After two road challenges, the Seahawks finally return for their home opener. Upon first examination, the 2004 schedule had some ominous things in it, most especially the way the road games are parceled up into four 2 game jaunts. Perhaps none were as fierce looking as the initial one we just finished. Two trips of 2 and 3 time zones in consecutive weeks would have a business executive wondering if he could cope. To travel nearly 10,000 miles to play in two football games was a daunting task.
Travel in the NFL involves more than just the physical abuse of spending hours in an airplane. The travel time is time that could be spent practicing, or studying game film, which is what the home team gets to do. Add in the advantages of the emotional support of the home fans and it is no wonder that it is considered so difficult to win on the road.
But win we did. Both games.
Of the remaining three 2-game road trips, the next 2 are not as strenuous, since each involves at least one relatively short trip to division opponents. The final one, which involves trips to Minnesota and New York, resembles the one we just finished. At least we will know we have done it successfully in the past.
But, it is important to maintain focus on this week’s game. The rest of the schedule will get here soon enough.
This week, we get the advantages of home cooking and the extra day of practice.
It’s a good thing, too. After that somewhat disappointing offensive show in Tampa, the offense needed the extra day of practice they’ll get. The defense, at least, appears ready.
Looking back, it was probably good that we lost that pre-season game at home in August. After all, a long time Seahawks fan is generally very suspicious of streaks, and especially of streaks of success. We should feel better about our potential to win all of our home games this season. After all, we broke the streak in pre-season, when it didn’t matter. The streak stands at nine games and counting, and it looks like it will continue this week against a San Francisco team with injury and talent questions.
The only questions for this game are simple ones.
Can they maintain concentration after posting two wins that would have seemed impossible only last season?
This lies at the crux of it all. The strain of the consecutive road trips is bound to have certain affects that might linger for more than a day or two. Hopefully, this is offset by the advantages of playing at home. Certainly, the home crowd should be rocking today. The early sellout is a good sign that they are excited to watch their guys get on the field and play.
Can the offense fix the problems that plagued them in Tampa?
Yes, they can. It must be remembered that Tampa was the second game of a very tough road series. Physical exhaustion can lead to the type of mental mistakes that were made. It is dangerous to suggest reasons that will sound like excuses, but it does not negate the truth of it. At home, rested, we can expect better results.
San Francisco, while it has talent on defense, will not be able to pull off the blitzes that a much better Tampa Bay defense was able to. Matt Hasselbeck will be given that extra half second or so that was missing in Tampa. The results should be favorable for our passing game.
If we can pass, we will be able to run. Shaun Alexander was obviously not the same back in Tampa that he was in New Orleans. Having practiced all week, the old Shaun should be back for the home crowd.
Can the defense maintain their incredible intensity?
This week, yes.
When you look at last season, the defense was instrumental in carrying the team through the first few games. Look for them to pound the San Francisco line, hound the virtual rookie quarterback they will be playing, and confound their young, inexperienced receiver corps.
Last season, the defense dropped off after the first few games, as the wear and tear of the season started to drag them down. Our rookie phenoms of last season, Hamlin and Trufant, played magnificently early on, but were worn down by nagging injuries and just plain fatigue, known colloquially as the “rookie wall.” It is a telling fact that none of the rookies of the class of 2004 have been really needed yet. Meanwhile, in spot duty, they have already contributed. Everyone expected that Trufant would get some picks this year. Having the rookie Boulware get two in two games has been a pleasant surprise.
Certainly, the defense has good to great talent in the front 11. It appears that we now may have sufficient depth to survive the entire season with good results. A late season collapse seems less likely than last year. Another positive indicator: the team has hardly noticed the absence of Chad Brown.
That should lead to two things.
One, the defense will presumably get better when Chad returns, but he doesn’t have to be rushed back into action. As they are going now, Brown should get adequate time to really heal fully.
Two, Chad will be motivated even more when he returns. Nothing like seeing that the rest of the team can do well without you to make a player anxious to get back into the mix and prove that the team really does need him. That should make a perennial high motor player that much more intense. That bodes well for our defense, and is bad news for the offenses we face in the future. Normally, Chad doesn’t need additional motivation. When he gets it, it should be awesome to see.
The NFL always has the “any given Sunday” adage, meaning that any team can beat any other team, given some lucky breaks and good hard work. However, the final series in Tampa tells us that the Seahawks can overcome a significant amount of bad luck and questionable referee calls this season much better than they could last year. That should put the San Francisco Forty-Niners' chances today somewhere in the slim and none category.
I’m thinking not this Sunday.
Seahawks 35, Niners 13
Steve Utz writes a column for Seahawks.NET every Sunday. Send your feedback to Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org.