Coach Pete Carroll's Seahawks can learn from how the Packers and Steelers made it to Super Bowl.
This is the worst time to be an NFL also-ran.
Two weeks of hype for Super Bowl XLV has begun, which is great for Green Bay and Pittsburgh. But the league’s 30 other cities are relegated to jealous smirks as America’s greatest sports party carries on without them.
For the envious and the defeated, there is no avoiding what will happen on Feb. 6 in Dallas. It’s wise to watch the best and learn from them.
Which brings us to our local also-ran, the Seahawks.
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What can they learn from these Super Bowl participants and apply to their rebuilding plans? Plenty. But let’s whittle the list to the five most pertinent lessons.
Lesson No. 1: You don’t need a top-10 pick to draft your franchise quarterback
The Seahawks’ top offseason priority is to formalize a plan at quarterback that benefits them in the short and long term. It’s not easy to do, and that’s why quick-fix solutions such as acquiring Carson Palmer or Vince Young dominate the chatter among sports fans and media.
But here’s a crazy stat: 35 of 44 times the Super Bowl-winning quarterback has been drafted or acquired before his prime and developed by the victorious team. It means that almost 80 percent of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks are investments that teams make early.
Super Bowl XLV pits Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh’s draft pick at No. 11 overall in 2004) against Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay’s draft pick at No. 24 overall in 2005). This is the clear standard. Find your franchise quarterback when he’s in his early 20s, develop him and prosper.
It’s rare that a champion makes a trade for a Drew Brees. It’s rare that a defense is so dominant that it can win with a Trent Dilfer merely managing the game. But it’s not rare to draft a franchise quarterback, even when you don’t have a top-10 pick.
The Seahawks need to re-sign Matt Hasselbeck and use this draft to figure out a quarterback succession plan. It has worked amazingly for Green Bay, with Rodgers stepping in for future Hall of Famer Brett Favre.
Lesson No. 2: Draft like crazy and never let your team get old
The Steelers are playing in their third Super Bowl in six years because they are perhaps the NFL’s best at building through the draft. The Packers are doing the same, and they have thrived despite consistently being one of the NFL’s youngest teams.
Pete Carroll is headed down this path, and he has general manager John Schneider, a Green Bay protégé, to help him. With a philosophy based on competition, don’t expect the Seahawks to overpay aging veterans. They’ve already shown a willingness to get better by going young. This is a physical sport best played with a roster with as many 24- to 28-year-olds as possible.
Lesson No. 3: Defense first
This Super Bowl features two of the league’s top five defenses. Besides Rodgers’ great play, the Packers were able to win three straight playoff road games because of their defense. The Steelers have allowed just 207.5 yards per game in the postseason.
The Seahawks, who haven’t won a road playoff game since 1983, will remain a team that can only get it done at home until they build one of the league’s better defenses. For Carroll, a defensive-minded coach, his Seattle tenure will be defined by how he handles that task.
Lesson No. 4: You must be able to run when it matters
The Steelers punished the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game and rushed for 166 yards against a great defense. Pittsburgh, always a smash-mouth team, did what it does best.
On the other hand, Green Bay ranked just 24th in the league in rushing during the regular season. But the Packers improved late in the season and won playoff games with better balance. Rookie James Starks, a sixth-round draft pick from Buffalo, played in just three regular-season games, but he leads the NFL in postseason rushing yards (263).
Lesson No. 5: Depth means everything
The Packers were forced to put 15 players on injured reserve, including six starters. But they’re here anyway. The Steelers are always deep enough to handle injury rashes. The Seahawks did a good job of using their talent, but they didn’t have enough to overcome the losses of key players. It’s a huge focal point for Carroll as he moves forward.
OK, so if the Seahawks master those five things in the next two or three years, they’ll be a true contender.
Then they’ll only need to find a player with the talent and locks of Clay Matthews and Troy Polamalu, because if you haven’t heard, longhair defensive freaks from USC are in vogue at the Super Bowl.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer