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.