> This team
could be more talented than the one that lost (got robbed, most Seattle fans
still say) in the Super Bowl two seasons ago. Other than the drop-off at left
guard, from All-Pro Steve Hutchinson in '05 to untested Rob Sims, every
offensive position is as good or better than that NFC-champion lineup; in
particular, tight end has been upgraded, with sure-handed Marcus Pollard,
signed as a free agent from Indianapolis, replacing butterfingered Jerramy
Stevens. Two free-agent pickups on defense are also upgrades: former Falcons
left end Patrick Kerney and former Jaguars safety Deon Grant. "We're
healthier than we were all last year on offense," says coach Mike Holmgren,
"and what I'm really excited about is, we're a lot better on defense."
They'd better be. The Seahawks limped into last year's playoffs after allowing
20 or more points in 12 of the last 14 regular-season games.
> Unless, at
30, he shows signs of slowing down, Kerney will give opposing offensive
coordinators more to worry about when they prepare for Seattle than just
premier pass rusher Julian Peterson. "Whenever we played Atlanta,"
Holmgren says, " Kerney was the guy we said we needed to stop. He's
relentless." In addition, defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs, returning from
November knee surgery, provides much-needed juice to a run defense that allowed
4.6 yards per attempt, 30th in the league. At safety, Grant and Brian Russell
offer veteran leadership to an otherwise young secondary. So let's assume the
defense will be competitive for 16 games.
In the meantime,
it will be up to the offense to return to its 2005 form, when it scored three
or more touchdowns in 12 of 16 games; last year the Seahawks scored as many
only nine times. It was easy to blame injuries for the drop-off. Quarterback
Matt Hasselbeck and running back Shaun Alexander combined to miss 10 starts
with shoulder and foot injuries, respectively; ace receiver Darrell Jackson
missed three to a bad toe and was week-to-week after that.
In April, Jackson
was traded to the 49ers for a fourth-round draft pick--a highly questionable
move, dealing your best receiver to a burgeoning division rival that beat you
twice last year--leaving Deion Branch to fill the franchise-receiver role. In
truth, it's about time he did; the Seahawks traded a first-round pick to the
Patriots to get him last season, and they're paying him $6.5 million a
off-season surgery on his nonthrowing shoulder and looked fine in camp, but the
player who has the fate of the Seahawks in his hands is Alexander. He's the
kind of runner who, when healthy and in sync with his line, looks like he's
galloping downhill; in the Super Bowl season he averaged 5.1 yards per carry
and scored 28 touchdowns. That's what Seattle missed last year. He started the
first three games, then sat out half a dozen and finished with a 3.6-yard
average and just seven touchdowns. Overall, comparing 2005 with '06, the
Seahawks' per-game production dropped by 7.3 points and 58.6 yards.
What you have to
wonder about Alexander, who just turned 30, is whether his average of 367
combined rushes and receptions per season from 2001 through '05 will hasten his
decline from greatness. His uncharacteristic performance last year gave him
reason to beg off the banquet circuit in the off-season and rededicate himself
to getting into what he says is the best football shape of his life. "I
want to do something spectacular this year," he says. "I'm shooting for
Eric Dickerson's rushing record and LT's touchdown record."
yards and 31 touchdowns. Is he serious?
possible when you're like I am now--with new blood and new energy,"
Alexander says. "A couple of years ago, when I had 28 [touchdowns], I
didn't play in nine quarters, and we were [so far] ahead a few times that we
really weren't trying to score. Thirty-two is possible if you get in the kind
of groove I know I can get in."