Friday, May 8, 2015

Offseason personnel moves

So sad to lose Max Unger, our best offensive lineman and a good team leader, despite occasional injuries.

Pete Carroll and John Schneider continue to force offensive line coach Tom Cable to work miracles. Would it kill them to draft some O-linemen in the first three rounds of the draft? Or sign a journeyman or two? Cable is a great coach who has transmuted free agents, late-round picks and college defensive lineman into Seahawk O-lines that appear serviceable only because DangeRuss is an escape artist and Marshawn Lynch only needs a few millimeters of daylight to pierce a defense and grind out some hard-won yards.

How do we ensure that acquiring All-pro tight end Jimmy Graham will be worth it? Under Carroll, tight ends have not been particularly productive in Seattle's offense. Zach Miller, a Pro Bowl pass catcher in Oakland, mostly used his great hands to block, working essentially as an extra O-linemen on most downs.

This was an option for Miller because he's an athlete who can catch well and block even better. I don't think anyone would argue that squandering Miller's receiving talents was ideal; it was what Seattle had to do to augment a subpar offensive line and fuel the running game that is the heart of our offense.

It would be undesirable and unwise to do the same with Golden Graham, who catches phenomenally well, but frightens no one as a blocker.

My humble proposal is to line up the Ginger Giant as a wideout. In New Orleans, Graham lined up as a wideout so often that he asked to be coded as a wide receiver rather than a tight end to earn higher pay if the Saints slapped him with the franchise tag.

As a wideout, Graham would have more opportunities to catch the ball, and better chances to help the running game. Although his blocking skills are poor for a tight end, they're good for a wideout. Once assigned to the position, he would instantly become the best route runner with the best hands and the perhaps even the best blocker in our receiving corps.

The move would also allow Seattle to keep other talent at the tight end position, including Luke Willson, Cooper Helfet and the talented but unlucky Anthony McCoy, who has been sidelined by two torn Achilles tendons in two years. We could even welcome back Zach Miller if he could pass a physical and accept a reasonable salary.

Speaking of reasonable salaries, Russell Wilson needs to get real in his contract negotiations. The Seahawks Way is to accept less than your market value for the privilege of playing on one of the best teams in the NFL. Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas are among the best in the league at their positions, but they did not cash in because they know the unique chemistry of the Legion of Boom cannot be replicated elsewhere. Once you've guaranteed several million dollars, a real chance to win championships matters much more than earning a few million dollars more. This is especially true for quarterbacks who, as the face of the franchise, have more opportunities to make money on the side.

Super Bowl XLIX, revisited

Many continue to condemn Seattle's decision to throw on second-and-goal from the one-yard line with seconds to go in the Super Bowl. That was the Diehard's knee-jerk reaction, too.

But in retrospect, it was a defensible play call. Throwing at least once made sense in terms of clock management; you probably couldn't hand off three times in a row with only twenty seconds remaining.

Moreover, throwing on second down certainly maximizes the element of surprise.

I even defend Russell Wilson's decision to throw the pass. Ricardo Lockette got about as open as a wideout can get on a goal-line slant route. Lockette is a powerful receiver with decent hands; all things being equal, he should have been able to dominate the space and catch the ball.

If DangeRuss had thrown the ball a few inches farther to the right, then it would have been a Seahawks touchdown or an incompletion.

But the real problem was that the Patriots defender sold out and jumped the route. Rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler guessed correctly that Lockette was running a slant, and he won big on that high-stakes bet.

If Seattle had called a different route for Lockette--faking an inside slant and then veering back toward the outside corner of the end zone, for example--then instead of intercepting the ball, Butler would have been the goat who bit on the fake and let Lockette get wide open for the winning touchdown.

The notion that Seattle called a pass to deprive Marshawn Lynch of the winning touchdown is absurd.

The fact is that Super Bowl XLIX was a close and hard-fought contest, easily one of the most epic championship games in NFL history.

It is unfortunate that Seattle wound up on the losing side, and infuriating that it came at the hands of Bill Belicheat, Tom Shady and the Deflatriots.

If Seattle's secondary had been healthy, the game wouldn't have been close.

Despite an elbow injury, Richard Sherman played as well as ever. However, Kam Chancellor's torn MCL clearly slowed him and prevented him from dishing out normal doses of punishment to break the will of our opponents. Recovering from a dislocated shoulder made Earl Thomas mortal, too.

Even then, if Jeremy Lane hadn't suffered a freakish compound arm fracture during his interception return, Seattle still wins.

When I was poring over Seattle's inactives before the game, I remember thinking, "Why did they deactivate Marcus Burley? The Patriots are sure to throw a lot to exploit injuries to the Legion of Boom and expose our difficulty stopping tight ends and slot receivers. I think we need Burley covering slot receivers more than we need Christine Michael as a third-string running back."

Monday, February 2, 2015

Inexplicable

If we had just done the obvious thing, we would be two-time Super Bowl champions.

Hand the ball to Beast Mode and he scores.

The Legion of Boom would have kept Tom Brady out of field goal range.

The cheaters lose, and the Seahawks earn their just deserts after a great season.

If Bevell made the call, then Cable or Carroll should have overruled him. DangeRuss should have audibled into a handoff to Lynch.

No one needs to get fired, but we can't let anything like that happen again.



Saturday, January 31, 2015

Diehard prediction: Seattle will blow out New England

Earlier this week, on Inside the NFL, Phil Simms--who normally makes sense--declared that a blowout in this Super Bowl would be "literally impossible,"

It appears that Simms literally does not know the meaning of "literally."

For Simms' growth as a user of the English language, here are a few examples of things that are in fact literally impossible:
1. Phil Simms playing in tomorrow's Super Bowl;
2. Bill Belichick or Tom Brady coming clean about Deflategate;
3. Katy Perry dressing modestly at any point during the halftime show;
4. Either team forfeiting; or
5. Both teams wearing pink tutus.

Most analysts side with Vegas in predicting a close game, and I can certainly see how that seems likely. I agree that the Patriots blowing out the Seahawks is extremely improbable, because Seattle's defense is so good, and because Carroll always seems to find a way to keep games close. But it's still possible.

The Diehard is going to edge out on a limb, defy the conventional wisdom and predict that the Seahawks will annihilate New England.

I get that this is unlikely. The Patriots have a good defense and great coaching that tends to keep games close.

But pretty much no one saw last year's Super Bowl blowout coming, either. The Broncos hadn't been dominated all year, until they encountered Seattle.

I think the Seahawks are going to come out hyped up again and ready to swoop down on the Patriots like a crazed cauldron of rabid raptors.

Tom Brady won't know what hit him, but likely names include Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Kevin Williams, Bruce Irvin and O'Brien Schofield.

Brady will complete more passes to the Legion of Boom than he does to Gronk.

Belicheat will learn that Seahawk defenders are too disciplined to fall for his unconventional formations.

And Darth Hoodie will discover that his defense has no answer for Beast Mode or for the dual threat that is DangeRuss.

Here is my rationale for predicting a blowout:

1. The Delfatriots are cheaters
OK, if anything, Belicheat’s penchant for cheateration gives the Patriots an advantage, but I couldn’t help pointing out once again that New England is dirty. Rob Krafty, Darth Hoodie and Tom Shady run a sinister program where low-character guys feel right at home, like…
1, Corey Dillon, serial wifebeater;
2. Rodney Harrison, twice voted the dirtiest player in the NFL;
3. Albert Haynesworth, the face-stomper who phoned it in after defrauding the Foreskins out of a $41 million signing bonus;
4. Aaron Hernandez, indicted and denied bail on triple murder charges; and
5. Randy Moss, who knocked down a lady cop with his car.

Every once in a while, karma kicks in and right prevails. It will happen tomorrow.

2. New England played a softer schedule

New England and Seattle both played the AFC West, but the Patriots actually did better (3-1, losing by a large margin to Kansas City), while Seattle split (2-2, losing both to Kansas City and San Diego).

The Patriots and Seahawks both went 3-1 against comparable divisions, the NFC North and East, respectively. New England lost a narrow contest to Green Bay, while Seattle let Dallas beat them at home.

The real difference emerges in divisional play. Seattle fought to the top of the NFC West, one of the league’s toughest divisions, while New England continued to dominate the sad AFC East. The NFC Best’s worst team is St. Louis, but the Rams lurked just below .500 while managing to beat solid teams like Denver, Santa Clara and Seattle. The AFC Least, on the other hand, remains a pitiful trio of subpar teams routinely surmounted by the Patriots. While Seattle went 5-1 in the NFC West, New England went 4-2, dropping games to Miami and Buffalo, and nearly getting beaten twice by the lowly New York Jets.

3. Seattle’s D can handle the Patriots
Seattle hasn’t yielded more than thirty points to any offense all year. It allowed 30 just twice, against San Diego and Dallas, early in the season. Each of those defeats was a cautionary tale with a moral relevant to Seattle’s chances in the Super Bowl. The Chargers demonstrated that a capable quarterback could beat us with a dominant tight end, and Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are certainly capable of replicating what Phillip Rivers and Antonio Gates did to us. Dallas showed that a good running back could gouge our defense, and LaGarrette Blount on a good day can run as well as DeMarco Murray on an average day. Fortunately, the Patriots’ O-line isn’t quite as formidable as the fantastic five that odious owner Jerry Jones drafted for the Cowboys.

However, those bad days against San Diego and Dallas came before the defensive resurgence that commenced with the midseason return to health of middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and strong safety Kam Chancellor.

Jamaal Charles was the last runner to gouge Seattle for more than 100 yards; not coincidentally, the Chiefs were also the last team to beat the Seahawks, in Week 11. Since then, Seattle has won eight straight, while allowing no runner to gain more than the 73 yards hard-earned by Eddie Lacy last week. The Seahawks have stood their ground, despite even the loss of premier run-stuffer Brandon Mebane and his much-missed belly roll celebration.

Six tight ends have caught touchdowns against the Seahawks this season:
1. Antonio Gates with three for the Chargers in Week 2 (Seattle lost);
2. Jacob Tamme with one for the Broncos in Week 3 (Seattle won);
3. Jason Witten and Gavin Escobar with one each for the Cowboys in Week 6 (Seattle lost);
4. Lance Kendricks with one for the Rams in Week 7 (Seattle lost)
5. Mychal Rivera with two for the Raiders in Week 9 (Seattle won)

Of course, most of that happened when Kam was gimpy and when Wags was out of the lineup.

For ten straight games, no opposing tight end has caught a touchdown pass against the Seahawks.

Over the last nine games, Seattle hasn’t allowed any receiver to accumulate more than 100 yards worth of catches. (Odell Beckham of the Giants was the last to do so, in a Week 10 loss to the Seahawks.)

None of New England’s wide receivers can handle the Legion of Boom. Denver’s wideouts posed a greater challenge last year, and look what happened to them.

Peyton Manning couldn't handle our defense. Neither could Aaron Rodgers. And neither can Tom Shady.

4. DangeRuss is Clutch Incarnate

New England will entice Wilson to reprise his mistakes against Green Bay, but he's far too smart to fall for that again. Against the Packers, DangeRuss made some uncharacteristic mistakes. For a couple of hours, Wilson experienced life the way the rest of us fallible apes do. He made some bad decisions. He dug a hole for himself. 

And then he went back to walking on water. Wilson reverted to his normative baseline of Superclutchness and, with a lot of help from his teammates, won the game.

5. Marshawn Lynch's Mortal Kombat duel with Gronk will prove prophetic

If you haven't seen it, yet, you need to Google and view the Mortal Kombat bout between Beast Mode and Rob Gronkowski that aired on Conan earlier this week. It is hilarious, and epic, and awesome. I expect tomorrow's game to play out in a similar fashion.

Go, Hawks!




Thursday, January 29, 2015

Carroll's simple schemes vs. the evil genius of Belicheat

Despite the depth and breadth of Super Bowl media coverage, analysis has generally focused on obvious themes like…

1. The contrasting personalities and coaching styles of Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll, including the fact that the former replaced the latter in New England.

2. Tom Brady and Russell Wilson’s similarities (unheralded draft picks who have vastly exceeded expectations) and differences (aging hotshot old-school prototypical quarterback vs. humble upstart dual threat point guard).

3. Tom Brady vs. Richard Sherman, Canton-bound quarterback vs. the game's most dominant corner... U mad, bro?

4. Richard Sherman vs. Darrelle Revis: Who’s the ultimate shutdown corner?

5. The clash between the Legion of Boom and the NFL’s next-best defensive secondary: Darrelle Revis, Devin McCourty, ex-Seahawk Brandon Browner and whoever New England lines up at the other safety position.

6. Clash of the Titans: Seahawks enforcer Kam Chancellor vs. Patriots bruiser Rob Gronkowski (compelling because they’re both distinguished big men, even though Seattle typically defends tight ends with linebackers, not a strong safety)

7. Marshawn Lynch and LaGarrette Blount: Two powerful and relentless runners with thuggish reputations and bad attitudes that got each jettisoned from former teams despite great talent.

These are all worthy storylines, but I won't pursue any of them here.

As a recovering coach, I see this as the ultimate test of Pete Carroll’s defensive philosophy. For more than thirty years, Carroll has run a relatively simple scheme with little variation. On most downs, the offense knows exactly what to expect:
1. Four down linemen to pressure the quarterback and choke off run lanes;
2. Corners pressing man coverage on the outside;
3. A strong safety down in the box with the linebackers to stop the run; and
4. A single-high free safety, roaming deep.

We rarely blitz or play zone. There are few surprises. This simplicity, coupled with extensive film study, frees our defenders to read offenses fast, react decisively and fully exploit their speed and athleticism. Swarm to the ball, wrap up and pulverize your opponent. We’re betting that our men are more athletic than yours, and that we will execute better than you can.

Our defense is unsexy in the upside-down world of fantasy points (i.e., not that many sacks or interceptions), but clinically effective in real-world terms: we just permit fewer points and yards than everyone else, and that’s what wins games.

Many have tried to out-scheme Carroll’s defense. Few have succeeded. But Bill Belichick is an evil genius. If any coach could crack the code, it is he. If there are weaknesses, he will find and capitalize upon them. Darth Hoodie’s creative schemes have already stymied some good defenses (like Baltimore’s), while humiliating some decent ones, like Indianapolis.

If Belicheat can find the Achilles’ talon of the Seahawk defense, and if his athletes can execute, then the game might be close.

In three of Seattle's four losses, tight ends exposed our defense. Conveniently, Belichick's offense features tight ends, including one who is the best in the business.

Carroll's defense has kept tight ends under control during the current eight-game win streak, but Gronk presents the toughest challenge, yet. 

Seattle's offense is similarly simple. We're going to run the ball at you. You know this, so you're going to stack the box to try to corral Marshawn Lynch. We rarely deploy power formations, because our O-line and fullback aren't good enough to blast holes through you. We generally get more mileage from a read-option look, which forces defenses to spend men containing both Beast Mode and Russell Wilson.

Putting eight men in the box also makes it hard for the diminutive DangeRuss to find throwing lanes from the pocket, so he needs to roll out or drop deep. Our receivers don't always get open in the first few seconds, but once Wilson starts scrambling, they improvise routes and eventually elude defenders.

The blueprint for stopping our offense is in the public record. Five teams held Seattle under twenty points this season.

Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell runs hot and cold. When he's in the zone, his playcalling is inspired and inventive, and keeps the defense off balance. But sometimes he assists the defense with pedantic predictability.

At his best, Bevell can match wits with Darth Hoodie. But if we get the vanilla version of Bevell, then Belicheat's defense will severely limit our offense.

Next up: The Diehard prediction

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Bill Belicheat, Tom Shady & the Deflatriots


It isn't cheating when the Patriots deploy legal but unorthodox formations. I did it with some regularity when I coached, because few high school kids understand that only backs and uncovered ends are eligible receivers. I had no idea that cheap tricks like that could work in the NFL, and it's amusing when when the Baltimore Ravens complained that it was unfair when Bill Belichick exploited their ignorance of rules that have held true since they played Pop Warner.

But Spygate and Deflategate were real instances of cheating.

The only thing sadder than the cheating is the staunch defense of cheating by many coaches, athletes and sports fans. Recall the way the NFL community condemned Eric Mangini for calling out the Patriots on Spygate. Consider how many quarterbacks are supporting the fiction that they'd have no idea if a ball were underinflated by two or more pounds per square inch. (It's obvious even to a layperson, and infinitely moreso by an NFL quarterback; master craftsmen can detect even minute irregularities when working with the tools of their trade.)

Strong evidence suggests that the Patriots may have been doing this for several seasons, and that they have derived a powerful competitive advantage from doing so: http://www.sharpfootballanalysis.com/blog/2015/the-new-england-patriots-mysteriously-became-fumble-proof-in-2007

It is impossible to believe that Tom Brady would be oblivious to the underinflation of footballs.

The sad thing is that New England is a talented and well-coached team. They would be reasonably successful even if they didn't cheat. But they might not be playing in their third Super Bowl of the decade.

Yesterday, Patriots owner Rob Kraft had the gall to demand an apology if the Patriots are exonerated.

I expect New England to stonewall and deny accountability. I expect the league to go gutless and decline to discipline the Patriots for this obvious breach.

But I suspect the NFL will develop procedures to prevent similar kinds of cheating going forward.

I get that the Seahawks don't want to give the Patriots any bulletin board material, but the fact of that matter is that every fan who believes in playing by the rules needs to be pulling for Seattle in this Super Bowl.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

best-laid plans...

So... I still haven't seen Sunday's game.

I know that's not very Diehard of me.

Here's what happened: My family took a road trip over MLK weekend, from the Bay Area down to L.A. and then over to Tucson, the town where our son was born. Of course, I carefully planned the itinerary to ensure that I would be able to see the game at the Skeptical Chymist, a Seahawks bar in Scottsdale. (I wanted no repeat of the 2010 NFC divisional round when I watched Chicago crush Seattle in the bar next to my Tucson hotel, which happened to be a Bears-themed joint.)

My partner didn't have time to look at the itinerary, so she booked a salon appointment along the way, and this triggered a cascade of dominoes that put us behind schedule and made my worst nightmare a reality: We had to hit the road on Sunday morning.

As my lovely partner and beautiful boy dozed, I sped demonically down I-10 eastbound, making extraordinarily good time. I pulled off in Palm Springs with time to spare before kickoff. While stopped at a red light, I wondered... could there be a Seahawks bar here? Yes, indeed: Google pointed my iPhone to Beer Hunter (love the Bob & Doug McKenzie reference).

I tried to sell my partner on the idea of depositing me at Beer Hunter for a few hours while she and our son enjoyed lunch, shopped and hit the playground. This did not go well. She wisely pointed out that a long delay like that would make for a very late night and derail our plans for Monday.

So, we bolted a quick lunch at Taco Asado (great Mexican hole in the wall in Palm Springs) while I scanned the radio dial until I found the game broadcaset. Then, we used Waze to find a good playground for our sun while listening to the dispiriting end of the first half. We let our son run around on the playground until imminent sunburn threatened his paleness (and mine), and then we piled in the car.

I thought we were bound for the interstate again, but I learned that there are more important things than the Seahawks and making Tucson by nightfall. Specifically, my partner needed to hit the Anthropologie in Palm Desert to find something fashionable to wear the following day.

My partner and I rather heatedly debated the priorities involved while I obediently drove her there and tried to listen to the game while our toddler son screamed in his car seat. The futility of Seattle's efforts at that stage of the third quarter threw me into overload, and I had to turn off the game to maintain my sanity.

I played with my son for a long time while my partner painstakingly scrutinized every garment in the store.

Finally, we left Anthropologie and hit the road again.

I was too broken to turn on the game, but my partner, to her infinite credit, insisted that we do so. We listened on the radio while Seattle drove for its second touchdown, scored an improbable 2-point conversion, recovered an impossible onside kick, and held Green Bay to a field goal to put the game into overtime. My partner and I shouted for joy. Our son seemed perplexed that the Seahawks could score a touchdown when the TV wasn't on. She doesn't like the sport, but she said she enjoyed football more on the radio.

We pulled off in a godforsaken stretch of desert somewhere between Palm Springs and Blythe so my partner could rummage around in the luggage to find something for the baby. In this desolate place, with a fading radio signal, we heard about Russell Wilson airing it out to Jermaine Kearse for the game-winning touchdown. I smiled and turned off the radio.

I saw the highlights that night in our Tucson hotel, but I can't wait to see the whole game when I get home.