Saturday, January 14, 2017

Pound the rock & break the ice


Seahawks fullback Marcel Reece can do more than just block, and he celebrates catching a pass for a two-point conversion against Arizona. (Bettina Hansen/The Seattle Times)
Seattle fullback Marcel Reece (Photo Credit: Seattle Times)

In order to beat Atlanta today, Seattle needs to sustain the strengths that defeated Detroit last week,

After a season of troubled gestation, our offensive line improbably came together and came to life, manhandling Lion linemen and linebackers to make running room for a finally-healthy Thomas Rawls. Even our tight ends blocked well, but the secret sauce in our revitalized ground game is late-season arrival Marcel Reece. Though new to the team, the fullback is an old hand in Tom Cable's run scheme, by virtue of their common Oakland pedigree. Last week, Reece played a key role in clearing those running lanes for Rawls, and then Baby Beast Mode did the rest, grinding out precious yards after contact by busting through arm tackles and dragging defenders with him.

Fortunately, the Falcon run defense ranks 29th out of 32 teams in the NFL, so the Seahawks should be able to gain some yards on the ground today. Less happily, Reece hurt his foot last week, so he may not be able to play as much or as well. To compensate, Seattle might need to run more read-option. Moreover, the possible return of rookie CJ Prosise--a tough and elusive runner with great hands--would add a welcome extra dimension to Seattle's backfield.

By running the ball, the Seahawks can Bogart time of possession, slow down the game, and keep Atlanta's potent offense off the field.

The Falcons struggle to stop opposing passers, too; they rank 28th in pass defense. Atlanta particularly struggles to cover tight ends, so Seattle should target Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson early and often. As for the wideouts, Doug Baldwin and Paul Richardson had monster games last week, and Jermaine Kearse has a knack for playoff heroics.

Special teams may be interesting. Punter Jon Ryan remains consistent, but Stephen Hauschka continues to shank extra points with alarming frequency. Newcomer Tyler Ott may prove a steadier longsnapper than the injured Nolan Frese. In Devin Hester, Seattle replaced the injured Tyler Lockett with the best returner in league history. Hester may have lost a step, but he may have also added value as a source of fairly recent intelligence on Atlanta special teams, having played there from 2014-15.

The main event, of course, is the showdown between the high-octane Falcon offense, which led the league in scoring, and Seattle's defense, which ranked third in stinginess.

Atlanta runs and throws equally well. The Seahawks remain stout on the ground, but have become suspect through the air. In our narrow home win over the Falcons earlier this year, Earl Thomas III showed up big, but Kam Chancellor and Frank Clark missed the whole game and Michael Bennett missed half of it due to injuries. Since losing Thomas, the Seahawks have struggled to stop opposing passers. 

Fortunately, the rest of our defense is reasonably deep and pretty healthy again, and they looked good last week. Three-fourths of the Legion of Boom remains intact: Chancellor continues to enforce; Richard Sherman remains miserly, and DeShawn Shead has held up well on the other side despite relentless targeting. All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner continues to play like a man possessed. If our front four can pressure, punish and rattle the normally imperturbable "Matty Ice," then Seattle may be able to slow Atlanta enough to make the game competitive.

Go, Hawks!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Appreciating Seattle's modest playoff prospects

Image result for jimmy graham
This player should be used almost exclusively for running routes and catching passes

The Seahawks probably won't fly far this postseason, but the team did well to win ten games and secure the NFC's third seed.

Pete Carroll's defense held up pretty well. Bobby Wagner led the league in tackles to secure his reputation as the best linebacker in football. Richard Sherman maintained his All-Pro form. However, injuries sidelined Michael Bennett for several weeks and Earl Thomas indefinitely. After four straight seasons as the NFL's #1 scoring defense, Seattle slipped to a merely excellent #3 in 2016 (behind New England and the Giants).

Special teams suffered primarily due to the team's summertime decision to conserve salary cap space by cutting veteran long snapper Clint Gresham and replacing him with rookie Nolan Frese--a move that contributed to several of Stephen Hauschka's botched extra points and pitifully short field goals. Had we kept Gresham, Seattle probably would have swept Arizona instead of tying the first time and losing the second.

Like many longtime Seattle fans, I believe in investing in the offensive line. (Look what it's done for Dallas!)

However, I refuse to join the chorus condemning Coach Carroll and GM John Schneider for the bargain-rate O-Line they fielded. I understand the underlying economic reality: If you want to keep the league's best defense together, then you have to save money elsewhere. Seattle did the right thing by investing draft picks in the offensive line this year, giving unit coach Tom Cable better raw material than he has had in past years--raw material that will remain under contract at affordable rates for the next 3-4 years. Justin Britt is emerging as a solid center, and the rest of the line shows sporadic promise; I predict they'll be pretty good next year.

An injury epidemic ensured that the offensive line never really had a chance to gel this year. Some of those injuries were on the O-Line, forcing shifts that disrupt chemistry, but a battered backfield created even more chaos. The offense had to change radically early in the season when Russell Wilson was hobbled by a host of hurts, and had to change still more as virtually every running back we fielded succumbed to injury in turn: Thomas Rawls, Christine Michael, CJ Prosise, Troymaine Pope, Will Tukuafu, Thomas Rawls again, etc.! (I did question the decision to cut Christine Michael when he got injured... he seems to be playing well enough for Green Bay. Did his attitude problem come back?)

Russell Wilson played like a champ. He gutted it out through hideous injuries, found ways to survive despite horrid O-Line play, the frequent inability of his receivers to get open, and stupefying play-calling by offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.

Jimmy Graham's improvement as a blocker on running plays reflects well on his character as a football player and a teammate, but it reflects poorly on Darrell Bevell as an offensive coordinator. We pay Golden Graham the big bucks to catch balls and score touchdowns. If the Ginger Giant can take one or two defenders out of the play just by running a decoy route, then why keep him in to block so much of the time? If you need an extra blocker, use Brandon Williams or Nick Vannett, or throw in a sixth offensive lineman. Reserve Graham (and Luke Willson) primarily for use as receivers.

Seattle continues to dominate the NFC West, having won the division eight times in the last 13 seasons. While the Seahawks struggled to defeat its divisional opponents, the rest of the league had little trouble with our NFC West rivals. We won the division title in large part thanks to Arizona's unexpected implosion, combined with the customary suckitude of the Rams and 49ers.

The Seahawks looked like Super Bowl contenders only once this season, during our road win over New England. We started a robust 7-2-1, but then faded to an anemic 3-3 after Thanksgiving.

Still, ten wins is a real achievement any year, and anything can happen in the postseason. The Lions are an even worse road team (3-5) than Seattle (3-4-1). Moreover, Detroit ended the season with a three-game losing streak, so they're stumbling into the playoffs worse than we are. With the deafening roar of the 12s behind us, the Seahawks need to exorcise the demons of our home loss to Arizona and savage the injury-wracked Lions without mercy.

Finally, apologies to any loyal readers for going AWOL for most of 2016. Life got busy, and what little time I could spare for writing I spent writing about history and current events, mostly in a failed effort to avert the tragic onset of the Fourth Reich.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Siegfried & the roster flaw that could blow the season



Image result for trevone boykin seahawks
Coach Carroll counsels backup quarterback Trevone Boykin last week against Dallas (Photo Credit: TNB)
How is the Seattle's roster like Siegfried?

No, not the Vegas entertainer whose partner got mauled by a tiger. I'm talking about the tragic hero of Wagnerian opera.

In Germanic legend, Siegfried slew a dragon and bathed in its blood to become invincible. Unfortunately, a leaf fell on his back and stuck there, so that one spot--right behind his heart--remained unprotected. His wife Kriemhild helpfully stitched a yellow cross on the back of Siegfried's shirt to mark the point of vulnerability--ostensibly to help his comrades shield him, but in fact to facilitate his assassination.

[Illustration]Coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider have sewn a similarly glaring weakness into the fabric of the Seahawk roster.

If Russell Wilson were to suffer a serious injury, then Seattle's season would be finished. Having lost the security blanket of Tarvaris Jackson, the team has settled on rookie free agent Trevone Boykin as its backup quarterback. A Horned Frog from Texas Christian University of the Big 12, he got drunk and punched a cop two days before last year's Alamo Bowl, thus blowing his chance to play in the biggest game of his life to date, while also convincing NFL teams not to risk a draft pick on him.

Boykin failed to impress during the preseason. He runs well, but his errant throws and questionable decisions should relegate him to remedial work on the practice squad. While DangeRuss has proven remarkably durable to date--he's never missed a practice or a game as a Seahawk--betting the season on that run of luck continuing indefinitely is simply foolish.

There are many better options. Let us begin with several quarterbacks who already know the Seahawk offense.

The Bears waived B.J. Daniels on Friday. (AP)
BJ Daniels, Seattle's once (and future?) backup quarterback (Photo Credit: CST)
Chicago just cut BJ Daniels. He served as Seattle's third-string quarterback and sometime wideout and kick returner from 2013-15. During the 2015 preseason, he executed the offense even better than Tarvaris Jackson did. Late in the season, the Seahawks tried to stash him on the practice squad, but Houston stole him to add quarterback depth. During the offseason, he tried to catch on first with the New York Giants and then with the Bears as a receiver and returner. That versatility certainly increases his utility for Seattle (fragile reserve corner Tharold Simon is our backup kick returner?!?!?), but it presumably would not take long for Daniels to knock off the rust and supersede Boykin as our best backup option under center.

Former Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson was arrested in Florida last week for investigation of aggravated assault. Photo: Courtesy WESH
T-Jack's mug shot (Photo Credit: P-I)
The Seahawks could roll the dice again on longtime backup Tarvaris Jackson, Presumably, he would owe a suspension of several games for getting drunk and pulling a gun on his wife, Given that he cited poverty to request a public defender for his criminal case, he seems so financially desperate that he would probably play for the veteran minimum salary. Employment could restore some semblance of structure to his life and help him recover from his demons and become a better husband and father.

Two other former Seahawk backups--Clipboard Jesus (Charlie Whitehurst) and Matt Flynn--remain available. Neither can credibly replicate the running dimension of Seattle's offense, but both of them throw well enough. Christ of Clemson and his pop star girlfriend Jewel could double date with DangeRuss and Ciara.

Jewel Dating Charlie Whitehurst
Clipboard Jesus & Jewel (Photo Credit: HW)
Even Matt Hasselbeck would be a good option, if he were not poised for stardom as an ESPN analyst.

Having exhausted the ranks of former Seahawks, we can contemplate quarterbacks with skill sets well-suited to the Seattle offense.

As I have suggested before, the team should consider coaxing local hero Jake Locker out of retirement. Injuries marred his stint in Tennessee, but being Seattle's backup would give him an opportunity to finish his career with dignity.

Mike Vick looked dismal with Pittsburgh last year, but may be worth a tryout to see if he's a better fit in Seattle's offense.

Of course, there's always Tim Tebow.

I mention him only to see if it attracts additional traffic to my website, and for the opportunity to troll him: Tebow reminds me of Michael Sam: both of them achieved more fame as cultural icons than their athletic achievements justified, and both lost my respect when they refused to pay their dues in the Canadian Football League, If they really loved the game, then they should have followed Joe Theismann, Warren Moon, Doug Flutie, Brandon Browner and other unconventional athletes who proved their detractors wrong by dominating the CFL and earning another shot in the NFL. Tebow's recent decision to try out for pro baseball seems particularly quixotic. Even if he makes it, how would playing his next-best sport for chump change in the minors be better than pursuing his true calling in the CFL?

Finally, there's Johnny Football. Sorry. Kidding again. Obviously, Manziel is kryptonite cancer dumpster fire train wreck.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Putting Tom Brady’s struggle in perspective

The owners Kraft, Bill Belicheat & Tom Shady gloat (Photo Credit:  AP/NFL)
Tom Brady just acquiesced to a modicum of martyrdom. Earlier today, the New England quarterback finally ended his prolonged appeal of a league suspension. Brady continues to maintain his innocence, but will accept the consequences for rigging game balls during his team’s defeat of Indianapolis in the 2014 NFC Championship. That victory enabled the ethically incorrigible Patriots to advance to Super Bowl XLIX, which they also won.
During his suspension, Brady will sit out the first four weeks of the 16-game regular season. For missing one-fourth of the regular season, he will lose nearly a quarter of his salary. Originally, forfeiting those game checks would have cost him more than $2 million, but New England kindly reworked Tom Shady’s contract to defeat league discipline. By shifting funds from game checks to untouchable bonus money, the team cut the cheater’s losses to just $235,000 of the $13 million he will earn this year.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft denounced the league’s punishment of his multi-millionaire employee as “unprecedented, unjust and unreasonable.” In a statement, the billionaire businessman put Brady’s struggle in perspective: “What Tom has had to endure throughout this 18-month ordeal has been, in my opinion, as far removed from due process as you could ever expect in this country.”
Evidently, Kraft doesn’t watch the news. Last week, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile endured actual ordeals much farther removed from due process, and infinitely more damaging to the fabric of this country.
Perhaps their astonishing lack of ethical perspective helps explain Kraft and Brady’s affection for Donald Trump, who promises, if elected, to perpetrate even more extreme violations of our constitutional liberties.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Bye, T-Jack

Hey, T-Jack.

I didn't want it to end this way.

I appreciated your contributions to the franchise. I'm sorry it never worked out for you to become a successful longtime starter in the league. We all felt safe with you as Russell Wilson's backup, and we would have liked that to continue.

But not now. Dude, why do you even have a gun? Why would you handle a firearm while inebriated? And why on earth would you pull a gun on your wife?

You need to get help. Your NFL career doesn't have to be over, but playing this year seems unlikely. Take the time you need to resolve your mental health issues, make restitution, reconcile with your family and sort out the legal situation. If there are second chances for Mike Vick and Ben Rapistberger, then there is hope for you, too. But getting your life together and providing for your children is far more important than returning to the field.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Who was history's greatest male athlete?




I am long overdue to write about Seattle's eventful offseason.

I've been posting a lot on my history blog. It rarely relates to sports, but yesterday was an exception.

I wrote this piece weighing the evidence for who deserves the title of greatest male athlete in recorded history.

Even the most casual reader of this blog knows what a hopeless homer I am, but no, I did not make a case for any Seahawks--not even my man Walter Jones, a transcendent talent who remains criminally underrated.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Good riddance, DirecTV

...and the horse you rode in on.


Once the Seahawks got eliminated from the playoffs, I eliminated DirecTV.

When you live outside of your home team's market, NFL Sunday Ticket is the only way to ensure that you can see every Seahawk game in the comfort of your own home. And subscribing to DefecTV is the only way to get NFL Sunday Ticket.

When you roll in taxes, fees and nickel & dime equipment charges, RegreTV gouges customers about $100 per month for basic service--about double what cable costs, for essentially the same channels! And then, when football season comes, you still have to pay several hundred additional dollars to get NFL Sunday Ticket.

To add insult to injury, InepTV's college football offerings have always been feeble, unless you pony up another several more hundred dollars for yet another sports package. Penury forced me to choose between the Huskies and the Seahawks, and that's not right.

It almost used to be worth it to pay DiureticTV. Before I had a family, I played fantasy football and watched every televised NFL game, every Thursday and Monday night and all day on Sundays. Now I can barely make time for the Seahawks game once a week.

Aside from football, I've never watched that much television. I'm in the dad zone right now: I don't have much time to watch anything my son can't watch with me. In the unusual event that he falls asleep when I'm awake, watching television is generally dead last on my list of things to do.

However, when we had DefecateTV, my son could not get enough of the several Disney channels, the Cartoon Network, Nickel Odious, etc. While there is some good kids' programming (Wonder Pets, Octonauts), much of it is stultifying (Thomas & Friends), ugly (computer-animated everything), ultraviolent (superheroes, A Clockwork Orange) or idiotic (Paw Patrol--the dumbest thing to come out of Canada since Loverboy).

So, when Carolina eliminated Seattle, I leapt at the chance to cancel Hubris UncheckedTV.

Of course, it's not easy to cancel JesusWepTV. On their website, you can upgrade your package (i.e., agree to pay them more money), but you can neither trade down to a lower-priced package nor cancel your service altogether.

To do anything that might result in SuspecTV taking less of your money, you need to dial it back to the 20th century, pick up the phone and spend an eternity navigating an inefficient automated labyrinth designed to thwart you from speaking to a human being.

When you do reach a customer disservice representative, the conversation somewhat resembles the horrible experience that one guy had trying to cancel his service with Comcast.

Of course, Dick (not his real name... probably) asked why I wanted to cancel. I didn't feel like baring my soul to Dick, so I told him it was a purely financial decision and I politely asked if we could complete the transaction as quickly as possible.

"Are you aware that you are still under contract with us?" Dick asked ominously. He explained that I owed HenpeckedTV five more months and it would cost me money to break my contract.

"What's the damage?" I asked.

Dick did some math and said I would need to pay $120 to be done with GenuflecTV.

"That's a bargain!" I exclaimed. "That's like paying one month to get out of paying the next four months. Yes--please cancel my service now."

"Is there anything we can do to encourage you to stay with us?"

"Nope. I need to save money, so unless you are going to pay me to keep DirecTV, please cancel my service immediately."

"We can give you 5% off per month for the next year," Dick offered hopefully.

"No. That's not you paying me. That's still me paying you. Please cancel my service."

My broken record routine eventually got through to him. After twentysome excruciating minutes (hold time plus talking to Dick), I was a free man.

I enjoyed boxing up their equipment and shipping it back to them. Die, Wrecked TV!