Sunday, September 30, 2012

A positive outlook on the Rams loss

UPDATED to include third-down efficiency in the "Ugly" section. Completely escaped my mind when I wrote this.

Seahawks fans were writing this team's loss narrative before the team even got on the plane to St. Louis. Short week. Trap game. Distraction from the Packers win. These are the things that will get labeled as the culprits for the loss, but it won't be accurate. The real reasons are the same ones that have been plaguing the team from Week 1: penalties, WR gaffes, red-zone struggles, Wilson's usual a word, youth.

It's also important to acknowledge our assumptions that the Rams were still garbage and that Sam Bradford was still in his sophomore slump. That's the danger of carrying over assumptions from last year. It bites us all in the ass. The thinking was that we should have been sacking Bradford and picking his passes off all day, and that any failure to do so was an indictment of the Seahawks since, hey, Bradford's still a wreck. Instead, the Rams are good this year. Bradford is emerging, his chemistry with his receivers is showing up, and he finally has a veteran coach who gets him.

With the 49ers lambasting the Jets on the road today, the verdict is out: the NFC West is a tough, experienced, competitive division this year and might be that way for a long time.

All that said, this loss was the swallowable sort if we're looking purely at the game and not its playoff implications. We lost by six points and limited the Rams' touchdowns to a trick play. Those six points all came in a dome from a Rams kicker whose iron legs probably could have held up the Tacoma Narrows bridge. Against most teams, this game goes to overtime.

I actually saw quite a few improvements today from the Seahawks, signs of progress. They didn't lead to a win, but neither is this team a "train wreck" that has Pete Carroll on coaches' death row. We saw Seattle stick to its identity, play the run and underrated defense against a good game plan by the Rams, and in the end, lose because we couldn't deliver the final play. We might see a lot of that until our offense clicks.

Of course, I wasn't one of the ones thinking "Super Bowl Now", so my expectations - and thus my current state of mine - are different. If you wanted Seattle to contend this year, you might be frustrated. But this was a downer game for me too, because in all likelihood, Seattle lost the division today. It'll be hard to come back from a 0-2 division record.

I'm really starting to like the "optimism" thing, so I'mma start with the ugly.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Hypocrisy of Goldengate

Hawkblogger spoke some immortal words today during a podcast.
There is only one way out of this, and Seahawks fans better buckle up, because whether or not the Seahawks did anything wrong, we are public enemy #1. Every play that goes against us, (in the country's opinion) we deserve it. Every time we lose, we deserve it. The only way out of this hole is to win the Super Bowl. The last time that the nation laughed at us and pointed fingers and disrespected this franchise, we caused an earthquake. That is going to have to happen again for the rest of the season, every single game. Seahawks fans better bring it, Seahawks players better bring it, and we'd better bring it until we bring the championship home this year, next year, and the year after. Until they can talk all they want about that one play and it will be a distant memory.
I walked into work Tuesday morning having not been able to watch the Packers game. First thing before attacking my skyscraper of ungraded papers, I opened and checked the score. My mouth dropped open in astonished delight at the exact moment as one of my Algebra 2 students, a pack of five others right behind him, yanked open my door, leaned in, and without any greeting or preamble, hollered "" They know I'm a Twelve, and they wouldn't let go of the refrain all day: "The Seahawks? Seriously?" (Admittedly, this was mostly revenge from their being Cowboys fans.)

Every Twelve knows in his heart the phenomenon that Hawkblogger and I are describing here. The Seahawks are not the darlings of the NFL. We are not one of the media-market teams that bring ratings to the league's showcase games. We are not the team that the league would hold up as their paragon of talent and hardnosed professionalism. Our team is the red-headed stepchildren, and we share its status amongst fan circles.

For years, this status has taken passive voice as "Southern Alaska" as the team has wallowed in the muck of mediocrity with nobody feeling the need to pile on. Before that, it was "bullies of the basement" as we dominated the weak NFC West. It reached a passive-aggressive crescendo as the Seahawks trotted out to "Bittersweet Symphony" in Super Bowl XL and promptly got handed a yellow-colored, not-so-subtle memo as to which team's storylines the league thought more of. And once Pete Carroll the Rebel arrived, the laughter only increased.

So now that Golden Tate, Brandon Browner, Kam Chancellor and associates have finally taken a stand against the willful ignorance and literally body-slammed their way into the national spotlight, will the Seahawks ever be known as anything other than "The Ones Who Kept the Packers From Starting 2-1"?

I cannot believe the hypocrisy sweeping the nation over the Golden Tate touchdown. Forget the validity of the call for a moment. Where was this rending of garments and gnashing of teeth at the end of Super Bowl XL? I vividly remember the resounding snide dismissal from around the country: "If you wanted to win, there were plenty of dropped passes your team could have avoided. You deserved to lose. Deal with it."

Yet Aaron Rodgers, one of the league's best pressure-defeating, laser-accurate passers, so skilled that Matt Flynn (according to some Seahawks fans) has absorbed all his blitz-defeating ability by osmosis without even having to start more than twice - Rodgers is not given the same tough-love treatment. He's painted as a victim.

And he actually has a Super Bowl ring.

And you want me to believe that this is about the integrity of the game?


This is about a tough loss to one of the nation's popular "identity" teams. This is about "blue-collar quarterback" Aaron Rodgers and one of the league's precious, ratings-grabbing, high-flying passing offenses getting clobbered by good, plain, old-fashioned defense (by the way, folks, the Seahawks are pretty good at that now). It's about one of the NFL's night-game regulars getting whalloped, offensively brought down to the level of the 2006 Browns in front of the whole country, by an underdog that pundits keep in a glass-enclosed case labeled "Break in Case of Need for Punchline".

Where was all this indignation last year when the real referees blew a fourth-quarter call on a Leon Washington touchdown return? That call would have lifted the Seahawks to a victory over...oh, right. Cleveland. Nobody gives a damn about that team. Forget that it could have changed Seattle's season.

Where would the New Yorker's hand-wringing have been had Aaron Rodgers been the one throwing that "game-winning interception"? Pretty sure it would be relegated almost purely to the 12th Man.

Where would Herm Edwards' disgust towards Pete Carroll have been had Golden Gate scored against the Rams? Non-existent.

Where was Clay Matthews all of Monday night? Same mysterious pocket universe that DeMarcus Ware and all my pencils and old socks went to, I'm guessing.

Where were all the national media writers during their class on journalistic integrity? Asleep on their desks, as evidenced by their gall in subtly accusing the Seahawks of "robbing" millions of willing gamblers who were dumb enough to put down their money on a sports game that they have zero control over. That right there, like Hawkblogger said, is the giveaway. That betrays the bias for me. There's no backpedaling from that. The hand has been tipped. The media officially has zero perspective on the whole thing.

So don't come to me mourning over the death of football's integrity, treating it like some whitewashed lamb led to the slaughter by some punk wide receiver who merely did what every wide receiver does on a hail mary. Or whatever such melodramatic crap you're trying to pull.

Don't pretend that the touchdown was the only bad call that determined the game.

Don't pretend this is the first time a team has been defeated by the zebras.

Don't accuse the Seahawks of dishonest arrogance for not shuffling up to the microphone with lowered heads and admitting that they "cheated".

Don't act as if Aaron Rodgers deserved to win after being reduced to panicky checkdowns and sent scrambling for his life for an entire half by a fourth-round Eagles castoff before hunkering down behind his running game just to survive the night. (Credit where due: he still made many excellent throws.)

And this to the players and media especially: DON'T...DON'T...DON'T EVEN HINT that this is the first time you've noticed how bad the replacement referees are, or how much impact it has. Don't you dare. Nobody else needed this game to figure that out, you Dallas-loving pack of hypocrites. This isn't about the situation reaching "critical mass", highlighting the bad call to hasten Ed Hochuli's return. Your double standard is so transparent that birds fly right into it.

You'll notice I haven't even addressed the call itself. I don't plan to. I don't need to. The intensity of the self-righteous outcry from the league, the media, and some of the players themselves...that's indication enough of what's really going on here. This isn't about football's honor. It's about the challenge to its reigning oligarchy. The Seahawks weren't "given a gift" when the referee threw up his hands in the "touchdown" motion. They played a hell of a game, walked up to the Packers and punched them in the mouth for the four quarters before that play, representing the numerous teams who are demonstrating to these elite quarterbacks that balance, defense, discipline, and toughness still matter in this league.

In the end, though, all my words are naught. Football fans have never been a receptive bunch. Neither have mediots. The only thing Seattle can do to earn respect (albeit grudging) is win, and win lots. We've stepped over the line now, made a claim. And we all saw this tipping point coming last year once the Legion of Boom started throwing people around and crowing about it on Twitter. We knew people would notice. We quieted the critics for a while during the Beastquake, but last year it was taken to a whole new level. All it took was the proper platform to announce our arrival on the block. It's here now, and we'll have to back up our smack every week, every day, just like Richard Sherman.

I'm not sure I agree with Hawkblogger that Seattle will be a contender this year. But I do agree with this: boy, are we going to catch hell if they aren't. Fair or not.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Packers Game a Test for the Entire Seahawks Team

My Seahawks fandom doesn't require me to blindly predict wins. If any fan chooses to be realistic and call the game as he sees it, then that's his right, and nobody else has anything to say about it.

So I'm going to step out and say that the Seahawks face an uphill battle on Monday when the Packers swing by for their round in the Clink. There is, in fact, potential for a Green Bay blowout. That would be far more heartbreaking than a close loss, an implication that we've overestimated the defense's growth so far and provided a get-well game for Green Bay's aerial attack.

Then again, what point is there in being a fan if there's not at least a mustard seed of optimism in his heart? Some folks seem to enjoy going against the grain, worshiping "rationality" almost to the point that others are justified in wondering if they have a pulse. Appearances aside, I'm not one of those guys. Is not hope a component of fandom? And so it is that I can say the Seahawks are better-equipped and closer to the ability to stop a truly elite quarterback than they ever have before.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

17 Fistpumps: Seahawks Out-Team America's Team 27-7

* With Arizona proving its defensive chops against Tom Brady and his offense today, their 20-16 victory over the Seahawks last week is open to reinterpretation. It now looks less like an offensive turd on Seattle's part and more like a young team looking for its footing against an outstanding defense whose strengths matched up perfectly against our weaknesses. Take note: the NFC West is quickly becoming a defensive division.

* As Mike Sando eloquently put, this must-win victory game was stamped with Carroll's style. Physical running game, elite defense, special teams, efficient quarterbacking, turnovers from the opponent and only from them. Seattle's offense was listless until halftime, but the defense bucked up impressively on two long drives and outlasted Romo and an impressive array of receivers. Once Seattle finally re-committed to its running game, the ball started rolling and never stopped to give Romo more chances.

* We're definitely starting to see a "Good Russell Wilson" and "Bad Russell Wilson" emerge. Starting with the last major drive of the second quarter, the good half clicked in, started pulling down his passes and showing some poise and progressions. It was quite a noticeable difference. His collected demeanor after his touchdown to McCoy, and on the sidelines during the cruise to victory, were also striking. The guy is one cool customer. Lots of stuff to build on here.

* I hear some Cowboys fans weren't worried about the absence of NT Jay Ratliff, calling his replacement an upgrade. It didn't look like that today. Once the running game started coming online, Seattle's big boys were getting great push, including right guard JR Sweezy, last week's goat. John Moffitt, who rotated with Sweezy at RG, had a solid day as he helped FB Mike Robinson clear a lane on Marshawn Lynch's 36-yard run, then had a great pull block to seal the lane on his touchdown. I can't tell you how good it feels to see Seattle pushing D-lines back two yards again. Therapeutic after five long years of brick-wall impotence.

* Marshawn Lynch, for his part, doesn't appear to have lost a step. Here's hoping that he can stay in the business longer than most feature backs seem to these days. Robert Turbin is stepping right up beside him and also had a couple of nice checkdown receptions. I love the fact that we have two tough runners; it'll keep the offense's job easy if one of them suffers injury.

* It might have taken a little while, but TE Anthony McCoy is finally promising to join the long list of late-round picks that Seattle has turned into big contributors. The chemistry with Wilson is definitely there. Rob Staton at Seahawks Draft Blog was always calling McCoy a borderline first-round talent who dropped because of behavior concerns.

* Also hinting at emergence is Golden Tate, finally. He came up with a couple key plays, a big jailbreak catch for 20 yards and a sandlot reception in the red zone to set up Lynch's game-sealing touchdown jaunt. He might be a good match with a smart improvisor (is this a word?) like Wilson.

* Brandon Browner gave up a touchdown on his weekly whiff against a double-move. It's a frustrating tendency, but dang it, he just never stops coming up with interceptions to win us over again.

* The pass rush deserves more credit that it's getting. Yeah, we gave up a lot of scrambling, fourth-read conversions on third down, but Tony Romo is like that. Slippery and a brilliant artist on the run. Our guys were still all over him much of the time and had several very-near sacks. Result: Dallas scores one touchdown on blown coverage and never reaches the red zone.

* Seattle's coverage rarely surrendered easy receptions and often forced Romo to extend plays, giving our pass rush time. Yeah, Romo was up to the challenge and Jason Witten made a glaring easy drop late in the second, but that's Pete's defensive formula - coverage helping pass rush as well as vice versa. (Saw a Cowboys fan call Witten "the new TO". Tee hee.) To wit: Alan Branch, Bobby Wagner, Chris Clemons, Jason Jones, Bruce Irvin, and Chris Maragos combined for 6 QB hits. And between Clemons, KJ Wright (awesome day), Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman (almost his second pick), and Brandon Browner (his first pick), Seattle defensed seven passes (though they're probably closing in on the NFL record for dropped interceptions). Thanks to Adam Wright for those bits.

* Even so, a lot of these good things seem to wait until we blitz. Once Bradley backed off the aggression in the second quarter, Romo seemed happier, at least to a degree. Three-man rushes weren't a good answer for that strong a receiving group.

* Replacement refs suck wastewater, no matter whom you're rooting for.

* The offensive line remains very touchy with the penalties. Is this the sign of a young, raw team, or a byproduct of Cable's nasty physicality that will be hard to overcome?

* I'm having a hard time shaking the feeling that this team is very slow to start. Pete preaches finishing well, but that's not always feasible in this league and certainly won't be in Green Bay. If Pete wants to keep the running game in his toolbox at all times, this team had better improve in the first half.

* Props to Frank Omiyale. Didn't look like the pinball flag we expected against DeMarcus Ware. Maybe Tom Cable does know what he's doing!

* Stifling a playmaker like DeMarco Murray is a big credit to our linebacking corps.

* At this rate, by the time Pete Carroll is done as head coach, there will be enough .GIFs of devastating pancake-blocks by Seahawks on both sides of the ball to fill up the Internet.

On to Green Bay!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Alternative Theories to "Darell Bevell Is An Idiot"

When it comes to football, there's usually more than one interpretation for almost everything. On Sunday against Arizona, Seahawks fans saw offensive struggles that are being popularly chalked up to poor planning. Offensive coordinator Darell Bevell is getting a lot of flak for this (and a generous sprinkling of insults), but that's pretty easy. Good game plans can look bad when executed poorly. Whether Bevell cooked up an inadequate game plan is difficult to tell, because the lurking factor is Seattle's roughshod execution in every facet of the offense except the running game.

The general belief is that Seattle didn't do enough to counteract Arizona's pass rush, that Bevell failed to utilize common pressure-neutralizing plays like screens, slants, outlets, and more emphasis on the tight end. The conclusion is that Bevell was just clueless, despite the fact that we've seen such features from him before.

The unspoken assumption that you might not have realized you're carrying: that all of Seattle's offensive players can handle those plays. That a bunch of rookies and new signings were perfectly trained, healthy, in sync, and ready to execute every facet of Seattle's playbook, just waiting on the sidelines for the call, while an oblivious Bevell merrily skipped along waving a gameplan that made the game as hard on Wilson and the interior line as possible.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Week 1 Reaction: No Apocalypse Now

Someone at Fieldgulls said it best:

Week 1 Commandment #1:

Neither shalt thou get over-excited over a win or overly disappointed by a loss. Week 1 is the most anomaly filled day in all of sports. (King James emphasis mine, because I can.)

Today is a comedown day for Seahawks fans. I had almost forgotten just how nasty and vitriolic we football fans can be after a loss. And I'd forgotten it because the 12th Man just wasn't very nasty last year. Not like this. My memory of 2011 was of muted, resigned, relatively tranquil reactions when the Seahawks lost, not the sarcastic poo-flinging that we're seeing right now.

Why the difference? My fellow bloggers have already nailed it - expectations. Your therapist will tell you that your emotions are dependent mostly on your goals. In 2011, people stopped hoping as soon as Tarvaris Jackson signed. Hence, muted reactions. It was a development season, a punted year.

This year, Russell Wilson's preseason polish had folks thinking they could see the light at the end of the rebuild tunnel. He faced a talented starting Kansas City defense that did not play the degree of sandlot football that some claim, and showed far more veteran polish that the typical preseason-disaster-in-waiting who just stares from the pocket like a rock and sidearms to wide-open guys. There was some real promise there. So the Arizona game was supposed to be the beginning of the get-well process - I myself mistakenly dubbed it "Week 5 of the preseason".

Here's what happened - Seattle started the season against a tougher defense than Kansas City, assured itself a heavy dose of blitzing by starting a rookie QB(!!!!!) against a well-respected NFL defensive coordinator, struggled in its very first game(!!!!!) on the road(!!!!!), and was still a Braylon Edwards drop(!!!!!) from winning.

Yes, that's what happened. Go back and look at the score. It was 20-16, not 120-16. You wouldn't know that from the current meltdown. The exclamation marks indicate things that aren't supposed to shock you.

Some will go "a loss is still a loss". Well, no, it's not. Not for this fan. I barely care about this season. I've never seen 2012 as a contention year, haven't since Pete Carroll arrived. Maybe I'll be surprised, but my expectations were limited from the outset. That puts me in the minority, but there it is. Championships take time to build. Pass rushes and star quarterbacks are the biggest examples of this, and we only just got those (maybe). And I'm not part of the camp that believes that teams can win Super Bowls with running and defense against a league dominated by Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees. In my opinion, this team's Super Bowl window absolutely does not open until 2013 at the very earliest.

For me, the stakes on Sunday were still developmental. I wanted to see Russell Wilson play like a rookie Peyton Manning instead of a rookie David Greene (there's a difference); he did. He threw several winning touchdowns that got dropped, bought at least two first downs with his feet that I remember, and never once folded or lost composure. His ball placement was erratic but (FAINT PRAISE ALERT) remains a world improved from Tarvaris Jackson. Yeah, he "played like a rookie", but that current popular phrase could mean a million different things. Wilson looked nowhere near as primitive as that blunt instrument that's starting in Miami.

And no, I'm not convinced that Matt Flynn would have done any better. Despite his reputation for handling blitzes well in Green Bay, Flynn looked slow with his reads and downright sack-prone in a full game's worth of preseason snaps. It's not hard to provide a reason why - adjustment to much worse receivers on a differently-called offense. My guess: Flynn would have been destroyed behind that O-line.

I wanted to see our running game pick up from 2011 without missing a beat; it did. I wanted to see our defense blanket Larry Fitzgerald and stymie our QB into sacks; it did, when instructed to. I wanted to see our pass rush tearing out the interior of Arizona's line and burying John Skelton in three hundred pounds of sweaty man.

Okay, so that last part blew chunks. That's really what worried me most. While everyone else was salivating and over-prognosticating Wilson's rookie season, I was excited about our defense growing into the ability to bring OTHER quarterbacks down to Wilson's level. I really hoped that this year's pass rush would find its way.

That clearly hasn't happened yet. No surprise - Game 1. Irvin is getting no better results than a lighter Lawrence Jackson, and actually reminds me of said now-Lion in his reliance on an ineffective bullrush. Chris Clemons was not his usual self against an Arizona tackle situation that had deteriorated to Kyle Williams territory, although much of that was down to better pass scheming on Arizona's part. Alan Branch still isn't showing me the promise he apparently showed everyone else last season, and Jason Jones isn't yet an improvement.

But it's only Week 1. I get the distinct feeling that despite our hopes, Pete Carroll was still treating Week 1 as a preseason game. There was a bit of an experimental feel to it, given the narrow play-calling and tendencies (either that, or Darell Bevell really is an oaf). I don't agree with the experimental approach, but Pete has always shown an element of "growing into the season" in Seattle. No doubt there are elements of this going on, whether we like it or not.

We have a few players waiting in the wings, yet to emerge. John Moffitt will hopefully be back soon, and behind him, James Carpenter. Golden Tate will also return, to the delight of those who think another two-catches-a-game WR will change things. If the Jones experiment doesn't work out, we have another promising project in Jaye Howard. Doug Baldwin has yet to return to full strength.

As far as Wilson, I'm going to take great comfort in the fact that he was one dropped pass from winning. Pete Carroll has never been ignorant of the risk of starting a rookie. Is he willing to trade a few losses for the sake of more quickly building the experience of the QB with more upside? Are fans willing to watch this?

Besides, let's be honest: if Braylon Edwards makes that TD catch, the tone around here would be much different and we all know it. It'd be about how Wilson "did enough to win an ugly game", and you wouldn't see nearly the intensity of the criticism. The ultimate setter of tone, the emotional filter through which we critique, is always whether we win or lose. There'd be the few isolated worriers and naysayers, but they'd get drowned out.

This reaction isn't about where the team is. It's about where we are. This is about losing. We don't like to lose. We shouldn't. But progress is happening, folks. It may not come on our schedule, but it is coming.