Commentary

Will Seahawks passing game rebound?

Updated: August 12, 2010, 7:34 PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com

32 Questions

Will Matt Hasselbeck and T.J. Houshmandzadeh bounce back after subpar 2009 seasons?

To say last season for the Seattle Seahawks was a disappointment would be a huge understatement. Losing their final four games to end up 5-11 was not what this team expected, especially following the return of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck from back and knee injuries and the signing of wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh to a five-year contract in the offseason.

Even more upset were fantasy owners who relied on the duo to provide plenty of points. Unless you were getting a double-word score bonus in Scrabble, you were not pleased with the results. Houshmandzadeh had 79 catches and only three touchdowns, finishing out of the top 30 at his position. Hasselbeck was 21st among quarterbacks in ESPN standard scoring, not even good enough to be worth a backup job in a 10-team league. Obviously, most people don't think anything will be different in 2010. Current live draft results have Hasselbeck being selected in only 5.4 percent of all leagues and Houshmandzadeh is considered no better than a ninth-round pick. Yet so much has changed in the Pacific Northwest, I can't help thinking folks aren't seeing the forest for the trees.

Pete Carroll
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonPete Carroll's presence should open up the offense, at least a little bit, in 2010.
Pete Carroll is now the man calling the shots, and that should allow for a far more aggressive approach to the offense. With a gaggle of interchangeable and durability-challenged running backs -- Justin Forsett, Julius Jones, Leon Washington -- and a trio of divisional opponents more vulnerable to the pass than the run, odds are the aerial attack will take center stage in Seattle. Certainly, the play of the offensive line will go a long way toward keeping Hasselbeck both healthy for an entire season as well as successful. Last season, the quarterback was sacked 32 times in his 14 games and lost 11 fumbles in the process.

To prevent a repeat of that stat line, the Seahawks not only drafted Russell Okung in the first round to fill the left tackle position and offer up better protection of the signal-caller's blind side, but they also brought in Alex Gibbs. Gibbs not only was the architect of the offensive line schemes that helped lead John Elway and the Denver Broncos to two Super Bowl titles, but is fresh off a stint with the Houston Texans who, in 2009, finished first in the NFL in passing yards, but more importantly, allowed Matt Schaub to be sacked only once per every 23.3 attempts. Hasselbeck was sacked once every 15.2 attempts in 2009. This season, he should be hit far less often, and considering he is in the final year of his contract and the team just traded for Charlie Whitehurst -- and signed the backup to a two-year, $8 million contract -- Hasselbeck should be more than eager to make a statement that he still has plenty left in the tank.

As for Houshmandzadeh, one can choose to look at last year's performance as a sign he isn't able to be a true No. 1 wide receiver, or one can choose to admire how well he actually did considering all the injuries he played through. Three broken ribs hampered his performance for the first six weeks of the season, and then he underwent hernia surgery at the end of the season. Yet he still played in all 16 games and caught more balls than anyone else on the team. Nate Burleson is gone, having signed with the Detroit Lions, and Deion Branch is coming off his third knee surgery. That leaves Houshmandzadeh and rookie Golden Tate as the likely starters for 2010. Yes, Deon Butler and former USC standout Mike Williams are in the mix as well, but neither should challenge for T.J.'s spot in the huddle.

In the final analysis, it appears that these two Seahawks hold their fates, in both NFL and fantasy, in their own hands. Last season, the pair was clearly not on the same page, and the offensive line woes merely exacerbated the situation. Hasselbeck was often forced to release the ball far sooner than he would have liked, and long before Houshmandzadeh was able to complete his downfield routes. As a result, many passing plays were doomed to failure before they even had a chance to develop. Houshmandzadeh's recovery from his hernia operation prevented any chance of the two developing better chemistry before camp started, and reports from inside camp say the two have had some difficulties finding that common ground. However, they've been working on it.

Can they live together? If they can, then we may well see a return to the 2005 version of Matt Hasselbeck, who when sacked only 24 times for the full season, was able to throw for 24 touchdowns while getting picked off only nine times with only four lost fumbles -- numbers that would likely put him in the same fantasy neighborhood as Philip Rivers, and well inside the top 10. Add just one reception per game to Houshmandzadeh and five scores and you're looking at Marques Colston's neck of the woods and the receiving top 15. Considering where you can draft these two right now, they're both in line to be incredible draft-day bargains, and if they do decide to "die alone" instead, well, at least your entire fantasy season won't be lost.

AJ Mass is a fantasy baseball, football and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can follow AJ on Twitter or e-mail him here.