You've probably heard by now that former college quarterback and NFL backup Tim Hasselbeck challenged the Seahawks' mental toughness the other day. He said basically that when this team encounters a rough spot (like, say, a 14-point deficit before the offense so much as puts on their helmets), they lack the fortitude to get back in the game. It's a question that's been kicking around in my head the last couple of days.
The gut response is: "Of course we're mentally tough! This is one of the best teams in the league, but dang it all to hades if they aren't also the most injured team in the league. Golly gee, we're doing the best we can, Tim!" (Worth noting is that my gut has been heavily influenced by Joan Cleaver over the years.) The problem with this response is that it is an excuse. If we were mentally tough, would we let the injuries get in the way? The offensive line is one thing -- no team in the NFL would be playing much better than ours has played through these six games with their depth and coaching -- but for every other position, I just don't see the injuries as an excuse.[Read More]
Looking at our injury situation, the side that has been plagued is our defense. Leroy Hill, Lofa Tatupu, Brandon Mebane, Marcus Trufant, Patrick Kerney, Josh Wilson. Those are six key starters who have missed a combined 80 quarters (that's 20 games, for those keeping track at home). After the bye, Hill, Mebane, Trufant and Wilson will all be back, with Kerney up in the air. Still, our defense has actually played fairly well. Even with the Colts game and the awful first quarter on Sunday, the Hawks defense ranks 7th in points per game, 10th in 3rd Down situations and 10th in red zone percentage. They are also right in the middle of the pack for yards per game and yards per pass play (14th and 16th).
Offensively, we've actually stayed fairly healthy -- Hasselbeck missed 2.5 games, but no key WR, TE, or RB injuries (though Justin Griffith's health has been missed in the run game). Our offensive line has been hammered on the left side though, as we all know -- Jones, Locklear, Wahle, Sims, Frye, as well as our center Spencer -- but it's possible that Sims will be back for the Dallas game (and McIntosh should be fine at LT), and hopefully Locklear will return for the Detroit or Arizona game. The Hawks offense is 22nd for yards per game, 20th for yards per pass play, 19th most effective on 3rd down, and 24th in the red zone. That's not good enough.
The leader on offense is unequivocally Matt Hasselbeck. That's okay. He is the quarterback, he is experienced, he has a super bowl appearance and three pro bowls under his belt. He is solid emotionally and has that mental toughness that you look for in a leader. The question is, is he enough? Of late, as Robbie Tobeck pointed out on Brock and Salk yesterday, Matt has been the only leader on that offense. Houshmandzadeh was brought in for his swagger and leadership, but he's been too busy yearning for the 4-2 Bengals and critiquing everything but himself. Chris Spencer has toyed around with the idea of stepping up, but hasn't really done it yet. Nate Burleson is a mentor to the younger guys, but he's not a leader for the team. Julius Jones has too much to prove, Edgerrin James is a good locker room guy but has never really been a team leader, Walter Jones is injured, Mike Wahle retired . . . the list goes on and on.
So when a guy like Jones goes down, Locklear takes his place on the line, but he can't carry Jones' burden. Locklear is not the hall of famer that Jones is, he isn't looked up to in the same way and he won't ever be. When Wahle goes down, Sims steps up admirably but can't stay healthy. Spencer has been plagued with criticism, but has generally played well this year -- better than most 26 year old centers -- but he has not stepped up to be a leader. Julius Jones hasn't and won't, Housh doesn't seem eager or perhaps even capable of looking outside the personal tragedies he has endured this year (like not being thrown the ball on every offensive snap [I think that's called Marvin Harrison disease. -Ed.]).
So, do the Seahawks lack the mental toughness? No, I don't think they do. They do, however, lack leadership on offense. You need your quarterback to be the best guy on the field, not the toughest. If Trufant goes down, Lucas and Wilson step up. If Lofa goes down, Grant can lead and Hawthorne can play. If Matt goes down, the offense completely crumbles. It didn't last year, at least, not moreso, but this year it seems he's all we have. Unless someone steps up and leads, steps up and becomes a tough MFer, steps up and puts the team on his back when Matt can't bear the weight, this team is going nowhere fast.
Fingers crossed, I guess.