I was going to call this a "First Quarter Report Card" after Seattle's first four games, but never got a chance to finish the piece before the Seahawks crashed through the Meadowlands and left a Doug Baldwin-shaped hole behind them.
Turns out that's just as well, because that gutsy win didn't just make it five games into the season and ruin my "first quarter" artifice - it drastically changed perceptions of this team. There's no ignoring a road victory like that, regardless of any caveats. Beating a playoff-caliber team with an elite QB and pass rush, on the road, at 10AM, after flying in from the West Coast - there's substance there. It's no fluke.
Tom Cable is rapidly fulfilling the lofty expectations he entered Seattle with. This offensive line has covered such a ridiculous amount of ground during the bye-week stretch that it no longer looks like the same unit. Heck, the offense no longer looks like the same offense. Overall, the pass protection is better than its ever been for Tarvaris Jackson, while the run-blocking has a ways to go but showed promise on Sunday.
Tackle is the best news. Russell Okung has rebounded some to the last couple weeks, despite recurring ankle booboos and a newfound proclivity for penalties. James Carpenter has vaulted from prematurely-labeled bust to respectable. His highlight Sunday was a tremendous edge block to spring Marshawn Lynch for a long gain that would eventually lead to a touchdown. Both tackles' mistakes against the Giants were glaring but isolated, and forgiveable against a championship New York defensive line. It speaks volumes to their toughness and determination, as they've had (and still do) a lot of adversity of various sorts to fight through.
The interior of Paul McQuistan, Max Unger and John Moffitt has been mostly quiet. That's better than noticeable for the wrong reasons. Unger's tenacity in getting to the second level has stood out. The push up the middle could stand to benefit once Robert Gallery returns.
After Seattle's one-dimensional draft last April, proving this O-line worthy was an important validator for this front office. It's starting to pay off. We'd know if it weren't - our uncertainty at QB makes good protection an essential.
My colleague Kip Earlywine insists that no running back on this roster has the right profile for the consistent, hard-earned yardage of a true zone runner. I see his point, but right now I'll take whatever I can get. Marshawn Lynch has no doubt been aching to prove that his immortal "Beast Run" against New Orleans was not the only thing we would remember him by. Until Sunday, it was. But Lynch's 98-yard performance was a factor in the offense, and was helped by the fact that Carroll wasn't forced to abandon the run in the face of a three-touchdown deficit by halftime. He was also handy in the up-tempo short passing game.
Leon Washington and Justin Forsett continue to see surprisingly little action in the offense. Both are admittedly boom-or-bust types, and perhaps not the kind of weapon that Seattle can afford to deploy right now with the offense still finding its footing. I maintain that Forsett could still be an attractive trade target for some hungry team. Seattle has only a week left to make use of this, though I'll be sad to see him go. His spirit is infectious.
Michael Robinson, newly returned from injury, committed a costly fumble and didn't really help his case as long-term weapon in this offense.
With Zach Miller recovering from a head injury and an excess of blocking responsibilities, his future impact is cloudy. This is frustrating, because he cost an arm and a leg and was supposed to be a security blanket for our quarterback. Frustrating, not worrying, because others are stepping up in that role just fine. But for all the supposed dependence this offense was going to have on its tight ends, Seattle has allowed its tight end corps to diminish to just two, collectively out-produced by Ben Obomanu.
Cameron Morrah returns this week from PUP. I don't know whether our tackles aren't yet ready to be weaned off tight end protection, whether Darell Bevell is ignoring them, or whether Tarvaris Jackson has been ignoring them (most likely a combination), but I'm intrigued to think of how much more this already-interesting receiving corps could be opened up by more tight end involvement.
Anthony McCoy, after some flashes early in the season, had some irritating drops against the Giants but kept his head in the game for a drive-extending 20-yard catch from Charlie Whitehurst. He's an underrated prospect who should get more looks.
This group has emerged as one of the best surprises of the year, largely because of the emergence of Doug Baldwin. The undrafted Standford wide receiver is leading the team in receptions and yards and starting to garner attention from the national media. The guy is just brilliant at finding soft spots in the zones, like greased lightning in and out of his breaks, and has vicegrips for hands. All at a whopping 5'10". Ironic for a starter under a head coach obsessed with tall receivers, don't you think?
Sidney Rice has been relatively quiet. His yardage is about on a level with 2010 Mike Williams and 2009 T.J. Houshmandzadeh (who produced despite fans' hatred). I'd love to break down the tape and find out whether he's been effective at drawing defenders away from the line and other receivers. Like Miller, it's a little disconcerting that he's producing below his cost.
Williams is not a separation receiver. He gets his yardage by out-reaching and out-muscling close coverage, which makes him attractive to gunslingers like Matt Hasselbeck but ugly to skittish quarterbacks like pre-no-huddle Tarvaris Jackson. His role will probably shift after the bye, with everyone voicing an intent to get him involved.
Ben Obomanu, relatively quiet until the Meadowlands, looks like a useful tool in the up-tempo passing game that Seattle is now experimenting with. He's a counter-example to the theory that Pete Carroll just gets rid of anyone with Tim Ruskell's name on his draft card, which could bode well for the returning Deon Butler, whom Carroll worked hard to integrate into the offense.
Then again, it may not. With the WR corps crowded by Butler's return, Seattle likely has to release one of Butler, Golden Tate, or Kris Durham. But with everyone else staking their claims in this offense, that choice isn't as easy. Butler is a similar player to Baldwin and may not offer as much value. He doesn't recover from jams or withstand the physical nature of the game as well as Baldwin does. Kris Durham is a project with tools and plenty of upside, and probably wouldn't make it to the practice squad (Kansas City was rumored to be targeting him in the fourth round), while Golden Tate is more of a prize pick and offers more diversity to the offense.
My preference would be to see Tate go. He's done very little and is so fundamentally behind the curve that Seattle doesn't appear to be able to make him a priority in the offense. Butler would probably provide more immediate returns. But my guess is that Tate is kept around for that tantalizing hint of big plays that someone on this front office is seeing. Charlie Whitehurst has shown some chemistry with him at times, which might prove valuable should he be starting after the bye.
Seattle's offense is showing signs of an identity despite not fully delivering on all its big purchases. Sidney Rice, Zach Miller, and Robert Gallery, all expensive offseason finds, aren't having as much of an impact as their paychecks suggested they would. That may not materr that much beyond matters of the purse, because Seattle is finding traction with other guys. But it's something to keep an eye on.
This afternoon: The Smartass Guide to the LuckStakes, from Scott Williams.