Halfway there

Posted Nov 10, 2009

But to where? To improve on their disappointing 3-5 first half, the Seahawks will have to find ways to win on the road in the second half to reach their goals.

“All our goals are still in front of us.”

Just call it Matt’s mantra, because Matt Hasselbeck has been steadfast in this assessment during the Seahawks’ 3-5 start. Whenever cameras or tape records are aimed at the team’s quarterback, Hasselbeck has found a way to remind everyone that the season is far from over.

But after Sunday’s storm-from-behind victory over the Detroit Lions, Hasselbeck added a disclaimer: “Right now.”

Hasselbeck isn’t backing down; he is just being honest as the Seahawks prepare to kickoff the second half a so-far-disappointing season with a three-game road trip – starting with Sunday’s game against the NFC West-leading Cardinals in Arizona.

“If we screw one of these up, (our goals are) not going to be there forever,” he said. “You only get so many chances, so winning this game was absolutely necessary. Winning the next game is absolutely necessary.

“Like I’ve said, we’ve made it hard on ourselves. But we still have a chance. We’re just going to have to do it the hard way.”

As if things haven’t been difficult enough for the Seahawks already.

They’re not just 0-3 on the road; they’ve been outscored 95-44 in losing to the 49ers, Colts and Cowboys. They are 3-2 at home, including shutout victories over the Rams and Jaguars, but they also should have won their Week 3 matchup with the Bears.

The Seahawks’ obvious bugaboo is evident by the disparity in their performances during the first half of the season – injury- and installation-induced inconsistency.

Twelve starters have missed a combined 59 starts – a number that will only continue to grow with the Pro Bowl duo of left tackle Walter Jones and middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu on injured reserve. The zone-blocking scheme in the running game that has been installed by offensive coordinator Greg Knapp remains a work in progress, in large part because the Seahawks have used five starting combinations on the offensive line. The defense, with six new starters, has been hit-and-miss in its first season under coordinator Gus Bradley.

Put it all together, and it produces the kind of inconsistency that was glaring during a three-game stretch where the Seahawks sandwiched a 41-0 win over the Jaguars between losses to the Cardinals and Colts by a combined score of 61-20.

“The first half of the season was a little bit of a struggle for us on a lot of levels,” coach Jim Mora said. “Number one, it was definitely hard for us to find consistency, as I’ve said, because of the new staff, new scheme, and then the plethora of injuries.

“We went 1-3 the first quarter, and 2-2 the second quarter. Now we’ve got to try and improve on that. That’s what we’ll do. That’ll be our focus.”

Starting with the Cardinals, a team that is 4-0 on the road but 1-3 at home. If the Seahawks can pull the upset Sunday, they will be one game behind the Cardinals in a division they owned from 2003-07 – winning four consecutive titles and advancing to the playoffs five seasons in a row.

Their second-half schedule also includes winnable games at home against the 49ers (3-5), Buccaneers (1-7) and Titans (2-6) and a rematch with the Rams (1-7) in St. Louis. But a team that is 5-14 away from Qwest Field the past three seasons will need to find a way to steal a game or two on the road – this week in Arizona, next week in Minnesota or at Houston and Green Bay in December.

“We know our backs are against the wall,” Hasselbeck said.

With that said, here’s a look back at some of the better efforts from the first half of the season:

MVP: Hasselbeck. Yes, he missed 2½ games after fracturing a rib in the Week 2 game against the 49ers. And the team went 0-3 during that stretch. His performances in the home wins over the Jaguars (four touchdown passes, 125.1 passer rating) and Lions (329 yards on a club-record 39 completions) were enough to justify the selection. But the bottom line reason is the tempo of the offense when Hasselbeck is at the controls.

Best offensive player: Nate Burleson. Roughly 14 months removed from reconstructive knee surgery, the team’s split end leads the club in receptions (45) and receiving yards (562) and shares the lead in touchdown catches (three). But even his efforts mirror the team’s inconsistency – five games with at least six catches and 74 yards, and four of those have come at home; three games with fewer than five catches and 47 yards, and two of those have come on the road.

Best defensive player: David Hawthorne. The second-year middle linebacker has made only three starts for Tatupu, but he also has become the poster player for taking advantage of the opportunities presented him. In his first start, he had 16 tackles against the Bears. In his second start, he had two sacks against the Cowboys. In his third start, he intercepted two passes against the Lions. Despite playing roughly 20 of the 32 quarters in the first half of the season, Hawthorne leads the team in interceptions (three), is second in tackles (43) and tied for third in sacks (two).

Best special teams player: Jon Ryan. Veteran kicker Olindo Mare made a move here, hitting 11 field goals in a row after his uncharacteristic two-miss game in the six-point loss to the Bears. But Ryan, the Canadian punter, is the only player on the team to rank among the top five in the league in any category – third in average (47.6).

Best rookie: A tie between the solid efforts of right guard Max Unger and the at-times special plays turned in by outside linebacker Aaron Curry. While Curry is second on the team in tackles (43) and has a couple of fumble-forcing sacks, Unger is one of only two linemen to play every snap (right tackle Ray Willis is the other).

Best free-agent addition: T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The former Bengals and Oregon State wide receiver targeted the Seahawks in free agency, and has been a productive target at flanker (41 receptions, 417 yards, three TDs).

Best performance by a fill-in player: Hawthorne. He made the team as a rookie free agent last year. Now, he’s making plays – a lot of them – while subbing for a three-time Pro Bowl player.

But for anyone anywhere else to take notice of what Hawthorne and others are doing, it will take the Seahawks winning more than they lose in the second half of the season.

“You’ve got to win,” Mora said. “I think that David will be the first guy to tell you that he doesn’t necessarily care about the recognition. If his ball-hawking and making plays leads to wins, and then he gets recognition because of it, then that’ll be great.

“But we’ve got to win for anyone to get recognition that has any meaning to it.”