Saturday, December 31, 2011

Traveling thwarts the diehard

We embarked on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land this holiday season; that is, we came home to the Seattle area to visit family and friends

We've had a great visit.

Unfortunately, my traveling companion unwittingly booked our incoming flight during Seattle's home finale against the 49ers.

I had hoped to remain oblivious of the outcome until I reached the house of my mom, who had dutifully DVRed the contest. I had intended to watch the showdown between the NFC West's top two teams with the same suspense enjoyed by those who watched it live.

Although I wore my Seahawks #71 jersey that day, we made it through the flight, the terminal, and baggage claim without learning the result of the game.

Then, in the elevator to the parking garage, some guy remarked, "Tough game, huh?"

Knowing that Seattle had lost drained me of all motivation to watch the game during our visit. I chose instead to spend the time with family and friends. I'll watch it and perhaps post on it when I get back to the desert Southwest.

Obviously, I'm disappointed that we lost, though I'm heartened that the Seahawks snapped San Francisco's impressive streak of denying rushing touchdowns and holding opposing runners to less than 100 yards. That salvaged some modicum of dignity.

I'm also psyched that some Seahawks will get to soar to Hawaii to play in the Pro Bowl.

Tomorrow's game matters. Seattle needs to beat Arizona to eke out a .500 record, the only way to make the case that the team made real progress this year. I hope to see Seahawks play with passion as they make the case to keep their roster spots in 2012.

However, I won't see tomorrow's game live, either. My traveling companion unintentionally booked our return flight during Seattle's season finale against Arizona. I hope no one tells me how it turns out until I get home and watch it.

I can't believe the bad luck that has afflicted me this season. Tomorrow will mark the fourth game this year that I haven't been able to see live. Before this season, I hadn't missed a regular season game since... 2002?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Wreak merciless vengeance upon the 49ers

It is nice to see Seattle sitting atop the list of the 7-7 NFC teams "in the hunt" for the playoffs (i.e., still alive enough to move up to a wild card berth). All the teams below us on the list--Arizona, Chicago, the Giants, and Philadelphia--rank lower than the Seahawks because we have already defeated them this year. If we had beaten more teams, we wouldn't need help to make the playoffs, but at least we thumped some of the right teams.

Last week's crushing of the Bears was encouraging on many fronts..

The secondary continues to develop into one of the league's better units. Although Brandon Browner remains the   NFL's most frequent pass interference offender, he also leads the team in interceptions, and has helped make Seattle's defensive backfield the 2nd most larcenous in the league.

Chicago's stout run defense exposed the limitations of the makeshift Seahawk line, but Marshawn Lynch still managed two rushing touchdowns. Lynch now has a 10-game touchdown streak, a franchise record.

However, the level of challenge will increase further tomorrow afternoon against San Francisco, which boasts the NFL's best run defense. Incredibly, the 49ers have not allowed a rushing touchdown all season; their 14-game moratorium on terrestrial scoring is unprecedented in league history.

Who will prevail in this collision between Lynch's 10-game touchdown streak and San Francisco's 14-game ground shutdown?

San Francisco, probably, though I hope the 12th Man might weigh in on the matter rather emphatically.

Another encouraging aspect of the win over Chicago was the fact that  T-Jack our quarterback took up the slack when our run attack couldn't rack up enough yards because our O-Line couldn't stack up against the Bears D.

In recent weeks, Tarvaris Jackson has emerged as an effective game manager when he has adequate run support. However, Chicago's tough run defense forced the ex-Viking to do more, to complete several clutch passes to sustain some drives. T-Jack rose to the occasion and contributed significantly to last week's win

He'll need more of that mojo today because San Francisco will likely stymie our run game and put the game squarely in the place most feared by diehard Seahawks fans: on the shoulders of our starting quarterback.

T-Jack continues to hold the ball too long and take unnecessary sacks; he surrendered an especially unforgivable strip sack in the end zone last week. It made me miss the other Jackson, the guy who gives up on plays too early and throws the ball away prematurely, because that's the right thing to do when you're a quarterback standing in his own end zone behind an O-line comprised of two starters and three reserves. Nothing good can happen when you hold the ball too long in that situation.

Until yielding two late return touchdowns to Ted Ginn, Seattle was competitive against the 49ers on the road in the season opener. San Francisco is playing for a playoff bye; the Seahawks are fighting for a shot at the postseason. The 49ers wobbled against Arizona but looked good on Monday against the Steelers. It will be interesting to see how San Francisco comes out after a short week.

This is almost certainly the last home game of the season. It is almost impossible to envision a set of circumstance that would allow Seattle to host a home game in the playoffs, if we make the playoffs.

Thus, this is the 12th Man's last chance in 2011 to rebuild the reputation of Seahawks Stadium, a reputation damaged by some disgraces earlier this year. The 49ers and their odious coach deserve every decibel of sonic hell our fans can bring down upon them. Terminate with extreme prejudice.

Go, Seahawks!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Welcome to the NFC Best

I'm looking forward to posting on Seattle's triumph in Chicago last Sunday, when I find more time to write.

However, I do have enough time now to note one of the more surprising developments of the 2011 season.

Football fans have long mocked the NFC Worst, dismissing Seattle's decade dominating the division as a function of the chronic weakness of Arizona, San Francisco, and St. Louis. According to conventional wisdom, the only wins that NFC Worst teams could count on were within the division; when pitted against real competition outside the division, the Floptastic Four were doomed. The outcry crested last year, when the Seahawks seized the NFC West title with a 7-9 record, the worst winning percentage of any division winner in the history of the National Football League.

For the first half of the 2011 season, the performance of NFC West teams confirmed the stereotype. Although San Francisco stunned everyone by rocketing to to 7-1, the rest of the division meekly reverted to form. Arizona and Seattle both stumbled to an ugly 2-6, while St. Louis--my preseason pick to win the division--blundered to a pitiful 1-7.

However, since the midseason mark, the division has emerged as the NFC Best. Over the last six weeks, the Cardinals and the Seahawks have soared to 5-1, while the 49ers managed 4-2. No other division's top three teams have as good a record over the last six weeks.

Moreover, some of those wins have come at the expense of tough opponents. Over the last six games, Arizona defeated the Cowboys and the 49ers, Seattle vanquished the Ravens and the Bears, and San Francisco slew the Giants and the Steelers.

The Cardinals and the Seahawks have managed to win despite uneven quarterback play and injuries to key players.

For Arizona and Seattle, the recent surge is likely too little, too late in terms of the playoffs. If one of them wins out and get lots of help, a wild card berth is theoretically possible.

Last year, all four of the division's teams finished with a losing record. This year, as many as three teams in the NFC West could finish at .500 or better. That's progress.

The first half of this season recapitulated the NFC West's past, but so far, the second half has suggested a future rich with promise.

Welcome to the NFC Best.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Soaring Seahawks versus Faltering Bears

Soaring after two prime time triumphs, the Seahawks touch down today in Chicago.

During the last six games, Seattle established its identity as a running team. Marshawn Lynch lives in Beast Mode now. Incredibly, the streak has survived the losses of three starting offensive linemen.

It is tempting to imagine that we now mount an invincible rushing attack.

We'll find out today.

Last week's beatdown of St. Louis proved little. The Rams are a broken team, even more decimated by injuries than Seattle. They field the league's worst run defense.

Chicago, by contrast, defends the run relatively well. The Bears haven't permitted an opposing back to gain more than 100 yards against for more than two months

If our makeshift line can open holes against Chicago, we'll know our run attack is for real.

It is a good time to play the Bears. After starting strong, Chicago finds itself in the midst of a 3-game slide that coincides with injuries to starting quarterback Jay Cutler and his replacement by Caleb Hanie, an inexperienced player who has performed poorly. In the last three games, the former Colorado State Ram has thrown for only 502 yards and just 2 touchdowns, but has tossed 6 interceptions, suffered 15 sacks, and lost one fumble.

Presumably, Seattle's defenders are enthused at the prospect of compounding the young quarterback's misery.

Seahawk special teams excelled last week, but today our suspect punt and kick coverage teams must contain Devin Hester, the best returner in league history.

Seattle penalties helped keep St. Louis in the game last week. Against a better Chicago team, those mistakes could be deadly.

Back in January, a loss at Soldier Field eliminated Seattle from the playoffs. Winning there today is the only way the Seahawks can keep themselves in theoretical contention for the postseason.

Go, Seahawks!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sweep the Lambs

After subjecting Seattle to a murderers' row of road games earlier in the season, the league schedulers showed considerable kindness to the Seahawks on the back end. Two-thirds of the way through a three-game home stand, Seattle enjoyed a mini-bye in the form of an eleven day layoff between last Thursday's game and tonight's contest.

We needed it. Our O-Line must cope with the loss of its third starter in the last two games. Just days after losing two starters--right guard John Moffitt and right tackle James Carpenter--to injuries, and somehow functioning well, anyway, our offensive line lost left tackle Russell Okung to Trent Cole's post-whistle punk-ass judo flip cheap shot.

Hopefully, the long layoff gave the reshuffled line an opportunity to achieve some chemistry. Tom Cable hasn't had an easy first year as our O-Line coach.

Fortunately, like a longtime lycanthrope, Marshawn Lynch seems to have developed the ability to shift into Beast Mode at will. If the line gives him the slightest crease, he will burst through it like a shotgun blast through the soft palate and brainstem of a suicidal firearms enthusiast.

Meanwhile, Tarvaris Jackson has healed to the point where he participates fully in practice. He has played remarkably well recently, despite the injuries. Will healing yield even stronger performance?

The defense remains relatively unscathed by injury, and has dominated lately.

Seattle needs a win to defend second place from Arizona, which edged San Francisco yesterday.

And to keep our anorexically slender playoff hopes on life support.

And to restore the tarnished reputation of Seahawks Stadium.

I expect merciless noise when the Lambs have the ball.

What an ass (Cole)

Philadelphia defensive end Trent Cole played a great game yesterday. He led his team in tackles, thrice sacked Miami's quarterbacks, and helped his team dominate the Dolphins.

Seattle left tackle Russell Okung won't play tonight, because Cole hurt him after a play late in the game last Thursday.

Frustrated because Okung had the temerity to block him effectively for most of the game, Cole refused to release his opponent at the whistle. Instead, the defensive end used judo leverage to flip the offensive lineman, tearing his pectoral muscle and ending his season.

No official threw a flag.

Last week, the NFL fined Cole $7500 fine for a cheap shot that sentenced Okung to injured reserve for the rest of 2011, and rehab well into 2012. The league fined Golden Tate the same amount for excessive celebration after a touchdown.

The NFL does not consider injuries to other players when establishing the consequences for cheap shots. They should.

When it comes to post-whistle cheap shots, the league must terminate offenders with extreme prejudice.

Cole should be forced to sit as long as Okung did. If the left tackle never plays again, then neither should Cole.

For the duration of Okung's injury, Cole and his team should be forced to reimburse Seattle for the cost of his surgery, his rehabilitation, and his salary--including a prorated portion of his signing bonus.

If the league were serious about eliminating this kind of dirty play, that's how they would handle it.

Cole says he's not a dirty player.

Look at the game film and judge for yourself. It's on YouTube. Video doesn't lie, but Trent Cole does; he is both a liar and a dirty player.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Die like an Eagle

Thursday's thrashing of the Eagles represented progress on many fronts.
The Seahawks sank to their nadir and soared to their zenith within a span of just 5 days. After laying an egg against Washington last Sunday, few expected Seattle to compete credibly in this prime time showdown between wounded birds of prey. National coverage focused almost exclusively on our opponents, but the Seahawks flew out of the tunnel to impose a convincing dominance display at their expense.

We won a game on a night when a few of our most consistent performers were not at their best. The incomparable Red Bryant looked exhausted and ordinary. Jon Ryan had an off night punting (at least by his usual lofty standards; he still pinned two punts out of four inside the 20-yard line). Philadelphia basically shut down Leon Washington with touchbacks on kickoffs and forced fair catches on punts, prompted by good hang time and smothering coverage.

Normally, we lose games despite the heroic contributions of Bryant, Ryan and Washington, because their teammates fail to match their level of effort and execution.

But this time, their teammates rose to the occasion, more than compensating for the uncharacteristic underperformance of that habitually clutch trio.

Generally, our defensive line dominates, stuffing the run and pressuring opposing passers. This time, the Eagles found ample running room, racking up 132 yards on the ground. Philadephia would have gained more, but falling far behind forced them to abandon the ground game and place their fate in the hands of quarterback Vince Young..

Seattle's linebackers and cornerbacks stepped up and shut down VY, sacking him twice and intercepting him four times. Richard Sherman picked off the quarterback's first throw, while David Hawthorne ran his last pass 73 yards to the house. Brandon Browner stole two others in between.

Young threw for 208 yards and a touchdown, but Seattle defenders returned interceptions for 156 yards and a touchdown and took away 10 more yards on sacks, so by game's end, the Eagles quarterback netted 42 yards passing and zero points.
Our offense finally fired on all cylinders, keeping penalties to a minimum.

When we had the ball, Marshawn Lynch and his blockers took over the game. This is Tom Cable's offense. By lining up in two tight end sets for most of the game, we bluntly informed our opponents that we intended to run, and dared them to stop us. For most of the game, our O-Line ably manhandled Philadephia's defensive front, with help from fullback Michael Robinson, from the tight ends, and from Lynch's determined refusal to be tackled.

The Skittles-fueled running back's first touchdown run showed what Beast Mode looks like when you turn it up to eleven, and when his blockers match Lynch's level of tenacity and persistence.

Tarvaris Jackson played a nearly perfect game, making clutch throws to keep the defense honest and prevent the Eagles from keying exclusively on the run. T-Jack took a couple of unnecessary sacks, but he and his receivers generally made good blitz reads and punished Philly's overeager pass rush with completions and positive yards. Pro Bowl alumnus Zach Miller and fullback Michael Robinson finally figured in our passing plans. Golden Tate showed that he is capable of functioning like a starting wide receiver in the NFL.

If Seattle can continue in this vein, our upcoming opponents are in trouble.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Wounded raptors wobble into prime time

The NFL Network probably regrets scheduling tonight's game in prime time.

Conventional wisdom assumed that the Eagles and the Seahawks would be alive for the postseason at this point, but both teams barely have a pulse. At 4-7, both are in the nigh-impossible position of needing to win the rest of their games to reach 9-7 and have even a slim hope of a wild card berth.

Neither team appears capable of pulling it off.

Both teams overhauled their rosters in the offseason, and both have been much less than the sum of their parts.

The T-Jacking of Seattle's offense continues. Coach Carroll continues to entrust the car keys to the Vikings castoff for reasons few can fathom. Tarvaris Jackson, who typically rests his torn labrum early in the week, practiced every day and appears set to start. T-Jack's toughness continues to impress, but the team would be better served with a healthy Charlie Whitehurst under center.

The Seahawks continue to run the ball effectively, and they need to continue to do today, to compensate for bad quarterbacking and butterfingered receivers, and to keep the ball away from the potent Eagles offense.

We have now lost our two starting wideouts. Sidney Rice is on injured reserve, and Mike Williams has evidently forgotten how to catch.

We need the rest of the receiving corps to step up.

On the other side of the ball, Philadelphia features a wide-open offense that will test Seattle's young, banged-up cornerbacks and linebackers. The loss of Mike Vick has not grounded the Eagles offense. Backup Vince Young threw for 400 yards and rushed for 40 more in a losing effort against New England last week. (Andy Reid may be the greatest quarterback coach in the history of the game.)

The 12th Man has a house to defend and a reputation to reclaim. Seattle fans allowed the Skins to silence them at critical junctures last week. After scoring a touchdown, Washington tight end Fred Bryant mockingly put his hand to his ear, as if to say, "I can't hear you." I hoped for sonic retribution, but none was forthcoming. When opposing players openly taunt the crowd, it is safe to say the 12th Man and Seahawks Stadium have lost their mystique.

Let's get it back tonight.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Outcoached and outplayed

Skins Coach Mike Shanahan cracked the code. He figured out how to defeat our offense and our defense.

Of course, many teams have managed to stop the Seahawk offense this year. It's easy: put the game in the hands of Tarvaris Jackson, and victory is yours. The Skins can credit Seattle's coaches with a major assist. We moved the ball well on the ground today, but when we still held the lead, we mysteriously abandoned the run and relied on T-Jack to win it for us; thus, we sealed our own doom.

On obvious passing downs, neither our offensive coaches nor Jackson had any answer for the Skins' all-out blitz.

Every decent offense should include blitz reads, where receivers shorten their routes to give the quarterback a quick outlet. Where were ours?

Every respectable offense includes screen passes to punish blitz-happy defenses. Where were ours?

Why would T-Jack take a sack on fourth down with the game on the line? Why not just throw the ball?

Why can't we get the ball to Zach Miller?

Why can't Mike Williams catch the ball anymore?

Stopping Seattle's offense isn't hard--we mostly stop ourselves, between the poor playcalling, dropped passes, stupid penalties, and inept quarterbacking--but Shanahan can take pride in exposing our defense.

Throughout the game, Skins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan outcoached Seattle's dim, manic duo of defensive bastardminds, Pete Carroll and Gus Bradley. Shanahan the Younger dialed up an inspired mix of stretch runs, screen passes, and crossing routes that kept our defenders on their heels, backpedaling. Few other teams have managed to run the ball effectively against the Seahawks. Our defenders missed many tackles. If Rex Grossman weren't so gaffe-prone, the Skins would have blown us out.

Usually, our second-half defensive adjustments take away whatever worked against us in the first half. Not this time.

Our offensive and defensive coaches need to find an answer for what the Skins did to us today. Future opponents will surely study and emulate the strategies that defeated us.

Our special teams are overdue for some love.

When it comes to putting the ball through the uprights, Steven Hauschka ranks somewhere behind Josh Brown, Norm Johnson, Olindo Mare and John Kasay. However, our current kicker has done well, having hit field goals reliably all year--today's 51-yard miss notwitchstanding.

Moreover, Hauschka's kickoffs have really come on lately. Every time he sinks a touchback, I miss Olindo Mare a little less. Anytime Hauschka can spare our leaky kick coverage unit from the chore of containing opposing returners, we win in terms of field position and by denying any possibility of a return touchdown. Today, Hauschka hit touchbacks every time, except for a called squib kick (ill-advised), and except for the time Golden Tate's asinine penalty backed us up 15 yards. (Hey, Golden: You're not good enough to taunt anyone. You barely made the team this year.)

Meanwhile, Ryan is punting at an All Pro level, coordinating well with the coverage unit, which has downed several balls near the opposing goal line. At one point today, he boomed a 67-yard punt. That's unreal.

Leon Washington continues to shine as a kick returner. He almost broke one today.

However, the most impressive special teams player is Red Bryant. Earlier today, I wrote a tribute to the big man. I can't believe I forgot to mention his field goal-blocking prowess. Today, the hulk blasted through offensive guards three times and got his paw on three field goal attempts, blocking two of them.

Red deserves better support from his teammates and his coaches.

Don't get cocky

For the first time this season, Seattle has compiled back-to-back victories. Not quite a winning streak... more of a winning hyphen.

By contrast, the Washington Schmucks enter Seahawks Stadium streaming the inglorious stench-clouds of a six-game stretch of futility.

Washington has won only one road game all year, in St. Louis, almost two months ago.

However, they have played close games against tough competition. They have faced the Cowboys twice, and both times came much closer to beating them than we did. The Skins competed better against San Francisco than we did. Like us, they defeated the Giants.

No team in the NFL is so good that they can take any opponent for granted. Seattle's 4-6 record should give us all the humility we need to take this game seriously. We have painted ourselves into a corner; if we hope to make the playoffs, we need to win out. Unless their team plane crashes, San Francisco will win the division, so Seattle can only hope for a wild card berth. 10-6 teams often qualify for the playoffs; 9-7 teams rarely do. No team without a winning record will make the playoffs in the NFC this year.

Last week, Seattle convincingly beat the Rams in St. Louis.

Our victory came despite two Tarvaris Jackson interceptions on his first two pass attempts and despite a continued plague of pointless penalties. Both factors--poor quarterback play and boneheaded behavior--will catch up to us soon and start costing us games.

I like T-Jack. He plays with grit. He seems to play best when he looks pissed off. However, I would prefer that he achieve that level of anger without making errors on the field that hurt the team's competitive prospects. (Jackson might consider the pregame ritual of Oakland defensive tackle John Henderson, who asks a coach to slap him in the face--several times, if necessary--before he leaves the locker room, thus to help him achieve the appropriate state of fury with which to face his opponents.)

Jackson has shown toughness in gutting it out through a nagging injury. However, I continue to doubt that he is a better quarterback than Charlie Whitehurst, even when healthy. Since Jackson's injury limits his reps in practice, he comes out rusty on game day. I am certain that a healthy Whitehurst would outperform a wounded and rusty T-Jack.Thus, I question whether Jackson's admirable self-sacrifice is necessary.

If I had been Coach Carroll, I would have benched Jackson after his second interception last week, and I would invoke his torn labrum as a pretext to keep him on the bench for the next few weeks, giving him time to rest and heal, while I evaluate whether Jesus of Clemson is the true savior of the Seahawks offense.

We generated fewer than 300 yards of offense last week. That's a losing formula in most NFL contests.

As new offensive line configuration gels, the false start and holding penalties should start to subside. The O-Line has provided good run blocking and fair pass protection for several weeks running. A good ground game is our only hope until we get better play from the quarterback position.

Presumably, heavy fines will eventually persuade Kam Chancellor to stop spearing opponents. At this point, he has surrendered almost a fifth of his salary to the league in the form of fines. After taxes, the bite must be quite large. Larger, perhaps, than the adverse impact the penalties have on our defense. Chancellor would make more of an impact playing within the rules than he has made thus far, coloring outside the lines.

The defense's domination of St. Louis was inspiring. Choosing not to challenge our stout run defense, the Rams ran a spread offense for most of the game, even lining up Pro Bowl running back Stephen Jackson as a slot receiver.

This was sound strategy for the Rams. It represented a logical effort to exploit the youth and inexperience of Seattle's defenders, and to attack the size and presumed slowness of our large defensive linemen. However, the defense rose to the occasion admirably, adjusting expertly to the novel challenges that St. Louis threw at us. Kudos both to our athletes and to our defensive coaches.

Today offers a different challenge in the form of Rex Grossman, who still veers wildly between brilliant accuracy and pick-prone idiocy. He played well last week against Dallas. The Skins rarely run the ball effectively, so their offense rests largely on Grossman's uncertain shoulders.

Hopefully, a 12th Man-fueled defense will punish him accordingly.

Go, Seahawks!

Red Bryant for MVP

Red Bryant is clearly the team's Most Valuable Player.

We suspected as much in 2010, when his season-ending injury transformed the league's stoutest run defense into the world's worst.

The first ten games of 2011 have further solidified his case.

Statistics vastly understate Bryant's importance. He ranks thirteenth in tackles, and has recorded but a single sack so far.

However, Bryant dominates his section of the line. From his position at right defensive end, he draws double teams, clogs lanes, snarls traffic, and creates opportunities for his teammates to make plays.

Lesser men aspire to inhabit "The Zone" occasionally, when the stars align and fate smiles upon them, but Bryant forges his own destiny, having established permanent residence in The Zone, that vaunted Elysium of elite athletic performance.

Many big men run out of gas fast and phone in a few plays while catching their breath.

Not Bryant. He plays with ferocious and unrelenting energy, a furious hulk bulling through double teams and triple teams, contemptuously pushing aside 300-pound opponents as if they weighed nothing and had no power of their own to pit against his awesome strength.

But Bryant is no mere brute. A player of extraordinary intelligence, he reads the offense expertly and never loses sight of his assignment, always maintaining disciplined containment on the right side. Lesser players bite on fakes and misdirection, but not Bryant.

One play last week illustrated what a complete football player he is.

With five and a half minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Seahawk defense worked to protect a 17-7 lead.

Having just shared a sack of Sam Bradford with Chris Clemons, Bryant lined up as the Rams came out in their spread formation, facing 2nd and 19 from their own 14-yard line.

Seattle knew that Bradford would throw. Our defensive linemen appeared to pin their ears back, ready to charge across the line of scrimmage, collapse the pocket, and sack the St. Louis quarterback again.

However, at the snap, instead of crashing into the offensive line, Bryant dropped back into shallow pass coverage.

I am generally skeptical when coaches assign fat, slowfooted linemen to defensive duties better undertaken by fleeter linebackers and defensive backs with better ball skills.

But big #79 made a believer out of me on this play.

Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane tipped Bradford's pass. As the leathery oblong spheroid tumbled through the air, Bryant read it like a kick returner and ran swiftly to get under the descending pigskin.

At this point, the practiced ball skills Bryant honed as a high school tight end kicked in. With soft hands, he snared the pigskin in stride and did what comes naturally to a right-handed player: he cradled it under his right arm. However, noting that he was on the left side of the field, he immediately transferred the ball to his left side, his huge paw securely clutching the pigskin to breast and bicep.

When a Ram--rookie wideout Austin Pettis--ran up to try to tackle Bryant, the big man shot out a stiffarm,
flinging the receiver aside. To his credit, the agile rookie recovered and dove at the lineman's knees, taking him down after a 5-yard return.

A few plays later, little Justin Forsett transmuted the turnover into 6 points with a 22-yard touchdown run, lathering backbreaking icing upon the slaughter of the lambs.

Red Bryant is the glue that holds our defense together. He is clearly Seattle's MVP. He should be in the conversation for the league's most valuable player. What other athlete has proven so pivotal to his team's success?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Go for two!

The Seahawks have an opportunity today to achieve something they haven't managed all season: win two games in a row.

St. Louis, the preseason favorite to win the NFC West, has reverted to form as the division cellar dweller, which is no mean feat in a division featuring two 3-6 teams.

Seattle is too fragile a team to take anyone for granted. Last week, the Rams managed a feat that eluded the Seahawks earlier this year: beating a bad Browns team in Cleveland.

Vegas picks St. Louis to win by 3 points. If you've seen any Seahawks games this season, you'll understand why we're not favored to beat anyone; thus, the highest compliment oddsmakers can pay us at this point comes in the form of a modest point spread.

Today poses yet another big challenge for our embattled offensive line. Once the foundation of the franchise, our front five foundered after Super Bowl XL, quickly becoming the team's Achilles' Heel. This year's young unit floundered through the first few games, but gelled convincingly over the last two weeks, providing decent pass protection and enough running room for a back in Beast Mode.

Unfortunately, just after the O-Line came together, it promptly fell apart. Rookie right guard John Moffitt suffered a season-ending injury against Baltimore. Backup lineman Lemuel Jeanpierre stepped in to finish the game, and the unit didn't miss a beat. However, earlier this week, a freak injury during a routine drill ended the season of rookie right tackle James Carpenter.

So, Seattle must face St. Louis with a reconstituted right side of its offensive line. Paul McQuistan will start at left guard today, presumably to free up Jeanpierre--also our backup center--to fill in if the injury curse next afflicts Max Unger. Breno Giacomini replaces Carpenter at right tackle, lining up opposite Chris Long, a fearsome pass rusher.

If the line can incorporate these spare parts and maintain some semblance of chemistry, then they should be able to exploit the Rams, who feature the league's worst run defense.

If our rushing attack can put the Rams on their heels, T-Jack might consider victimizing their injury-annihilated defensive backfield. Seattle's secondary--having lost only two cornerbacks this season--is a picture of health compared to that of St. Louis, which has lost nine corners thus far this year.

On defense, the formula is simple: stack the box to contain running back Stephen Jackson and to pressure quarterback Sam Bradford, and double-cover Brandon Lloyd.

Jackson remains the Rams' only potent offensive threat. A violent runner like Lynch, Action Jackson has averaged 140 yards per game over the last three weeks.

Led by the formidable Red Bryant, Seattle's run defense has dominated all year, except in Dallas, when we let DeMarco Murray pile up 139 yards.

If the Seahawks can keep Lynch in Beast Mode and Action Jackson in Least Mode, we should be able to win this one.

Unless we continue to beat ourselves with penalties. Even when functioning well, our offense struggles to produce yards and post points. Thus, Seattle cannot continue to forfeit 80-100 yards of field position per game to bonehead penalties like false starts, delays of game, illegal motion, etc.

These mental mistakes reflect poor coaching. Hopefully, Coach Carroll and his staff have worked to address this with our players.

Don't let the presence of Tom Cable on our sideline confuse you: We're the Seattle Seahawks, not the Oakland Raiders. The penalties have got to go.

Go, Seahawks!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Triumph of the 12th Man

I ascribe last week's win over Baltimore to the triumphant return of the 12th Man.

The Diehard has harshly criticized Seattle fans for frittering away the once-formidable reputation of Seahawks Stadium. The 12th Man had allowed Atlanta's offense to call audibles, and the fans had as much quit in them as Seattle's players when we hosted Cincinnati.

But last week, the 12th Man stirred from its torpor and took control of the game from start to finish.

Instead of waiting for the team to inspire them, the fans started out fired-up. From my couch, it appeared that the crowd became electrified by the raising of the 12th Man flag by Tuskegee Airman George Hickman. The resulting patriotic fervor apparently evolved into a rabid and deafening barrage of decibels that evidently rattled the normally unflappable Joe Flacco, prompting uncharacteristic errors, including an interception. Seattle's defense also forced four Baltimore punts.

Crowd noise made the difference, prompting another inspired defensive performance, and fueling a credible dominance display by our oft-maligned running game. For the second consecutive week, the offensive line pried open cracks in a tough run defense, and Marshawn Lynch spent the entire game in Beast Mode, bulling through those creases and fighting forward as if the fate of the world depended on every inch of conquered ground.

Our offensive coaches displayed impressive tenacity, running the ball up the gut again and again, challenging the middle of a Baltimore defense dominated by the league's best run stuffer, Haloti Ngata. Most of those efforts yielded few or no yards, but with dogged persistence, Seattle steadily wore down the Ravens, grinding out more than 100 yards for Lynch by the end of the game.

The defining moment of the contest came on one of those short-gain run plays in the first half. The Beast broke through the line of scrimmage, dragging along some Ravens who clung feebly to his hips and knees, but then Ngata--Baltimore's Samoan mammoth--bear-hugged Lynch, suddenly halting the runner's forward progress. At that point, Seattle left guard Robert Gallery peeled back and knocked Ngata off of his teammate and onto his ass. This allowed Lynch to topple the pile forward for another yard or two.

It was classic old school football: three yards and a cloud of dust, though in this case, "dust" should be read as a metaphor for little rubbery shreds of Field Turf.

Though hampered by a nagging pectoral injury that has sharply limited his repetitions in practice, Tarvaris Jackson rose to the occasion. He threw accurately, completed clutch passes to sustain several drives, and protected scoring opportunities by avoiding turnovers.

Seattle stole three turnovers. Our special teams kick coverage teams recovered two fumbles. David Hawthorne picked off one of Flacco's passes, ran it back 34 yards, and would have taken it to the house, if the quarterback had not horse-collared the Heater.

However, our offense still struggles to transform turnovers into touchdowns. In all three cases, we had to settle for field goal attempts.

Fortunately, Steven Hauschka was perfect, converting five out of five field goals.

If Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff had matched that rate of accuracy, Baltimore would have won.

The game was closer than it should have been. Officials flagged Seattle players 13 times for 100 yards of penalty yardage, plus a baker's dozen worth of do-overs for our opponents.

Fortunately, the sonic weight of our raucous home crowd tipped the scales in our favor.

Thanks to the 12th Man, Seattle emerged victorious last week. But to have any hope of salvaging the season, the offense needs to find a way to score more touchdowns, and the whole team needs to cut down on penalties. Sloppy play reflects shoddy coaching; the Seahawks must solve their penalty problem if they hope to compete credibly in subsequent contests.

Winning the hard way

Normally, 3-6 teams eke out meager victories over weak opponents, then lie down meekly to accept defeat at the hands of stronger teams.

This Seattle team got to 3-6 the hard way, by clawing itself out of the pit Pete Carroll dug.

We fielded a team without a proven quarterback, with an offensive line too young to drink legally, and with a defense populated primarily by kids who can't watch an R-rated movie without their mommies.

We forfeited road games to chumps like San Francisco and Cleveland. We let Pittsburgh and Dallas humiliate us in their houses. We choked at home, allowing Atlanta and Cincinnati to defile Seahawks Stadium.

But on October 9th, Seattle limped into New York at 1-3 and stunned the division-leading Giants. Then, last Sunday, having slid to 2-6, the Seahawks astonished everyone by ripping the Ravens from their nest atop the AFC North.

What accounts for our team's ability to rouse itself to compete against seemingly impossible odds, but then lay eggs of odious putrescence when faced with more beatable opposition?

Postscript: Are the 49ers "chumps"?

In the fourth paragraph of the foregoing essay, I called the 49ers "chumps." Certainly, when Seattle saw them in Week One, few respected or feared San Francisco, then recovering from a 6-10 season.

Currently, at 8-1, the 49ers own the league's second-best record. Although half of their wins have come against weak competition (Cleveland, Philadelphia, Seattle, Washington), they have beaten several respectable opponents (Cincinnati, Detroit, the New York Giants, Tampa Bay).

At this point, it is hard to imagine San Francisco failing to win the division. Five of their remaining games come against feeble rivals from the NFC Worst: Arizona twice, St. Louis twice, and Seattle once.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

12th Man now seen only on milk cartons

In our last home game, the 12th Man made only intermittent appearances.

Only when our defense was playing well, when our opponents faced 3rd and long, could the crowd be bothered to rouse itself.

A marginal team like ours needs better support from the fans in Seahawks Stadium.

I would have liked to write that our team deserves better support, but neither our coaches nor some of our  players have made that case.

Still, Seattle fans have a reputation to reclaim.

Thus, I continue to call out the 12th Man.

For those of you who missed it, please scroll down and read "Calling out the 12th Man," posted 10/30/11. Everything I wrote there remains true.

perpetuating the death spiral

Last week, Seattle's running game finally came together. Our young offensive line worked in concert with tight ends and fullbacks to open lanes for Marshawn Lynch, who spent the entire game in Beast Mode, pummeling the Dallas defense for 135 yards.

The Seahawks did that to a Cowboys team that entered the game with the league's fourth-best run defense.

Unfortunately, Tarvaris Jackson threw away the game by tossing three interceptions.

T-Jack's final turnover summed up the game with poignant eloquence. Our quarterback tried to throw the ball to Doug Baldwin, even though Dallas safety Gerald Sensabaugh stood between the passer and his intended receiver. If desperation prompts a quarterback to attempt such a throw, he should loft the ball high to give his out-of-position receiver a chance. Instead, Jackson threw it right at Sensabaugh's numbers, right into his hands. Baldwin demonstrated impressive cornerback skills, leaping over the Cowboy's back and reaching down to grab a share of the ball. Our receiver wrestled relentlessly for the pigskin. Until the official signaled Seahawks possession, at which point Baldwin let go. Whereupon the officials reversed themselves and awarded possession to Dallas.

To summarize: The whole offense plays extraordinary football, but T-Jack's errors rob the team of victory.

In "Tarvaris Jackson Pulls a 'Bad Hasselbeck,'" Seattle Times columnist Jerry Brewer likened our present quarterback (#7) to his Holmgren-groomed predecessor (#8). Both men, the analyst opined, threw picks when they "tried to do too much."

Brewer's superficial comparison ignores the fact that Hasselbeck only took too many chances when nothing else was working--when we could gain nothing on the ground, when we absolutely had to throw the ball, when the whole game rested on his shoulders.

But that wasn't the situation last week. The rest of the offense was firing on all cylinders. Run game? Check. Good pass protection? Check. T-Jack merely needed to manage the game, to complete a few clutch passes here and there to keep the defense honest, to prevent them from keying exclusively on Lynch.

In game after game, Jackson ignores open receivers and tries to force the ball to covered receivers. He ignores easy completions underneath and tries to complete longer, low-percentage, high-risk passes.

If I were Coach Carroll, I would invoke T-Jack's injuries as a pretext to give another shot to Charlie Whitehurst.

If Seattle had kept Hasselbeck, we'd be 5-3 right now, not 2-6. That's the difference between playing a Pro Bowl-calibre veteran quarterback and fielding castoff backups from other teams.

Today, we host the Baltimore Ravens.

Our defense should match up well with their offense, but probably not so well that we can hope to win at our offense, which seems stuck in low gear, scoring about 3 points per quarter.

Their defense will stack the box, stuff the run and dare us to throw.

We need to run a little to keep them honest. With the mammoth Haloti Ngata dominating the middle of their defensive front, our best bet would be to make limited use of Lynch (primarily an inside runner) and let Leon Washington and Justin Forsett run outside and catch some screen passes.

Deon Butler's activation is welcome, further augmenting the embarrassment of riches in Seattle's receiving corps. On almost any other team, Sidney Rice, Mike Williams, and Zach Miller would be posting monster numbers.

If only we had a quarterback capable of delivering the ball to them reliably.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Go for Brokeback Mountain

A month ago, Seattle upset the Giants in New York.

No one saw us coming.

The Seahawks don't win early road games against tough opponents.

We have a chance to do it again today.

Since we keep finding ways to lose winnable home games, we need to do something to salvage some semblance of respect.

Again, no one sees us coming.

Dallas assumes we'll lie down meekly and let them get healthy at our expense.

The Cowboys remain one of the most league's most odious franchises. Jerry Jones is a jerk.

Go, Seahawks.

A premature verdict on T-Jack

Conventional wisdom says the quarterback competition is over and Tarvaris Jackson is The Man.

This conventional wisdom represents the consensus of team coaches, journalists, and most fans, according to online polls and postings.

Apparently, those people haven't been watching the same games I've been seeing.

Certainly, Jesus of Clemson did not light it up against Cleveland or in limited action last week.

In both games, our offense struggled as a whole. It's hard for any quarterback to shine when the line can't block, receivers can't catch, and penalties derail any hope of progress.

Carroll's decision to yank Whitehurst last week was puzzling. During his three series, the quarterback threw only one bad ball--one of those low-percentage bombs that our coaches insist on calling with disturbing frequency. All of Whitehurst's other passes were on-target, though his receivers dropped some of them. Poor pass protection, penalties, and our inability to run limited our offensive production, but on the second series, Seattle posted 3 points.

Enter Tarvaris Jackson. On his first series, a botched handoff to Marshawn Lynch led to a fumble, forfeiting possession to Cincinnati on our own 31-yard line. T-Jack's next drive ended in a punt.

On the final drive of the first half, made enough nice throws to compensate for a stupid penalty (rookie right guard John Moffitt lined up in the neutral zone), another pointless long-bomb heave, and a sack and a throwaway due to poor pass protection. Seattle found itself in unfamiliar territory: the red zone. However, poor coaching deprived us of points. Lacking a timeout, with only a few seconds on the clock, Carroll called a handoff to Lynch, allowing the Bengals defenders to drain the remaining time by taking their time untangling  the ensuing pileup.

In the third quarter, T-Jack came out with our vaunted no-huddle offense. The result: punt, punt, field goal, a very nice drive culminating in a rushing touchdown, then a punt (returned for touchdown), a turnover on downs, and a pick six, followed by total surrender (running out the clock because the game was out of reach).

Jackson's game will not go down in the annals of quarterbacking greatness.

I'm not impressed that Jackson threw for more than 300 yards.

I'm distressed that our offense doesn't score enough points, no matter who runs the offense.

When you're playing from behind, it's easy to rack up passing yards. Putting points on the board is harder, and it's all that matters.

In the first quarter, Whitehurst posted 3 points. In the last three quarters, T-Jack posted 9. The rate of offensive production remained constant. Constantly anemic.

However, I argue that inserting Jackson actually retarded the offense's progress. Jackson has always been prone to the premature throwaway under pressure, but that tendency has increased now that he is banged up. Had Whitehurst stayed in, we would have probably completed a few more passes. Moreover, Jesus tends to show more discipline running through his progressions. For example, at the end of the first half, as Seattle neared the red zone, T-Jack ignored two wide-open receivers underneath to loft a longer pass to a covered receiver in the end zone. Result? Incompletion.

Postscript: Early in the game, I was ready to pronounce Jon Ryan an athlete when, after booming an epic punt, he compensated for poor coverage and prevented a touchdown by catching Bengals cornerback Adam Jones from behind and tackling him. However, Jones--once one of the league's most feared returners--had pulled a hamstring on the play, so we learned that the ghost with the golden toe can only outrun a hobbled Pacman. Moreover, Ryan looked very much like a punter when he whiffed on Brandon Tate during the latter's touchdown punt return.

Pete Carroll is no Chuck Knox

The Seahawks are 2-6.

Chuck Knox never went 2-6.

Other than that, Pete Carroll is in good company: Jack Patera, Tom Flores, Dennis Erickson, and Jim Mora all posted records as bad or worse at some point in their careers. Mike Holmgren did it twice.

Patera inherited an expansion squad at a time when the league severely handicapped new teams. Thus, he should be forgiven for those first two seasons, though he owns the meltdowns of 1980-82.

Flores, Erickson and Mora inherited flawed rosters from their predecessors, just like Carroll. And Chuck Knox.

Knox and Carroll have something else in common: In their first seasons in Seattle, both led their teams to playoff berths and to victories in the wild card round.

The similarities end there. Knox built upon his initial success by making the performers of 1983 the nucleus of a winning team for the next several seasons. Ground Chuck understood the value that veterans bring to the field and the locker room: experience, wisdom, stability, reliability.

By contrast, Carroll rewarded his players for winning the NFC West by taking a wrecking ball to the roster. In concert with general manager John Schneider, Slick Pete aborted the nucleus of Seattle's success by jettisoning several key team leaders, including Matt Hasselbeck, Chris Spencer, Lofa Tatupu, and Jordan Babineaux.

We are now the youngest team in the league, and it shows.

To Carroll's credit, our defense has weathered these changes remarkably well.

However, the offense and the special teams are not just an embarrassment. They are an abomination.

Our youthful offensive line leads the league in sacks allowed. The unit probably also leads the league in false start penalties. Their run blocking has made Seattle the league's penultimate ground gainers. That is, we're second-to-last in rushing yards. Feeble.

Neither Tarvaris Jackson nor Charlie Whitehurst have shown anything to validate the decision to ditch Matt Hasselbeck.

The Seahawks punt and kickoff coverage units lead the league in touchdowns allowed.

Strong coaching can help a team achieve Gestalt, playing better than the sum of its parts.

Carroll showed flashes of that kind of coaching last year--just enough to win a weak division and beat the defending Super Bowl champions in the playoffs.

We caught a glimpse of good coaching last month in New York against the Giants.

The indiscipline and inconsistency start at the top. Carroll's rah-rah spirit rings hollow when his players lack the fundamentals to compete and perform at a professional level.

Paul Allen needs to put the coach on the clock. Start winning, or start packing.

Carroll is no Knox.

The USC charlatan's smoke-and-mirrors showmanship will never hold a candle to the hardhat substance and integrity embodied by Chuck Knox.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ride the tiger

Last week's loss dropped Seattle to 2-4 and has reduced this season to a struggle reminiscent of the famous postgame rant of Jim Mora the Elder, who faced similar futility at one point when coaching the Colts:

"Playoffs? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game."

At this point, the Seahawks cannot hope to overtake 5-1 San Francisco for the division lead, nor should we dream of winning a wild card berth.

We just need to win a game.

Last week, our injury-riddled offense melted down, wasting one of the most dominating defensive performances in team history.

The offensive failure was comprehensive: False starts, botched snaps, delay-of-game penalties. Our line couldn't block, our running backs couldn't find daylight, our quarterback played poorly, and our receivers couldn't get open or catch the ball, even when it hit them in the hands. Worst of all, our coaches lacked the intelligence to alter a game plan predicated on the availability of Marshawn Lynch when he succumbed to injury in warmups.

In Beast Mode, Lynch opens his own holes between the tackles, but neither Leon Washington nor Justin Forsett have a Beast Mode setting. They're small, shifty guys who need space in which to run.When they enter the game, we shouldn't be trying to pound the rock inside on down after down. We should install a mix of runs and screen passes to let the little men do what they do best: get into space where they can avoid potential tacklers.

Several starters return from injury this week.

The return of starting center Max Unger should reduce the number of botched snaps, false starts, and general confusion among the offensive line.

Having Marshawn Lynch back in the lineup should improve our prospects on the ground.

And Zach Miller's recovery should open up our passing game, if our coaches have figured out how to get him the ball. So far, we've generally failed to capitalize upon his Pro Bowl-calibre receiving talents.

Tarvaris Jackson's probable return is least useful. Given the comprehensive nature of last week's offensive failure, it is foolish to assume that T-Jack would have done better than Charlie Whitehurst if he had played against the Browns.

In last year's home finale and against the Giants, we saw that Jesus of Clemson can walk on water when he gets a modicum of assistance and cooperation from his teammates.

Despite more opportunities, we still haven't seen Jackson put together a complete game, but we have seen him lay eggs of comparable putridity to the one Whitehurst squeezed out in Cleveland last week. (Consider T-Jack's first 3 starts, for example.)

I'd rather see the Second Coming of Jesus of Clemson, but if he's healthy, Jackson will play.

According to an online poll currently running on the website of the Seattle Times, a slim majority believes that the Seahawks should have taken Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton with our first pick, instead of right tackle James Carpenter.

Do the respondents realize that drafting Dalton would have done nothing to increase the intelligence or capacity of Seattle's offensive coaches? I shudder to imagine how poorly a rookie quarterback would fare in our offense, victimized by poor pass protection, feeble run support, and shoddy playcalling from the sideline. In the alternate reality where the Seahawks selected Dalton, the rookie quarterback is already sitting out the season, mending manifold wounds on injured reserve.

Meanwhile, Carpenter, though initially disappointing, has shown signs of improvement. It's too early to condemn him as a bust.

The Bengals are a legitimately good team.

In this morning's Seattle Times, Danny O'Neil helpfully points out that the Bengals' defeated opponents have compiled a combined record of 9-16.

That's a slightly higher winning percentage than the Seahawks currently possess.

We fit right in with the types of teams the Bengals beat.

It's humiliating to be home underdogs, but we deserve it.

Can our offense finally get it together?

Can our defense dominate again?

They must be exhausted. Last week, the defense played the equivalent of one and a half games, because Cleveland's offense maintained possession for nearly 45 minutes.

And they must feel betrayed. The defense held the Browns to a mere 6 points, but neither the offense nor the special teams could eke out a score to tie or win the game.

(If I'm Red Bryant at the end of that game, I don't head-butt an opposing player in frustration, I slam my helmeted head like a wrecking ball into the brittle crania of Coach Carroll and the imbeciles on his offensive coaching staff.)

The level of challenge continues to increase for our secondary. After initial struggles, Brandon Browner has emerged as our best cornerback. Sadly, this is true not just because his play has improved a lot, but also because our corners have succumbed to injury with a frequency rivaling the mortality rate for Spinal Tap drummers. In successive games, first Marcus Trufant and now Walter Thurmond have sustained season-ending injuries. Once again, attrition makes a 3rd stringer into a starting cornerback. This time, it's rookie Richard Sherman.
Still, Seattle's best bet is to replicate their defensive performance against Cleveland: Stuff the run and dare a rookie quarterback to throw the ball. Backed by the 12th Man, the defense should be able to pull it off.

But we still need the offense to score some points if we hope to win. Cross your fingers.

Go, Seahawks!

Calling out the 12th Man

Once upon a time, the 12th Man made Seahawks Stadium one of the most feared hostile venues in professional sports.

Now our house is not even respected.

A month ago, Seattle played its last home game, hosting the Falcons.

Like any defeat in team sports, that debacle was the work of many hands.

However, for me the most disappointing aspect of the contest was the weak showing by the 12th Man.

Early in the game, Atlanta got the jump on us, establishing a swift tempo with their audible-based no-huddle offense.

No visiting offense should be able to call an audible in Seahawks Stadium. Ever.

The deafening din of the 12th Man should shut that sh!t down every time.

When any offense attempts to call an audible in our house, the outraged roars of 67,000 throats should engulf the opposing players, causing blood to gush from their earholes with the force of a broken fire hydrant.

In the glory years, teams would practice silent snap counts because they knew they could not count on doing business as usual in Seahawks Stadium.

The last home defeat showed how far we have fallen. Atlanta's game plan was predicated on calling audibles in our house. And for much of the first half, the crowd remained quiet and let them do it.

Later in the contest, the team showed signs of life, and the 12th Man came alive.

But the crowd can't wait for our players to inspire them to get them involved in the game.

The fans need to seize the initiative.

Instead of waiting for the athletes to fire up the audience, the masses need to electrify our players by belting out a supersonic wall of noise at strategic intervals.

Every time our opponents possess the pigskin, the 12th Man must punish them with a barrage of decibels that vibrates sternums and gets in our enemies' heads, shattering their morale, impairing logical thought, and annihilating every instinct except the impulse to collapse into a tight fetal curl, weeping for their mothers and wishing they had worn diapers.

Where are the false start penalties?

Where is the fear?

Where is the 12th Man?

12th Man, the Seahawks Diehard is calling you out:

Prove that you still exist.

Show that you still matter.

Demonstrate that you can still dominate.

Or take down the flag for good.

A note on terminology

Our team plays its home games in Seahawks Stadium.

True diehards call the hallowed gladiatorial arena by its actual and original name: Seahawks Stadium.

Corporate monikers like Qwest Field and CenturyLink Field represent an affront to the conventions of written English.

More importantly, using these bogus names constitutes a massive insult to the taxpayers of Washington state who have paid and continue to pay for the facility's construction.

I understand that the corporations in question bought the naming rights fair and square, and there's nothing we can do about their name being displayed in and on the stadium.

But no corporation can buy our hearts and minds. Seahawks diehards must refuse to be corporate tools and insist on referring to the venue by its proper name, both in print and in conversation.

We happily allow the Sounders to play their worthy (yet inferior) sport in Seahawks Stadium, but the soccer players should remain mindful that they are merely guests in a facility built for football: real football, American football, the sport of warriors.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I see Red

So, we have no offense without Marshawn Lynch.

Our starting running back hurt himself in pregame workouts. On the first drive, our offense seemed unfazed. Charlie Whitehurst hit a few short passes, we made a few first downs, and then we disintegrated, foiled by false starts, a delay of game penalty, and a sack.

And that first drive represented one of Seattle's more competent offensive showings of the day.

For most of the rest of the game, we couldn't run (but rarely tried), we couldn't protect Whitehurst from Cleveland's pass rush, and we kept trying to force the ball downfield to covered receivers instead of taking what the defense allowed us underneath. Jesus of Clemson put in a remarkably un-Christlike peformance. He underthrew, overthrew, and threw behind open receivers. However, even when Whitehurst put the ball on target, his teammates often dropped the ball. Seattle showed brief signs of life with the no-huddle in the second half, but our offensive coaches' short attention span and refusal to persist in anything useful doomed us to few yards, few points, and futility.

The Browns had a poor day on offense, too, but they maintained possession for more than 40 minutes by sticking stubbornly to the run and to the short passing game.

Seattle's defense, meanwhile, performed heroically, swarming to stop the run, abuse Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy, and frustrate his efforts to deliver the ball to his receivers. Even an injury to Walter Thurmond--Marcus Trufant's backup--did nothing to improve the Browns aerial prospects.

David "Heater" Hawthorne played a good game, hitting hard and grabbing a clutch interception.
Red Bryant rampaged like a man possessed, dominating the line of scrimmage and stuffing run after run.

Bryant's dominance continued on special teams. He blocked two field goals, a rare feat in a season, much less a single game.

Our punt and kickoff coverage units kept Joshua Cribbs in check throughout the contest.

The otherwise remarkable performance by the defense and special teams was marred by two penalties.
Early in the game, Kam Chancellor came in on a corner blitz. He turned a drive-killing sack into a Cleveland first down by spearing McCoy in the back instead of simply tackling him. Pete Carroll complained hotly to the officials. From the broadcasting booth, former Coach Jim Mora defended Chancellor, arguing that the spearing was unintentional.

Carroll and Mora both thereby revealed a character deficit as alarming as their feeble grip on reality.

Spearing is never accidental. Good football coaches teach players to see what you're tackling, because lowering your head is dangerous, both for the tackler and his target. Second, if you lower your head, you have to take your eyes off the target at the last second, which in some cases can allow your target to elude you. Finally, when you lower your head, that makes it more difficult to wrap up and make a sure tackle.

Slick Pete and Jimmy No-Mora are both defensive coaches, so they should understand spearing better than someone with my modest coaching experience does. (I coached offense and special teams, mainly.)

Since spearing is less safe and less sound than form tackling, the only possible explanation for it is malice, the desire to inflict injury upon an opponent. It's poor sportsmanship. The official was right to throw the flag.

In the second half, Kennard Cox got flagged for a block in the back, erasing what would have been a game-winning touchdown punt return by Leon Washington. Again, Carroll and Mora objected. Mora opined  that the infraction did not alter the outcome of the play, as the defender probably could not have caught up with Washington. That analysis is likely correct, but it merely raises the question of why Cox felt the need to cheat in the first place.

Chancellor and Cox are good young players. When they make bonehead mistakes like that, we should not blame their youth. We should blame their coaches.

Steaming into Cleveland

The Seahawks soared into the bye, rising on the thermals of an unexpected road win against the Giants.

This morning they must repeat the feat in Cleveland.

Our odds seem better today.

The Browns (1-2 at home) appear weaker than the Giants, who were 4-1 and undefeated in New York before Seattle beat them.

Charlie Whitehurst will start at quarterback, since Tarvaris Jackson remains injured. I wish T-Jack a swift recovery, and I concede that his play has improved, but I still believe that Jesus of Clemson is the true Messiah of this offense.

The O-Line has improved steadily, and our running game is getting good enough that I had my fantasy football team pick up Marshawn Lynch. (But not so good that he's starting; the Ajo Cholo Lowriders are enviably deep at the running back position.)

After allowing two touchdowns to Ted Ginn in San Francisco a few weeks ago, our punt and kickoff coverage units have looked better. However, today they face a rigorous test in the person of Joshua Cribbs.

Defense continues to be Seattle's greatest strength. Our smothering run defense should have little trouble containing Cleveland's anemic ground game.

The injury that really hurts is the loss of Marcus Trufant for the rest of the year. Fortunately, our secondary should prove deep enough to frustrate Colt McCoy, Cleveland's rapidly developing young quarterback.

San Francisco has raised the stakes in the NFC West. At 5-1, currently enjoying their bye, the 49ers host the Browns at home next week.

At that rate, Seattle won't win this division without a winning record. The Seahawks will make some kind of a statement today in Cleveland. A win would bring us up to .500 and evince a determination to compete for the division title.

Go, Seahawks!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Eleven and a half men

This original draft of this post was lost. (I am writing this on 10/30/11.)

I composed it before sunrise in the business center of a Holiday Inn Express in Pinetop, AZ, during a family vacation. After spending more than an hour researching and writing the piece, I hit "Publish Post." I felt good; I had just completed an above-average blog post while the rest of the family slumbered, without interfering with their vacation fun.

My satisfaction turned to horror when I saw that the only thing published was the title of the essay. The text of my lengthy and erudite post had somehow vanished. Normally, Google saves the text of the blog as you write it in a drafts folder, but not this time, perhaps because the hotel's settings on their public computer forbade it.

Family and social obligations required that we be on the road when the Seahawks played the Giants. This was the first time since 2005 that I could not watch a Seahawks game live. It was the first time since 2002 that I did not see the game the same day. It was remarkably easy, however, to remain oblivious to the game's outcome for the rest of the week. I watched the game the following Saturday, after we returned home.

I apologize to my reader(s) for failing to post on the Falcons and Giants games in a timely fashion.

I never wrote a Giants post, but these were the main points of the Falcons post:

1. A sound defensive scheme must account for a future Hall of Famer like Tony Gonzalez. When one of the game's greatest receivers goes in motion, your scheme should not require a linebacker to cover him, and certainly not a rookie linebacker. Even Julian Peterson at the peak of his career could not cover Gonzalez. You need to assign a defensive back to cover an All-Pro tight end.

2. Why did our defense fail to provide backside containment on Atlanta's cutback touchdown run? Was it a failure of scheme, or a failure of execution? (Now I know. It was the latter. Good riddance, Aaron Curry.)

3. The 12th Man is not worthy of the name when any opposing team can run an audible-based no-huddle offense with success in Seahawks Stadium. That was embarrassing.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A shot at mediocrity

When NFL first published the season schedule, today's game looked like an intriguing matchup, pitting the NFC's best defending division champion (the 13-3 Falcons) against its weakest (the 7-9 Seahawks).

Now it's just a showdown between two 1-2 teams trying to claw their way up to .500.

Atlanta, an impressive offensive powerhouse last year, has struggled to protect quarterback Matt Ryan thus far this year. Seattle's pass rush must salivate at the prospect of adding to the Falcons' league-leading total of sacks surrendered. Possessed by the hellish din of the 12th Man, Seahawks defenders need to take the supposedly unflappable Matty Ice and shatter him into Rattled Ice.

So far, Seattle's defense has generally shut down uncertain offenses like San Francisco and Arizona. Against Pittsburgh's more capable offense, they yielded 24 points. Atlanta's offense remains potent, so today poses a real test for a Seahawks defense, playing today without starting strong safety Kam Chancellor.

Although relatively unknown, Eric Weems of the Falcons is one of the better return men in the game, so our wobbly kick coverage teams have their work cut out for them. (Weems racked up a lot of points last year for the Cholo Lowriders, my fantasy football team, which plays in a custom league that awards points for return yardage.)

Of course, offense remains our Achiilles' Heel.

Despite the loss of left guard Robert Gallery, our offensive line performed better last week, and we made progress in our ground game.

Happily, Sidney Rice fulfilled expectations in his first game, but our aerial attack as a whole remains suspect.

On his blog B/X Blackrazor, my man JB offered an incisive analysis of Tarvaris Jackson's performance as quarterback. Since he attended the game in person, JB's view was not confined to television camera angles. Thus, he saw the many times during the game that Mike Williams got open on the left side. Unfortunately, T-Jack never seemed to notice this, always looking to his right for Sidney Rice.

Jackson could have saved himself a collision at the goal line if, instead of running for a touchdown last week, he had simply looked left and lofted the ball to a wide-open Williams.

The sad thing is that even when Williams doesn't achieve separation, he's still open. The wideout's freakish size and reach allows him to box out all but the best corners. As Hasselbeck demonstrated persistently last year, you can always put the ball in a place where only Williams can grab it.

Sidney Rice is a great receiver, too, and it's understandable that he has become a security blanket for T-Jack. But our quarterback's right-side fixation has helped defenses to shut down our drives. Distributing the ball better would allow Seattle to sustain drives and score more often, increasing opportunities for every back and receiver, including Rice.

If Jackson can't see the whole field and run through a proper progression, then the coaches should hand the reins to Charlie Whitehurst, who has shown the ability to do both things.

By now, T-Jack has had more than a fair shot at the starting job. Coach Carroll needs to get over himself, think about the team, and be prepared to make a change at quarterback in mid-game if Jackson falters.

Since the NFC West remains weak, Seattle could actually take pole position today with a win.

Go, Seahawks!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Defense carries the day

That was more like it.

The Seahawks defense played inspired football today, applying consistent pressure on Cardinals' QB Kevin Kolb, and imposing smothering coverage on his receivers. Seattle held All-Universe wideout Larry Fitzgerald without a catch in the second half, though it Trufant got flagged for PI once in the process.

Brandon Browner stopped being a victim, using his size and strength to harry Fitzgerald and other Arizona receivers.

Kam Chancellor came up big by jumping a route and picking a pass intended for Arizona tight end Todd Heap.

Earlier in the game, Trufant nabbed a nice interception, and his excellent tackling prevented our opponents from capitalizing when they did catch the ball. How good is Trufant? Not only is he always in position to tackle the man he's covering, he's often in position to tackle other receivers, too.

The image of Chris Clemons rushing around the edge will likely haunt Kevin Kolb's nightmares for weeks to come.

Our defense held Arizona to 10 points, though they received an assist in the form of Jay Feely's inability to convert long field goal attempts. Since he once missed 3 easier attempts in Seahawks Stadium a few years back--when he played for the Giants--Feely must hate playing in Seattle.

The defense was good enough to compensate for our own special teams miscues, including a 10-yard punt, an uncharacteristic lapse by the normally clutch Jon Ryan, who earlier had launched some balls with ICBM-like trajectories.

The Seahawks defense was even good enough to compensate for our offense, which gave its least anemic performance yet. Our O-Line perpetrated some passable run blocking, permitting our most competent ground performance to date in 2011. Unfortunately, they continued to allow opposing pass rushers to abuse Tarvaris Jackson--who endured 5+ sacks, again.

Our offensive coaches finally gave T-Jack a game plan that allowed him to capitalize on his mobility. His chemistry with Sidney Rice met expectations, but someone should introduce him to Mike Williams, the big target who usually lines up on the opposite side of the field.

Jackson's performance showed heart, particularly his touchdown run.

But 13 points isn't enough to win most NFL games.

Today represented a huge leap forward for our defense, but the offense still needs significant work.

Still, we just recorded our first victory of the season, and against a divisional opponent at that.

Well done, Seahawks. That'll do, birds.

Gut check time

Last week in Pittsburgh, we learned that Seattle's defense isn't as good as we imagined.
For me, the defining play of the game came early in the first quarter, when Ben Rapistburger completed a short slant to Emmanuel Sanders. Brandon Browner--the cornerback responsible for covering Sanders on that play--gave chase, but the receiver turned upfield, easily outpacing the defender.

When Kam Chancellor approached, Sanders froze him with a juke and then broke right, freezing the safety and eluding him niftily.

The move worked so well that the receiver used the same juke-and-break-right combination on Earl Thomas, who dived futiley and fruitlessly in the escaping wideout's wake.

Pressing his luck, Sanders tried the juke-and-break-right combination for a third time on linebacker Matt McCoy. It worked yet again.

The receiver might have juked eight more Seahawks and scored, if only the field had been wider. Mercifully, Sanders had neared the right sideline by now, and Kam Chancellor hustled to push him out of bounds.

That simple alchemy allowed Sanders to turn the dross of a 4-yard slant into the gold of a 30-yard gain.

As the drive continued, it underscored the frustrating inconsistency of our defense. Cornerback Brandon Browner committed pass interference in the end zone, giving Pittsburgh the ball on our one-yard line. (The difference between PI and great defense? Look for the ball, Browner.)

On first and goal from the one, defensive tackle Clinton McDonald smothered a run up the middle for no gain.

On second down, Atari Bigby sacked Rapistburger for a 10-yard loss, but the defense let Big Ben scramble within inches of the goal line third down.

On 4th and goal on the one yardline, little Earl Thomas stuffed Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall, preventing a score and causing a turnover on downs.

Few other drives had such happy endings. Later, Mendenhall--not a particularly big back--stoned linebacker Leroy Hill with a stiffarm. (Of course, Hill has been stoned before.)

On the whole, however, the defense did not do too badly. Yielding 24 points to a capable offense like Pittsburgh is not a bad day...

Unless your offense can't score at all, which seems to be the case for Seattle.

In just two games, Brandon Browner has become more of a whipping boy than Kelly Jennings ever was. Targeted relentlessly by opposing offenses, the former CFL player continues to disappoint.

Not satisfied with our defensive performance, Gus Bradley has shaken up the starting lineup by benching linebacker Aaron Curry, who dropped a sure pick six last week. Bradley explained, "Competition is the theme here."

Except when it comes to the quarterback position.

Tarvaris Jackson will enter a hostile Seahawks Stadium, facing fans who have yet to see him impress, either in the preseason or in the first two regular season games. I'm expecting chants for "Charlie" before kickoff.

Our offensive schemes and playcalling actually made more sense last week, but it didn't matter, because our players failed to execute pretty comprehensively.

There is little cause to hope for improvement this week as we field our third offensive line in three weeks.

O-Line Coach Tom Cable promises a breakthrough soon, but we've heard that before.

Coach Carroll continues channel Tammy Wynette, standing by his man at quarterback, but the Seahawks faithful is not wrong about Tarvaris Jackson.

Little else has changed on offense.

Last year, we had a bad offensive line and no running game, but in Matt Hasselbeck we had a quarterback who was willing to take chances, who forced the ball sometimes to compensate for the lack of talent around him. Sometimes this led to disaster, but in other cases it led to victory.

Seattle doesn't need a quarterback who merely avoids mistakes if that means we can't score at all. You can't win with a goose egg on the board. The best you can hope for is a scoreless tie, and those don't happen in the modern NFL.

We need a passer who can make something happen. T-Jack needs to show that he's that guy, or the coaches need to let the Lord lay hands on our offense.

The special teams improved last week insofar as they did not hurt us.

Seattle needs to step up today against Arizona. This is the friendliest matchup in a tough early-season schedule. If we're going to eke out a victory before our October bye, this is our best bet. No one in the NFC West looks particularly good, yet, so--incredibly--we're not out of the division title chase at this point. But we will be soon if we start dropping division games at home.

We need the 12th Man more than ever this afternoon.

Go, Seahawks.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Don Quixote in Steeltown

Last week's collapse in San Francisco was hard to take. Our fiery young defense kept us in the game, despite our pass rush's almost total inability to pressure Alex Smith. Good run defense and pass coverage bought time for our offense, which squandered the first half, unable to move the ball on the ground or through the air. The O-Line continues to manifest our worst fears. Tarvaris Jackson struggled throughout the first two quarters, but settled down and made some plays after halftime.

Unfortunately, our special teams were a liability all game. The return teams repeatedly stymied our offense with poor field position. After several poor returns by Leon Washington suggested that returning a kickoff from your own end zone is a bad idea in 2011, Ted Ginn proved it could pay off handsomely, scorching an injury-depleted Seattle kickoff coverage unit. Minutes later, Ginn incinerated our punt team for another touchdown.

Winning today in Pittsburgh is about as probable as hitting the Powerball jackpot. The Ravens destroyed the Steelers in Baltimore last week, providing extra motivation for our opponents in their home opener. We shall be the scapegoats for what Pittsburgh endured last week.

It is probably best to think of this as an exhibition contest. As a team, our players need to show that they won't quit, even against nigh-impossible competition in a hostile environment.

For our defense, today is an opportunity for our defense to build on its successes from last week, and to try something new, like pressuring, hitting and sacking the opposing passer.

If our special teams don't lose the game for us, that would be progress.

Moreover, the contest gives our starting offensive line their first chance to work together since the first preseason game, assuming Robert Gallery returns from injury as planned, and assuming that James Carpenter plays well enough to keep Breno Giacomini on the bench. Any success running the ball or protecting the passer would be welcome.

However, our offensive game plans remain suspect. Our first-half struggles in San Francisco owed as much to predictable playcalling as they did to poor execution on the field. One thing hasn't changed since last year: Our O-Line can't manhandle anyone. If the opposing defense knows we want to run the ball, they will shut us down every time. Thus, you can't forfeit every first down by handing the ball to Marshawn Lynch and running between the tackles.


If we ditched Hasselbeck and brought in Tarvaris Jackson for his mobility, why are we still running an offense largely predicated on the notion of a stationary pocket passer? Where are the frequent rollouts, sprintouts and quarterback draws calculated to compensate for poor pass protection and to encourage defenses to back off on the blitz?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A tale of two divisions

Had Seattle brought back Matt Hasselbeck, I would pick them to win the NFC West again.

Without Hasselbeck, the Seahawks seem like a long shot. As much as it sickens me to pick them, the St. Louis Rams look like the favorites. Years of failure gave them an opportunity patiently to stock up on talent through the draft. They have a settled starter at quarterback, as opposed to the question marks hanging over the position in the rest of the division.

Now that Hasselbeck is in Tennessee, the Titans are my pick to win the AFC South. Indianapolis needs to show they can play without Peyton Manning. Jacksonville just canned David Garrard, its longtime starting quarterback. And Houston is... Houston, perpetual disappointers.

I like Hasselbeck's odds of making the playoffs a lot better than Seattle's.

Doubling down on T-Jack

Earlier this week, Seahawks players elected Tarvaris Jackson as one of their offensive captains. Designating the starting quarterback as a team captain is often an obligatory gesture; Jacksonville just fired David Garrard partly because his teammates declined to give him that honor. Of course, Garrard was a longtime veteran, while T-Jack is new to Seatle, so few would have noticed or commented had the Seahawks named Justin Forsett as the offensive captain.

Thus, this represents a strong statement of support for the starting quarterback from his teammates.

Responding to Jackson's critics, wide receiver Mike Williams said, "I just want to tell everybody, 'Back the hell up.' Let him play. Let him have his shot to work and come out here and do his thing."

The big wideout--a notorious first-round bust in Detroit--knows what it feels like to be doubted and reviled, so it's not surprising that he is so vehement in his defense of his teammate.

Displaying uncharacteristic consistency, Coach Carroll has stood steadfastly behind his anointed starter, even as evidence mounted in exhibition games suggesting that Charlie Whitehurst is probably our best bet at quarterback.

The preseason showed that our O-Line can't reliably provide adequate pass protection, and exposed Jackson as generally unable to cope with the blitz. Although T-Jack fared better in the final scrimmage against Oakland, we can expect opponents to continue to subject our quarterback to relentless pressure until our offense proves that blitzing won't work against us.

Jackson's true trial by fire commences tomorrow. Vic Fangio, San Francisco's defensive coordinator, showed at Stanford that he likes to go for the jugular and call blitz after blitz.

Moreover, our offensive line never achieved consistent chemistry in the preseason. Left tackle Russell Okung sat out most of the games with yet another high ankle sprain. James Carpenter struggled at right tackle, giving way increasingly to practice squad graduate Breno Giacomini, who'll start tomorrow while Carpenter slides inside to fill in at left guard until Robert Gallery recovers from a sprained knee.

If Tom Cable can field an effective front five this afternoon, he will confirm his reputation as one of the league's elite line coaches.

Although Seattle tends to struggle on the road, ir is probably good for T-Jack that the season opener is not at home. If it were at Seahawks Stadium, the 12th Man might be chanting for Charlie before kickoff. Playing in San Francisco today give Jackson a chance to perform at a high level, to show that he deserves the chance the coaches have given him, to seize an opportunity to win the hearts of Seattle fans before coming back for the home opener.

Even if you believe--as I do--that Charlie Whitehurst should be our starter, it is madness to hope for T-Jack to fail. Today makes the first division game of an unusually challenging season schedule that includes many East Coast road games. We need this win, and we already have our work cut out for us, between injuries and high turnover among our starters, exacerbated by a lockout-shortened offseason. It is hard to imagine us winning without a good showing by our quarterback.

Jackson detractors (like me) need to cultivate a sense of humility. We've drawn our conclusions based upon a limited data set: what we know of his stint in Minnesota, plus his performance in exhibition contests as a Seahawk. Seattle coaches, on the other hand, have run and monitored practices, and have studied game film more closely than any fan or journalist. Evidently, that additional information has led them to conclude that T-Jack is The Man. I fear they're wrong, but I hope they're right, so I wish Jackson, the coaches and the rest of the team the best in today's game.

Go, Seahawks!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Guarded optimism

I always enjoy the last exhibition game, especially the fourth quarter. By then, the network has long since lost interest, barely remembering to cut away from sideline interviews with starters to televise the action on the field. That's a shame, because the final period of the final game is the most compelling action of the preseason, a valiant struggle wherein fired-up long shots strive mightily to distinguish themselves, young athletes flying around with reckless abandon, giving everything they have. They compete as if every snap were their last chance to play in the NFL, because for most of them, every snap really could be their last chance to play in the NFL.

The fourth quarter also features fading talents trying to salvage their careers. I almost felt bad for Kyle Boller. Oakland's third-string quarterback--once a top draft pick and starter for Baltimore--got pressured and pulverized by Seattle's scrubs, a bunch of kids, most of whom will likely hit the waiver wire sometime today. A  few of those youngsters may wind up on the practice squad, but veterans like Boller are ineligible for that. Of course, he is a millionaire and a Raider, which helps keep my sympathetic impulses in check. Moreover, the abuse to which Seattle's defenders subjected Boller contributed to an encouraging Seahawks victory.

Our defense was particularly impressive, smothering a series of Raider drives. I remain skeptical of Pete Carroll and Gus Bradley's schemes, and I realize that shutting down Oakland's anemic offense in an exhibition contest does not necessarily foreshadow regular season success, but I appreciate the hustle,  passion, and effectiveness displayed by our defenders last night, and I hope to see more of the same in San Francisco next Sunday.

The O-Line looked better last night. They showed that Tarvaris Jackson can play functionally when he has a little time and protection. Unfortunately, the line's only real veteran--left guard Robert Gallery--went down with a sprained knee, making him questionable for the season opener, and endangering the fragile chemistry that has taken so long to develop among our starters. Since Russell Okung has missed the last few games, the entire left side of our line may be in flux for the season opener.

Aside from throwing a touchdown-forfeiting pick, T-Jack probably performed well enough to persuade Coach Carroll to stick to his guns and start the Minnesota castoff against the 49ers. However, backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst continues to impress, so Seattle should not hesitate to call on the Lord should Jackson falter. (If I were coaching the team, I would consider deploying Jesus of Clemson as early as our second offensive series in the season opener.)

Golden Tate secured a roster spot for himself last night with a generally strong performance. However, there remains a lot of room for improvement. Leon Washington's heads-up Immaculate Reception play--wherein the diminutive running back scooped up a pass deflected by a Raiders defender--was made possible by Tate's failure to come back to the ball, which allowed the Oakland DB to jump the route in the first place. We were fortunate that the pass was not intercepted.

With regard to special teams, I miss Olindo Mare. If we had kept him, I'm not sure our opponents would have been able to return a single kickoff all year, since Mare routinely nailed touchbacks when the ball was spotted on the 30. Now that kickoffs have moved up to the 35 yard line, Mare's probably sending the ball through the uprights and into the upper decks. At this point, every pro placekicker should be putting the ball in the end zone every time. Jeff Reed--our new kicker--hasn't been able to do that consistently. His accuracy is decent on field goals, but his short kickoffs make us vulnerable in the return game.

Beating the Raiders is always fun, even in the preseason. I can't wait for the real football to begin.