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.