Saturday, December 26, 2015

Make the Lambs Lie Down

Christine Michael’s career-high 84 yards rushing Sunday against Cleveland has earned him at least co-lead-rusher status for this weekend’s game against St. Louis.
Christine Michael tramples a Brown (TNB)

Seattle efficiently dispatched Cleveland last week. To their credit, the Browns put up a decent fight. Johnny Manziel acquitted himself admirably in a losing effort; his impressive initial drive culminated in the only offensive touchdown scored against the Seahawks in the first three games of December. After that, the Legion of Boom reverted to suffocating form.

Seattle's offense continues to roll. The funk that afflicted offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell earlier in the season now seems a distant memory. For several weeks now, Bevell has been dialing up plays with a Midas touch from the Zen haze of a zone never experienced by most coaches.

Tom Cable's O-Line has settled into a consistent groove of solid run blocking and decent pass protection.

Our makeshift backfield vastly exceeded expectations. Christine Michael made the most of the opportunity, amply justifying this Diehard's far-fetched faith in him. Bryce Brown looked good in relief, and Fred Jackson is spooky-good with his sticky-fingered grabs as our designated third-down back. Marshawn Lynch's return from injury will provide a big boost when it comes, but the quality of our depth gives Beast Mode the luxury of responsible rehab; he need not return until he's ready.

The passing game is clicking across the board, but Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin are roaring along on some kind of supernatural roll. Tyler Lockett and Jermaine Kearse continue to be clutch, too. Suddenly, Seattle's receiving corps has emerged as a relative strength. They've always been the class of the league as blockers, but now their receiving stats are starting to turn heads, too.

The Rams haven't won in Seattle since 2005. Analysts almost unanimously pick the Seahawks to win in a walk, but I think it's a mistake to take St. Louis lightly. Jeff Fisher is an evil genius with a knack for knocking off division opponents, and after several disappointing seasons, he may be coaching for his job.

St. Louis has only won one road game all year, but that was a quality win in Arizona--one of the NFL's best teams this year.

Even without Robert Quinn, the Rams defensive line represents a tough test for Cable's O-Line.

Some observers argue that Seattle has little to play for, having already clinched a wild card berth. However, maintaining pole position in the playoff chase spells the difference between starting the playoffs against the feeble NFC Least leader or on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.

Fortunately, Coach Carroll's "Always compete" philosophy militates against phoning it in on any given Sunday.

We can't afford to let St. Louis hang around. Like an alpha chimp, we need to knock down the Rams fast and jump up and down on top of them for 60 full minutes while howling and pounding our chest to intimidate future rivals.

Barring preposterously good luck in the playoffs, this is likely Seattle's last home game of the year. The 12th Man needs to make it count.

Go, Hawks!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Second-tier Seahawks host bottom-tier Browns

Pettine just served Seattle some choice bulletin board fodder

If I were the head coach of the 3-10 Cleveland Browns, I would not want to talk about tiering.

Earlier this week, Mike Pettine opined that Russell Wilson is not a top-tier quarterback who can "transcend" his "supporting cast," like Tom Shady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or Ben Rapistberger. Pettine granted that DangeRuss has "certainly played himself into that next tier."

Pettine Has a Right to be Wrong

I do not regard the Cleveland coach's assessment of Wilson as inherently insulting. If he viewed DangeRuss as the fifth or eight best quarterback in the NFL, then that would still constitute an honor. As Pettine made clear in follow-up comments, the top-tier quarterbacks he mentioned have longer track records, and if Wilson continues to play at his current level, he would eventually join that elite.

Pettine's opinion, while not disrespecful, is factually incorrect. DangeRuss is already a top-tier quarterback by every meaningful measure.

Victories? Wilson's win percentage is .725 (50-19), better than all active players except Shady's .771 (171-49) and better than all retired players, too, except for Roger Staubach's .746 (85-29). Top tier.

Championships? Among active quarterbacks, only Shady (a 16-year serial cheater) and Rapistberger (a 12-year veteran) have more Super Bowl rings (4 and 2, respectively). In just his fourth year, Wilson's single NFL championship ring matches the total earned by Brees in 15 seasons and Rodgers in 12. Top tier.

NFL quarterback rating? DangeRuss currently ranks first. Top tier.

ESPN's alternative QBR system? Wilson ranks fourth, behind Carson Palmer, Rapistberger and Andy Dalton. Top tier.

Completion percentage? Wilson's 68.8% is second, behind Kirk Cousins. Top tier.

Yards? DangeRuss ranks just 13th, but that outpaces both Rodgers (15th) and Rapistberger (20th), each of whom have missed games due to injuries. While Shady (1st) and Brees (4th) have thrown for far more yards. Not elite.

Yards per attempt? Wilson ranks third, behind Palmer and Rapistberger. Top tier.

Most passing touchdowns? DangeRuss ranks eighth, behind Shady, Rodgers and others. 2nd tier.

Highest percentage of passes that go for touchdowns? Wilson ranks third, behind Newton and Palmer. Top tier.

Fewest interceptions? Among quarterbacks who've started most of the season (i.e., attempted at least 250 passes), only four have thrown fewer than Wilson's 7 interceptions: Shady, Rodgers, Alex Smith, Josh McCown and Tyrod Taylor. 2nd tier.

Lowest percentage of passes intercepted? At 1.8%, Wilson is tied for sixth, behind Smith (1%), Shady and Rodgers (both at 1.1%), Josh McCown and Taylor. 2nd tier.

Most statistics suggest that Wilson belongs in the top tier.

When it comes to passing yards--the one area where Wilson does not clearly rank in the top two tiers--it makes sense to question the metric. Few football gurus would argue that total passing yards is a sovereign indicator of quarterbacking quality. Sometimes teams amass much mileage through the air out of desperation, because they can't run the ball, and/or because they're often playing catchup. Evidence: Nine of the 12 teams with quarterbacks who've thrown for more yards than Wilson have lost more games than they've won. San Diego, Oakland, Miami, Jacksonville, Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Detroit and the New York Giants would all gladly trade several hundred passing yards for a few more wins.

Most coaches would prefer a more balanced offensive attack, but they want to know that their quarterback can carry a team when necessary, can--as Pettine says--transcend their supporting cast."

Wilson has shown that repeatedly, especially in the last few weeks, despite dramatic turnover at the tailback position and the loss of Jimmy Graham, one of his top receiving targets.

In explaining himself, Pettine acknowledged that DangeRuss is "the perfect quarterback for what they do." Like many analysts, the Cleveland coach seems to imagine that being a good fit for Seattle's run-oriented offense somehow makes Wilson less of a quarterback. Pettine observed, "They've... built it around him."

It would be equally fair to say that the Patriots have built their offense around Shady, that the Steelers designed theirs for Rapistberger, that the Packers customized theirs for Rodgers, and that the Saints developed theirs to suit Brees.

Every team strives to surround its quarterback with a complementary supporting cast, but no other quarterback in the NFL could have achieved what DangeRuss did with Seattle's offense this year. For the first half of the season, the offensive line was dangerously incompetent, and opposing defenses declared open season on Wilson. Shady would have been pulverized and probably on injured reserve by Week Four. Slightly more elusive, Brees might have seen Week Six. Rapistberger's size could have helped him endure as long as Week Eight. Maybe. With a lot of luck, the nimble Rodgers might have lasted long enough to benefit--as DangeRuss has--from the O-Line's improvement, but his stats would look nothing like they do with Green Bay, and I question whether Seattle would have won as many games with the Packer QB under center.

Of course, as a running threat, Wilson adds a dimension to our offense that few quarterbacks can bring. With 456 yards, DangeRuss ranks second in rushing at his position, just behind Cam Newton (480). Smith and Rodgers are the only other quarterbacks to have run for more than 300 yards to date. Top tier.

Pettine and the Bigger Picture

People who coach for failing franchises should not throw stones or talk about tiers.

We can debate whether DangeRuss is an elite quarterback, but there is no question that Pettine is a bottom-tier coach for a hangdog franchise.

Cleveland has never won a Super Bowl. Their last championship came in 1964, a dozen years before the inception of the Seahawks.

Currently stuck in the longest playoff drought in franchise history, the Browns haven't made the playoffs since 2002, and at 3-10, they won't make it this year, unless some sort of apocalyptic disaster wipes out 10 of the other 15 AFC teams. So, 2015 will mark the 22nd consecutive year Cleveland has missed the postseason. At the quarter-century mark, the Browns will earn a share of the historical record shared by Washington and the Cardinals. (Seattle's longest playoff drought was the decade from 1989-98.)

Cleveland's last playoff appearance in 2002 was also the first year of the division realignment that assigned Seattle the NFC West. Since then, the Seahawks have compiled a 125-96 regular season win-loss record (.566) and gone 11-8 in the playoffs (.579). The aptly-named Browns, on the other hand, went 75-146 in the regular season (.339) and 0-1 in the postseason (.000).

The only place Cleveland finishes first are in the NFL's fan pain rankings, and it's not even close.

ESPN analysts give Cleveland an 8.9% chance of winning. I think 11:1 odds are too generous.

Thanks, Mike!

While DangeRuss is definitely a top tier quarterback, the 8-5 Seahawks are at best a second-tier team in the playoff tourney. We need to beat Cleveland to maintain pole position in the wild card hunt.

The Seahawks rarely lack for inspiration on any given Sunday. Coach Carroll's 1-0 mentality runs deep, and the 12th Man would get hyped for a home game against a Pop Warner Tiny-Mite team.

But just in case anyone needed some extra motivation, Pettine gave us some bulletin board gold by making remarks that many will construe as dissing our franchise quarterback.

Wilson was already playing the best football of his life. His receivers are dominating, our O-Line is blocking with conviction and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has gotten back a groove Stella herself would envy.

The Legion of Boom has reclaimed its fearful reputation with a fierce and ravening vengeance.

Sunday will be a bad day to be Johnny Football or any other Cleveland player. I expect to see Browns smeared on the turf of the unforgiving gridiron, shedding tears on the bottom tier of the NFL.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Christine Michael hits rock bottom

Earlier today, Washington cut Christine Michael from their taxi squad. When your attitude or performance is so poor that a middling franchise won't underpay you to be a practice body, you've reached the nadir and probably the end of your NFL career.

When Dallas parted ways with the A&M product earlier this year, I attributed it to a desire to avoid compensating Seattle with a draft pick while achieving an upgrade by signing Robert Turbin.

In retrospect, Seattle seemed pretty done with Michael when they cut him back in August. When an influential coach like Tom Cable goes on the record criticizing your effort and work ethic, you're probably not coming back.

I'd still take a chance on Michael if he expressed contrition and eagerness to contribute. We don't have a lot of options. He has the physical tools, and he looked good in preseason.

The Seahawks aren't messing around at the running back position. They cut DuJuan Harris, re-signed Bryce Brown and held a roster spot open, perhaps for another running back?

Seattle also picked up tight end Chase Coffman again. Since we already have Cooper Helfet and Anthony McCoy, this suggests that Luke Willson's injury  might have to sit out for awhile.

Poor B.J. Daniels got cut again. Now that our O-Line is pass protecting better and we've a developed a quick-release rhythm passing attack, Tarvaris Jackson is probably the better backup now, but I still liked having Daniels around for his versatility and extra insurance.

Brock Coyle's return should bolster our special teams.

The team should let Kam Chancellor heal. If we can't handle Johnny Manziel without Bam Bam, we don't belong in the playoffs.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Sign Christine Michael

Christine Michael is our best option at running back

Tragically, Thomas Rawls is lost for the season. Baby Beast Mode busted his ankle yesterday. The rookie running back actually outperformed Marshawn Lynch as long as his health held out.

DuJuan Harris is not the answer.

Christine Michael washed out of Dallas and landed on Washington's practice squad. As I mentioned yesterday and 20 days ago, Seattle needs to grab him. The A&M product knows our offense. He runs well and has improved in pass protection.

We spent a second-round pick on the kid in the 2013 draft, and never really had a chance to cash in on that investment. Here's a rare opportunity to recover some of that value.

Grab him.

Grab him now.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Baltimore: Man It's Hard

Russell Wilson falls into the end zone for a touchdown in the second quarter. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
The Vikings can't stop DangeRuss

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (28) is stopped by Seattle Seahawks defenders including  linebacker Bobby Wagner (54) and strong safety Kam Chancellor (31)in the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. (28) is stopped by Seattle Seahawks defenders including  linebacker Bobby Wagner (54) and strong safety Kam Chancellor (31)in the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015 in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
Nowhere to run for Adrian Peterson

To the tune of Randy Newman's "Baltimore":

Beat-up little Raven
On the stadium stair
Tryin' to end the season
'Cause this one ain't fair

Hard times in the city
In a hard town by the sea
Ain't no depth to turn to
No one to help you compete

Flacco's done for the year
Leg ligaments torn
Bruce Irvin drops Adrian Peterson for a 1-yard loss in the first quarter. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
Bruce Irvin: No longer a liability in run defense
Lost Forsett in the same game
Forearm bent, bones shorn

The fans hide their faces
And they hide their eyes
'Cause their team is losin'
And they don't know why

Oh, Baltimore
Man it's hard, just to win
Oh, Baltimore
Man it's hard, just to win, just to win

Matt Schaub or Jimmy Clausen?
Running backs? We don't know who
Got a no-name defense
And a no-name offense, too

No names on special teams
Nobody in the stands
Just got a coach in khakis
But what happened to our fans?

Oh, Baltimore
Man it's hard, just to win
Oh, Baltimore
Man it's hard, just to win, just to win

Despite Baltimore's bad luck, I'm not advocating clemency. I particularly mourn the injury to ex-Seahawk Justin Forsett, whose heroic comeback story provided a welcome counterpoint to the perfidy of Ray Rice. The Diehard wishes Forsett a swift recovery.

However, the Ravens already have two more Super Bowls than they deserve. I felt bad for Baltimore when the Irsays smuggled the Colts out of town, but my sympathy diminished when Mobtown robbed Cleveland of its pro team, leaving behind only the hideous uniforms, the lame name and the legacy of losing.

No, Seattle is on its customary December roll, and we need to keep it going. The offense is firing on all cylinders. Darrell Bevel has found his playcalling groove again. Tom Cable's O-Line is run blocking effectively and providing decent pass protection.

Russell Wilson is playing the best football of his life. Tired of getting sacked, he has become the fastest gunslinger in the West, throwing with deadly accuracy from the pocket. This new skill has reduced his reliance on the rest of his vast suite of skills, but when needed, DangeRuss can still pull off Houdini escapes, throw on the run, roll out, extend plays, improvise, execute the read-option and use his legs to punish lapses in defensive discipline.

Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett have emerged as potent receiving threats, which is good since Paul Richardson will not be able to play this year. Kevin Smith, the newest addition to the wideout corps, has demonstrated impressive skill as a run blocker, perhaps the most important skill for a Seattle receiver.

Luke Willson and Cooper Helfet have filled in ably for Jimmy Graham. The team took the Diehard's advice and picked up Anthony McCoy.

Thomas Rawls continues to shoulder the load admirably at running back, but DuJuan Harris did not look good in limited action last week. Christine Michael continues to languish on Washington's practice squad, ripe for the plucking. He knows the offense. He has always run the ball well, and in preseason he showed improvement in pass protection. Was he such a locker room cancer that Seattle could not now use him?

Speaking of locker room cancers, the disappearance of Cary Williams was disappointing. I love that DeShawn Shead stepped up to seize the starting cornerback role--Williams had been our Achilles' Heel at corner all season--but you'd think he would have wanted to continue contributing as a reserve.
Presumably, a bad attitude got him deactivated and then cut. Pitiful.

Shead is a great story, though. Dude played strong safety and was a decathlete at Portland State, went undrafted, filled in at strong safety during Kam's holdout and then learned to play cornerback--the most challenging position in the secondary--well enough to supplant Williams. Dude is a badass.

Still, the loss of Williams stings, because Seattle needs a deep secondary to compete against elite teams. Our defense gets torched by effective passers like Tom Brady, Carson Palmer and Ben Rapistberger. If we don't remedy that weakness, we won't go far in the playoffs.

At 4-8, Baltimore is a bad team. The Ravens defense remains respectable, so if our offense can keep up its momentum, then that will mean something.

The Legion of Boom could probably phone it in against the anemic Baltimore offense, but the Diehard hopes the Seattle defense seizes the opportunity for another shutout. (The Vikings' sole score came on special teams last week.)

After shutting down Adrian Peterson and what had been the league's best running offense in Minnesota, the Seahawks should be able to blank the feeble Ravens.

Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin looks back during a 53-yard touchdown reception against the Minnesota Vikings in the second half  Sunday in Minneapolis. (Jim Mone / The Associated Press)
Doug Baldwin torches the Viking secondary
How banged up is Baltimore's offense? The Ravens have lost...
an All-Pro quarterback (Joe Flacco),
his Pro Bowl backup (Matt Schaub),
a Pro Bowl running back (Justin Forsett),
an All-Pro wideout (Steve Smith),
their top draft pick (receiver Breshad Perriman),
another rookie wideout (Darren Waller)
a key slot receiver (Michael Campanaro),
a starting center (Jeremy Zuttah)
a starting left tackle (Eugene Monroe),
a starting tight end (Dennis Pitta),
his backup tight end (Crockett Gillmore),

Third-string quarterback Jimmy Clausen is 0-2 against Seattle. He choked as a Panthers in 2010 and failed again as a Bear in Week Three of this season.

His backup? Bryn Renner, whose only pro passing experience came in Arizona--not for the Cardinals, but for the Rattlers of the Arena League.

Go, Hawks!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

King MortStar predicts the Vikings-Seahawks smackdown

King MortStar called late last night.

The Diehard lives on a Ben Franklin schedule: early to bed, early to rise. It hasn't made me healthy, wealthy or wise, yet, but it's my routine and I'm sticking to it.

Between his possible inebriation and my grogginess, I'm sure I missed a lot of brilliant football analysis. I remember only a few phrases: "eight in the box... expose Teddy Bridgewater... don't take any wooden nickels."

However, his prediction came through clearly:

Seahawks win, 17-13. Take the under.

Call your bookie. You know, if you live in a jurisdiction with legal sports betting. Which neither MortStar nor I do, but someone should profit from the wisdom of His Highness.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Seahawks take the AP Test

Every week is a must-win, ever since we painted ourselves into a corner at 4-5.

This week is probably the toughest test yet: A 10:00 AM road game against a 8-3 Vikings team motivated to maintain their lead in the NFC North.

Last week's punishment of Pittsburgh represented Seattle's first victory this year against of the season over a winning team, and it came at home.

We haven't done it on the road, yet.

Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and Russell Wilson have strung together two good games in a row. Last week, DangeRuss was a cold-blooded killer throwing out of the pocket. It would be good to see more of that this time, plus some read-option, designed rollouts and screens to keep Minnesota off-balance.

Tom Cable's offensive line continues to come together, and we'll need it to get Baby Beast Mode going and maximize time of possession.

All-Pro Adrian Peterson poses the ultimate test of our run defense.

Go, Hawks!