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What to learn from last year’s playoff run

Posted By Erik Olsoy On Jul 31 2011 @ 7:29 pm In Seattle Seahawks | 4 Comments

The last few years had been some of the darkest in Seattle’s sports history.  The Sonics abandoned us, and the Mariners consistently failed to make the playoffs.  Even our beloved Seahawks were on the brink of missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

How quickly things can change.  The winner of the Seahawks’ last game of the season against the Saint Louis Rams would win the NFC West Championship.   In that game, the Seahawks finally looked like the team Seahawks fans are used to seeing – a team that is nearly unbeatable at home. They manhandled the youthful Rams and marched into the playoffs with an air about them that made us wonder: with a little luck, Qwest Field roaring, and a typically rainy January day in Seattle, could the Seahawks pull off an upset against the defending Super Bowl Champions New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card game the next week?

The answer was yes.  The Seahawks offense registered big play after big play, the crowd refused to be quieted by any number of Drew Brees completions or touchdown passes, and all of a sudden, Pete Carroll was a Seattle celebrity.  The players clearly had bought into the leaping, jumping, high-fiving, fist pumping act that Carroll puts on every game.

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The Pete Carroll fist pump.

Although the Bears knocked the Seahawks out of the playoffs the next week, Coach Carroll had proved enough to me for his first season with the team.  He cut the players that needed to be cut, he didn’t mess up his first draft, and he eagerly moved to rebuild a team that was in dire need of a tune-up.  My conclusion?  Pete Carroll deserves the time needed to build the Seahawks into a team and organization that fits his system and preferences.

Think of the best current franchises in the NFL.  Patriots.  Colts.  Steelers.  Eagles.  Packers.  Among other things, these teams have had great stability and long-tenured  head coaches as well as front offices.  Under Mike Holmgren, the Seahawks became a perennial playoff team – after he was given a chance to build the team from the ground up.  For the Seahawks to again join the NFL’s elite teams, a head coach that can bring years of stability is a must.  The Seahawks need to give Pete Carroll the same chance they gave Mike Holmgren.  It’s time that the players from the ultra-successful Holmgren era are replaced by players that will be the key cogs in the Carroll era.

I’d like to remind you of the manner in which the Holmgren-lead Seahawks team was built.  When the Seahawks brought Mike Holmgren in before the start of the 1999 season, they made it clear that he would have nearly complete control of the personnel the Seahawks invested in.  There were some tough years at first, and the Seahawks actually only made the playoffs once in the first four years Holmgren was in Seattle.  Legendary Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was NOT an instant success, and the team initially relied on Trent Dilfer’s experience, persistence, and leadership to lead the team in the right direction.

It wasn’t until Hasselbeck’s third year with the team that he began playing like a franchise quarterback, and not until his fourth season that he lead the Hawks to the NFC West crown… albeit with the help of Shawn Alexander, Steve Hutchinson, Walter Jones, and the rest of a talent-laden roster.  It was only after this initial development period that the Seahawks were able to win four consecutive division championships.

Like Mike Holmgren, Carroll improbably steered the Seahawks into the playoffs in his first season.  Like Mike Holmgren, Carroll has quickly brought in competition and potential at the quarterback position in the form of Charlie Whitehurst and, recently, Tarvaris Jackson. Neither has tons of experience, and I’m sure there will be growing pains much like when Hasselbeck first took the reins.

Still, there is much to be optimistic about.  While winning 7 consecutive Pac-10 championships at USC, Pete Carroll favored big receivers and a power running game.  Carroll has started to build an offense in Seattle like the ones he had at USC, and is even using players he knew well from his days as a college coach.  Last season, Carroll added some much-needed strength to the running game by acquiring running back Marshawn Lynch from Buffalo.  Lynch played against Carroll’s USC teams in college, and has already become firmly entrenched in Seahawks history by making perhaps the most memorable play [2] in Seahawks playoff history against the Saints this last year.  Additionally, Carroll talked receiver Mike Williams, who played for Carroll at USC, into getting into shape and trying out for the Seahawks.  Despite battling injuries, Williams proved his worth by becoming the team’s best receiver.  He had nearly twice as many catches as any other Seahawk last year and lead the team in receiving yards.

If you were to ask me how well I think the Patriots will do this year, I can tell you without hesitation that I think they’ll make the playoffs.  If you were to ask me how the Seahawks will do this year, I can tell you without hesitation that I have no idea.  Maybe the Pete Carroll mojo will wear off and the team will regress.  Perhaps the team will continue moving in the right direction and win another division championship.  Either way, I hope that Seahawks management continues to give Pete Carroll a chance to do things his way, with his personnel, and give him enough time for us all to see if it can work.   With no divisional rival currently fielding a consistent winner, Carroll and the Hawks really do have a great opportunity to win the division again this year.  Hopefully this has been just the beginning of a successful “Carroll Era” in Seahawk history.

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[1] Image: http://www.prosportsblogging.com/psb/uploads/2011/07/pete-carroll-fist-pump.jpg

[2] most memorable play : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBHk9rc4hHc

[3] Image: http://www.prosportsblogging.com/psb/uploads/2011/07/lynch-td.jpg

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