Sunday, December 30, 2012

Lamb chops

It would be easy to get carried away and assume that the Seahawks will record their fourth consecutive blowout at the expense of the Rams today.

Certainly, every Seahawk diehard hopes that is the outcome.

However, Seattle cannot afford to underestimate St. Louis.

The Rams enter today's contest nearly as hot as Seattle, in two ways:

1) Recent history. St. Louis has won four of their last five games. They're not blowing anyone out, but they are winning. Three of those recent victories came on the road, albeit against middling to poor teams (Arizona, Buffalo and Tampa Bay).

2) Divisional domination. St. Louis is undefeated within the NFC West. The Rams beat Seattle back in September. They swept the Cardinals and tied the 49ers in San Francisco before beating them at home. Thus, the Rams are 4-0-1 against divisional opponents.

Jeff Fisher is an extraordinary coach who will make St. Louis a tough opponent for years to come. Prioritizing wins over divisional opponents represents sound strategy, not just in terms of the standings, but also because the investment should pay off in future years. You play divisional opponents twice a year; you play other conference opponents once a year, maybe; you play non-conference opponents every four years.

Seattle seems to have opted for the opposite strategy. We opened 0-3 against divisional opponents while faring better against competition outside the division. This allowed San Francisco to build a strong lead in the division.

By beating the Rams, Seattle can sustain momentum for the postseason, stay undefeated at home, burnish the mystique of Seahawks Stadium, intimidate future opponents, and stay alive for the division title.

Even this glorious surge late in the season probably won't suffice to win us the division championship, unless oft-waived quarterback Brian Hoyer can lead Arizona to a miraculous win over the 49ers in San Francisco today.

The Rams haven't won in Seattle since 2004. St. Louis has won only twice against the Seahawks in the last 17 games. Let's make it 2 in 18. We need to remind the Rams that we own them, that they can never hope to win in Seattle. Bring on the 12th Man.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Seattle fans questioned

Top 2 reasons why the Seattle Seahawks are not like the Oakland Raiders:

1) We win games.
2) Our fans aren't thugs.

Unfortunately, some Seattle fans have evidently been behaving boorishly toward visiting fans who wear opposing jerseys, including at last week's contest against the 49ers. Allegations include verbal abuse, foul language, and even a gutless beatdown of a San Fran fan. (See yesterday's Seattle Times article, "Are too many Seahawk fans becoming alcohol-fueled bullies?")

The online discussion of the article on the newspaper's website brims with much of the same illogic common to all online discussions.

Engaging in outrageous behavior doesn't make you a hardcore fan. It just makes you a public menace and embarrassment.

Sportsmanship and fervor are in fact entirely unrelated phenomena.

Poor sportsmanship is not evidence of greater passion for your team. It is just evidence of bad character.

Similarly, good sportsmanship reflects good character, without detracting from the depth of your fervor for your team.

It is possible to be a massively hardcore fan while remaining unfailingly decent, and that is the Seattle way.

Diehards might enjoy a slight buzz, but they won't want to get wasted in the stands, because inebriation interferes with one's enjoyment of the game's full dimensions, and because public drunkenness is criminal, obnoxious, and poor form.

Diehards understand that football is a family sport, so our language and behavior as fans must remain appropriate for children to see and hear.

It doesn't matter that fans in some other cities behave as bad, or worse.

Seattle needs to hold itself to a higher standard.

Our goal isn't to be slightly more civilized than the savages in Oakland or Philadelphia.

Seahawk diehards have higher aspirations. Namely:

1) To set the standard for sportsmanship in this country and the world.

2) To buy up so many seats that there are vanishingly few tickets left over for the fans of our opponents to procure.

The most misguided notion expressed by some readers was that cursing at and physically intimidating our opponents' fans in the stands somehow constitutes an essential element of the 12th Man mystique.

False. The 12th Man is effective because Seattle's fans are the most intelligent in the league. We achieve astonishing volume because we yell only when it makes sense to do so. We don't waste our lungs and our throats yelling when our team is on offense, or during stoppages in play. We carefully conserve our voices, waiting until we're on defense to blast our opponents on the field with a withering sonic inferno.

Some good sense emerged in the online discussion, however.

At least one writer attributed the recent decline of decorum at Seahawks Stadium to the change of team leadership from Mike Holmgren to Pete Carroll. I don't disagree.

Others perceptively opined that the boors are bandwagon latecomers, not longtime fans.

In any case, Seahawk diehards need to exert positive peer pressure to restore civility to Seattle's arena.

Bullies are cowards who depend upon crowd support or acquiescence. Nothing deflates a bully faster than when the crowd ostracizes him for his objectionable behavior.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Shocked at Sherman's exclusion?

Five Seahawks made the Pro Bowl:

The selection of Marshawn Lynch was no surprise. Beast Mode ranks second in the league in rushing and remains the focal point of our offense. Russell Wilson has played so impressively partly because opposing defenses key so monomaniacally upon Lynch on most downs.

I continue to be impressed and grateful that Pro Bowl voters recognize the excellence of Earl Thomas, despite the free safety's lack of eye-popping stats. He doesn't catch many interceptions, because most quarterbacks know better than to throw his way.

Similarly Leon Washington makes the Pro Bowl not because he has the league's most impressive return stats, because opposing coaches, punters and kickers try so hard to keep the ball away from him.

Honors for left tackle Russell Okung and center Max Unger confirm the emergence of our offensive line.

Several Seahawks are in line to be Pro Bowl injury replacements:

First alternates: DE Chris Clemons, FB Michael Robinson and CB Richard Sherman.
Second alternates: LB Heath Farwell (as special teams headhunter), P Jon Ryan and SS Kam Chancellor
Third alternate: QB Russell Wilson.
Fourth alternate: DT Brandon Mebane.

According to a poll on the Seattle Times website, 66% of readers were "most surprised" by Richard Sherman's exclusion from the starting Pro Bowl roster.

They shouldn't be surprised. Sherman is having a great year, but he is fortunate to be a first alternate, with a possible performance-enhancing drug suspension hanging over his head like the Sword of Damocles. Because a leak made the accusation public before his case was resolved, the flamboyant cornerback will remain guilty in the minds of fans and players even if he is ultimately excused from punishment due to  the procedural errors that he claimed contaminated his urine sample. He has not helped himself with his public statements regarding the process.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Seahawks humble the 49ers

Last night was 49er Coach Jim Harbaugh's 49th birthday. Seattle's gift to the league's most hated head coach? A 42-13 rout.

Nothing could keep Seattle earthbound last night..The Seahawks soared over adversity.

Seattle suffered a setback before kickoff when the wobbly hamstrings of Walter Thurmond and Marcus Trufant forced their deactivation, thrusting fifth string cornerback Jeremy Lane into the starting lineup again.

It didn't matter. We are learning that the Seahawk secondary is deeper than the Mariana Trench.. Lane and his fellow defensive backs successfully contained a strong San Francisco receiving corps featuring the dangerous duo of Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham, plus future Hall of Famer Randy Moss.and Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis.

In the first quarter, strong safety Kam Chancellor knocked Davis out of the game with a brutal blow  that prevented the 49er from completing a third-down catch near the goal line. Instead of forcing a San Fran to settle for a field goal, Chancellor's brilliant play prompted three officials to loft unfair flags for unnecessary roughness. Review of the video footage confirmed that it was a clean hit. Chancellor had led with his shoulder, not his helmet, hitting Davis in his chest, not his head. The force of the collision caused the tight end's head to snap forward and bump helmets with the defender. If personal fouls were subject to instant replay review, then the call would have been reversed..

The penalty gave the 49ers first and goal. A lesser defense would have folded, demoralized by the injustices inflicted by poor officiating. Instead, Seattle stymied San Francisco for three more downs, forcing them to settle for a field goal attempt again.

The kick was a mere chip shot, as routine as an extra point kick. A lesser team would have resigned themselves to conceding the field goal, having averted a touchdown..

Instead, Red Bryant plowed through the offensive guard, leapt skyward and batted down the ball. Richard Sherman scooped up the pigskin and sprinted 90 yards to paydirt.

Later, Optimus Prime intercepted a Colin Kaepernick pass in the end zone.

The 49er quarterback, polished in previous outings, played poorly, for the first time resembling a kid out of his depth in the NFL. He played tentatively, incurred several delay of game penalties, wasted several timeouts, and threw many errant balls. His demeanor was that of a a deer caught in the headlights. Kaepernick struggled all night, clearly rattled by the noise, by the smothering coverage of his receivers, by the pass rush that kept him bottled up between the tackles for most of the night, and by the speedy linebackers who ran him down when he tried to escape the pocket.

If Coach Jim Harbaugh had wanted to have any shot at winning, he should have benched Kaepernick at halftime for Alex Smith.

In the end, the Seattle D proved stingier than Scrooge.

In fact, this game moved the Seahawks into a statistical tie with the 49ers for the title of league's stingiest defense. Both units have allowed an average of 15.6 points per game this season.

Meanwhile, our offense soared again.

Rookie QB Russell Wilson lofted four more touchdowns, including two to the increasingly clutch Doug Baldwin. It was nice to see Husky alum Jermaine Kearse haul in a pass.

Marshawn Lynch tore off yet another 100-yard game. He has 1490 yards so far this season, with one game to go. If Lynch didn't gain a single yard next week, his 2012 yardage would put him 4th in team history, with more than Curt Warner or Ricky Watters ever managed in a single season for Seattle. A normal outing next week would elevate Lynch over Chris Warren's 1545 yards in 1994. However, Shaun Alexander's monster seasons (1696 yards in 2004, 1880 yards in 2005) remain beyond the reach of Beast Mode, at least this year.

This win was unprecedented. Before last night, the 49ers under Harbaugh had held opponents under 30 points in 30 of 32 regular season and postseason games. Only New Orleans (32 last year, in the playoffs) and New England (34 last week) put up more than 30 points, and both lost those games to San Francisco.

Seattle dropped a fortyburger on them and won emphatically. This was the demoralizing effort the Seahawks needed to hobble San Francisco in the season finale and allow Seattle a shot at the division crown.

Unfortunately, despite the ephemeral flicker of life the week before against Detroit, Arizona reverted to form and laid down for the Bears yesterday. The Cardinals are who we thought they were: a team in utter disarray. It is hard to imagine them posing much of a challenge for the 49ers next week.

St. Louis, on the other hand, looks increasingly potent, so the Seahawks will need to maintain their intensity to lay low the lambs next week.

Thanks to Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle defense, my fantasy football team--the Ajo Cholo Lowriders--rallied from behind in the championship game to win our second consecutive league title.

It was nice to see former Seahawks kicker Josh Brown (now a Bengal) eliminate the Steelers from the playoffs.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Put 50 on the 49ers

The Seahawks went wild and force-fed fiftyburgers to Buffalo last week and to Arizona the week before.

We were past due. Seattle needed to stop playing down to inferior competition and making chumps look like contenders.

This week, Seattle needs to make the defending NFC West champions look like chumps.

The 49ers are a very, very good team. Everyone expects a close, hard-fought game.

If Seattle wins in a close game, that would suffice.

However, if we aspire to greatness, then we need another statement game, a chimp dominance display of epic proportions. I want to see the Seahawks squawking triumphantly, flapping their wings, beating their chests, and jumping up and down with taloned feet on top of prone, self-soiling 49ers, emasculated and whimpering for mercy, their spirits broken, their psyches shattered, and their eardrums bleeding.

I mean this figuratively, of course. All of the action should be within the rules and between the whistles. None of the foregoing should be interpreted as support for cheap shots, poor sportsmanship, or chest-thumping taunts.

Seattle needs to dominate our opponent so thoroughly today that the 49ers have trouble defending their house against Arizona in the season finale. (Seattle fans should be rooting for Arizona to finish strong. Convincing wins over Chicago and San Francisco could save Ken Whisenhunt's job and help perpetuate the organization's dysfunction, keeping that division rival hobbled for at least one more year. More important, if the Seahawks can beat the 49ers today and the Rams next week, then a miracle Cardinals victory in San Francisco in the season finale could give Seattle the division title. Those are very, very long odds, but the best way to improve those odds would be for the Seahawks to inflict an unprecedented, devastating, demoralizing defeat upon the odious 49ers.)

Let's sort out the bad news first.

Seahawk disadvantages

1) The last time Seattle lost at home was last December. To San Francisco. With the playoffs on the line.

2) Jim Harbaugh routinely outcoaches Pete Carroll. In the Pac-10, Harbaugh at Stanford went 2-1 against Carroll at USC. In the NFC West, Harbaugh is 3-0 against Carroll. It is probably too much to hope that Carroll's coaching staff could ever outsmart Harbaugh's; instead, we must place our faith in our athletes and in the 12th Man.

3) At 5-2, the 49ers are a good road team.

4) The 49ers are hot. They are 6-1-1 in their last 8 games, and they're coming off a big win over New England last week.

5) Colin Kaepernick has added dangerous new dimensions to the San Francisco offense. Alex Smith was a game manager. Kaepernick is a game changer, a gifted runner who can throw the deep ball. Fortunately, the Seahawks have been practicing against a similarly gifted quarterback all season, so it's possible that our defense may have better answers for Kaepernick's skill set.

6) San Francisco is a run-oriented team. Seattle's defense led the league in stopping the run for the first six weeks of the season. That ended when we visited San Francisco in week seven; since then, Seattle has fielded one of the league's worst run defenses. We have gotten gouged on the ground repeatedly, routinely allowing opposing running backs to have their way with us. If we want to win today, we need to retire our turnstile run defense and bring back the brick wall we fielded the first six weeks of the season. We need Red Bryant to reassert his domination of the line of scrimmage.

Seahawk advantages

1) Seattle is on a massive roll. Since falling to 4-4 at midseason, the Seahawks are 6-1. Finally, we seem to be forming the habit of winning games, both home and away.

2) The 12th Man is a beast. Seattle is undefeated at home thus far this year. We must protect this house. Presumably, the fans will rise to the occasion and subject San Francisco to three hours of sonic purgatory.

3) San Francisco has waltzed through this season in 3/4 time: win win lose, win win lose, win win tie, win win lose, win win ???... The 49ers have not posted more than two consecutive victories all year.

4) Our team is relatively well rested. Two consecutive blowouts have given us opportunities to rest many of our starters in the second halves of each contest. The last two weeks could be considered half-byes.

5) Our offense has been firing on all cylinders. Russell Wilson is spreading the ball around and killing defenses with read option runs. Bizarrely, Buffalo continued to key on Marshawn Lynch exclusively last week, forcing Wilson to keep the ball himself and run over and over again. At times, Wilson looked almost exasperated by the Bills' insistence that he run so much, but he certainly made them pay. Unfortunately, in contrast to Arizona and Buffalo, the 49ers field a professional football defense, so yards and scores should be tougher to come by today.

6) Our secondary remains sound. Richard Sherman gets to play one more game before his case is resolved. Their hamstrings healed, Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond return to bolster a very deep secondary, brimming with young talent. Jeremy Lane and Byron Maxwell acquitted themselves admirably last week, and our safeties remain rock solid. I loved Earl Thomas' run on the pick six last week.

To paraphrase Cato, "San Francisco must be destroyed."

Progress report

Four weeks ago, this football team stumbled out of the bye and blew a winnable road game in Miami.

With the loss, Seattle fell to 6-5 and painted itself into a corner, making every subsequent game a "win or probably miss the playoffs" proposition.

Since then, the Seahawks have soared out of that corner.

In Chicago the next week, Seattle seized its seventh victory, matching the regular season win totals of Pete Carroll's first two seasons with the team.

During the 58-0 annihilation of Arizona, the Seahawks grabbed their eighth win, assuring their first nonlosing season since 2007.

In last week's 50-17 demolition of the Buffalo Bills, Seattle recorded its ninth win, guaranteeing a winning season record.


Good job, team.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Remember thou art mortal

In ancient Rome, as a conquering general reveled in his victory parade, a designated killjoy would stand behind him, whispering "Remember thou art mortal" in an effort to ensure that the general did not get carried away and challenge the emperor's authority.

People are pretty high on Seattle right now, because we beat the Bears in Chicago and then pulverized the Cardinals at home.

However, the Seahawks need to keep humble and stay hungry.

Remember we are mortal, especially on the road, where Seattle is 2-5.

Especially in the eastern time zone, where we have always struggled to win.

It doesn't matter that the Buffalo Bills are 5-8 and 3-3 at home. Seattle has lost to several bad teams on the road this year, including Arizona, Detroit, Miami, and St. Louis. (The Rams were a losing team when we met them earlier in the season; since then, they have improved significantly.)

Seattle hasn't won more than two games in a row since December 2011. We need to win this game to safeguard the #1 wild card slot, and to remain potential challengers for the division title.

Continuing injury problems in the secondary pose a particular challenge this week. Starting corner Brandon Browner is still serving his suspension. Walter Thurmond filled in admirably for him last week, but pulled a hamstring in practice and won't play this week. Marcus Trufant also remains hobbled by his hamstring.

With 3 of our best 4 corners sidelined, Seattle must rely on two untested players: Jeremy Lane and Byron Maxwell, 6th-round draft picks from 2011 and 2012. Both saw some playing time in last week's blowout.

Ryan Fitzpatrick is a capable quarterback. If I were the Buffalo coaches, I would deploy multiple receiver sets to test the Seattle secondary, spread out our defense, and create space for CJ Spiller to run.

Fortunately, the great Richard Sherman and our Pro Bowl safeties (Earl Thomas & Kam Chancellor) remain in the lineup.

Meanwhile, Seattle continues to struggle with excessive penalties.

On December 8th, I wrote about Seattle's problems with offensive pre-snap penalties, but those are just part of the problem.

Among the 32 NFL teams, the Seahawks rank...

6th in total penalties
2nd in delay of game penalties
4th in false starts
8th in offensive holding
5th in roughing the passer
5th in unnecessary roughness

On offense, we are undisciplined: our quarterback loses track of the game clock, our offensive players don't know the snap count, and our O-linemen often hold because they can't manage to block defenders legally.

On defense, Seattle is equally undisciplined. Our defenders take too many cheap shots on defenseless players. This is not playing tough. It's playing dirty and jeopardizing the health of your opponents. Football is dangerous enough when we play within the rules. We need a revived ethic of sportsmanship to keep the rough stuff within the rules and between the whistles.

There is good news on the penalty front, at least with regard to our secondary. In 2011, Seattle ranked 5th in defensive pass interference penalties. This year, Seattle has fallen to 25th, while our pass defense has improved. Same athletes, same coaches, better results. I would like to see similarly remarkable improvement in all of the above penalty categories.

Arizona, RIP

I savored every second of last week's evisceration of the Cardinals. Last Sunday was also my birthday, so that 58-0 blowout has become my all-time favorite birthday present. It has been a fun week to wear Seahawks swag in southern Arizona.

On December 8th, I wrote that the Cardinals game represented "an excellent opportunity for our O-line to begin to reclaim its identity as a unit that can establish the run even against a tough, physical defensive front."

Our offensive linemen vastly exceeded expectations. Seattle's starting O-line reclaimed their identity with a vengeance, blasting open holes to spring Marshawn Lynch for 128 yards and 3 touchdowns. Early in the second half, the first unit rested while backup O-linemen broke the will of Arizona defenders, allowing Robert Turbin to run for 108 more, and letting Leon Washington add 38 yards and a touchdown.

The contagion of Beast Mode appeared to have infected all three tailbacks. Relentlessly they broke through the Arizona defenders' increasingly halfhearted efforts to tackle them. Even little Leon looked impossible to stop.

On December 8th, I wrote that "our defense hasn't really scared anyone lately. They have an identity to reclaim, too. This must be a statement game, a message to future visitors regarding what they can expect from the team and the 12th Man in December (and January?)."

Our defense successfully reclaimed their identity and sent an unmistakable message.  They are scaring people again now. No one wants to find themselves in a playoff game in Seahawks Stadium.

Three sacks, four interceptions, four forced fumbles, zero points allowed, two touchdowns scored by the defense (pick six) and special teams (fumble return). A week after getting gouged by Brandon Marshall in Chicago, a Seattle secondary sans Brandon Browner limited Larry Fitzgerald, the game's greatest wideout, to one catch for a 2-yard gain.

We learned new things about our quarterbacks.

The fearless and endlessly versatile Russell Wilson did a nice job running interference for Lynch on one of those touchdown runs. He didn't throw a block, because he didn't need to do so, but I have no doubt that he would lower his shoulder if it were necessary. That kid is a gamer.

Matt Flynn played nicely in relief, throwing well and demonstrating reassuring mobility in the pocket. That elusiveness remains essential. Our O-line still seems unable to secure the pocket, but they can block well enough to protect a mobile quarterback.

Seattle surged past Chicago to take the lead for the #1 wild card slot and stay alive to challenge San Francisco for the division lead, if the Seahawks keep winning and if the 49ers falter in New England on Sunday night.

Seahawk domination also propelled the Ajo Cholo Lowriders (my league-leading fantasy football team) to a huge win. My opponent (our league's #2 team) racked up a respectable point total that would have beaten half the teams in our league last week. However, the 3 Seattle players on my team (Lynch, Hauschka and the Seahawk defense) by themselves nearly matched my opponent's team point total, and combined with the rest of my roster, the Lowriders won easily, 205-115.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Let Rob throw one

I love a good trick play. We've seen Sidney Rice and Golden Tate complete passes out of the backfield this year. That's great, but I wonder why we don't also give Michael Robinson a chance to throw the ball now and then.

Our Pro Bowl fullback played quarterback for Penn State. As a senior in 2005, Rob threw for 2,350 yards, ran for 806 more, and finished fifth in Heisman voting.

San Francisco converted Robinson to tailback and then fullback, but failed to capitalize upon his potential as a passer.

Rob has only attempted one pass as a Seahawk. In 2010, he threw to Leon Washington for a 28-yard gain against the Rams in a loss to St. Louis.

We should give Rob a chance to lob a pass every few games. Anytime a running back or a wide receiver attempts a pass, the element of surprise creates big play potential. Normally, there is also a great risk, because most backs and receivers are undiscerning passers who may throw into coverage and get intercepted. However, Robinson's experience under center reduces that risk considerably.

Moreover, if we establish that Rob is a threat to throw the ball, it gives opposing defenses one more thing to worry about, on top of Beast Mode, a battering ram fullback, the quick feet and strong arm of Russell Wilson, and an increasingly capable corps of receivers.

Robinson also has the hands and ball skills to execute a flea flicker with Wilson.

Even when he doesn't throw the ball, Rob's versatility gives Seattle a strategic advantage every game. Rob is the reason Seattle carries just two quarterbacks on its active roster. If Russell Wilson and backup Matt Flynn were both knocked out of the game, then the fullback would step up under center as our emergency quarterback. Fortunately, Seattle has never needed to resort to its emergency quarterback, but Robinson's ability to function in that role frees up a roster spot for additional depth where it is needed, as it is at present in the defensive backfield.

Meanwhile, as a runner, Rob decimates the depth of opposing defensive backfields. Last week, in overtime against Chicago, Robinson ran over Bears cornerback Tim Jennings, knocking him out of the game. (Jennings is no chump; he was September's NFC Defensive Player of the Week.) Instead of celebrating the hit in the narcissistic style of Golden Tate, Robinson modeled superior sportsmanship by doubling back immediately after the play to the prone form of his opponent to see if he was OK. (Jennings was not OK. He may not play today, either. Defensive backs need to exercise caution when attempting to tackle Robinson. In college, a clean collision with Robinson ended the career of a Minnesota DB. Better still, opposing corners could exercise a Deion Sanders-style "business decision" and opt not to try to stop Rob at all.)

It was nice to see Matt Flynn make his first on-the-field contribution of the season in overtime last week. As team captain, he nailed that coin toss. "Tails." That strategic coup was worth $10 million of guaranteed cash.
I just wish Flynn had said, "We want the ball and he's gonna score!"

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Junior Beast Mode

With an extraordinary performance, Russell Wilson willed the team to victory last week in Chicago.

Highlight footage showed only the touchdowns, but for me, the signature play of the game was one of Wilson's run option reads late in the fourth quarter, where he faked a handoff to Lynch but kept the ball and sprinted left. Pro Bowl Bears cornerback Charles Tillman read the play well and closed quickly to try to tackle the rookie quarterback near the line of scrimmage. "Peanut" Tillman is a big corner, nearly as tall as Richard Sherman, and much larger than Wilson. Nevertheless, as the defender approached, the little man juked, shot out a stiff arm that threw Tillman to the ground, and ran on for several more yards. (It was reminiscent of Wilson's stiff arm against Clemson in 2010. If you search for "Russell Wilson stiff arm," you can see YouTube footage of both plays.)

That improbable road win over a formidable opponent kept hope alive for this season. Seattle seized pole position in the race for the #2 NFC wild card slot. Maybe we can keep winning and hold that lead.

This seems possible, though not easy. Undefeated at home, the Seahawks conclude the season by hosting our three division rivals. That home stand is interrupted by a trip to Toronto to face the Buffalo Bills next week.

If the Seahawks can win out, and if San Francisco loses in New England, then Seattle would win the NFC West and host at least one home game in the postseason.

On the other hand, this team could melt down and miss the playoffs entirely.

There are no easy wins in the NFL. Even the tattered Cardinals--wobbling into town scorched and battered by an 8-game losing streak--pose a potential threat. They have nothing to lose and much to prove.

Arizona's defense ranks among the best in the NFL. This is an excellent opportunity for our O-Line to begin to reclaim its identity as a unit that can establish the run even against a tough, physical defensive front.

The Cardinals offense--although generally anemic this year--remains dangerous as long as Larry Fitzgerald lines up at wide receiver.

Seattle couldn't stop Brandon Marshall last week, even with our top two corners in the game. Now Brandon Browner is suspended for the rest of the regular season.

Since Fitz > Marshall, then we need to hope that...

Richard Sherman +Walter Thurmond + the 12th Man > Sherman + Browner

Since nickel corner Marcus Trufant remains out with a hamstring injury, I expect Arizona to deploy multiple receiver sets to challenge the depth in our secondary. John Skelton returns under center for the Cardinals, and has had good games before.

Our pass rush knocked Skelton out of the season opener, but Seattle has failed to pressure opposing quarterbacks effectively in recent weeks.

For that matter, our defense hasn't really scared anyone lately. They have an identity to reclaim, too.

This must be a statement game, a message to future visitors regarding what they can expect from the team and the 12th Man in December (and January?).

However, if the Seahawks intend to qualify for the playoffs and achieve something in the postseason, then they need to stop shooting themselves in the foot.

Remember when Seattle perennially ranked among the least penalized teams in the NFL? Those days are long gone.

The Seahawks rank third in the league in offensive presnap penalties, with 30. (St. Louis has 31; Dallas has 34.)

Only six teams average more than 2 presnap penalties per game. Seattle is the only one of those six teams with a winning record.

These senseless, needless infractions reflect one thing and one thing only: sloppy coaching.
False starts because players can't remember the snap count. Illegal motion because undisciplined athletes make mental errors. Delay of game penalties because our rookie quarterback loses track of time and can't get the ball snapped before the play clock expires.

These presnap penalties cost yards and kill drives. They take us out of close games and make games that shouldn't be close much closer than they need to be.

Seattle has the talent to achieve great things this year. If our coaches could teach the offense to get out of its own way, imagine how many more points we could score and how many more games we could win.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Carroll is killing this team

The Seahawks now have the talent to be a competitive playoff team.

Unfortunately, poor coaching may cause this team us to miss the postseaason entirely.

Pete Carroll's NFL teams always seem to settle around .500 bty season's end.

Seattle should be contending for the division lead at this point. Instead, we find ourselves clinging ever feebly to the second wild card with a pack of surging confernce rivals at our heels.

This team keeps every game close. It is good that we've never been blown out. However, we fail to put away inferior teams, and thus sometimes lose to them, as we did last week in Miami.

Carroll hasn't figured out how to get his team to play well on the road.

Carroll doesn't know how to manage injured players. Evidently, the decline of our run defense has been because badass Red Bryant has been slowed by injuries. When healthy, Bryant is dominant. When injured, he is just a body. We have other bodies on the roster. A wise coach would insert one of those and rest Bryant until he is ready to dominate again. Instead, Carroll kept him in, our defense suffered, and Bryant has now aggravated the injury.

I blame Carroll for the upcoming probable suspensions of Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. I earnestly hope that our cornerbacks are as innocent as they claim, but even if they are, they probably can't escape suspension. (Consider the sad case of David Vobora as related by Danny O'Neill in today's Seattle Times.)

Even if Sherman and Browner escape punishment, the fact remains that Seattle has had more players nailed for performance-enhancing drugs under Carroll than under any previous coach. This is no coincidence. Carroll ran a dirty program at USC. There was never any reason to believe that a college coach with no moral core could be anything other than ethically cancerous in the NFL.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Belated musings

It has been my misfortune to be too busy to blog during the most interesting season in the history of Seahawks Diehard.

Has anyone else noticed that our defense generally impresses in the first half and falters in the second? Why can't our defensive coaches anticipate halftime adjustments, or at least adapt to them on the fly?

Russell Wilson continues to impress. Imagine what would he could do if he had receivers who caught the ball reliably. Or consistently good playcalling from the offensive coordinator.

I continue to favor inserting Matt Flynn as a reliever when Wilson fades, as he did in the second half of last Thursday's loss at San Francisco. What is there to lose?

Richard Sherman is too much fun. He brutalizes opposing receivers, humbles Tom Brady, and dubs himself Optimus Prime because he'll be covering Megatron in Detroit on Sunday.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Stay stingy

Last week's win over the Packers confirmed the excellence of Seattle's defense. Over the first three weeks, Seahawk defenders have established themselves as the stingiest unit in the league, allowing fewer points than any team in the league.

Historically, a weak pass rush has been the Achilles heel of our otherwise strong defense, but Monday night's eight-sack hammering of Aaron Rodgers was encouraging, though many of those were coverage sacks that should be credited to our smothering secondary.

The only troubling element was when the Packers shifted into a power running game in the second half, and our defense--normally sound on the ground--yielded generous yardage. When Seattle fully commits to stopping the run, we can. But when we must hedge our bets against the prospect of play action passing by a very capable quarterback, we are vulnerable on the ground.

Because our defense allows fewer than 14 points per game, we can generally win with just two touchdowns. Unfortunately, our offense's ability to meet that modest production target remains doubtful.

Seattle is still the league's poorest passing team. Russell Wilson has played well, but poor playcalling and butterfingered receivers have not helped matters. (If Golden Tate hadn't dropped two balls in the end zone earlier in the fourth quarter, we would not have needed a Hail Mary play.)

Everyone is picking the Seahawks to win, but we would be unwise to take the Rams lightly. Their roster is loaded with talent, they have a good coach now in Jeff Fisher, they played well at home earlier this year, and they are hungry for a win.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Quit crying

It should surprise no one that strikebreaker referees are less capable than the union men they replaced.

However, the NFL confirmed that there was no visual evidence to justify overturning the on-the-field ruling of simultaneous reception.

So, Seattle won that game.

I hope the controversial effort inspires a resolution that removes the scabs and returns professional officiating to the gridiron.

But the regular refs aren't perfect, either.

Where was this outrage after Super Bowl XL?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Worries on offense

Seattle fans have a right to celebrate last week's cathartic beatdown of Dallas, one of the league's most odious franchises. Unhorsing the Cowboys was satisfying on several levels: we dominated a credible opponent, dissipated America's Steam, and jammed a taloned thumb in the eye of Jerry Jones, the NFL's most obnoxious owner.

Our defense and special teams presented a resounding demonstration of how a good football team defends its house, by hitting hard and separating opponents from the ball. If those units keep it up, then for the first time in a few years, our opponents will have a real reason to fear playing in Seahawks Stadium.

However, concerns remain on offense.

Two days ago, a Seattle Times headline sunnily proclaimed "Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks running game in high gear." In reality, we saw Beast Mode only in the second half of the Cowboys game. During the first half, and during the entirety of the Arizona contest, our ground attack alternated between neutral and first gear.

Our aerial offense rests on solid ground, insofar as we sit at rock bottom, ranked the least productive in the league in terms of passing yards.

Poor pass protection was a factor in Arizona but not as much against Dallas.

There is, to say the least, a lack of chemistry between our rookie quarterback and his corps of receivers.

That chemistry may come in time. Given the youth and talent of most of the athletes involved, they may have the time to develop that chemistry.

The question is whether Pete Carroll has the luxury of time. His contract makes him one of the league's best-paid coaches, but after two 7-9 seasons, he really needs to produce results commensurate with his compensation.

Green Bay's offensive powerhouse poses the sternest challenge yet to our defense. If the game remains close, then Russell Wilson should be find managing our Beast Mode offense. However, if it turns into a shootout--if we have to throw to win--then Matt Flynn is probably our best bet.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Failure in Phoenix

I had a good time at the game last Sunday, even though Seattle lost.

The Seahawks acquitted themselves reasonably well.

Leon Washington busted a couple of great returns.

The defense looked good, although our inability to exploit the inexperience of their offensive tackles suggests that our pass rush remains a weakness. Arizona defenders ruthlessly exposed our experimental rookie right guard JR Sweezy as not quite ready to start at the professional level.

Despite limited run support, poor pass protection, and a dearth of open receivers, Russell Wilson exceeded expectations. With Houdini-like escape skills, he repeatedly eluding defenders in the backfield and either made plays, salvaged plays, or limited our losses.

But I still would have benched him in the fourth quarter. Wilson is the right quarterback for this team when the defense doesn't know whether a run or a pass is coming, because his mobility keeps the defense guessing.

However, late in the game, when it became clear that we would have to throw on every down in order to win, that was the time to insert Matt Flynn, who is a better pure passer than Wilson.

I have never bought into the notion that quarterbacks need to be coddled. They're like any other player. The circumstances of the game should dictate when they play and when they sit.

No matter who throws the ball, they need open receivers. I hope Seattle is looking for upgrades at wideout and tight end. Perhaps the lack of interest in Kellen Winslow on the free agent market will influence K2 to accept a pay cut and return to the Seahawks.

This was my first visit to Arizona's attractive new stadium in Glendale. (I continue to refuse to acknowledge naming rights auctioned for a fraction of a facility's cost; as far as I'm concerned, every stadium should be named by or for the taxpayers who paid for it, or by their elected representatives. I am particularly loath to honor naming rights held by an unscrupulous private diploma mill with a business model predicated on duping people into overloading on federally subsidized loans in order to pay exorbitant tuition for an education no better and often considerably worse than more affordable public alternatives.)

When the Cardinals played in Sun Devil Stadium, most of the seats were empty and Seattle fans appeared to comprise up to one third of the crowd.

Now that the Angry Birds have their own facility, most of the seats are filled, though not all of them. The Cardinals claimed that last Sunday was their sixtieth and something consecutive sellout, but the stadium appeared perhaps one-third empty, including some entire sections on the mezzanine level. (Do other stadia have similarly dubious definitions of a sellout?)

Seattle fans are a smaller fraction of the crowd now, but there were still enough of us to prompt Seahawk defenders to gesticulate to solicit crowd noise, and we happily obliged.

Arizona fans didn't cheer that much until the last two minutes, but they were never louder than the public address speakers, which were turned up to 11. They maintain a count of false start penalties since they opened the new stadium, but the relationship between their tame, meek crowd and errors by opposing offenses is about as strong as the correlation between tattoos and good taste.

Throughout the first half, the Cardinals presented only partisan images on the big screen, confining themselves to replays of Arizona successes. At some point in the second half, they shifted gears and presented replays in a more evenhanded fashion, belatedly fulfilling the league promise that the stadium audience would see the same replays as the TV audience.

 I saw two other Seahawk fans representing with #71 jerseys like me, in honor of  Big Walt.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Diehard Comes Alive

The Prodigal Blogger returneth.

A cavalcade of professional and personal crises have limited my posts to the Diehard in recent months. How bad was it? Usually, I manage to see every preseason game. this year, I didn't get a chance to see any of Seattle's preseason games. That's bad.

I have, however, kept up with the team by reading online press coverage. (Check out the links to the right, including real time feeds from all of the major Seahawks blogs. Now, this website is a one-stop portal to Seattle-related NFL news, so it has utility for my reader(s?) even when I don't find time to post.)

The aforementioned crises haven't passed, but I have to blog today because the regular season is upon us, and because...


The last time I posted, I questioned the quirky first and second round draft selections of Pete Carroll and John Schneider.

I had planned to follow up with praise for their flair for finding talent in the middle and late rounds of the draft. I never found time to do that, but this offseason confirmed that trend in spades:

Russell Wilson, a third-round pick, won the quarterback competition, besting Matt Flynn, the offseason's most coveted free agent quarterback in free agency.

In the seventh round, Seattle let Tom Cable gamble with one of our picks, selecting defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy not to play his college position, but to convert him into an offensive guard. In mere months, Cable coached Sweezy through the transition so effectively that the rookie secured a starting role for himself, at the expense of credible veterans like Deuce Lutui.

Other things I loved about the offseason:

1. Having a true competition for the role of starting quarterback

2..Letting the best man win that competition, based on performance in practice and in exhibition games. (Were Flynn's regular season appearances weighed appropriately?)

3. Having Matt Flynn as a backup, because his history in Green Bay shows that he comes off the bench hot. (Will Carroll insert him promptly if Wilson falters?)

4. Getting something for T-Jack instead of simply cutting him. (Good luck in Buffalo!)

5. Letting veterans like Alex Barron, Braylon Edwards and Terrell Owens compete for roster spots, and keeping only the ones who earned their places.

6. Throwing the ball to Zach Miller in the preseason, rather than relegating the Pro Bowl receiving tight end to blocking.

7. Cutting Kellen Winslow when he wouldn't take a pay cut to square his salary with his value, thus conserving a draft pick we would have owed Tampa had we kept him.

8. Dealing Barrett Ruud to New Orleans when it became clear that Bobby Wagner was exceeding expectations.

9. Finding Robert Turbin, a power back to spell Marshawn Lynch.

10. The continued strength of the O-Line and the defense in the exhibition games.

Of course, preseason success doesn't always carry over into the regular season.

Seattle slumped into the offseason last year by losing here in overtime and accepting a second consecutive 7-9 season. Today, we need a win to exorcise those demons and get off on the right foot for the season and in the division.

The last time I saw a Seahawks game in Arizona, Seattle blew them out. Shaun Alexander recovered from halftime diarrhea to bust an 80-yard touchdown run.

I'm hoping for a repeat today, without the intestinal distress.

I want to see Leon Washington return a kick for a touchdown.

I want to see a healthy Marshawn Lynch unleashed in Beast Mode.

I want to see Russell Wilson running free like a point guard, dishing the ball to his receivers.

I want to see Bruce Irvin's speed victimize Arizona's inexperienced tandem of offensive tackles.

I want to see Red Bryant toss aside O-Linemen like rag dolls and pulverize pigskin-packing Cardinals.

I want to see our Pro Bowl corners erase Larry Fitzgerald from the stat sheet.

Go, Seahawks!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Another odd draft

Once again, Coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider pursued an unconventional draft strategy.

I approve of their general tactic of trading back to obtain additional picks.

However, their penchant for quirky picks--selecting players earlier than other teams and draft analysts deem wise--is thus far largely unproven.

Where the stakes are highest--in the first and second rounds--the Great Collaborators have found mixed results. Consider their first two efforts:

1. Russell Okung
1. Earl Thomas
2. Golden Tate

1. James Carpenter
2. John Moffitt

Stellar play and Pro Bowl honors have fully vindicated their selection of Earl Thomas.

Golden Tate has shown intriguing flashes of usefulness, but on balance he must be judged a bust thus far.

Injuries have prevented definitive analysis of the wisdom of drafting Okung, Carpenter and Moffitt. When healthy, Okung has played well, Carpenter has struggled, and Moffitt has performed adequately. However, the ability of all three to stay healthy enough to play a full season remains an open question of urgent significance.

In this context, it is far from clear whether this year's high-round picks will pay off. Both played in two of the NCAA's weaker athletic conferences.

The Great Collaborators embraced conventional wisdom in selecting Utah State's Bobby Wagner to fortify our linebacker corps in the second round. 

However, picking West Virginia pass rusher Bruce Irvin in the first round was widely considered a reach. An impressive physical specimen who played well in college, Irvin has a troubled past.

He and two later picks with rap sheets show that Carroll & Schneider continue to undervalue character, or--at best--to have strong faith in their ability to encourage troubled athletes to stay on the straight and narrow.

Perhaps their faith is justified. Marshawn Lynch had several scrapes with the law before he came to Seattle, but none since arriving here.

If the same formula can keep Irvin on the straight and narrow, then we'll get to see what he can do on the professional gridiron.

One way or another, the 2012 season will produce a verdict on the Great Collaborators' quirky early-round selections in the last three drafts. We need to see more evidence that the approach works before the franchise lets Carroll & Schneider roll the dice in the first two rounds in future drafts.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Reservations about the new uniforms

The new Nike uniforms have gotten mixed reviews. According to a recent Seattle Times poll, most fans like the modern, Oregon Duck-inspired look. Others are less thrilled; a vocal minority has expressed horror at the change.

I neither love nor hate the new look. I like some elements and dislike others. I know I'll get used to them eventually.

However, here are my concerns:

1) All of my Seahawks gear is now obsolete or, at best, "classic." I'm sure Nike is voting for "obsolete" in the hope that I'll mindlessly dash out and pay through the beak to buy new jerseys, T-shirts, hoodies, etc. I won't, both because I like the old look better and because I am not a tool.

2) Seattle overhauled their jerseys more thoroughly than any other team in the league. The Seahawks' willingness to do that betrays both a lack of confidence and an impious refusal to honor the franchise's past achievements.

Long-established teams with distinguished histories retained their classic look, whether that look was excellent (Chicago, Pittsburgh), uninspired (Indianapolis, both New York teams), or downright ugly (Green Bay). Even teams with recent histories of sustained futility, like St. Louis and Oakland, have clung close to the look of their glory days.

The jerseys Seattle just ditched were worn by the greatest teams in franchise history. They adorned the athletes who won a conference championship and five division championships in seven years.

In their two years with the team, Pete Carroll and John Schneider indiscriminately and perversely purged the roster of players from Seattle's Golden Age. They sought not just to upgrade the talent on the field, but--in the spirit of Mao Zedong--to kill off the old team culture and usher in Pete Carroll's Cultural Revolution

Most of the athletes they cut needed to go to make way for younger and better players, but the Great Collaborators erred when they replaced leaders like Hasselbeck and Burleson with inferior players with inferior leadership skills. Moreover, the Cultural Revolutionaries were wrong to assume that there was nothing of value in the team traditions of the Golden Age.

Wise reformers preserve what is good and improve what is deficient, instead of burning an institution to the ground and starting from scratch.

What do we have to show after two years of wholesale roster churn and a clean break with Seattle's past? Two 7-9 seasons, and a team that may be ready to compete seriously next year.

A less radical approach would have yielded success faster. Seattle would have posted a winning record and made the playoffs last year if Carroll and Schneider had simply retained the services of Matt Hasselbeck.

The radical decision to ditch the Golden Age uniforms reflects the same Maoist mentality that has tainted the team's recent personnel decisions.

Pete Carroll and John Schneider could learn a lot about football, life and being a good human being by studying the examples of past Seahawk greats like Dave Brown, Steve Largent, Chuck Knox, Curt Warner, Dave Krieg, John L. Williams, Cortez Kennedy, Walter Jones, Mack Strong and Mike Holmgren.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Getting better at linebacker

Losing the Heater hurt, but yesterday's re-signing of veterans Leroy Hill and Matt McCoy increase confidence in our linebacker corps.

Hill is a solid defender. It is disappointing that he has never managed to match the promise he showed in 2005, when he and fellow rookie Lofa Tatupu won Pro Bowl honors. (Injuries prevented Hill from playing  in Honolulu that year.)

I blame the indiscipline evinced by his frequent off-the-field character lapses for Hill's failure to establish himself as one of the league's best players at his position.

Nevertheless, his return brings needed veteran skills to a linebacker corps looking for an identity after losing Lofa Tatupu and David Hawthorne--the unit's best players and strongest leaders--in a span of less than a year.

Like Hill, journeyman Matt McCoy entered the league in 2005. A perennial reserve and special teams kamikaze, McCoy hits hard, playing with a ferocity, hunger and reckless abandon that all backups should emulate, capitalizing upon every opportunity to make the case for a promotion. When pressed into the starting lineup, he has acquitted himself admirably.

The veteran talents of Hill, McCoy, KJ Wright and Barrett Ruud strengthen Seattle's position in the draft. We don't need to reach to find a linebacker.

In fact, we don't need to reach for anything. At this point, there are no holes in Seattle's roster so gaping that desperation will force us to make bad decisions on draft day. We can choose the best player available every time our turn comes, instead of making the kinds of risky gambles and forced choices that teams make when they're trying to shore up glaring personnel weaknesses.

GM John Schneider and Coach Pete Carroll have done well to maneuver the team into this enviable position entering the draft.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tru returns

Finding little love on the free agent market, Marcus Trufant signed a one-year deal with the Seahawks.

Tru's recent history of season-ending back injuries overshadowed his Pro Bowl credentials, compromising his appeal to NFL teams searching for a quality cornerback.

Even if healthy, Trufant might not start. That's how good our secondary has become.

If Tru does beat out Richard Sherman, then all four members of our starting secondary will have had Pro Bowl experience: Trufant, plus fellow cornerback Brandon Browner and safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas.

Even if Sherman relegates the senior Seahawk corner to the nickelback slot, that still gives us one of the league's best and deepest secondaries.

Welcome back, Tru.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Shades of Tim Ruskell

Seattle snagged three free agents today, signing all of them to low-risk one-year deals.

First, the Seahawks wisely secured the continued services of valued reserve safety Roy Lewis, a hard-hitting defender, and distinguished alumnus of the University of a Thousand Years, the University of Washington, to which all should humbly bow down.

In their signees, if not in their durations, the other two contracts seemed more characteristic of former GM Tim Ruskell than of the Great Collaborators (GM John Schneider/Pete Carroll/Tom Cable). Many Seahawks fans came to revile Ruskell because--among other things--he signed too many fading, over-the-hill veterans to overlong and overgenerous contracts. (The financial terms of today's deals are not public, yet.)

After passing on the stalwart David Hawthorne, the Great Collaborators secured the services of a different middle linebacker, Barrett Ruud, an ex-Buc and ex-Titan.

Ruud resembles the Heater in that both men average 100+ tackles when they start a full season, and both capably cover receivers, defending several passes and intercepting a few every year. Both missed games due to injury for the first time in their careers last season.

So, how do Ruud and Hawthorne differ? Ruud is a little older (28) than Hawthorne (26), but has logged much more mileage: the Heater just finished his third starting season, while Ruud has started the equivalent of five full campaigns.

Moreover, Ruud's recent injury history is significantly more alarming than Hawthorne's. The Heater sat for just one game last year, though his knee hampered and slowed him for much of the season. Ruud, on the other hand, missed 9 games with a pulled groin (by far my least favorite injury; so he certainly has my sympathy).

Perhaps Ruud was simply less lucky than Hawthorne last year, but linebackers dish out and absorb huge doses of punishment, so Ruud's greater age and (possible) greater susceptibility to injury render him a less desirable signing than the Heater.

However, Hawthorne wanted, deserved, and received a five-year deal (from New Orleans), while Ruud settled for a single year with Seattle.

Offensive guard Deuce Lutui presents an even more uncertain prospect.

My first reflexes were favorable. I dig it anytime we beef up the O-Line, and the sentimentalist in me approves of perpetuating the proud tradition of Pacific Islanders playing for the Seahawks. Like Lutui, I've lived in Arizona for a while, and I can't blame him wanting to relocate to Seattle's ideal climate.

Perennially a key cog in the Cardinals' offense until last year, the Tongan titan signed with the Bengals after the lockout ended, but failed his physical when he reported to Cincinnati too fat to play, pushing 400 pounds. The big man bounced back to Arizona, where he continued to struggle with his weight throughout the 2011 season. He never started, seeing only spot duty, playing a mere 45 snaps in 16 games..

Perhaps Pete Carroll--the Tongan's old college coach--can motivate him to become the team's Biggest Loser. I'm a big man myself, so I sympathize with Lutui's battle of the bulge. However, if keeping fit were my job, and if I were earning NFL money to manage my weight, then...

If the player can't drop the weight by training camp, then the Seahawks need to drop a Deuce.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sad day for Seattle

The new uniforms are hideous, and the Heater signed with New Orleans.

I'll probably get used to the uniforms eventually, but David Hawthorne is a versatile athlete, a solid leader, and a real loss for the organization. I'm officially worried about our linebacker corps.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

In like Flynn

Seattle won the Matt Flynn sweepstakes.

The Seahawks signed the Green Bay backup to a 3-year contract for $26 million. This is good money for a career clipboard-clutcher with a total of two career starts under his belt.

By comparison, Tennessee signed Matt Hasselbeck in 2011 to a 3-year contract for $21 million. At the time, the former All-Pro had started 131 games--including a Super Bowl--and had played in three Pro Bowls. Of course, as Hasselbeck heads into the twilight of his career, Flynn's dawns with possible promise.

We'll find out. Signing an untested backup named Matt from Green Bay worked out well the first time, though there were growing pains early on.

If Tennessee manages to sign Peyton Manning and Hasselbeck becomes available, Seattle would be wise to scrap T-Jack and bring Matt home for some real depth at the quarterback position.

The good news is that the Seahawks are competing successfully in free agency, and the Great Collaborators grasped that the free agent market offered surer bets at quarterback than our draft position did.

I'm glad the Chargers grabbed Charlie Whitehurst. Denied an opportunity to compete for the starting job in Seattle, Jesus of Clemson can resurrect his career where it began, backing up Philip Rivers in San Diego.

Although I thought Seattle was misguided in its efforts to court Peyton Manning, it is sobering that the Canton-bound quarterback declined even to consider the Seahawks. It is humiliating that the Colts castoff spurned Paul Allen's plan on the tarmac in Denver.

The face-saving, feelgood explanation is to attribute his lack of interest to the weather in the Pacific Northwest. However, the reality is that Manning only entertains offers from teams he sees as viable contenders by virtue of their coaches and their rosters. Based on those criteria, the Seahawks didn't make the cut.

However, Seattle has made several good moves in free agency.

We achieved our most important priorities by retaining Red Bryant and locking down the Pro Bowl backfield of Marshawn Lynch and Michael Robinson.

By signing Breno Giacomini and Paul McQuistan, we preserved depth on the offensive line at bargain rates, making Robert Gallery expendable. If Russell Okung, James Carpenter and John Moffitt all rehabilitate successfully, then we'll have more starting-calibre linemen (Okung/McQuistan/Unger/Moffitt/Carpenter, plus Giacomini) than starting positions on the line, and that hasn't been true since the Super Bowl season of 2005 (Jones/Hutchinson/Tobeck/Gray/Locklear, plus Womack).

It's unfortunate that Gallery didn't offer to take a pay cut, because there's no such thing as too much depth on the O-Line.

I am reassured that we pursued Steve Hutchinson, though it is hard to blame him for signing with Tennessee. If playing with former Seahawks teammates was a consideration, then he's more likely to have that experience in Nashville than in Seattle. (At this point, no veteran of Super Bowl XL remains on Seattle's roster.)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Beware the NFC West

The NFC West becomes scarier every day.

Under the leadership of the league's most unpleasant coach, San Francisco came out of nowhere to post a 13-3 record, tied for second-best in the league and the conference. This was no fluke. Built upon the solid foundation of a stout defense and a strong running game, the 49ers will remain formidable next year.

In 2011, the Arizona Cardinals wobbled out of the gate with a 1-6 start. However, the songbirds soared through the season's second half, compiling a 7-2 record, finishing at .500, seizing second place in the division, and condemning Seattle to a losing record and penultimate place in the NFC West.

Impatient to win, and unconvinced that Kevin Kolb is the answer, Arizona has been hosting Peyton Manning this weekend.

Seattle developed some depth on its offensive line last year, and recently re-signed Marshawn Lynch, so the future looks bright for our running attack. If the team can come to terms with Red Bryant, our dynamic young defense should be able to pick up where it left off. The Seahawks need only a capable quarterback to become a contender.

However, it is lowly St. Louis that I find most frightening in the long term.

By hiring Jeff Fisher, the Rams secured the services of one of the most consistently successful coaches in recent league history. He inherited a bad Houston team in 1994 and quickly made them respectable in a tough division. In 16 full seasons with the Oilers/Titans franchise, his team posted winning records and made the playoffs 6 times, including a Super Bowl appearance. When they weren't in the playoffs, they weren't bad. They went .500 five times and posted 7-9 records twice. They rarely did worse; they went 6-10, 5-11 and 4-12 once each. They never posted more than two consecutive losing seasons.

In short, Fisher is a lot like Marty Schottenheimer: He may never win the Super Bowl, but he'll maintain a good team that will win a lot of games. As long as he's coaching in your division, he'll be a thorn in your side, because his teams will never lie down meekly to give you an easy win.

After seven straight years of losing, St. Louis is stocked with early-round draft picks. They are nowhere near as bad as their record last year suggests; an injury epidemic and poor coaching explained their underperformance in 2011. Their respectable showing in 2010--when they narrowly lost the division to Seattle--is a better indication of the strength of their overall roster.

Their roster is likely to grow even stronger now.

Recently, the Rams swindled Washington. The Skins want to draft Robert Griffin III, but they knew he would not last until they picked sixth in the first round. They entered negotiations with St. Louis, which owns the #2 pick in the draft.

Dan Snyder is hands down the dumbest owner in the NFL, with a long-established pattern of overpaying for the services of uncertain prospects. For many years, Snyder had to vie for with Al Davis of the Raiders for the title of dumbest owner, but the death of the Crypt Keeper has removed all doubt. The scam the Rams just perpetrated on the Skins simply cements what league observers have long known about Moneybags Snyder.

It is customary for Snyder to squander cash. This time, he mortgaged the future of his franchise by throwing away several draft picks.

In exchange for this year's #2 first round pick from St. Louis, Washington surrendered its...

1. #6 first round pick in 2012
2. second round pick in 2012
3. first round pick in 2013
4. first round pick in 2014

In short, the Rams will get three picks in the top forty this year, and then they'll get to pick twice in the first round in 2013 and 2014. These extra doses of young talent should help them get better fast.

St. Louis managed to exort this price from Washington because Mike Holmgren of Cleveland was willing to offer nearly as much. This makes me glad we didn't hire the Big Show to be Seattle's GM.

Congratulations to Lofa Tatupu. After a year of rest, he'll try to relaunch his career with the Atlanta Falcons. I'm sad he won't be a Seahawk anymore, but everyone in Seattle wishes him well.

Call me sentimental, but if I were John Schneider, I'd offer Steve Hutchinson a respectable, short-term veteran contract. When healthy, he can still play. His gritty attitude inspires his entire unit, and he provides credible leadership in the locker room. However, he can't wear #76 again. That number belongs to Russell Okung now.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Peyton is not the answer

Seattle should not pursue Peyton Manning.

Although he is indisputably among the best quarterbacks ever to play the game, his ability to continue to perform at that level is dubious. When the Indianapolis Colts cut ties with the player who has defined them for more than a decade, that means he's damaged goods.

Pete Carroll and John Schneider jettisoned Matt Hasselbeck--despite his Pro Bowl pedigree--because his age, susceptibility to injury, and relative lack of mobility made him vulnerable behind our patchwork offensive line.

How, then, does it make sense to sign an older, less mobile quarterback with an even more alarming history of injury? What are the odds that his performance would justify the cost in cash and draft picks?

Seattle should shop for affordable free agents to compete for the starting slot. Among the multitude on the market are many capable quarterbacks worthy of consideration, including:

David Carr (NYG)
A.J. Feeley (STL)
Matt Flynn (GB)
David Garrard (FA)
Shaun Hill (DET)
Josh McCown (CHI)
Kyle Orton (KC) 
Chris Redman (ATL)
Sage Rosenfels (MIA)
Charlie Whitehurst (SEA)

This is what economists would call a buyer's market.

Seattle can find better value and more viable starters in free agency than the team is likely to obtain through the draft, where the strongest quarterbacks go early, and teams pay dearly for uncertain prospects.

The Seahawks should use the draft to shore up other positions.

Getting an affordable quarterback will free up money to re-sign Red Bryant, the linchpin to our defense.

That move would complement the wisdom of inking a long-term deal with Marshawn Lynch, the heart and soul of our offense.

I will miss Marcus Trufant. Given his recent injury history and the strength of our young secondary, I understand the cold reasoning behind the decision, but it was a graceless way to end a relationship with one of the finest defensive backs in team history.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Cortez Kennedy Bound for Canton

Cortez Kennedy belongs in the Hall of Fame, but I never thought he would make it there.

Although he was the most dominant defensive tackle of his era, he had the misfortune to play during the '90s, a long nadir in Seahawks history.

Often, great athletes who play for bad teams never get the recognition they deserve.

Tez won respect during his career: 8 Pro Bowl selections, thrice honored as an All-Pro, and one NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 1992, the season the Seahawks posted their worst-ever record at 2-14.

Hall of Fame voters, after passing over him for the last four years, finally rewarded Kennedy for a decade of thankless toil in the trenches..

The AP headline pretty much summed up the layman's attitude toward this year's Canton class: "Martin, 4 linemen make Hall of Fame." The Associated Press assumes that readers would only know Curtis Martin, because as a running back for the Jets and Patriots, he carried the ball and scored touchdowns. Honoring linemen, on the other hand, is boring. No one knows the name of the lumbering giants who never touch the ball.

But it's the linemen who make football a game of raw power. You need a hoss like Willie Roaf to protect passers and make daylight for ball carriers, and you need a badass like Cortez Kennedy to clog running lanes and flatten quarterbacks.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Seahawks in Honolulu

There was, as usual, some poor play in the Pro Bowl. On the NFC's first running play, the offensive and defensive lines rose wearily from their stances and leaned lazily into one another, embracing like exhausted heavyweight boxers, while Philadelphia Eagle LeSean McCoy tentatively took the handoff and trotted nonchalantly into the gentle embrace of his opponents. The half-filled stadium roundly and rightfully booed this pitiful display of sloth and complacency.

Fortunately, some athletes came to compete. The few who played at full speed--like Larry Fitzgerald and Brandon Marshall--looked like fleet Olympians among lumbering, clumsy couch potatoes.

Fortunately, the Seahawks acquitted themselves admirably. Michael Robinson blocked effectively, though not brutally.  Neither McCoy nor Matt Forte capitalized on this--each carried only twice--but Marshawn Lynch ran hard, taking 8 carries for 43 yards. It wasn't quite Beast Mode, but he showed more toughness than anyone else on the field that day.

Most of Seattle's starting secondary played. The AFC quarterbacks threw downfield relentlessly, but Seahawk defenders rarely allowed their receivers to catch anything. Miami's Marshall managed one big reception at Brandon Browner's expense--the big cornerback tried to make a play, but obliterated his safety support in the process, allowing Marshall to escape downfield to the end zone.

Earl Thomas had a similar experience. He made a great read on a deep ball, moving in front of the receiver to make an interception, but a cornerback blundered into him, preventing him from completing the pick. To add insult to injury, the ball bounced freakishly off Marshall's foot and into his hands for a touchdown.

The takeaway lesson seems to be that chemistry matters in the secondary. When you don't know what your teammate is going to do, you can get in one another's way. That kind of chemistry is hard to build in the brief, perfunctory Pro Bowl practices.

It was a fun game. The NFC's coaches called an aggressive game, including an early onside kick, a fake punt (San Francisco's Andy Lee threw for a first down), and a lot of laterals the first time the defense intercepted a pass. The NFC led for much of the game, but made a fundamental mistake by letting Cam Newton play the entire second half. He looked every bit a rookie, completing only 33% of his passes for 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Initially, Newton appeared to be trying, but when he threw an interception to the AFC's Derrick Johnson late in the game, the fleet, hulking Carolina quarterback made no attempt to stop the defender, despite being in excellent position to do so. Sad.

It's nice to see Seahawks in the Pro Bowl again, and gratifying to see them play with distinction.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Psyched for the Pro Bowl

Yes, I'm serious.

Lots of people slag the Pro Bowl. They complain that NFL superstars compete halfheartedly in Honolulu, more interested in avoiding injury than in vying for victory.

That's true on some level, but it also misses the point. Regular season and playoff games require league athletes to wage the athletic equivalent of war, a supreme and unrelenting effort to win, exhausting every ounce of speed, power, brains and brutality at their disposal.

You won't see that in the Pro Bowl. The NFL's all-star game is supposed to be fun, and if you accept that, it can be fun to watch  

If you watch football primarily for the violence, then the Pro Bowl isn't for you. It's a more decent and civilized game. No one wants to get injured or to injure anyone else in an all-star game. Thus, cheap shots are rare. (Exception: In 2007, when Buffalo's Brian Moorman tried to run for a first down on a fake punt, Denver safety Sean Taylor annihilated him. That was hard core.)

Pro Bowl rules are different, to facilitate scoring. For example, in the Pro Bowl, defensive backs can't cover tight ends. This forces defenses to assign linebackers to the task, giving tight ends a distinct advantage, and exposing linebackers whose pass coverage skills rank somewhere below an all-star level.

I like the Pro Bowl, but I haven't watched it for a few years, because no Seahawks played in the game in 2010 or 2011.

Fortunately, Seattle has several representatives on the NFC squad. On offense, fullback Michael Robinson will be blocking for tailback Marshawn Lynch. On the other side of the ball, we'll see three-quarters of our defensive backfield rotating through the secondary: cornerback Brandon Browner, strong safety Kam Chancellor, and free safety Earl Thomas.

I thought Red Bryant should have made the squad, but other than that, I can't complain. 

Several Seahawks earned enough respect from their peers and the fans to win passage to Hawaii. I hope they have fun, play well, and win.