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.