Sunday, October 30, 2011

CenturyLink field cancels Seahawks game, hosts a circus instead

I didn't post a write-up last week, and it honestly had nothing to do with the fact that it was perhaps the most inept offensive showing of the Pete Carroll era.  I was sick and the idea of blogging a disaster like that while I could barely think straight didn't seem like a fun idea.

So anyway, sorry about that.

Regarding today's game, I normally watch a game looking for storylines, but the storyline of today's game was about as multi-faceted and incoherent as a David Lynch film.  It was a weird game that mixed depressing realities with exciting indications. A game like that doesn't make for a good single narrative, so I'll just jump straight to the bullet points this week.

  • If I had written about last weeks game, the headline would have been something like this: "Charlie Whitehurst sucks, is the ultimate teammate."  Nothing takes the heat off a starter faster than giving the fanbase a full, vivid knowledge that the alternative quarterback is a hot stinking pile of doo.  Whitehurst was terrible against Cleveland, and was much worse today than his line of 4/7 for 52 yards would indicate.  Seattle couldn't move the ball almost at all with Whitehurst under center today, and it was simply night and day when Tarvaris Jackson entered the game. 
  • Now that I've made a point to disclose the amazingly obvious, lets talk about the more subtle reasons for Whitehurst's failings.  I do not pretend to be an X's and O's guru, but even to a neophyte like myself, its pretty obvious that Seattle has not reverted or scaled back their offensive expectations to meet Whitehurst's abilities.  In the preseason, Whitehurst was moderately successful in a simple "snap, step, and throw" offense.  Its not uncommon for NFL teams to adopt similarly undemanding, highly structured schemes in real games too- if the quarterback in question is very young and not ready to have more on his plate.  Andy Dalton is a recent example of that, with most of his pass attempts this season being less than 10 yards in the air.  Whitehurst is not young, but he's limited in much the way a rookie quarterback would be.  Yet rather than switch up the offense to tailor Whitehurst, Seattle tried to force him into playing the same free flowing point guard role Tarvaris Jackson uses, and obviously, Charlie Whitehurst is not a natural point guard type.  In retrospect, the results have been completely obvious.  Almost to the point where you could legitimately wonder if Pete Carroll set him up to fail.
  • But then again, I can see the logic in doing so.  Whitehurst does not have a meaningful long term future with this team as a simple one read quarterback.  Pete has essentially thrown Whitehurst off a cliff to see how he'd handle it.  Regardless of the outcome, the last two games have been valuable data for this front office when deciding whether or not to continue to invest in Whitehurst as a future option for this team's relatively unique quarterback role.  If Whitehurst plays for the Seahawks again later this year, I don't expect anything to change.  They'll keep giving him looks in the point guard offense, just on the off chance that he could somehow be molded into that type of quarterback.  We can expect that Whitehurst will struggle, and we can expect that Whitehurst probably won't be a Seahawk next year.  But its a good gamble to take in a season that's more about the next five years than this year.
  • If I read in my morning paper tomorrow that Seattle set a record for dropped passes today, it wouldn't shock me.  I was too lazy to keep a tally during the game, but I would guess that 8-10 passes hit a Seahawk on the hands and fell incomplete today.  Seattle won the yardage battle today 411 to 252.  They were only penalized by 10 yards more than Cincy.  The turnover ratio was 0.  Even if you take away the pick six and the punt return TD, they still would have lost 20-12.  How is that even possible?  Some redzone shenanigans, and a lot of drops.  Drops were huge today.
  • Not that Tarvaris Jackson was perfect, but I came away impressed with him for the third game in a row.  Despite a deluge of drops, Jackson (21-40, 323, 0 TD, 1 INT) still managed a very impressive 8.1 yards per attempt. His lone interception came on a play where he was hit throwing the ball, although he was lucky not to have an interception on the drive prior, when he briefly thought a Bengals D-lineman was a teammate.  He was slightly off on a few throws today, but the results were there despite the drops, and in terms of things like pocket presence and scanning the field, Jackson has looked as comfortable as ever in the role.  It really does appear that Jackson turned a corner at halftime in the Falcon's game after all.  Do I think Seattle can do better?  Sure.  But that said, its hard to see any other quarterback starting for Seattle in 2012 right now.  Jackson has impressed me, and for a guy that still has a lot of improvements left to make, its heartening that he seems to continue making small improvements each game.
  • Upon further review, Rice did appear to catch that throwaway pass for a touchdown.  His left foot dragged, and his right foot, from the endzone angle, appeared to tap the ground a few millimeters before the white chalk.  Seattle didn't challenge, but they should have.  It could have changed the entire complexity of the game.
  • I think Cincinnati got away with one on the final play before halftime.  Sitting on the player with the ball to buy time is hardly anything new, but when a Cincy played appeared to bat the ball away, that clearly crossed the line, and should have warranted a no-doubter delay of game penalty.  Pete Carroll came screaming on the field afterwards mouthing "YOU CAN'T DO THAT!"  Pete was right, but the refs turned a deaf ear and Seattle still got hosed anyway.
  • I really liked Pete's decision to go for it on the aforementioned play.  Seattle was down by 14 and hadn't done almost anything in the first half, despite moving the ball decently well with Jackson under center.  In a game like that, you can't win with an attitude that kicks field goals from the 3 yard line.  It didn't work out, but it very nearly did, and it wasn't like it was the difference in the game.
  • I found it very heartening that both Chris Clemons and Tarvaris Jackson returned after being hurt.  A game isn't officially ugly until you have injuries to major contributors, and though Seattle is a deep football team in many areas, there are a handful of players they simply can't afford to lose, and Clemons/Jackson are two of them.
  • Doug Baldwin is a stud, but as I've said before, I just don't see how his undersized body and slight frame can continue taking the hits they've taken for much longer.  Baldwin seems to be taking more and more time to get up from them each week.  Part of me wants to hold out hope that Baldwin can tough it out for the next ten seasons of great football, but intellectually, I'll be happy if he lasts three.
  • For all the talk about "what happened to Mike Williams?", an equally valid question might be the same regarding Ben Obomanu.  He really seemed to turn a corner in the 2nd half of the 2010 season, looking like a legit #2 WR.  Until today, he had been pretty quiet in this new offense, so it felt great seeing him break 100 yards against the Bengals (as did Sidney Rice).
  • Red Bryant continued to look like a stud today, forcing penalties over and over again.
  • Anthony McCoy is the clear frontrunner for my imaginary "Courtney Taylor award:" which is the esteemed honor for being the most promising late round player to have his career destroyed by inexplicable drops.
    • My gameball has to go to Richard Sherman, who made one of the prettiest interceptions I've seen in a good long while, and later made a great pass defense that tipped in Kam Chancellor's hands for another interception.  I might have a post on this sometime in the future, but what Seattle has done with their shotgun strategy regarding the secondary has been nothing short of an impressive success.  Now they just need to adopt that philosophy to other areas of the team (Running Back *cough-cough*)

    Overall, this was a brutally ugly game.  Turnovers, a ton of penalties, and a looming phantom of injuries.  But it also left us with a lot of hope, and reminder that this front office didn't go about last offseason with 2011 in mind, but building a core towards a long term future.  I've seen more than enough to conclude that they know what they are doing, and I'm excited about where this team will be two or three years from now.

    Saturday, October 22, 2011

    Analysis on SEA @ CLE - Watershed for Seahawks Defense?

    I actually did some detailed research on this game, and while I don't think any of us are expecting a shellacking from the Browns, I'm actually a little - what is this feeling? I'm not used to it - excited.

    Ten thoughts on Seattle visiting Cleveland as they exit the bye week:

    1. Use the word "unproven" on most QB's, and most people will dismiss him. Use it on Charlie Whitehurst, and it means that he might be good. I don't get it.

    Anyway, Whitehurst finally gets his long-expected 2011 debut this week against the Browns. It's time that he starts flashing some real promise, for he's been here too long to be a complete unknown. He's seen action in six regular-season games for Seattle, and the fact that he's only started two of them is less relevant than it's being made out to be. Lack of first-string practice snaps doesn't excuse poor fundamentals like staring down receivers and overthrowing them by twenty feet. He's created a visible profile now, and needs to hone it.

    Saturday, October 15, 2011

    What the Raiders Fans are Saying About Aaron Curry

    The following isn't an essay on Aaron Curry or the Oakland Raiders' fan base so much as it is on desperate rationalization - the need to believe that mountains of unpleasant news or unfavorable evidence can somehow be turned in your favor by a single unsupported, unsupportable, unfalsifiable hypothesis.

    Those big words give way too much credit to the hilarious crap that some Raiders fans are pulling right now. They want to make their new LB acquisition, Aaron Curry, look like a good move and are pulling out all the stops to do it. Most of it involves taking Curry's elite skillz for granted and brandishing all kinds of unrelated criticisms on Seattle's front office, hoping to make them look like just the pack of stooges that would release a burgeoning Hall-of-Famer.

    In fairness to Oakland, this phenomenon is not unique to the Bay Area. I remember Seahawks fans rationalizing about Greg Knapp when he came to Seattle for the 2009 season as offensive coordinator. Nobody wanted to believe the simplest implication of his body of work - that Seattle was in for a year of unimaginative, ineffective, laughably bad play-calling - so they set about searching for a reason to believe. Untenable speculation, excuses, dismissals, contradictions of fact, all in an attempt to shed better light on Knapp.

    So, before we start making fun of Raiders fans over their Curry-squirming, let's remember that we're not immune to that tendency. We're all sports fans. We all want reason to hope. Some stoic churls like myself excluded, every one of us is looking for the silver lining that might, just might, flash into a glorious clear sky.

    Now then, to the good part. Some examples (courtesy of Sadhappy at and my rebuttals in Seahawks blue:

    "your coaching staff is overvaluing K.J. Wright"
    You would need to prove that Curry has outplayed Wright in order to have any kind of respectability behind that.

    "Curry is simply not one of 'Carrolls boys'."
    Neither was Lofa Tatupu, Lendale White, or Lawrence Jackson, I guess.
    "the way he was handled in Seattle by the coaching staff that Curry was thinking too much on the field instead of just playing"
    I've seen that excuse floated in Seattle, too. But how hard does a #4 LB have to think to make a basic open-field tackle?

    Thursday, October 13, 2011

    Seahawks Bye-Week Report Card: The Palmer Ship Has Sailed and Other QB Thoughts

    Previously: The Bye-Week Report Card on the Defense, indulging in a small-time shock tactic that's eyebrow-raising just the same, posted an interesting picture yesterday in order to attract clicks to their newest feature article suggesting possible last-minute trades. It was originally a well-known picture of Pete Carroll welcoming Matt Hasselbeck to the sidelines after a presumed touchdown, but the back of the jersey is now (rather obviously) photoshopped to show the number "9" and the name "Palmer".

    Had you shown me that a couple weeks ago, I might have gotten excited. Earlier this year, 17 Power was one of a couple of Seattle blogs passing on low-level rumors that the Seahawks were pursuing Palmer in trade. A couple people were insisting that a certain price has been named; others quoted only an intangible interest. Nothing ever materialized, but the interest wasn't disproven either. Palmer, though modestly aged and beset by injuries, is nonetheless a potential short-term franchise quarterback with the skills to produce. He isn't doing anything in his non-retirement in Cincinnati, and the Bengals can only stand to benefit from trading him. It was a needed and potentially exciting prospect for a team struggling at the most important position, and I was hopeful it would happen.

    Now...mehh. Not so much.

    Wednesday, October 12, 2011

    The smartass guide to the LuckStakes, sans Seattle. Cry or rejoice as you see fit.

    Who really has a shot at drafting Andrew Luck? Who's plummeting in free-fall towards the bottom of the barrel, and who's losing out by inexplicably winning? Here's the leading contenders.

    1. Miami Dolphins. They opted not to fire Sparano during the lockout, why mess with a winning (at losing) formula? If Sparano's tenure was any more lame duck, the team's uniform accent color would be a l'orange. There has been talk among some pundits that now is the time to go get Orton, but with 11/16ths of his 9 million dollar salary still due, I find it hard to believe they would. Besides, the owner has the option of selling tickets one of two ways: build a winning team and tradition, or draft Andrew Luck. He is pushing the EASY button in Miami this year.

    2. Indianpolis Colts. The latest news is that Peyton is less than 50/50 on playing this season. Expect those odds to dwindle as 16 losses draws closer. Those odds nearly got a big boost when Indy somehow found a way to lead the hapless Chiefs in an actual NFL game played in front of fans and everything, but some good mid-game adjustments by the Colts coaching staff made sure the Chiefs were able to come from behind and win a 2nd! NFL game.

    3. St. Louis Rams. They are moving on up. The Jefferson's have nothing on this bunch, who are happy to report that they only have 5 home games left to gag. In related news, StubHub is reporting that St. Louis fans have bogged their servers with tickets for sale. While how much the Rams would want to draft Luck may be a matter of debate, the kings' ransom they would receive for trading that spot is not. Don't worry Seattle fans, the Rams will somehow get themselves to a couple of wins. Their goal is not Luck, but Los Angeles.

    4. Denver Broncos. More proof that Elway has no idea what he is doing in Denver: Tebow Time. All he did was nearly beat San Diego. To the 3 or 4 Bronco fans who have not become Tebow acolytes, worry not. John Fox has promised that after the bye week they will have "training camp" style practices especially for Tim Tebow. Wasn't training camp a total disaster for Tebow? With a game at Miami the week after the upcoming bye, Fox and Elway are apparently hoping for a training camp-style ass-kicking in Miami.

    5. Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags are also competing for a spot in LA. The only team on my list who might trade the rights to the top spot to Seattle also might just reconsider that stance if Gabbert continues to poop the bed. Which kind of means Seattle has no chance.

    6. Minnesota Vikings. Their chances took a severe blow when the Arizona Cardinals came to town, who after Seattle's win remain the western team most committed to losing 10 AM starts. I told them to IR Purple Jesus, but did they listen? Nope. Come on Vikings, would you rather have a dozen or so years of Luck, or 3 years of Christian Ponder? The Vikings will probably fall off the list, their defense is good enough to get them a handful of wins.

    7. Arizona Cardinals. The more likely it becomes that Whisenhunt gets fired, the higher the Cards will move up this list. Kolb is looking less like a quarterback and more like an albatross every week. If every running back makes Patrick Peterson flinch the way that Adrian Peterson does, Kolb won't be able to throw enough touchdowns to keep this suddenly irrelevant team anywhere but near the top of the Luckstakes.

    Philadelphia and Carolina sport records of 1-4, but I have a hard time seriously including them in the race for the number one pick right now. Seattle is out of it. Like I said last week, this Seattle Defense is only a couple of attitude ticks away from winning a few games by itself. They played against the Giants like their attitude was ticked, and good for them. They put the loud but vocal Suck for Luck minority to bed, and thank goodness. With 3 games left against the Rams and Cards, it is highly unlikely that Seattle even drafts in the top 5, let alone grabs the top spot.

    Seahawks Bye-Week Report Card: Offense

    I was going to call this a "First Quarter Report Card" after Seattle's first four games, but never got a chance to finish the piece before the Seahawks crashed through the Meadowlands and left a Doug Baldwin-shaped hole behind them.

    Turns out that's just as well, because that gutsy win didn't just make it five games into the season and ruin my "first quarter" artifice - it drastically changed perceptions of this team. There's no ignoring a road victory like that, regardless of any caveats. Beating a playoff-caliber team with an elite QB and pass rush, on the road, at 10AM, after flying in from the West Coast - there's substance there. It's no fluke.

    Offensive Line

    Tom Cable is rapidly fulfilling the lofty expectations he entered Seattle with. This offensive line has covered such a ridiculous amount of ground during the bye-week stretch that it no longer looks like the same unit. Heck, the offense no longer looks like the same offense. Overall, the pass protection is better than its ever been for Tarvaris Jackson, while the run-blocking has a ways to go but showed promise on Sunday.

    Tackle is the best news. Russell Okung has rebounded some to the last couple weeks, despite recurring ankle booboos and a newfound proclivity for penalties. James Carpenter has vaulted from prematurely-labeled bust to respectable. His highlight Sunday was a tremendous edge block to spring Marshawn Lynch for a long gain that would eventually lead to a touchdown. Both tackles' mistakes against the Giants were glaring but isolated, and forgiveable against a championship New York defensive line. It speaks volumes to their toughness and determination, as they've had (and still do) a lot of adversity of various sorts to fight through.

    The interior of Paul McQuistan, Max Unger and John Moffitt has been mostly quiet. That's better than noticeable for the wrong reasons. Unger's tenacity in getting to the second level has stood out. The push up the middle could stand to benefit once Robert Gallery returns.

    After Seattle's one-dimensional draft last April, proving this O-line worthy was an important validator for this front office. It's starting to pay off. We'd know if it weren't - our uncertainty at QB makes good protection an essential.

    Running Back

    My colleague Kip Earlywine insists that no running back on this roster has the right profile for the consistent, hard-earned yardage of a true zone runner. I see his point, but right now I'll take whatever I can get. Marshawn Lynch has no doubt been aching to prove that his immortal "Beast Run" against New Orleans was not the only thing we would remember him by. Until Sunday, it was. But Lynch's 98-yard performance was a factor in the offense, and was helped by the fact that Carroll wasn't forced to abandon the run in the face of a three-touchdown deficit by halftime. He was also handy in the up-tempo short passing game.

    Leon Washington and Justin Forsett continue to see surprisingly little action in the offense. Both are admittedly boom-or-bust types, and perhaps not the kind of weapon that Seattle can afford to deploy right now with the offense still finding its footing. I maintain that Forsett could still be an attractive trade target for some hungry team. Seattle has only a week left to make use of this, though I'll be sad to see him go. His spirit is infectious.

    Michael Robinson, newly returned from injury, committed a costly fumble and didn't really help his case as long-term weapon in this offense.

    Tight End

    With Zach Miller recovering from a head injury and an excess of blocking responsibilities, his future impact is cloudy. This is frustrating, because he cost an arm and a leg and was supposed to be a security blanket for our quarterback. Frustrating, not worrying, because others are stepping up in that role just fine. But for all the supposed dependence this offense was going to have on its tight ends, Seattle has allowed its tight end corps to diminish to just two, collectively out-produced by Ben Obomanu.

    Cameron Morrah returns this week from PUP. I don't know whether our tackles aren't yet ready to be weaned off tight end protection, whether Darell Bevell is ignoring them, or whether Tarvaris Jackson has been ignoring them (most likely a combination), but I'm intrigued to think of how much more this already-interesting receiving corps could be opened up by more tight end involvement.

    Anthony McCoy, after some flashes early in the season, had some irritating drops against the Giants but kept his head in the game for a drive-extending 20-yard catch from Charlie Whitehurst. He's an underrated prospect who should get more looks.

    Wide Receiver

    This group has emerged as one of the best surprises of the year, largely because of the emergence of Doug Baldwin. The undrafted Standford wide receiver is leading the team in receptions and yards and starting to garner attention from the national media. The guy is just brilliant at finding soft spots in the zones, like greased lightning in and out of his breaks, and has vicegrips for hands. All at a whopping 5'10". Ironic for a starter under a head coach obsessed with tall receivers, don't you think?

    Sidney Rice has been relatively quiet. His yardage is about on a level with 2010 Mike Williams and 2009 T.J. Houshmandzadeh (who produced despite fans' hatred). I'd love to break down the tape and find out whether he's been effective at drawing defenders away from the line and other receivers. Like Miller, it's a little disconcerting that he's producing below his cost.

    Williams is not a separation receiver. He gets his yardage by out-reaching and out-muscling close coverage, which makes him attractive to gunslingers like Matt Hasselbeck but ugly to skittish quarterbacks like pre-no-huddle Tarvaris Jackson. His role will probably shift after the bye, with everyone voicing an intent to get him involved.

    Ben Obomanu, relatively quiet until the Meadowlands, looks like a useful tool in the up-tempo passing game that Seattle is now experimenting with. He's a counter-example to the theory that Pete Carroll just gets rid of anyone with Tim Ruskell's name on his draft card, which could bode well for the returning Deon Butler, whom Carroll worked hard to integrate into the offense.

    Then again, it may not. With the WR corps crowded by Butler's return, Seattle likely has to release one of Butler, Golden Tate, or Kris Durham. But with everyone else staking their claims in this offense, that choice isn't as easy. Butler is a similar player to Baldwin and may not offer as much value. He doesn't recover from jams or withstand the physical nature of the game as well as Baldwin does. Kris Durham is a project with tools and plenty of upside, and probably wouldn't make it to the practice squad (Kansas City was rumored to be targeting him in the fourth round), while Golden Tate is more of a prize pick and offers more diversity to the offense.

    My preference would be to see Tate go. He's done very little and is so fundamentally behind the curve that Seattle doesn't appear to be able to make him a priority in the offense. Butler would probably provide more immediate returns. But my guess is that Tate is kept around for that tantalizing hint of big plays that someone on this front office is seeing. Charlie Whitehurst has shown some chemistry with him at times, which might prove valuable should he be starting after the bye.

    Other Thoughts

    Seattle's offense is showing signs of an identity despite not fully delivering on all its big purchases. Sidney Rice, Zach Miller, and Robert Gallery, all expensive offseason finds, aren't having as much of an impact as their paychecks suggested they would. That may not materr that much beyond matters of the purse, because Seattle is finding traction with other guys. But it's something to keep an eye on.


    This afternoon: The Smartass Guide to the LuckStakes, from Scott Williams.

    Tuesday, October 11, 2011

    Further Thoughts on the Giants Victory

    The more I think about Sunday's win against the Giants, the more it feels like an illustration of how defense and QB play fit together in this league. The Seahawks' defense didn't win the game for them. The game-sealing interception was a lucky bounce that lies more on Eli Manning's shoulders than any Seattle DB's, another of several bad decisions by a QB that couldn't push his luck forever.

    No, in this instance, the Seahawks won because their QB play was able to keep pace with New York's. Shocker this, but the combination of Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst exceeded 300 yards and won the turnover battle. This left the Seahawks hanging around in the fourth quarter, well in position to capitalize on a lucky bounce.

    Does this mean the Giants gave the game away? Yes and no. Manning had a horribly inconsistent day, but how many Seahawks teams of late have been able to run away with lucky breaks? Very few. Now we're seeing one. It says a lot about the spirit and tenacity of this team that they were still around mentally and physically when Eli Manning threw that fateful pass too wide of Victor Cruz. The Seahawks were playing sixty minutes of football, making plays when it counted. And they forced a few of their own.


    Some consider the Tarvaris Jackson debate blown wide open again. I was under no impression that he was capable of playing franchise QB in the NFL, but Pete Carroll's system seems set up to maximize Jackson's abilities. Jackson led sustained drives against the Giants defense, rather than just a couple good ones. His newfound point-guarding is opening up the offense and affording them more red-zone opportunities. He's surprised me.

    It certainly helps to have the weapons he does. Good QB's elevate bad WR's much more than the other way around, but there is an effect both ways, and the latter effect is near full strength right now. Doug Baldwin is out there doing his thing. He's fluid, instinctive, aware, and has experience with a similar system from Stanford from what I hear. It gives him an "it" factor that Golden Tate just plain lacks. Ben Obomanu and Marshawn Lynch acquitted themselves well in the short passing game, and Lynch showed good things Sunday pounding the rock. It was steady production, not just one long run. It wouldn't surprise me if they're all benefiting from Sidney Rice drawing a bit of coverage downfield.

    Charlie Whitehurst made some eyebrow-raising deep throws to keep Seattle in the game late. He also had some bad throws and continues to obsess over his first read. He's not as much of an improv QB as Jackson is, which is both good and bad. If a solid month of starting could do Jackson some good, it might help Whitehurst as well, but it might not. Depends on Carroll's system.

    Speaking of which, kudos to Darell Bevell for the gutsy decision to switch to an up-tempo offense. It keeps the defense off-balance and seemed to favor both Jackson and Whitehurst. It has downside, in particular an increased turnover risk and the opposite of a grinding offense (i.e. leaving the other offense with more time instead of less). But it's funny how an offensive coordinators' play-calling looks so much better when the offense is in sync, whereas from behind the plays tend to look dumber.

    Also credit the offensive line, particularly the rapidly improving James Carpenter, and the fearlessness of Seattle's sack-laden QB's as well. Jackson did a great job not getting rattled, as did Whitehurst in relief (without a lot of first-team practice).


    The Seattle defense has all the signs of a collection of playmakers being exposed too often by a lack of consistent interior pass rush. The defensive ends are notching pressures and hits, the corners are getting some good jams and defenses, the safeties are flying around, and yet good QB's are still racking up yards, yards, yards with or without much help from the run game. At first glance, this is a paradox, with most people's first instinct to look to the secondary for someone to blame.

    Kip pointed out a number of contributing factors to Manning's success on Sunday. Seattle's good offensive play and tenacity, their reliance on an up-tempo offense, and the lack of a run game were all relevant. They forced Manning to keep up the pace and inflated his stats to some degree, as did Leon Washington's kickoff returns against Philip Rivers last year. Manning's own bumbles are also on that list. He was lucky to be in the game as long as he was, with Seattle defenders getting their hands on several footballs. It was a poorly placed throw to Cruz that did him in, although I'm not sure whether he or Cruz is more responsible there.

    Another factor is revealed by Victor Cruz' "magical" 68-yard touchdown completion. I've seen a number of attempts to affix blame for this catch-and-run to a Seahawk defensive back, but I don't buy it. Kam Chancellor shouldn't get blamed for merely tipping the ball instead of intercepting it, while Richard Sherman didn't have the reaction time to close. It looks like hard luck on them. But I can think of someone who could have stopped the pass - the defensive line, at the source. Eli Manning had four seconds to literally dance around in the pocket before he released that pass. The more time the QB has in the pocket, the more lucky things he's going to make happen.

    And not even lucky things so much as perfectly placed throws. For two weeks now, we've had front-row seats as Seattle defensive backs (this week, Walter Thurmond; last week, Brandon Browner) played excellent coverage, only to get burned by the kind of beautifully placed pinpoint throw that one-on-one sideline coverage just can't really defend against.  It's a matter of inches, and franchise QB's like Manning and Matt Ryan are defined partly by their ability to complete such passes on a regular basis. On Thurmond's play in particular, even the pass rush couldn't help. Manning was flushed out and still made the play, helped by the great hands of Cruz.

    Our defense are still giving up some big plays, but they're also showing promise. I can't help but wonder if our secondary's life would be made easier by interior pressure on the QB himself. But even great pass rush can only limit a QB's opportunities. Aaron Rodgers went up against the NFL's very best defense in last year's Super Bowl, and still his accuracy and improvisation prevailed. Pittsburgh needed its offense to seal the deal, and Ben Roethlisberger's turnovers doomed the operation.

    Which leads me back to my belief about the power structure of the NFL. Defense isn't enough on its own, and in the last two weeks we've been shown a clinic as to why. Kudos to Browner for keeping his head in the play, but his winning interception return was a crazy ricochet off an inaccurate throw from Manning and was thus a factor of offense, not defense. Ordinarily, Seattle's struggle to produce offensively would have put Seattle 3 touchdowns behind at the time of Browner's pick-six.


    But as Kip eloquently put it, good offensive play is an equalizer. On Sunday, Seattle had it. The victory was due in no small part to Seattle's ability to score early. A similar effect is visible in our unlikely wins against San Diego and Chicago last year - the Seahawks put up points, exerting pressure on the opponent to score, and then kept the pressure in place with good field position (let no one ignore Leon Washington's contributions to the win). Usually when the Seahawks lose, it's to a runaway scoring pile-on in the first half. This Sunday, much like our 2005 team (dare I make even tangential comparisons to that?), early points equalized the game and gave our defense greater influence.


    I always look at the quality of the defeated opponent to gauge the quality of a win. Are the Giants a bad football team, thus reducing the significance of Seattle's victory? I find that hard to swallow. On one hand, they opened the season by losing to the Redskins and scraping past the awful Cardinals, so that doesn't speak to their stature. Injuries have certainly backed the team up, and their offensive line was surprisingly soft. But this team carries a lot of talent, plays in a tough division, boasts a fearsome pass rush that got to our QB's multiple times, and knows how to win. Even at his worst, Eli Manning is a good quarterback and made a lot of great plays against Seattle in between his bad ones.

    So it's tough to say.

    What we do know, like we knew before, is that the Seahawks have a few tricks up their sleeve when it comes to keeping games in hand. Pete Carroll's obsession over turnovers is a big part of that, and who knows how much better our 2010 season could have looked without Matt Hasselbeck's multiple four-turnover fiascos? We've got Leon Washington, we've got a fierce pair of playmaker safeties who seem to come up big every time we succeed, and we've got a great receiver tandem. Should these elements create room for some balance, we have running and short-passing to add to the fire. We have passion and determination from the players that certainly wasn't around when Mora was coach. And, of course, there's the awesome equalizer of the 12th Man crowd at CenturyLink Field.

    What does this say about the rest of our season? The rest of our schedule features QB's mostly of the "respectable but highly inconsistent" category, and the only intimidating defense I see on that schedule is Baltimore. The toughest stretch could well be behind us already.

    This is wonderfully encouraging stuff. I can't say that I consider the QB situation resolved, but it's a complement to Carroll's coaching and offseason acquisitions that the Seahawks can keep games close enough to where a big play or two will swing fortune our way. That really does seem to be Carroll's mantra, his big answer to the big-time playground of elite quarterbacks and smashmouth defenses. I hope it becomes a pattern. Last year's 3-7 finish of blowout losses still stands as the mean of Seattle's quality in a vacuum, and it will take some consistent performance against good teams to change my mind about that.

    But we're certainly on our way.

    Sunday, October 9, 2011

    Seahawks blessed with shocking victory after sufficiently pleasing the injury gods

    The Seahawks lost last weekend, but in defeat they made a statement:  Tarvaris Jackson might just "get it," and with a functioning quarterback, the Seahawks have a formidable and efficient offense.

    I said last week that I felt guilty about rooting for a loss.  I decided before the Giants game today that I was done with that mentality, and wanted nothing more than a Seahawks win.  The only reason I wanted the Seahawks to lose in the first place was to help secure a franchise quarterback.  Yet, with steady improvement by Jackson and a pair of solid/good backups, its beginning to appear that Seattle's quarterback situation is not quite as dire as I originally thought it was.  Which I think says more about our coaching staff than our actual quarterbacks.  More on that in a bit, but first, the game.  What a game.

    2-3 Chart

    Sorry for the late post, I wasn't able to start watching the game until 1:30. 

    (Baldwin and Moffitt both returned later in the game).

    I can't believe they won.  That's three great viewing experiences in a row for the Seahawks.  Its shocking to think that they are a field goal away from being 3-2 right now.

    Seahawks Defeat NY Giants on the Road, 36-25

    The title alone is a stunner. Not something I was expecting to see this year.

    This game was a back-and-forth, messy, opportunistic contest with poor fundamental football interspersed with big plays - for both teams. It was a firefight of turnovers. It was a slew of injuries toughed out. It was a showcase for wide receiver depth. It was a clinic on how to rebound from mistakes. It was another chance for Charlie Whitehurst. It was a head-shaker for linebackers. It was a hailstorm of penalties. It was a highlight reel-filler of lucky bounces, an agonizing march of almost-big-plays, finally decided by the luck of one team running out while the other team still had the endurance and spirit to capitalize.

    For once, the latter team was the Seahawks, now 2-3. Once again, we are reminded of the masterful motivation of Pete Carroll and the power it sometimes offers to an otherwise struggling team.

    This game could mark a tremendous shift in the Seahawks' season, or at least, as tremendous as it can be as the 49ers(!) run away with the division. Pending further news on Tarvaris Jackson's injury, Charlie Whitehurst could be looking at yet another chance, probably his final one, to cement himself as a starting quarterback.

    His weapons are well on their way to establishing themselves. Don't look now, but an undrafted wide receiver just broke 100 receiving yards for the Seahawks, leads the team's receivers, and in five weeks has gone from roster long-shot to security blanket in the slot. Brandon Stokley in miniature. I shudder to think what he could do with a real QB throwing to him, and to think what we would have missed out on had Seattle followed my advice and cut him last month.

    I don't know what to make of our cornerback depth. Brandon Browner in particular is an enigma, a bigger, stronger Kelly Jennings who scatters small victories in between big plays and costly penalties. Nobody else is much better. But we've also seen great things in spurts. Would their job be easier with any real pass rush? QB's would have a lot less time to make perfectly placed passes and other lucky things happen. I feel the need to withhold judgment there.

    So much to say about this team right now, so little time. I look forward to Kip Earlywine's piece later today.

    Sunday, October 2, 2011

    CenturyLink field tragically not at 5280 feet of elevation, Seahawks lose

    I have a confession to make. I want the Seahawks to draft a successful NFL franchise quarterback. No matter what. Drafting higher increases the odds said player will work out. Teams that draft higher lose more games. I wanted Seattle to lose against the 49ers. I wanted them to lose against the Steelers. When the Hawks beat the Cardinals, I wasn't terribly happy about it.

    But today was different. Yes, I wanted the Seahawks to lose, but when Steven Hauschka's hilariously impossible kick attempt fell well short and well off the mark, I couldn't help but feel the heavy burden of a guilty conscience. And I don't just mean that because King Felix was in attendance sporting an awesome custom #34 Seahawks jersey.

    It was because something clearly awoke within Tarvaris Jackson in the 2nd half. I don't want to crown the guy prematurely. I've already made enough of an ass out of myself with the first paragraph. But for the first time all season, Jackson finally had the look of a real point guard quarterback. And unsurprisingly, the offense clicked in a big way once Jackson "got" what being a ball distribution quarterback is all about.

    Which isn't to say that Jackson was bad in the first half. He once again seemed to key on Sidney Rice, including this gorgeous 52 yard bomb for the team's first score. Jackson looked more confident and more polished than usual, but the offense was still the same predictable unit it had been previously. The run game was going nowhere, and Jackson wasn't tapping into the full breadth of his impressive collection of receiving talent.

    Atlanta kicked a field goal early in the 3rd quarter to stretch their lead to 27-7. From that point forward, Jackson was 5 for 6 on 3rd downs, with that lone miss coming at the very end of the game. He started targeting Mike Williams, including this touchdown pass. He found Obomanu open on a blown coverage for a touchdown. He took advantage of Doug Baldwin's precocious slot receiver skills. Baldwin finished with a team high 5 receptions for 84 yards. This next stat might be the stat of the game though: Sidney Rice finished with 3 catches, but six other Seahawks finished with at least that many.

    Jackson has been accused of only scanning one side of the field, but today, I regularly observed him checking multiple reads and scanning the entire defense. He also showed increased boldness with running the ball, and always at intelligent times. His two interceptions were not the usual variety. His first was a great defensive play and a lucky bounce. His second was a great defensive play and a lucky bounce in the endzone. Jackson very easily could have ran a 4/0 TD/INT ratio today. This was a huge step forward for #7, in just about every way possible.

    Is it conceivable that just maybe, Pete Carroll might be able to duplicate Steve Sarkisian's surprise success with Keith Price, using Jackson as his medium? I'll freely admit that snap judgements are a fault of mine. It's tempting though. Lets give Pete some credit, he knows a thing or two about molding quarterbacks. Probably a lot more than Brad Childress did.

    As far as the rest of the game...

    1-3 Chart

    What a game.

    Ten Quick Thoughts on ATL vs. SEA

    Seattle is catching Atlanta at a good time. The Falcons are experiencing an identity crisis right now and their struggling O-line isn't helping them get through the fog. Some key points:

    1. This is a game that plays to some of Seattle's defensive strengths. Atlanta is San Francisco with a quarterback, run-first and play-action-dependent. They're trying to reinvent themselves as a purer passing team this year with mixed results. Hard to know what that says about today's game. If Atlanta tries to revert to run-first, Seattle's Bryant defense is there waiting for them, but the jury's still out on that defense. If Atlanta sticks to their newfound passing mantra, this young secondary could prove vulnerable.

    2. There's something magical about Seattle's homefield advantage, but it's a lot less predictable than it used to be. High-powered offenses have, quite frankly, had little trouble thriving in Seattle the last three years. Once the crowd is taken out, the magic is gone. The Seahawks have to keep them in it. So ultimately, the responsibility to win is still on the team, which is a refreshing thing to come back to. Or not.

    3. One thing that homefield advantage does usually favor is the home team's pass rush. Even in quieter stadiums, the crowd can still drown out some line calls and cadences for the visiting offense, which usually gives the home team's defensive line a half-step advantage. DE Chris Clemons is known to capitalize on this and faces a good matchup against gimpy, struggling OT Sam Baker. Raheem Brock and Red Bryant play well at home also. Ideally, this pass rush will need help from the interior in order to seal the deal, but expect some good moments for our QB hunters today.

    4. SS Kam Chancellor, who matches up against tight ends in man coverage a lot (kudos to Fieldgulls' Thomas Beekers for alerting me to this), is out with a thigh bruise. Atari Bigby is starting in his place. Bigby was a solid player for Green Bay when he could stay healthy and avoid dumb penalties, so we might not be too poorly off. But a visit by Tony Gonzalez catching passes from Matt Ryan is hardly a friendly time to test this theory.

    5. Atlanta's pass defense could be a bit overrated, which is nice, because any time now Tarvaris Jackson is going to start getting picked off by defenses who are aware of his penchant for throwing to the right. Seattle needs to get some respectable receiving threats (that is, Mike Williams) down the left side of the field, perhaps opening up the middle to guys like Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin.

    6. Brandon Browner exceeded my expectations last week against Arizona, though he did incur another penalty. But keep in mind that a cornerback's matchup depends as much on the QB as it does the WR. Last week it was Kevin Kolb throwing to Larry Fitzgerald, without any terribly inviting alternatives. This week it's Matt Ryan throwing to Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez. That's a lot of one-on-one matchups.

    7. The Falcons are giving up a fair number of rushing yards through three games (vs. Matt Forte, LEsean McCoy, and LeGarrette Blount). Marshawn Lynch might find some room. Although, once again, whether he'll stay in play largely depends on whether the rest of the team can keep the game in hand. (Remind me again why Carroll is so obsessed about the run when the run is so dependent on everything else?)

    8. Where the heck is Walter Thurmond?

    9. This is the first 4-3 defense Seattle has faced this year. This does not automatically mean it'll be easier. Interior 4-3 tackles like Richard Seymour and Fred Robbins were a nightmare against our interior line last year. This year, our interior is backup Paul McQuistan, strength-challenged Max Unger, and rookie John Moffitt. Might be more of the same.

    10. Speaking of Atlanta's pass rush, Seattle's tackles face a stiff test against Atlanta edge rushers John Abraham, Ray Edwards, and Kroy Biermann. Russell Okung has declined lately, though nobody wants to admit it yet, and James Carpenter has to continue his improvement from last week.

    Saturday, October 1, 2011

    The Red Bryant Illusion And Why I'm So Hard On Our Defense

    It's an exciting time for the Seahawks defense. It's coming into its own. Young future cornerstones like Brandon Mebane, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor are flying around and delivering huge, shuddering hits. Wily veterans like Marcus Trufant, Leroy Hill, Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock are enjoying a high-impact resurgence. And other hopefuls like Walter Thurmond and KJ Wright are lurking around hinting promise. The speed is there, the physicality is there, and we're finally starting to see some of the instincts and discipline we've been lacking. There's no denying the talent on tape.

    There's one guy on this defense who doesn't quite seem to fit into any of those categories, though. At first glance, the stats seem to support a top-notch performance from any 'Hawks lineup containing DE Red Bryant. As Hawk Blogger recently pointed out, opponents are converting only 32% of their third downs in the Bryant defense's nine games, 29% so far this season - lofty numbers indeed, worthy of top 5 in the NFL.

    My response, as the token wet blanket of the Seahawks blogging network, is that you have to put this into context. I've written before about how the Bryant defense faced mostly mediocre-to-terrible rushing teams in 2010 and completely folded against the only two strong passing games it's faced (Denver and Pittsburgh) even when they could stop the run.

    Which suggests two possibilities: that the success of the run-focused Bryant D is either irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, or that it's still relatively untested against better opponents - the real yardstick of NFL success. Maybe some of both.