Wednesday, January 25, 2012

17 Blurbs on Peyton Manning and the Seahawks

Jason La Canfora of has recently opined that the Seattle Seahawks are probably on the short list of suitors for Peyton Manning's post-Colts services.

Imagine the VMAC.
Amongst La Canfora's arguments:

- The regime change in Indianapolis ensures a quarterback change as surely as it did in Carolina a year ago. The availability of Andrew Luck makes it easy for the Colts to move on, and Manning's recent comments, his medical condition, and the team's cap issues only seem to strengthen this likelihood.

- Manning's pay-me-or-cut-me roster bonus is due for a decision before the official start of free agency, effectively eliminating Indy's ability to trade him.

- Peyton has "earned the right to be picky" and will probably be looking for a quieter, lower-pressure division and a young, rising, team with a stable locker room and enough talent to where he won't have to pull his usual elevating-an-entire-team act. That narrows the list of candidates considerably, with Seattle and Arizona standing out.

17 quick blurbs from me on this possibility:

17.     La Canfora's article is mere speculation. Sensible, articulate, and exciting speculation, but nonetheless there's no element of Manning's actual intentions in there. For all we know, the anonymous "general managers and executives" that La Canfora cites could refer to Tim Ruskell and Dan Snyder.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Alex Smith and the Real Wolf

People have been hailing Alex Smith's "arrival" for seven years, every time he posts the rare impressive win. It's never stuck. Smith "growing up" as a quarterback is such a common occurrence that I've come to ignore it when I hear it. How long will it be until his next choke? I wonder as I roll my eyes.

Last week's playoff gauntlet was a comforting reaffirmation of the value of defense, but that doesn't take away the influence of clutch QB play. A post by football analyst Greg Cosell highlights three fourth-quarter throws that Smith made to lift the 49ers to the NFC Championship.

Through Cosell's lens, the passes are not just timely, they're outstanding on their own merit. It's funny how everyone's default analysis is to credit the receiver for the big play, because the mechanics and subtleties of QB play are so rarely understood. To many fans, they're usually just the one tossing the ball, the receivers the ones going to get it. Cosell's breakdown reveals just how demanding these passes were and how small the margin of error was.

This redefines "game manager". As Cosell aptly put, every team that wants a Lombardi will eventually require the quarterback to adapt and overcome. Whether that's on the occasional inevitable third-down-and-long, or the fourth quarter with the game on the line, this moment will come. The 49ers have built their scheme around minimizing these moments for Smith, essentially making him a game manager. When he beat the Saints, did he make himself worthy of these moments? Did he rephrase "game manager" to include epic throws, or did he transcend the phrase on his way to a new plateau of play?

Whatever the context, Smith was no doubt enabled by an awesome defense. Without that, Drew Brees is probably up by three touchdowns by the time Smith's epic fourth quarter rolls around. Last weekend demonstrated, with its surprising upset of two high-powered passing attacks, that defense is a necessary element in prolonged playoff runs. Seattle, by searching for a "game manager", is not stating a willingness to settle or succeed cheap at any cost. They're looking to protect their quarterback from playing on such an island as Drew Brees is, and this weekend goes a long ways toward validating their concern.

As a Seahawks fan, I'm continuing to induce vomiting amidst the 12th Man by complimenting Alex Smith. But elite throws deserve recognition, and they solicit thought on what Seattle should be looking for in a quarterback. Do we hold out for the all-time elite QB whose origins remain a seeming mystery, or do we seek, as a baseline, a QB who can come through in the clutch and work from there?

As of today, I'm considerably more comfortable with the latter option. Now on to seeing if these defenses can stop Tom Brady.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Why 2011 Isn't Over for the Seahawks...and Why We Might Cheer for the 49ers

If you're a fan of the Seattle Seahawks, you should be deeply engrossed in this year's playoffs. The 'Hawks themselves may not be in contention anymore, but the contests between the remaining teams have a lot to say about the current state of the NFL and the vision that Pete Carroll has for this team. Even if the Seahawks aren't auditioning for a Lombardi, the model upon which Carroll is building them is.

So the 12th Man should be paying attention.

More specifically, that blueprint is auditioning in the body of teams that share it, like San Francisco and Baltimore. These are teams built around rock-solid defense, smashmouth running games, and a limited quarterback, much like the direction Seattle is heading. There's obviously talent here; the question is how it's deployed, to what goals. And, of course, whether those teams have the ability to stop or out-race the juggernaut passing offenses of the reigning Super Bowl kings: Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady.

In a way, the NFL playoffs is a showdown, not just between teams, but between team-building philosophies.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

17 Blurbs: Wild-Card Round

Do ALL my posts have to be carefully constructed, heavily researched essays on a single subject? Why, they don't. Yay for random and disjointed! Much faster, much more fun.

17. This weekend was dominated by poor tackling. Detroit looked just as blase on defense as they did against Matt Flynn.

16. Shame, because Matt Stafford looks better every game.

15. That Atlanta-based model that Pete Carroll has in mind for his team? It still isn't getting anywhere in the postseason.

14. Saints analysts: when your team has a pass-run ratio of 65%-35%, passes on first down just as often as they run, and rarely blinks on 3rd-and-long, "balanced offense" is not the phrase that comes to mind.

13. Anyone wanna bet that Josh McDaniels will suddenly become relevant again now that he's coming home to Brady-boy?

12. The rumblings have started: people are starting to tire of the NFL's bias toward the pass.

11. Wow, Ike Taylor. I haven't seen a single defender hand a win to a team so blatantly since...oh wait, a year ago when Roman Harper handed one to the Seahawks.

10. Speaking of which, don't be surprised if this year's divisional round for the Broncos' echoes last year's for the Seahawks. Tebow doesn't do well when the other team has an offense.

9. The Texans and Seahawks are brethren in the circle of ignored teams. Houston moving on to the next round makes me feel good, kinda like seeing the Lions doing well.

8. Still think Andy Dalton is way overrated, already very close to his ceiling, and looks like someone dipped Spock headfirst into a vat of tomato juice.

7. Not excited about the idea of Jeff Fisher coming to St. Louis. He's an underrated coach who will immediately make Sam Bradford better.

6. James Harrison is a disgusting player. So content to watch him struggle with Denver's option scheme. That whole defense, in fact, looks over the hill.

5. There's always been a "Manning to Manningham" joke within me somewhere, but I've never been able to find it.

4. A reminder: the phrases "arm strength" and "deep ball" don't refer to sky-high pretty-pretty rainbow passes that hang up there forever and beg to be picked off by safeties. They refer to this.

3. New England and Green Bay actually look a bit unstable going into the playoffs. They need more defense.

2. Speaking of defense, I hope the 49ers beat New Orleans. Yep, I said it. I'll feel dirty, but at least it will prove that passing offense isn't all that matters.

1. From the 12th Man to Tim Tebow: Thank you.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Is Matt Flynn An Upgrade?

The short answer is, it all depends on what you want out of a QB.

That was my attempt at being mysterious.  I am all about the longer answer anyway, so here goes.

There is some buzz right now that Seattle is interested in Mr. Matt Flynn.  Why wouldn't they be?  To a front office committed to turning over every rock, and committed to always getting more picks, the idea of getting a free agent QB from Green Bay who upgrades the team has to be attractive.  This is one rock that definitely will be turned over.

First off, Flynn should be free to sign as a free agent.  The Packers have free agents to retain this year who could absorb the franchise tag, primarily Finley. The new CBA supposedly has some rules to prevent teams from tagging players they don't actually intend to retain, a la Matt Cassel, and the Packers, while not against the cap, are not way below it either.  That doesn't mean that Ted Thompson won't test those rules. If Finley is signed during the team's exclusive negotiating window, it would leave Flynn free for that.

Flynn will be a hot commodity.  His last performance is still echoing around the league; when you set a team record for touchdown passes in a game, there will be echoes.  A closer examination of his passing in that game shows that three of those passes for touchdowns were pretty much all YAC, but the passes that set them up were decent.  Watch every pass in that game and it is hard to think of all 480 yards as having been earned the hard way, as Detroit's secondary looked almost disinterested in tackling or covering, but it was accomplished in wind and light snow, which is a scouting consideration.  Potentially, Seattle could play critical future playoff games in places like Green Bay, Chicago, and New York, and a quarterback who doesn't shrivel in the winter is important.

Flynn is a fit Seattle's offense in most respects.  He fits the bill as a point guard quarterback.  Athletic enough and mobile enough, Flynn did an above average job against Detroit of identifying and then exploiting match ups.  He is not a laser armed surgeon, and expecting him to dissect a defense by fitting the ball into tight spaces 30 yards down field would be a disaster, but Seattle's offense does not do that much anyway.  In fact, in watching Flynn against Detroit, a lot of the playcalls were eerily similar to Seattle OC Darell Bevell's - everything just looked better.  Maybe because his targets are better players. 

Here are some of the things Flynn does better than Tarvaris Jackson:

Monday, January 2, 2012

Larry Fitzgerald returns home to Krypton after helping the Cards narrowly defeat Seahawks

Even closer than it felt

I badly wanted Seattle to win today.  Had they won, they would have posted their first non-losing season since 2007.  Had they won, it would have put a nice 6-2 finish bow on a 2-6 start turd, which would have made for a cool offseason storyline.

In retrospect though, that mentality doomed me for disappointment.  Even before the game, I should have realized that Seattle didn't stand a chance.  Not because Arizona is a better team.  But because since their previous showdown in week 3, the Cardinals have become masters of winning ugly, clutch games.  Arizona had won five of their seven previous games, and in all five of those wins, they trailed in the second half.  In four of those five wins, they trailed in the 4th quarter.  Their biggest margin of victory in those games was six points (and that was in overtime).  Clearly, the Cardinals had learned a thing or two about being clutch since the last meeting.

Whereas the Cardinals have been nearly immaculate in close games, the Seahawks have been the opposite, going 1-4 in games decided by a single score since beating the Cardinals 13-10 back in week 3.  With the season over, they finished with a 2-5 record in games decided by six points or less.  Does this surprise anybody?  I didn't think so. I should have seen a 23-20 overtime loss coming.

It also greatly saddened me to see Marshawn Lynch's streak of consecutive games with a touchdown end today, even moreso because Lynch played yet another great game.  His lack of scoring had nothing to do with his own failings and everything to do with an inept offensive gameplan and execution in the red zone.

I felt pretty down after this one.  And then I realized something.  Finishing 8-8 instead of 7-9... it doesn't actually matter.  Marshawn Lynch extending his streak... also doesn't actually matter.  It doesn't really impact the Seahawks in a tangible bad way at all.  You know what actually does impact the Seahawks?  The fact that they will pick 11th or 12th instead of 16th in the 2012 draft.  The fact that they will play Carolina and Dallas instead of (last year's #1 seed) Atlanta and the (suddenly great again) Eagles.  I would have happily traded those for a win today, but there is no reason to sulk over the meaningful consolation prize we've been gifted.

Despite a difference in how the seasons ended, I can't help but feel that the Seahawks 2011 season was 2002 revisited.  The 2002 team started 0-3 before eventually having a franchise QB develop out of nowhere and finishing strong with the look of an elite offense.  The 2011 team started 0-2 and eventually had a running game and potentially elite defense appear out of nowhere.  Both teams finished with 7-9 records and enjoyed a notable hot stretch during the season.  The next team that followed 2002 squad won 10 games and began a stretch of 5 straight playoff appearances, including a Superbowl appearance.  With a few wise moves this offseason, the next five years for 2011's team could be equally as great. 

  • I've never been a particularly big fan of Matt Flynn, but watching him throw for six touchdowns and almost 500 yards today while watching Tarvaris Jackson struggle with deep accuracy, red zone throws, and a general inability to find consistency, it made a pretty damn compelling case for Flynn as a 2012 Seahawk.  

  • I mean this as no disrespect to Jackson.  He's tough, he's a good person, he's a coachable player, and he's played well enough to win 7 of his 14 starts despite playing hurt in many of them.  But if I had to lay the blame for today's loss on only one person, there is no doubt that I'd choose #7- and this wasn't even a particularly bad game for him really.  Watching a mediocre quarterback like John Skelton improvise and make just enough plays to win was a bit of an eye opener.  Seattle can find a quarterback better than Jackson, and it wouldn't even be that hard to do really.  Don't just assume that Josh Portis or some late round quarterback this year is only a long term project.  If John Skelton- a 5th round pick in only his 11th career start- can outplay Jackson, a lot of guys could.

  • Larry Fitzgerald is freaking amazing.  On a day where Richard Sherman did a terrific job in coverage, Fitzgerald just didn't seem to care as he racked up no less than four highlight worthy catches, the last of which essentially won the game.  All those investigators checking Century Link Field for piped in noise should probably check Larry Fitzgerald's gloves for telekinetic technology borrowed from an advanced alien civilization.  

  • We probably just watched Justin Forsett's final game as a Seahawk.  Its rather hard to believe that Forsett rushed for 5.4 yards per carry just two years ago.  So much for the addition of BFF Marshawn Lynch making Forsett a better back.  I hope Forsett, who is a free agent, lands on an NFL team next year.  But after posting 3.2 yards per carry and only 145 total rushing yards in 2011, I sincerely doubt that team will be ours.  

  • KJ Wright is a nifty player, but a few times today I noticed that he isn't the hardest linebacker to block out of a running play.  If its true that our linebacker corps is at fault for the team's slipping rush defense, Wright wouldn't be a bad place to start the investigation.

  • Golden Tate made a couple of slightly dumb decisions with the rock in his hands today, but overall I really like the progress he's made in 2011.  In particular, his hands have become far more reliable, and his blocking is no longer a joke.
  • Max Unger was humiliated by Darnell Dockett for a sack early in the game.  Unger has come so far, but he still has a ways to go before he can master nasty interior pass rushers like Dockett.  Lemuel Jeanpierre also struggled rather notably on outside rush attempts, often getting blown into the backfield.  Overall though, the line- particularly Gallery & Unger- once again did a terrific job collapsing the middle on rush attempts all day long.

  • I don't mean this to pick on anyone, but it blows my mind that there are people out there who really think Marshawn Lynch is the same back now that he was in 2010, and that only the line has improved.  On numerous occasions today, Lynch took a minimal hole to run through and produced 4-7 yard gains in impressive fashion.  Leon Washington had a great touchdown run today, but I couldn't help but feel that Seattle's coaching staff made a big mistake allowing Jackson to throw 35 times compared to only 19 carries for Lynch on a day where Lynch was clearly bringing it.  Its cheesy if not cliche to say a team should have "fed the rock" to its running back more, but at least today, that line of thinking was true.  Its no coincidence that Seattle's offense clicked the most when Lynch was carrying up the middle the most.  Seattle must make re-signing Lynch a very big priority.  Outside of possibly Trent Richardson, I don't think they will find a better short term back in this draft.

  • There were a lot of annoying things that happened in this game.  Chris Clemons had a dumb offsides on 3rd and 8, which helped extend a drive that ultimately ended in a touchdown.  Golden Tate failed to cut up field for the first on a critical 3rd down play in the 4th quarter.  Red Bryant missed a heroic block on the game winning kick by six inches at most.  Seattle scored six combined points on three redzone trips.  But for all those annoyances, the ones that bugged me the most were the fraudulent late hit calls on Brandon Browner and later Richard Sherman.  I don't have DVR on my PC, but if I did, I could freeze frame the moment Browner's target stepped out of bounds, and you'd see a paused Browner 2 inches shy of delivering his hit at that moment.  Sherman's call was even worse, as the player wasn't even officially out of bounds yet when the hit was given.  Its not that those calls had huge impacts on the game, but rather that those calls feel so obvious, at least on TV.  Being able to sense a "bang/bang play" really shouldn't be that hard to do.

  • I actually liked how our pass rush performed today.  I have to give John Skelton a ton of credit for standing tall in collapsing pockets and escaping to make positive plays on numerous occasions.  I certainly hope he loses his starting job to Kevin Kolb next preseason by merit of contract and investment.

  • Leon Washington finally performed like a dynamic change of pace back, which included a LaMichael James-esque 48 yard score- the longest run of Washington's Seahawks tenure.  To put that in perspective, his longest rush attempt last year was only 21 yards.
  • Finally, a measure of redemption for Jay Feely, who easily nailed all three of his field goal attempts, including the game winner.  Feely went 1-3 against Seattle earlier this year, including an inexplicable miss in the 4th quarter.  And of course- he missed not one, not two, but three game winners in that epic 2005 Giants game when NFC supremacy itself was on the line.  Its a shame Red Bryant just missed a devastating blocked kick on that game winner, but then again, I'd say Feely has suffered enough by this point.  He finally gets the monkey off his back.  Lord knows, its been there for a while.