Fooch's Note: Thanks to Jacson from Field Gulls for putting together this rundown of the 2011 Seattle Seahawks.
I hope you'll pardon an intrusion from the Pacific Northwest -- I'm Jacson and I write for Field Gulls, the Seattle Seahawks' SBN site. The 'Hawks and Niners are not very natural rivals, as some time ago the then-fringey Seattle franchise was grafted into San Francisco's division during the NFL re-alignment and probably seemed like more of a nuisance than a threat to you guys at the time.
Funny things began to happen, however, as Seattle started to run off a string of divisional titles which, in the NFC West, is like winning a bunch of beauty contests in Oakland (see, we all hate the Raiders). Nevertheless, the 'Hawks and Niners went from two kids who only kinda disliked each other because our dad didn't like your dad to two kids who met at the flagpole for a fistfight every recess. A legitimate rivalry emerged and I won't lie that I took extra pleasure in Seattle's waxing of San Fran in last year's season opener and was equally dismayed when the Alex Smith Revival Show dismantled Seattle at your place.
For the 90th straight year, the NFC West is as wide open as Tony Siragusa's mom during childbirth (mental image!) and this Sunday's match-up has a very good chance of significantly affecting the order of things at season's end. With that in mind, I'll point out some things you can look for out of the Seahawks when the two teams throw down this weekend.
Like many teams in the NFL, much of the conversation among Seahawks fans centers around our quarterback situation. Perhaps the most under-appreciated element of fanhood is having a legitimately quality QB under center for your team. You guys know this as well as anyone, as a quick trip through Niners Nation indicates that Alex "Not Aaron Rodgers" Smith is a consistent topic du jour here. Things are even less certain for us up north, if you can believe that, as Tarvaris Jackson graduated from re-warming Brett Favre's tea in Minnesota to running a real live NFL team.
There's an old saying that the back-up QB is the most popular guy in town. Nowhere is that truer than in the Emerald City, as sports-talk radio shows are filled with fans calling for Charlie Whitehurst to start six months after the same fans were ready to run the Clipboard Messiah out of town. To be honest, Jackson has been less than impressive this pre-season, but it's tough for anyone to be impressive when every three-step dropback turns into THIS.
Much has been made about Seattle spending so much money this off-season on guys like Sidney Rice, Zach Miller, Robert Gallery, and Brandon Mebane without spending big bucks on a quarterback. This has led many to wonder where Seattle's priorities are as no one (myself included) seems to see either Jackson or Whitehurst as a franchise-type guy. Here's why I'm not worried: I don't think Pete Carroll brought Jackson in as the QBotF; rather, he brought in a mobile guy who can survive behind a brand-new offensive line for one year while the front office does everything they can to solidify the rest of the roster in preparation for the heralded QB class entering the draft next year.
This means that you guys can expect to see your boys put a lot of pressure on Jackson on Sunday, as Seattle's offensive line is a work-in-progress in the truest sense of the term. No single projected starter on the Seahawks' O-Line has ever played a game with another member of the line. Think about just how crazy that is. Between Russell Okung, Gallery, Max Unger, John Moffitt, and James Carpenter there is plenty of talent, but their experience is indirectly proportionate to said talent level and the 49ers have the blessing of being the first team to attack the virginal unit.
Our running backs are a source of excitement for 'Hawks fans, but, like a quarterback, they are ultimately dependent on the O-Line to give them room to do their thing. The Seahawks boast a trio of considerably talented tailbacks in the crazy-as-a-schizophrenic-rattlesnake ` Marshawn "Beas Mo!" Lynch, ESPY nominee Leon Washington, and Justin Forsett (I don't have an awesome highlight for Forsett, so here's a video he made for his wife). I think all three are capable of handling a moderately heavy workload, but I anticipate a time share of about 60-30-10 on Sunday, with Lynch getting the bulk of the time and Washington handling most of Marshawn's reprieve.
Seattle's receiving corps is brimming with size and potential as the 6'5" Rice is a legitimate deep threat and the equally tall Mike Williams causing match-up problems within 15 yards. The inconsistently dynamic Golden Tate is a talented, if undersized, threat as the #3 receiver and Miller offers All-Pro talent at tight end. The problem, again, lies with the O-Line's (in)ability to give Jackson enough time to go through his reads.
Defensively, Seattle is hoping to improve upon it's mediocre 2010 performance, but has the benefit of more continuity than their offensive counterparts. The front seven, while not nearly as formidable as San Francisco's, is capable of making life tough for Smith and Co, as the D-Line brings back edge-rushers Raheem Brock and Chris Clemons and interior hogs Mebane and Red Bryant. When both Bryant and Mebane were healthy last year, Seattle's run defense was top-notch, so it'll be interesting to see how they handle Frank Gore and, to a lesser degree, Kendall Hunter.
The 'Hawks run a hybrid 4-3 Under defense that rotates a lot of D-Linemen in and out while occasionally replacing a DE with an outside linebacker. The result thus far has been a haphazard amalgamation of overzealousness, as the scheme calls for strict assignment integrity, something that the Seahawks often lack. The linebacking crew lost erstwhile captain Lofa Tatupu to a contract re-structuring, but can still claim ball-hawks Leroy Hill and David Hawthorne as well as our 2009 fourth-overall pick Aaron Curry. Curry's contract also underwent a dramatic restructuring that ultimately makes 2011 a make-or-break year for him with the team, so it'll be interesting to see what he brings to the field with his next deal on the line. Look for a lot of ball-chasing that will result in plenty of gang-tackles, while leaving the defense susceptible to misdirection or extended plays by Smith. Also, don't be surprised if you see rookie KJ Wright peeling himself off your ball-carriers a few times.
The secondary is shockingly young, with former Pro-Bowler Marcus Trufant offering the only serious veteran presence. He'll be charged with covering your #1 WR, while either second-year project Walter Thurmond III or 6'4" CFL graduate (and tallest CB in the league) Brandon Browner covers the other split end. The starting safeties are headlined by future Pro Bowler Earl Thomas and mack truck Kam Chancellor. Both are instinctive guys with a nose for the ball, but where Thomas' otherworldly quickness allows him to gamble, Chancellor is very vulnerable to getting beat deep. One thing you may notice is that Seattle runs a lot of 5, 6, and even 7 DB sets on passing downs, where a whirlwind zone coverage is accentuated by blitzes from the secondary. The onus will be on Smith to make quick decisions in those situations and the 'Hawks are banking on him getting flustered and making a mistake.
The special teams are whatever, because all kicker/punter combos are significant only as far as their home team's fans care to consider. Our punting duties will be handled by the comical Canadian Jon Ryan, while the place-kicking will be done by journeyman Steven Hauschka who was brought in last week after my favorite douchebag and former 49er Jeff Reed was dismissed for being unable to produce touchbacks in the stupid new world of NFL kickoffs.
I hope that was helpful. I still don't like you guys any more than I did when I started writing this, mostly because you smell funny, but I am really looking forward to kickoff all the same. I'll stick around in the comments section to try and answer any questions you have.
For what it's worth, I'm heading down to the Bay Area (Walnut Creek) for my annual fantasy football draft and am trying to scalp some tickets to the game on Sunday. I look forward to having cheap beer dumped on my head by one or many of you. Cheers!