Fresh off their first appearance in the Super Bowl, the Seahawks were slapped back to reality in '06. They lost too many key players to injuries, won too few games and were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs. To rebound and put themselves back in the Super Bowl picture, the Seahawks must be healthier – and better. Last year, their best players didn't have their best seasons.
"We have to recapture that feeling where every time we take the field we believe we're going to win," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck says. "That involves everyone on this team finding a way to play better, starting with me."
That, indeed, will be the key to the Seahawks remaining a power player in the NFC.
Offense: Coach Mike Holmgren says it is easier to complete a 6-yard pass than to break a 6-yard run, so he generally favors throwing the ball about 60 percent of the time. But that philosophy regularly gets tweaked when you have Shaun Alexander in the backfield. Holmgren and coordinator Gil Haskell often wrestle with the pass-run mix.
Defense: The season-long problems for this undersized but aggressive unit were more a case of execution than the schemes devised by coordinator John Marshall and consultant Ray Rhodes. Too often, the players would be in position but fail to make the play. Left end Patrick Kerney and free safety Deon Grant were signed to address two of the biggest concerns – a pass rush that generated only seven sacks in the final seven regular-season games and a last line of defense that was repeatedly burned by deep pass plays and long runs.
RB Shaun Alexander: Alexander is the type of back who gets better with more carries as the game progresses. He might gain minimal yards the first two times a play is used, then break a long one the third time. He likes to glide along the line, find a crease and slide through it. This style was wildly productive before last season, when the line was not as overpowering. Too often in '06, the team got stuffed in short-yardage situations.
WR Deion Branch: The trade of Darrell Jackson to the 49ers leaves Hasselbeck without his go-to target. Branch will move into the flanker spot, which is featured a lot in this system. Branch was a clutch performer for the Patriots but failed to click with Hasselbeck after being acquired in a trade last year. The same could be said of No. 4 receiver Nate Burleson during his first year with the team. It's essential both develop a better rapport with their quarterback. Branch's quickness and athleticism make him a nice fit in the West Coast scheme and help compensate for his lack of size.
DE Patrick Kerney: The Seahawks led the league with 34 sacks after nine games, then failed to produce more than one in six of their final seven games. Again, it was a case of smaller linemen wearing down. That prompted the signing of Kerney, who plays with quickness and intensity, and the drafting of two players who likely will join the rotation – end Baraka Atkins and tackle Brandon Mebane. To accommodate the addition of Kerney, Bryce Fisher is moving from left end to right end.
CB Marcus Trufant: Jim Mora, the new secondary coach, has significant challenges. But, then, that's why the former Falcons head coach was hired. In particular, Mora must reduce the number of big plays and coax better play from former high draft picks such as Trufant, who has not developed into the shutdown corner the club envisioned when it made him the 11th-overall pick in '03.
VINNIE IYER'S TAKE
Seattle's hold on the division got very loose after San Francisco swept the Seahawks last season. But assuming the Seahawks are healthy, they have the talent and coaching to grab a wild card.
Prediction: 10-6 (second in the NFC West).
The days of dominating the NFC West appear to be over for this team, but the road to the division title still runs through Seattle – and raucous Qwest Field. Last season's 9-7 record was a disappointment, but it also provided a needed wakeup call.
No one is going to give the Seahawks anything. But they still have plenty of offensive firepower and have made enough changes on defense to win 10 games. Not only is that playoff-worthy in the NFC, it might even merit a home game in the first round.
Clare Farnsworth covers the Seahawks for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Sporting News.