believe this is Jennings' first start as a pro, and he gets to face off against T.O. Welcome to the NFL. Babineaux at least has some experience at the corner, and has made his mark as a big-play threat when he's had the chance. Cowboys fans may remember a certain game in 2005 when Babineaux intercepted Drew Bledsoe late in the fourth. Jordan and Kelly will be the most-watched parts of the defense Saturday night, and I honestly have no idea in the world what to expect from them. I'm not sure they know either, but they sound ready.
There are lots of little reasons for our defensive frustrations, but the most obvious concern has been giving up big plays. There were nine times opponents gained 50 yards or more on just one play this year, and four of them were running plays. Four of them led to scores. And you couldn't even isolate what the problem was -- sometimes there'd be a blown coverage assignment, sometimes there'd be just too much of a cushion on a receiver, sometimes someone would just lose concentration. It's maddening.
A lot of it's because of the injuries -- like the offensive line, it's been hard to develop a consistent presence as a unit this year. Lofa Tatupu and Julian Peterson have been standouts (as has Marcus Trufant, but he's out Saturday).
I think everyone in Seattle and Dallas is pretty much expecting an aerial show on Saturday.
(Emphasis on "expecting.") So given that, the best Seattle can do is try to force the Cowboys into as one-dimensional an attack as they can. We'll see.
BTB: The Seahawks lost Steve Hutchinson in the offseason and have had some injury problems on the line this year. What's the state of the Seahawks line right now? Who's playing and how well have they been doing?
FG: At the moment, for starters from left to right, it's Walter Jones, Floyd Womack, Chris Spencer, Chris Gray, and Sean Locklear. Gray and Womack are nursing minor injuries and are day-to-day, but I have a hard time believing they won't find some way to be on the field Saturday night. Tom Ashworth will also play some downs, possibly some as a blocking tight end.
The only lineman to play all 16 games was Walter Jones, whom we've come to expect this from. I'm not even sure an accidental amputation would keep Jones off the field. But virtually every other lineman of note had some sort of injury this season. I can't remember what the exact number was, but I think we tried something like 8 or 9 different sets up front over the year. Obviously that didn't help us get consistent.
Finally, during the last four games or so of the season, something seemed to jell with the offensive line -- Hasselbeck got all his time back, and our running backs were getting a few more open lanes than they were in October. So I'm feeling pretty good about the improvement the line has shown in getting on the same page, but for awhile there it was almost ridiculously thin.
Not to parrot what I've been telling all the other bloggers I've talked to about this, but the bottom line truth is that losing Hutchinson was a bigger blow than most of us were probably willing to admit in the summer, myself included. Hopefully in the next couple seasons the line will mature and grow around Spencer, who's prohibitively our center of the future. But after the initial results of life without Hutchinson, I doubt any currently knowledgeable Seahawk fan is going to underestimate the value of an All-Pro lineman again.
BTB: There's a whole boat-load of receivers in the Seattle offense, Branch, Jackson, Engram, Burleson and Hackett. Are they all healthy now? What are their roles in this offense? We've been hearing about Hackett lately, what's the story there?
FG: D.J. Hackett's great. I've become a fan of his over the last couple of months. He's got great presence in the slot and has made some pretty spectacular, acrobatic catches, including a few clutch, third-down grabs that have kept the ball going. Hopefully he's doing this out of the goodness of his heart, and not just because he's a restricted free agent. (Ahem.) But I feel strongly that the Seahawks should wrap up his deal as soon as practical after the season's over; at this point he's definitely my choice as Seattle's #3 receiver of the future. I'm glad he's getting some notice outside the Northwest.
I think everybody else will be playing on Saturday. Darrell Jackson has sat out the last couple of games with turf toe and is technically a game-time decision, but again, I think he'll be faith-healed by Saturday night. Jackson was, more or less, our go-to guy during Shaun's long absence; he more than took up the slack in scoring.
Deion Branch has been doing all right since coming to us from the Patriots, but I'd like to see how he fares next season after knowing where he's going to be for a whole season. Bobby Engram sat out 9 games this season from rather dramatic complications of Graves' disease and a thyroid condition (seriously, man, not only was our injury luck bad, it was weird to boot). Bobby's returned over the last two games and looks like his old self, which means he's good for grabbing small chunks of real estate over the top when we need them.
Burleson was generally viewed as a disappointment upon being snatched from the Vikings in the Poison Pill War, but has made everyone forget that letdown as kick returner on special teams, where he's been pretty explosive. I personally like him and his potential a lot, but other than kickoff or punt returns, I don't know how much you'll be seeing him on Saturday night. It's been that kind of year.
BTB: Both teams are coming in limping, playing bad football in December. What's the mood around the team this week? What have the players been saying? And what's the confidence level of the fans?
FG: This past week was all right, I think, since the Seahawks finished up with a convincing win against Tampa Bay. Of course the injuries to our cornerbacks, both in that game, kept everyone's euphoria in check. The real misery was the week before, when the Seahawks matched the San Diego Chargers step-for-step, but lost the game in the last 30 seconds. I mean, players cried. It was emblematic of the frustrations they'd been having the whole season -- getting healthy, staying consistent, finishing out the game, and just plain old bad luck. The Seahawks were definitely not a complacent team this year, but they did learn how difficult it is to repeat as conference champions.
As for the fans -- well, that's a funny thing. The storied "12th Man" is always going to have a huge presence in the stadium, as I'd expect any hometown crowd to be. For me personally, finishing the season was a relief. I hate new agey cliches like "it was a year of growth and learning, man," but that's pretty much what it was. There's a certain element of grit that's necessary to thrive in football, and almost no team can win without it. Certainly the Cowboys have had that over the years, and it doesn't come easy. The Seahawks did seem to grow up a little more this year. My gut tells me they needed to do that before they took another shot at the title.
And they still technically have a chance to do it this year, although I'm not gonna delude myself about the history of 9-7 teams in the playoffs. (No offense.) So I don't know if I speak for the whole Seahawk Nation, or Island, or County or whatever, but I'm happy with how the regular season ended and where they're headed. I don't expect a Super Bowl ring, but if they did get it, it'd be great. It'd be hilarious.