Wednesday, November 30, 2011

DVR Run Analysis - Washington @ Seattle; 27-Nov-2011

Here's my weekly DVR Run Analysis for the Redskins/Seahawks game...

* The good news is that the consistency was back in the running game. The bad news is that the defense, a weak passing game, and penalties let this game slip through our fingers.

* Overall, we got 121 yards on 29 carries for a 4.2 YPC average. Marshawn Lynch got 100+ yards for the third time in four weeks. Regarding consistency, we were never tackled for a loss and were held to no gain on a single running play. 18 of Lynch's 24 runs (75%) were for three or more yards. (14 were for four or more.)

* Q1 - The quarter was weak, but not due to the running game. 20 yards on three runs and a first down. 6.7 YPC.

[7:05] 1st and 10. Power run, splitting the D at the center. Center Max Unger gets the NT, releases to go upstream, and FB Mike Robinson cuts the NT down. Lynch hits a free ILB for a gain of five.
[6:35] 2nd and 5. Slash right (the line goes right while the TE, Anthony McCoy, pulls to split the left side.) TE Zach Miller and LT Russell Okung seal perfectly. Lynch hits the hole and makes a LB miss, getting ten yards and a 1st down.
[:39] 1st and 10. With 2 backs and 1 TEs, the D loads the box. Zone right. Excellent push by Unger, RG Paul McQuistan, and RT Breno Giacomini. Robinson leads Lynch to the RG but is too late to get the LB at the next level. Lynch gets five and could have had a few more had Robinson made that block, but there was just too much ground for Mike Rob to cover.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Deadly secret agent Brandon Browner strikes, kills Seahawks season

I'll keep this write-up short.  This game kind of sucked to watch, and I know if you're like me, you probably aren't exactly digging for Seahawks reading material after a loss like this.

Its not accurate to boil this game down to one player.  Rex Grossman had his token interceptions, but other than those two passes, he was killing it today.  Grossman is not a good quarterback, but when he's having an "on" day, he's scary good, and today was one of those rare occasions.  He extended plays by moving in the pocket.  He executed screens and short passes to perfection.  He was very accurate on his throws, completing a whopping 74% of his passes for a highly impressive 9.0 yards per attempt.  Roy Helu also had a terrific game, totaling 162 yards from scrimmage and a highlight reel touchdown that sparked Washington's impressive comeback.

But I'm guessing people won't remember that.  They'll remember Browner for his drive extending hold (which later resulted in a touchdown instead of a punt), his blown coverage/PI that resulted in a game winning hail mary touchdown on 3rd and 19, and last but not least, a boneheaded 15 yard penalty in the game's final minute when Seattle could absolutely not afford it.  Its so much self-destruction that I wouldn't blame you if you had forgotten that Browner also had a terrific interception earlier on.

So, Seattle lost.  In the end, Washington beat Seattle soundly on the stat page in just about every category.  They deserved to win, even if it almost felt like they didn't.  Washington is not even close to being as bad a team as people think nationally (just like the Seahawks).  They are far and away better than teams like the Cardinals or Rams.  They have the best pass rush in the NFL, a very good new running back, and a quarterback who may not be good, but can still be dangerous.

Mike Shanahan drew up the perfect passing attack before the game, finding soft spots in our coverage on almost every snap right from the get-go.  By the 3rd drive, Pete Carroll made coverage adjustments which in part helped keep the Redskins scoreless for two full quarters.  But in the fourth quarter, Shanahan made a new set of counter adjustments and Grossman became unstoppable once again.  The game might have been a brutal snoozer, but its not often you see a chess match like that.

  • I don't know if teams give out game balls after a loss, but if they did, it should probably go to Marshawn Lynch.  Washington entered this game with a slightly above average rushing defense (14th in DVOA) and a top 10 defense overall.  Seattle once again had outstanding run blocking, but unlike the previous two weeks, Lynch brought his A-game and wasted no time hitting the holes and maximizing yardage.  Sure, his longest run of the day was only 12 yards, but he had multiple runs near 10 yards this time.  The result: a much more impressive 4.65 yards per carry.  If this is the Marshawn Lynch that shows up every week, Seattle is set at running back.  I never thought I'd say this, but fantasy football teams might want to give Marshawn a look on their waiver wires for the rest of this season.
  • No one is talking about it, but Golden Tate has quietly made huge strides this season.  He runs much prettier routes and his hands seem to have improved.  In just a couple months, he's gone from, frankly, a terrible player who many wanted to cut during the preseason to a quality #4 who is still trending upward.
  • Red Bryant has now blocked an incredible four kicks on the season.  I could be wrong, but if I recall correctly, Jim Mora was present in the broadcast booth for all four of them.
  • Speaking of which, I have no fondness for Jim Mora, but he's turned into a surprisingly good commentary man.  He was right on top of everything today, including the play in the endzone where he noticed the hat on the chalk.
  • I'm guessing the laundry guy for visiting NFL teams can't be too happy about the blue endzones coming back.  Those things stain white road jerseys like crazy.
  • Seattle was once again killed by penalties, but so was Washington.
  • Its hard to judge Jackson's performance.  He suffered at least 5 drops by my count in only 30 pass attempts.  On the other hand, he also had about 4-5 terrible throws.  But then again, he was playing with a very sore throwing arm which is certain to have an impact there.  My initial feeling is that Jackson played like usual today, but the drops and the rusty arm caused a lot of noise which made the performance look much worse than it really should have.  Regardless, its very hard to watch today's game and somehow still imagine the Seahawks leaving the 2012 draft without a talented quarterback somehow.  I can stomach another year of T-Jack just fine, but only if its clear that a sane long-term plan is in place.
  • If Hawthorne's injury is even semi-serious, might we see the return of Lofa Tatupu?  He's still out there, and Seattle does not have any depth at linebacker.
  • Regarding the secondary, it didn't feel like they had a down performance today, Browner exempted.  Further DVR study could prove otherwise, but watching the game, it just felt like Shanahan had an outstanding game plan, and both Grossman and Helu played terrific games.  Another huge factor was that despite pre-game reports, Trent Williams was able to play and his presence had a massive impact on Chris Clemons and Seattle's ability to finish the job on its pass rush.  Had Sean Locklear started instead, I doubt Washington wins this game.
  • I've said before that I'm no longer rooting for draft position, and I've made several arguments, including an essay recently at Seahawks Draft Blog, that winning could actually have some hidden benefits come draft day.  Losing today, which probably cut our slim playoff chances in half, doesn't change that.  However, its worth noting that if Seattle had to lose to a single team in our final six games, Washington would have been the best team to lose to.  Unlike the other five teams, Washington is desperate for a quarterback, and is looking for a somewhat similar mold of quarterback as we are.  This could very well be a loss that we'll look back on in 5 months and say "thank God we lost to the Redskins."  Losing gave us a game up in the draft standings against a prime competitor (meaning we are now "tied" with the Redskins).  Idiots note:  Please do not construe this comment as me rooting for draft position.  I would have much rather won and be on a 3 game winning streak heading into a nationally televised game against the Eagles.  The draft position is nothing more than a silver lining to a dark cloud.  Its just something to make us feel a little less crappy about a suffering a painful fourth quarter comeback.

    Friday, November 25, 2011

    The DVR Run Analyst Joins 17 Power

    Since 2007, I've been reviewing almost every Seahawks run play in slow motion on my DVR over at the Northwest Sports Talk Forum under the alias, CamasMan. (I just posted my analysis of the Rams Game there.) Brandon invited me to join this blog and I immediately accepted. Is there a better title than 17 Power for a blog analyzing the Seahawks' running game?

    Here some background. I'm the height and weight of a wide receiver, have the hands of a linebacker, the speed of a nose tackle, the tactical savvy of a long snapper, and the toughness of a place kicker. So, in organized sports, I'm a breaststroker. I was never meant to play football.

    I first became an obsessed fan back when Bill Walsh first became the 49er's head coach. My best friend's dad had been Walsh's roommate at San Jose State. So here we were, a bunch of young guys in LA, rooting for San Francisco. Hey, timing is everything. A few years later, my young family moved to Grass Valley in Northern California, and the ride continued. In '96, we moved up here to Camas, and watched more High School ball than the pros. I happened to catch Game 5 of Seattle's 2005 season, and quickly became hooked. Again, timing is everything. Screw the '9ers!

    Wednesday, November 23, 2011

    Winning by Reputation vs. Just Beating Bad Gameplans

    It's being said that the Seahawks' defense is now shutting down teams by mere reputation.

    In the last two weeks, Seattle has beaten two teams - Baltimore and St. Louis - who abandoned the run very early on after a token showing, then turned around and placed the game on the shoulders of their QB. Word is that their offensive coordinators, aware of Seattle's ability against the run, were planning a pass-heavy attack for that reason even before the game began. If opponents are smart enough to throw out entire facets of the offense before the game even begins, then hey, we must be pretty good.

    There's a massive assumption in there: that relying on the passing game made sense for those teams. It's a faulty assumption. It actually made even less sense than trying to run against the brick wall of Seattle's defensive line. If you're going to kill the run, not only do you have to be craftier about it then giving Ray Rice only five carries, but you had better have a quarterback who can carry the team. Otherwise, the results write themselves.

    Sunday, November 20, 2011

    Seahawks smack hapless Rams, win 24-7

    I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!

    Well that was interesting.

    Okay, not really.  But as Bryce Fisher once said, an ugly win is "like an ugly baby- you never see one."  I've seen my fair share of both, but his words are wise in spirit.  Seattle did not prove they were a great team today, but they did prove that regardless of what their record says, they are easily a cut above the worst teams in the league.  This game was a long overdue reminder that the Seattle Seahawks do indeed still play in the NFC West.  Its easy to forget, given that Seattle only played NFC West opponents twice in the first nine games, which non-coincidentally resulted in the Seahawks boasting the toughest strength of schedule ranking in the NFL up to that point (.598 opponent win %).  

    So it should come as no surprise that today the Seahawks dominated the Rams.  Or did they?  Honestly I'm not sure.  I mean, did they really finish with 5 sacks?  Is that a typo?  That seems unbelievable given how absent the pass rush felt in the first 3 quarters.  The Seahawks had a highly impressive 95 yard touchdown drive in this game, yet only finished with 289 yards of total offense.  And the Seahawks averaged 4.2 yards per play!  For comparison's sake, they had 3.5 yards per play in a shutout performance at Pittsburgh in week 2.  Taken out of context, that number looks pretty pathetic.  Put into context, it looks even worse, as the Rams defense (as measured by yards) ranked in the mid-twenties before this game.

    But even that seems pretty kick ass compared to the Rams, who had 3.0 yards per play today.  And though I'd like to compliment the Seahawks defense here, I think a lot of that was just the Rams being the Rams.  It wasn't hard to find insightful analysts who predicted that Sam Bradford would have a sophomore slump while Josh McDaniels installed his notoriously high learning curve offense, but it seems they still stopped well short as doomsayers.  Sam Bradford only rarely attempted passes beyond 15 yards, despite having a ton of time to throw for the first three quarters.  His performance was lethargic if not pitiful, sort of like Matt Hasselbeck for most of the last 3 years, if Matt actually had time to throw for most of the game.

    In fact, it donned on me late in the 4th quarter that we've all seen this game before.  We saw it last year, with the 2011 Rams playing the role of the 2010 Seahawks, and the 2011 Seahawks playing the role of the 2010 Raiders.  For those who haven't purged the ugly memories of that game, Seattle hung with a tough Oakland Raiders team through the first half, but at some point in the 3rd quarter, something snapped (Red Bryant's knee) and then the Raiders delivered a straight up Chuck Norris ass-kicking the rest of the way.  They didn't just crush Seattle on the scoreboard or on the stat page, but on the injury report as well.  It was a brutal loss that would have singlehandedly sabotaged Seattle's playoff outlook if not for the fact that they played in the maybe the weakest division in NFL history that year.

    The Rams didn't suffer many injuries, but they took their fare share of big shots, particularly from Kam Chancellor and David Hawthorne.  I think it says it all that the game ended in the "victory" formation, and I use quotation marks because it wasn't the victorious team doing the kneeling.  As Sam Bradford took that final knee, you could just sense that the Rams offense simply wanted nothing more to do with the Seahawks defense.  I'm not going to pretend that the Seahawks have an elite defense, or even a true top 10 defense.  But a top 5 "nastiest" defense?  Yeah, I think its safe to say that.

    Its not a perfect analogy statistically, but in terms of personality, the Seahawks have already become the NFC's Raiders en route to becoming the NFC's Ravens.  The Raiders haven't won a lot of games lately, but they've been consistently competitive, they dominate in a weak division, and they are not a fun team to play against.  They also rack up an unbelievable amount of penalties- somehow even more than the Seahawks have. 

    Today the Seahawks were the bullies in an elementary school playground who ran across a 3rd grade Stuart Smalley to pick on.  That's nothing to brag about, but it all counts in the standings just the same.

    • My eyes were focused today on McQuistan and Giacomini, the two replacements for Seattle's injured rookies on the right side.  I mean this as no slight, but McQuistan and Giacomini are pretty much the definition of "replacement level."  Replacement level means a level of play you associate with a street free agent.  Both Giacomini and McQuistan were free agents of the unwanted variety when Seattle signed them.  Given how those two performed today, I think its safe to say that Moffitt and Carpenter were both roughly replacement level players in their rookie seasons.  Perhaps a little less.  Which by the way, is exactly the level of performance I'd expect.  Its not exactly a well kept secret: rookie lineman are usually pretty terrible, but tend to get much better later.  We need look no further than Max Unger to see that.

    • So how did they play?  McQuistan had a few penalties against him, but otherwise I thought he was surprisingly non-terrible.  His run blocking was adequate and his pass protection fell short of a disaster (unlike his previous outings).  You could say he was kind of like a jittery version of Mike Gibson (whom, it should be noted, isn't here anymore).  Giacomini missed a few blocks and has shown himself to be a disappointingly limited athlete at times despite having the look of a rather athletic right tackle.  It was probably a step above what Carpenter was giving us, but Carpenter was one of the worst right tackles in the league.  I think of Giacomini as being a reverse Polumbus, where Polumbus was an acceptable pass blocker but a poor run blocker.  The Seahawks have invested in building a run block oriented line, and even their backups tend to fit that philosophy.

    • Marshawn Lynch had yet another mixed day.  In the last 2 games, Seattle's run blocking has ranged from solid to outstanding, and yet in that span Lynch has only averaged 3.36 yards per carry despite getting a tremendous workload in those games.  Those games helped me realize why Marshawn Lynch's yards per carry is low... really why its always been low even in his pro-bowl season.  Lynch is a good athlete, but he tends to slow almost to a stop when waiting for blocks, he doesn't explode out of his cuts, he often misses out on huge cutback areas and on the rare occasion he goes untouched through the first level, his top gear isn't very fast, so he can't really take much advantage of it.  In the last two games, Lynch has carried the ball 59 times and his longest among them was 12 yards.  His second longest was 8 yards.  Justin Forsett is hardly a home run threat, nor is he having a very good season, but even he had a 22 yard touchdown today.  In other words, Lynch is missing big plays, and leaving yards on the field.  Its the absence of the big play that dogs Lynch's average, and even a huge improvement in his run blocking hasn't changed that.

    • Which isn't to say that Lynch was bad today.  He fought for some tough yards and for the second straight week felt reliable.  The only thing that separates Lynch from the good backs of the league is that he doesn't have those 20-30 yarders on occasion to pull up his average the rest of the game.  Most of the time, Lynch really is a solid back, and today that was true as well.  Ultimately though, the conspicuous absence of the big play is making its presence felt.  I know some people will want to compare Lynch to late-career Shaun Alexander, but they were fundamentally different in one way.  Even crappy-version Shaun Alexander still had big plays, but was stuffed on everything else.  Lynch is pretty consistent at gaining 1-3 yards, but lacks the big runs to pull up his average, as any franchise running back would.

    • Robert Gallery and Max Unger couldn't quite match the ground game dominance they had flashed in the previous two games, but they were still pretty good once again.  You really have to like the left side of Seattle's line right now, especially if they can cut down on the penalties a bit.

    • Sidney Rice throws a great deep ball.

    • I ragged on Seattle's offense for sucking, but in fairness, a lot of that was from an atrocious dry spell to open the game.  The Seahawks very first play went for 55 yards, but the remainder of their first five drives totaled -4 yards of total offense and two interceptions (on the first two passes Jackson threw).  After those picks, Jackson finished the rest of the game with a 64% completion rate, a 6.72 YPA and a touchdown.  Not a great performance, but after a terrible start, he settled down to be acceptably mediocre.  Seattle didn't move the ball like a well oiled machine, but they did do an admirable job from the 6th drive on at converting first downs and grinding out the clock with a lead.

    • There was at least one area though that you won't find me making excuses for Jackson.  While Jackson did flash some good ability to keep plays alive today, he also took several monster sacks.  Losing 3 or 4 yards on a sack is bad enough.  But multiple times in this game, Jackson took sacks in excess of 10 yard losses, which set up down and distances such as 3rd and 25 and 3rd and 32.  When its that bad, you might as well surprise them with a quarterback pooch punt on 3rd down.  

      • Fox broadcast color commentator Tim Ryan has a beard imported straight from 1985.  Seriously, look at this magnificent thing.  Given that he just arrived here going 88 miles per hour in his DeLorean, he must be rather disappointed that we still don't have flying cars.

      • Chris Clemons finished with 3 sacks and two forced fumbles.  I think its safe to say that Roger Saffold's absence has been felt.  Its hard to believe, but thanks to this game Clemons is now only three sacks short of matching the eleven sacks he had last season, with six games left to go, and with a second Rams game among them.

        • Fans of baseball are probably familiar with pitcher's face.  Its the phenomena that occurs to a pitchers face during the considerable full body strain of throwing a major league pitch.  For the uninitiated, here's an example.  Today we got to see Sam Bradford's pitching face, except instead of being contorted from throwing a pitch, its contorted from getting slammed in the pocket by a surging pass rusher.  Quite frankly, I don't know if a more beautiful picture of Sam Bradford has ever been taken.

        • In what might very well be my favorite play of the 2011 season, Red Bryant recorded his first career interception on a pass tipped by Brandon Mebane, who then lumbered up the field, switched the ball to his left arm, then proceeded to stiff arm the daylights out of an unsuspecting Austin Pettis.  After the play ended, you could hear Red Bryant screaming with excitement, on the bottom of a pile consisting of most of Seattle's defense.  If a bible software company is ever looking for a sound effect for the story of Jesus casting a legion of demons into a herd of swine, this wouldn't be a bad place to start. 

          Saturday, November 19, 2011

          On the Possible Re-Signing of Marshawn Lynch

          TNT reported this week that reps for RB Marshawn Lynch have reached out to the Seahawks for discussions over a multi-year contract. Lynch has accrued enough playing time this year to trigger a contract provision voiding the final year of his contract, making him a free-agent after this season.

          So why are we feeling hesitant about this re-signing?

          It's been a while since the phrases "Seattle Seahawks", "new contract negotiations", and "running back" were all mentioned in the same sentence. The last time they were, the result wasn't pretty. Shaun Alexander took the money and didn't run. Are we gun-shy over running backs from this?

          The debate over the reasons for Alexander's dropoff is irrelevant and tired. It happened. In fact, it may be more instructive to leave that discussion open, because it highlights the fact that player decline can occur for a variety of reasons. Loss of surrounding talent, injury, wearing down, coaching changes, being too happy-go-lucky, New Contract Syndrome - everything under the sun has been named as a cause of Alexander's sputtering out, and every one of them has a legitimate place in the discussion.

          When the 2011 season opened, Marshawn Lynch was undoubtedly one of the most popular Seahawks on the roster, courtesy of this. He was also one of the most likely-to-disappoint Seahawks. He was entering 2011 behind a straight-out-of-the-box offensive line, a new coach, and a fresh offensive philosophy that was going to demand a lot from him. Despite his physical, unrelenting, passionate running style, Lynch hadn't shown enough raw production in 2010 to make anyone think he'd transcend the line's growing pains and lack of offseason preparation. The QB situation certainly wasn't going to help. It wasn't a formula for success. Despite "The Run", many saw another frustrating season ahead for Lynch.

          Sunday, November 13, 2011

          Seahawks out-raven Ravens, win shocker

          The face of a man burned by false praise turned true.

          I'm not a big dating expert, but one thing even I've heard is that its best to "just be yourself" when you go on a big date.  Well the Seahawks were themselves today in all their goofy, awkward glory, and still scored big.  They couldn't finish drives.  They had many "almost" touchdowns that weren't.  They were penalized.  Often. Oh man, so often that it almost certainly will vault them into the #1 spot in the league.  They moved the ball well, yet nearly had as many penalties as first downs.  

          But they won.  More importantly, the Hawks actually earned this win.  They never trailed today in a season in which they had never previously led at halftime.  Seattle won with an emerging run blocking offensive line, a strong run defense, a steadfast if unspectacular quarterback, and a special young secondary.  Seattle won despite having almost zero pass rush, and despite killing drives, and extending others, with inexplicable penalties.  They beat a 6-2 team, a 6-2 team that most likely would have been in the AFC championship last year if not for some shady officiating.  They outplayed a good team, but interestingly enough, they outplayed the very team for which the Seahawks model most closely resembles.

          I wrote this article about the Seahawks-Ravens just after the 2011 draft over at Seahawks Draft Blog.  Seattle has invested two firsts, a third, traded late round picks for two players, and signed a high profile free agent all on just the offensive line alone in only two years.  They have built an elite rush defense out of spare parts, and while they have invested less in the defense than the Ravens did, the almost over-the-top investment in the line is remarkably similar.  So what did the Ravens do after that?  They traded for a former 1st round running back drafted by the Bills (sound familiar?), then drafted a "reach" quarterback in the middle first, and drafted a 2nd round running back who'd become one of the most productive backs in the NFL.  Everyone fretting about the long term quarterback or running back situation, don't be worried.  Help is coming.

          I did not think Seattle would successfully adopt the Ravens blueprint this quickly.  Seattle's interior run blocking has been on a tear for the second game in a row, and Seattle's secondary, particularly Richard Sherman, is possessed.  Seattle flat out kicked the Raven's asses today at smash mouth football.  Not many teams can do that.

          • Harbaugh called Marshawn Lynch one of the three best backs in the NFL before the game.  Harbaugh is a brilliant coach, but a statement like that can only be one of three things: a ridiculously exaggerated compliment typically used for psychological purposes, a sincere/moronic evaluation, or a subtle-sarcastic dig at a running back who has struggled for most of the past three years.  Whatever his intentions were, Seattle's running game strove to make his statement look timely.  Was he being sincere?  I don't know.  I'm betting its sincere now.
          • Maybe the toughest thing about switching to the NFC is that I only get a maximum of two games a year called by the announcing crews over at CBS.  Greg Gumble is a long tenured, quality professional.  Dan Dierdorf is a rare dual Hall of Famer:  in the Hall as an offensive lineman, and in the Hall for his work behind the mic.  He's intelligent enough to avoid cliches and even provide quality insights.  When Heath Farwell appeared to do the disastrous by touching the football surrounded by Ravens players, and almost everyone in the building had no idea what was going on, Dierdorf didn't miss a beat, pointing out that a batted ball is no longer live, even if a returning team touches it.
          • But perhaps Dierdorf's best insight came early, when he pointed out that young teams tend to have especially erratic performances.  One of the hallmarks of insightful thinking is that it can point out the unspoken things that should be obvious.  And it turned out to be pretty prophetic, as Seattle gave Baltimore a lot more than they thought they'd be getting when they were catching their flight to SeaTac.  Last week, Seattle lost by two scores, but they made Dallas (an emerging team) work for every bit of it.  Afterwards, Tony Romo publicly breathed a sigh of relief and credited the Seahawks for being a far tougher opponent than the general public thinks.  Seahawks opponents have won 6 games in 9 tries, but they have not been an easy win very often.  And now two of the Seahawks three victories this year have come against teams that currently have winning records.
          • The 12th man is the perfect mascot for the Seahawks, and really, the Pacific Northwest as a whole.  In relative terms, we are an isolated, shut in, um, unique people who don't get the attention we crave and deserve.  We have the dorkiest mascot, and some of the most awesomely dorky fans who are loud and proud.  Today I saw a man wearing an that strange 80's bird/rocker get up painted in the colors of the American Flag. Earlier in the year I saw another fan dressed up like Elton John, just because hey, who doesn't like Elton John right?  But today took the cake.  Easily, the greatest NFL "cosplay" of all time.  Predator-Seahawks fan, if you are reading this, thank you.  Seahawks logos in the eyeballs?  You have my eternal gratitude.
          • Marshawn Lynch had a mixed performance, but it was far better than his 3.4 yards per carry stat would indicate.  Sure- twice he single-handedly lost yards with terrible running decisions, and on a few occasions he missed gaping wide cutback lanes.  But those mistakes were exceptions in a day when he was mostly decisive, and with a line that was consistently getting good interior push, he was getting 3-4 yards a crack on the majority of his runs.  That isn't sexy, but that's what the zone blocking scheme is meant to do.  He also added 58 yards on 5 receptions.  It was a very Steven Jackson type of performance.  I still think Seattle can do better.  But I think we are finally beginning to see the Marshawn Lynch Seattle thought they were trading for.  He's not a star, but he can be a useful player when he plays decisively.
          • My gameball goes to Seattle's interior line.  Unger and Gallery were constantly found four yards downfield and even John Moffitt made a few nice plays before leaving with injury.  His replacement, Jeanpierre, seemed to do an admirable job under the circumstances, and Seattle's interior push resumed without missing a beat when Moffitt left the game.
          • Richard Sherman has now had three strong games in the three starts.  He has ball skills.  He can cover.  He can hit.  A home run for a 5th round pick.
          • I hope Kam Chancellor is alright after decapitating himself.  Chancellor is my new favorite Seahawk, but he must learn to lead with the shoulder consistently.  Not because of ethical reasons.  Not because of penalties.  But for his own health and career.  Hopefully his injury does not linger and color the rest of his playing days, but this needs to be a learning experience.
          • The penalties became ridiculous near the end, and it was fascinating to watch the 12th man slowly turn on their own team as the infractions became more and more incomprehensible.  On one hand, Seattle is a young team that plays with an attitude.  Its part of what makes Seattle an exciting team to watch.  Curbing those penalties would be great, but they are a bi-product of the things that help make this team exciting.  Can Carroll reduce the penalties with having his team lose its aggressive edge?  It might be the biggest challenge he'll face with the current roster.

          Friday, November 11, 2011

          Is the worst "player" on Seattle's offense Darrell Bevell?

          When it comes to NFL playcallers, perception rarely matches reality. Fans are not the only ones bothered by offensive coordinators' tendencies and proclivities; perhaps no other coaching position is as prone to staff turnover as offensive signal caller. Mr. Jeremy Bates to the white courtesy phone...

          From the well-publicized snafus in Washington DC when Zorn had his playcalling duties stripped and was effectively both neutered, spayed, and publicly pantsed as a coach, to the well-publicized annual changing of the offensive coordinator that many blame for Alex Smith's woes, to the still-strong hatred of Greg Knapp in all places Seahawk, second-guessing signal callers is a wonderful pastime seemingly enjoyed by all - except of course, signal callers. Mike Holmgren often was praised for his play calling genius, but 3rd and long draw plays still make Seattle fans far and wide reflexively wince while invoking the Walrus' name in vain. Being a play caller ain't no joke.

          Offensively, Seattle is struggling. The 'Hawks have wasted two consecutive defensive performances worthy of a win, and Seattle played well enough defensively against the Cowboys to win that game as well. It felt early on that Seattle was dodging bullets Matrix style, but the run defense cleaned up its act well enough to make sure the 'Boys didn't scamper away. 23 points shouldn't feel insurmountable, but it did. There is simply no confidence in an offense that has no trouble racking yards, but seemingly goes cross-eyed nearly every time it nears the opponents 30. The popular theory has been the offensive line, but they had an above average performance on Sunday, and it didn't change much.

          Does any, or even most, of the failure hang on Darrell Bevell?

          Thursday, November 10, 2011

          Props for Seahawks O-line, Running Game

          The insightful Ben Muth of Football Outsiders has some praise for the Seahawks offensive line. At least, I think it's praise for the Seahawks O-line. I can't be sure. It's been so long since I've seen it, I've forgotten what it looks like.

          Additionally, a member of the NWSportsTalk forum recently broke down our running plays against the Cowboys specifically and pointed out some encouraging trends - better zone-blocking coordination, more decisiveness from Lynch, less negative plays, consistent yardage instead of one big run boosting an otherwise bland YPC.

          In the wake of what could be a breakthrough performance for this line against Dallas - which is something O-line coach Tom Cable apparently insisted upon, to the point of affecting the game plan - some national recognition for this line is in order. Two rookies, two sophomores, and a 30-year-old all thrown into the same system without a full offseason is not a recipe for success, but Cable has made strides with this line.

          Russell Okung's slow start has given way to steadiness and a decent stonewalling of DeMarcus Ware. Robert Gallery, though now jumped upon for one bad play where he was tossed about like a rag doll, contributed heavily to Marshawn Lynch's strong day and gets some technical kudos from Muth for his usage of his hands and feet. Max Unger, while still possessing some lingering strength issues, has shown definite improvement from his awful rookis year - at the very least, he's no longer living in his own backfield. Muth's criticisms of him seem related to his decision-making. John Moffitt is developing. James Carpenter - well, he's a rookie. Seattle is continuing to keep our tight ends home to help block, which would normally be considered a hamstring to our passing game. But with Tarvaris Jackson needing every extra pocket second he can get in order to overthrow people, the current TE policy evens out.

          I find it interesting that almost our entire offensive line seems assembled for the run. Unger is much better at moving around and landing blocks than he is holding back the tide on the line. Moffitt comes from a powerhouse running game at Wisconsin. Carpenter, also mainly a road-grader specimen. It means that Carroll isn't kidding when he says he's determined to make the run game a prominent feature of this offense. But if Unger was able to develop from an entirely overmatched rookie to a solid sophomore, Carpenter could pull it off as well.

          Enjoy the link. We could use every ounce of positive development news we can get.

          Sunday, November 6, 2011

          Seahawks fall to 2-6, yet still 2nd place in NFC West Dystopia.

          Not satisfied with a mere forced fumble, Sherman adds The People's Elbow
          I think its remarkable how predictable and short sighted sports writers can be sometimes.  One talking point that is quickly gaining traction is that Pete Carroll doesn't look like he's having fun anymore, or that he's just a college coach.  And to be sure, the Seahawks played well below their capabilities today, and losing stings, especially for emotional types like Carroll.

          But lost in this dialogue is that Seattle rushed for 162 yards today, only 1 yard less than Dallas, who has emerging phenom DeMarco Murray at running back.  Seattle finished with a highly respectable 381 yards of total offense, despite the fact that Tarvaris Jackson was clearly having an off day.  Believe it or not, Seattle actually finished with more yards today than they did in the Falcons' game.

          Before I get too far ahead of myself, I have to take a step back and be honest: this game didn't feel competitive.  I acknowledge that.  So for many fans reading this, I would understand if your reaction was "Bullshit! The Seahawks sucked today."  My counter would be that sometimes games are closer than they feel.  For example, The Cowboys game in 2004 when Seattle did nothing for the first 58 minutes yet still won thanks to a late scoring drive and a last second Babineaux interception to set up a Josh Brown 50 yard game winner.  I don't want to diminish the fact that the Cowboy's earned this victory, but this game might have been very different if not for a pair of controversial booth replays going against Seattle, or if Seattle hadn't blown coverage on Jason Witten for his easy touchdown.  Seattle's two biggest contributors (the defense and Jackson) both had off days, and yet Seattle could have maybe pulled out a cheap one if a few breaks had gone differently.  Or to put it differently, this defeat wasn't quite as emphatic as it felt.

          Anyway, off to the bullet points!

          • At the halfway point of the season, the Seahawks are on pace for a 4-12 season, yet are amazingly still in 2nd place. Football outsiders advanced DVOA playoffs oddsmaking currently gives the San Francisco 49ers a 1 in 1000 chance of missing the postseason, and the season is only half over!  For a division so bad, you would think it would be more competitive.
          • This was the worst statistical performance of the season for Tarvaris Jackson, which is even more damning since his line did a better than expected job at protecting him, allowing just 1 sack and relatively few pressures.  Jackson has converted me into a defender of his with his recent performances, but games like this, even if only occasional, make doing so difficult.  Jackson's TD/INT ratio now sits at 6/9, and even since the Falcon's game when Jackson seemed to click in the offense, he's been running a 4/7 ratio since then.   
          • One of those interceptions was a massive fluke: an intentional incompletion attempt that somehow deflected off of two defensive linemen before being intercepted by a third. Another interception was an underthrown ball when Jackson was being chased out of the pocket.  His final interception was the controversial simultaneous catch that went to the defender.  Jackson had some excuses today, but this was still a poor performance.  Unlike last week, his receivers didn't drop a ton of passes and his line provided protection. 
          • Despite those mistakes, Jackson still managed a 7.4 YPA and was actually adept at moving the ball and engineering long drives.  Seattle averaged 6.2 yards per play which is one of their better numbers this season.  I think its encouraging that Seattle's quarterback played poorly, and yet the system was still able to shine through that.  It makes you wonder just how bad Charlie Whitehurst has really been.
          • The story of this game, from Seattle's perspective, was the great performance by Marshawn Lynch.  I almost wrote an article this week on Lynch, and now I'm kicking myself for not doing it.  I took a closer look at Lynch last week, and what I discovered is that Lynch's only real problem is his lack of decisiveness.  He's still a great athlete with about as much speed as he's ever had.  It helps that Seattle made his job easy today with some great run blocking, but in both the Giants game and today, we've seen that a decisive, aggressive Marshawn Lynch is still a good running back.  Lynch managed 5.9 yards per carry and was impressively consistent in going about it.
          • Despite TV commentators insisting that Dallas had trouble stopping the run this year, the Cowboys actually entered this game with the 10th ranked run defense in the NFL as measured by DVOA.  Seattle's offensive line, particularly Max Unger and Robert Gallery, had a terrific day getting inside push.  Unger is having a much better season than I expected.  Its shocking I know, but it turns out Tom Cable knows a bit more than I do about building an offensive line.  Unger's success after being atrocious in his rookie season is yet another reminder of why we should avoid freaking out about the struggles of John Moffitt and James Carpenter.
          • Russell Okung is quietly having another good season in 2011.  I'm glad that the Fox crew showered him and Miller with plenty of attention today for the job they did on Ware.
          • Miller may not be putting up huge yards, but he's a threat to on every play, and bringing the kind of blocking he does in combination with that threat makes him worth every penny.  Rice may not break 1000 yards this year, but similarly he's another guy that's outplaying whatever his statistics say.  Alan Branch has been Red Bryant moved inside, which is to say he's been valuable in an unusual manner.
          • Jason Witten scored an easy touchdown when two Seahawks defenders converged on him and both released, perhaps believing the other would take coverage.  I don't know who holds schematic responsibility on that play, but Hawthorne was in excellent position before he suddenly gave up.
          • Richard Sherman had another nice game, this time forcing a clutch fumble at the goal line to keep Seattle in the game.  I missed a good chunk of the first half, but Sherman seemed to play good coverage, and I love the physical presence, almost like that of a strong safety, that both he and Browner bring.
          • On the Jason Witten catch challenge and Doug Baldwin "simultaneous catch" reviews, it highlighted to me a certain fact.  That fact being that while instant replay helps reduce human error, it will never cease to exist.  
          • In the case of the Witten challenge and other blown replay reviews like it, I legitimately wonder if the video the refs are seeing in their replay booths is as extensive as the replays we see on television.  If its not, then I (not jokingly) believe that they should replace whatever replay their watching and just sub it for the broadcast feed.  Professional broadcasters have a knack for finding the perfect angle on plays like that, and my only explaination for the Witten decision was that the ref was not provided with some of the angles we saw on television.
          • In the case of the Baldwin decision, A: in isolation, it did not matter as the game was over anyway, and B: while I think the ref technically got the call wrong, I understand his reasoning.  Though technically a simultaneous catch, the ball was in the defender's body, not Baldwin's, and it also appeared that Baldwin arrived a split second after the defender had begun to secure the ball.  It "felt" like an interception that Baldwin was trying to get cute with, even if the facts suggest a reasonable case for a simultaneous catch, which always goes to the receiver.
          • Finally, I wouldn't be too upset about how the rush defense played today.  DeMarco Murray had 327 yards on only 33 carries in his previous two games: an average YPC nearing 10.  To say he's been sensational would be an understatement.  Today he averaged 6.3, which very well could end up below his season average.

          Saturday, November 5, 2011

          Ten Quick Thoughts on SEA @ DAL

          Only in Seattle would we be talking about "trap games" right after a two-game losing streak, but I think the phrase is apt as we approach a road contest in Dallas against the Cowboys. Ten quick observations:

          1. "America's Team" is sitting at 3-4 and appears to be struggling, but appearances could be deceiving. Dallas opened the season with some close games against a brutal schedule, never losing by more than four points against the Jets, Lions, or Patriots. Last week they were buried to the tune of 34-7 by a Philly offense much more dynamic and interesting than Seattle's. The closest analogy to the Seahawks on Dallas' schedule is the Rams, whom Dallas dismantled 34-7 themselves.

          Wednesday, November 2, 2011

          Five Things Pete Carroll Still Needs to Prove

          Youth is catching up to the Seahawks. Last year's early success, memorable mostly for its improbable defeat of the Chargers and Bears, is not being repeated. The players are visibly upset, Pete Carroll looks mellower each week, and people are starting to wonder just how legitimate last year's underdog excellence was.

          A tougher starting schedule is partly responsible for all this. Last year's opening six weeks were downright cotton-candy aside from the Chargers. This year we've faced two quality offenses, the 49ers defense, and two perennial laughingstock teams from Ohio who are actually showing hints of significance(???!?!?!?!).

          But although there's enough promise on the team to seriously believe in a bright future, and the gutsy road win over the Giants was delicious, these struggles are on Pete Carroll - and not in a bad way. The lack of discipline, the rawness and inexperience...what we're really seeing here is the short-term penalty of Pete Carroll's early approach with the team. The immediate and almost reckless roster turnover, the concentration of all our youth and inexperience into the offensive line, so many new and unfamiliar players integrating at once...

          This is what was always going to happen. The mistakes, frustration, and venting combined with the high-octane style of this coaching staff creating a weird mix of aggressive football and sloppy football. It's the flipside of high turnover, the downside of getting younger. This is exactly what a lot of folks wanted - misguided ideas from the Tim Ruskell era about veteran signings being bad, continuity being mistaken for stagnation, impatient demands for a fresh start. (Ruskell was fired deservedly, but gets a lot of criticism for the wrong reasons.)

          Now, after two games of historically inept offense (and refereeing), Pete Carroll is drawing flak. Much of it, including a lively piece from the normally level-headed Mike Sando, revolves around Carroll's QB decisions (specifically not drafting Andy Dalton, which I'll deal with in a moment). I don't have a problem with flak. I think the coaches (and the fans) need to see it after all the un-earned goodwill floating around from last year's fluke, unrepeatable playoff run. But it has to be the right kind of flak.

          Earlier this season I quantified what I thought were Carroll's successes as Seahawks head coach. Thus far, he's an effective motivator who gets high effort out of his players; a decent coaching recruiter; a committed developer of players; a financially savvy, future-minded decision-maker; and a never-say-die competitor who was enough of a believer to lead his team to an unforgettable playoff upset of the defending Super Bowl champions. All good things.

          But not a single one of them automatically translates to a dynasty. The pessimist points out that in no other division in the history of the NFL would Carroll even have gotten a shot to beat the Saints, that last year's cinderella story was born of lucky bounces and bad competition, and that Carroll has yet to answer a stiff challenge from top-level opponents in the playoffs. Had the Rams finished one game better, would we all still be this gracious to this coaching staff?

          This front office's strengths need to be tested in the fire of consistency before they will lead this team to contender status. The good management philosophies and player acquisition strategies need to turn into production and identity on the field. Here are five things I feel that Pete Carroll still needs to prove.