Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Running back depth solutions

Seattle slept on Robert Turbin, so he's in Dallas now

In general, GM John Schneider and Coach Pete Carroll make solid personnel decisions.

However, given the uncertainty surrounding the running back position, their failure to re-sign Robert Turbin looks like an epic fail.

Marshawn Lynch is ailing and may need surgery that could knock him out for the rest of the regular season. Baby Beast Mode Thomas Rawls has vastly exceeded expectations and appears perfectly capable of carrying the load as our primary runner. Fred Jackson looks like a good third-down back, but I doubt the aging back would last long if an injury to the rookie forced him into a starting role.

Given that defensive lineman Will Tukuafu has supplanted Derrick Coleman as our starting fullback, I question whether Coleman constitutes a credible solution as our third-string tailback.

Robert Turbin, on the other hand, contributed successfully as our backup running back from 2012-2014. He's also close friends with Russell Wilson.

The Cowboys cut Christine Michael... let's grab him! 
When Turbo got injured in preseason, we cut him, hoping he'd clear waivers so he'd be available once he recovered. Unfortunately, Cleveland claimed him, played him in weeks 6-8, and then cut him on November 10th.

Seattle had plenty of time to sign him. Instead, Dallas picked him up on November 18th and he played well in last week's game. The Cowboys cut Christine Michael to make room for him; the former Aggie wound up on Washington's practice squad.

It's a shame that we missed out on Turbin, but we should consider picking up Michael. He actually runs better than Turbo. He falls short as a receiver and as a blocker in pass protection, but we have Rawls and Jackson for that.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Baby Beast Mode goes off

Seattle Seahawks running back Thomas Rawls, left, pushes off San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite, right, as he runs for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) Photo: Elaine Thompson, Associated Press / AP
Stiffarm of doom? Check. (Photo Credit: PI)

Respect to offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell for calling a nigh-perfect game. Seattle moved the ball efficiently, dominated time of possession, exploited our opponents' weaknesses and broke the spirit of the Santa Clara defense early and often.

Congratulations to Tom Cable and his patchwork O-Line, which finally came together, dominated the line of scrimmage, blew open running lanes and even performed respectably in pass protection. Even when injuries forced substitutions, the line didn't miss a beat. Let's hope the injuries aren't serious.

Accolades for Baby Beast Mode--backup rookie running back Thomas Rawls--who exceeded all expectations by amassing 255 total yards and two touchdowns. His 209 yards on the ground constituted the second-best rushing performance in franchise history.

Acclaim for our little rookie wideout Tyler Lockett, who torched the 49ers with speed for one touchdown and ran over three defenders for another. I also saw him blocking tenaciously on several downs, and saving Russell Wilson from a sack by making himself available for a long-distance lateral on a read-option keeper gone bad.

Gratitude for Angry Doug Baldwin, who continues to bail out DangeRuss by coming open at clutch intervals. That sideline run was an epic display of heart. I hope Baldwin's injury isn't serious, either.

Praise for Wilson, who made great decisions and recovered his pinpoint accuracy, completing 83% of his passes for 260 yards.

Props to Pete Carroll and Kris Richard's defense for smothering Santa Clara's run game and holding them to just 59 yards on the ground. Unfortunately, it appears that the 49ers have found their quarterback in Blaine Gabbert.

And condolences to Steven Hauschka for two botched extra points. Ouch. It looked like a bad snap or hold on the first one, and a partial block on the second. Fortunately, we didn't need the points today.

Get well, Beast Mode.

Go, Hawks!

It's still the offense

Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell

Last week's demoralizing loss to Arizona means the 4-5 Seahawks probably need to win out to earn entry into the playoffs.

Seattle hasn't dropped two home games in a single season since going 7-9 season in 2011.

This is serious.

The Legion of Boom got torched by Carson Palmer and his receiving corps last week, but the run defense held, and our linebackers and linemen kept us in the game with two strip sacks deep in Cardinals territory--a scoop and score, plus another turnover inside the five to set up a touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch.

For the most part, the defense did its job. The problem was the offense's failure to sustain drives, which gave Arizona a 2:1 advantage in time of possession. No defense can be expected to contain the dynamic Cardinals offense for forty minutes.

At this point, Darrell Bevell should be coaching for his job. I feel like a broken record, but the biggest problem is predictable and unimaginative playcalling. 

Our offense works best when Russell Wilson establishes a run threat. The read option works particularly well, but we use it less and less. Why?

We were running the ball successfully against Arizona, but we abandoned the run prematurely and exacerbated the time of possession problem.

Stop wasting so many downs on low-percentage designed long bombs. We rarely complete them. Most of our long completions come on scramble drills.

Install some rhythm passing schemes and comeback routes for high-percentage completions.

Call designed rollouts compensate for our weak pass protection and give our receivers time to get open.

Dial up some screen passes to punish overeager pass rushers.

Use spread formations to give our receivers space to get open while opening more real estate for our runners to exploit.

Wilson should reconsider his commitment to abstinence if that's what's hurting his execution.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Is 2015 a reverse 1985?

Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1985?
Even if you're old enough to remember the 1985, you've probably blocked it out of your mind.

Seattle entered the season riding high, coming fresh from the franchise's first two playoff appearances.

In 1983, new Coach Chuck Knox and rookie running back Curt Warner had led Seattle to a winning regular season record (9-7) and improbable playoff success (2-1), the loss coming in the AFC Championship to the Raiders, who went on to win Super Bowl XVIII.

When Warner tore his ACL in the 1984 season opener, many lost hope. But Seattle surprised everyone by scrapping its Ground Chuck run-oriented offense and replacing it with Air Knox, a bombs-away aerial attack featuring Dave Krieg throwing to Steve Largent and deep threat Daryl "the Burner" Turner. Seattle went 12-4 in the regular season and 1-1 in the playoffs, losing to Miami in the divisional round. (The Dolphins lost Super Bowl XIX to the 49ers.)

The city received a lump of coal for the team's 10th Anniversary

As 1985 dawned, Seattle seemed poised for a third playoff run, and ready to go all the way this time. All the pieces appeared in place, with Warner returning to add a potent running threat to our established aerial attack, plus Rusty Tillman's solid special teams and the bedrock excellence of a smothering, larcenous defense with a knack for turnovers.

The Seahawks were so supremely confident that they filmed "Locker Room Rock," a Super Bowl music video featuring Michael Jackson with several Seahawks. Yes, the real Michael Jackson singing and dancing with half-naked players in the Seattle locker room. Well, not the King of Pop. We had a linebacker by that name then, who happened to sing passably well, and he cut the lead vocal and lip-synchs it in the video.

Alas, "Locker Room Rock" proved less prophetic than Chicago's "Super Bowl Shuffle" from the same year. Powered by Walter Payton and a historically great defense, the Bears went 15-1 and dominated New England in Super Bowl XX.

A bad man on a middling team, Kenny Easley made the Pro Bowl
Seattle, on the other hand, went 8-8 and missed the playoffs altogether. The most bizarre part, though, was how they did it: the Seahawks alternated two wins, followed by two losses, for the entire season.

It was mystifying. Two steps forward, two steps back. All year. The crew that took us to playoff glory the two previous years underperforming with consistent inconsistency.

And now we're doing it again. After the two greatest years in franchise history, the same cast of characters is pulling a reverse 1985: lose two, win two, lose two, win two... it is hard to believe that this can continue all season, but it was equally hard to believe 30 years ago.

We need to get it together and dismantle Santa Clara to dispel this terrible sense of déjà vu.

Go, Hawks!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Staying Alive

So far this season, Seattle has trounced the weak and struggled against the strong. Looking at the present records of our opponents thus far this year, the Seahawks are 4-1 against losing teams (Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, St. Louis, San Francisco) and 0-3 versus winners.

Seattle needs to reverse this trend to stay alive for the division title. Arizona has built a 2-game lead in the division, but the Seahawks can erase that lead in head-to-head competition by sweeping the Cardinals, earning the tiebreaker advantage and--crucially--keeping at least even with the redbirds versus the rest of the NFL between tonight and the season finale in Glendale.

Arizona is really good this year. Carson Palmer has never played better, nor has he ever enjoyed such a strong supporting cast on offense. After a disastrous start to the season, Seattle's defense finally started rounding into form before the bye, holding the anemic offenses of Dallas and San Francisco to five field goals and zero touchdowns. Limiting Arizona's aerial attack will require much loftier heroics.

Fortunately, nickel cornerback Jeremy Lane returns from injury to bolster the secondary.

The Cardinals defense remains strong, and Seattle's offense has trouble getting out of its own way. The O-Line is gradually improving, but despite the excellence of our quarterback, running backs and receivers, the offense remains significantly less than the sum of its parts. Darrell Bevell's playcalling remains suspect. Russell Wilson's decisionmaking and accuracy have been a little off. Receivers have dropped a few balls. We move the ball but we can't seal the deal.

Here, too, reinforcements should help. Special teams standout Ricardo Lockette is lost for the season, but speedster Paul Richardson--who came on strong late in his rookies season--has returned from injury and is reportedly faster than ever.

I feel like Seattle is close to getting it together on offense. Bevell and DangeRuss will find their grooves, and it will be like that run late in 2013 when we were dropping fortyburgers and fiftyburgers on folks.

With Marshawn Lynch hurt--he's active, but may be limited--Wilson will need to carry more of the load. Thomas Rawls and Fred Jackson are capable runners, but I think the coaches' decision to leave Cooper Helfet--our best blocking tight end--signals their intent to use multiple-wideout sets and spread the field.

It should be fun. Roar, 12th Man, roar! Go, Hawks!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Founding Fullback

Fullback Don Testerman looks for room to run in 1976
Happy Birthday to my man Don Testerman (born 1954), Seattle's first fullback.

A Danville native, his college odyssey included stops at Division III Ferrum, Virginia Tech and Division II Lenoir-Rhyne. Testerman spent his junior and senior seasons clearing the way for Ken Callicutt at Clemson.

In 1976, the Miami Dolphins drafted him in the 10th round, but he did not make Don Shula's squad. Testerman signed with the slumping Philadelphia Eagles, but Dick Vermeil cut him.

Facing a desperate dearth of talent in the backfield, the expansion Seahawks claimed Testerman on waivers and made him the starting fullback. Jack Patera found his counterpart at tailback in college quarterback Sherman Smith, whom Seattle had originally envisioned as a wide receiver.

Testerman made his debut in the expansion franchise's second regular season game, scoring the team's sole touchdown in a lopsided loss to Washington in RFK Stadium.

Seattle struggled to run the ball that first year. Unfavorable expansion rules guaranteed a weak roster across the board, but the O-Line proved particularly poor.

The highlight of his rookie campaign came today in 1976. Testerman celebrated his birthday in the Kingdome with a series of lead blocks that helped spring Smith for 124 yards in a blowout victory over Atlanta.

Testerman gets the ball from Zorn and runs behind Smith's lead block
Seattle's rushing attack began to hit its stride the next year. Testerman split time at fullback with rookie David Sims. Smith, Sims and Testerman amassed a combined average of 161 rushing yards per game in the team's five wins.

Six days after his birthday in 1977, Testerman ran for 65 yards and caught two passes for 27 yards and a touchdown in a 17-0 drubbing of the Jets in Shea Stadium.

The Seahawks started 2-9 that year, but finished strong.

At Arrowhead Stadium, Testerman ran for 70 yards and a touchdown and leveled linebackers to let Smith gain 86 more. Seattle beat the Chiefs, 34-31.

In the Kingdome against Cleveland for the season finale, Testerman piled up 79 yards on the ground while blasting open holes to allow Smith to grind out another 54 yards and a touchdown. The Seahawks edged the Browns, 20-19.

Don Testerman's 1978 Topps trading card
In 1978, Sims seized the starting job and had a record year. Testerman continued to contribute in a reserve capacity as a blocker, runner and especially as a third-down receiver.

Seattle traded Testerman to Washington during the 1979
offseason, but injuries and personal problems prevented him from taking the field.

Testerman retired to the bait shop he owned in Danville, but later returned to the team that drafted him. He played the first five games of the 1980 season as a reserve fullback for the Dolphins.

While working as a mailman near DC, Testerman tried out for the Washington Federals of the USFL in 1982, but did not make the final cut.

He later coached some high school football and works occasionally as a substitute teacher at Albemarle High School.

Friday, November 6, 2015

On the virtues of being dependable & expendable

Bryan Walters runs for his life (Photo credit: TNB)

Bryan Walters earns a living in the NFL through hard work, and by being both dependable and expendable.

A distinguished three-sport athlete at Juanita High School, Walters had hoped to attend WSU—his parents’ alma mater—but the Cougars considered him too small and declined to give him a scholarship. Instead, he caught on at Cornell, where he set a school record for all-purpose yards and for kickoff and punt return yardage.

Unfortunately, his college resume failed to impress the NFL. Only San Diego scouted his pro day. Walters made the Chargers as an undrafted rookie free agent and saw limited action in three games before getting stuck on the practice squad for the rest of 2010 and all of 2011, after which the team released him. Walters tried out in Minnesota, but the Vikings cut him at the end of camp, so he sat out the entire 2012 season.

A lifelong Seahawks fan, Walters signed with his hometown team in 2013, but spent most of the season on the practice squad. In 2014, though, he became a major contributor as Seattle’s primary punt returner. His secret: dependability and expendability.

Walters won the job not because he posed the most dynamic return threat on the team--far from it. Faster and shiftier returners on the roster included Percy Harvin, Paul Richardson, Doug Baldwin, Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas III. Early in the season, Seattle coaches let Sherman and Thomas compete for the punt return gig, but they eventually realized that it would be asinine to risk injury to All-Pro pillars of the Legion of Boom on special teams. Ditto for Doug Baldwin, the team's #1 wideout. Harvin and Richardson specialized in kickoff returns.

Catching punts is much trickier, because there's more English on the ball. Worse, greater hang time gives coverage units more time to close the shorter distance between the line of scrimmage and the ball, so the returner is much more likely to get blasted. This forces punt returners to make a split-second choice between calling a fair catch or running with the ball. The decision looks more straightforward from the serenity of your couch than it does when you're peering up into the lights, trying to track the trajectory of the ball while stealing glances at the crazed headhunters sprinting toward you with evil intent.

Walters erred on the side of caution, returning only slightly more punts (27) than he fair-caught (23). 

Among players who returned 10 or more punts in 2014, Walters ranked 29th in the NFL in average yardage, with an anemic 7.7 yards. 

However, he led the league in securing possession, with zero muffs and zero fumbles. Only two other players in the NFL returned as many punts without a turnover that year. The returners who lead the league in punt return yardage and touchdowns also tend to fumble a lot more.

Walters also returned a couple of kickoffs and caught a few passes on offense out of the slot.

This season, Walters joined a small exodus of ex-Seahawks who migrated to Jacksonville to play for ex-Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. He still returns punts and kickoffs occasionally, but Walters works primarily as a reserve slot receiver for the Jaguars. Against Houston last month, he caught a career-high eight passes for 87 yards.

Happy Belated Birthday to my man Bryan Walters (born November 4, 1987), a Seahawk from 2012-14.