Thursday, October 28, 2010

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

Jeremy Bates, this game is about you. Oakland's offense is getting a ton of attention this week after racking up 300+ yards on the ground and 59 points. What people are failing to notice is the Raiders defense is still 28th in the NFL against the run, and 28th in the NFL in opposing QB rating at 95.0/game. Only two teams in the NFL are giving 5.0 yards per carry or more, and the Raiders are one of them. Top it off with a 26th-ranked points allowed at over 23 points a game, and it is clear that the Seahawks offense has no excuses.

Bates must prove he is willing to run early and often to keep control of the game. My knuckles and the drywall in my house cannot take any more "creative" 3rd and 1 decisions. Oakland has given up a league-worst 11 rushing plays of 20+ yards, with three of those going for over 40 yards.  Marshawn Lynch needs to have over 20 carries in this game, and the team must have over 110 yards rushing for the Seahawks to win.

Matt must make good decisions and test the corner opposite Nnamdi Asomugha. Do not make the Champ Bailey mistake again. Take your chances elsewhere. Deon Butler, Golden Tate and John Carlson will be key. The Raiders have a rookie middle linebacker who is much more of a rugged run defender than a coverage guy. Carlson will get his chances and must make the most of them, something he has yet to do so far this season. This may be a breakout game for Tate if Brandon Stokley can't go. Cornerback Chris Johnson suffered a concussion against the Broncos and may not play. Their other corner, Stanford Routt, is nothing special. Expect the Seahawks to try and get as many DBs on the field as possible with three and four WR sets. Oakland is middle-of-the-pack in the NFL with 16 sacks, so pass rush shouldn't be a major problem. Bates and the offense must score at least 23 points to win this game.

Defensively, it is simple. Seattle gave up 113 yards rushing to the Cardinals, the first time an opponent rushed for over 100 yards this season. Oakland's healthy wide receivers are about as qualified as Max Hall to play in the NFL, and should have a similar effect on the passing game. Few teams have slowed the Raiders rushing attack, but Seattle has the hogs to do it. Brandon Mebane's health will play a major factor. The Seahawks chances of winning go up dramatically if he can get on the field. Holding the Raiders under 100 yards rushing would almost guarantee a Seahawk victory.

The Raiders offensive line has given up the 3rd-most sacks in the NFL. It will be hard to get the Raiders into situations where the bandit defense can make an appearance. Putting seven defensive backs on the field is just asking for a run. Aaron Curry, therefore, will be key. He should see more reps, and needs to make an impact.  With the relative weakness in the passing game, don't be surprised to see some corner blitzes.

Oakland also leads the league in penalties at almost 10/game. Opponents are getting drawn into their sloppy play by committing over 7/game. False starts and pass interference penalties can't happen, especially in the red zone.

Seattle enjoys advantages all over the field, but this game will come down to stopping the run on defense and running it on offense. The Beast and The Priest better show up, and Bates better use them.

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

Guten Morgen from Berlin. Each week I try to take a look at both sides of the upcoming Seahawks game. First, let's explore what a Seahawks loss may look like.

Oakland is coming off a franchise-best 59 points outburst against the Broncos, powered by 328 team rushing yards and four Darren McFadden touchdowns. Quarterback Jason Campbell had a career-best 127.9 passer rating. The Raiders have alternated wins and losses the last four weeks, and after two straight road games, return home where they are 2-1. Leading wide receiver Louis Murphy is likely to miss the game with a bruised lung.

Halloween in Oakland is not much different than any other day. The Seahawks can expect a raucous atmosphere, especially after the hurtin' their team put on the Broncos. The Raiders are a flawed offensive team with two mediocre quarterbacks, and a stable of middling wide receivers. Their most potent passing threat is TE Zack Miller. Luckily for the Raiders, they have some top-shelf running talent. There is little doubt Tom Cable will try to stuff the ball down the Seahawks throats with their 3rd-ranked rushing attack. Both Darren McFadden and Michael Bush can break a game open. Any Seahawks loss will include over 125 yards rushing from the Raiders.

The passing attack is even more limited than normal with Murphy out, so expect to see a heavy dose of Miller and creative ways to get the ball to the backs out of the backfield. Sundays win against the Cardinals was the first game all year the Seahawks have not been gashed by a screen pass. Allowing gimme yards to the Raiders on swing and screen passes would be a major failure, but a loss would certainly feature at least a few big yard-after-catch pass plays.

Oakland has enjoyed some game-changing special teams plays. They blocked a punt against SD, and had a long kickoff return or two. The Seahawks had trouble blocking the Cardinals on field goals, and have become vulnerable all-of-a-sudden on returns. The Raiders offense and defense do not stack up against the Seahawks, so any loss would include at least one key special teams moment in favor of the Raiders.

At 23.6 points allowed/game, the Raiders defense has not stopped many teams. The Seahawks offense has struggled to find any consistency. Expect Nnamdi Asomugha to match-up with Mike Williams and force Matt Hasselbeck to look elsewhere for his yards. The Raiders are probably seeing the reliance on Williams as a great opportunity for them to take away a major part of the Seahawks offense, and they are right. Hasselbeck has struggled with decision-making at times, and Williams getting bottled up could lead to some forced throws and turnovers.

The Raiders are not 59-14 good, but they are confident and playing at home in front of an enthusiastic crowd. Despite a great win in Chicago, and important division-victory against the Cardinals, it would qualify as a surprise if the Seahawks could win two straight road games, and three-in-a-row overall. Intangibles point to a Raiders victory, but it's far from a sure thing.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Beast and The Priest Gear - Now Available!

Celebrate your love for the Seahawks newfound running game with a custom designed, completely original t-shirt or sweatshirt. Mitch Levy mentioned the nickname combo on his interview with Marshawn Lynch, and I tweeted about it that night. Dozens of folks retweeted it, including Justin Forsett himself!

I worked with a bunch of cool designers over at 99designs.com, and all of you selected this design as your favorite. After recouping my costs, I will donate all the proceeds to the Make-A-Wish foundation. Please forward to anyone interested!

Hawk Blogger 2010 Power Rankings - Week 7

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
Tennessee makes its first appearance atop the rankings after another blowout win. The AFC dominates the top of the charts, holding the first seven spots. Not much separates the top NFC teams as the Giants top out at only 5.7. Historically, Super Bowl contenders have had team strengths over, or close to, 10. Chargers fans are suffering through an unbelievably frustrating year. Their offense and defense is all over the top of the key categories, but that is not translating into wins.



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. The top three teams still appear to be in a class by themselves. Buffalo climbs out of the cellar, thanks in part, to another terrible Jaguar performance.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Morning After: Seahawks Beat Cardinals, 22-10

My 9-year-old had just scored the winning goal of his soccer game on Saturday, but he was steaming mad. His father chose the walk back to the car to make a comment about his lack of effort. The timing was unquestionably poor, but the message needed to be delivered. Just last week, the same father lavished praise on the same kid for going scoreless in a loss because his effort and attitude had been so consistent and outstanding. The lesson I continue to try and convey to my son is that the focus needs to be on the effort and attitude, not the result. An individual or team that brings great intensity and spirit every week will more often than not maximize the possible results. Meet your Seattle Seahawks, a team defined by how consistently hard they play each, and every, week.
"Our team was built through competition," Milloy said. "It started in the offseason. The 53 guys in here, we know we belong. We earned it. Our roster is still changing, but the one thing that's a constant is effort. A lot of times, effort gets you through the tough times."
Spoken like a man who has seen both sides of that coin. This offense may still be susceptible to long stretches without being effective. This defense can still give up big chunks of passing yards. Even the once-consistent special teams have had some sub-par results the past two weeks. The team, however, brings the same intensity every time. Think back to those powerhouse Mike Holmgren teams. They were talented enough to beat some teams at 75% effort, and they did just that more times than I care to remember. This Seahawks team does not have that luxury. Then again, most teams don't. How do you think Saints and Broncos fans are feeling this morning?

The best part of the Seahawks victory yesterday was that they managed to win by a comfortable margin without playing at a high level. Give the Cardinals credit for coming out ready to play. Lost in all the talk about a 5-1 turnover advantage for the Seahawks was that the Cardinals were a tougher opponent than anyone predicted, including yours truly. Their defense was consistent and stout. Their offense ran for more yards against the Seahawks than any other opponent has so far this season. Their lack of just an average NFL quarterback had more to do with the outcome than the turnovers. It felt like they were one Matt Leinart away from having a real shot to win. The Seahawks defense was loading up men in the box to stop the run for the first time, and the Cardinals were still gashing them at times. Brandon Mebane's absence is starting to be felt.

The secondary played an outstanding game. Coverage was tight, and passes were contested to the tune of a whopping 10 passes defensed. Walter Thurmond and Roy Lewis continue to develop, and Earl Thomas is growing at a pace close to his sprinting speed. A rookie Pro Bowl season is not out of the question. The talent of this group is what makes the bandit defense (7 defensive backs, 1 linebacker, 3 lineman) so effective. It was unclear why the bandit made so few appearances on Sunday. It may have been because of Arizona's success running the football, or a belief that the team could get home with less exotic packages. Whatever the case, it matched last weeks success when the bandit did finally make an appearance late in the game. The defense is at its best when it is blitzing and attacking. There was not as much of that yesterday, and it showed in the pass pressure numbers with only two sacks and four QB hits. It is hard, though, to argue with 10 points allowed.

Quick shout-out to Colin Cole for leading the team in tackles. I haven't seen that from a defensive tackle since the Cortez Kennedy days. Cole is not in the same universe as Tez, but give him credit for an amazing game.

Criticizing the offense is easy. They did not play well. What will get overlooked is that the offense sustained a few long drives for the second straight week, two of which were crucial after Arizona climbed back to 16-7 and 19-10. Take a look at the Seahawks last three possessions after the Cardinals scored their TD:

14 plays 78 yards 4:54 time elapsed RESULT = FG
12 plays 57 yards 7:20 time elapsed RESULT = FG
12 plays 53 yards 4:39 time elapsed RESULT = Ran it on 4th down inside the 10 yard-line

Add that up and up have 38 plays 188 yards 16:53 time elapsed, and essentially three scoring drives. Those drives accounted for 63% of the total offensive yardage, and they did it in crunch time. Remember the state of our time of possession going into the Bears game? The Seahawks were 31st in the NFL, averaging just over 25 minutes of possession each game. After holding the ball for an astounding 37+ minutes Sunday, the Seahawks have completely reversed their TOP the last two games to where they are now holding opponents to just 25 minutes of possession. That's a 20 minute swing. Think about that. Each game is only 60 minutes long. The fact that they were able to put together those three late drives without Russell Okung is notable, but not likely sustainable. Okung's injury may have been the difference between 22 points and 34+ points.

Mike Williams was just short of superhuman. He reminded Seattle what a transcendent athlete looks like. Shawn Kemp, Ken Griffey Jr., Walter Jones could all do things their counterparts couldn't. Things that were not born from preparation, but of pure physical talent. The Seahawks now have a wide receiver with that skill. His catches were more often spectacular than routine yesterday. Lost in the beauty of his game were some similarly inspiring receptions from Deon Butler. Now, we get to see how coverages start to change.

The most frustrating aspect of the offense had nothing to do with the players. Jeremy Bates, I will find you and smack you if you continue to be such a dumbass on 3rd and 1. You have Marshawn Lynch. A player whose nickname is Beast Mode and is almost a sure bet to get a single yard on any given attempt Yet, you continue to run out Justin Forsett and call pass plays. Stop being an idiot!! Also frustrating was watching Matt take at least three sacks. He claims it is because he is being told to hold onto the ball longer to allow receivers to get open. Bull. The statement might be accurate, but no offense (outside of Mike Martz's) wants the QB to hold onto the ball for longer than the line can contain the pass rush. Everyone in the stadium could feel the clock ticking except for Matt. That has to get cleaned up right away.

Lynch and Forsett were terrific again. They combined for 161 yards, or 53% of the team's offense. They are providing a solid foundation to build a more reliable offense. Even with some of the struggles, the Seahawks have now scored in every quarter that Lynch has been on the team, eight straight. Lynch epitomizes the effort and attitude ComPete Carroll is bringing to this franchise.

My son eventually started talking to me again after some pizza and lemonade. He heard my words, and time will tell if they sunk in. More than likely, it will be a lesson that needs to be reinforced over time. It helps to have professional athletes that are demonstrating just how powerful consistent effort can be. The limits of where it can bring the Seahawks is still yet to be determined.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Hawk Blogger Podcast: Week 7

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

Ryan and I spent some time talking about the new league attitude toward hard hits, and a little gently ribbing about the Bruins/Ducks matchup. Most importantly, Ryan changes his prediction about who will win the NFC West. Tune in, and let us know what you think!

>>Download the podcast<<

Subscribe here:



Alternatively, here are instructions to subscribe manually in iTunes:

1. Copy this URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/hawkblogger
2. Launch iTunes
3. Click Advanced>Subscribe to Podcast
4. Paste in the URL from step 1
5. Click OK
6. Click on your Podcasts item under your Library section (you should see Hawk Blogger)

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.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cardinals Insider Q&A

One of the best parts of writing a blog is getting to meet folks around the world that love football as much as you do. Scott Allen, over at raisingzona.com, is the latest. Allen graciously agreed to answer some of my questions about the Cardinals. Take a read.

HAWKBLOGGER: Given the state of the Cards QB situation, are you partially hoping for a bad season so you can get a shot at one of the guys coming out in next year's draft, or do you believe Max Hall is the guy?

RAISINGZONAOh I want the Cards to win now, regardless of who is behind center.  Hall can be the guy or someone else can next year, but we are just starting to get used to this winning thing.  I'm not ready to see the Cards start tanking games again for the sake of a future quarterback, which may or may not work out.

HB: How did Cards fans feel about Boldin getting traded?

RZ: It was a mixed bag.  The Cards offense misses him.  I would love to still have him, but it was for the best.  He was asking to leave here for two years and he got his wish.  The Cards should be fine as long as Steve Breaston and Early Doucet can return from their injuries and remain healthy.

HB: Who is the best Cardinals player Seahawks fans may not know about?

RZ: LaRod Stephens-Howling.  The man is a monster returning kicks.

HB: Who is your most hated Seahawk, both past and present (if they are different people)?

RZ: Tough call.  I don't know if I "hate" anyone, but if I could choose, I would choose head coach Pete Carroll.  I'm not a fan.  I don't like USC, but he left them in his dust to clean up his mess.  His ra-ra attitude is growing tiresome, at least from my perspective.


HB: The Cardinals rank near the bottom in pass offense, rush offense, pass defense and rush defense, but have a 3-2 record. How is that possible?

RZ: The intangibles.  Good teams find ways to win.  They do enough.  The don't and won't blow you away statistically.  They are a team that knows how to win.  People outside Arizona think losing Kurt Warner, Antrel Rolle, Karlos Dansby, and Anquan Boldin was the Cards getting rid of everyone and starting over,  They didn't start over.  They re-tooled.  There are still plenty of players on this roster that were here for the Super Bowl run and last year's division championship.  Even undrafted rookie Max Hall knows how to win coming from a big time school such as BYU.

HB: Which NFC West team do you consider your biggest rival?

RZ: San Francisco 49ers.  Those guys really hate us and to be honest, I'm not a huge fan of them either.  They are a dillusional bunch.

HB: What were your thoughts when you heard the Seahawks traded for Marshawn Lynch?

RZ: Crap, I need to pick him up on my fantasy team.  He would have toiled on the bench in Buffalo forever.

HB: How cool is your stadium? I saw it on Extreme Engineering when it first opened, and it looked amazing. What is your favorite feature?

RZ: The stadium is quite something.  I love it in University of Phoenix stadium.  My favorite feature without a doubt is the rolling field that stays outside all week to allow the real grass to grow and then it rolls in the stadium for gameday.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

NFL Is Fining For Its Life

Every Summer, I would look for a job that could make me the most money in the least amount of time. One job offered a whopping $5K for a couple months of work. It would be a bonanza. The catch was that the job was in Alaska going out on dangerous fishing boats. Sure, you might come home with $5K, but you also may come home with fewer fingers, too. Even if I was willing to take the risk, my parents would have never let me go. Responsible parents tend to keep their kids from doing things that could maim them for life.

When the NFL levied the massive fines on violent hits this weekend, they were doing it with an eye toward parents. Many are arguing that the league is doing it for the safety of the players. Bullshit. This is the same league that is going to add two more regular season games. The NFL does not care about the current crop of players who one day may not remember their own name, or be able to do rudimentary tasks to live a normal life. It will have squeezed every dollar out of their bodies. What the NFL is worried about are the crop of players that is slated to join the league in 10-20 years. Parents of those players are reading the articles about the effects of the NFL on players. They are hearing that concussions have unpredictable effects, and that players like Chris Henry don't even need a concussion to suffer severe brain damage that can lead to depression and serious behavioral issues.

I am a parent of two young boys, 9 and 6. My oldest is a decent 3-sport athlete who is among the bigger kids in his class. In case you hadn't noticed, I like football just a bit. That seems like a good recipe for a new football player, right? Truth is, football feels like an Alaska fishing boat job without any guaranteed payout. I could send this child that I love beyond all else onto a football field, but to what end? He has very little chance to make a living at it, and could very well suffer injury that could impact the rest of his life. Concussions aren't reserved for NFL players, in case you missed the memo.

How many other parents are making the same decision I am? What happens when more and more data starts to come out showing just how hard it is to keep football players from suffering head injuries that will have permanent effects? Of course many parents will gladly still send their kids onto the football field. Anytime there is a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, people will chase after it. But there are other sports where you can make more money with fewer ill effects. It is not inconceivable for enough information to surface about football player safety that it becomes a stigma to be "that parent" that allows their child to play football. A trend like that could choke off the supply of future stars. A trend like that could threaten a multi-billion dollar business.

These fines may seem asinine, hypocritical and impossible to consistently enforce, mainly because they are. They also are not going to stop. Without them, the parents of the next Peyton Manning may decide to make him the next Roger Clemons.

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

Seattle and Arizona may be in the same division, but they are not in the same league. Arizona is a very bad team, one of the worst in the NFL. Their 3-2 record is so deceiving, somebody should sue them for fraud. Look at their three victories.

They managed to win in St. Louis--something they deserve credit for since Seattle couldn't manage it--but turned the ball over four times. Their 24-23 home win against Oakland included a Cardinals special teams touchdown and easy missed field goals that would have won the game for the Raiders. The Cardinals were out-gained against the Raiders by a margin 364 yards to 227, including only 108 yards of passing. Their "statement" victory over New Orleans featured 194 yards of offense, zero offensive touchdowns, a 65 QB rating for their starter, and 1.7 YPC for their running game.

The Cardinals rank 30th in the NFL in passing offense, 29th in rushing offense, 26th in defending the pass, and 29th in defending the run. Both of their quarterbacks sport QB ratings below 60. Their two losses have been by the combined score of 82-17. Football Outsiders DVOA rankings have Arizona as the worst team in the NFL, below Buffalo. This is a bad team.

Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett should be licking their chops looking at a team that allows an average of 140 yards rushing/game. Of Seattle's five opponents so far, only Denver comes close to being this bad against the run. The Seahawks enjoyed a season-high 5.5 YPC against the Broncos, in Denver, without Russell Okung or Marshawn Lynch.

Arizona is tied for 5th in the NFL with seven interceptions, but if Matt can be patient, he will find options. The Cardinals are 26th in the NFL in sacks with only eight.

The 12th man is going to be at peak volume early and often. Seattle's new bandit defense and blitz packages will be going against a team that has given up the 3rd most sacks in the NFL, even though they have only played five games. To put that in perspective, the Bears are worst in the NFL at 4.5 sacks allowed/game. The Cardinals are allowing 3.8 sacks/game. Get out your slide rule because there could be some crooked sack numbers put up on Sunday.

As long as the Seahawks take this game seriously, it will be a comfortable victory. If they play like they did against Chicago, this game will be over by the 2nd quarter.

SEAHAWKS/CARDINALS 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 a Seahawks loss and a Seahawks win might play out in the upcoming game. Let's start by exploring a potential loss.


Cardinal fans will tell you there is new hope with undrafted rookie Max Hall taking over for turnover prone Derek Anderson. They managed to knock off a good New Orleans team at home before their bye last week. Arizona scored 30 points despite only having 194 yards of offense. They did it with an astounding three defensive touchdowns, and four forced turnovers in all. In two of their three wins, they have scored either from special teams or from defense. The offense has struggled mightily, but may be getting back a few key parts in receivers Early Doucet and Steve Breaston. Even with that, any Cardinals win will likely be aided by turnovers and possibly a non-offensive touchdown.


Division games are tough no matter who the opponent runs out there. The Seahawks are coming off of a huge road win in Chicago that will have their confidence at a season-high. Watching the Cardinals on tape is not likely to scare anyone, especially knowing the 12th man will be a factor. That combination of pressure-relieving win, sub-par opponent, and overconfidence in playing home games could lead to a sloppy performance. The Cardinals need the Seahawks to play at least as poorly as they did in losses to St. Louis and Denver to have a shot. The Cardinals offense is not built for big comebacks, so any victory will include them getting a head start, perhaps shocking the home team into a battle they did not expect.


Seattle's offense has been the weak spot thus far, and Arizona has been unable to hold a team under 20 points since their season-opener. The Cardinals will get a boost if Seattle's offense turns anemic again, making this a low-scoring contest that could turn on Jon Ryan's ability to punt effectively with bruised ribs. 


There is no statistical story that points to a Cardinals victory. The only way they win is if they play their best game of the season and the Seahawks do not match their intensity. Games like this are all about mental preparation.



Tuesday, October 19, 2010

New Projected Seahawks Win Total: Double Digit Delight

Pre-season predictions are always a crap shoot. Not only do you have to guess about how individual players will perform, how new schemes will pan out, and who will get injured, but you have to do the same with every opponent your team plays. Looking back at my predictions shows how you can be right and wrong at the same time. I foretold a 3-2 start for the Seahawks that most likely did not. Of course, I was only right about predicting the outcome of one game. That tends to undercut one's credibility a tad, wouldn't you say?

But now I am six weeks wiser, and emboldened about how I see the rest of the season unfolding. Nobody predicted a 1-5 start for San Francisco or a 3-3 start for St Louis. Few expected Oakland to look so much like they did last season. I certainly did not expect the Seahawks defense to emerge the way it has or for Marshawn Lynch to be added to the offensive bouillabaisse. Let's take a look at how things were predicted pre-season, and my updated expectations:


A 10-6 finish may seem optimistic to some. You may wonder if I have gotten swept away by the euphoria of the first meaningful road win since we had a working economy. Go through the schedule yourself. What results would you change? I see more potential for winning *more* than 10 games than I do for winning fewer. The games @Oakland and @Arizona are tough to forecast. Oakland might be a more likely win, but I'm not sure Seattle is consistent enough to win four games in a row. It is likely the Seahawks win in one of those away games. The Giants game will be tough, and Kansas City could be a trap game at home. However, the away game at SF and the home game against Atlanta could go in the Seahawks direction.

Football Outsiders formula for predicting win totals had the Seahawks winning 8.7 games before the Bears game this weekend. Given that the Seahawks best football should be in front of it with a weak schedule, it is not crazy to start thinking about 10+ wins. The cursor is blinking at me as I stare at that last sentence. Pete Carroll and John Schneider are magicians.

Tell me what you think. How do you see the season playing out?

UPDATE: Football Outsiders just revised their projections to include the Bears game, and they now have the Seahawks winning 9.6 games. Told you, bitches!!

NFC West No Longer NFL Worst

Stop. Stop saying that the NFC West is the worst division in the NFL. Stop predicting that a 7-9 record will win the division. Stop accepting that the best NFC West team should still be in the bottom half of every power ranking. You are being a sheep. I should know, because I have been one as well. Take a moment and absorb some facts.

The NFC West is one of five divisions in the NFL with at least three teams sporting 3+ wins. The NFC West has played games against five other NFL divisions, and have a losing record against only one of them (NFC South), with more games left against that divisions worst teams. NFC West teams have already beat two division leaders in Chicago and New Orleans. St. Louis also handily beat the Redskins, and the woeful 49ers lost by a combined five points to the Saints and @Atlanta. Winning on the road outside the division remains a challenge, but the Seahawks just managed it in Chicago.

Every team in the NFC has at least two losses. Who is to say the NFC West is any worse than any of these other divisions? People joke about the 49ers, including this blogger, but dismiss them at your own risk. The majority of NFC teams would have a similar record with that opening schedule. St Louis has been a joke for years, and people recognize their growth with phenom Sam Bradford at QB. What most miss is that their defense is on the rise as well. They lead the division, and are 11th overall in points allowed. Their pass rush has tied them with Seattle for 6th most sacks in the NFL. As a Seahawks fan, I must point out that Seattle has played one fewer game. The Seahawks defense can pressure the passer and is the 2nd best rush defense in the NFL, either by yards allowed or yards per carry.

If you want to find the worst division in football, look no further than the AFC West, where 3 of the 4 teams have four losses. Proof will be on the field as the NFC West battles the AFC West all season. There will, though, be a team in this division that wins 10 games. There may even be a team in this division that wins a playoff game, just like they have every year since 2003. How many other NFC divisions can claim that track record? It is time to let go of those lazy assumptions, and realize the NFC West is on the rise.

Formation Exploration: Trap Draw (Forsett TD)

Scoring on a draw from the 9-yard line is worthy of a little extra analysis. The Seahawks running game has been mostly ineffective this season, but managed to have its best day against one of the NFL's toughest run defenses on Sunday. There were some remarkable contributions to Justin Forsett's touchdown, and the team ran the same play multiple times later in the game with similar success, so let's take a look at how they did it.

First, the Seahawks come out in a 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB formation on 3rd and 9. The Bears are expecting pass and have their nickel defender in covering the slot receiver (Stokley). I have listed Julius Peppers (#90) and Brian Urlacher (#54) with their jersey numbers since they are key parts of what happens. Note, John Carlson is back off of the line.

Second, the ball is snapped and handed off to Forsett. Both of Chicago's defensive ends fly outside to rush the passer. Peppers must be wondering what's going on at this point as Russell Okung ignores him completely and starts running up the field. Carlson has started to sprint over to Peppers. Ben Hamilton (#50) and Chris Spencer (#65) are doing seal blocks to push the defensive tackles away from the hole they are trying to create. Their blocks are a key part of how this play works. Spencer, as you'll see in a second, did an especially impressive job. Stacy Andrews moves up field like Okung, and Sean Locklear blocks his defensive end away from the play. Stokley engages the nickel corner.

Third, Carlson cut blocks Peppers by diving at his feet. He gets enough of Peppers to trip him and slightly injure him as Peppers remained on the ground near the line of scrimmage. Forsett is still untouched as he reaches the five. By now, Urlacher has met Mr. Okung, who has completely enveloped him. Spencer has sealed his man so well that his back is now to Forsett. Hamilton has done a good enough job, and is still blocking his man. Andrews whiffs on his linebacker, but the linebacker whiffs on Forsett. Stokley is still blocking his nickel back. The safetys finally start pursuing the play.
Finally, the safetys meet Forsett at about the two, and his momentum carries the pile to about the one. Stokley's man pursues the play, but is still being blocked somewhat. Okung pushes Urlacher into the pile. Forsett, Stokley and Okung push through the remaining yard and into the end zone.

Click the arrow on the graphic to run through the play

Hawk Blogger 2010 Power Rankings - Week 6

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
Despite a big win in Chicago, the Seahawks remain steady in the rankings. The late Devin Hester TD likely cost them a few spots in the rankings. Pittsburgh remains atop the rankings for the second straight week. The first time we have had a back-to-back leader. Tennessee shockingly comes in at #2 on the strength of the a massive point differential. New Orleans makes the largest climb, jumping eight spots nearly into the Top 10 at #11.



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. There is a pretty good scrum of eight teams with a team strength between 0 and 5. We will see which teams climb up, and which slide down.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Morning After: Seahawks Beat Bears, 23-20

That was an exorcism. The power of Carroll compels you! The power of Carroll compels you! The Seahawks can't win on the road...I cast thee out! The defense can't pressure the quarterback away from Qwest Field...I cast thee out! Matt Hasselbeck is done...I cast thee out! The Seahawks running game is weak and timid...I cast thee out! The true flaws in the offensive line were exposed in St Louis...I cast thee out! The Seahawks can't beat teams outside the NFC West...I cast thee out! Seattle can't win without turnovers or special teams touchdowns...I cast thee out! Seahawk teams can't win after the bye week...I cast thee out! Seattle does not know how to close out games...well, a demon shutout is a pretty tall order.

The road monkey on the Seahawks back had gotten so big, the team had become nothing more than chimp cock ring. The indignity of the team's road performances cannot be overstated. That is what makes Sunday's performance that much sweeter. Seattle, meet your new Seahawks. They are the guys galloping around on the backs of monkeys, spanking some tail and yelling, "giddy-up!"

Nobody should promise, or expect, this team to dominate the way they did this weekend, but no longer should the fan base expect the worse. If you don't see it yet, you are not looking hard enough. This is a team on the rise. It is the most complete team in the division, and may be developing into the most fearsome Seahawks defense since Jim Johnson had Chad Brown terrorizing opponents in the late 90s. The Seahawks are now tied for 6th overall in sacks (with surprising St. Louis), and that's with an early bye week putting them a game behind the other leaders. At 3.4 sacks/game, the Seahawks defense is essentially tied for second in the NFL in rushing the passer. Gus Bradley has them blitzing from every angle and with every player. The one game they chose to drop into coverage (@Denver) was their worst defensive performance.

We witnessed a new defensive scheme on Sunday that featured three safetys, adding Kam Chancellor to Lawyer Milloy and Earl Thomas. According to Danny O'Neil, the new wrinkle is called "bandit." The extra safety is used as a coverage linebacker would be, and allows other defensive backs to enter the backfield as blitzers. Many of those Roy Lewis, Jordan Babineaux, Lawyer Milloy blitzes were still backed up by four players in coverage. This could be a revelation. Aaron Curry is not the most skilled blitzer. The defensive ends, outside of Chris Clemons, are not intimidating pass rushers. Seattle's best pass rushers may be some of their defensive backs like Lawyer Milloy and Roy Lewis. The Seahawks know this and have been blitzing Milloy a lot this season, but that has left the team with one coverage safety and linebackers like Will Herring in coverage. Opposing quarterbacks have put up big passing yards against that alignment. The bandit defense allows Carroll and Bradley to get better pass rush and coverage personnel on the field. Chancellor offers more than Herring. Lewis can do more than Curry in passing situations, either by blitzing or covering a receiver. It is called maximizing your talent. It is also called great coaching. Add bandit to an already brilliant base defense that is second in the NFL at stuffing the run, and Seahawks fans will have as hard a time staying in their seats as opponents will staying in their cleats.

Chester Taylor's 24-yard scamper on a late 4th and 1 was the first 20+ yard run against the Seahawks this season, and skewed an otherwise dominant performance against the run. Chicago managed a paltry 37 yards on the 13 carries (2.9 YPC) outside of Taylor's. This was a team that rushed for 218 yards and a 5.2 average last week. Ask Matt Forte what it is like to run against Seattle. He went from 166 yards and a 7.5 average against Carolina to 8 carries for 11 yards. Take your whoopin' like a man!

Mike Martz deserves at least a little credit for the Seahawks defensive performance. One would think that an opposing offensive coordinator would start to counter a defense's blitz pressure with screen passes and running plays like draws. The Bears also happen to have one of the best receiving running backs in the NFL. They ran three screen plays, all of which resulted in a first down and gains of more than 10 yards. I do not recall a single draw play. There were not even many quick passes. Martz is known for asking his quarterback to hold onto the ball for deeper pass routes, but his play-calling on Sunday was inexcusable. Ego is a killer, Mike, and your quarterbacks may claim you are too.

There were some individual performances on the defense that deserve recognition they might not get elsewhere. Raheem Brock is handful at defensive end. He is making plays against the run and the pass, and has mostly relieved Aaron Curry of his line duties. Red Bryant was a major factor again. Do yourself a favor and watch the safety again when Babs nails Cutler, but watch Bryant. He gets double-teamed and is one of three lineman just bull rushing. As Babs is obliterating Cutler, Bryant is pummeling this poor Bears lineman who ends up flat on his back. Many of the running plays from the Bears ran into a large pile of bodies Bryant created. He is like a boulder in a raging river. Walter Thurmond continues to struggle in coverage, although he made a great play to break up a late 3rd down pass that Kelly Jennings could never make. Colin Cole and Kentwan Balmer did a great job in the middle without Brandon Mebane.

Trading Deion Branch may have the same positive impact on the Seahawks passing game that acquiring Marshawn Lynch will have on the running game. Mike Williams is my favorite Seahawk at the moment. I have been touting him as a potential Pro Bowler since the pre-season, and that finally sounded a little more sane after 10 catches for 123 yards. Branch was on the field more than any other Seahawks receiver the first four games. His absence looks to have finally forced Jeremy Bates into featuring Williams. Deon Butler shined Sunday as a sharp route runner and made a nice TD catch, but Williams is the guy who can cause defenses to adjust their coverages. Look for Williams to eclipse 150 yards in a game at least once this season, and be acknowledged as the second-best receiver in the division by season's end.

Lynch's greatest contribution was convincing Bates to run the ball (season-high 31 times), and run it in the red zone (two rushing TDs). The combination of Lynch and Forsett looks like peanut butter and chocolate. The exciting part is that should be Lynch's worst game this season. That is a formidable Bears defense, especially against the run, and the offensive line should get better. Speaking of the line, they get my vote for most surprising performance. Everything started with them. Williams doesn't make his catches, Forsett doesn't get his yards, Hasselbeck doesn't go interception-free without their contribution. Of all the fear factors Seattle faced heading into this game, the one that seemed the hardest to avoid was keeping Bears pass rushers like Julius Peppers off of Matt. It was nothing less than shocking to see zero sacks and one QB hit. Russell Okung had me thinking of Ray Rhodes all afternoon. Rhodes once said this about the great Walter Jones:
"When Walter goes up against the majority of the guys in the league, it’s like you put the guy in a paper bag and carry him around and hold him up for game day and whip his butt and put him back in there."
Okung did that to Peppers in his first full game as a pro. This is arguably the best defensive end in the league, and Okung just whupped him on his home turf. It wasn't just pass protection either. Okung mauled people in the running game. Just ask Brian Urlacher what it felt like to "participate" in the Forsett touchdown run as Okung decided just blocking Urlacher wasn't enough. Many fans find it hard to get excited about an offensive lineman, but be excited. Be very excited about Russell Okung.

A few other individuals on offense deserve some attention. John Carlson continues to be a disappointment as  a receiver. Don't be surprised if Anthony McCoy starts getting more reps and magically disappears from the weekly inactive list. Carlson did have his best blocking game and made the big catch of the onsides kick, but his routes and drops were inexcusable. Sean Locklear played his best game in over a year, as did Chris Spencer. On a running play I will breakdown later, Spencer, Hamilton and Locklear did fantastic work sealing their assignments, and they did it multiple times. Matt got away with some poor decisions again, but played his best game thus far.

Jon Ryan and the coverage teams deserve praise despite the disastrous late-game punt return for a TD. Until that point, Ryan was punting the equivalent of a perfect game.

Season's are not won or lost on single games, but are built steadily as each week passes. This week makes it possible to envision the team going beyond establishing a foundation. If they build on it in the next two weeks, aspirations will start gaining altitude. If they don't, they will need to get back to patching the foundation. Every demon cannot be exorcised in one week, but the Seahawks heads won't be spinning quite as much after this victory.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Possessed: Why Time Of Possession Matters

Time of possession is everything. At least, that is what I was taught listening to football commentators in the 80's. In an era where sports statistics were just starting to blossom, time of possession was one thing that analysts seem to grasp and stress. Their emphasis was largely born out of a desire to indicate which team was controlling the game. Effective running teams were generally better at holding the football for long periods of time, and the West Coast offense hadn't fully infected the league.

Time of possession (TOP) started to be highlighted less as time went on. New statistics were tracked in real-time that could be tied to individual players, and the evolution toward more passing started to make TOP correlate less with great offense.

Fast forward to 2010, and there is case to be made for renewed focus on TOP. This time, though, it's less about being a predictor of an effective offense, and more about creating opportunity for great defense. Watching three terrible offenses in Seattle the past three seasons has made it abundantly clear how much pressure it puts on the defense when they are out on the field for the majority of the game. Sure, defenses need to be held accountable for getting the opposing offense off the field, but the probability that they can do that decreases every time the opposition gets another possession. Simply put, the more times the opposing offense is on the field, the more yards they are likely to get.

Take the Seahawks win over the Chargers, for example. The Seahawks defense gave up a whopping 518 yards, and well over 300 in the second half. The Seahawks, by comparison, had ~30 yards in the second half. They also had two kickoff returns for TDs, and forced five turnovers. Combine all those factors and the Chargers dominated TOP at over 36 minutes (24 for the Seahawks). Taking the yardage totals (518 vs. 271) at face value makes the Seahawks defense appear porous compared to the Chargers. Take a look again when you factor in TOP. The Chargers accrued 14.3 yards/minute of possession versus 11.8 yards/minute for the Seahawks. That's roughly two yards per minute difference. The defense wasn't getting run over, but it was getting run down. Perhaps if I get the time, I can illustrate how the yards/minute increased for the Chargers as the game went on. In other words, there is likely a multiplier effect the more times an offense gets a shot at a defense.

Looking back over the past two years, you can see a strong correlation between being a top TOP team and having a top-ranked defense in terms of yards allowed/game.



Note that the average rank of the Top 10 defenses (yards allowed/game) is also in the top 10 for TOP. That's why the Seahawks defense is so underestimated, an unappreciated. The best statistical rankings out there are DVOA. They take into account schedule strength, home vs. road, and a myriad of other goodies. Those rankings have the Seahawks at #11 in the NFL. That is a much better indicator of how they have played thus far.

This weekend's game against the Bears will be a war of who wants the ball less. Both teams rank near the bottom of the NFL in TOP. One team will have the ball more than it is accustomed to on Sunday, and one defense will celebrate.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hawk Blogger Podcast: Week 6

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

Ryan and I spent some time talking about his beloved Cleveland Browns, as well as some of the surprises around the league. I would have never predicted Jason Babin would have been a topic for discussion when this season began. Ryan gave some great insight into the perception of how Jay Cutler and Mike Martz can, and cannot work together. Tune in, and let us know what you think!

>>Download the podcast<<

Subscribe here:



Alternatively, here are instructions to subscribe manually in iTunes:

1. Copy this URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/hawkblogger
2. Launch iTunes
3. Click Advanced>Subscribe to Podcast
4. Paste in the URL from step 1
5. Click OK
6. Click on your Podcasts item under your Library section (you should see Hawk Blogger)

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.

Bears Insider Q&A

One of the best parts of writing a blog is getting to meet folks around the world that love football as much as you do. Dan Deez, over at beargoggleson.com, is the latest. Deez graciously agreed to answer some of my questions about the Bears, and I'll be doing the same later tonight. Take a read.

HAWKBLOGGER: Tell me about the Bears offensive line. Are the sacks more about the way they are playing, Mike Martz playcalling, or Jay Cutler holding onto the ball too long?

BEARGOGGLESON: The Bears offensive line boils down to lack of talent. Third year tackle Chris Williams (who will play left guard this week) has never lived up to expectations and has often been injured in his short career. RG Frank Omiyale is often outmanned by defenders and ends up racking up penalties. G Roberto Garza and C Olin Kruetz are past their prime and the rest are mostly young guys. Martz has already shown that he can adjust his playing when it becomes a problem (Dallas game in week 2). Jay Cutler holding the ball too long against the Giants was the product of a concussed man who's head wasn't all there. This week the Bears are going to have some young guys in for their second start in a row, T J'Marcus Webb and G Edwin Williams on the right side of Kruetz. Too much shuffling people around has been the biggest problem if you ask me. Now that some youngs guys are in there, I think you can expect better protection that will improve the longer they all line up together.

HB: What's the take on Lovie Smith out in Chicago?

BGO: Mostly bad. I've heard people root for the Bears to have a bad season just so they will have to fire him. He is signed through the 2011 season and unless the Bears win the Super Bowl two years in a row, few people will be sad to see him go after next year (if he's still here.)

HB: Is there anything about the Seahawks that worries you?

BGO: Marshawn Lynch coming to a new team with a fresh start. I'm sure he will be pumped in his first game with the Seahawks. The Bears have a good run defense, though, so it could go either way. Also, Leon Washington and Golden Tate in the return game could help give the Seahawks good field position.

HB: What do you think the Bears greatest weaknesses are?

BGO: Definitely their offensive line as I've stated above, which has also really hurt the running game. Outside of that, their offense has really struggled on 3rd down. I think they have converted something around only 20% all season. Keepting themselves out of 3rd and long situations has been a real problem.

HB: How good do you think the Bears are? How far can they go?

BGO: The second half of the season is going to be tough playing the Vikings twice, the Patriots, the Jets and the Eagles. However, they could finish the first half 7-1. And with the Vikings struggling and the Packers battling injuries, they could be the best team in the NFC North. If Cutler can stay healthy, the Bears are definitely playoff bound and with the amount of breaks they have been catching, who knows. Super Bears, Super Bowl!

HB: Who is your favorite Bear of all time?

BGO: I would have to say Mike Singletary or William "The Refridgerator" Perry. I think those two guys made a big impact on the franchise. Singletary because he is probably the best Middle Linebacker to have played the game and Perry because he was just a big guy who played on both sides of the ball and did whatever it took to help the team.

HB: Do tall receivers 6'4"+ give your secondary problems?

BGO: The Bears have a shorter secondary but the guys are ballhawks. Even when the receivers catch the ball, there's always a chance of the DBs forcing a fumble. I think the speed and quickness of guys like Charles Tillman and Danieal Manning make up for their lack of size.

HB: Are there any players on the Seahawks you like or follow?

BGO: I've always been a fan of Leon Washington. Anytime the ball is in his hands he might take it 50 yards. I can't see him as a true #1 running back but every offense could find a handful of ways to get him the ball each game and he will always make an impact.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

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

Close your eyes and imagine a Seahawks win on Sunday. Tell me what you see. Seriously, tell me what you see! The Seahawks don't win on the road. They certainly don't beat teams over .500 on the road, and they never win after bye weeks. A win this week will require the Seahawks to be a team they have not been for the last decade or two.

The offense will need to be opportunistic and smart. Nothing but Matt playing at a Pro Bowl level wins this game. Any Seahawks win will be accompanied by Matt sporting a QB rating over 100. That does not need to equal huge chunks of yards, but must include touchdowns and no interceptions. He has yet to go a full game without tossing a pick this season. It is time for that streak to end.

Pass protection will be key if Matt is going to play the game the team needs. Russell Okung will need to be competent, and Sean Locklear will need to play better than he has all year.

Turnovers and sacks will be a major story on defense as well. Mike Martz has always run a high risk/high reward offense. The Giants famously battered the Bears in the team's only loss. People still incorrectly talk about the Seahawks pass pressure as being dependent on the Qwest Field noise. The Seahawks had four sacks and seven QB hits against the Rams on the road last week, along with *eight* tackles for loss. The Bears, thanks in large part to the Giants game, are last in the NFL in sacks allowed with 21. They also have a 6/8 TD to interception ratio, so the combination of porous line, aggressive play calling and Jay Cutler will give a defense the chance to impact the game. Knock Cutler out of this game, and a win becomes much more realistic.

The running game is also not as strong as their win in Carolina may have you believe. Chicago only averages 3.9 YPC, and only has one run over 20 yards all season. The Seahawks average the 3rd fewest rushing attempts in the NFL, at 22/game. A Seahawks win needs to feature a more sincere commitment to the running game.

In the 2nd half of the last two games, the Seahawks offense has scored a total of three points. A win on Sunday can't be one where they are clinging to a lead built up in the first half. The offense must give the defense a fighting chance. The measure may be less about points and more about yardage. They must put up at least 150 yards in the second half.

One thing to file away is that the Bears have surely seen that the Seahawks are vulnerable to the screen pass, and Pete Carroll has talked about how much he wants to change that. Don't be surprised if the Seahawks bait the Bears into a critical mistake on the screen pass.

SEAHAWKS/BEARS 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.


Well, let's see, the Seahawks have played two road opponents that are significantly less imposing than the Bears, and have lost by a combined score of 51-17. It should not be too hard to picture what a Seahawks loss would look like on Sunday. 


The Bears offense can challenge the Seahawks defense. It was a little shocking to see the Bears average less passing yards/game than the Seahawks. Take a closer look, and you see the team has passed for a total of 80 yards in the last two games. Ouch! In wins over Detroit, Green Bay and Dallas, Cutler averaged close to 300 yards/game. The team compensated for Cutler's absence last week with over 200 yards of rushing. The Seahawks look like the real deal against the run, though, so a loss is much more likely to include a dominant day for Cutler than one for Forte. 


Johnny Knox is Cutler's big play threat, and plays bigger than his 6'0" frame. He's the type of player that gives Kelly Jennings fits, so don't be shocked to see Jennings flailing at a long completion or two. 


Forte is the team's leading receiver, and the Seahawks have yet to show they can defend the screen pass. That will be tested throughout the game on Sunday.


Danieal Manning and Devin Hester are electric return men who could steal momentum and cheap points if the Seahawks special teams are not on their game. 


The Bears run defense gets the pub with their 3rd ranked run defense, but their pass defense sports a 7/2 Interception/TD ratio. They hold opposing QBs to NFL's 4th best 67.4 QB rating. A loss for the Seahawks will include an unproductive running game and Matt facing significant pressure in the passing game. Julius Peppers could easily make Russell Okung wish his ankle injury had forced him to miss one more week. Peppers is the household name, but it is Israel Idonije that leads the team with 4 sacks. 


The biggest concern about the game on Sunday is the Bears strengths are the Seahawks weaknesses, especially when our offense lines up across from their defense. It does not help that the Seahawks have not beat a team 3+ games over .500 on the road since the 2004 regular season finale against the Atlanta Falcons. Anything but the Seahawks best game will lead to a humbling defeat.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

John Schneider: 228 Steps To Greatness

Somewhere between bites of the delicious BBQ burger at the Taphouse Grill last night, ESPN flashed the news that Deion Branch had been traded to the Patriots for a 4th round pick. Thankfully, I had completed swallowing my last bite, because I most certainly would have choked on it upon reading the news. I turned to my two friends who were watching MNF with me and said, "Holy shit! We just got a 4th round pick for Deion Branch!" They both looked at me at mumbled a "wow. cool." It wasn't that they didn't care, but it was clear that the full brilliance of the move wasn't sinking in. The reality is that when you have a 2-2 football team that just lost 20-3 to a mediocre Rams team, front office brilliance is rarely highlighted.

Even my ebullient tweets were met with skepticism. "Don't get ahead of yourself," people said. "The product on the field has to prove these are great moves." No additional time is needed. The 228+ moves John Schneider and Pete Carroll have made since taking over the roster have been as close to perfect as anyone could reasonably expect. Don't take my word for it, though, let's examine every single move and compare rosters between 2009 and 2010.

I only had to send one picture of my privates to @LizMathews12 in order to get a pointer (no pun intended) to a list of every roster move. Instead of breaking down every single practice squad move, I have gone through and graded every move as positive, neutral or negative. Here are the results:

POSITIVE (38/228 or 16.7%):
These are moves that either added value or cut dead weight. Moves that Seahawks fan are unlikely to regret, and are likely to celebrate.



NEUTRAL (178/228 or 78%):
These moves generally fall into the irrelevant category. You would be hard-pressed to be happy or sad about anything in this list.



NEGATIVE (12/228 or 5%):
These moves were flawed in some way. Either the player we moved was lost for below-market value, the player was a bust, or a player was acquired for over-market value.



You may quibble with a categorization here or there, but not enough to greatly impact the overall distribution. The vast majority of moves Schneider has made have been inconsequential. Of the moves that had an impact, an overwhelming majority have been positive. I could make the case that every transaction in the negative category is neutral simply due to the complete lack of consequence. The draft picks given up for Charlie Whitehurst and the salary paid to him are the only truly questionable decisions that could end up being poor depending on how he works out. It would seem they could have got some value back for Housh if they had found a place on the roster for him. Other than that, are we really going to lose sleep over moving Rob Sims to Detroit or cutting Kevin Vickerson? On the plus side, there are some absolute home runs. Every single draft choice outside of injured 7th round pick Jameson Konz has already contributed on the field in 2010. Russell Okung, Earl Thomas and Golden Tate are on their way to forming a core for the future. Despite a slow start, Mike Williams may end up being the shrewdest addition of them all considering nothing was given up to get him. Adding Chris Clemons for Darryl Tapp, trading Deion Branch for a 4th round pick, acquiring Marshawn Lynch for a 4th round pick, signing Brandon Stokley off the street are all significant wins. Even lesser discussed moves like trading for Kentwan Balmer, trading for Tyler Polumbus, signing Michael Robinson and signing Raheem Brock have made the team better. When you have a GM that is making this making this many positive moves while making so few negative moves, it's time to acknowledge his work.

We all saw the Jack Z trip from the penthouse to the outhouse, but the Seahawks have already been in the outhouse. Schneider and Carroll have transformed this roster in less than a year from one with little talent and almost zero upside to one with moderate talent and moderate upside. Take a look at the starting lineups from last year and this year on offense and defense and tell me where you think we are worse off either in talent or in upside potential:



Many will argue that Kelly Jennings is major downgrade from Josh Wilson. Wilson can barely sniff the field in Baltimore while Jennings has not been a disaster for Seattle. Neither one has a future here, and Schneider has acquired two potential replacements in Walter Thurmond and Roy Lewis. It is hard to argue that the current receivers are better performers than Housh and Nate. However, neither Housh or Nate had any upside left to give. Butler, Williams and Tate all should be far better next year than they are this year. We don't know their ceilings yet. Chris Clemons, Earl Thomas, Russell Okung and Marshawn Lynch are major steps forward both in talent and potential over their 2009 counterparts. Lawyer Milloy would have been cut loose by most NFL clubs, but the Seahawks kept him and he is among the best players on the entire defense so far in 2010, and the unquestioned leader. Carroll, Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn deserve credit for making some of the repeat players better due to a scheme change (Bryant, Cole, Mebane, Curry). That's less about transactions, though, and more just solid coaching.

Anyway you slice it, this front office is batting nearly 1.000. The question is not whether the moves being made are good or bad. The question is how many of these hits are singles versus slugging for extra bases. Answering that will take more time.

Hawk Blogger 2010 Power Rankings - Week 5

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 gain a few spots in the rankings by standing still during their bye week. The top 5 teams are beginning to stabilize. San Diego and Arizona are perfect examples of why expert rankings are trash. The Chargers are a top shelf team that has been on the wrong side of some close road losses. The Cardinals are a horrible team that has lucked into some ugly wins. These sorts of aberrations tend to work themselves out by season's end. Many scoffed at the Chiefs #3 ranking last week, but they went into Indy and gave the Colts everything they could handle. New Orleans continues to struggle, and it's looking more and more like they are not the team they were last season.



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. The Top 13 teams have created a strong separation from the rest of the pack. Buffalo, thankfully, is in a class by themselves.

Schneider Scores Again With Branch Trade

John Schneider is most known for the amount of moves he has made thus far as Seahawks GM. The trade he completed last night for Deion Branch deserves recognition for the sheer quality of it. Acquiring a 4th round draft choice for a 31-year-old player who tops out at 50 receptions and has been injured in 3 of the past 4 seasons is nothing short of extraordinary. There was certainly some luck that played into it, as the team that needed him had seen his best years and has an abundance of draft choices in 2011. I'm not sure New England surrenders a 4th rounder if either of those factors did not exist.

Branch will go down as one of the worst trades in Seahawks history. He was acquired for a 1st round pick, and paid like a #1 receiver in his prime. He produced like a broken down #3 receiver. His most remarkable play during his Seahawks career was not even on offense. It was chasing down a Chief defender after a fumble recovery and stripping him of the ball.

A 4th round draft choice may not seem like much to celebrate about, but consider this player comparison:


Receiver A is also a 7-time Pro Bowler, while Receiver B has never made one. Receiver A was acquired last week for a 3rd round draft choice. Do you really think the difference between Randy Moss and Deion Branch is a single round in the draft? Branch is half the receiver Moss is many statistics, yet Schneider got almost equivalent value in return for Branch. That is a fantastic trade.

The deal works out to Branch for Marshawn Lynch. Any Seahawks fan that wouldn't make that trade is absolutely bonkers. Recouping a pick in the 4th round is not critical so we can make a selection at that time in the draft. Yes, the Seahawks drafted quality like Walter Thurmond and EJ Wilson in the 4th round in 2010, but the real value is being able to package that selection if needed to move up and get the QB we desperately need to acquire in 2011.

Most reporters are expecting Brandon Stokley to take Branch's starting role. Don't be surprised if Golden Tate or Deon Butler ascend to that spot. Stokley has never been that starting flanker type of player. He's a great 3rd down slot guy, but he offers little on the outside. My guess is we'll see Golden Tate start. He is the eventual starter there anyway. What people fail to realize is that Stokley is an upgrade over Branch in the slot. He showed more chemistry with Hasselbeck in one game than Branch did in four seasons. Tate will be raw as a starter, and have some head-slapping moments, but he will also challenge defenses in ways Branch never could. The Seahawks are now less predictable. That means both the negative side of being less reliable and the positive of being more dynamic. That's exactly where a rebuilding team needs to be.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Time To Trade Forsett or Washington

Take a look at our roster. Take a look at the standings. Peruse our 2011 draft status. Tell me. What do you see? Now look again. Focus on the running backs. Revisit the standings and the 2011 draft. Do you see it yet?

We have redundancy, folks. Redundancy can be turned into opportunity, especially when your team is not yet ready to contend for the Big Chalupa. Leon Washington and Justin Forsett are similar in many ways. Both are 5'8", ~200 lbs, and are best used on 3rd downs. Sure, there are differences. Washington is more of a game breaker, and is special on screen plays and kick returns. Forsett is surprisingly strong between the tackles and is an elite pass protector for a running back. Most importantly, though, they both will soon sit behind Marshawn Lynch in the depth chart.

People are envisioning a Flash/Bang tandem developing with Lynch pounding the rock and Forsett/Washington providing the change of pace. It is a nice story, but it is more because fans and media haven't seen a featured running back since Shaun Alexander in 2006. Lynch was a workhorse in Buffalo his first two seasons, and is fully capable of continuing that here. He will need relief, and it is always ideal to have a backfield with diverse skills sets to challenge defenses. Even so, only one super sub is necessary.

This newfound abundance at the running back position just so happens to come at a time when other teams in the NFL are in need of help at that very spot. John Schneider's old pals in Green Bay are being criticized by fans and national pundits for letting the Seahawks outbid them for Lynch. Could Schneider work a deal to replenish some of our tattered 2011 draft board?

The Seahawks are without a 3rd or 4th round pick next season. Getting a 3rd back for one of our running backs is probably unrealistic. Adding the Josh Wilson conditional 5th might make it more plausible.

Washington was acquired from the Jets for a 5th and 7th round pick. That was before anyone knew he would be able to play at the start of the season, and before he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in one game. Washington is still only signed through this season, and his value may never be higher. He is not the blocker Forsett is, and is four years older. He will not be an every down back. Forsett can be.

Forsett has been a high YPC guy, and is intriguing for many folks around the NFL. People see the high productivity per carry and wonder why he doesn't get more reps. Stock brokers say buy on mystery, sell on history. There is enough mystery around Forsett still that his value may never be higher. It is unlikely he will ever regain the starting running back spot in Seattle.

With Lynch dominating the touches on 1st and 2nd down, the other fellas are going to be left fighting for 3rd down scraps. As much as I like both players, they don't do much for me sitting on the bench.

Both Washington and Forsett have value for the Seahawks. Keeping both definitely makes this a better team in 2010. Trading one will make us a better team in 2011 and beyond. Opportunity is knocking.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What is Deion Branch Worth?

As you probably have seen by now, rumors abound that Deion Branch may be headed back to the Patriots in a trade. Most articles are in agreement that talks are just beginning, so nothing is imminent. The deal makes a ton of sense for both teams. Tom Brady raved to Matt Hasselbeck about Branch after the infamous Tim Ruskell deal was completed. Quick aside, Ruskell's quote about the trade was unintentionally self-deprecating:

"[Deion] is a known commodity," Ruskell said. "The first round can be a crap shoot, from top to bottom."

Oh Timmay, we all know how hard those first-round picks were for you. Rest easy. That is no longer your burden, or Seahawks fan's. You couldn't even use your 1st round picks effectively in trades. The Pats had no trouble turning your discarded pick into Pro Bowl Safety Brandon Meriweather. But, I digress...

I first heard about the possibility of a new Seahawks trade from the @seahawkaddicts Twitter account. Nice job scooping the official press. Power to the Bloggers!! Eric Williams broke the news that Branch was the player involved this morning, and we've been having fun going back-and-forth with fans on Twitter about fair value for Branch ever since. SeahawkAddicts.com shares my belief that we'd be lucky to get more than a 6th round pick. @kraigeous things Branch is more valuable to the Seahawks on the field than adding a 6th or 7th round pick for him. I am curious what the rest of you think.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Evaluating Lynch Deal

Shaun Alexander was arguably the best running back in Seahawks history. He owns many of the records and was the team's only league MVP. Many Seahawks fans would tell you he could have had twice the yards he ended up with if he ran with more courage. He was a putrid receiver, a bad pass blocker, but was a model citizen off-the-field. When the Seahawks acquired Marshawn Lynch yesterday, they may have added the anti-Shaun.

Lynch is known as as much for his off-field shenanigans as his on-field production. The quick recap includes a concealed gun possession charge and a hit-and-run (the person suffered a bruise and a scrape) that ended with a  small fine. Concerning signs, for sure, but at least he's no Ben Roethlisberger.

On the field, he looks and plays a lot like a young Edgerrin James. Watch this highlight video from his 2008 Pro Bowl season, and let me know if you see it as well (the music is bad enough that muting might be warranted). Besides the dreads, Lynch mirrors James as a powerful runner and reliable receiver. He has more wiggle than James ever did, and I can't speak for his pass blocking ability. I would be surprised if a player who likes contact as much as Lynch does, was unwilling or unable to pass block. I was able to watch Lynch play a little two weeks ago against New England, and he was impressive. One guy was usually not enough to bring him down. He featured a nasty spin move that left a Patriot grasping for Lynch's jersey as he sped by him for five more yards.

There may not be a better complimentary back in the NFL for Justin Forsett, than Marshawn Lynch. Both are spirited runners, good receivers and good blockers. Forsett is small and shifty. Lynch is big and intimidating. Beyond their yin and yang running styles, they are bosom buddies from their time at Cal. Forsett is the bible-studying model citizen off the field, and Lynch could use a few more friends like that.

Lynch makes the Seahawks better immediately. As I mentioned in the recap of the Rams game, Forsett has not been playing his best ball thus far. He left a lot of yards on the field Sunday, yards that Lynch would have almost certainly got. If Forsett had been maximizing his chances, I'm not certain this trade would have been made.

A fourth-round pick is a high price to pay for any player when you are rebuilding your franchise's talent base. Would we get someone of Lynch's caliber in the 4th round of the 2011 draft? Probably not. However, the 4th round draft choice would be with the team for at least a few seasons if he panned out. Lynch is here until the end of the 2011 season (which might be locked out or shortened). I tend to only be in favor of trading 4th round and better draft choices for players that are part of a championship run. In other words, I'll be more supportive of this deal if Lynch is still on the team when it is ready to contend. Giving up picks for short-term gain when you are not in the championship window is unwise in any sport.

Given that Josh Wilson was healthy and on the inactive list for the Ravens game this weekend, it appears unlikely that conditional 5th we received will become a 4th. That leaves the Seahawks without a 3rd or 4th in the critical 2011 draft. Those are choices that could be packaged to move up in the 1st if we want to get our franchise QB, or featured pass rusher. As much as I love what Lynch brings to the team, running back is not the position I worry about when trying to assemble a Super Bowl roster.

The move is done, though, and Lynch will make it easy to forget about next year's draft while watching him bowl over linebackers each week. His addition, combined with Okung's return to the lineup, and a bye week to work on the passing game could lead to a markedly improved offense when we next see the Seahawks take the field. This town loves tough runners, and Lynch is looking for a new beginning. Anything short of a love affair would be a surprise, and somewhere, Shaun Alexander will grasp his MVP trophy shaking his head.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

My Worst Fear

A startling possibility revealed itself to me while compiling this week's power rankings. As much as I revel in the anguish of 49er and Cardinals fans, it will quickly lose comedic value if both quarterback-starved teams end up with draft picks that allow them to address their most glaring need.

The Seahawks propensity for mediocrity works against them in a season like this. No team can claim to be setup for success when their quarterback situation is unclear beyond the current season. You don't want to find yourself with a division title or 2nd place finish if it means all three of your division opponents begin 2011 in a stronger QB position than you.

The Cardinals have a real chance at finishing with one of the worst records in the NFL, and are #31 in my latest power rankings. The 49ers are 0-4. The thought of entering the 2011 season with Jake Locker, Andrew Luck and Sam Bradford leading our division opponents makes me wretch. These are the moments when I really find myself rooting against my own team. Another 5-11 finish wouldn't be so bad, right? Winning the division would be okay if someone could assure me that the 49ers and Cardinals won't get a franchise QB in next year's draft.

Realistically, the 49ers are going to rally. They will probably win their five remaining division games, and finish close to .500, plus or minus a game. That would put them out of the QB sweepstakes. The Cardinals fate depends on Max Hall. Let's hope he's good enough to win a couple. The good news is the Cardinals already managed to win 2 games. We want them to find five more wins.

If the 49ers and Cardinals continue losing, and the Seahawks start winning consistently, you will finally hear me start calling for Charlie Whitehurst, and Julius Jones, and for more passes on 3rd and 1...