Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hire Jim Zorn!

Baltimore just fired Jim Zorn. Since Joe Flacco just finished his best season yet as a pro quarterback, it was surprising that the Ravens decided to terminate his position coach. Flacco publicly expressed his displeasure with the decision.

Jedd Fisch, Seattle's quarterbacks coach, is leaving to become the offensive coordinator of the Miami Hurricanes.

Zorn worked well with Seahawks quarterbacks from 2001-2009. Under his tutelage, Matt Hasselbeck went to three Pro Bowls, and Seneca Wallace developed into an effective backup quarterback.

Bring back Jim Zorn. What are the Seahawks waiting for?

Seahawks to watch in today's Pro Bowl

Umm... there aren't any.

No current or former Seahawk made the Pro Bowl roster.

We are the only team in the NFC that had no one voted to play in the all-star game.

This should serve as a reminder to Coach Carroll and GM John Schneider that Seattle desperately needs personnel upgrades, especially on the offensive and defensive lines, and in the secondary.

Leon Washington was the only Seattle player who arguably deserved to go to Honolulu, but it's hard to dislodge the stellar Devin Hester as the NFC's top return specialist. Even when Washington has as good a season as Hester in the return game.

Aside from Washington, no Seahawk deserved to make the Pro Bowl.

Our former Pro Bowlers did not consistently impress in 2010. Matt Hasselbeck struggled for most of the season before coming alive in the playoffs. Injuries hobbled linebacker Lofa Tatupu all year; simply getting on the field was a weekly victory for him, and only his brilliant (albeit off-concussed) defensive brain made him worth the start. Opposing teams actually targeted cornerback Marcus Trufant, who was also slowed by nagging injuries.

Some members of the current roster showed potential.

Wide receiver Mike Williams had a few monster games. If he can do that consistently, he would make the Pro Bowl.

Rookie Earl Thomas showed enough talent that Peter King of Sports Illustrated named him to his mid-season All-Pro team, but the free safety faded after that, as opposing offenses began to game-plan against him to exploit his inexperience.

Injuries kept left tackle Russell Okung off the field for several games, and compromised his performance when he was on the field, but when healthy, Okung is already among the league's best.

Aaron Curry continues to disappoint. If he wants to justify his salary and the high draft pick we spent on him, he needs to start taking over games and making annual trips to Honolulu.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The diehard position on today's playoff games

Seahawks diehards may find it hard to get excited about today's playoff games. The pain of our own elimination from the postseason remains fresh, and we are haunted by the emptiness of knowing that more than seven months separate us from the next Seahawks Sunday.

But of course we'll be watching the conference championship games. We can't help it. We love football.

However, I offer the following to sweeten the viewing experience of Seahawks diehards.

First, some solace: The teams we watch today are the only four teams in the league that made it deeper into the playoffs than Seattle did. Twenty-four of the NFL's 32 teams got eliminated before the Seahawks. So, we can feel good about our season and look forward to next year.

Now, whom should we support in today's Pleistocene NFC Championship bout between the Bears and the Packers?

An understandable diehard knee-jerk reaction would be to favor Green Bay because Chicago beat us last week.

However, if the Bears win, our elimination becomes less shameful, because we lost to the eventual conference champions.

I find it hard to be angry at Chicago. They won last week, fair and square. Brian Urlacher gloated a little on the sideline, but everyone knows he's a horse's ass.

There's a sentimental case to be made for the Packers. They're the visiting underdogs, trying to get to the Super Bowl the hard way, via a wild card berth and three road games. They hail from the league's smallest market. They're the only franchise that has managed to buck the plantation paradigm of plutocrat ownership. Because Green Bay shares are owned by hundreds of individual investors, the team will never move.

But then again, there are those uniforms. Why can't they ditch that ghastly color scheme?

I've always liked the Bears; after the Seahawks, they're my team. I loved Walter Payton. Weirdly, last week's loss increased my esteem for Chicago fans. My fiancee and I were spending the weekend in Tucson. I watched last week's game at the sports bar next to our hotel so she could take the car shopping. The establishment--called The Loop--turned out to be a Bears bar. So, I'm sitting there in my #71 Seahawks jersey, watching the game surrounded by Chicago fans and Monsters of the Midway memorabilia. I braced myself for some trash talk, but everyone was really nice to me.

Chicago's roster contains no former Seahawks. Their only obvious local connection is ex-Husky center Olin Kreutz, a dominant player, though slightly unbalanced. He got kicked out of UW for punching a teammate in practice and breaking his jaw. A few years ago, he punched a Bears teammate in practice and broke his jaw. (That time, he kept his job, and the victim got cut. The NFL and the NCAA play by different rules.)

The Packers have no former Seahawks and no ex-Huskies.

So, Kreutz awards a slight diehard advantage to da Bears.

Really, it doesn't matter. If you can't get excited about an NFC championship game featuring a rematch of the league's oldest rivalry, you don't love pro football. May the best team win.

Of course, when it comes to the AFC championship, there is a clear Seahawks diehard position: Down with Pittsburgh.

I admire Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu, but I have no use for the rest of them.

The Stealers have never acknowledged the massive assist they received from the officials in Super Bowl XL.

They have no ex-Seahawks or former Huskies on their roster.

Their quarterback is a scumbag rapist and a disgrace to the league and to the sport.

New York quarterback Mark Sanchez has a rape arrest in his past, too.

So, above all, I'm rooting for the pass rush. I want blitzing defenders to wreak merciless karmic retribution upon Big Ben and Dirty Sanchez. I want both starting quarterbacks knocked out of the game with injuries so catastrophic that they miss the Super Bowl, too. Since the NFL lacks the integrity to ban him from the league for life, a career-ending injury for Roethlisberger is our only hope for justice.

As for the Jets, there are some reasons to root for them, even if they weren't playing the Stealers:

1. Lance Laury, a longtime reserve linebacker and special teams stalwart for Seattle. Now he's a Jet.

2. LaDainian Tomlinson & Marty Schottenheimer. Denied a Super Bowl in San Diego, and then jettisoned by an ungrateful franchise. Now in the twilight of his career, Tomlinson, the decade's greatest running back, deserves a chance to win it all. Marty will never coach again, but he can win vicariously through his son Brian, who is New York's offensive coordinator.

3. Tony Richardson, one of the greatest fullbacks in league history, an unsung hero who for 16 years has blasted open holes, making greatness possible for Marcus Allen, Priest Holmes, Larry Johnson, and Adrian Peterson. The man deserves a Super Bowl ring.

4. Mark Brunell. One of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the University of Washington, Brunell now backs up Sanchez. In my fantasy scenario, Dirty blows out a knee and Brunell leads the Jets to victory in the AFC championship and the Super Bowl.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Can a Vikings castoff reinvigorate our offense?

After terminating offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, the Seahawks evidently first pursued Josh McDaniels, Denver's freshly fired head coach, who made his name as the director New England's offense from 2006-2008, a span that included Tom Brady's record-setting 50-touchdown season in 2007.

However, McDaniels spurned our advances and signed with St. Louis instead. Ouch.

Seattle had been interviewing Darrell Bevell for our vacant quarterbacks coach position, but after McDaniels joined the Rams, we hired him as our offensive coordinator.

Bevell had served as Minnesota's offensive coordinator for the last five years, but the Vikings stripped him of the position, hired a replacement, and offered him a choice: demotion to quarterbacks coach, or permission to seek a job elsewhere.

Minnesota fielded consistently good rushing offenses under Bevell, but that's not hard to do when you have a dominant O-Line and a world-class running back like Adrian Peterson. They had one great passing year with Brett Favre in 2009.

Bevell represents a return to Holmgren's West Coast philosophy. He began his coaching career with the Packers in 2000, during the tenure of Big Show protege Mike Sherman. In that first season, he coached Matt Hasselbeck, then Green Bay's backup quarterback.

So, while Bevell is our fourth offensive coordinator in four years, he at least offers a return to something familiar for some of our veterans.

Perhaps, in welcome contrast to his two most recent predecessors, Bevell will conserve the functional elements of our present offense and gradually introduce new wrinkles, rather than confound our returning players needlessly by starting from scratch again.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Good-bye, Mr. Bates

For most of the season, I excoriated the playcalling of offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates.

His default mode was predictable, calling a handoff to Marshawn Lynch on seemingly every first down. Exactly what the defense expected. Typical result: Stuffed for no gain.

His changeup was even worse, though: throwing a fade on third and one. Typical result: incompletion.

Seattle had one of the league's worst offenses. Again.

But let us acknowledge the handicaps Bates faced.

Offensive line coach Alex Gibbs retired before the regular season began, but after his philosophy had dictated some questionable personnel decisions (e.g., cutting Mansfield Wrotto). Art Valero came in at the last minute to try to make it work. Injuries and underperformance required Seattle to try ten different offensive line combinations over the course of the season. No wonder our running game was so bad.

It would have been worse had we not acquired Marshawn Lynch. Since our O-Line couldn't find any daylight, we needed a beastly runner who could make some of his own.

GM John Schneider and Coach Pete Carroll dismantled Seattle's receiving corps, purging last year's best receivers and gambling on unproven wideouts. They refused to pay Nate Burleson, encouraging him to escape in free agency. Then, they cut TJ Houshmandzadeh, paying him $6 million to play for Baltimore. Finally, they traded Deion Branch back to the Patriots.

It took time for Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu to develop into serviceable starters. Deon Butler began to emerge, but then was lost to injury. Golden Tate simply disappointed. We needed to sign Brandon Stokley to find a reliable slot receiver.

Bates may have proposed signing Stokley, since he worked with the wideout in Denver. But it is hard to blame him for the underperformance of our receiving corps. Kippy Brown is the wide receivers coach, and he hasn't been fired, yet.

As offensive coordinator, it was Bates' job to make the most of what we had, and this is where he struggled.

For most of the season, he failed to adapt his playcalling to the team's limited resources. His predictable playcalling made it easy for opposing defenses to shut down our feeble ground game. His desire to throw deep set up Hasselbeck to throw a lot of interceptions.

Late in the season, Bates seemed to hit his stride. In the last few games, he installed new formations and new plays that befuddled opposing defenses.

In the regular season finale against St. Louis, he crafted an offensive game plan that fit Charlie Whitehurst, taking advantage of his mobility, and allowing him to conduct a patient, clock-chewing ball control offense.

The next week, in the wild card game, Bates cleverly exploited the weaknesses of a Saints secondary that had allowed only 12 touchdown passes during the regular season. Hasselbeck shredded New Orleans for four passing touchdowns.

Last week, in Chicago, Bates called a remarkably good game. His original plan relied heavily on tight ends, but a concussion subtracted John Carlson from the lineup after our first offensive play, and an injury hobbled our backup tight end. Reduced to a mere corner of his original play sheet, Bates nevertheless called a good game. Hasselbeck threw the ball accurately, and our receivers got open, but they simply couldn't catch the ball. Again, if we're going to blame a coach for that, it should be the position coach, Kippy Brown, and not the offensive coordinator.

Before those last three games, I would have agreed with Bates' firing.

Now, I'm not sure.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Dropped opportunities

If we could catch the ball, it would have been a closer game.

Matt Hasselbeck threw as accurately as he had against the Saints, putting ball after ball exactly where it needed to be.

But our receivers kept dropping the pigskin.

Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates called the right plays. He knew we needed to throw to set up the run.

Our scheme was sound.

Our pass protection generally held up and gave Matt enough time to throw.

Our receivers generally got open.

But they could not catch the ball.

Our defensive backs had the same problem. Early in the game, Chicago led, 7-0. On first and goal, Jay Cutler zipped the ball to nickel back Jordan Babineaux.

Standing at Seattle's goal line, with no Bears between him and the opposite end zone, the player once known as Big Play Babs had a chance to make a 100-yard pick six, to reverse the momentum decisively and get his team back in the game.

Instead, he dropped the ball.

Late in the game, the Seahawks seemed to be mounting a comeback, having closed within 11 points. Rookie free safety Earl Thomas made a good read on a Jay Cutler pass, dashing across the field to cut in front of the intended receiver and attempt a leaping interception.

Unfortunately, Thomas mistimed his leap. He missed the ball. The pass sailed into the hands of Bears tight end Kellen Davis. Since the free safety had gambled and lost, there were no defenders to prevent Davis from scoring.

Even our "hands unit" failed. Olindo Mare's first onside kick rebounded off the knee of a Chicago player and bounced back toward Seattle's side. Three Seahawks had a chance to recover, and all three choked.

It was that kind of game.

Our defense did not play well.

We couldn't cover their receivers, and when we tried to pressure their quarterback, Cutler ran for first downs and scores, or burned us with screen passes.

Strong safety Lawyer Milloy set the tone early by letting tight end Greg Olsen run past him and catch a 58-yard touchdown bomb.

It is hard to imagine a more blatant violation of one's position responsibilities.

Milloy has been a vocal inspirational leader for the team this year, but he needs to lead by example on the field as well. Aging veterans who have lost a step are supposed to make up for it with smart play.

Several times this year, our coaches and athletes have identified Matt Hasselbeck as the team's best offensive player. Certainly, he rose to the occasion yesterday, throwing almost every pass precisely on-target. He did everything he could to help the Seahawks win.

If the rest of the team ever learns to match his level of focus and execution, we will go deeper into the playoffs.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Seattle's toughest test yet

After years of futility, Seattle finally mounted an effective ground game against St. Louis and New Orleans.

Today, we will see whether our new rushing attack is for real.

Chicago boasts the league's second-best run defense, holding opponents to a mere 90 yards per game during the regular season.

If we can run against the Monsters of the Midway, we can run against anyone.

Sadly, the best bet is that the Bears will shut down our ground game, if we are predictable about it.

Chicago is probably good enough to stop the run when they know we are running.

Thus, Bates and Hasselbeck must keep them off-balance with creative playcalling and timely audibles.

We need to throw to set up the run.

Chicago's passing defense is less impressive, ranking 20th in yards surrendered. (That's still better than Seattle's, which ranked 27th.)

However, Chicago allowed only 14 passing touchdowns, a level of aerial stinginess exceeded only by New Orleans.

Of course, you saw what the Seahawks did to the Saints secondary last week.

If I were coaching Seattle, I'd dust off the old Holmgren-era up-tempo approach, attacking their defense with a brisk series of scripted plays that give the defenders no time to adjust, substitute or catch their breath. Make them burn a timeout to buy time to think.

Seattle needs another stellar performance from Russell Okung, who shut down Julius Peppers--the league's most dominant pass rusher--in our first meeting with Chicago. The rookie must win the rematch, and the rest of the offensive line must do its part to protect the quarterback, and to punch holes in the defense when we run the ball.

The Seahawks need more brilliance from Matt Hasselbeck and the receiving corps.

We need a lycanthropic Marshawn Lynch to go into Beast Mode again.

Our special teams appear evenly matched. Both teams have clutch kickers, dangerous return men, decent punters, and competent coverage units.

On offense, Chicago would be wise to continue the approach that has worked so well for them for most of the season: establish the run and limit Cutler's throwing.

If Seattle's defense can bring the kind of intensity they showed against St. Louis and New Orleans, they should be good enough to contain the Bears' average offense.

But we need to do it with only 11 men, in a hostile environment.

We have to smother the run and put the game on the shoulders of their quarterback.

Our pass rush must find a way to replicate and supersede the 6-sack beating we put on Cutler last time. We need to force him to make unwise throws and feast on the resultant turnovers.

This is the toughest test of character yet for this team.

No one expects us to win.

Let's defy the odds and shock the world again.

Go, Seahawks!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

It's on!!!

The Pack took care of business tonight, rendering the Falcons into tinned raptor.

This means the Seahawks will host the conference championship game, if we can beat the Bears.

Defeating Chicago won't be easy, but Seattle may have an edge in offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates. Obviously, he has been responsible for developing our offensive game plan.

However, Bates may also be able to help the defense. From 2006 through 2008, he coached the Denver offense, during Jay Cutler's first three seasons in the league. For the last two years, he served as the Broncos' quarterbacks coach.

When you coach an athlete that long, you get to know their strengths and weaknesses. If anyone knows how to exploit the quarterback's vulnerabilities, it would be Bates. Although he hasn't worked with Cutler for two years, a little film study should be enough to confirm whether what he knew of the player remains true now.

In a losing effort for the Ravens, ex-Seahawk Cory Redding had a nice sack of Roethlisberger and a fumble return for a touchdown.

Poor Housh.

He's the goat of Baltimore's narrow loss to the Steelers, with a drive-killing drop on the Ravens' last possession. The iconic picture of TJ's 2010 season continues to be the receiver sitting on the bench, face buried in his hands.

Fortunately for him, $6 million of Paul Allen's money should go a long way toward soothing the pain of playoff elimination.

Tomorrow morning, we shall see whether Seattle's playoff tenure outlasts Baltimore's by more than a day.

It's been a bad weekend for bird teams. Now that the Ravens and the Falcons have fallen, only the Seahawks remain to represent for avian kind.

I'm sure the world wants to see a Chicago-Green Bay NFC championship game, a new installment of the league's oldest rivalry, for all the marbles.

But who cares? Seattle needs to ignore that nonsense, seize the day and bring the championship game back to Seahawks Stadium.

Bring on da Bears.

Seattle's stake in today's games

Both of today's playoff games are of interest to Seahawks diehards.

Three of last year's Seattle starters will play today for Baltimore when the Ravens vie for a win in Pittsburgh.

You may not see much of TJ Houshmandzadeh, who has been reduced to reserve duty for his current team, playing behind Derrick Mason and Anquan Boldin. During the regular season, Housh caught 30 passes for three scores and nearly 400 yards. He caught just one ball last week in the wild card game in Kansas City. However, the highlight of his season came in Week Four when he caught the winning touchdown in Pittsburgh.

I hope Housh manages some similar magic today.

However, when the Steelers have the ball, two ex-Seahawks will be starting for Baltimore: defensive tackle Cory Redding and cornerback Josh Wilson.

After a single unimpressive season in Seattle, Redding has had a solid year in Baltimore. He has started more games for the Ravens this season (12) than he did for the Seahawks in 2009 (3). Interior defensive linemen labor in anonymity, stoutly plugging the middle gaps, and while they make few tackles themselves, they create opportunities for other defenders. So far this season, Redding has logged forty tackles and three sacks. He also grabbed a memorable interception to seal a victory over New Orleans.

I hope Redding rips off Roethlisberger's face today.

I rue the trade of Josh Wilson more than any personnel change since Seattle let Steve Hutchinson escape in free agency.

Wilson began the season as Baltimore's third-string corner. Since then, he quickly clawed his way up the depth chart. He has started the last nine straight games. His overtime pick six gave Baltimore a Week 14 win in Houston, and another interception sealed his team's victory over Kansas City last week.

I hope Wilson grabs a clutch of interceptions from Big Ben.

Baltimore and Pittsburgh have one of the league's best rivalries. Their contests are always close and brutally hard-hitting.

NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci has guaranteed that today's Ravens-Steelers matchup will be "literally a bloodbath."

That statement tempts me to say that Mooch is literally a moron. But, of course, he's really only figuratively a moron.

Of course, the most important game for Seattle is this evening's game between Green Bay and Atlanta.

Like every Seahawks diehard, I'm rooting for the Packers to fudgify the Falcons, because that would allow Seattle to host the conference championship game if they can beat Chicago.

If the Falcons win, I fear that we might phone it in against Chicago, knowing that a road trip to Atlanta would be no fun.

Atlanta is tough at home, so the Pack have their work cut out for them.

Go, Green Bay!

A taloned thumb in the eye

Back in October, when we beat the Bears on the road, we were coming off a bye.

This time, it is Chicago that has enjoyed an extra week to rest, heal, and prepare.

Back then, Seattle entered the contest as a .500 team, having lost its last game in St. Louis.

This time, we are 8-9, but riding a two-game winning streak over supposedly superior opponents.

The Bears came into that October game 4-1, having just crushed Carolina.

Now they are 11-5, having dropped their last regular season game in Green Bay.

One thing remains constant: No one gives us a chance to win.

Certainly, we face daunting odds.

Seattle is 2-6 in away games this year.

Chicago is 5-3 at home.

We haven't won a road playoff game since 1983. That's seven straight road losses, though we took three of those contests into overtime before failing.

Moreover, the Seahawks tend to play poorly in road games that kick off at 10 a.m. PST. According to Mike Sando of ESPN, Seattle is 7-24 (.226) in nondivision early road games since 2003.

Vegas lists us as 10-point underdogs.

So, the numbers say we're probably going to lose.

Nevertheless, here are some reasons to be hopeful:

1. The Bears offense isn't very good.

During the regular season, Chicago ranked 24th in scoring, 30th in total yards,

Over the same span, Seattle ranked 23rd in scoring and 28th in total yards,

So, their offense wasn't much better than ours for most of the season.

However, the Seahawks offense has come together over the last two weeks, while the Bears sputtered in their regular season finale, managing a mere 3 points against Green Bay.

2. We have the better quarterback

Jay Cutler and Matt Hasselbeck have both been to Pro Bowls.

The Chicago quarterback went more recently (in 2008), and in 2010, he compiled a statistically superior season to Seattle's starting passer.

However, Cutler will start his first playoff game tomorrow.

It will be Hasselbeck's 12th postseason start. He is 6-5 in the playoffs. (OK, so that's 6-0 at home, 0-4 on the road, and 0-1 in technically neutral sites, though Super Bowl XL seemed like a Pittsburgh home game.)

Moreover, if you compare their most recent games, the bald veteran vastly outshined his hirsute junior counterpart.

Hasselbeck played the game of his life against New Orleans, hurling four touchdowns. The interception charged to Matt was an on-target throw that his receiver bobbled into the defender's hands. Matt didn't throw a bad ball all day.

By contrast, Cutler laid an egg in Green Bay, throwing for two picks and no scores, while getting sacked six times.

3. We've done this before

Back in 2006, we nearly beat the Bears on the road in the divisional round. The contest went into overtime.

And, of course, we beat the Bears in Chicago earlier this year.

The Monsters of the Midway appear to be a better team now than they were in October. Back then, Chicago offensive coordinator Mike "Mad" Martz was still trying to bring the Greatest Show on Turf to Soldier Field. Since then, he has learned to tailor his offense to his personnel, so the Bears are running the ball more and giving Cutler fewer chances to throw interceptions.

Back then, our "Bandit" defense befuddled Chicago's offense. In the Bandit, we field six or seven defensive backs, and send one or two of them to blitz the quarterback on nearly every obvious passing down. The Bandit worked largely because of its novelty. Now offenses have learned how to fight it. (Audible into a run, because welterweight defensive backs struggle to tackle power runners.)

So, we'll need a new game plan this time. The old one won't work anymore.

But that's OK. For two straight weeks, we have outcoached our opponents. Caroll and his staff have designed clever game plans and dialed up the right schemes at the right times, and our players have executed those plans and schemes in inspired fashion.

In terms of personnel, the Seahawks were probably a better team in October, because at that point, we still had Red Bryant, Junior Siavii, and Deon Butler on the active roster.

However, in terms of chemistry and performance, we seem to be a better team now. After much suffering, we have emerged from a dark tunnel of midseason and late-season misery to emerge, over the last two games, as a team to take seriously. For the first time in years, our offensive line has manifested competence, allowing our running backs to find some daylight. Our no-name receiving corps is finally getting open. Our patchwork defense is getting fired up and making some stops.

Certainly, the Bears will be eager to avenge their regular season defeat at our hands, and they'll have home field advantage.

But a desire for revenge at home doesn't always translate into success on the field. Remember the 2004 season, when St. Louis swept us during the regular season, and then we got to host them in the wild card round? Surely, we thought, our 9-7 team and the 12th Man would not permit the 8-8 Lambs to beat us again. And yet they did.

This time, we are the sub-.500 upstarts, returning to the scene of the crime in the playoffs to repeat an act of grand larceny we pulled off in the regular season.

4. We have absolutely nothing to lose

Seattle has already exceeded everyone's expectations this season.

Two weeks ago, we achieved our coach's stated season goal of winning the division.

Last week, we ladled on some gravy by eliminating the defending Super Bowl champions.

So, let's go out there and get some more gravy.

Hit hard. Wrap up. Play loose. Play smart.

Let's jam a taloned thumb in the eyes of everyone who continues to underestimate us.

Go, Seahawks!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Go get him

The best cornerback in the NFL will become a free agent after the Super Bowl.

Many have not heard of him. Most people do not know how to pronounce his name.

But Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha will soon be available.

The Seahawks should go out and get him.

A true shutdown corner, Asomugha does not post impressive statistics. He grabs few interceptions and makes few tackles, because quarterbacks are too petrified to throw to his side of the field.

They know that if they test him, Asomugha will make them pay.

As soon as free agency begins, Paul Allen should pay to add this Pro Bowl and All-Pro player to our roster.

Aside from being one of the league's best players, Asomugha is a team leader and a devoted promoter of higher education for urban children.

Opportunities to recruit a world-class athlete and person like Asomugha do not come along every day.

Sign him.

Hasselbeck's Fantastic Four

There was something special about every one of the four passing touchdowns Hasselbeck threw yesterday.

Both of John Carlson's touchdowns came on run fakes where the tight end pretended to block so the defense wouldn't cover him.

His second scoring reception was particularly outrageous. At the snap, Carlson did his impression of the worst cut block ever, diving prone on the turf in front of Saints defensive back Roman Harper. Ignoring the tight end's ineffectual effort, the Pro Bowl safety kept his eyes fixed on Hasselbeck as he faked a handoff and then dropped back to pass, looking to the right. The defender did not see Carlson get up and sneak into the end zone. Only when our quarterback turned left and threw did Harper turn to see Carlson--five yards away--backpedaling into the the promised land, cradling the pigskin.

Because Harper's blown assignments contributed to every Seahawks touchdown, Rich Eisen of the NFL Network has dubbed Harper Seattle's 13th Man.

The touchdowns by Mike Williams and Brandon Stokley were special because the Saints never expected them to go long.

They underestimated Williams, because he is a big-bodied possession receiver, slow by NFL wideout standards.

They also dismissed Stokley as a scoring threat, because he is a little slot receiver and no speedster.

Since Williams and Stokley generally run relatively short routes--slants, crosses, and comebacks--New Orleans was stunned when each of them went deep and hauled down touchdown passes.

Stokley's score was particularly sweet.

He, Williams, and Obomanu lined up in a trips formation bunched close to the left side of the O-Line.

Six Saints defenders--five defensive backs and a linebacker--started the play in position to cover the trio of Seattle receivers.

At the snap, Williams and Obomanu moved left, drawing most of the defenders after them.

One cornerback (Tracy Porter) bumped #15 at the line, but Stokley escaped.

When Porter tried to pursue, he bumped into Mike Williams, who was running a very short decoy comeback route.

Meanwhile, Stokley slipped past two more Saints as if he were invisible. Only when he had a five-yard head start did they give chase. And by then it was too late.

Big Walt = good mojo

We need to get Big Walt to whip up the fans at every home game.

During the regular season, after falling behind against lowly Carolina, the Seahawks came to life after Jones briefly spoke at the retirement of #71 during the 2-minute warning at the end of the first half.

Yesterday, Seattle wisely invited Walter to connect with the crowd before the game, by having him raise the 12th Man flag.

The fans and the team responded with their greatest performance in 3+ years.

The Beast unleashed

The least respected playoff team in NFL history just eliminated the defending Super Bowl champions.

It was an epic struggle, and for the Seahawks, it did not start well. Olindo Mare's opening kickoff bizarrely sailed out of bounds, granting the Saints excellent field position, enabling them to score on their first drive. On our first possession, one of our receivers bobbled an on-target throw into the hands of a New Orleans defender. The Saints scored again, taking a 10-0 lead.

It looked like we were going to get blown out at home again for the fourth time this season.

Instead, Seattle rallied. Twice in the first half, we recovered from 10-point deficits.

Matt Hasselbeck returned to Pro Bowl form, executing a dynamic game plan featuring formations and plays we've never seen before. Hasselbeck threw for four touchdowns against a Saints defense that surrendered, on average, less than one passing touchdown per game during the regular season.

For the first three quarters, offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates was in the zone, calling a creative mix of plays that kept New Orleans off balance and kept our offense moving down the field.

It appears that offensive line combination #10 is a keeper. That's left tackle Russell Okung, the brilliant rookie; left guard Tyler Polumbus, a converted tackle; center Chris Spencer, the unit's veteran leader; right guard Ben Hamilton, whose play continues to improve; and right tackle Sean Locklear, who played well despite missing most of the week's practices while dealing with the deaths of a relative and a close friend.

The group debuted last week against St. Louis, and they looked even better against New Orleans. They created some running room for Marshawn Lynch, and, with help from the tight ends and Justin Forsett, they provided excellent pass protection for our quarterback, allowing only one sack.

Late in the game, our offense began to bog down, due to conservative playcalling by Bates and cautious decisions by Hasselbeck, who protected our lead by refusing to force passes into good coverage. We kept having to punt.

It looked like the game might slip away at that point. With Drew Brees at the helm, the potent New Orleans air attack continued to execute efficient drives and keep the score close.

Leading by five points with less than five minutes remaining, Seattle tried to drain the clock by running the ball. Accordingly, the Saints defense stacked the box. They had stuffed Lynch for no gain on first down on the Seahawks 31-yard line.

We gave it to him again on 2nd and 10. Our O-Line got a good initial push on the left side. Fullback Michael Robinson stuck his block, driving his man outside. Covering the ball with both hands, Lynch charged toward the hole, but Saints linebackers quickly shot the gaps. One of them slammed into the running back and wrapped up. It looked like we would be held to a short gain, setting up third and long.

At this critical juncture, Lynch showed us what he means by going into Beast Mode as a runner.

Powerful legs churning, he fought off the linebacker and veered inside.

Toppled by our linemen, two Saints defenders lunged at Lynch's feet, but the Beast broke through their attempted ankle tackles.

Two more defenders converged upon the runner: a hulking defensive tackle and All-Pro safety Darren Sharper. The Beast busted through their diving arm tackles.

A fleet cornerback caught him from behind, latched on to Lynch's left thigh, slipped down his right leg, and got left behind, having failed even to slow the Beast.

Crossing midfield, Lynch saw another cornerback closing in from the left. Accordingly, the runner angled right, shifted the ball into his right hand, and shot out his left paw. Instead of simply stiffarming the defender, the Beast flung him savagely to the ground.

Disposing of that cornerback had slowed Lynch, giving some Saints a chance to catch him from behind.

However, by this time, several Seahawks had hustled downfield to help block. This convoy included Hasselbeck. Quarterbacks--especially fragile, aged, injured ones--rarely risk trying to block, and rarely do so effectively. But Matt is a consummate competitor, so he was in the mix.

Defensive end Alex Brown was gaining fast on Lynch. He had a good angle.

Sean Locklear tried to intervene, but Brown simply outran him.

Only Hasselbeck had a chance to stop the fleet 260-pound lineman. Running alongside the defender, the quarterback reached out with his fractured left wrist and shoved Brown's shoulder. Losing his balance, the defender desperately lunged at Lynch's feet, to no effect.

As the Beast entered the red zone, Mike Williams peeled back and blocked a defensive back who had been gaining on our runner.

When Lynch crossed the 10-yard line, Pro Bowl safety Roman Harper was the last Saint between him and the end zone.

Fortunately, Tyler Polumbus, a 310-pound guard, had hustled more than 60 yards downfield. For the last 25 yards, he had been stalking Harper. At the 5-yard line, the guard shoved the defensive back outside.

Lynch read the block, cutting inside, behind Polumbus. Harper recovered his balance and dove for the Beast's feet at the 2-yard line.

The running back skipped aside and crossed the goal line. Somehow, after running 67 yards and breaking, thwarting, or eluding nine tackles, Lynch retained enough energy to brandish the ball and execute a backwards somersault before his teammates mobbed him.

That play encapsulates the promise of this team.

Our defense did enough to win. We couldn't stop the Saints, but we slowed them. We forced New Orleans to mount methodical drives. We allowed few big plays. Our defenders surrendered several touchdowns, but they forced the Saints to punt and settle for field goals often enough to secure a victory.

For the second consecutive week, we stunned a national television audience by rising to the challenge of a must-win game that no one thought we could win.

We have begun to restore the reputation of Seahawks Stadium and the 12th Man.

We are showing that we are a better team than our record indicates.

We have now officially exceeded expectations. Coach Carroll's goal for the year was to win the division. We achieved that last week.

No one expected us to win a playoff game.

No one imagined that we could stick a fortyburger on the defending Super Bowl champions.

But we just did.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Decanonize with extreme prejudice... for real this time

We're in the playoffs!

The 7-9 Seahawks, as champions of the NFC West, get to host a wild card playoff game this afternoon against the 11-5 Saints, the defending Super Bowl champions. (When naming the football franchise of a notoriously sinful city, what ironist settled on "the Saints"?)

We are 10-point underdogs. This week's NFL Playbook power trio (Brian Billick, Joe Theismann, Sterling Sharpe) has unanimously predicted doom for Seattle, though they magnanimously concede that the home team has a chance against the Saints. (They needed that asterisk, because they--and nearly every other NFL prognosticator--gave us no chance to win last week. Props to the NFL Network's Rod Woodson, the only analyst I noticed picking Seattle to beat St. Louis last week. The Hall of Fame defensive back understands the power of the 12th Man.)

Although we lost in New Orleans earlier this year, we were uncharacteristically competitive for most of that contest.

Now the battle has shifted onto our turf, and for the first time in recent memory, our opponent's injury report is longer than ours. By a lot.

They are so thin at running back that Julius Jones figures to get significant playing time. Here is our opportunity to punish him for stubborn underachievement, for refusing to learn our zone blocking system, for sucking so badly that we had to cut him, and for laughing all the way to the bank.

Here is our opportunity to punish Reggie Bush for disgracing the Heisman Trophy. (Oh, wait. Our coach had something to do with that, too. Never mind.)

Here is our opportunity to show that we belong in the playoffs.

Drew Brees remains the league's most accurate passer, a clinical dissector of opposing defenses. We'll need a fierce pass rush and smothering coverage to shut him down. I trust that the 12th Man will restrict his options by making verbal audibles impossible.

Our ground game came alive last week with an improved performance by the offensive line and inspired playcalling by Jeremy Bates. Charlie Whitehurst managed the game effectively last week, but Matt Hasselbeck lit it up in New Orleans earlier this season.

My man Leon Washington is overdue to score a return touchdown.

I'm so psyched I can't sleep.

We're the NFC West champions. We've got nothing to lose, but we have a lot to prove.

A chorus of haters complain that we don't even belong in the playoffs, because we don't have a winning record.

So, let's win this one, just to piss them off.

Let's win, to bring back a healthy fear of Seahawks Stadium and the 12th Man.

Let's win, to make a case that this team really is better than its record.

Let's win, to show that last week's triumph wasn't a fluke.

Play loose. Hit hard. Play smart. Wrap up.

Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?

We dat.

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Go, Seahawks!


Tomorrow afternoon, Seattle will host our first playoff game in three seasons.

And this Seahawk diehard won't be watching the game.

Well, I won't see it live.

We're starting a new reading program at my school, and we have a training tomorrow. I'd beg out of it, except I'm the principal, and that would be bad form. (The district administration put the workshop on the calendar without so much as consulting the NFL playoffs schedule. ¡Que Barbaridad!)

So, I'll be DVRing the game, and hurrying home to watch it.

It will be the first time since December 2005 that I have failed to watch a Seahawks game live. At the time, I was home for the holidays (Federal Way), Xmas shopping with a dawdling girlfriend who didn't understand how urgently I needed to get to a TV. (Obviously, our relationship didn't work out.)

I did miss some of the January 2007 wild card playoff game that the Cowboys played in Seattle. I scheduled a flight before the football season, figuring that the Seahawks would be strong enough to win a bye that year (wrong), and assuming that even if we had to play in the wild card round, what were the odds that the game would conflict with my flight? (Rather good, actually. In the end, p equalled 1.)

The flight meant that I missed the first third of the game. After deplaning, I found a bar in the Tucscon airport that was showing the game. But the bar shut down at halftime!

So, I hurried through the airport, debating whether to leave my luggage and come back for it after the game. Making the wrong decision, I waited impatiently for the luggage carousel to retch up my suitcase, then went outside and waited for the shuttle to take me to long-term parking (c'mon!). Firing up the fierce engine of my mighty Ford Taurus, I drove off to find the nearest place that might be showing the game. Well, not the nearest place, because that was a strip club, and educator contracts require us to maintain high standards of personal behavior. Moreover, since I'm not really a drinker, my alcoholic geography of Tucson was too poor to navigate me to the closest tavern. So I drove--legally, but aggressively--to a sports bar that I knew of a few miles away.

By the time I got there, it was late in the fourth quarter. The joint was crowded, and almost everyone in there was sporting Cowboys regalia. The Dallas fans razzed me as I swaggered in, wearing my Seahawks jersey (#71, in honor of Walter Jones and Bryan Millard).

I ended up sitting with a heavily tattooed and multiply pierced cholo, a Steelers fan who was rooting against the Cowboys. I annoyed the waitress by ordering a Diet Coke. (After the game, I faced a 90-minute drive home.)

The Seahawks led, 21-20, but Tony Romo had led the Cowboys into the red zone. On third down, Jason Witten caught a pass, but Lofa Tatupu and Julian Peterson savagely stuffed him just outside the 2 yard line. My heart sank when the officials awarded Dallas a generous spot and a first down. (Screwed by the officials, again!) But a booth review corrected the mistake: Fourth and inches.

Dallas coach Bill Parcells elected to attempt a field goal. From the two. A chip shot, from extra-point distance.

I was certain that Martin Gramatica would nail it, but I didn't care. With 1:19 remaining on the clock, I knew the Seahawks would have time to drive down the field and get close enough for Josh Brown to kick a game-winning field goal.

But that wasn't necessary, because Tony Romo botched the hold. Gramatica never got a chance to kick the ball. Romo snatched up the pigskin and tried to run for the first down, but Big Play Babs ran him down from behind and ankle-tackled him, just inches shy of the bright yellow line.

I high-fived the cholo, dropped a nice tip, and swaggered out of the bar, passing with a wide grin through a sea of slackjawed, dejected Dallas fans.

Russell Okung, warrior

It can't be easy to be the guy drafted to replace Walter Jones, the Canton-bound left tackle who was the greatest Seahawk ever, and who reigned for a few years as the league's greatest player.

Russell Okung has had a frustrating rookie season, fighting a series of high ankle sprains (first one leg, then the other!). He has missed several games. In one contest between ankle sprains--when he was fully healthy--Okung performed brilliantly on the road against Chicago, shutting down Julius Peppers, one of the NFL's most dominant defensive ends.

Playing hurt for most of the season, Okung has struggled to achieve competence. We have generally run the ball better when he is in the lineup, though not that much better. His pass protection has been good, though not perfect.

Instability at the neighboring left guard position has not helped. Ideally, a rookie on the O-Line would receive the sage guidance of stable veteran linemen, but the Seahawks have fielded ten different offensive line combinations this year, which has prevented the unit as a whole from developing the complex chemistry and coordination required to execute at a high level. The left side of the line has been particularly unstable, so Okung--when he has been healthy enough to play--has had to get used to working with several different left guards, each with different abilities and tendencies. On the line, when you don't know how your neighbor will handle what the defense is doing, it makes it difficult to succeed in a zone blocking scheme.

However, last week, in a do-or-die duel for the NFC West championship, the rookie rose to the occasion. For most of the game, Okung had to deal with Rams defensive end James Hall, a veteran who entered the game with ten sacks on the season.

The rookie held his own against Hall until the second quarter, when he got hurt again. It looked like Okung aggravated his high ankle sprain. In obvious pain, he hobbled to the sideline.

In his absence, the line struggled. His replacement--Chester Pitts--got flagged for holding. Then Pitts sustained a head injury that forced him out of the game.

At that point, Okung re-entered the game. Although clearly impaired by the injury, Okung gutted it out and finished.

In the end, the rookie held Hall to zero sacks. In fact, none of the Rams defenders ever managed to sack Charlie Whitehurst. Partly, this was due to the quarterback's mobility. But it also reflected an improved performance by the whole offensive line.

The O-Line also stepped up their run blocking.

Okung hasn't missed any practice this week. He's playing through the pain, because he's a warrior. Because it's the playoffs.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


The Seahawks decisively seized the NFC West championship tonight.

Members of the team who had disappointed in the past stepped up when the playoffs were on the line.

Our offensive line opened some holes, allowing our running backs to combine for more than 100 rushing yards. On a few occasions, we managed to execute the power right play--which until tonight had only worked only against Carolina--even on downs where St. Louis expected it.

Charlie Whitehurst turned in an inspired performance. He made good decisions, passed accurately, threw the ball away at the right times, and used his mobility to good effect. (He does need to learn how to slide better so he can avoid some of those big hits.)

Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates--whom I have often maligned for being predictable--rose to the occasion with an aggressive game plan, throwing often when the defense expected runs. Late in the game, Bates capitalized on his reputation for predictability, calling power right repeatedly, challenging St. Louis to learn how to stop it, and then faking power right to set up a big bootleg left run for Whitehurst.

Our receiving corps--despite lacking Brandon Stokley--proved good enough. Mike Williams, Ben Obomanu, and Ruvell Martin each made a few critical plays.

Seattle's defense smothered St. Louis, forcing them to punt nine times.

We held them to less than 50 yards rushing.

Our linebackers and defensive backs limited the Rams' gains on screen passes. Marcus Trufant--hampered by injury and unreliable in recent weeks--came through in the clutch, tying Lofa Tatupu for the team lead in tackles.

Coming into the game, St. Louis led the league in converting short yardage downs, but our front seven stuffed several such attempts.

The defensive line got their big paws up to tip and bat down several balls.

There was no quit in our defense today. When Lynch coughed up a fumble, giving the Rams the ball in the red zone, the defense rallied and forced them to settle for a field goal.

Late in the game, when Bradford had to throw downfield, Raheem Brock mounted a ferocious pass rush, recording 2.5 sacks.

Our special teams coverage units effectively contained Danny Amendola, one of the league's better punt and kick returners.

Olindo Mare? Absolutely clutch, a perfect 3-for-3 on field goals.

We had a little luck. Bradford's receivers dropped a few on-target throws. The officials made a few bad calls that went our way (most egregiously, the very generous spot on the Michael Robinson run), but they made some other questionable calls that favored St. Louis (like the holding penalties against Craig Terrill and Mike Gibson). So, all in all, the officiating was a wash.

Seattle left little to chance tonight. They fought hard and they got it done. The division championship is ours.

Bring on the Saints.

How to beat the Rams

With a win at home today, Seattle can salvage the season. The Seahawks can exorcise the demons of three disappointing years and reclaim the division title.

Almost no one expects this to happen. Vegas oddsmakers list St. Louis as 3-point favorites. In a rare instance of unanimity, the NFL Network's NFC Playbook triumvirate (Brian Baldinger, Shannon Sharpe, and Joe Theismann) and GameDay Morning foursome (Marshall Faulk, Steve Mariucci, Warren Sapp, and Michael Irvin) all foretold doom for the home team. Even Seattle Times reporter Danny O'Neil--normally a homer--picks the Rams to win by 6.

This is understandable. In order to compete today, the Seahawks must arrest and reverse the gravitational force of a three-game losing streak exacerbated by two losing trends: we've lost six of our last seven games, and three of our last four home games.

Moreover, when these teams last met in October, the Rams beat us like a redheaded stepchild mounted on a rented mule that's straddling a dead horse. Playing with the fury of a hungry young team determined to break a 10-game losing streak against Seattle, St. Louis beat us, 20-3.

In that game, neither team managed more than 90 yards on the ground. So, it came down to quarterbacks. Rams rookie Sam Bradford, though pressured early by Seattle and sacked four times, threw for two touchdowns and nearly 300 yards and led his team to victory. Seahawks veteran Matt Hasselbeck--also sacked four times--threw for fewer than 200 yards and zero touchdowns. Both quarterbacks threw an interception.

If Seattle wants to win this game, they need to shut down the Rams' ground attack again. That will be tougher this time. Early this season, Seattle boasted one of the league's best run-stopping defenses. Since then, injuries have taken a toll on our defensive line, transforming our rushing defense into one of the NFL's worst. So, Coach Carroll and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley need to find a way to stop Stephen Jackson, a Pro Bowl running back. Since we've gotten so thin on the defensive line, but remain strong at linebacker, I wonder if the solution might be to sit one of our defensive tackles (Craig Terrill?) and insert an extra linebacker (Will Herring?).

Fortunately, a focus on stopping the run shouldn't hurt our pass defense very much. The St. Louis coaches have sensibly customized their air attack to protect their rookie quarterback from mistakes and maximize his chances for success. (Seattle's coaches should consider similar customization of our offense to the capacities of our starting quarterback.)

Thus, the Rams rarely throw downfield, relying instead on short passes to move the ball. They scorched us with several running back screens in our first meeting. St. Louis also likes to throw bubble screens and slants to Danny Amendola, their best wide receiver. Rams coaches rarely ask their rookie quarterback to stretch the field.

So, we should trust our corners and Earl Thomas--our excellent rookie free safety--to stop the deep ball, and bring strong safety Lawyer Milloy in close to stuff the run and sniff out screen passes.

In search of a compelling story to sell an underwhelming matchup to a national audience, the media has fixated on Sam Bradford, who has indeed put together one of the greatest seasons ever for a rookie quarterback in the NFL. However, he has slid into a slump over the last month, throwing just one touchdown against five interceptions.

Thus, by shutting down the run, Seattle can put the game on the arm of a slumping rookie quarterback. If we deny them the short pass, we can force Bradford to throw deep, let our pass rushers tee off on him, and challenge our defensive backs to grab some picks.

When the Seahawks have the ball, they must find a way to gain traction on the ground. Since we have the league's worst rushing offense, this won't be easy.

Why can't we run the ball?

The problem isn't our running backs. They make the most of the opportunities they are given. If there's a hole, they'll find it. Justin Forsett only needs a few inches of daylight. Marshawn Lynch makes his own holes. If just half the line blocks, he'll gain yards.

But on most downs, our O-Line gets no push. In an effort to address this, Seattle will likely field its tenth different starting offensive line combination, trying Tyler Polumbus at left guard. It couldn't hurt.

However, the greatest menace to our run attack is the predictable playcalling of offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, who seems to think that God will smite him if he doesn't dial up a handoff to Marshawn Lynch on every first down.

Every once in a while, Bates will get in a groove and call an inspired drive. A few times this year, he has put together a complete game. We need that offensive coordinator to show up today. (If the front office has any sense, the jobs of both Bates and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley should be on the line today.)

In this case, calling a good game means mixing the run and pass in unexpected ways. It also means giving the Rams some of their own medicine. They've got a great defensive line, so we need to call some running back screens to punish them if they try to put too much pressure on our quarterback.

Moreover, calling a good game means geting our tight ends involved in the passing game, because our injury-depleted wide receiver corps simply isn't that good.

Which brings us to the quarterback question. Will it be Hasselbeck or Whitehurst? I appreciate how hard Matt has worked to recover from last week's injury and play today. Nevertheless, I'll take a healthy Whitehurst with a week of practice under his belt over a gimpy Hasselbeck who's had limited reps. Plus, if we rest Matt this week, he'll be that much healthier when he starts a home playoff game next week.

Go, Seahawks! Blast the Lambs off the line of scrimmage!

Scream your lungs out, 12th Man! I want so much noise that St. Louis players are bleeding out of their earholes.

It's time to seize the division championship.