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!