With a new staff, new front office and almost 200 player transactions since last season, it now comes down to this question: Can the Seattle Seahawks stand toe-to-toe with the San Francisco 49ers and match their physical intensity?
Much of the discussion – as the ink is still drying on the Seahawks’ revamped roster – has been about whether all the changes have elevated the talent level.
Fair enough. But also crucial is whether it has affected the attitude. Are they tougher?
The stumbling Seahawks of the past two seasons have split with the Niners, and the losses have come when they were shoved around and run over. In those games, the Niners, frankly, appeared to play harder and want the wins more.
Of the dozens of new Seahawks, have they found enough of them who will square off against 49ers running back Frank Gore and linebacker Patrick Willis and win the inevitable collisions?
“That’s what they do, they come out and they’re going to hit you,” said running back Michael Robinson, a spanking-new member of the Seahawks who was picked up from the 49ers over the weekend. “(The 49ers) will come out and hit you. We know that; the thing we have to do is match that intensity.”
It’s probably been since the early days of the Jack Patera era that a Seahawks team has entered the season with a greater sense of the unknown. It leaves the Seahawks underdogs by a field goal at home this afternoon, although a betting line must have been tricky to establish.
It can be viewed two ways: Is there any way a team could assimilate the avalanche of new players and find any sense of cohesion in such a short time?
Or can rampant turnover be assumed to be a positive direction for a team that won only five games in the past two seasons against teams that were not the St. Louis Rams.
And as we watch some specific performances, we need to also try to interpret how they reflect a bigger picture.
Specifically, we’ll keep an eye on new left tackle Troy Polumbus. Although it may not be as important to see how he does individually – since first-round pick Russell Okung should be back soon – but how well the staff schemes to reduce the vulnerability created by a potential mismatch.
And the efforts of starting running back Justin Forsett must be viewed as a reflection of the effectiveness of the blocking. Is Forsett the starter because he gives them the best chance to at least get a few yards per carry because he is best at slipping through the smallest fissures?
The bulked-up defensive front that features 330-pound converted tackle Red Bryant at end looks to be a more stout wall against the running game.
But will the other end, Chris Clemons – and whatever combination of linebacker or secondary pressure they might apply – be enough to fluster Niners quarterback Alex Smith? Smith passed for 310 yards against the Seahawks in December, while getting sacked just once.
When coach Pete Carroll was hired in January, he said he was going to look for playmakers, guys who could change the game with their athleticism.
Will that be rookie safety Earl Thomas? Or perhaps receiver Golden Tate. In their loss to the Niners last September, the Seahawks forced no turnovers and had only one offensive play for more than 20 yards. Are Thomas and Tate the ones to change that?
How do we judge the roster turnover, and the departures of former Seahawks such as receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and cornerback Josh Wilson? Easy, but by the end of the game, we can ask ourselves: How many times did we say, “Gee, T.J. would have caught that ball,” or “Wilson would have broken up that pass”?
Last year, the Hawks opened with a 28-0 win over St. Louis that was entirely misleading of their talent.
There will be no such confusion today. As Carroll said, at least “… we’ll get an early gauge of where we are …”
Win or lose, they’ll know within the first period of play if they are ready to match the intensity and physical play of a San Francisco team that looks ready to become the bully of the division.