They do say the NFL is a copy cat league and when the New York Giants won the Super Bowl last year behind a relentless pass rush, teams were trying to mimic their success. When Seattle drafted Lawrence Jackson some claimed he could develop into the 'Hawks very own version of Justin Tuck. The happenings in one game will likely have very little impact on how the Seahawks draft in 2009, but there were a few interesting observations. To read more, click here.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL and it showed on Sunday. Ben Roethlisberger made reference to them after the game but in reality, he was often scrambling for his life and still making plays. Darnell Dockett had his way with the interior line in the second half and recorded two sacks. Tim Ruskell spoke in a press conference after the 2008 season and suggested he didn't like taking offensive line talent early because serviceable guys can be found later on.
The Steelers' two highest drafted linemen Kendell Simmons (first round) and Marvel Smith (second round) were placed on injured reserve during the season. All-pro guard Alan Faneca left the team for the New York Jets in 2008 and was replaced by sixth round pick Chris Kemoeatu. Darnell Stapleton went undrafted but has had an impact on the line, and none of the other linemen on the Steelers roster were taken higher than the third round. Although the Super Bowl performance wasn't great it does show that high picks and big money invested into the offensive line isn't necessary to be successful.
Arizona's offensive line fared little better. Kurt Warner was constantly just getting throws off and he took a couple of shots as he threw which led to fumbles (one was called back upon review). The second one ended the game. Arizona drafted Levi Brown with the fifth overall pick in 2007 (ahead of Adrian Peterson). He was brought in to play blind side right tackle because Matt Leinart is a left handed quarter back, he stays at right tackle now that Warner is ahead on the depth chart. It may be too soon to make this call, but if there really were arguments in the war room on whether to take Peterson or Brown with that pick - you have to feel the Cardinals might have wished they had Peterson last night. Brown was beaten for one of the Pittsburgh sacks in the second half.
One place Pittsburgh excel is of course on defense. Ranked first in the league in every category except against the run (the Vikings hold that honour in 2008) they are brilliantly led by coordinator Dick LeBeau. They run a great 3-4 scheme with some premium talent thrown in for good measure. The Seahawks themselves have tried to create a suffocating defense with Tim Ruskell as general manager. Since joining the team in 2005 he's made a concerted effort to improve the 'D' by signing big name free agents like Patrick Kerney, Julian Peterson and Deon Grant. The Seahawks have also drafted with a defensive focus, taking Lofa Tatupu, Leroy Hill and Brandon Mebane with great success.
However, despite a promising year in 2007 the most recent Seahawks season has been a disappointing one on the defensive side on the ball and Seattle still lack a couple of key components. Without Kerney in the trenches the Seahawks generated little pressure on opposing quarter backs. With an increasing age and injury record could Seattle look at improving their pass rush for the second consecutive year? Everette Brown is considered more of a 3-4 DE/LB hybrid but as the best pass rusher in this class, could bulk up and be a more traditional 4-3 end. Brian Orakpo is a senior from Texas who has been slated to fit into a 4-3. By getting more of a focus from the front it will release the pressure on Seattle's secondary.
It wouldn't say much for Daryl Tapp, Baraka Atkins and Lawrence Jackson though - all guys drafted by Ruskell. But having watched Larry Fitzgerald become arguably the best receiver in the NFL this post season (and with a supporting cast of Boldin and Breaston) the Seahawks will know that to regain the NFC West - they'll have to stop these guys somehow.
Another area for improvement is at safety. Although Grant is an above average player at his position Brian Russell has often come in for criticism. Both safeties were signed in the same off season and it appears will continue to be the team's starters in 2009. The safety class is relatively weak this year after Taylor Mays decided to stay at USC, with prospects like William Moore harming their draft stock during the Senior Bowl. The Steelers rely on the always excellent Troy Polamalu and what Seattle wouldn't give to have him on their roster.
Neither run offense had a succesful night in Tampa. Edgerrin James (9 attempts, 33 yards) and Tim Hightower (1 attempt, 0 yards) were shut down by the Steelers and Arizona abandoned the run in the fourth quarter as they chased the game. Willie Parker fared slightly better (19 attempts, 53 yards). Again this could come down to the two offensive lines. Both were poor in pass protection and decidedly poor trying to open holes for the run.
If Seattle are going to emphasise the run more in 2009 they will not only need their backs to perform they will need a better offensive line performance than what we saw in the Super Bowl. Again you come back to what Ruskell has said on this issue and wonder if that means trying to sign a dominant run blocker like an Andre Smith in the first round, taking someone later on or simply trusting in coach Solari and the guys you already have.
Finally, the most eye catching aspect of the game was the performance of each team's passing offense. Arizona played a conservative game for the first three quarters, but when they went no huddle and played a more ambitious style they had great success. Larry Fitzgerald - anonymous in the first half - showed the true value of having a game changing receiver. His seven catch, 127 yard, 2 touchdown performance should have won the game - had it not been for an equally brilliant performance by Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes. With four grabs for 73 yards on that game winning drive, Holmes won the world championship for his team. The conclusion was a brilliant 6 yard touchdown where he somehow managed to get both feet down in the end zone.
It might have taken four quarters to get there, but it became Fitzgerald vs Holmes. Two play makers both making it happen for their team. Fitzgerald came within a whisker of getting the MVP award, instead Holmes takes the title. The Cardinals receiver was taken third overall in 2004, Holmes was picked with the 25th pick of the '06 draft. Receiver seems to be a much maligned position when it comes to the draft, although the benefits of landing a truly great one are huge.
If Michael Crabtree's stock was already pretty high - their performance may just have helped him out a little. As we've said, this is a copy cat league. Crabtree's physical stat sheet is eerily similar to Fitzgerald, whether it's height, size, speed or production. Any team trying to find 'the next Larry Fitzgerald' will look at Crabtree with serious consideration. It won't just be Seattle who might be thinking this way too - St Louis and Kansas City will have been watching last night. Even though Crabtree will struggle to have the immediate impact Fitzgerald has had in the NFL, he grades out with an equal quality coming into the league.
Of course all of this is conjecture, but it's interesting to look at the two teams who made it to the big game this year and what the Seahawks can learn from them as they hope to bounce back in 2009. The road to the draft begins here and although the Super Bowl won't determine any picks on face value, I wonder if we'd hear 'Arizona' or 'Pittsburgh' mentioned in the war room?