Sunday, November 29, 2015

Seahawks Win, Rapistberger Concussed, Angels Sing

Here's one for the scum: Bennett rings Big Ben's bell

Russell Wilson celebrated his 27th birthday by throwing five touchdowns to his "pedestrian" starting wideouts: three for Doug Baldwin, plus two for Jermaine Kearse.

Seattle's offense appears to be rounding into 2012-like form. The O-Line looked good early blocking for rookie Thomas Rawls, but Ben Rapistberger kept putting points on the board, forcing DangeRuss into a shootout.

The last touchdown pass to the Philippine Dream was particularly outstanding--not just because it went for 80 yards, and not just because it sealed the win for Seattle. What I really loved about it was the stiffarm that Angry Doug deployed after the catch to get a little separation, and the hustle from Tyler Lockett to throw a block to allow Baldwin to outdistance a fleeter defensive back.

The Seattle defense proved far too generous to Rapistberger, who threw for five hundred zillion yards. Fortunately, the Legion of Boom made him pay by grabbing three interceptions--two by Richard Sherman and one by Ahtyba Rubin. (Statisticians might not count the pick thrown on the 2-point try, but the Diehard does.)

Landry Jones fared even worse: throwing just four passes, he completed on to his teammates and two to Seahawks--one for Jeremy Lane on the fake field goal, and another to Kam Chancellor near the end of the game.

It was sad how seldom our defenders hit Rapistberger, but Michael Bennett made it count. I don't think it was a dirty hit--I don't think it would have been helmet-to-helmet if another Seahawk didn't hit the quarterback and lifted him a little just before Bennett made contact.

I generally don't celebrate injuries to players, but I do when a rapist gets his bell rung.

The injury to Jimmy Graham is a real bummer. We should pick up Anthony McCoy....

Beat Big Ben

Big Ben will be looking over his shoulder for Cliff Avril

Ben Rapistberger is 3-0 against Seattle.

We haven't beaten Pittsburgh since 2003.

After poor officiating helped the Stealers take Super Bowl XL, they shut us out and blew us out in both subsequent regular season meetings in Pittsburgh in 2007 and 2011.

Given that we only see the Stealers once every four years (barring the extreme improbability of another Super Bowl meeting), this may be our last chance to exact a modicum of vengeance upon Big Ben, who has never played in Seahawks Stadium. I trust the team and the 12th Man will give him an appropriately warm welcome.

...or two. (Why can't meme-makers punctuate properly?)
No players or coaches remain from that Super Bowl loss a decade ago, but presumably the Seahawks care enough about Paul Allen and the fans to do the right thing today.

Coach Carroll and many core players were with the team for the humiliating 24-0 loss in Pittsburgh four years ago, so they should have their own reasons for wanting to settle the score today--including the need to fight our way into playoff contention.

Of course, anyone with a mother, sister, daughter or a human heart should want to see someone hold Rapistberger accountable for his crimes as a serial rapist. (He escaped accountability for the two incidents we know about, but the Iron Law of Criminality dictates that the few times a scoundrel gets caught represent merely a fraction of his total offenses. I suppose this is especially true of rape committed by a wealthy and powerful celebrity, when the prospects of the victim getting justice are so demonstrably remote.)

I trust Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril to mete out justice more reliably than the courts. Sadly, Bruce Irvin--our best pass rushing linebacker--is still ailing, listed as doubtful. This would be a good time for rookie defensive end Frank Clark to make some noise.

Dude, you ain't metal. You're a rapist scumbag.
Beating Pittsburgh would be meaningful on other levels. The Stealers are 6-4, and Seattle (5-5) still hasn't beaten a winning team all year. If we hope to make a playoff run, then we'd better find a way to slay giants, because losing to the remaining winners on our schedule (Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Arizona) would guarantee that we miss the playoffs.

If Seattle's offense can maintain last week's groove, we should be OK. Bogarting the ball, sustaining drives, scoring points and keeping Big Ben off the field is the recipe for success. Pittsburgh's defense surrenders few rushing yards, in part because their offense often establishes a lead, forcing opponents to throw a lot to catch up. The Stealer D yields about as few points as Seattle's.

Presumably, Richard Sherman will limit Antonio Brown. The competition for the other cornerback slot is heating up. Cary Williams got benched for DeShawn Shead last week, and Jeremy Lane was just reactivated. Someone will need to step up to restore the luster to the Legion of Boom and shut down the Stealer wideouts. Carroll and defensive coordinator Kris Richard need to find some combination of safeties, nickel corners and linebackers to remedy our longstanding vulnerability to opposing tight ends, or Rapistberger will carve us up.

I prescribe a departure from our usual script, with insane amounts of blitzing to pulverize Big Ben.

And lots of noise from the 12th Man.

The only way to make Super Bowl XL right is to ensure that Rapistberger suffers lifelong PTSD from what is likely to be his only experience in Seahawks Stadium.

Go, Hawks!

If he's trying to acknowledge the author of his success, then he's pointing in the wrong direction

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Running back depth solutions

Seattle slept on Robert Turbin, so he's in Dallas now

In general, GM John Schneider and Coach Pete Carroll make solid personnel decisions.

However, given the uncertainty surrounding the running back position, their failure to re-sign Robert Turbin looks like an epic fail.

Marshawn Lynch is ailing and may need surgery that could knock him out for the rest of the regular season. Baby Beast Mode Thomas Rawls has vastly exceeded expectations and appears perfectly capable of carrying the load as our primary runner. Fred Jackson looks like a good third-down back, but I doubt the aging back would last long if an injury to the rookie forced him into a starting role.

Given that defensive lineman Will Tukuafu has supplanted Derrick Coleman as our starting fullback, I question whether Coleman constitutes a credible solution as our third-string tailback.

Robert Turbin, on the other hand, contributed successfully as our backup running back from 2012-2014. He's also close friends with Russell Wilson.

The Cowboys cut Christine Michael... let's grab him! 
When Turbo got injured in preseason, we cut him, hoping he'd clear waivers so he'd be available once he recovered. Unfortunately, Cleveland claimed him, played him in weeks 6-8, and then cut him on November 10th.

Seattle had plenty of time to sign him. Instead, Dallas picked him up on November 18th and he played well in last week's game. The Cowboys cut Christine Michael to make room for him; the former Aggie wound up on Washington's practice squad.

It's a shame that we missed out on Turbin, but we should consider picking up Michael. He actually runs better than Turbo. He falls short as a receiver and as a blocker in pass protection, but we have Rawls and Jackson for that.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Baby Beast Mode goes off

Seattle Seahawks running back Thomas Rawls, left, pushes off San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite, right, as he runs for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) Photo: Elaine Thompson, Associated Press / AP
Stiffarm of doom? Check. (Photo Credit: PI)

Respect to offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell for calling a nigh-perfect game. Seattle moved the ball efficiently, dominated time of possession, exploited our opponents' weaknesses and broke the spirit of the Santa Clara defense early and often.

Congratulations to Tom Cable and his patchwork O-Line, which finally came together, dominated the line of scrimmage, blew open running lanes and even performed respectably in pass protection. Even when injuries forced substitutions, the line didn't miss a beat. Let's hope the injuries aren't serious.

Accolades for Baby Beast Mode--backup rookie running back Thomas Rawls--who exceeded all expectations by amassing 255 total yards and two touchdowns. His 209 yards on the ground constituted the second-best rushing performance in franchise history.

Acclaim for our little rookie wideout Tyler Lockett, who torched the 49ers with speed for one touchdown and ran over three defenders for another. I also saw him blocking tenaciously on several downs, and saving Russell Wilson from a sack by making himself available for a long-distance lateral on a read-option keeper gone bad.

Gratitude for Angry Doug Baldwin, who continues to bail out DangeRuss by coming open at clutch intervals. That sideline run was an epic display of heart. I hope Baldwin's injury isn't serious, either.

Praise for Wilson, who made great decisions and recovered his pinpoint accuracy, completing 83% of his passes for 260 yards.

Props to Pete Carroll and Kris Richard's defense for smothering Santa Clara's run game and holding them to just 59 yards on the ground. Unfortunately, it appears that the 49ers have found their quarterback in Blaine Gabbert.

And condolences to Steven Hauschka for two botched extra points. Ouch. It looked like a bad snap or hold on the first one, and a partial block on the second. Fortunately, we didn't need the points today.

Get well, Beast Mode.

Go, Hawks!

It's still the offense

Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell

Last week's demoralizing loss to Arizona means the 4-5 Seahawks probably need to win out to earn entry into the playoffs.

Seattle hasn't dropped two home games in a single season since going 7-9 season in 2011.

This is serious.

The Legion of Boom got torched by Carson Palmer and his receiving corps last week, but the run defense held, and our linebackers and linemen kept us in the game with two strip sacks deep in Cardinals territory--a scoop and score, plus another turnover inside the five to set up a touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch.

For the most part, the defense did its job. The problem was the offense's failure to sustain drives, which gave Arizona a 2:1 advantage in time of possession. No defense can be expected to contain the dynamic Cardinals offense for forty minutes.

At this point, Darrell Bevell should be coaching for his job. I feel like a broken record, but the biggest problem is predictable and unimaginative playcalling. 

Our offense works best when Russell Wilson establishes a run threat. The read option works particularly well, but we use it less and less. Why?

We were running the ball successfully against Arizona, but we abandoned the run prematurely and exacerbated the time of possession problem.

Stop wasting so many downs on low-percentage designed long bombs. We rarely complete them. Most of our long completions come on scramble drills.

Install some rhythm passing schemes and comeback routes for high-percentage completions.

Call designed rollouts compensate for our weak pass protection and give our receivers time to get open.

Dial up some screen passes to punish overeager pass rushers.

Use spread formations to give our receivers space to get open while opening more real estate for our runners to exploit.

Wilson should reconsider his commitment to abstinence if that's what's hurting his execution.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Is 2015 a reverse 1985?

Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1985?
Even if you're old enough to remember the 1985, you've probably blocked it out of your mind.

Seattle entered the season riding high, coming fresh from the franchise's first two playoff appearances.

In 1983, new Coach Chuck Knox and rookie running back Curt Warner had led Seattle to a winning regular season record (9-7) and improbable playoff success (2-1), the loss coming in the AFC Championship to the Raiders, who went on to win Super Bowl XVIII.

When Warner tore his ACL in the 1984 season opener, many lost hope. But Seattle surprised everyone by scrapping its Ground Chuck run-oriented offense and replacing it with Air Knox, a bombs-away aerial attack featuring Dave Krieg throwing to Steve Largent and deep threat Daryl "the Burner" Turner. Seattle went 12-4 in the regular season and 1-1 in the playoffs, losing to Miami in the divisional round. (The Dolphins lost Super Bowl XIX to the 49ers.)

The city received a lump of coal for the team's 10th Anniversary

As 1985 dawned, Seattle seemed poised for a third playoff run, and ready to go all the way this time. All the pieces appeared in place, with Warner returning to add a potent running threat to our established aerial attack, plus Rusty Tillman's solid special teams and the bedrock excellence of a smothering, larcenous defense with a knack for turnovers.

The Seahawks were so supremely confident that they filmed "Locker Room Rock," a Super Bowl music video featuring Michael Jackson with several Seahawks. Yes, the real Michael Jackson singing and dancing with half-naked players in the Seattle locker room. Well, not the King of Pop. We had a linebacker by that name then, who happened to sing passably well, and he cut the lead vocal and lip-synchs it in the video.

Alas, "Locker Room Rock" proved less prophetic than Chicago's "Super Bowl Shuffle" from the same year. Powered by Walter Payton and a historically great defense, the Bears went 15-1 and dominated New England in Super Bowl XX.

A bad man on a middling team, Kenny Easley made the Pro Bowl
Seattle, on the other hand, went 8-8 and missed the playoffs altogether. The most bizarre part, though, was how they did it: the Seahawks alternated two wins, followed by two losses, for the entire season.

It was mystifying. Two steps forward, two steps back. All year. The crew that took us to playoff glory the two previous years underperforming with consistent inconsistency.

And now we're doing it again. After the two greatest years in franchise history, the same cast of characters is pulling a reverse 1985: lose two, win two, lose two, win two... it is hard to believe that this can continue all season, but it was equally hard to believe 30 years ago.

We need to get it together and dismantle Santa Clara to dispel this terrible sense of déjà vu.

Go, Hawks!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Staying Alive

So far this season, Seattle has trounced the weak and struggled against the strong. Looking at the present records of our opponents thus far this year, the Seahawks are 4-1 against losing teams (Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, St. Louis, San Francisco) and 0-3 versus winners.

Seattle needs to reverse this trend to stay alive for the division title. Arizona has built a 2-game lead in the division, but the Seahawks can erase that lead in head-to-head competition by sweeping the Cardinals, earning the tiebreaker advantage and--crucially--keeping at least even with the redbirds versus the rest of the NFL between tonight and the season finale in Glendale.

Arizona is really good this year. Carson Palmer has never played better, nor has he ever enjoyed such a strong supporting cast on offense. After a disastrous start to the season, Seattle's defense finally started rounding into form before the bye, holding the anemic offenses of Dallas and San Francisco to five field goals and zero touchdowns. Limiting Arizona's aerial attack will require much loftier heroics.

Fortunately, nickel cornerback Jeremy Lane returns from injury to bolster the secondary.

The Cardinals defense remains strong, and Seattle's offense has trouble getting out of its own way. The O-Line is gradually improving, but despite the excellence of our quarterback, running backs and receivers, the offense remains significantly less than the sum of its parts. Darrell Bevell's playcalling remains suspect. Russell Wilson's decisionmaking and accuracy have been a little off. Receivers have dropped a few balls. We move the ball but we can't seal the deal.

Here, too, reinforcements should help. Special teams standout Ricardo Lockette is lost for the season, but speedster Paul Richardson--who came on strong late in his rookies season--has returned from injury and is reportedly faster than ever.

I feel like Seattle is close to getting it together on offense. Bevell and DangeRuss will find their grooves, and it will be like that run late in 2013 when we were dropping fortyburgers and fiftyburgers on folks.

With Marshawn Lynch hurt--he's active, but may be limited--Wilson will need to carry more of the load. Thomas Rawls and Fred Jackson are capable runners, but I think the coaches' decision to leave Cooper Helfet--our best blocking tight end--signals their intent to use multiple-wideout sets and spread the field.

It should be fun. Roar, 12th Man, roar! Go, Hawks!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Founding Fullback

Fullback Don Testerman looks for room to run in 1976
Happy Birthday to my man Don Testerman (born 1954), Seattle's first fullback.

A Danville native, his college odyssey included stops at Division III Ferrum, Virginia Tech and Division II Lenoir-Rhyne. Testerman spent his junior and senior seasons clearing the way for Ken Callicutt at Clemson.

In 1976, the Miami Dolphins drafted him in the 10th round, but he did not make Don Shula's squad. Testerman signed with the slumping Philadelphia Eagles, but Dick Vermeil cut him.

Facing a desperate dearth of talent in the backfield, the expansion Seahawks claimed Testerman on waivers and made him the starting fullback. Jack Patera found his counterpart at tailback in college quarterback Sherman Smith, whom Seattle had originally envisioned as a wide receiver.

Testerman made his debut in the expansion franchise's second regular season game, scoring the team's sole touchdown in a lopsided loss to Washington in RFK Stadium.

Seattle struggled to run the ball that first year. Unfavorable expansion rules guaranteed a weak roster across the board, but the O-Line proved particularly poor.

The highlight of his rookie campaign came today in 1976. Testerman celebrated his birthday in the Kingdome with a series of lead blocks that helped spring Smith for 124 yards in a blowout victory over Atlanta.

Testerman gets the ball from Zorn and runs behind Smith's lead block
Seattle's rushing attack began to hit its stride the next year. Testerman split time at fullback with rookie David Sims. Smith, Sims and Testerman amassed a combined average of 161 rushing yards per game in the team's five wins.

Six days after his birthday in 1977, Testerman ran for 65 yards and caught two passes for 27 yards and a touchdown in a 17-0 drubbing of the Jets in Shea Stadium.

The Seahawks started 2-9 that year, but finished strong.

At Arrowhead Stadium, Testerman ran for 70 yards and a touchdown and leveled linebackers to let Smith gain 86 more. Seattle beat the Chiefs, 34-31.

In the Kingdome against Cleveland for the season finale, Testerman piled up 79 yards on the ground while blasting open holes to allow Smith to grind out another 54 yards and a touchdown. The Seahawks edged the Browns, 20-19.

Don Testerman's 1978 Topps trading card
In 1978, Sims seized the starting job and had a record year. Testerman continued to contribute in a reserve capacity as a blocker, runner and especially as a third-down receiver.

Seattle traded Testerman to Washington during the 1979
offseason, but injuries and personal problems prevented him from taking the field.

Testerman retired to the bait shop he owned in Danville, but later returned to the team that drafted him. He played the first five games of the 1980 season as a reserve fullback for the Dolphins.

While working as a mailman near DC, Testerman tried out for the Washington Federals of the USFL in 1982, but did not make the final cut.

He later coached some high school football and works occasionally as a substitute teacher at Albemarle High School.

Friday, November 6, 2015

On the virtues of being dependable & expendable

Bryan Walters runs for his life (Photo credit: TNB)

Bryan Walters earns a living in the NFL through hard work, and by being both dependable and expendable.

A distinguished three-sport athlete at Juanita High School, Walters had hoped to attend WSU—his parents’ alma mater—but the Cougars considered him too small and declined to give him a scholarship. Instead, he caught on at Cornell, where he set a school record for all-purpose yards and for kickoff and punt return yardage.

Unfortunately, his college resume failed to impress the NFL. Only San Diego scouted his pro day. Walters made the Chargers as an undrafted rookie free agent and saw limited action in three games before getting stuck on the practice squad for the rest of 2010 and all of 2011, after which the team released him. Walters tried out in Minnesota, but the Vikings cut him at the end of camp, so he sat out the entire 2012 season.

A lifelong Seahawks fan, Walters signed with his hometown team in 2013, but spent most of the season on the practice squad. In 2014, though, he became a major contributor as Seattle’s primary punt returner. His secret: dependability and expendability.

Walters won the job not because he posed the most dynamic return threat on the team--far from it. Faster and shiftier returners on the roster included Percy Harvin, Paul Richardson, Doug Baldwin, Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas III. Early in the season, Seattle coaches let Sherman and Thomas compete for the punt return gig, but they eventually realized that it would be asinine to risk injury to All-Pro pillars of the Legion of Boom on special teams. Ditto for Doug Baldwin, the team's #1 wideout. Harvin and Richardson specialized in kickoff returns.

Catching punts is much trickier, because there's more English on the ball. Worse, greater hang time gives coverage units more time to close the shorter distance between the line of scrimmage and the ball, so the returner is much more likely to get blasted. This forces punt returners to make a split-second choice between calling a fair catch or running with the ball. The decision looks more straightforward from the serenity of your couch than it does when you're peering up into the lights, trying to track the trajectory of the ball while stealing glances at the crazed headhunters sprinting toward you with evil intent.

Walters erred on the side of caution, returning only slightly more punts (27) than he fair-caught (23). 

Among players who returned 10 or more punts in 2014, Walters ranked 29th in the NFL in average yardage, with an anemic 7.7 yards. 

However, he led the league in securing possession, with zero muffs and zero fumbles. Only two other players in the NFL returned as many punts without a turnover that year. The returners who lead the league in punt return yardage and touchdowns also tend to fumble a lot more.

Walters also returned a couple of kickoffs and caught a few passes on offense out of the slot.

This season, Walters joined a small exodus of ex-Seahawks who migrated to Jacksonville to play for ex-Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. He still returns punts and kickoffs occasionally, but Walters works primarily as a reserve slot receiver for the Jaguars. Against Houston last month, he caught a career-high eight passes for 87 yards.

Happy Belated Birthday to my man Bryan Walters (born November 4, 1987), a Seahawk from 2012-14.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Return of the King

My man King Mortstar hath penned another guest post. Hark and witness his pithy sagacity:

"You're cut!"
Despite the usual early-season turmoil that seems to haunt the Seahawks, things ARE looking up going into the bye week.  The injury bug that plagues us (and most teams) every year has NOT BEEN nearly as impactful so far... our O-line shuffles appear to be coming to an end, and our seemingly annual adjustment to departing D-Coordinators should be smoothing itself out.  Remember, the Hawks have won 21 of their last 25 games played in November and December.  The 2015 version of this team is REALLY NOT that much different than those of recent years past.  We should be THANKFUL we're 4-4 heading into November and the bye week, despite the adversity we've endured in this first half of the season.  GO HAWKS !!! 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

They liked to score

Tailback Curt Warner resists a facemask, stiffarms Raider lineman Greg Townsend

Trivia question: What three Seahawks have finished one or more seasons leading the NFL in scoring rushing and/or receiving touchdowns?

Two of them should be fairly obvious.

Last year, Marshawn Lynch led the league with 17 touchdowns.

Shaun Alexander did it twice. He scored 20 touchdowns in 2004, and then topped that with 28 in 2005, setting an all-time record... until LaDainian Tomlinson of the Chargers scored 31 in 2006. (Very few players have even approached LT or Alexander's records since then.)

So, who was the third Seahawk to lead the league in touchdowns?

Steve Largent? No. No Seattle receiver has ever come close.

Curt Warner? Good guess, but wrong. I put his picture up there as a distractor.

Chris Warren? Not bad. He scored 16 touchdowns in 1995, but Emmitt Smith had 25 that year.

Ricky Watters? Nope.

John L. Williams? Dude was a very bad man, but fullbacks rarely achieve such records.

Ahmad Brooks? No cigar.

Sherman Smith? Getting warmer.

The answer is David Sims, with 14 touchdowns in 1978. Sims was one of the few fullbacks in the Super Bowl era to have managed the feat.

His record did not reflect a shortage of quality running backs. To win his scoring title, Sims bested luminaries like Walter Payton, Earl Campbell, Franco Harris and Tony Dorsett.

David Sims, Seahawk fullback, 1977-79
Seattle took Sims in the seventh round out of Georgia Tech in 1977. As a rookie, he normally blocked for halfback Sherman Smith, who gained more than twice as many total yards (1,182) as Sims (545) on nearly twice as many catches and carries (193 touches for Smith vs. 111 for Sims). Somehow, though, the rookie scored eight touchdowns to six for the veteran. Clearly the kid had a nose for the end zone, especially in short-yardage situations.

Four times as a rookie, he attempted a pass on trick plays. He completed just one of them--a 43-yard touchdown to Steve Largent.

In 1978, Smith and Sims comprised an impressive one-two punch:

Sims, a fullback, actually logged more carries (174) than Smith (163), and Sims rushed for nearly as many yards (752 vs. 805 for the halfback).

Sims also caught more balls (30) than Smith (28), though the halfback earned more yards (366) on fewer catches than the fullback (195).

Sims scored more than twice as many touchdowns (15) as Smith (7). Fourteen of his touchdowns came on the ground, but not all of them were dives. He could plow through you like a prototypical fullback or run past you like a halfback, as he did on 44-yard touchdown sprint against the Baltimore Colts.

Smith and Sims combined for 2,118 yards and 22 touchdowns, which was better than Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier of the Steelers, who won the Super Bowl that season.

Sims carrying the ball in a loss to Miami
The two Seahawk backs also outperformed Earl Campbell and Tim Wilson of the Oilers that year, and Houston advanced to the AFC Championship Game.

Tony Dorsett and Robert Newhouse gained more yards, but scored less than the Seahawk duo; Dallas lost the Super Bowl.

Walter Payton and Roland Harper also accumulated more yards, but visited the end zone less often; Chicago went 7-9 and missed the playoffs.

Thanks in large part to this robust rushing attack, Seattle had its first winning season (9-7) and Jack Patera won AFC Coach of the Year, even though the Seahawks failed to qualify for the playoffs.

Unfortunately, Sims got injured early in the 1979 season. Medical exams diagnosed him with "congenital stenosis... an abnormal narrowing of the canal housing the spinal cord," which "made him susceptible to serious injury if hit on the head." Of course, this forced him to retire immediately.

Happy Belated Birthday to my man David Sims (born October 26, 1955).

Told 'Em So

I've been saying since May that Seattle should split out Jimmy Graham wide and avoid lining him up as a traditional tight end because he is unable or unwilling to block. ESPN notes that the Golden Graham is putting up good numbers when split wide.

I've been arguing since September that lining up in read-option sets is a good way to compensate for our subpar offensive line. ESPN confirms that our running backs gain more yards per carry out of the read-option than when Russell Wilson starts under center.

More Mudbone

If, like me, you can't get enough Dave Krieg, then check out this post by my man JB, a prolific and popular RPG blogger who is also a hard-core Seahawk fan with a Mudbone man crush that rivals my own. You get JB's insightful analysis of Krieg vs. Hasselbeck, plus a robust discussion in the comments section. (Unlike Seahawks Diehard, JB's B/X Blackrazor blog has a large and interactive readership.)

I'm grateful to JB--a loyal and consistent reader of Seahawks Diehard for years--and to you, for reading this post today. Please consider commenting sometime.

Monday, November 2, 2015

A few postscripts on Dallas

Zero sacks

I forgot to mention that last night.

Despite the absence of O-Line cornerstone Russell Okung, replacement left tackle Alvin Bailey and his comrades slowed down Greg Hardy and the rest of the Dallas pass rush just enough to let the amazingly elusive Russell Wilson avoid getting tackled in the backfield even once. After the sackfest our opponents had enjoyed in the previous seven games, that constituted quite an achievement.

<100 yards passing for Dallas

The Legion of Boom and the Pass Rush of Doom limited Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Cassell to just 98 yards passing. That's sick.

Blanketed by Richard Sherman, Dallas All-Pro wideout Dez Bryant made only two catches for 12 yards on six targets.

Correction: Cowboys All-Pro tight end Jason Witten got shut down, but he did not get shut out. He caught two balls for 16 yards on four targets.

Ricardo Lockette's Heart

Remarkable courage as his life, health and career hang in the balance
Not sure how I forgot to mention how cool it was when Ricardo Lockette made the Legion of Boom sign as the medics wheeled him off the field on a gurney. Of course, it was a relief to see see that he was able to move his arms at all, but at that point, Lockette could not have known the extent of his injury, and his ability to encourage his teammates in the face of massive personal uncertainty was heroic.

Props to Dallas fans for graciously applauding a fallen warrior.

More evidence that Dallas is Evil

As Seahawk Ricardo Lockette laid motionless on the field near the end of the first half, both sidelines spilled onto the field.

Most of the players were concerned about the injury. Some Cowboys had to restrain ex-Seahawk Christine Michael from going to check on his former teammate.

Bryant on Lockette's injury: "That's what you f***ing get!"
There some heated exchanges, too. Fox cameras caught All-Pro Cowboys wideout Dez Bryant yelling, "That's what you f***ing get!" (The network captured no audio, but you don't have to be a lip-reading expert or a SPAFF-certified decoder of facial expressions to discern Bryant's careful enunciation.)

Bryant has a longstanding reputation for tantrums, but this reaction suggests that he may be as evil as Jerry Jones or Greg Hardy.

No decent person celebrates when someone in an athletic contest take a cheap shot and suffers a serious injury. At that moment, we did not know if Lockette was dead or alive, and--if alive--if he was merely injured or in fact paralyzed or otherwise crippled.

When reporters asked him about it in the locker room, Bryant lied audaciously, perhaps unaware of the existence of indisputable contradictory visual evidence:

“I won’t ever, ever, ever, ever wish bad on a player that’s been knocked down. C’mon, man. Stop with the bulls—. Not once did I say that’s what you get. I got on one knee and prayed for that man.... C’mon, man. Don’t put clips together and do that...."
“I’m too busy trying to break it up, trying to get our players back. I’m telling Richard [Sherman] and Earl [Thomas], 'Y’all get your players back.' I’m talking to the officials more than anybody.”
"That ain't right. That is not right. That is not right."
“I swear on my daughter’s soul I would never in my life do that to anybody."
Bryant then threw a tantrum for several minutes, screaming and raving and cursing and--like a Republican presidential candidate--threatening to stop talking to the media for asking unwelcome questions.
“Y’all took that s— too far. Whoever wrote that, whoever done that is a dirty m—–f—–. That really pissed me off. That ain’t right. That is not right. That is not right. That is not right."

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Epic win

That was exhausting to watch.
Richard Sherman schooled Dez Bryant today.

The Seattle offense gained respectable yardage, but underperformed on the scoreboard against a stout Dallas defense. The Seahawks put together a few solid drives where Darrell Bevell dialed up the right mix of runs and passes and planned rollouts to compensate for limited pass protection. The O-Line acquitted itself reasonably well with regard to run blocking.

Everyone seemed a little off, though.

Marshawn Lynch ran tough throughout the game, but a couple uncharacteristic stumbles led to lost yardage and a clock-stopping out-of-bounds blunder late in the game.

Russell Wilson missed more throws than usual.

Our receivers dropped some balls early on.

Stephen Hauschka never misses, but he had a block kicked.

Ricardo Lockette's concussion disconcerted everyone.

Richard Sherman had a holding penalty nullify a spectacular punt return by Lockett.

Michael Bennett got flagged for a low hit on Matt Cassell.

Luke Willson scores Seattle's only touchdown on the day
Still, a lot of things went right.

DangeRuss generally made good decisions. Jimmy Graham, Luke Willson, Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett each made clutch catches at crucial intervals.

I thought Alvin Bailey had done his duty when I saw Greg Hardy hobbling off the field near the end of the first half. 

However, like a horror movie monster--through some miracle of modern medicine--Hardy returned after halftime, looking no worse for wear, and proceeded to make the play of the game for his team. Late in the third quarter, when DangeRuss tried to throw past him, the defensive end slapped the ball into the air, tracked it, and wrapped his big hands around the pigskin like he was closing his fingers around a woman's neck. It looked like a probable pick six. 

Hardy secured possession on the Seattle 20-yard line with no Seahawk between him and the end zone. 

The only Seahawk who conceivably had a shot at tackling him was Russell Wilson. 

Standing under 6' and barely exceeding 200 lbs., Wilson is supposed to be too small to play his position, and many would assume that a man his size would have trouble tackling a 6' 7" 278-lb. supremely athletic freak of nature like Hardy. 

When QBs try to tackle interceptors, it rarely ends well.
Prototypical quarterbacks rarely make those tackles. More often, they hurt themselves, look silly and/or get blown up by blockers when they try.

But DangeRuss is no normal quarterback. He is fast enough to catch Hardy, brave enough to sell out while attempting the tackle, and skilled enough to execute a textbook ankle tackle to stop Hardy cold and save the game.

As a former high school coach who used to teach that anyone, however small, can tackle anyone, however big, if they just use proper technique, I was moved almost to tears by the Wilson's heart and execution on the play.

As a writer who earlier today juxtaposed Hardy's perfidy against the decency of DangeRuss, I couldn't have asked for a more direct demonstration of the relative athletic and moral merits of the two men.

In the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, with the Seahawks trailing, Wilson became superclutch, repeatedly eluding a fierce pass rush and hitting pass after pass to sustain the drive. 

On third down and seven on the Cowboy 16-yard line, Wilson rolled left, saw no one open and decided to run for the first down. 

It didn't seem possible. Two fleet Dallas defensive backs were in excellent position to stop him, but DangeRuss did what he does--dug down to find an extra gear no one knew existed--and outran and lunged forward for the first down.

Of course, it was the defense that kept us in the game.

Richard Sherman shut down Dez Bryant more totally than I'd dreamed possible. Our cornerback ran the receiver's routes better than Dez did, forcing Bryant to play defense to prevent at least two Sherman interceptions.

Whatever our defense did against the Dallas tight ends was even more impressive--I don't remember All-Pro Jason Witten making a single catch. (It's nice to see ex-Seahawk Ryan Hannam still playing.)
Bruce Irvin celebrated his birthday with a game-sealing sack

Late in the game, the defensive line made its presence felt, with just three or four men rushing the quarterback against one of the best front fives in the NFL. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril's crew effectively took over the game: Batting down balls, jarring Cassell's throwing arm, and effectively concluding the game with Bruce Irvin's triumphant birthday sack.

It was ugly. And glorious. But it was a win, and we'll take that every time.

Jerry Jones and Greg Hardy are both still rich, and they'll continue to menace society in the future, but at least for today, the Seahawks made them the losers they deserve to be.

Tank, Hutch & Bruce

Sherman Smith: Beast Mode before we knew what to call that.

Happy Birthday to my man Sherman Smith (born 1954), Seattle's first star running back (1976-82) and the team's running back coach since 2010.

In college, Smith had helped Miami of Ohio dominate the MAC as a running quarterback. In the 1976 inaugural franchise draft, Seattle spent a second-round pick to draft Smith as a wide receiver--a curious position assignment since Smith ran more than he passed in college, but had few opportunities to catch passes. However, Coach Jack Patera noted the dearth of talent at running back and wisely switched the rookie to that position.

The ungenerous expansion rules of that era ensured a weak roster across the board, including on the offensive line. Smith adapted by bulling through tacklers and grinding out yards after contact. Marshawn Lynch hadn't even been born, so we didn't know to call it Beast Mode back then. We called him Sherman Tank, instead.

His most cherished memory as a player was helping Seattle win its first game in franchise history in November 1976, a victory over Atlanta in which Smith ran for 124 yards and scored two touchdowns.

Smith led Seattle in rushing yards for five of his six years with the team. He proved a capable receiver out of the backfield, too. Unfortunately, a knee injury in 1980 permanently slowed him and diminished his production. The Seahawks traded him to San Diego in 1983, where he played sparingly before retiring.

He taught PE and coached sports at public secondary schools in Redmond for five years, then became an assistant football coach at at Miami of Ohio and the University of Illinois. As the running back coach for the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans from 1995-2007, he helped mold Eddie George into one of the league's best at his position. Although Jeff Fisher had promoted him to assistant head coach by 2006, Smith left Tennessee to rejoin his former Seahawk comrade Jim Zorn as Washington's offensive coordinator from 2008-09.

Sherman Tank celebrates with Beast Mode. Darrell Bevell wants some love, too; no dice.
In 2010, Pete Carroll hired Smith to coach Seattle running backs. Sherman Tank has proven a capable mentor for Beast Mode and for former fullback Michael Robinson, who have earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors under his tutelage. They and Smith now have a Super Bowl rings, too.

Holmgren should have held on tighter.
Happy Birthday also to my man Steve Hutchinson (born 1977), the most dominant guard in Seahawk history and--after the incomparable Walter Jones, the best offensive lineman. With Jones, Robbie Tobeck, Chris Gray and Sean Locklear, Hutch comprised the best offensive line not just in team history, but arguably also in NFL history. His poison pill departure to Minnesota after Super Bowl XL was disappointing, but that would not have happened if Seattle's front office had had their priorities straight. At the time I thought re-signing Hutch was more important than keeping Shaun Alexander, and the subsequent play of the two athletes and Seattle's rapid decline amply confirmed my thinking. Hutch continued to perform at a high level individually, but never achieved the team success with the Vikings or the Titans that he had enjoyed with the Seahawks. Team clearly meant a lot to him--it was not by coincidence that he joined Matt Hasselbeck in Tennessee. Hutch and Seattle were much better together than apart.

Someone's gonna pay for not extending Irvin
Finally, Happy Birthday to my man Bruce Irvin (born 1987), who has become a beast at outside linebacker. Seattle rolled the dice on him with a first-round pick in the 2012 draft. A high school dropout with a checkered past including prison time, Irvin is also a freakish athlete who played safety, linebacker and defensive end at the college level. The Seahawks initially tried him at defensive end, but by 2013 we moved him to linebacker to capitalize on his diverse skill set. Though a great speed pass rusher with good coverage skills, rush defense had been his Achilles' heel for the first few years, but he has developed into a solid run stopper, too. Irvin is now a complete linebacker, but this may be his last season in Seattle. In the offseason, the front office chose to re-sign Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner, but could not afford to extend Irvin's rookie contract earlier this year. The linebacker has responded constructively by continuing to perform at a high level to maximize his value. I hope Irvin makes Matt Cassell miserable this afternoon.

Good vs. Evil

Jerry Jones signs Greg Hardy's 1-year $11.3 million deal
Dallas defensive end Greg Hardy is a bully who hurts women. Jerry Jones is a scoundrel who showers millions on bullies who hurt women.

Most football games are merely fun, with no real moral principle at stake, but the depravity of Hardy and Jones introduces a downright Manichaean dimension to tomorrow's contest.

We have the Cowboys--a team that implicitly condones violence against women--hosting the Seahawks, whose players visit kids with cancer in the hospital every Tuesday.

You're next, Coach.
During last week's loss in New York, Hardy threw a tantrum on the sideline, shoved a coach and got in a shouting match with Dez Bryant. How did Jones react to this fresh evidence that Hardy is still an out-of-control nut job? "I welcome that. Their type of juice, their type of passion - that's not a Knute Rockne speech.... Those guys, they walk the walk and talk the talk. So when they get in there giving it back and forth, then everybody in there knows that it's real and that they're very much doing that for their own benefit." Jones also indicated that he wants to sign Hardy to a long-term extension.

Jerry Jones likes Hardy's "type of juice... type of passion."
The only way to show Jones he's wrong is to beat his team. Of course, if holding the moral high ground won football games, then Desmond Tutu and Mr. Rogers would have been in the NFL.

On the field, it still comes down to Xs and Os and execution, so let's break it down.

With All-Pro Tony Romo starting under center, Dallas won their first two games.

Without him, they've dropped four in a row, including two at home. In one of those home losses, New England blew them out, but the Cowboys kept the other three contests reasonably close.

Seattle should not expect to dominate relatively easily like we did in Santa Clara the Thursday before last.

The Dallas offense still features an all-world offensive line and a strong stable of running backs. Joseph Randle is out, but Darren McFadden ripped off 152 yards Against the Giants and their middling rush defense last week. His backup tomorrow will be some kid out of A&M named Christine Michael who doubtless wants to prove something after getting so few opportunities in his two Seattle seasons.

The Seahawks generally play good run defense, but the Dallas O-Line poses a unique challenge. I would be tempted to go heavy on the defensive line, fielding three or four big tackles to stalemate the line of scrimmage, plug up the middle and stonewall the Cowboy running game.

Matt Cassell is 2-0 against Seattle, but he looked terrible and basically lost the game for Dallas last week by throwing three interceptions Against the Giants, who rank 30th out of 32 NFL teams in pass defense. Cassell probably won't do that again, but it's nice to imagine that Pete Carroll--his coach at USC--might know something to exploit.

Dez Bryant's probable return shouldn't matter much, now that Richard Sherman is shadowing our opponents' #1 receivers every down. More worrisome is Dallas Clark, since we still struggle to shut down tight ends.
Upon return from suspension last month, Dallas defensive end Greg Hardy said he felt like "The Kraken," a fictional sea monster that crushes sailors in its tentacles. Hardy is a real-life monster who grabbed his girlfriend, threw her around like a rag doll, forced her down on a couch strewn with guns, and then throttled & threatened to kill her. High character guy.
The Cowboy defense is a riddle. They are relatively stingy when it comes to yielding yards, but fairly generous in ceding points. Seattle should emulate New England and work to dismantle Dallas with a balanced air and ground attack.

Alvin Bailey needs to hit Hardy really hard
Given that Russell Okung is ailing, the O-Line is likely to take a step back, and Russell Wilson will be running for his life back there more than ever. If Okung can't go, then his backup Alvin Bailey will have to handle Hardy. Given the latter's record of violence against women, I hope our offensive linemen fully inhabit their roles as vectors of karmic retribution.

If Darrell Bevell can maintain his recent playcalling groove. situations , and if Russell Wilson can is in the zone--and stops stop throwing unnecessary interceptions--then the Seahawks should be able to bundle the Cowboys into body bags and bury their season on Boot Hill.

Dallas has it coming. We need to make them pay for desecrating Seahawks Stadium last year. Jerry Jones rivals Donald Trump as a buffoonish parody of a comic book villain.

Go, Hawks!