Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hawk Blogger Podcast: Week 4

Ryan Burns of FootballSickness.com and Justin Stine of RamblinFan.com joined me for some NFL talk and an in-depth look at this weekends Rams/Seahawks matchup.

Justin was forced to weather the Hawk Blogger initiation, but even after a kick to the Ramgina, he put on an excellent show. You'll never guess who his favorite Ram of all-time is, and you may be surprised to hear what he thinks of Shaun Alexander.

You thought the Steven Jackson injury was important, but Justin thinks it is worth 20+ points. We also discuss the merits of the Rams trading Jackson while he's in his prime. There is lots of other good stuff as well.

Without further adieu, please take a listen and let me know what you think!

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Front Office Gets A Failing Grade On Chester Pitts

Chester Pitts will not play for the Seahawks on Sunday against the Rams. He may not play for the Seahawks on any Sunday after today's release. The mishandling of the Pitts roster spot deserves a little mention considering how sparkling almost every other front office move has been.

I wrote a few weeks back that the team appeared to misjudge the severity of Pitts' injury. He was an obvious choice for the PUP list that would have stowed him away for six games while opening a roster spot for someone else. Whose to say that a guy like Steve Vallos or any other substitute roster member would have panned out, but it was a strategic misstep to lose the chance to find out. Carroll is already on record as saying they might re-sign Pitts once he is healthy, which assumes someone else won't beat them to it.

If Pitts was stashed away on the PUP list, he would be untouchable for another four weeks. Releasing him this early increases the chances he will catch on elsewhere. As happy as we all should be with the offensive line play thus far, we cannot afford to miss a chance to add an upgrade at the guard position. As things stand, all is not lost and so the front office gets a mild slap on the wrist. Should Pitts sign elsewhere and become a multi-year starter on another team, the punishment will quickly upgrade to an atomic wedgie.

Housh Struggling (And Talking) In Baltimore

Some people were Housh haters during his time in Seattle. I was not one of them. I like his competitive edge and confidence. He appears to be struggling in Baltimore with only two catches through three games, and is now starting to talk again. He sounds contrite, but you have to feel for a guy who might have made two bad choices as a free agent.

During this piece by Dan Kolko, you can see the frustration building:


"I knew it would take time, and I was willing to say to myself, 'If I don't get the ball, then I'm not gonna make a big deal,' so to speak," Houshmandzadeh said. "It mattered, but it didn't matter, because I was new. But I didn't even play, let alone get the ball, so that's different for me. And I didn't expect that. Hopefully, things will change.
"Is it frustrating? Yes and no, because the only time it becomes frustrating is when you expect things and look forward to things, and I didn't expect them. So it's still frustrating, but it's not as frustrating [as it would have been] had I been on this team all training camp and things of that nature."

Here's to hoping Housh finds his way and makes an impact on a good Baltimore team.

2011 Draft Watch - Josh Wilson PT

The Seahawks traded CB Josh Wilson for a conditional 5th round draft pick, that could become a 4th depending on Wilson's playing time. For all the hand-wringing in Seattle about losing Wilson, he's barely been able to crack the injury-riddled secondary in Baltimore. Seahawk fans need to be cheering for Wilson to earn a broader role to upgrade that draft pick. The Baltimore Sun Ravens blog gave an encouraging update last Saturday:



One of the bigger mysteries to the start of the Ravens' season has been the limited play of Josh Wilson.

The Ravens traded a conditional fifth-round pick to Seattle for Wilson just before the start of the regular season, which created some expectations for the former University of Maryland cornerback.

But Wilson only played special teams in the season opener, and he rotated at nickel back in Week 2.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he expects that Wilson will play more Sunday.

"I would say he's really shined in practice the last week or so," Harbaugh said.

The Browns/Ravens box score only shows one tackle for Wilson, but it's hard to say whether that means he played much. It is worth monitoring as the season progresses.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

RAMS INSIDER Q&A

I reached out to Jeff Roman, editor of RamsGab.com, to find out his thoughts about the Seahawks and the Rams. We exchanged questions, and here are the results. To see the questions Jeff asked me, and my answers, take a look here.


HAWK BLOGGER: I continue to read stories that the team is having trouble selling out the game on Sunday, and that a blackout is likely. How long do you think it will take for the fans to get back on board with the Rams? I've heard it is a distant second to Cardinals baseball out there, even during the Super Bowl days. Is there a buzz building yet with the improved play?

JEFF: There is a much improved buzz this season and that can be traced back to week 3 of the preseason when Sam Bradford started playing well. Rams fans (righfully so) knew that there was finally some hope that they had a signal caller who brought some excitement.  But, trained by the past few years, Rams fans are skeptical.  They have set TV records over the past few weeks, but they aren't quite ready to shell out $100+ quite yet for the Rams.  But, if they win, the fans will come sell out the Dome.  And as long as Sam Bradford continues to play well, that is not far off.


HAWK BLOGGER: What are Rams' fans perceptions of the Seahawks over the years? Has it been a heated division rivalry, or just an obligatory one? I'd be curious to know where the Seahawks rank in the division for "hated" Rams opponents. I'd also love to know the Seahawk you most respected/feared over the years.

JEFF: I think the Rams/Seahawk rivalry was at its height in the early 2000s when the Rams were starting to head back to Earth and the Seahawks were ascending.  All the Rams rivalries are fairly new because they moved to St. Louis before the 1995 season and started a heated rivalry with the Saints, who were promptly moved out of their division.  The Seahawk I most respect is Matt Hasselback, because he continues to get the job done with less skill layers, fighting of age and injury.  He always seems to get the ball off right at the last second to make the big play against the Rams.


HAWK BLOGGER: I've studied the Rams box scores, and it is very hard to understand how they are so close in all these games. They are forcing lots of turnovers, but also giving a lot away. Their best playmaker, Stephen Jackson, has not really gotten untracked with a running game that has averaged less than 3.6 yards-per-carry in every game. They are giving up lots of big 20+ yard running plays and lots of yards. Does it just come down to holding teams to field goals? What's making the Rams competitive, especially with all the injuries?

JEFF: The Rams offense is solid so far, but lacks that big-time playmaker to go to in the Red Zone.  When the Rams get close to the Red Zone, their reliance on Steven Jackson becomes a burden and then the offensive coordinator tries to get too cute and before you know it the field goal team is on the field.  Also their offense is young and inconsistent.  As soon as they get a drive moving, a fumble, a drop or INT will quickly kill the drive.  Sustaining successful drives is something the Rams finally broke through a did against the Redskins and were rewarded with a win.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Rams play a high-risk, high-reward style of defense.  They will pile up the QB hits and sacks, but also give up their fair share (and more) of big plays because they are leaving themselves vulnerable in the secondary. (Check out D.McNabb's TD pass in Week 3 for an example)  The Rams have had trouble getting their blitz to the QB in the past, but have had more success this year.  The Rams defensively have worn down in the 2nd half of games when the offense does not keep the ball long enough. They are prone to turn a close game into a blowout if they are on the field too long - also due to their high flying scheme.


HAWK BLOGGER: What's your take on Spags?

JEFF: I love Coach Spagnuolo as a person, but I still have some doubts about him as a head coach.  He's great with the players and has put his stamp on the team and it has stuck from the stars to the role-players. The Rams will work hard and keep a low profile, just like their coach.  Week 3 was the first time we have seen Spags's schemes really have an offense on the wrong foot as he had the upper hand and left an offensive genius in Mike Shanahan his dust.  He has only coached 19 games as a head coach and I think it is fair to say that he is improving.


HAWK BLOGGER: Who should Seahawks fans look out for that they may not have heard of? It would be great to get a name on offense and defense.


JEFF: On offense, I'll throw out WR Brandon Gibson (as Danny Amendola has been getting some pub lately).  Gibson is as capable of making a flying one handed catch in the back of the end zone as he is forgetting to get his hands up and letting the ball hit him in the face.  He's got a huge upside, but is still very young and inconsistent.  He has all the skills, but with more playing time, he hopefully will be able to put it together.

On defense, it is Bradley Fletcher, the CB#2.  He was drafted in the 3rd round of 2009 and lost half of 2009 to injury just as he started to come on.  He is left on an island a lot by the Rams blitzing tendencies, but he is more than up to the task.  He will get burned because of that, but he's solid in run defense and can cover all receivers unless they have elite speed.


HAWK BLOGGER: I don't know much about the Rams defense. Are they a blitzing group, or do they typically try to get home with four lineman? What kind of offenses challenge them the most?

JEFF: I probably answered this mostly in the above questions, but the Rams play a very blitzing defense, but sometimes they hold back against certain offenses.  But, they are at their best when they are able to man up the receivers and bring exotic blitzes.  The Rams have had trouble in the past with teams with an elite playmaker at the WR, TE or RB position.  Their LBs are not known for coverage and have been vulnerable to the athletic seam TE.  Their corners are good, but not great and can be beaten by a WR that can dominate 1 on 1 coverage as their safeties don't bring much in coverage.  Also, a RB that can take a quick pass over the blitz and make people miss brings a lot of trouble for the Rams defense.


HAWK BLOGGER: Who are you picking to win the division at this point? Can the Rams rise up and surprise people by staying in the conversation?

JEFF: At this point, with SF basically discarded, I think that Arizona probably has the muscle memory to get it done as long as they can get enough out of their QB spot.  The Rams were left for dead after week 2, but their week 3 performance has a lot of people looking at the standings for once.  (And in this case, not for draft picks for a change.)  This Seattle/Rams series may go a long way to see who it going to be challenging for the division crown, because so far it looks like a wide open race, even for the Rams who are even thinking about a worst to first run.  Wouldn't that be something.


SEAHAWKS/RAMS PREVIEW PART II: What A Seahawks Win Might Look Like

There is something a little odd about this game. The Seahawks have produced two of its worst football teams the last two years, but still managed to win every game it played against St. Louis. This Seahawks team is significantly improved since last season, but would appear to have less of a chance of winning this Sunday than they have in previous visits. Confidence and a good quarterback go a long way toward increasing the danger level of a team.

For the Seahawks to continue their winning ways, they will need to quickly remind the Rams of how confident they feel in St. Louis. The Seahawks offense will need to win this game, something it has yet to do so far this year. Matt Hasselbeck will need to go a full game without getting picked off, and Jeremy Bates will need to prove he believes in his running game. The Rams defensive line is a similar talent level to the Broncos. Justin Forsett will find ample running room if given the chance. Chester Pitts return at left guard could give the Seahawks a mauling line advantage for the first time when paired with Stacy Andrews. Russell Okung's debut is possible, and would only add to the running potential. It won't hurt that the Rams have allowed a league-leading 6 running plays of 20+ yards.

Any Seahawks victory will have the team scoring over 20 points, a yard-per-carry over 4.2 and at least 25 rush attempts. It will also include no more than one turnover. This is a Rams team that has the 2nd most takeaways in the NFL, but is only +1 in turnover ratio. Choke off the supply of turnovers, and this could become a laugher for the Hawks.

Special teams could play a huge role as Rams punter (and former Seahawks draft pick) Donnie Jones has a booming average near 50 yards. It's hard to get down field to cover long punts and Golden Tate could be a major threat.

Don't be surprised if we see our first trick play of the season with the offense. It could be a reverse to Golden Tate, or a reverse option where Tate can let his big left-arm loose for a throw down-field.

The defense must get pressure on Bradford. Carroll and Bradley saw how poorly the defense performed in week two when they dropped into coverage with a 3-man rush. This is a lean-forward defense that must constantly attack. Brandon Mebane's health will be a factor here, along with Marcus Trufant. A Seahawks victory will include at least a total of six QB hits+sacks. Tackling will also be key, especially if Stephen Jackson plays.

Scoring early, establishing the run, protecting the ball and pressuring the QB is the winning formula on Sunday.  The Seahawks need to beat inferior teams on the road, and that's what the Rams are. There will be no moral victories (a la Denver) this week.

SEAHAWKS/RAMS PREVIEW PART I: What A Seahawks Loss Might Look Like

On any given Sunday in the NFL, any team can rise up and beat the other. When time allows, I will look at both how Seahawks loss and Seahawks win might play out in the upcoming game. Let's start by exploring a potential loss.


Forget the 1-15 season. Forget the feckless teams St. Louis has run out to face the Seahawks the last few seasons. The 2010 Rams are a competitive team. Many Seahawks fans have become accustomed to the comfort level associated with playing the Rams. Even a team that could never win on the road, always felt like it could get a win in St. Louis. 


The 2005 Super Bowl team started the dominance when they entered the game 2-2, and allowed an touchdown return on the opening kickoff. Multiple receivers were injured that day, and rookie DJ Hackett was forced into a starting role. The team ended up with a convincing victory that day which became the first of 11 straight victories. 


Giving up a special teams touchdown, or getting behind early would not be as easy to come back from on Sunday. That Seahawks team had developed a dominant identity on offense. This offense is far from dominant, and has yet to score in the 1st quarter of any game this year. A Rams victory would likely include playing with a lead early. It will also include touchdowns instead of field goals. Both teams struggle in the red zone, so it would be a big advantage if the Rams can get in the endzone. 


Stephen Jackson will also play a key role in a Rams victory. He is currently questionable, but there is reason to expect him to play. Jackson's availability combined with Brandon Mebane's availability will be pivotal. Both are key in the running game. Jackson loves to run inside, and the Chargers had significantly more luck running up the middle after Mebane left with a calf injury. Jackson also gives Bradford a trusted check-down back that can be explosive when matched up one-on-one on the outside. The Seahawks have struggled all year with screen passes, and Jackson would be a tough matchup in those situations.


The Rams defense has been successful at limiting teams to field goals. Scoring 20 points has historically been a key threshold for Seahawks teams, so a Rams defense that can hold them below that number would greatly increase the chances of an upset. 


Turnovers have played a major role in every Seahawks game so far, and apparently, they have for the Rams as well. If Hasselbeck struggles to find a rhythm, he may fall back to forcing throws and turn the ball over again. 


The Rams are not better than the Seahawks, but their first victory in a long time, competent rookie QB and home field advantage make this a winnable game if they start strong and force Seahawks turnovers.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tate's Turn?

A quick look at special teams rankings on the super-awesome-fantastic Football Outsiders site tells us that the St. Louis Rams special teams ranks 23rd in the NFL. The Seahawks are ranked 1st. Leon Washington is sure to get a lot of attention after this past Sunday, but Golden Tate had his second straight terrific day returning punts, and very nearly broke one of his own. Living in Washington's shadow may be just what Tate needs to have his impact performance.

First Look: St. Louis Rams

Most people now realize this is not the same St. Louis Rams team that we've seen the last few years. Sam Bradford has quickly become a league darling, and for good reason. It only took one half of pre-season football against the Patriots to convince me he is legit franchise QB. Bradford's poise and presence set him apart more than his physical gifts. That's not to say he is lacking in talent, but you will be impressed by his demeanor when you watch the game this Sunday. Even with all of that goodness, he is still a rookie quarterback with a 68.1 QB rating. He has thrown at least one INT in each of his three games, and has only eclipsed the 60% completion mark once (last week).

In a roundabout way, the Seahawks get to feel some pain from the TJ Houshmandzadeh deal when they face WR Mark Clayton who became expendable for the Ravens after Housh joined up. Clayton has become Bradford's favorite target with 17 receptions for 228 yards and a couple of TDs. WR Danny Amendola has 16 receptions, and then there is a huge dropoff to Daniel Fells with 9, and a few guys with the 3 or 4. It would be interesting to see how Bradford would adjust to life without Clayton and Amendola if the Seahawks can take them away.

Stephen Jackson is a beast as all Seahawks fans know. He is also nursing a sore groin. Even without the groin injury, the Rams have not averaged more than 3.6 YPC in any game. The Seahawks stout run defense needs to keep it that way.

Defensively, the Rams personify bend, don't break. They are 24th in yards allowed, 25th against the run, 24th against the pass, 21st in sacks/att. However, they are 9th in points allowed, 4th in red zone defense and 8th in 3rd down conversions against. Given the Seahawks 16th ranked red zone offense, field goals could end up being critical.

Seahawks fans should breathe a little easier knowing the Rams got their first win out of the way. It reduces their intensity a bit and grabs the Seahawks attention. Winning this game won't impress anyone nationally, but it decides whether the Seahawks are true favorites for the division title.

Hawk Blogger 2010 Power Rankings - Week 3

PRIMER
Power rankings are always debatable. I don't buy into the gut feel methods most places use to determine their rankings, so I developed a formula a few years back that attempts to take at least some of the subjectivity out of the discussion. My approach is simple, I measure offensive and defensive efficiency based on the Yards Per Carry (YPC) and Yards Per Attempt (YPA), as well as points scored and points allowed. The formula to calculate "Team Strength" is as follows:

(YPC (offense) + YPA (offense) + Avg Pts/Game Scored) - (YPC (defense) + YPA (defense)+ Avg Pts/Game Allowed)


The formula has proven to be a pretty accurate predictor of success. Even in the first week of the 2008 season, 5 of the top 10 ranked teams were playoff bound. As with any statistic, it becomes more meaningful as the sample size grows. Usually, these become most meaningful after Week 3. In 2007, 9 of the top 10 ranked teams were playoff teams, with the lowest ranked playoff team coming in at #15. In 2008, 8 the top 10 were playoff teams, with Arizona being the lowest ranked playoff team at #19. I'm not sure any formula could have predicted their run.

If you'd like to see how teams rankings changed from 2008 to 2009, you can read more here.

THIS WEEK
The Seahawks remain steady at #11 this week despite giving up a ton of yards. The rankings formula accounts for games like that since absolute scoring differential is a much larger factor. Mike Vick and the Eagles made the largest climb, gaining 10.3 of their 10.8 Team Strength. We are through week 3, so these rankings start to take on real meaning. It's likely 70-80% of the Top 10 will make the playoffs, based on history.



Scatter chart of the rankings. This view helps to give you a view of how teams are grouped together. You will generally see tiers of strength develop as the season wears on. Note the bunching between 5-12, and the dropoff down to 2 and lower.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Licking The Tears Of Chargers Fans

The best 60 seconds of my weekend occurred immediately after my worst five minutes. The Seahawks were clinging to a 20-12 lead with San Diego charging--pun intended--down the field for what would eventually be the tying score and two-point conversion. I had been screaming my throat into a nearly bleeding tube of meat for the entire afternoon with my fellow 12th men. There were a number of Chargers fans in my section, including ones directly in front of me and one immediately to my right.

He was a nice enough kid, probably in his mid-20s, who cared passionately about his Chargers. When Earl Thomas grabbed his first interception off a deflection near his shoe-tops, the guy lamented how unlucky the Chargers were. I laughed and explained that there is no misery like NW sport misery, so he could save the sob story. But I digress, back to the drive...

Philip Rivers steps to the line on 3rd and 2 with the Qwest Field faithful nearing maximum decibel levels, only to see Rivers complete a pass through Chris Clemons hands for an apparent TD that was quickly nullified by a holding penalty. The collective fan base quickly worked themselves back into a lather before watching Rivers deliver yet again for what could be a tying touchdown.

The stadium fell silent except for my Chargers neighbor who screamed as loud as he possibly could, "This is how you yell, Seahawks fans! This is how you cheer, Seattle! Take that! Take that! Yes! Take that!"

I managed to restrain myself, especially since the Chargers hadn't converted the two-point try yet (of course, they soon did). There were any number of things I could have said or done that would have likely led to a fight with this guy because he was such a douche, and I was so pissed. Thank goodness I said or did none of those things because I would have missed what happened next.

Still fat and happy after his team's improbable comeback, Chargers Boy had barely settled back into his seat as the ball was kicked off to Leon Washington at his own 1-yard line. Washington bounced his way through the Chargers "coverage" team all the way down the field for a touchdown in a moment that became an instant  classic.

By the time Washington reached the Chargers 40-yard line, my arms were raised straight over my head and I was jumping up and down screaming. My arms remained raised in triumph all the way through the extra point. I didn't have to look at Chargers Boy, or the rest of his friends surrounding me. They knew. I knew. We all knew that when you mess with Qwest, you fall like the rest.

Beware The Seven Minutes Of Terror

For the second straight home game, the Seahawks exploded for the bulk of their points between the end of the 2nd quarter and early stages of the 3rd quarter. In the SF game, the Seahawks scored an astounding 28 points in seven minutes. In the Chargers game, the Hawks scored a comparably pedestrian 14 points, but did it in less than two game minutes. They very nearly had 14 more with Deion Branch fumbling with under 2 minutes to go, and Hasselbeck drawing into infamy to come away with zero points at the very end of the 1st half.

I wonder what happens if we score in the first quarter...

You Say Potato, I Say We Kicked Rivers' Ass

Identity will continue to be a topic for the Seahawks as they white-washed the entire organization all the way up to the President. The first step of building your identity is always to decide what you want to be. Look at your strengths, weaknesses and opportunities to determine what you want to accentuate, and what you want to hide. Once you have set out to define your image, it is often useful to learn what others perceive when they look at you. That's not to say you should define yourself by others perceptions. It's simply useful to know if the attributes you are trying to promote are showing signs of emerging.

Take this article from the San Diego News-Tribune about Philip Rivers performance against the Seahawks. Understand that it was written from a San Diego perspective, and explore the duality of its meaning when read from a Seahawks perspective. It's point is to call out how superhuman Rivers was on Sunday, and he was (from every perspective). The real intrigue is in the writer's attempt to characterize how this wasn't even his best game. In doing so, he gives insight that no Seattle reporter is providing the day after:

Only 17 times in 67 starts has he had a lower rating than his 80.3 on Sunday. Only 14 other times has he thrown two interceptions. Only 11 other times had he completed less than 54.7 percent of his passes, as he did Sunday.

What the Seahawks defense accomplished against Rivers is exceedingly rare. Many will focus on the massive yards total and miss the intricacies of how they did things to keep Rivers from winning the game. Again, the writer gives us evidence of this while trying to tell San Diego fans of Rivers courage:

Statistics don’t account for a man running all over the backfield waiting and waiting for a play only he could see to materialize. Statistics don’t account for a guy who can dissect a defense that keeps moving and keeps blitzing and keeps hitting him....With the Chargers down 17-0 less than a minute into the third quarter, Rivers let go of a 28-yard pass to Gates knowing he was about to get drilled in the chest by a charging linebacker. “To know a 300-pound guy is coming at you full and making that throw and being able to sit in there, it takes some guts,” Gates said. “When you talk about Philip, talk about the guts he has, the toughness he has.”
Note the indications of tough coverage, of an unrelenting and attacking defense that is successfully getting home and invading the minds of the offense. That's an identity a fan can cheer for. That's an identity worth going after. That's an identity that can win a division.

The Morning After: Seahawks Beat Chargers, 27-20

Do not ever apologize for beating a good team. If that had been the 2009 St Louis Rams that we needed to fight and claw to defeat, some measure of frustration and criticism about "how" we won could be understood. This is a Chargers team that won 13 games last year and was 7-1 on the road. Their quarterback is in the conversation with players like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in terms of talent. The Chargers have won 11 or more games in four of the last six seasons, including a 14-win season to compliment last year's 13 wins. This team is not searching for an identity. They have one. They overwhelm defenses with an unrelenting passing attack to impossibly tall receivers and a power running attack. Their defense is as quick as the lightning on their helmets and creates pressure and turnovers. People will likely point to their 1-2 start and belittle this victory by saying it is not the same Charger team. Those people are wrong. The Chargers came in with a top 10 running game and passing game. They created six turnovers last week. They will still win this division and have more than 10 wins. Any apologies for this win by Seahawks fans, or dismissing of it as a fluke by Chargers fans disrespects what was a special afternoon of football turned in by the local boys in blue.

Do not forget where we are coming from, folks. This was one of the worst teams in all of the NFL the last two seasons, with close to zero talented youngsters. They do not have established identities on offense or defense like the Chargers. They haven't proven they are winners, or that they have any Pro Bowl players. Wins against talented teams with great quarterbacks are extremely hard to come by. Winning those games when their great players prove their greatness is almost impossible. Getting one when your team is still in its infancy is something to savor.

Many fans were beside themselves during the second half watching the offense look completely ineffective. It was certainly ugly. The team gained only 26 yards after halftime, and I believe less than 5 in the last quarter-and-a-half. The play calling was highly suspect, especially on short yardage and red zone situations. Too often in this young season have seen Jeremy Bates call for cutesy pass plays on short yardage. The Deon Butler fade route in the end zone was silly. I have tons of patience for a team that is learning how to come together on offense, but absolutely no patience for "hopeful" play-calling. Of course, the worst call of the entire game was the QB draw from the two-yard line before the first half clock expired. There is no defense for the call. None. Even if you could craft some argument for why a running play was worth trying, a QB draw from the two is not that play. Any way you look at it, Pete Carroll cost the team three points with that decision. Those missed points very nearly cost the team the game. With all the positive developments going on throughout this franchise right now, Carroll's game management has been questionable at best. It is not something worth dwelling on yet, but put a pin in it and come back to it when the Seahawks are contending in the coming years. Carroll will lose us a critical game or two.

Hasselbeck had a solid, almost great first half. His pass to Deion Branch was a beauty, as was his look-off and throw to John Carlson up the seam. Mike Williams got hurt early, and he seemed to be a big part of their game plan, which contributed to their scuffling. Justin Forsett got all the carries at running back. Julius Jones was nowhere to be found. Let's hope the coaches have finally realized where Jones belongs. The offensive line once again deserves a ton of credit. Yes, they surrendered a safety, but that was the only quality sack the Chargers recorded. The other two included a coverage sack where Hasselbeck dove to the ground and got touched down and another dive down on the team's last possession to keep the clock moving instead of throwing it away. Both were avoidable. Even the safety wouldn't have happened if Hasselbeck had completed the simplest of throws to Chris Baker on the preceding play that would have moved the ball well past the 10-yard line. It was not a banner day for the offense, but it was also not as bad as many will tell you. Branch's fumble and Bates play call right before half cost the offense at least 10 points, and possibly 14. The game plays out very differently if the score is 20-0 at halftime, and possibly goes to 27-0 on Washington's opening kickoff return of the 2nd half. We should get our starting offensive line back this week, and there is reason to believe the offense will start gaining some momentum with the bye week to practice together.

Rarely will you hear someone say a defense played a special game when they give up over 500 yards. The Seahawks defense played a special game. To appreciate how well they played, you need to never forget just how talented the Chargers and Philip Rivers are. It's also critical to note the massive injuries the team suffered and the total lack of 2nd half offense. Aaron Curry getting hurt mattered, and that's great to say. He was playing a solid game when he went down, and was a big reason the Chargers were having trouble running the ball. Marcus Trufant going down didn't matter as much as one would have expected, and that's a credit to Roy Lewis, Kelly Jennings and especially Walter Thurmond. Brandon Mebane went down and that was the injury that changed the make-up of the defense. Pressure from the four-man fronts ceased. Running room up the gut was suddenly available. You can't truly appreciate something until it's gone. Mebane is having a breakout season, and cannot be replaced. Remember that.

Chris Clemons was a beast, but he's a smart beast (like the one in X-Men). He is not the try-hard pass rusher we've been forced to cheer for in times past. He is a physical talent that also knows how to setup his opponent. Listen to his post-game comments and you'll hear him tell you the queues he picks up from the offensive tackle that help him craft his attack plan. After yesterday's game, he said, "The guy was giving me a lot of choices for how to attack him." I'm not sure Darryl Tapp or Lawrence Jackson would have either seen those options or had the talent to exploit them.

Red Bryant also deserves mention for another disruptive game.

David Hawthorne had his best game of the season, with multiple "Heater" moments, including a critical forced fumble deep in Seahawks territory in the 1st half. Lofa played a solid, if not spectacular game. There were some questionable moments of coverage in his zones.

The safeties stole the show. Earl Thomas got the headlines with two great picks, but Lawyer Milloy played the better game. He was the tip of the spear on many of the Seahawks blitzes, led the team in tackles and knocked fools silly. The team is using him wisely. Make no mistake. This is his defense.

One of the most encouraging aspects of the game was the constant pressure applied by the defense. It appears that Carroll and Gus Bradley looked at the 3-man fronts and coverage-based game plan they put together for Denver last week and realized that's not who they are. Lawyer Milloy in coverage is not a good thing. Lawyer Milloy knocking lineman and running backs into their quarterback is a very good thing. This defense is built to lean forward, not backpedal. For all the criticism of Bates on offense, give Bradley credit for dialing up blitzes all the way to the end of the game that had a major impact on the outcome. On both of the Chargers final possessions, the Seahawks blitzed on 2nd, 3rd and 4th downs. They got pressure and forced early or errant throws each time. It's easy to cheer for a defense like that.

Special teams were the story, and I won't bore you with too much detail there. Don't overlook the near punt return for a TD by Golden Tate and the forced fumble and recovery in the 1st half. This was a complete team performance. When I wrote in my "what a win would look like" game preview, I said any win would include a player or unit turning in a performance that would have people buzzing. Check.

Something special is happening between the fans and this team. I can't quite explain how or why, but it is there. The first two games have produced as electric a crowd as I've seen at Qwest since 2005. With so many new faces around the team, it's a perfect time for this renaissance. Each home game is becoming an event to behold. There is a camaraderie building that almost feels as if the crowd is part of the team, a true 12th man. Every player with a Twitter account lauded the crowd's effort, much the way they would a teammate who turned in a great performance. And that appreciation is reflected right back in the city's most inspired recycling program.

The rest of the season will be unpredictable, but it will be hard to match the first two games at Qwest. For my money, this was the most impressive home victory since the classic OT win over the Giants in 2005. The upcoming game in St. Louis will tell us a lot about how impressive this season may become.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Seahawks 2010 Draft Delivers

Most NFL observers say you cannot judge a draft class for at least two or three years. What you don't know is that those "observers" are actually GMs like Tim Ruskell who continually runs horrid drafts and tell people to wait for a return. No additional time is needed to validate that the 2010 Seahawks draft was an A+. It is not going to far to say it may go down as the best draft in the franchise history.

A quick review of today's draft contributions:

- Earl "Desperately Needs A Nickname That Sounds Fast" Thomas
Thomas has two picks, the first of which was stunning. Nobody in the stadium except for Thomas thought he picked that ball off. His second pick sealed the game, when he seemed to close 5 yards in less than a second. He also contributed 6 tackles, a pass defensed and a critical QB hit on a blitz late in the 4th quarter.

- Golden Tate
Caught all four passes thrown his way, including some tough ones. Nearly broke a punt return for a TD in the second quarter.

- Walter Thurmond
Subbed admirably for Marcus Trufant. Finished with 8 tackles and a pass defensed. Made a number of strong open-field tackles.

- Leon Washington 
He's not a rookie, but he was acquired for a 5th round draft choice. As far as I'm concerned, he's part of the draft class, and what a fifth rounder he is!

- "Battering" Kam Chancellor
Forced a terrific fumble on a kickoff before half.

- Dexter Davis
Recovered the fumble Chancellor causes.

The front office deserves serious kudos for a job well done. Rarely, do you see a team's talent level turned around so significantly after just one draft. And we haven't even seen Russell Okung in a regular season game...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Hawk Blogger Podcast: Week 3

Ryan Burns of FootballSickness.com joined me for a second straight week to talk NFL and the Seahawks. Nobody tweets harder than Burns, so be sure to follow him @FtblSickness on Twitter.

This weeks topics included our old friends Seneca Wallace and Mike Holmgren (Burns is a suffering Browns fan). We also discussed disappointing teams, breakout players and the sometime shocking mishandling of a team's rushing attack.

I weighed in on the Hasselbeck/Whitehurst chatter, and we disagreed on who will win this weekend for the second time in a row.

Without further adieu, please take a listen and let me know what you think!

>>Download the podcast<<

Alternatively, here are instructions to subscribe to my podcast in iTunes:

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If you'd like to copy it to your iPod/iPhone, you'll need to access the click on your device in iTunes once you connect it to the computer, and access the Podcasts tab. The rest should be pretty clear.

What would victory on Sunday mean?

The likelihood of a Seahawks victory against the Chargers on Sunday isn't very high. The Chargers have an elite offense and strong enough defense, while the Seahawks are still finding their identity. Unlike our week one opponents, the 49ers, the Chargers are proven winners and have a Pro Bowl quarterback. They are not over-hyped. Instead, they fall into that category of not-quite-Super Bowl-contenders that is mostly anonymous.

For the Seahawks to beat them on Sunday, they will need a standout performance on defense and offense. You won't beat the Chargers with one hand tied behind your back, even at Qwest Field.

If the Seahawks do find a way to rise up, it would tell us a few things. It would indicate that the Seahawks are official playoff contenders in the NFC. Some may argue that's already proven, but most analysts around the country still see the 0-2 49ers or the 1-1 Cardinals as the clear favorites. A win over the Chargers would validate the opening day romp was about how good the Seahawks were instead of how bad the 49ers were. It would also put the defense on the map. Despite a horrible showing on 3rd down in Denver, there are signs that this could be a special defense, especially against the run. The coaches made significant alterations to their attacking scheme in week 1, and dropped lots of defenders into coverage against Kyle Orton. I'd expect to see a return to the attacking style after getting shredded last week. A win would help solidify that identity for the defense.

A win would make the Seahawks 2-1, with a real shot at going 3-1 with a game @STL in week 4, heading into the bye week. This is arguably the toughest home opponent the Seahawks face, although Atlanta is right there. Beating the Chargers makes a 7-1 home record a distinct possibility, which means only 1-2 road victories could win you a division.

These are the fun games to watch because a loss is expected for completely valid reasons, so anything other than a blowout becomes goodness. Maybe Earl Thomas announces to the league to be wary of him on deep balls. Maybe the pass rush forces people to reconsider the perceived weakness there. Maybe Justin Forsett can make fantasy football players rejoice by grabbing hold of the running back spot. Maybe Mike Williams causes Matt Millen to cry in his beer with a dominant performance. The worst-case scenario is we learn the Seahawks truly are a rebuilding team. Something tells me we're in for a surprise.

Gotta Run Before You Can Run

The Seahawks are having trouble running the ball. Their offensive line is a mess, and they don't have a featured running back. Wrong, wrong and wrong.

It is true that the Seahawks are 20th in the NFL in rushing at 93.0 yards/game. It is true that the Seahawks don't have a single back with 100 total yards rushing through two games, while the Chargers come to town with two. Dig a little deeper, though, and you see that this may have more to do with our offensive coordinator than it does with our ability.

Rushing yards/game is a flawed measure of a running attack. More important is how many yards a team gains on each individual carry. By that metric, the Seahawks rank 8th in the NFL at 4.3 YPC. How can a team with such a healthy YPC be so far down the ranks in yards/game? Play calling. The Seahawks are 29th in the NFL in rushing attempts with 43. That means we are only calling a running play ~20 times/game. Most NFL running backs need 20 rushes *individually* to make an impact. The most carries a back has had for the Seahawks so far is the eight Justin Forsett was given against the Broncos.

That brings us to the second coaching decision that is effecting our rushing attack, division of carries amongst the backs. I will give you a blind RB test. Take a look at these three RB options:

Player A - 15 carries, 87 yards, 5.8 avg, longest run is 32 yards
Player B - 12 carries, 30 yards, 2.5 avg, longest run is 6 yards
Player C - 10 carries, 29 yards, 2.9 avg, longest run is 7 yards

Player A has clearly separated himself from the other two in every category he controls. The only category that is close is carries. As you might have guessed, Player A is Justin Forsett. Player B is Julius Jones. Player C is Leon Washington. Splitting the carries is a very bad choice. Julius Jones should never see the field. I am sick of writing that, but coaches continue to put him out there.

Our running game may, in fact, be a weakness. I have seen the same troubling performances through pre-season and last season that everyone else has. Nobody can say for sure, though, until the coaches give the right player enough reps for a few games. Run the right player, and run him more often.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

*This* Is Our Theme Song??

Take a second and think about what your experience as a Seattle Seahawks fan has been. Never quite to the top, often heart-breaking, sometimes exhilarating. Now, read these lyrics and tell me if they pump you up:


The Verve
Bittersweet Symphony Lyrics



'Cause it's a bittersweet symphony, this life
Trying to make ends meet
You're a slave to money then you die
I'll take you down the only road I've ever been down
You know the one that takes you to the places
where all the veins meet yeah

No change, I can't change
I can't change, I can't change
But I'm here in my mind
I am here in my mind
But I'm a million different people
from one day to the next
I can't change my mind
No, no, no, no, no, no, no,no,no,no,no,no(fading away)

Well I never pray
But tonight I'm on my knees yeah
I need to hear some sounds that recognize the pain in me, yeah
I let the melody shine, let it cleanse my mind, I feel free now
But the airways are clean and there's nobody singing to me now

No change, I can't change
I can't change, I can't change
But I'm here in my mind
I am here in my mind
And I'm a million different people
from one day to the next
I can't change my mind
No, no, no, no, no, no, no
I can't change
I can't change it

'Cause it's a bittersweet symphony, this life
Trying to make ends meet
Trying to find some money then you die
I'll take you down the only road I've ever been down
You know the one that takes you to the places
where all the veins meet yeah

You know I can't change, I can't change
I can't change, I can't change
But I'm here in my mind
I am here in my mind
And I'm a million different people
from one day to the next
I can't change my mind
No, no, no, no, no

I can't change my mind
no, no, no, no, no,
I can't change
Can't change my body,
no, no, no

I'll take you down the only road I've ever been down
I'll take you down the only road I've ever been down
Been down
Ever been down
Ever been down
Ever been down
Ever been down
That you've ever been down
That you've ever been down



Is it too late to jab a knife in my chest? That song has the inspirational value of a cancer diagnosis. Come on, Seahawks fans! Let's cheer the introduction of our team while we listen to a crappy singer tell us you're a slave to money then you die!! He also promises to take us down the only road he's ever been down, which means nothing new or hopeful. No, seriously, get pumped! 


More than wishing Qwest would finally figure out how to serve decent food a la Safeco Field, I will write an open letter to our new CEO begging him to convince Paul Allen to let this song go already. I've heard from multiple sources that the song choice goes all the way to the top. Wasn't the 2005 Super Bowl enough proof that life as a Seahawks fan is a bittersweet symphony? Can we please stop having it thrown in our face each game? 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

SEAHAWKS/CHARGERS PREVIEW PART II: What A Seahawks Win Might Look Like

This game has serious implications in deciding what kind of expectations the Seahawks fan base should have for this season. Most fans will come out pumped, buoyed by the euphoria of a crowd-induced week 1 victory. Some will come expecting to lose based on last week's poor outing and the strength of the Chargers squad. Any Seahawks victory over the Chargers is highly dependent on the crowd delivering its best performance.


The Chargers were rattled in week one in KC, and were flagged numerous times for false starts and delay of games. Philip Rivers was reduced to whiny little brat in that game when he couldn't get the silent snap count working with his center. Fans can effect this game.


The Chargers have benefited from a strong rushing game thus far in 2010. I don't think they need a great rushing game in order to win this game, but it would be interesting to see how their offense operates with limb severed. Given the strength of the Chargers passing attack, any Seahawks victory must include a continuation of stingy run defense. Fewer rushing yards should lead to more difficult 3rd down distances and a better chance for a pass rush.


I don't think we have seen everything Pete Carroll, Gus Bradley and the defense have in store. Carroll spoke a lot this week about the lack of pass rush in the Denver game, and how important it was for the team to work on that. Expect blitzes you haven't see before, and if those result in turnovers and/or low 3rd down conversions, the Seahawks could rise up and surprise the Chargers.


Offensively, Mike Williams is going to punk an opposing defense soon. Golden Tate gave teams tape they'll need to prepare for and Deon Butler is gaining confidence every game. One of these receivers needs to eclipse 100 yards for the Seahawks to win. 


The rushing game feels like its gaining momentum. It will be valuable to see how much of the success last week was due to Denver's weak defense vs. Stacy Andrews realigning the gravitational force on the field. A strong running game could help to keep the Chargers offense off the field, which is always a good thing.


If the Seahawks win, expect to spend the next week discussing some major surprise performance by an individual or a unit on the team. The Seahawks have not yet put together a game that would beat the Chargers. Sunday would be a great day to do it. 

SEAHAWKS/CHARGERS PREVIEW PART I: What A Seahawks Loss Might Look Like

On any given Sunday in the NFL, any team can rise up and beat the other. When time allows, I will look at both how Seahawks loss and Seahawks win might play out in the upcoming game. Let's start by exploring a potential loss.


It is not hard to imagine Philip Rivers and the Chargers rolling into Qwest field and duplicating, or bettering, the performance Kyle Orton just turned in against the Hawks. The success of the Seahawks defense over the last few years has been highly dependent on the QB they play. Throw out a rookie QB, and we can shut you down. Put in a competent vet, and you've likely got at least 21 points. It would be easy to come to the conclusion that the trend is continuing this year after the first two weeks. The common thread is generally pass rush. If Rivers is given ample opportunity to stand in the pocket, the Chargers are going to put up a lot of points. This, more than any other factor, will determine if this game is competitive. Keep in mind that the Chargers finished 31st in the NFL in rushing last season, but still were an explosive offense.


Defensively, the Chargers usually only need to keep an opposing offense under 24 points to win. What has led to so many victories over the past few years is that their defense usually does much better than that. They don't have the same feared pass rush it once did, or the massive presence of NT Jamal Williams, but they are making plays, as evidenced by the 4 picks they have through 2 games. Even if the Seahawks slow down the Chargers offense, this defense can hold down the Seahawks offense enough to win. 


In other words, the Chargers are better on both sides of the ball, and the gap is large enough that there are a variety of ways for them to leave Qwest with a victory.



John Carlson Disappoints

It was just over a year ago that I was predicting big, big things for John Carlson. Not only did he have a stellar rookie season, but he filled a need on a team that desperately needed the classic "outlet" receiver who a QB could check down to when things went haywire. He flashed dependable hands and crisp routes and was lauded for a great work ethic.

Carlson, like the rest of the team, had a subpar 2009 season. All his numbers went down except for TDs. The hope was a new season and new staff would be able to take better advantage of his skills. The troubling truth is that we do appear to have a staff that knows how to put him position to succeed and QB that can get him the ball, but Carlson is not rising to the opportunity.

This past Sunday, we saw the first drive where Carlson was streaking down the field with nobody guarding him to the inside. Matt correctly read the situation and led Carlson to the inside. Instead of recognizing the coverage and turning in to find the ball, Carlson adjusted way too late and missed a chance for at least a huge gain, if not a long touchdown. In the first game of the year, a similar thing happened near the goal line when Carlson was running a route along the goal line and he was once again late to recognize the coverage and find the ball sailing into the end zone.

Some are chalking this up to chemistry between Matt and Carlson that will get better. Surely, there is something to that line of reasoning. However, I am concerned that it's a more deep-seeded problem than that. I think Carlson may be a little dim. Apologies for not finding a more sensitive way to put that, but let's just put that out there for what it is.

My coaches and managers always told me that making a mistake is fine. It often means you are challenging yourself to things beyond your comfort zone. The problem comes if you make the same mistake twice. Carlson is in his third year and shouldn't be making these mistakes at all, let alone in back-to-back weeks. I admit that I base part of my assessment on the "deer in headlights" look Carlson has whenever these shenanigans crop up. I have seen that look on teammates faces over the years. I have known players who have supreme ability and inferior instinct and/or intellect. It is a coaches nightmare because you can't stop fiddling with your game plan in an attempt to unlock the talent you see, only to one day realize you've been wasting your time all along.

The alternative explanation to all this is that Carlson is adjusting to his third offensive system in three years, and will settle in with time. I certainly hope that is true. My instincts are telling me otherwise at this point, and I'd advise Seahawks fans to brace themselves for a lower ceiling for John Carlson than many of initially projected.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hawk Blogger 2010 Power Rankings - Week 2

PRIMER
Power rankings are always debatable. I don't buy into the gut feel methods most places use to determine their rankings, so I developed a formula a few years back that attempts to take at least some of the subjectivity out of the discussion. My approach is simple, I measure offensive and defensive efficiency based on the Yards Per Carry (YPC) and Yards Per Attempt (YPA), as well as points scored and points allowed. The formula to calculate "Team Strength" is as follows:

(YPC (offense) + YPA (offense) + Avg Pts/Game Scored) - (YPC (defense) + YPA (defense)+ Avg Pts/Game Allowed)


The formula has proven to be a pretty accurate predictor of success. Even in the first week of the 2008 season, 5 of the top 10 ranked teams were playoff bound. As with any statistic, it becomes more meaningful as the sample size grows. Usually, these become most meaningful after Week 3. In 2007, 9 of the top 10 ranked teams were playoff teams, with the lowest ranked playoff team coming in at #15. In 2008, 8 the top 10 were playoff teams, with Arizona being the lowest ranked playoff team at #19. I'm not sure any formula could have predicted their run.

If you'd like to see how teams rankings changed from 2008 to 2009, you can read more here.

THIS WEEK
The Seahawks drop to #11 this week with the largest absolute decline in team strength (-21.50). Atlanta surges to #3 with the largest climb in strength (23.30). Green Bay is separating themselves from the pack thus far. Crazy fact: did you know the Arizona Cardinals are averaging 6.8 YPC?



Scatter chart of the rankings. This view helps to give you a view of how teams are grouped together. You will generally see tiers of strength develop as the season wears on.

Monday, September 20, 2010

First Look: San Diego Chargers

Good quarterbacks are hard to beat. Philip Rivers is a great quarterback. He is the classic strong-armed pocket passer that can make every throw with accuracy and velocity. Seahawks fans may remember watching his first professional pass in a pre-season game a few years back. It did not take long to see his talent even at that point.

More than superior talent, the Chargers have wisely surrounded Rivers with "tall." Vincent Jackson is getting a lot of pub for his holdout as a Pro Bowl receiver, but the Chargers offense has hardly noticed. They are 3rd in the NFL in yards/game, 4th in passing offense at over 300 yards/game. Players like Antonio Gates and Malcolm Floyd can run down the field and just be "tall." Kelly Jennings may want to call in sick this week.

Rivers did throw two picks last week, but that's about the only bright spot for the Seahawks defense to review as he completed over 75% of his passes. Ouch.

Their ground game is not far behind, led by super rookie prospect, Ryan Mathews. Mathews is all of 6'0" 220 lbs. When you draw up an NFL running back, he looks exactly like this guy. He is complimented by might mite Darren Sproles, and FB Mike Tolbert who led the team with 82 yards rushing last week. The running game checks in at #6 in the NFL at over 130 yards/game.

Defensively, they're pretty darn good as well. They are #9 in total yards allowed/game, and have already scored twice on defense. Amazingly, they have four interceptions. The pass rush is almost pedestrian by comparison with only three sacks.

Any Seahawks fan looking for optimism should focus more on who the Chargers have faced than at the Chargers themselves. Kansas City and Jacksonville are not playoff teams, and may be among the worst teams in the NFL when all is said and done. Yes, KC is 2-0, but Matt Cassell threw for under 100 yards in the win over the Chargers. Play that game again 10 times, and the Chargers win 8 or 9 of them. The Chargers did get rattled a lot by the noise in that game, so the 12th man has another chance to influence the outcome.

It will take a special performance to win this game.

The Morning After: Broncos Beat Seahawks, 31-14

Anyone that missed the Seahawks blowout loss to the Broncos yesterday can watch the first four minutes on replay and see the storyline that played out repeatedly the rest of the game. Although, that first drive may have represented to largest number of consecutive passes from Matt Hasselbeck that went to his teammates, and also the rare 3rd down stoppage by the defense. Surrounding those beacons of hope were the types of mistakes that threatened the drywall next to my recliner. John Carlson ran a poor route where he turned outside as Matt threw it beautifully inside where no defenders could be seen for miles. Stacy Andrews has a false start on the 1-yard line. Somewhere, Bill Leavy nodded as Sean Locklear had a real holding penalty on a 6 yard TD run by Forsett. Hasselbeck followed that up with a double mistake of making a terrible throw, and making it to Champ Bailey's side of the field. Pete Carroll inexplicably decided to put Walter Thurmond back for a punt. Thurmond proceeded to field it inside his 10 (cardinal sin), fumble it, miss a second chance to grab it or knock it out of bounds, and eventually lose it. The defense then allowed the Broncos to score a TD on 3rd and 10. By my count, that is 11 significant mistakes in the first four minutes of a road game. Amazingly, the team still had a chance to make a game of it all the way into the third quarter, but mistakes continued throughout the game to seal the defeat.

Give the Broncos credit for taking advantage of Seattle's mistakes, and for a sound offensive game plan that the Seahawks will likely see more of in coming weeks. Most notably, the Broncos double and triple-teamed Chris Clemons which seemed to surprise the Seahawks and left them with a neutered pass rush. Part of that was due to a conservative defensive game plan that was consistently dropping people into coverage. It appeared the Seahawks thought they would be able to pressure with four down lineman and drop most into coverage to slow down Kyle Orton. They were wrong on both counts. The inability of Mebane, Cole and Bryant to collapse the pocket against a makeshift offensive line was a major reason the Broncos converted an astounding 14-20 on 3rd down. Many will point to the nauseating game from #8 as the reason for the loss, but the lack of push from our defensive line was just as much to blame.

This offense is a work in progress. It will need the defense to deliver performances like the one last week against SF in order to be competitive. Look at a team like the Ravens or Jets. Their offenses are often anemic, but the defenses look very much like what Seattle's did last week. They stonewall the opponent all game from anywhere on the field. No yard is surrendered without a fight. I thought I saw indications in the Minnesota pre-season game and the SF game last week that this Seahawks defense was ready to make a surprising move into the upper echelon of NFL. Even this week, there were signs of strength. The Broncos averaged 1.7 YPC, for a total of 65 yards. That included multiple goal line stands. Unfortunately, the second Broncos TD came against a head-scratching three down lineman from the 2-yard line. I will never understand that call. Expect to hear the coaches talk this week about building on the success at stopping the run two weeks in a row.

The linebackers and secondary has a mostly negative game as well. Lofa Tatupu, in particular, stood out by his absence. Aaron Curry was the best of the worst, at least making some plays in the backfield. Kelly Jennings looked a lot like Kelly Jennings. Marcus Trufant's completely unnecessary pass interference on 3rd down after the Seahawks had pulled to 17-7 was the final application of grease on the ramp to nowhere.

The offensive line was a surprising strength. They contributed more than their share of terrible penalties, but also kept Matt upright and cleared some major running lanes. Stacy Andrews is an upgrade if he can stay still before the ball is snapped. Close your eyes and picture Chester Pitts at LG and Russell Okung at LT. That's a potentially badass group, and that's something to get excited about. Julius Jones proved he still has dirty pictures of the coaching staff by getting into the game while Justin Forsett was once again delivering over 5 yards-per-carry to Jones' 3.0. Every carry Jones gets kills a little bit of my soul.

Before jumping off the Mike Williams bandwagon, be sure to remember he was facing Champ Bailey. The game plan very clearly was to stay away from Bailey, and involve the other receivers on the team. Deon Butler had a fantastic opening drive, but was soon forgotten. Deion Branch played a solid game, and even Ben Obamanu did his steady thing that included a nice TD.

Golden Tate was the breakout performer. His reception, much more than his punt returns, serves as a good reminder of what kind of weapon he will be. He flashed his great body control and imaginative run after the catch. His punt returns did not leave me feeling good about his chances to repeat them in the future. He is indecisive on his initial return path, dancing around laterally. Most decent special teams crews will slam him for minimal gain. He does show a knack for staying on his feet after contact. Both of his returns were sparked by the coverage team relaxing as he appeared to be going down, only to regain his balance and leave them all sprinting after him.

Hasselbeck played poorly enough that people were tweeting for Whitehurst by the second quarter. Three picks deserves that kind of scrutiny. Matt was pressing. He needs to prove that he can make wise decisions without Holmgren chaining him down. He needs to bounce back strong.

The game ended up following my predicted "losing" storyline almost to the letter. The media will vacillate between telling us that the Seahawks aren't as good as their SF game indicated and that fans shouldn't get too bent out of shape about the first road game of the year. Both are partially true. This will end up being among the most winnable road games the Seahawks play this year, even with the expected team improvement over time. Expect more of the unexpected from this team unless one of the units can start to repeat a performance week-to-week.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Denver Offensive Line: Blood In The Water

True Northwesterners know how to take advantage of decent weather. After my oldest son's soccer game, I rushed home and packed my youngest into the bike trailer and took off for a long ride, in part, so I could listen to some Seahawks podcasts. The ride finished just before the rain came, but not before my youngest exited the trailer and vomited all over our front door. Maybe I should listen to smooth jazz the next time I ride with him in the back.

Anyway, John Clayton was my podcast of choice yesterday. He had a Denver writer on that covers the Broncos, and they spent a fair amount of time talking about the Broncos offensive line. I knew earlier that it was a mess, but wow. Listening to this guy while imagining our defensive line got me salivating. Take a look:

It is not that uncommon to have a weakness somewhere along your line. What gets really challenging is having multiple weaknesses playing next to each other. In the case of the Broncos, their only truly talented lineman is LT Ryan Clady, who is coming off of major knee surgery and only started practicing in time for the last pre-season game. His left guard, Stanley Daniels, has been on the practice squad of three teams in three years. JD Walton is a rookie center. Russ Hochstein is a backup playing at right guard unless Chris Kuper can come back from injury today. Zane Beadles is another rookie that had a critical holding call last week. Oh, and just for good measure, TE Daniel Graham is also coming off a tough injury during the pre-season. If there was ever a game for Aaron Curry to break out, this is it.

If the Seahawks are to win this game on the road, at least one player along our defensive line must dominate.


Party At My Place For Seahawks @ Broncos Today

Hey All,

I'll be hosting a live chat during the game if you'd like to join me. Instructions are simple:

1) Click on >>this link<< anytime on, or after 1PM
2) Choose the "enter as guest" option

I will also be tweeting throughout.

Later,
Hawk Blogger

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Finding Your Franchise Quarterback

While watching my fantasy Seahawks franchise quarterback of the future play a horrible game against Nebraska today, I found myself wondering if drafting a quarterback is the best way to go. We have, after all, already traded for Charlie Whitehurst, and the best quarterback in franchise history was acquired via a trade with Green Bay. Maybe we should just stick with Whitehurst, and forget about this whole drafting a QB thing.

I decided to take a look at all 32 starting quarterbacks to see how they were acquired:



Almost 60% of the starting QBs were drafted, 25% were acquired via trade and just over 15% were signed as free agents. Tony Romo and Drew Brees are the only elite QBs signed as free agents, and Romo is a little unique in that he was an undrafted free agent that has spent his entire career with one team.



Not surprisingly, nearly 2/3rds of NFL starting QBs are with their original team. But that doesn't tell the whole story. Seahawks fans aren't interested in having Matt Moore or Jake Delhomme on the team. We want an elite QB that can lead us to the Super Bowl, so let's focus on the top 15 QBs in the NFL. I'm going to use John Clayton's ESPN ranking of top QBs as a basis since it's as good as any other. I'm going to modify it just a bit to look at top QBs that are part of their franchise's future plans. Donovan McNabb and Brett Favre may be top 15 QBs, but both were acquired via trade late in their careers, so including them in the mix would not tell an accurate story of how teams build at that position. Here's the modified list:


Peyton Manning
Tom Brady
Drew Brees
Ben Roethlisberger
Aaron Rodgers
Philip Rivers
Tony Romo
Carson Palmer
Eli Manning
Joe Flacco
Matt Ryan
Matt Schaub
Jay Cutler
Matt Hasselbeck
Sam Bradford (sorry, he's just way better than the other guys on Clayton's list)

Of this upper crust, 11 are with their original team. Ten were drafted by that team, and Tony Romo was signed as an undrafted free agent. Drew Brees was a free agent signing and Matt Hasselbeck, Matt Schaub and Jay Cutler were traded. When you move to the top 10 or top 5, all of the players are with their original teams except Brees.

In other words, while acquiring a QB that can develop into your franchise player is possible, it is highly unlikely.

You're welcome, and I'm sorry

Folks, it was time. I knew it. HawkBloggerWife knew it. HawkBloggerKids knew it. The Seattle Seahawks shirt I bum around in every morning needed to be washed. Even the cotton threads that made up the shirt were begging to breathe free once again. With superstitious reluctance, I threw it in the laundry machine with many pieces of lesser apparel to be relentlessly drowned, twirled and cleansed. It seemed a cruel fate for such a great and powerful shirt to be forced to mingle in such close quarters with underthings and clothes that can claim no power to influence the future. This magical garment, after all, has started and stopped Seahawks win streaks in the past few years. The moments when I choose to wash it are of great import to anyone who loves this team.

It was a risk to break this unwashed stretch after such a great win last weekend, but there are moments when you must make a decision that could be negative in the short-term in order to set yourself up for long-term success. I believe this team is good enough to overcome the potential bad luck I caused this morning, and will be emboldened for a long run of great play that will match the crispness of my now clean shirt.

I write this message mainly as a public service to let other Seahawks fans know that this may not be the best week to violated their superstitions. There is only so much bad mojo a team can be expected to overcome.