It’s been a bumpy ride, but few expected Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll would be ahead of schedule in his first year of this team’s rebuilding effort, with Seattle at 4-4 halfway through the season and in control of its own postseason destiny.
The Seahawks have made a mind-boggling 239 roster moves since Carroll and general manager John Schneider took over the reins. Some worked, including offseason acquisitions of running back/returner Leon Washington and defensive end Chris Clemons, the drafting of free safety Earl Thomas and bringing back veteran safety Lawyer Milloy.
Others, for instance the trade for running back LenDale White and the addition of offensive line guru Alex Gibbs, ended with a thud.
And the jury remains out on the trade for quarterback Charlie Whitehurst and the drafting of offensive tackle Russell Okung with the No. 6 overall pick. Whitehurst played poorly in his first start as an NFL quarterback last week against the Giants, and Okung has played in only one full regular-season game because of high ankle sprains to both legs.
Now comes the hard part. The Seahawks still have their longest road trips of the season awaiting them in the second half of the schedule, to defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans and Tampa Bay.
They have several players coming off injuries, and they are licking their wounds after suffering through the worst, two-game stretch in franchise history in terms of losing margin, dropping the past two games by a combined 74-10.
But they face a somewhat favorable schedule in the final eight games – Seattle’s opponents over that stretch have a combined 32-33 record.
Carroll understands his team will face some adversity in the coming weeks, but he thinks his players are embracing that opportunity.
“We’re still sitting there with the ability to control what’s going on in our division, which is what we set out to do from the start,” he said. “But right now we have to respond, and we have to get it right.
“Is there hope? Of course there is, so we have a chance to do good things. We’re going to go to work, and it’s a challenge. We’ll figure this out and see what we can do.”
With that, here are the midseason grades for the Seahawks:
For the third straight season, Matt Hasselbeck missed time because of an injury, sitting out last week’s contest against the New York Giants because of lingering concussion symptoms. But even when Hasselbeck has played, the offense has sputtered.
Part of that has to do with injuries up front and a young group of receivers. The question hanging over the franchise going forward is whether or not Hasselbeck, who’s in the final year of his contract, has shown enough to be offered a new deal to remain with this team.
Whitehurst’s dismal performance didn’t do much to provide clarity on that situation. Hasslebeck has thrown for 1,411 yards, six touchdowns and seven interceptions. His 70.8 passer rating puts him 30th in the league.
The Seahawks again placed heavy emphasis on improving the running game with painfully similar results to past efforts. Seattle isn’t getting a consistent push up front, particularly on first and second downs. Seattle has only 298 yards on first-down carries, No. 29 in the league. The Seahawks are 29th in the league in overall rushing, averaging 83.6 yards a contest.
However, the addition of Marshawn Lynch gives the Seahawks their first physical runner since Ricky Watters, and paired with third-down back Justin Forsett the tandem is set for a decent run if Seattle’s offensive line can get things pieced together.
This unit has probably been the most inconsistent of all. Seattle decided to go young by letting Nate Burleson go in free agency, cutting T.J. Houshmandzadeh and paying him a little over $6 million to play in Baltimore, and trading Deion Branch to New England. And now the Seahawks are going through some growing pains with this young group.
Mike Williams (35 catches for 400 yards, 1 TD) has shown the ability to take over at times, but he’s also come up short with head-scratching drops at critical moments. Deon Butler and Golden Tate have failed to emerge as consistent deep threats. The Seahawks are 26th in the league in passing plays of 25 yards or longer, with 10.
John Carlson has largely become a blocking tight end because of Seattle’s injury issues on the offensive line. Even when he has had chances in the passing game, Carlson has had mixed results. He has 22 catches for 240 yards, well off the franchise-record pace he set a year ago.
With blocking tight end Chris Baker and young players Cameron Morrah and Anthony McCoy, this is one of Seattle’s more talented units. The Seahawks need more production out of this group to help the offense move the chains.
Roster roulette here continues for the second straight season, as the Seahawks have used three different tackles, three different guards and eight different line combinations so far.
The predictable result has been a lack of chemistry. The Seahawks have allowed 22 sacks, seventh-worst in the league. Rookie offensive tackle Russell Okung staying healthy for the second half of the season is critical for the stability of this group.
Pass-rushing defensive ends Chris Clemons (51/2 sacks) and Raheem Brock (3 sacks) have been productive. Seattle is tied for 10th in the league with 21 sacks.
But the Seahawks miss the bulk of Red Bryant, Colin Cole and Brandon Mebane in helping to control the line of scrimmage. Bryant is out for the season after having knee surgery last week, but the likely return of Mebane on Sunday and Cole in the near future should help re-establish the Seahawks as one of the better run defenses in the league.
Linebacker Lofa Tatupu has returned to his Pro Bowl -level play after missing most of last season with a torn pectoral muscle. Tatupu and Marcus Trufant are tied for the team lead with 44 tackles.
David Hawthorne has made the switch from middle to outside linebacker and played solidly, and Aaron Curry is slowly finding his way as a strongside outside linebacker in the new scheme. Add capable backups Will Herring and Matt McCoy and this may be the best unit talent-wise on the team.
The Seahawks have played more press coverage with rangy rookie safety Earl Thomas playing center field in passing situations. Thomas has been productive, with four interceptions so far. And paired with veteran safety Lawyer Milloy the tandem has been effective in run support and rushing the passer. Trufant is tied for the team lead in tackles with 44 but has been a target of opposing teams in the passing game.
Seattle also has given up too many explosive passing plays. The Seahawks have allowed 33 passing plays of 20 yards or longer, third worst in the league.
The Seahawks’ performance on special teams has been a key part of this team’s success. Leon Washington leads the league in return average, and his two kickoff returns for touchdowns (101 and 99 yards) against San Diego stand out as one of the best individual performances in the league this season.
Both kickoff and punt coverage units rank among the best in the league. Kicker Olindo Mare had his streak of 30 consecutive field goals snapped a couple of weeks ago, but he’s made all 14 PATs and is 10-of-12 on field goals this season. Mare is third in the NFC (ninth NFL) with 10 touchbacks. Punter Jon Ryan is tied for first in the NFL with 19 punts inside the 20.
Carroll has done a good job of establishing his culture, style and philosophy, and so far the players have bought in. The main concern has been the team’s lack of competitiveness in losses. The Seahawks have lost by an average of 24.5 points in their four losses so far this season.