While injuries pose one kind of frustration, there’s a certain uncontrollable finality to them – coaches can’t do anything about the fact that the bodies of young athletes, no matter how well-conditioned, break down under duress.
What coaches can control, and are supposed to be able to dictate, are the sharpness and mentalities of the men in their rosters. In the Seahawks’ 13-3 opening loss to the Dallas Cowboys last Saturday at Qwest Field, Dallas was the only entity in command. Seattle looked very little like the Super Bowl team they were last season – allowing six sacks, committing several goofy penalties (TWO false starts on wide receivers???), whiffing more tackles than one would expect from this front seven, and displaying far too many blown blocks and assignments for an offensive line that was the NFL’s best in 2005.
|Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren talks to his players before the end of morning practice during football training camp Friday, Aug. 18, 2006, in Cheney, Wash. (AP Photo/Jim Bryant)
In the aftermath, eager journalists have come forth with every conceivable reason for Seattle’s little collapse: They’re tired. They’re rusty. They’re complacent. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo is the next Tom Brady. In Holmgren’s mind, complacency and lack of intensity weren’t the issues. “It wasn’t the intensity; it was our smarts, really, in the first game,” Holmgren said.
“I thought we played pretty hard, but we made a lot of mental errors and we made a lot of mistakes that are very much in our control. It’s not the officials calling holding or something; it’s just offsides and things like that. That has to improve.”
Traveling to Indianapolis’ RCA Dome to face the estimable Colts this Sunday night won’t ease the burden upon a team from which near-perfection is now expected. “Now the challenge is that we’re in a very tough place to play - it’s loud, but it’s good for us,” the coach continued. “It gets us ready for those types of situations during the season, but that’s what I want to see improve. We’ll play hard. I don’t worry about this group playing hard, but let’s play smart too.”
Asked about the gameplan against the Colts, Holmgren kept the cards close, as is his wont. “(The script will be) not a lot different. I think Matt (Hasselbeck) will play maybe a little bit longer (than two series), but not appreciatively longer. We still have a lot of guys we have to get playing. It won’t be that much different then last week.”
Against Dallas, three of Seattle’s five current quarterbacks played – Hasselbeck the incumbent, Seneca Wallace, the multi-talented backup, and David Greene, the kid on the bubble. The quarterback we didn’t see (besides undrafted rookie Travis Lulay) was Gibran Hamdan, who has looked great in camp and set the all-time passer rating record in NFL Europe last spring while playing for the Amsterdam Admirals (allocated to the Seahawks). Holmgren said that fans should get ready to see what Hamdan can do. “Gibran will play; yes, he’s going to play.”
Perhaps the most distressing aspect of the Dallas game was the way Seattle was outgained – this offense is not used to having a 100+-yard comeuppance put on it (336 to 235), and there’s no question that Indy’s offense can make Big D look like something quite a bit smaller, even if Jim Sorgi’s driving the plane instead of Peyton Manning. The temptation may be to prove something, but Holmgren’s more interested in resting his starters.
Hasselbeck, for example, won’t see an appreciably different program on Sunday. “(His participation) will be very similar to last week. I want him to get a certain number of plays, certain number of throws. Then, whenever that hits…last week we had that long drive (against them - Dallas ate up over eleven minutes of the first quarter on two offensive drives). If it would be just reversed, I’d get him out of the game, but he needs to get a couple snaps.”
|Seattle Seahawks tight end Will Heller, left, catches a pass while being guarded by linebacker D.D. Lewis during football training camp Friday, Aug. 18, 2006, at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Wash. (AP Photo/Jim Bryant)
Holmgren also said that anyone currently battling any sort of injury will not likely play. However, two members of his secondary will return to action. “(Safety) Michael (Boulware) should be able to play in the game; (CB Jordan) Babineaux should be able to play in the game, Lofa (Tatupu, groin injury) we’ll see...but unlikely. He will make the trip," Holmgren said. "(Grant) Wistrom and those guys (defensive linemen Rocky Bernard and Joe Tafoya), no. They’ll get ready to play next week.”
The Seahawks are already putting together contingency plans for Jerramy Stevens’ absence – the fifth-year tight end was set to have a monster season and still could when he returns, but Holmgren is looking at Itula Mili and Will Heller now. Past history would lead observers to assume that Mili will be the offensive threat with Heller coming in when needed for blocking, but nothing is set in stone. “That probably has to be discussed just a little bit more. That’ll be decided right at the end when we see how the rest of the roster shapes up. We’ll just take it and see where he is.”
It’s a delicate balance, the preseason. On one hand, it’s about getting the veterans ready for game speed. On the other hand, it’s the one window where newcomers have room to stretch their legs and show what they can do without putting dents in the win column. Holmgren was asked about the need to relate quickly to players he really doesn’t know. How can he evaluate those who shoot in and out of the roster so quickly?
“That’s the only time you have, and then you have to make a judgment call. With those kids that we don’t know very well and have had little or no experience in the NFL, you’ve just got to make a judgment call. (It’s) the same thing you do with your draft choices, quite frankly. You say, ‘This is what we thought he was and this is what we think he is now, and now we think he can do this.’ Those guys (the new kids) fall into that category.”
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, and a staff writer for Football Outsiders. Feel free to e-mail him here.