Sunday, December 29, 2013

Seattle slump

Seahawk players and coaches have hewn admirably to the party line, insisting that the team's recent woes do not constitute a crisis.

Most analysts continue to rank Seattle as the league's top team.

In Vegas, we opened the week as 10-point favorites over St. Louis, and have since grown to 12-point favorites.

The fact is that the Seahawks are in a slump, having dropped two of the last three games.

I was not shaken by the loss in San Francisco 3 weeks ago. Seattle nearly beat a potent opponent on the road. The 49ers were fortunate to escape with a win.

However, last week's shattering debacle should have rattled even the most fervent diehard. Puzzling failures on offense and special teams squandered a heroic performance by the defense.

Wasted chances

How do you lose a game when the defense picks off Arizona's quarterback four times? Answer: When an anemic offense fails to capitalize on those turnovers. The payoff for those four picks was four kicks: two punts, one shanked chip shot, and a successful field goal for a grand total of three points. Pathetic.

When the habitually clutch choke...

That failed field goal still rankles. Stephen Hauschka entered the game as the most accurate placekicker in the NFL, having nailed 30 of 31 field goals (97%). He had not missed a field goal from under 40 yards since the 2011 season finale. That inhuman accuracy is testimony to the consistent clutchness of the entire placekicking unit: it takes good blocking, dead-on deep snapping and remarkable dexterity on the part of the holder routinely to create optimal opportunities for the kicker.

In this case, clutchness morphed into putzness as Clint Gresham fired back a high snap. Jon Ryan deftly caught the errant ball and got it on the ground, but his heroics created a split-second delay in his choreography with Hauschka, who choked and shanked the kick, sending the pigskin clanging ominously off the left upright.

We also choked on kick returns. The coaches did not choose running back Robert Turbin to return kickoffs because he is a threat to break a big one and take it to the house; he isn't. Rather, they gave him the job due solely to his knack for ball security. Before last Sunday, Turbo had never fumbled even once in his 2-year NFL career over the course of 182 touches (150 rushes, 27 receptions, 5 kick returns). However, at home against the Cardinals last week, Turbo chose to choke by carrying the ball loosely and fumbling not once, but twice. An Arizona penalty erased his first fumble, but his second giveaway stood, leading to Turbin's abrupt termination as kick returner.

 Everyone chokes sometimes, even the clutchest players. Normally, a good team can overcome a few isolated chokes. However, on the same day that our clutchest special teams player choked, many of the team's clutchest offensive players also choked.

Quarterback Russell Wilson, one of the league's most accurate passers, choked by missing several open receivers.

Our wide receivers choked by not getting open.

Doug Baldwin entered the game as the NFL's most reliable wideouts, with a 2013 catch rate of 74% (i.e., 49 receptions in 66 targets). Uncharacteristically, he choked against Arizona, catching only only one pass in 6 targets (17%) against Arizona. Baldwin earned partial redemption through two nice kickoff returns in relief of Turbo.

The offensive line choked, struggling with run blocking and failing to protect Wilson from a tough Cardinals pass rush.

When coaches fail

Our offensive coaches failed by...

1) Failing to exploit Arizona's notorious inability to stop tight ends. Zach Miller was one of the top receiving tight ends in the league before he came to Seattle. Unfortunately for him, he's also a capable blocker. The Seahawks tend to relegate him to blocking duties and deny him opportunities to catch the ball. Although on the field for 48 snaps, he grabbed only one reception on three targets. Backup tight ends Luke Willson and Kellen Davis combined for 17 snaps and one reception on one target.

2) Failing to use our fullbacks. We fielded a fullback on only 6 of our 52 offensive snaps. The team has two good blocking backs in Michael Robinson and Derrick Coleman. Fullbacks open holes for running backs, protect the quarterback on passing downs, and can catch the ball out of the backfield.

3) Failing to throw the ball to Marshawn Lynch. Beast Mode has emerged as a capable receiver this year. Using running backs as outlet receivers is a great way to punish overeager pass rushers and counter smothering coverage of your wideouts.

4) Failing to use Christine Michael. He is rarely active on game days, but he was active last week, and the kid can run the ball when given the chance. Before the season began, I dreamt of a relentless rotation of big running backs with fresh legs wearing down opposing defenses: Beast Mode, Turbo, Michael, Beast Mode, Turbo, Michael, etc. Given Turbo's problems with ball security, I understand why he was limited to one offensive snap, but failing to use Michael was incomprehensible.

5) Sticking to a game plan that wasn't working. From the beginning of the game, Seattle came out in three receiver sets, presumably trying to exploit something we saw in the Arizona defense. But our receivers couldn't get open against a deep and talented Cardinals secondary. Still, the Seahawks stubbornly stuck to that game plan throughout the contest. When it became clear that wasn't working, why not try something else? Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." The collective offensive failure gave Arizona almost a 2-to-1 advantage in time of possession. When an offense loses time of possession that badly, even the world's best football defense gets worn down.

Catastrophic officiating

Even with all of the choking and the bad coaching, Seattle could have won the game if the referees had ruled properly.

I do not mean the Rashard Mendenhall fumble that the officials refused to recognize. Their refusal was understandable, given the technological limitations currently in place. From one view, you could see the ball coming loose but not whether his knee had yet touched down. From the other vantage, you could see his knee touching down, but not where the ball was at the time. A simple technological fix could resolve the matter: If the footage were accompanied by a running clock showing minutes, seconds and tenths of seconds, then the clock could help the officials establish the relative timing of the two events.

No, I mean the absurd ruling that ended Seattle's final drive of the game. With more than two minutes remaining, I had every faith that DangeRuss would rise to the occasion, and the Seahawks would drive down the field and score a touchdown to tie the game and send the contest into overtime. Unfortunately, when a ball intended for Baldwin bounced off the turf and into the arms of a Cardinals defensive back, the referees chose to call that an interception. Perhaps the officials thought they were officiating a 19th-century baseball game, where a one-hop catch put the batter out. The replay clearly showed a cloud of Field Turf fragments erupting from the spot where the ball hit the ground, but apparently that wasn't indisputable visual evidence for the learned referees. Nor did the officials possess the rudimentary knowledge of physics to tell them that the ball's lively bounce was explicable only if it had rebounded from the turf. If the ball had bounced off of Baldwin's arm, as they claimed, it would have hardly bounced at all. I can't believe I managed to finish that paragraph without resort to multiple expletives.

All in all, last week's game was an exceedingly improbable perfect storm of chokage by athletes, coaches and officials. It takes a village to orchestrate a home loss for the Seahawks.

The cost of failure

Let us count the costs imposed by last week's defeat:

1) Seattle could forfeit pole position in the postseason. The Seahawks can still win the division and secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs by beating St. Louis today. However, if we lose and San Francisco beats the Cardinals in Arizona, then the 49ers win the division and Seattle would drop to the #5 seed as a wild card team.

2) Now people think they can win in Seahawks Stadium. For nearly two years, we built the myth that with the 12th Man behind them, Seattle was invincible. That reputation is now shot. Our home field advantage just became a lot less advantageous. The probability of a road win in Seattle for any visitor just grew from impossible to merely difficult. It will take many months to rebuild the mystique.

3) Russell Wilson will not be the league MVP. Probably nothing could have stopped Peyton Manning from receiving his fifth recognition as the league's most valuable player. This is unfortunate, because Manning doesn't deserve it this year. Yes, his record-setting performance caps a heroic comeback from a devastating injury, but that team was built around him. Any decent quarterback would thrive behind that line with that all-star cast of receivers. But no other quarterback in the world could have done what DangeRuss did in Seattle this year, leading his team to 11 victories while running for his life behind an injury-wracked offensive line and an injury-depleted receiving corps. People were starting to notice, but that one bad game took Wilson out of MVP contention.

4) Seattle keeps getting outcoached on offense. When offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is in a playcalling groove, and when DangeRuss is executing like Robespierre during the Reign of Terror, Seattle's offense has appeared unstoppable. While opposing defenses could load the box to limit Beast Mode, they couldn't seem to figure out how to contain Wilson in the pocket, and seemed perpetually astonished by his ability to defeat the blitz and find open receivers. However, twice this month--in San Francisco and against Arizona last week--it looked like defenses had figured out our offense. Under pressure, yet unable to escape the pocket, our quarterback often could not find open receivers. Sometimes, it seemed that defenders knew where Wilson was going to throw the ball before he or his receivers did. Our opponents will follow this formula until the Seahawks find a way to defeat it.

Silver linings

Even in defeat, Seattle keeps it close. If we lose, we lose narrowly. The Seahawks haven't lost a game by more than a 7-point margin since November 6, 2011 in Dallas.

Seattle tends to rally after losses. The last time Seattle lost two consecutive games was in October 2012, and those were road games in San Francisco and Detroit. The last time the Seahawks lost two home games in a row was in October 2011 (to Atlanta and Cincinnati, splitting two road games in between). The last time Seattle lost two back-to-back home games was in November 2008, the season of Mike Holmgren's dirgelike swan song.
The Seahawks have owned the Rams, winning 16 of the last 18 contests against St. Louis. Unfortunately, Jeff Fisher is a great coach presiding over a very talented roster. We barely beat the Rams earlier this year. St. Louis sacked Wilson seven times and took Lynch down from Beast Mode to Kitten Mode, holding him to 23 yards and the team as a whole to merely 44 yards on the ground.

It should be a good game, but I'm praying for a cathartic beatdown to put the league on notice and restore some of the lost luster to Seahawks Stadium and the 12th Man.

Go, Hawks!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Stray musings of a delinquent blogger

The team element is my favorite aspect of sports. Golden Tate chopping down a pressing cornerback to clear the perimeter for a run by Marshawn Lynch. Reserve defensive back Jeremy Lane blocking downfield to clear the path to the end zone for a teammate's pick six.

Richard Sherman blamed poor officiating for our narrow loss to the 49ers. There were a few maddeningly inconsistent calls, and those can make the difference in a tight game. However, when your primary strategy in pass defense is to get more physical than the rules allow and dare the refs to flag it, you have few grounds for complaint when the officials call your bluff. Every ref and every crew calls the game a little differently. Coaches and players need to adapt to those differences.

If I were Eli Manning and I already led the league in interceptions, I would not dare to challenge The Shermanator. The Giants QB completed as many passes to Sherman as he did against him. His coaches were cruel to keep him in the game long enough to throw five interceptions. He looked utterly lost and broken by the second pick.

The Cardinals are hot. This Sunday should be a good dress rehearsal for a home playoff game.

The other 12th Man

December 6, 2013

I am of course eager to blog about Monday's glorious decanonization of the Saints and Sunday's showdown in San Fran, but I have to get something else off my chest, first.

Mike Tomlin is a cheater. I don't normally blog on non-Seahawk matters, but it's sickening how many NFL coaches, players and analysts are claiming that the Steelers head coach made an innocent mistake on Thanksgiving when he trespassed on the playing field and impeded the progress of Ravens returner Jacoby Jones.

If you watch the entire play from the end zone view behind Jones, you can see that Tomlin started the play off the field on the sidelines behind the white buffer reserved for the officials, with his back to the play, watching the action on the stadium JumboTron. After Baltimore's return team set up its blocks and opened a clear path for Jones up the Steelers' sideline, Tomlin crossed the white strip and planted a foot on the field of play, thus becoming Pittsburgh's literal 12th Man, the only Steeler on the field between the returner and the end zone. Jones veered slightly to avoid the coach, which helped one of Pittsburgh's legal players to overtake and tackle him. Tomlin's illegal act robbed the Ravens of yards and possibly points. (The drive ended with a Baltimore field goal.)

Throughout the action, Tomlin kept his back to the play and his eyes on the big screen to disguise his cheating as an innocent error.

This is preposterous. JumboTrons are HUGE and are mounted high. Nothing impeded Tomlin's view of the screen from his starting position. Thus, there was no need for him to move onto the field, except to cheat. Like any highly capable coach, Tomlin is totally focused and in his element on the sideline. At all times, he knows exactly where he is and what he's doing during games. He cheated. On purpose. We need to dispense with disingenuous politeness and frankly acknowledge the problem of cheating in sports.

Sports should be where adults and kids learn to compete within the rules, not a place where cheating is modeled and taught and rewarded.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Bad bye

Seattle has seemed bulletproof so far this year.
Reshuffled linebackers? No problem: the younglings can play.

Extreme attrition on the O-Line? No problem: Beast Mode can run through people, and when his escape artistry fails, DangeRuss can absorb surprising doses of punishment

Losing our #1 wideout to injury? No problem. Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse can take up the slack.

Pulled groin for our #2 cornerback? No problem; Walter Thurmond may be better, anyway.

Despite all of that adversity, the Seahawks entered the bye at 10-1, with the best record in the NFL.

We were flying so high into the bye that I knew--knew--something would go wrong. I felt this foreboding in the Calvinist marrow of my Scottish bones, sensed the Ragnarokian doom in the dread-drenched depths of my Scandinavian soul, and recognized from a lifetime of learning, the seeds of Greek tragedy and the trials of Job.

It's hard to screw up a bye, but the Seahawks managed the feat.

A week of rest should restore the bodies and souls of our gridiron gladiators, but Percy Harvin's hip has grown worse, not better. Did we trade a first-round pick for irretrievably damaged goods?

Worse, the NFL busted Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond for smoking weed, two key members left the Legion of Boom for the Legion of Doob.Is this simply a case of stoners loving chronic more than championships, or were they toking ganja to mask their use of other performance-enhancing drugs? Do we have to worry again that Seattle is a dirty program of juiced athletes?

The timing is terrible. Drew Brees is the league's most accurate passer, and a wizard at reading defenses, running through his progressions and putting the ball where only his receiver can catch it. He is not the sort of quarterback you want to face with a discombobulated secondary. Reserve cornerbacks Eric Lane and Byron Maxwell have played capably when thrust into starting roles in the past, but if there are vulnerabilities in the reconstituted (recombobulated?) Legion of Boom, then Brees will expose and exploit them mercilessly.

Can the 12th Man and a fierce pass rush even the odds? Can our punt and kick coverage units hold up with less help from Lane and Maxwell?.Can the recently returned starters on the O-line recover the chemistry that eluded them against Minnesota before the bye? Can Beast Mode chew up the clock to deny New Orleans scoring opportunities? Can DangeRuss best Brees, his midget quarterback mentor? Will Seattle seize home field advantage?

Go, Hawks!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Getting it together

Seattle stopped playing down to inferior opponents last week and put together a complete win over in Atlanta.

The patchwork offensive line--downright dreadful just a few weeks ago--crowned 3 weeks of steady improvement by dominating Falcons defenders, providing excellent pass protection and great run blocking. Center Lemuel Jeanpierre captained the unit credibly. O-Line Coach Tom Cable explored explored various combinations at guard and tackle to capitalize on the talents of rookies Alvin Bailey and Michael Bowie, still-raw prospects James Carpenter and JR Sweezy, and wily veteran Paul McQuistan, The younglings have played so well that the Seahawks can afford to limit the snaps of the starting linemen returning from injury today (center Max Unger and tackles Breno Giacomini and Russell Okung).

Marshawn Lynch busted out in full-throttle Beast Mode, barreling through Falcons defenders for a season-high 145 rushing yards, and deploying the meanest unflagged stiffarm facemask in NFL history. (Atlanta safety William Moore's neck must still hurt.)

Russell Wilson played an almost flawless game, allowing three wideouts to post numbers worthy of NFL starters (Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Golden Tate). Apparently, our receiving corps can cope without Sidney Rice. It's almost unfair that Percy Harvin makes his debut today further to fortify the unit.

After ignominiously getting gouged on the ground for more than 200 yards by St. Louis and Tampa Bay, the Seattle D finally figured out how to stuff the run, holding Atlanta to just 64 rushing yards. After letting backup quarterbacks Kellen Clemens and Mike Glennon move the ball at will, the Seahawks stuck Matty Ice in the deep freeze, holding Ryan--a two-time Pro Bowler--to only 172 passing yards.

While the Seahawks got it together and rose to 9-1, our strongest conference rivals continued to falter. New Orleans fell to 7-2 and San Francisco dropped to 6-3. Seattle just needs to keep winning to claim home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The Vikings are winless on the road this season (0-4), so today's contest poses another test of character for Seattle: when faced with inferior competition, will we play down to their level, or dominate like the elite team we're supposed to be?

Minnesota is far from toothless. Our unreliable run defense must shut down Adrian Peterson, one of the greatest running backs in the history of the game, who shredded Seahawks defenders for 187 yards on the ground in Seattle last year. AP is running behind a less capable line this year, and it doesn't matter much who plays quarterback for the Vikings. A healthy Christian Ponder is probably marginally better than Matt Cassell, but Josh Freeman doesn't look capable of playing like Josh Freeman anymore.

Although their defense as a whole is statistically unimpressive, except in their generosity, the Vikings continue to field a frightening D-line including sackmasters Jared Allen and Kevin Williams. This is a matter of serious concern for a Seattle team that struggles to protect its quarterback.

Finally, the Vikings have great kick and punt return teams, so our coverage units will need to step it up.

Go, Hawks!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Toughest test yet

Unger and Bryant--the anchors of our O and D lines--are out. O line cornerstones Okung and Giacomini remain out. Rice is gone for good and Harvin isn't ready, yet. Our D can't stop the run, and the Falcons gouged us on the ground last year. Atlanta is a .500 team at home this year, but a bad team overall... and Seattle has been playing down to inferior opponents of late. Most signs seem to point to an upset. Only the clutchness of Beast Mode, DangeRuss and the Legion of Boom can save us. Go, Hawks! (First post ever by smartphone.)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Exposed again

Today/s game exposed the complacency of Pete Carroll and his defensive staff. After St. Louis gouged us for more than 200 yards on the ground last Monday, our defensive coaches failed to respond. Tampa Bay followed the Rams' blueprint, employed the same run schemes, and they worked just as well. Once again, our defense surrendered more than 200 rushing yards to a team with an unheralded O-line and backup running back. Just like last week, an effective run game enabled a lackluster quarterback to move the chains by completing intermediate passes almost uncontested by our linebackers and safeties. Our future opponents will continue to execute Brian Schottenheimer's offensive game plan until our defensive  coaches devise counter-schemes D can execute.

Today's game exposed the complacency of most of our players and the 12th Man. The Bucs took the field and played with intensity from the start, but through the first two quarters, our athletes came out flat and the crowd seemed quiet, both apparently assuming that they would not have to work hard to defeat a winless team.

Today's game exposed our defensive coaches continuing mystifying inability to capitalize on our talented stable of pass rushers to rattle inexperienced opposing quarterbacks.

Today's game exposed offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell as a slow learner. When Marshawn Lynch is in Beast Mode, there is no need to get cute with counterintuitive playcalls. Just feed the beast.

Today's game exposed the devastating impact of poor officiating. In the first quarter, the referees robbed free safety Earl Thomas of a spectacular interception, flagging him for pass interception on the basis of a relatively innocuous arm bar. That adverse call, followed by a more legitimate PI flag against Brandon Browner, seemed to demoralize the Seattle defense, which helped Tampa Bay leap to a 21-0 lead. (The poor officiating happened to hurt Seattle more, but at least one call went against Tampa Bay: Ricardo Lockette's catch was not a catch.)

Today's game exposed Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin as mere mortals. DangeRuss threw two costly picks. Having caught literally everything thrown his way in the first 8 games of the season, Baldwin dropped the first two passes thrown to him today.

Today's game also exposed Wilson and Baldwin as clutch players who rally from mistakes. DangeRuss proved as relentless as ever, making key plays over and over again with his arm and feet. After his two drops, Baldwin reverted to form, catching several balls at critical junctures to keep drives alive and score the game-tying touchdown.

Today's game exposed the growing maturity of Golden Tate and Marshawn Lynch. Like many Seahawks, Tate played the second half and into overtime in a state of cold fury, declining to taunt his opponents or celebrate, even when he made huge plays like his 71-yard punt return near end of third quarter. Even after Bevell robbed the Beast of the game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter by calling a pass on first and goal at the 3-yard line--a pass that the Bucs intercepted to end the drive without a score--Lynch did not pout. Instead, the Beast stood helmetless on the sidelines, coolly waving his arms to incite the 12th Man to eardrum-bursting frenzy in support of the defense.

Today exposed our O-line's ability to open running lanes and provide some decent protection for Russell Wilson, even when led by backup center Lemuel Jeanpierre after All-Pro center Max Unger left the game with a concussion.

Today exposed our ability to break the will of an opposing team when Lynch is in Beast Mode and we pound the rock relentlessly. We win when we rediscover our identity as a running team.

Today exposed the grit and resilience of our defense. After surrendering 21 points in a disastrous second quarter, they yielded only 3 in the third, none in the fourth quarter and zero in overtime.

Today's game exposed the Seahawks as a team with enough talent and character to survive self-inflicted wounds and gut it out to 8-1.

Go, Hawks!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Lessons and beauty in an undeserved victory, and why Lynch should have been benched

In a just world, the Seahawks would have lost to the Rams on Monday night. That's what's supposed to happen when you get outcoached and outplayed.

Lowering the Legion of Boom

Last week, I opined that the Seattle defense "is generally sound."

Yet, the Rams ran the ball down our throats. Everyone knew that was their game plan, but it didn't matter. St. Louis offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer cracked the code, drawing up inspired schemes to exploit previously unsuspected weaknesses in the Seahawk run defense. Those schemes were effectively executed by an average offensive line and by Zac Stacy, a 5th-round rookie who had never cracked the century mark in three previous starts, but then busted out for 134 yards against a defense stacked with high draft picks, pricy free agents and All-Pro and Pro Bowl talent.

Before Monday, the Seahawks had the 5th best rushing defense in the NFL. After giving up more than 200 yards to the Rams, Seattle's rank fell to 15th.

Last week, I wrote that the "pass rush appears to be coming together," but the Seahawks managed only three sacks.

Last week, I wrote that Seattle's "remaining regular season schedule appears to offer only two opportunities" (against the Falcons and the Saints) to "establish that our defense can shut down capable quarterbacks who run fast offenses from behind solid lines, choosing among multiple talented receivers."

I was wrong. You don't need a capable quarterback, quick tempo or multiple gifted receivers to challenge Seattle's pass defense. Between runs, Schottenheimer found ways for career benchwarmer Kellen Clemens to complete passes to a gaggle of inexperienced receivers at the expense of the vaunted Legion of Boom (and against our justly less-vaunted linebackers). The humble backup threw two early picks and missed several easy throws to wide-open teammates. A more accurate passer would have cut our defense to ribbons, but if your all-world defense can't shut down the passing attack of an undistinguished journeyman like Clemens, then maybe it's not really an all-world defense.

Yes, our defenders stepped up in the end with a heroic goal-line stand that saved the game. In the end, the Seahawks' superior athleticism barely trumped better coaching and execution by the Rams.

Future opponents will study and steal the schemes Schottenheimer used to shred the Seattle defense. Coach Carroll and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn failed to adjust adequately during the game on Monday night, but I hope their postmortem analyses have helped them figure out how to counter Schottenheimer's schemes, because our future opponents will execute them with better offensive athletes than St. Louis can currently field.

Time will tell whether St. Louis exposed an overrated defense, or if Monday represented a rare lapse for an otherwise solid unit.

I'm betting on the latter, and I'm betting the defense and the 12th Man come out to re-establish our reputation for domination against a bad Bucs offense. I would hate to be quarterback Mike Glennon tomorrow.
Losing our identity as a run-first team

Last week, I predicted that the Seahawks would "pound the rock relentlessly."

Wrong again. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell gave up on the run. The Rams surprised everyone by playing good run defense, but Seattle made no attempt to grind them down. Marshawn Lynch only carried the ball 8 times for a mere 23 yards.

Fullback Michael Robinson was woefully underutilized, taking the field for only 11 offensive snaps. What's the point of re-signing a battering ram if you're not going to use him?
Not running the ball enough meant attempting too many passes, calling too many designed runs by the quarterback, and Russell Wilson taking too many sacks and quarterback hits. Most of those plays yielded no yardage, or negative yards.

Consider the strategic options we had against the stout St. Louis defense:

1. Hand off the ball and run. This allows your offense to attack the defense. Your O-linemen fire out and hit defenders. Your wideouts get a chance to put a lick on the corners for a change. Your fullback becomes a guided missile who's going to make someone pay. Your big running back is going to dish out some punishment before he goes down. Your quarterback gets out harm's way.

2. Try to pass the ball. This allows their defense to attack your offense. Their corners bump your receivers. Their D-linemen and linebackers run over and around your hapless O-line and crush your little quarterback, over and over and over again.

If you're not gaining any yards, it is better to hit than to be hit. The nice thing about option #1 is that it tends to wear down the defense and create holes where none existed formerly.

Even when the Legion of Boom put our offense in great field position, Bevell's playcalling nearly prevented us from scoring. In the first quarter, a convoy of defenders helped Richard Sherman return a Clemens interception 38 yards to the St. Louis 26. A quarterback run and a Rams penalty then made it first and goal on the one yard line. Rather than line up in the I-formation and let the O-line and Rob clear the way for Lynch to pound the rock into the end zone, we came out in the read option on first and second downs, and Wilson twice ran the ball, taking unnecessary hits and losing a yard. A touchdown pass to Golden Tate salvaged the drive, but the poor play calls compounded Lynch's growing alienation and subjected our franchise quarterback to unnecessary physical punishment.

I was correct last week to characterize Seattle's offensive line as "absolutely dreadful," but I failed to anticipate our coaches' complete failure to account for the fierce Rams pass rush. For most of the game, Bevell and O-line coach Tom Cable left backup tackles Paul McQuistan and Michael Bowie stranded on an island, alone against stud defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn. Predictably, Long and Quinn racked up 3 sacks each, plus innumerable brutal quarterback hits.

Something must be done. Cable says Seattle will start the same five offensive linemen again this week, so personnel changes are evidently off the table until starting tackles Breno Giacomini and Russell Okung return from injury.

Clearly, we need to establish the running game to preserve the health of our quarterback. When we do pass the ball, tight ends and running backs need to stay in to help with pass protection.

Unfortunately, establishing the run against Tampa Bay won't be easy. The Bucs rank 7th in the league in rushing defense. After completely shutting down Seattle's ground attack on Monday, St. Louis still ranks just 22nd in the league in stopping the run.

Why Lynch should have been benched

You read that right. I know Marshawn Lynch wants the ball. I want more Beast Mode, too. However, his frustrations don't give him the right to flip off his coaches two weeks ago in Arizona when Bevell didn't call his number in the red zone. He pouted again during and after the game last week. It is not known how they team responded to Lynch's obscene gesture. However, on the way back from St. Louis, Carroll sat by the moody prima donna on the plane and consoled him.

Lynch should have suspended for a game without pay for flipping the bird to his coaches in Arizona. Robert Turbin and Christine Michael could have carried the load in St. Louis. When coaches fail to draw the line against that kind of misconduct, they imperil team morale and discipline.


Anyone who has ever endured losing seasons knows that there is really no such thing as an ugly win. When you have been forced to subsist on a steady diet of defeat, you learn to savor every victory, to find the beauty in each win.

The 80-yard bomb from DangeRuss to Golden Tate was beautiful. Wilson underthrew the ball, but Tate adjusted brilliantly to rob the cornerback of an interception and score. Sadly, his showboating and taunting penalty detracted from what was otherwise arguably the best play of his career. (Prompt contrition brought partial redemption, however.)

Everything about the way Earl Thomas plays free safety is beautiful. At one point, he rocketed out of nowhere to blow up a running Kellen Clemons. On the game's penultimate play, he knifed into the scrum to help clutch backup linebacker Heath Farwell stop the Rams runner one yard short of the goal line.

The goal-line stand itself was beautiful.

7-1 is beautiful.

8-1 would be even more beautiful.

Go, Hawks!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Surprising, improbable, precarious

As Seahawks near the middle of the regular season, they have--surprisingly, improbably and precariously--managed the best start in franchise history.


Seattle's success so far is surprising, because while the team's greatest strength remains its defense, that unit has displayed alarming vulnerability at times.

After Matt Schaub had his way against us throughout the first half of the Texans contest last month, the Sea-fence adjusted and recovered to salvage a victory, leading this fallible correspondent naively to declare that "the defensive vulnerabilities Houston exposed last week are literally the least of our worries."

Of course, Andrew Luck and his receivers exploited those selfsame weaknesses with seeming ease all game long in Indy. Fueled by indignation over smacktalk from the Legion of Boom, Luck caught our defensive backs gambling and dealt Seattle its sole defeat thus far this season.

Even Titans backup Ryan Fitzpatrick managed to move the ball briskly at times two weeks ago in Seahawks Stadium. (Garbage time drives conducted by Jacksonville's Chad Henne and Arizona's Carson Palmer don't count; they made those games appear closer than they really were, but yards and points gained at the expense of reserves laying back in a prevent defense are meaningless and no cause for alarm.)

Certainly, the Sea-fence is generally sound: We rank third in the league in yards and points allowed. Only four teams allow fewer rush yards than Seattle. Only Houston permits more passing yards.

The pass rush appears to be coming together, when frequent rotation can keep fresh legs on the field. But Schaub and Luck shredded our D by running up-tempo offenses that denied our defenders opportunities to substitute.

If the Seahawks are serious about winning a championship, then we need to establish that our defense can shut down capable quarterbacks who run fast offenses from behind solid lines, choosing among multiple talented receivers. Our remaining regular season schedule appears to offer only two opportunities to do this: When Seattle travels to Atlanta next month, and again when we host Drew Brees and the Saints in December. These tests matter because the opponents we would likely meet if we make the playoffs will likely feature passing offenses that range from functional to fantastic.


Seattle's success so far is improbable because our offensive line has been absolutely dreadful to this point.

The Seahawks have continued to win, even with two cornerstones sidelined by injury in Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung and his counterpart on the right side, the oft-flagged Breno Giacomini, a serviceable, vicious veteran. Paul McQuistan, normally our starting left guard, has slid over to play Okung's position, but is barely adequate in that role. At right tackle, Michael Bowie has looked a lot like the 7th-round rookie he is, and certainly no threat to Giacomini's hold on the starting job. (No one can hold like Breno.) Rookie free agents Alvin Bailey and Caylin Hauptmann appear to be nothing more than development projects and emergency reserves at this point.

James Carpenter and JR Sweezy have each struggled at guard. Left guard Carpenter--originally drafted to play tackle--seems resigned to embrace the role of first-round bust. At right guard, Sweezy still looks raw, an eccentric and incomplete experiment in converting a college defensive tackle into a pro O-lineman.

When healthy, All-Pro center Max Unger is the only glue giving any semblance of cohesion to this hangdog unit. His backup, Lemuel Jeanpierre, helped the team go 1-1 during Unger's two-week absence from the lineup.

This makeshift offensive line actually run blocks reasonably well, but not as well as one might assume upon seeing that Seattle ranks second in the league in rushing yards.

Only two backs in the NFL have more yards per game than Marshawn Lynch. This is not because the O-line is gouging huge holes in the defense. It's because Lynch has lived in Beast Mode, busting creases open, knocking down opponents, and dragging hapless defenders with him down the field.

Seattle's second-leading rusher is Russell Wilson. Averaging 46 yards per game, DangeRuss ranks 25th in the league in rushing, ahead of several starting running backs, and ahead of every quarterback except for Oakland's Terrell Pryor.

Most of Wilson's ground gains do not come on designed runs facilitated by good blocking. On the contrary, they happen because the O-line so often fails to provide pass protection in the pocket, forcing our quarterback to run for his life and improvise far too frequently.


This is what makes Seattle's success this season so very precarious: the O-line is so bad that it's downright dangerous out there for DangeRuss.

Everyone agrees that Wilson is under too much pressure and is getting hit too much.

Quarterbacks tend to get far too much credit when things go well (and far too much blame when things go wrong). There are too many passers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and too many quarterback MVPs in the history of this game. Reflexively labeling a quarterback as a team's MVP is normally intellectually lazy and indicative of a limited understanding of the game.

But not in this case.

Without a doubt, Wilson is the franchise's most valuable player at this point.

No other quarterback in the league could have led Seattle to a 6-1 record. No other quarterback has the astonishing gridiron acumen and athleticism that allows Wilson to move the offense when the line can't protect him, when his receivers can't get open, and even when Lynch can't find running room.

Wilson is smart, durable and--so far--lucky in that he hasn't suffered an injury. Two years ago, we saw what Tarvaris Jackson could do under similar circumstances, which underscores the fact that DangeRuss remains this team's red wheelbarrow.

so much depends

a young quarter

glazed with rain

behind a bad

Fortunately, two consecutive prime time contests have given Seattle something of a mini-bye: 11 days between games. This respite should have given the Seahawks some time to rest and address the aforementioned shortcomings.

More good news: As the Diehard predicted back on September 2, Seattle has re-signed Pro Bowl fullback Michael Robinson. This should help with run blocking and pass protection, as well as improving team morale and leadership. It looks like Rob is back for the season, since Spencer Ware went on injured reserve with his high ankle sprain, leaving hamstrung Derrick Coleman as the only other fullback on the roster. Like the proverbial broken clock, the Diehard occasionally gets it right.

It was great to see the 12th Man make an appearance on the road the Thursday before last. It must have been demoralizing for Arizona when vastly outnumbered Seattle fans generated more noise against the Cardinal offense than the home crowd managed when the Seahawks had the ball.

Since the World Series will likely deplete the home crowd in St. Louis on Monday night, I'm hoping that the 12th Man might once again manage to conquer an opposing stadium.

Seattle can't afford to underestimate the Rams. Every NFL team is dangerous, but Jeff Fisher is a great coach with a knack for knocking off division opponents.

The St. Louis defense is having an off year, but our O-line needs to step up to ensure that their once-fierce pass rush does not return to form. The Rams have struggled to stop the run, so expect Seattle to pound the rock relentlessly.

The Rams haven't run the ball well all year, but they were having some success through the air with Sam Bradford. Watch Seattle stack the box and dare backup Kellen Clemens to challenge the Legion of Boom.

I never get tired of beating the Rams. Seattle leads the all-time series, 18-12. We're 15-6 since joining the NFC West in 2002. Since the disgraceful 3-game sweep of the 2004 season, the Seahawks have owned the Rams, winning 15 of the last 17.

Let's make it 16 of 18. Go, Hawks!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

12th Man intervention

The 12th Man ranks among the best home crowds in the world of professional sports, but we need a little fine tuning to maintain that distinction and demonstrate that we not only number among the best, but that the 12th Man is the best.

To begin with the glaringly obvious: We need to take back the world record for loudest outdoor stadium from the Kansas City Queefs.

It is shameful that harassment of opposing fans has gotten to the point that Seattle police officers have to go undercover at home games and don enemy jerseys to discourage that kind of disgraceful behavior. Being rude to visiting fans doesn't prove that you're hardcore; it just shows that you're a bully. The overwhelming majority of decent Seahawk fans need to step up and shut down the haters in their midst, to excise these embarrassing tumors.

It's great that so many Seattle fans can travel to road games. I was on a flight from Seattle to Phoenix last night. Most of the passengers wore Seahawks and Huskies regalia, and there was a pep rally atmosphere in the terminal in Seattle and on the plane. I was ashamed, however, that people wouldn't shut up when the pilots and flight attendants addressed us. One of the distinguishing regional characteristics of the Pacific Northwest is supposed to be a degree of politeness bordering on Canadian, both figuratively and literally. But people on that plane probably came away with the impression that Seahawks fans are boors who drink too much.

Here's hoping the 12th Man brings enough noise tonight to drown out the timid Cardinal home crowd.

Go, Hawks!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Diagnostic win

Seattle escaped from Houston with a win last week, but the Texans exposed weaknesses that other teams will try to exploit.

Throughout the first half, Matt Schaub dissected our vaunted secondary, moved the ball efficiently, and built a commanding lead. The Seahawks made adjustments in the second half, turned up the pass rush to 11, shut out Houston for the rest of the game and forced overtime when Richard Sherman baited Schaub into an unwise throw and returned the ensuing interception for a touchdown to tie the game. Seattle will encounter many other teams this season that field fine quarterbacks who throw to capable receivers from behind solid O-lines with support from strong running games, including the Colts today. Our defense can't continue to let opponents run up the score for a full half before responding to the challenge. Fortunately, the return of Bruce Irvin should improve our pass rush from impressive to oppressive, so the defensive vulnerabilities Houston exposed last week are literally the least of our worries.

The greatest concern is Seattle's patchwork offensive line, with backups playing four of the five positions. Right guard JR Sweezy is the only starter playing his own position. Left guard Paul McQuistan must continue to impersonate a left tackle, while James Carpenter masquerades as a starting left guard and Lemuel Jeanpierre does his best to fill in for Max Unger at center. Rookie right tackle Michael Bowie, repeatedly steamrolled last week by JJ Watt, gets to show if he learned anything today. These replacement parts produced decent run blocking last week, but they failed utterly in pass protection: quarterback Russell Wilson got hit or sacked on 16 of 34 dropbacks in Houston. Indy's defense is nearly as good, and to compound matters, Zach Miller is unlikely to play today. One of the best blockers on the team, he often functions as a sixth offensive lineman. The only real remedies here are...
1. The backups must execute better
2. Seattle needs to establish the run and minimize passing downs
3. Our offense must employ maximum protection schemes on passing downs
4. Our receivers need to make their blitz reads and get open fast so Wilson won't have to hold the ball

DangeRuss willed the team to victory last week, using his legs to elude pressure and find room to throw and run for first downs. It is nice to know that your quarterback can do that for you, but we can't afford to make a habit of relying on it. Wilson is good at ducking big hits, but if he continues to get pummeled as often as he did last week, then we will eventually lose him to injury. Defenses have chosen to respond to the pistol by punishing running quarterbacks, by exploiting every opportunity to brutalize them. One unlucky hit can end a season. Today, the rest of the offense needs to step up to help Wilson.

Last week, three developments enabled Seattle to win. First, the defense responded after halftime. Second, Houston's defense faltered after losing wild man linebacker Brian Cushing to a concussion. Third, Russell Wilson took the team on his shoulders. (Honorable mention to kicker Steven Hauschka, who has been incredibly clutch all year.)

Today the Seahawks face another daunting challenge, another complete team in another loud dome, again with a 10:00 a.m. kickoff. Seattle's defense needs to smother Andrew Luck, a better and more versatile quarterback than Matt Schaub. The offense must account for linebacker Robert Mathis, an elite pass rusher.

The Seahawks must resolve to dominate. As the Huskies learned last night, fickle fate and bad officiating can rob you of victory in a close game.

Go, Hawks!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Daunting challenge

The Seahawks have seemed unstoppable so far this season.

Road win against an average team with a 10:00 a.m. kickoff? Handled Carolina in the season opener.

Home win against a good team? Demolished the 49ers in Seahawks Stadium.

No letdown against a bad team? Destroyed the Jaguars in Seattle.

This week presents a different and quite daunting challenge. For the Seahawks, playing the Texans is a lot like playing themselves. Houston plays in a loud stadium and fields a similarly stout defense and a similarly potent offense.

The difference is that Seattle enters today's contest with a makeshift O-Line. Paul McQuistan is a good guard, but he has disappointed thus far as a fill-in for All-Pro left tackle Russell Okung. Now Lemuel Jeanpierre must step up for All-Pro center Max Unger, and rookie Michael Bowie needs to replace right tackle Breno Giacomini. The reserves looked good last week against Jacksonville last week in garbage time, but now they need to develop the chemistry to open holes and protect the passer against the world's most fearsome pass rush, keyed by All-Pro badasses JJ Watt and Brian Cushing. Russell Wilson is an escape artist in the backfield, but he will need to raise that art to a new level today.

The defense should be able to keep it close, but today's game is the ultimate test for Seattle.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Opportunity Today

Being a very good team playing a very bad team presents a real challenge and a test of character for coaches and players.

Good teams sometimes play down to the level of inferior opponents. Great teams never do.

Today's game against the hapless Jaguars presents an opportunity for Seattle to show that it is a great team.

In the regular season marathon, every milepost matters. Every victory helps, and every loss hurts. Any misstep can make the difference between missing and making the playoffs, between backing in as a wild card or busting in as division champions, between a first round battle for survival or a hard-earned bye, between scrapping for wins on the road or locking up home field advantage and hosting playoff games in the House of Pain backed by the world's loudest crowd.

If I were Coach Carroll, I would deactivate Marshawn Lynch and split carries between Robert Turbin and Christine Michael. We know Turbo can handle the load, but we need to see what that kid from A&M can do. Give the Beast a week to heal and hunger, and then unleash him upon the Texans next week.

Let Russell Wilson run the offense and find the rapport with his receivers that has proved elusive thus far this season. Let the O-Line establish some chemistry without its cornerstone, Russell Okung. Score early and often, build a lead, and then let T-Jack play the second half. Sit Paul McQuistan and Breno Giamcomini and give some work to rookie tackles Alvin Bailey and Michael Bowie; we need those kids to grow up fast. Let Lemuel Jeanpierre relieve Max Unger at center.

Do the same thing on defense. Crush Jacksonville with your starters, and then let the reserves keep them buried in the second half.

If the starters take care of business, then this can be a fifth preseason game and a half-bye for our starters.

Go, Hawks!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Will Rob return?

Professional obligations prevented me from seeing the first 3 exhibition games, though I did get to witness the last preseason beatdown of the hapless Raiders. Oakland has been bad for so long, it shouldn't still be fun to defeat them, but it is... even after a decade in different divisions, the memory of 25 years as division rivals remains strong, even in games that don't really count. Seattle's backups dominated their starters, and their backups couldn't handle our third and fourth string players.

Carroll and Schneider continue to astonish with the sheer ruthlessness of their personnel decisions. It looks like they cut Pro Bowl fullback Michael Robinson basically because he got sick. Even for sometimes soulless Great Collabor-haters, that's a remarkably ice-cold dismissal of an athlete who is 1) an inspirational team leader, 2) a human battering ram and 3) one of the league's most viable emergency quarterbacks.

I refuse to believe that Rob's separation from the team is permanent. Since he's too sick to play for Seattle at this point, he's probably also too sick to try out for or sign with another franchise. Many teams don't even use fullbacks anymore, so there may not be many suitors for his services.

Thus, Seattle can evaluate Derrick Coleman and Spencer Ware to see if they can satisfactorily replace Rob. If Coleman and Ware disappoint, then the Seahawks could probably reclaim Robinson at a reduced rate by offering him a modest short-term contract.

The Seahawks are carrying an unusually large number of defensive linemen, because so many members of that unit are banged up and in questionable health. Perhaps, as that position group solidifies, the team would find room for Rob. The fullback's ability to play quarterback has historically freed Seattle from needing to carry a third quarterback on their roster. Now that the Jets have signed Brady Quinn, Seattle doesn't have a trained backup to call on if Wilson or T-Jack get hurt.

Similarly, I wonder if Antoine Winfield's decision to retire is really a stratagem to avoid getting picked up by a bad team, so he can remain available as an injury replacement for Seattle.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Bring back T-Jack!

I never imagined I'd write a post under that title.

Pleased with the progress of rookie quarterback EJ Wilson, the Buffalo Bills released Tarvaris Jackson.

Seattle should sign T-Jack to compete for the backup position. I'm excited by Jerrod Johnson's potential, but I worry about having only a rookie on the roster behind Russell Wilson. Jackson did not play brilliantly for Seattle in 2011, but earned the respect and loyalty of his coaches and teammates, and he fought like a warrior to stay on the field, playing with a torn labrum. He didn't pout in training camp last year; he competed collegially with Wilson and Matt Flynn. T-Jack has had far more successful NFL game experience than Brady Quinn. He is familiar with our basic offense, and athletic enough to run the new read option wrinkles. He's already familiar with most of the receivers on our roster, including Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice, whom he threw to in Minnesota.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Finally, a modicum of accountability

The Diehard appreciated Pete Carroll's apparently earnest public acknowledgement that his team's character issues are "real serious."

It was illuminating to hear the coach explain how the team addresses conduct issues. However, he missed an opportunity to concede that consistent character failures by Seahawk athletes constitute evidence that the team's methods require refinement.

Fortunately, the team's decision to cut Josh Portis after his DUI bust signaled that Seattle is starting to take a harder line against players guilty of inexplicable dumbassitude... at least when those players are expendable reserves who probably would not have made the team, anyway.

Now, Seattle should sign go ahead and sign Tyler Thigpen.

As for Carroll, now that he's getting on the right track with regard to player discipline, he should work on his grammar. The adverbial form in the English language is incredibly simple to execute. When a college-educated person consistently botches adverbs, that's "real serious."

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A case where I hate being right

In my last post, I mused about the peril of loading your roster with character-challenged athletes.

Defensive end Bruce Irvin, Seattle's 2012 first round pick, was one of those guys, a high school dropout with a disorderly conduct arrest during college.

Now comes the news that Irvin must sit out the first four regular season games this year because he got busted for using a banned performance-enhancing drug.

It's a good thing the Seahawks have loaded their roster with D-linemen. We'll certainly need that depth now, at least during the season's first quarter.

To his credit, Irvin's public statements on the matter sound appropriately contrite. I'd like to interpret that as evidence of some component of personal accountability in the player's value system and perhaps also in Coach Carroll's team culture.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Talent vs. character

In terms of talent, I really like Seattle's offseason moves.

If Percy Harvin can stay healthy, then he could be the catalyst to upgrade our offense from decent to dominant.

Never in team history have the Seahawks had two great starting wide receivers line up on the field at the same time, but the reunion of ex-Vikings Harvin and Sidney Rice could change that. Rice's opportunities thus far in Seattle have been limited by frequent double coverage facilitated by the fact that defenses generally have not feared our other starting wide receiver. While neither Golden Tate nor Doug Baldwin would qualify as elite starting wideouts, they are unusually talented third and fourth receivers. For good measure, Seattle spent a fourth-round pick on Chris Harper, a big target who can also run and throw the ball, as he played quarterback in high school and for Oregon State before converting to wide receiver and finishing at Kansas State.

A stronger corps of wide receivers should strain opposing defenses and create more chances for tight ends Zach Miller and Anthony McCoy to catch the ball.

By drafting Texas A&M running back Christine Michael (2nd round) and LSU fullback Spencer Ware, the Seahawks added depth to the power running game. That gives Seattle three interchangeable battering rams at running back (All-Pro Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin, Michael) and two at fullback (Pro Bowler Michael Robinson, Ware). This unrelenting rotation of big, bruising backs with fresh legs will punish defensive fronts already thinned by the need to counter our enhanced receiving corps and contain our elusive quarterback. Meanwhile, the versatile Harvin can be the shifty change-of-pace running threat that Leon Washington never really managed to become for the Seahawks. (Although Washington is among the most feared returners in league history, he has begun to fade with age, and Harvin is at this point the more potent special teams threat.)

Assistant head coach and offensive line coach Tom Cable continues to play a strong role in Seattle's draft strategy. Despite the strength of his position group, Seattle drafted two O-linemen to cultivate additional depth, including another 7th round conversion project. Last year, Cable successfully developed NC State defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy into a starting-calibre offensive guard. This year, he will attempt to transform NE Oklahoma State defensive tackle Michael Bowie into a backup center. I'm betting Bowie winds up on the practice squad, but I think I wrote that about Sweezy last year, too, and Cable proved me wrong.

On offense, my sole worry remains the backup quarterback position. I continue to believe that Seneca Wallace and Tyler Thigpen were better options than either Brady Quinn or Josh Portis. Quinn might have won the tryout, but Wallace and Thigpen have played respectably and have won games. Quinn hasn't. He is a choke machine. As for Portis, if he can't complete passes in preseason against scrubs, what will happen when he faces a real NFL starting defense?

Our roster is deep everywhere except behind Russell Wilson, our franchise quarterback. Is any other team in the league risking as precipitous a plunge in player quality at the position?

so much depends

a young
glazed with rain
beside his choke-prone
Thigpen remains a free agent. What would be the harm in inviting him to compete for the backup position?

Seattle also used the draft to fortify one of the NFL's strongest corps of defenders.

Although already loaded on the D-line, the Seahawks still picked up 2-3 defensive linemen. This confirms Seattle's preference for affordable young talent, and confirms that free agents Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett are probably nothing more than short-term plugs at the position.

Analysts expected the Seahawks to load up on linebackers. At most, they took one. It's hard to classify Ty Powell, as he played safety, then linebacker and then defensive end at Division II Harding University in Arkansas. Seattle will probably deploy him as a pass rushing linebacker. The Seahawks seem content with the young talent they have developed in the linebacking corps. Though a serviceable starter, Leroy Hill will not be hard to replace. He never realized the promise of his Pro Bowl rookie season, but he amply fulfilled our worst fears regarding his character.

The Seahawks boast the league's strongest defensive secondary, but Seattle still drafted Tharold Simon out of LSU, a big cornerback who should be able to spell Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman on the outside.

Simon, who got arrested two days before the NFL draft, is one of many new Seahawks who bring considerable baggage with them in terms of character:

Percy Harvin clashed with his coaches and teammates in Minnesota. Believing himself underpaid, he threatened to quit the Vikings during the 2012 offseason. He openly questioned the ability of Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder. He also tested positive for marijuana at the NFL combine in 2009.

Texas A&M coaches knocked Christine Michael for his laziness and bad attitude. He was benched early last season and did not play in the 2013 Cotton Bowl.

Simon was arrested two days before the draft for obnoxious behavior in his hometown on the eve of a day in his honor.

Ware was a disappointment at LSU, often out of shape, and got suspended for using synthetic marijuana as a sophomore.

One of GM John Schneider's bargain-hunting personnel strategies is to pursue players with character concerns or injury issues that deflate their draft value.

So far, Coach Pete Carroll has generally succeeded in eliciting good game performances from employees with past character problems, but off-the-field issues have ended Hill's career, created distractions for Sherman, cost Browner four games, may cause Lynch to miss some games this season, and have kept Cable from consideration as a head coach.

I worry. It's easier to redeem troubled athletes when most of the players on your team are high-character guys. A few projects are fine, but when you've got the Dirty Dozen (or two) on a 53-man roster, then that corrodes the culture of your team.

Despite Carroll and Schneider's apparent indifference to good citizenship, Seattle is fortunate to have team leaders of indisputably high character like Red Bryant, Michael Robinson and Russell Wilson. Since neither the front office nor the coaches evince much in the way of moral leadership, it will be up to them to mold this motley assortment of ethical athletes and talented misfits into something resembling a championship team.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Thoughts on replacing Matt Flynn

It looks like backup quarterback Matt Flynn is getting traded to the Raiders. He served Seattle admirably in his brief time with us. I'm happy for him that he's going to get a chance to start, but sad that he's headed for Oakland, a team unable to facilitate successful quarterback play for more than a decade and counting.

Trading Flynn benefits Seattle by clearing a few million dollars worth of salary cap space for other uses.

However, it also leaves the Seahawks without a capable backup. With Flynn on the bench, the team would have been OK if we ever lost starter Russell Wilson to injury.

Now that he's gone, it leaves a terrifying void at the position.

Many analysts propose backups with skill sets similar to DangeRuss, so the backup could execute the read option.

This is folly, for several reasons:

1) Although the read option is a potent weapon, the Seahawks ran it on less than 5% of offensive snaps last season. The frequency of use increased as the season went on, and that trend should continue as long as the formation remains effective. However, it is almost certain that the Seahawks will continue to run the overwhelming majority of their offensive snaps out of standard formations. Thus, the first priority should be finding a backup who can execute the position traditionally by throwing out of the pocket.

2) Percy Harvin can run the read option effectively, too.

3) More important than running the read option is Wilson's ability to extend the play by scrambling. We don't necessarily need his backup to be able to do that. DangeRuss scrambles largely to compensate for being short: he can't see over the line, so he often needs to move laterally find a throwing lane. A taller backup quarterback with better vision could get away with being less nimble.

4) No available quarterback has a skill set similar to Wilson. No one possesses his unique combination of focus, judgement, maturity, playbook mastery, team leadership, accuracy, touch, arm strength, elusiveness and footspeed. If we were to rank the importance of the ten aforementioned qualities to good quarterback play, then footspeed would rank last on the list behind everything else. There are many great slowfooted quarterbacks, but no great slowwitted ones. Physical skills don't matter if your teammates won't follow your lead. Elusiveness and arm strength means nothing if you can't throw with accuracy and touch.

This is a poor draft for quarterbacks, and I would not want to roll the dice with a rookie backup, except as a third stringer or practice squad project.

There is no need to call Seahawk practice squad perennial Josh Portis back from the Toronto Argonauts, unless he has magically developed the ability to throw the ball accurately.

Fortunately, several free agents crowd the market:

Charlie Batch – PIT
John Beck – FA
Kellen Clemens – STL
A.J. Feeley – FA
Rex Grossman – WAS

Caleb Hanie – DEN

Kevin Kolb – FA
Matt Leinart – OAK
Byron Leftwich – PIT
J.P. Losman – FA
Luke McCown – ATL
Stephen McGee – FA
Donovan McNabb – FA (retired?)
Jordan Palmer – JAC
Brady Quinn – KC
Chris Redman – FA (retired?)
Sage Rosenfels – FA
JaMarcus Russell – FA
Troy Smith – FA
Tyler Thigpen – BUF
Seneca Wallace – FA
Vince Young – FA

There is no need to overspend here. Seattle should be able to secure the services of a few good men to compete for the backup job for the veteran minimum. None of the available free agents are such sure things that they should earn more than that, but many have shown flashes of potential.

Several on the list have established themselves as capable game managers: Feeley, Grossman, McCown, Kolb, Leftwich, Losman, McNabb, Redman, Rosenfels, Smith, Thigpen and Wallace.

Surely we could get one or two of them for the veteran minimum and compete for the backup job.

When they're in the zone, Grossman and Kolb can really play. When they're not, they can really kill you. Neither is likely to sign a reasonable contract.

Let's pass on Byron Leftwich and his world's longest windup.

I liked Redman as a starter in Atlanta well enough that I questioned the team's decision to draft and start Matt Ryan. While Matty Ice has panned out just fine, that doesn't mean Redman isn't good. Did the Falcons cut him last summer because McCown was better, or because McCown was cheaper?

McNabb and Rosenfels could be effective mentors for DangeRuss.

Other free agent quarterbacks are established failures with possible potential.

Is there a Steve Young in the mix? (Young played poorly for Tampa Bay before evolving into a Hall of Fame quarterback in San Francisco as Joe Montana's understudy with Bill Walsh.)

No harm in rolling the dice on one or two of these unproven projects.

Coach Carroll got good play out of Matt Leinart at USC. No one has managed that feat in the NFL, but if anybody could, it would be Sunshine Pete.

JaMarcus Russell and Vince Young are intriguing physical specimens who might respond to Carroll's remarkable ability to reform bad attitudes.

As often happens, nostalgia contaminates the Diehard's thinking on this matter.

I'm sad that Indianapolis beat us to the punch and signed Matt Hasselbeck to back up and mentor Andrew Luck. I was pleased, however, that the former Seahawk declined to sign with Arizona. It would have been sad to see the tough defenses of the NFC West brutalize the aging veteran and tarnish his legacy. I'm glad Hasselbeck has gracefully embraced his role as backup and young quarterbacks.)

If he can still play, then the Diehard would welcome the return of Seneca Wallace.

If Seattle signs one or two established veterans and one or two projects to commence a vigorous training camp competition for backup quarterback, then we should be able to find capable quarterback depth at bargain rates.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Seahawks rock free agency

The Diehard stands in awe of Seattle GM John Schneider. Having loaded the roster with young talent at bargain rates, he exploits his team's enviable salary cap latitude to sign top free agents to fortify the team's only glaring weaknesses: wide receiver and pass rusher.

To increase pressure on opposing quarterbacks, Schneider signed two defensive ends. Cliff Avril of Detroit is a Pro Bowl-caliber pass rusher (though he has never made the Pro Bowl). Michael Bennett of Tampa Bay is a versatile player who can line up at end or tackle.

If Chris Clemons can't return to form, and if Bruce Irvin can't get any better, then Avril and Bennett help the defense get better.

However, if Clemons recovers fully and Irvin matures as expected, then Seattle may field the league's most terrifying rotation of pass rushers.

Seattle signed Avril and Bennett to reasonable short-term contracts. This gives both players a chance to earn a big payday a year or two down the road, either from the Seahawks or--more likely--from some other team. Meanwhile, Seattle buys some time to find and groom younger and more affordable pass rush talent through the draft. Moreover, Schneider avoided making any commitments that could prevent us from keeping our team's core players as they qualify for free agency in the next few years.

The Seahawks did make a substantial long-term commitment to Percy Harvin. I'll post later on the exciting possibilities Harvin brings to the team.

It was sad to part ways with Leon Washington, but with league rule changes decreasing the frequency of kickoff returns, the only case for keeping two great returners on your roster is as insurance against injury. Seattle never found a way to capitalize upon Washington's skills as a running back, but he'll be a good fit in the New England offense, which consistently and effectively features shifty, undersized backs with good hands. As a Patriot, Washington will have an opportunity to set more career records and continue stating the case that he may be the greatest kick returner in NFL history.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Decline to re-sign Leroy Hill

Weed smoking wifebeater psycho, follow Jerramy Stevens into free agent oblivion. You have disgraced your team, your city, your sex, your species. Good riddance.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Wilson walks on water in the Pro Bowl

The Pro Bowl was fun, at least for Seahawks fans.

Athletes on both sides played harder than usual in the Pro Bowl yesterday, but the NFC clearly wanted to win more.

Several Seahawks played impressively.

Free safety Earl Thomas started and played full speed nearly every defensive down into the third quarter, flying all over the field and hitting hard. The lone delegate from the Legion of Boom made a great read, jumped a route, and grabbed a clutch interception in the second quarter at the expense of Matt Schaub. The AFC struggled to score as long as Thomas stayed on the field. After Thomas exited sometime in the third quarter, the AFC finally managed to put together some long scoring drives

The AFC defense shut down Adrian Peterson, but could not stop Marshawn Lynch. He busted out some Beast Mode on a spectacular 12-yard run, backpedaling through a pile of AFC defenders who weren't expecting physical running in the Pro Bowl. Lynch later scored a touchdown.

Max Unger played well at center. Russell Okung saw action at both left and right tackle, and dominated except in a couple of cases where J.J. Watt manhandled him. Watt is a beast.

I don't think I saw Michael Robinson on the field at any point.

As predicted, Russell Wilson rose to the occasion.

Just like last year, the two veteran NFC quarterbacks made the rookie play most of the second half.  Russell Wilson responded by upstaging Eli Manning and Drew Brees.

Wilson completed 8 of 10 passes for 98 yards and 3 touchdowns. Two of those scoring throws would have been sacks for most other NFL quarterbacks, but Wilson scrambled out of trouble and found receivers downfield.

After Wilson's third touchdown, the NFC protected their large lead by running out the clock.

Only one quarterback has ever thrown for more than 3 touchdowns in a Pro Bowl (Marc Bulger threw four in 2004).

And Wilson's a rookie.

And a third round draft pick.

Somehow, Wilson didn't win the MVP award. It went to Kyle Rudolph, the NFC's leading receiver, even though Vincent Jackson and A.J. Green had better receiving days.
But no one on the field played a better game than Wilson.

When is he going to get some respect?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Aloha for Seattle's Magnificent Seven

I'm a slow learner.

I'm psyched for the Pro Bowl again.

I never expect anything more than a fun scrimmage, and sometimes the game fails to meet even that modest expectation.

But I love to see Seahawks in the mix.

Incredibly, although Seattle fielded the league's best defense, free safety Earl Thomas was the only Seahawk defender to make the NFC squad. The Pro Bowl is usually a passing derby, so Thomas will have lots of opportunities to make plays.

Leon Washington returns to Hawaii as the conference's most feared returner.

Marshawn Lynch will back up Adrian Peterson at tailback. Most Pro Bowls feature very few handoffs, but Lynch ran relatively hard last year. AP must be bone-tired after logging 2,000+ yards, and Lynch's foot may not have healed, so we'll likely see even less running than normally.

If he does take a handoff, Lynch will run behind some familiar blockers, including left tackle Russell Okung and center Max Unger. Human sledgehammer Michael Robinson returns as the NFC's fullback. (I'd still love to see a trick play where the former Notre Dame quarterback gets to throw a pass.)

Okung, Unger and Robinson will spend a lot of time providing pass protection for the NFC's quarterbacks, including late addition Russell Wilson, an injury replacement for Russell Griffin III and "Still Cryin'" Matt Ryan.

Wilson is probably our best bet for a good game.

The Seahawks quarterback is a relentless competitor who can inspire his teammates to exceed their potential, but the utter meaninglessless of the Pro Bowl constitutes the ultimate test of an athlete's competitive spirit and motivational ability.

As John McGrath of the Tacoma News Tribune noted, Wilson may be financially motivated to win today. For most of his multimillion dollar teammates and opponents, the difference between the losing the Pro Bowl ($40,000 payout) and winning it ($65,000) is chump change. But for Wilson--a mere semimillionaire, perhaps the lowest-paid Pro Bowler--$25,000 is real money.

The Seattle quarterback is likely to get plenty of playing time. Last year, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers hazed Cam Newton by forcing the rookie to play the entire second half. The AFC defense mercilessly exploited his inexperience, and the Panther laid an egg, completing just one-third of his passes and throwing 3 interceptions. It became pretty clear that Newton did not deserve to be there.

I expect Wilson to fare better. He will likely rise to the occasion, embracing the Pro Bowl as an opportunity to show that he belongs with the best in the game.

It should be fun.

I hope it's fun.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Carroll goes hormonal and blows the game

Second quarter, Seahawks down 13-0. Seattle's efficient march into the red zone has bogged down. We have the ball, 4th and one on the Atlanta 11.

Decision time.

Just kick the field goal, Pete. End the shutout. Erase that goose egg. Get some points on the board. If we go for it and fail, it will only embolden Atlanta and demoralize our team.

Uh oh, the offense is staying in. We're going for the first down. Carroll is going hormonal and rolling the dice.

That's OK, we have a lot of ways to pick up a yard. Just don't call the fullback dive to Michael Robinson. That has worked reliably several times in similar situations this season, because everyone keys on Marshawn Lynch in short yardage situations, but the Falcons must have done film study, so they'll expect the fullback dive and key on Rob instead. Call anything but the fullback dive.

$#!+. We're running the fullback dive. Atlanta knew it was coming and stopped Rob for a loss. Falcons ball on downs.

Fourth quarter, Seahawks up 28-27 late in a heroic second half.

With a half-minute to go, the best defense in football needs to stop one of the better offenses from getting within field goal range. We've been stopping them routinely for most of the half.

Atlanta has their best kickoff return of the game, to their own 28.

Matt Ryan completes a long pass to midfield.

First down on the fifty for the Falcons. Thirteen seconds remain in the game.

Seahawk defenders crowd near the line of scrimmage, bluffing blitz. I hope it's a bluff. Don't blitz! We haven't successfully pressured Ryan all game. Our best defense is a swarm of defensive backs and linebackers in coverage. That's what has shut down the Atlanta offense here in the second half. Stick with what's working.

Oh, no. It's not a bluff. Pete's gone hormonal again, and we're blitzing two defensive backs. I love that when it works, but it hasn't been working today. The Falcons ably defend the blitz, just as they've done all game. Ryan completes yet another pass to Tony Gonzalez, this one for 18 yards. We could have used more defenders in coverage.

Atlanta's lining up to attempt a 49-yard field goal.  Wide right! Yes! Seahawks win!

Timeout? Hormonal Carroll called a timeout to ice the kicker? Does that ever work? Their kicker gets a do-over. Splits the uprights. Seahawks lose.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

It's time to burn Atlanta again

In 1865, retreating Confederate forces torched Atlanta to deny supplies to invading Union forces under the command of General William Tecumseh Sherman. In keeping with strong southern traditions of delusional paranoia, denying responsibility, and misattributing of blame, the city's residents blamed the northerners for the conflagration.

It would be sweet if the Falcons were to self-destruct today against Seattle, because that would create a perfect repeat of what happened in Atlanta during the Civil War.

But that's unlikely. Our opponents today are not outnumbered, underfed, and ill-equipped chumps like the Confederate forces of the 19th century.

If Seattle is to win, the Seahawks will have to torch Atlanta themselves.

Atlanta is 7-1 at home this year. They rested last week while Seattle battled Washington. They are strongly motivated to end a recent history of one-and-done playoff appearances.

The Falcons field one of the league's most potent offenses.

During the regular season, Atlanta was 7th in points scored, 8th in overall yards gained, 29th in rushing yards, and 6th in passing yards.

Seattle was 9th in points scored, 17th in overall yards gained, 3rd in rushing yards, and 27th in passing yards.

This is Ground Cable versus Ryan Air.

Quarterback Matt Ryan completed a league-high 68.6% of his passes, a stunningly efficient figure matched only by Peyton Manning this year, and rarely exceeded in the history of the NFL. "Matty Ice" threw for 4,719 yards, 32 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions.

Ryan threw five of those picks on one uncharacteristically bad day at home against the Cardinals. (Incredibly, Arizona still lost. It doesn't matter how many turnovers your defense grabs if your offense can't move the ball and score.)

How did the Cardinals shatter Matty Ice's composure? Relentless blitzes prompted Ryan to make several ill-advised throws.

Can Seattle imitate Arizona's defensive success against Atlanta?

Probably not. An injury has ended the season for our best pass rusher, Chris Clemons, leaving rookie Bruce Irvin with big shoes to fill. Clemons played most defensive downs and can stop opposing runners. In limited action, Irvin has been an inconsistent pass rusher and a liability against opposing rushers. (He also took a cheap shot on Robert Griffin III after the whistle last week. Uncool.)

Seattle signed a personal trainer who hasn't played in the NFL since 2007 as a backup defensive end/pass rush specialist.

If we're going to put any pressure on Ryan, it's probably going to come from linebacker and defensive back blitzes.

However, the players at those positions will have their hands full covering Pro Bowl wideouts Julio Jones and Roddy White and All-Pro tight end Tony Gonzalez, a future Hall of Famer and the best receiver ever to play his position. Running back Jaquizz Rodgers, the team's fourth leading receiver, has caught more balls than any Seahawk this year.

Apparently, Seattle plans to put Richard Sherman, our best cornerback, on Julio Jones; the two men are roughly the same size. Big Brandon Browner is slated to cover Roddy White, a much smaller man. Strong safety Kam Chancellor will be assigned to Tony Gonzalez.

I hope this is misinformation. Sherman on Jones makes sense, but the rest of it doesn't. Chancellor is a great tackler, but not a good cover guy.

This is what I would do:

1) Play at least nickel defense. Atlanta isn't much of a threat to run the ball, anyway, but my scheme keeps Chancellor free to play the run or to help linebackers cover running backs who go out for passes. Ratchet up to dime or bandit defenses as necessary to thwart multiple-receiver sets and to apply pressure Matt Ryan.

2) Keep Sherman on Jones.

3) Assign nickel corner Marcus Trufant to cover White, with generous support from free safety Earl Thomas.

4) Put Browner on Gonzalez, because he's big enough to handle a tight end. Browner shouldn't press Gonzalez.

5) Place a linebacker or a defensive end across the line of scrimmage from Gonzalez on every down. That defender's job is to hit Gonzalez to disrupt his route timing, but then to peel off to rush the passer, play the run, or provide containment as circumstances dictate.

So much for Seattle's defense.

What about our offense?

Russell Wilson and his men face an Atlanta defense that ranked 5th in points allowed, 24th in yards allowed, 21st in rushing yards allowed, 23rd in passing yards allowed.

Atlanta yields yards liberally, but yields relatively few points, in part because they generate turnovers. The Falcon and Seahawk defenses finished the regular season tied for 5th in the NFL with 31 defensive turnovers. Atlanta and Seattle's offenses also tied in turnovers surrendered, with 18.

Fortunately, Seattle's offense can succeed by doing what it does best: protect the ball and chew up the clock with a run-oriented attack.

Some nice returns from Leon Washington would help. Clutch punting is always appreciated.

The Diehard salutes Steven Hauschka on a great season, wishes him a speedy recovery, and welcomes Ryan Longwell to the team.

Go, Hawks!

Burn Atlanta again.

Four Seattle All-Pros

Associated Press sportswriters gave All-Pro vindication to Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, consoling the sensitive soul somewhat for the wounds sustained by fan and peer Pro Bowl voting, which made him merely a Pro Bowl alternate. Evidently, reporters don't consider Sherman tainted by by allegations of Adderall use.

Center Max Unger, running back Marshawn Lynch and free safety Earl Thomas also earned All-Pro honors.

Seattle's four selections ranked second among all NFL teams, behind only San Franscisco.

Should Bobby Wagner be the NFL defensive rookie of the year?

Several first-year defenders had stellar seasons in 2012, making it difficult to decide who deserves defensive rookie of the year honors.

The most credible candidates rank among the best players in the league at their respective positions.

This criterion immediately excludes Seattle's 2012 first-round pick, Bruce Irvin, a pass rush specialist at the defensive end position. Irvin had 8 sacks, but 28 NFL players had more, and 3 players had more than twice as many (Von Miller, Aldon Smith and J.J. Watt).

Three rookie linebackers deserve serious consideration:

Lavonte David, OLB, Buccaneers: 139 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 passes defended, 1 interception

Luke Kuechly, MLB, Panthers: 164 tackles, 1 sack, 8 passes defended, 2 interceptions, 3 fumble recoveries

Bobby Wagner, MLB, Seahawks: 140 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 passes defended, 3 interceptions

The trio acquitted themselves admirably in pass coverage.

All three were prolific tackling machines. Kuechly led the league in tackles. Wagner ranked seventh; David finished tied for eighth.

Tackling statistics appear to give the edge to Kuechly, but the Panther had more time and more snaps to make those tackles:

Carolina's defense averaged 30:10 of time on the field last year (19th in the league), defending against 1,010 offensive snaps (10th in the NFL).

Green Bay's D averaged 29:54 (14th in the NFL), defending against 1,033 offensive snaps (20th in the NFL)

Seattle's defense averaged just 28:27 on the field (4th in the NFL), defending against 964 offensive snaps (2nd in the NFL).

Good defenses minimize the time of possession and numbers of snaps for opposing offenses. This is good for the team but bad for the stat lines of individual defenders. (Of course, defenses also benefit when their own team's offense maximizes time of possession and keeps them off the field.)

Wagner played even fewer snaps than the above statistics suggest, because Seattle was able to sub him out and give him some rest in the second halves of three consecutive blowouts late in the season.

So, adjusted for playing time, Wagner is as prolific a tackler as Kuechly.

Moreover, Wagner's teammates are more capable than Kuechly's. It is easier to rack up tackles when you're a stud on an average defense. It's harder when you're a rookie surrounded by talented veteran defenders.

Leadership also matters. As middle linebackers, Kuechly and Wagner were the quarterbacks of the their respective defenses, relaying instructions from the coaching staff, and directing their teammates on-the-fly in pre-snap adjustments as offensive alignments shift and quarterbacks call audibles. Rookies rarely succeed in that role, but both rose to the occasion.

Wagner did so well in training camp that Seattle traded away Barrett Ruud, the veteran middle linebacker they had signed as insurance in case the rookie failed to master the nuances of the position in time for the start of the season.

Kuechly started 2012 as an outside linebacker, but moved inside early in the season when an injury sidelined Carolina's stalwart middle linebacker, Jon Beason.

Since they were the quarterbacks of their respective defenses, perhaps the overall performance of the Carolina and Seattle defenses should count for something.

Carolina: 19th in points allowed (23 per game), 10th in yards allowed, 14th in rushing yards allowed, 13th in passing yards allowed

Seattle: 1st in points allowed (only 15.3 per game), 4th in yards allowed, 10th in rushing yards allowed, 6th in passing yards allowed

Edge: Wagner

Moreover, team success matters. Wagner's defensive leadership helped Seattle post an 11-5 record plus a playoff victory. Despite Kuechly's individual excellence, Carolina finished 7-9 and failed to qualify for the postseason.

Advantage: Wagner.

While Wagner was, in my view, better than any rookie linebacker and better than any rookie defensive lineman.

However, in just 11 starts, cornerback Casey Hayward of the Green Bay Packers defended 21 passes (tied for 3rd in the NFL) and hauled in 6 interceptions (tied for 5th in the league). Green Bay's defense doesn't scare anybody, but Hayward won some respect.

Until last night. Green Bay's entire defense disgraced themselves last night. In the second half, the whole team quit, submitting meekly while Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers thrashed them. Hayward was a relative nonfactor.

The official rookie of the year balloting concluded before the playoffs began, but for me, Wagner's superior performance in the postseason seals his case for defensive rookie of the year.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Russell Wilson blocks downfield!

Other writers have already chronicled many aspects of Seattle's glorious road win over Washington last week.

Many have marveled at Russell Wilson's prowess as a passer and a runner, but his ability as a downfield blocker for Marshawn Lynch has developed remarkably over the last several games.

I first expressed admiration for Wilson's downfield blocking after Seattle blew out the Cardinals:

"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." ("Arizona, RIP" Seahawks Diehard 12/15/12)

I was right. Against St. Louis in the season finale, Wilson did more than run interference. He threw a couple of legitimate blocks downfield to help Lynch pick up some extra yards.

Last week in D.C., Wilson mixed it up. The rookie quarterback ran interference on one play. On another play, right after handing off to Lynch, he slipped in front of the running back to set up a pick against a closing defender. Finally, on the Beast's touchdown run, DangeRuss streaked past the running back to shove Skins cornerback Josh Wilson, unbalancing him just enough to allow Lynch to plow through three defenders en route to the end zone.

#3 is remarkably judicious about his downfield blocks. When setting up a pick or running interference will suffice, that's all he will do. If the situation requires a shove or a block, he'll do what it takes.

Until last Sunday, Wilson was equally judicious about sliding when running with the ball himself. Unfortunately, the need to lead a comeback evidently influenced him to run upright, dive headfirst and take some unnecessary hits in a quest for more yardage.

Message to Russell: I love you, man. It's OK to slide once you have the first down. No one doubts your toughness or your will to win. We need you. Please go back to sliding when it makes sense.

Incidentally, I'm pleased to see that Josh Wilson is still a starting cornerback in the NFL. I admired his work for Seattle as a kick returner and as a defensive back. While I was sad to see him go, the separation seems to have benefited both parties. Wilson wouldn't be a starter if he had stayed with Seattle. He might not even have survived training camp roster cuts. That's how good our secondary is now.

Washington's coaches and physicians should be ashamed of themselves for letting Robert Griffin to play on that damaged knee. The fact that RG3 wanted to play is no excuse. Fierce competitors often want to play through catastrophic injuries; good coaches and good doctors are supposed to shut them down so they don't hurt themselves unnecessarily or unduly damage their team's competitive prospects. For moral and competitive reasons, it is better to field a healthy backup than to push a crippled starter onto the field.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Why Seattle must shred the Skins

1. Because the Skins defiled our logo and curse around little girls

Before their game in Seattle last November, several Washington players trampled the Seahawk logo at midfield while Pro Bowl cornerback DeAngelo Hall sought to psych up his teammates with an oration peppered with profanity... within earshot of a little girl who happened to be on the field for the coin toss.

This nearly prompted a pregame brawl between the two teams. Seahawk fullback Michael Robinson assertively counseled Hall and his teammates regarding their unfortunate breaches of decorum: “You got a little girl out there, you got to watch your mouth, man.... You’re not going to come in our stadium and disrespect us like that."

Several Seattle players had to restrain Robinson and other Seahawks to prevent them from supplementing this verbal guidance with physical discipline.

Robinson remembers. He and his teammates intend to teach the Skins how to mind their manners today.

2. Because the Skins beat us in our house last year

The foregoing affront should have provided ample motivation for the team and the 12th Man to beat the Skins last year.

Seattle coasted into the contest on a two-game winning streak; Washington staggered into town having lost six straight, with only one road win on the season.

Nevertheless, the Skins humiliated us at home.

Washington's defense stacked the box against the run and challenged Tarvaris Jackson to beat them through the air. He couldn't. Fortunately, Russell Wilson can.

More disturbing was what Washington's offense did to our vaunted defense:

"Throughout the game, Skins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan outcoached Seattle's dim, manic duo of defensive bastardminds, Pete Carroll and Gus Bradley. Shanahan the Younger dialed up an inspired mix of stretch runs, screen passes, and crossing routes that kept our defenders on their heels, backpedaling. Few other teams have managed to run the ball effectively against the Seahawks. Our defenders missed many tackles. If Rex Grossman weren't so gaffe-prone, the Skins would have blown us out." ("Outcoached and outplayed," Seahawks Diehard 11//27/11)

Seattle's defense is generally stronger this year--except against the run--but Robert Griffin III, even when injured, is a far better quarterback than Grossman.

Stupid penalties were also a factor in last year's loss, and we haven't solved that problem as a team, yet.

We can't let the Skins outcoach us and outplay us again.

3. Because Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner need to back up all that smacktalk

I prefer it when players let their performance do the talking. Our supersized corners have given the Skins ample bulletin board motivational fodder. Sherman boasted that none of the Washington receivers scare him. Browner bragged about physically dominating Santana Moss last year.

4. Because Russell Wilson is better than Robert Griffin III

RG3 almost certainly won offensive rookie of the year. Andrew Luck probably came in second. Wilson probably finished third, or perhaps even fourth behind Alfred Morris.

By the end of the day, the folly of East Coast media bias will become manifest, as the Ravens will have eliminated the Colts, and the Seahawks will have shredded the Skins.

5. Because Marshawn Lynch is better than Alfred Morris

Mike Shanahan's system can make any running back look good. Morris overtook Lynch to finish second in the league in rushing, but only because Seattle rested Lynch during blowouts to save his legs for the playoffs. As 2010 showed, Beast Mode only intensifies in the postseason.

6. Because Seattle celebrates American Indians while Washington denigrates them

It never ceases to amaze me that the professional football franchise in our nation's capital retains a team name that is an outdated racial slur. If their name were a slur against African Americans, it would have been changed long ago. Unfortunately, our First People are too few and too distant from the concerns of this country's majority to merit similar consideration.

(The team's culture of racial insensitivity goes way back. After years of stubborn refusal, Washington finally caved to federal pressure in the '60s and became the last NFL team to integrate black players.)

Seattle's team logo pays homage to the art of Pacific Northwest Indians. (We should get a lot of love for this from Native Americans nationwide for this, but we don't, probably because their team allegiances were set before Seattle became viable. On reservations in the Southwest, the popular teams include the Chokeland Faders, the Pittsburgh Stealers, and the Arizona Cardinals.)

Let it be understood that when I refer to the Washington team as the Skins, that is not shorthand for their official team name. It is short for "Foreskins."

7. Because we got to the playoffs by beating good teams

Our record (11-5) is only a little better than Washington's (10-5), but we played a tougher schedule and beat better opponents.

Seattle went 4-1 against playoff teams, beating Green Bay, Minnesota, New England and San Francisco, but also losing once to the 49ers.

Washington went 2-2 against playoff teams: They beat Baltimore and Minnesota, but lost to Atlanta and Cincinnati.

The Skins are respectable at home (5-3), but not unbeatable.

8. Because our defense is the league's best

No team allowed fewer points. In the end, that's the only defensive statistic that matters.

Red Bryant is a monster. Our linebackers are predators. The secondary is brutally larcenous. The pass rush needs to show up.

9. Because it's time to win a road playoff game

Seriously. Is anyone else tired of hearing how we haven't won a road game since 1983?

10. Because we can't wait until next year

We were fortunate to suffer few injuries this year. Will we be so lucky in future years?

Philadelphia might hire away Gus Bradley. Will our defense be the same without him?

When this team plays up to its potential, it is the best Seahawks squad in history. This chance with this cast of characters will never come again. Seize the opportunity.