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Thursday, October 23, 2008
Holmgren, Seahawks lost in time warp?

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Seattle Seahawks never thought they would long for the days -- OK, the day -- when Glenn Foley was throwing passes to Fabien Bownes, Derrick Mayes, Sean Dawkins, Mike Pritchard and Itula Mili.

This was Sept. 19, 1999. Mike Holmgren was in his second game as the Seahawks' head coach. An injury had sidelined Jon Kitna, the quarterback Holmgren inherited from Dennis Erickson. Holmgren was only beginning to establish his offense in the Northwest.

Foley would be making his only start for Seattle as the Seahawks faced the Bears at Soldier Field. The journeyman quarterback completed 18 of 30 passes for 283 yards and two touchdowns, including the winning 49-yard strike to Bownes, a special-teams player who never started an NFL game. Seattle won the game, 14-13.

Nearly a decade later, Holmgren's offensive system is far more established. Injuries have again knocked out his preferred quarterback, but backup Seneca Wallace has extensive experience in the offense. The receivers aren't the ones Holmgren expected to have, but Bownes wasn't exactly a prominent member of the rotation back then.

In that context, it's puzzling how the Seattle passing game can remain so ineffective week after week. We should expect it to struggle given the injuries. But we should also see signs of improvement as Holmgren and the players work through their problems, particularly given the relative strength of the running game. Why aren't we seeing improvement?

Those thoughts stood out while analyzing Seattle's offensive performance during a 20-10 defeat to the Bucs in Week 7. I analyzed every play up until the final 17-yard pass to Koren Robinson with 6 seconds left in the game. It was a garbage-time play, so I ignored it when computing statistics across personnel groups.

The Seahawks averaged 7.6 yards per carry with two first downs on eight rushing attempts from their base offense (2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE). They averaged 11.7 yards per carry with one first down on three rushing attempts from their preferred three-receiver offense (1 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE).

And yet the passing offense averaged 2.6 yards per attempt from base personnel and 2.4 yards per attempt from the preferred three-receiver offense. That seems inexcusable and inexplicable for a team that still has Bobby Engram and John Carlson.

One theory: The passing game had evolved to a point of no immediate return. Hasselbeck was using audibles to address issues as they arose on the field. Holmgren was accustomed to Hasselbeck being able to carry out just about anything he asked. It's suddenly 1999 again and nobody knows what to do. The running game is nice, but Holmgren has almost always relied on the pass when it mattered. Curious if that makes sense to you.

In the meantime, here's the usual Excel file featuring Seattle's production across personnel group, with a second sheet featuring play-by-play information sortable by lots of criteria.