BY Doug Farrar 06:38AM 11/01/2010

Seahawks pay the price for improvised roster

A team built through competition loses its way on the field

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll blows the whistle during a fast-paced practice (Rod Mar/Seattle Seahawks)

At some point, you knew the bubble was going to burst. Tyler Polumbus wasn’t going to provide Walter Jones-level protection at left tackle for 16 games (or 16 quarters, for that matter). The revolving door at left guard wasn’t going to hold up forever, and Seattle’s line wasn’t going to be able to transcend right tackle Sean Locklear’s subpar play.

That’s why Matt Hasselbeck found himself sacked eight times and harassed constantly in Sunday’s 33-3 loss to the Oakland Raiders. Seattle’s patched-together running game, those cute little corner blitzes, even the great story behind Mike Williams and the future development of receiver Golden Tate – none of it held up against a Raiders team that looked very much like the Raiders team that beat the Denver Broncos into the ground last week.

It’s not a eulogy for a season unless you thought these Seahawks – less than one year removed from the absolute nadir of the Tim Ruskell era – could make a miracle comeback from half a decade of horrid personnel decisions and front office dysfunction. The job done so far by Pete Carroll and John Schneider to breathe life back into this franchise and the city’s relationship with it has been just short of miraculous, but a souped-up Ford Pinto will only go so far.

That’s what was discovered on Sunday afternoon. On Halloween at the Black Hole, the Seattle Seahawks came dressed as their true selves – a team good enough to win every week at home, but not yet tough enough to gut out the tough contests on the road.

“There’s no mystery to us what happened today,” Carroll said after the game. “We got nothing done. We accomplished nothing in any aspect of our ball. We got whipped at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and the only redeeming factor is halfway through the third quarter we still had a chance, after really not playing well at any point. And when we didn’t get our points down there, we just couldn’t stop it.”

Reams of paper and internet bandwidth were devoted through the week to glowing dramatizations of the “Bandit” package put together by Carroll and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley – the 7-defensive back look was ridiculously effective against a Chicago offensive line totally incapable of picking up free blitzers – but the Raiders were ready for it.

When cornerbacks and safeties shot through off the edge in pursuit of quarterback Jason Campbell, they weren’t in a position to do anything but look downfield and wonder how the Raiders had ripped off another long run through a depleted middle. This time, the Seahawks were made to pay for their trickery, and it didn’t help when defensive end Red Bryant left the game with a knee injury. Carroll’s formerly stout and multi-faceted run defense was made to look like a one-trick donkey, and Oakland’s 239 rushing yards on 39 carries told the story.

“Those (plays) are always an issue of pursuit,” Carroll said. “We’re so dedicated to flying to the football that you have to still be disciplined on the back edge and all of that, and make your plays when you get your chance. We have been suspect there because we’re emphasizing flying to the ball so much. But you can do it all. You can do all of this. We just have to do it well, and we haven’t done that yet.”

Campbell threw for 310 yards and two touchdowns as the injuries affecting Seattle’s secondary finally reached a saturation point. It was one thing to expect Walter Thurmond to fill in for Kelly Jennings and do so admirably, but when you’re down to special teams captain Roy Lewis at starting cornerback against a Raiders passing game long-known for the deep ball, the results could be expected. Lewis was game, as all of Seattle’s fill-ins have been this year, but there’s only so far desire will take you.

Other injuries conspired to set the Seahawks further back in the game. Mike Williams was out for a time with a knee injury, and Golden Tate rolled his left ankle on a circus sideline catch. Polumbus and left guard Ben Hamilton dealt with leg and head injuries, respectively, and Hasselbeck was unable to finish the game (or talk to reporters after the game) because he was “dinged up”. Translation: concussion.

“It’s football,” Carroll said. “It’s a collision sport and luckily we’ve built our team through competition. And so it’s a game of opportunity. Obviously, we don’t want to see some of our guys go down, but it’s just an opportunity for some of other guys to come in and right the ship, keep us going in the right direction.”

Roster-building through competition on a reality TV scale has been the message all along. Through the Carroll era, it’s been the standard by which this team would live or die. But there’s only so much you can do with spackle when a team needs to be razed to the foundations and rebuilt the right way.

The Seahawks don’t have much time to address their current issues, either – this Sunday, they welcome a New York Giants team to Qwest Field that is even more qualified than the Raiders to exploit Seattle’s current liabilities: suspect run defense, susceptibility to misdirection, and an offensive line incapable of consistent protection.

The Seahawks escaped this game with their first-place standing in the NFC West intact, but the flaws are now open for all to see. How they are dealt with, halfway through the 2010 season, will decide if there’s anything worth riding down the stretch.


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