Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hawk Blogger 2010 Power Rankings - Week 12

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
SD completes their improbable climb to #1 in the rankings. Watch out. This may be their year to sneak up on people in the playoffs...or not. Seattle has lost 4 of 5 games, and their only win was against the 31st-ranked team. Uh oh.



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 top four, and everyone else.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Morning After: Chiefs Humble Seahawks, 42-24

Mike Williams is 6'5" and over 230 lbs. People have lauded his inspiring comeback effort where he dropped 40 lbs off his once-270 lb frame. As critical as his play on offense has been this season, nobody could fault Pete Carroll for having a truck load of Top Pot donuts dumped in front of his locker in hopes Williams might pitch in to help his flagging run defense.

The Seahawks collectively kissed the ring of the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. A run defense that has been held together with duct tape since the Raiders game, blew apart like so much wet tissue paper. So complete was the dominance by the KC offensive line that the Seahawks had just a single tackle behind the line of scrimmage. The "good" plays for the run defense came when Seattle was able to hold KC to two-yard gains. I didn't need to see the box score to know the average run for the Chiefs was around six yards. Every glance at the scoreboard showed 2nd and 4, 2nd and 2, or too often, 1st and 10.

It was fair to expect more from this Seahawks team that looked as if its offense was taking steps toward growth that could counter-balance the weakening defense. The defense played poorly and was over-matched, but it was the offense that should shoulder most of the blame. Not only was the defense missing key players, but the KC offense is formidable by any measure. The Chiefs defense is not. In a nauseating first half, the Seahawks gained 71 yards and scored just three points. Even Seattle's own special teams outscored the offense, 7-3. The second half was better, with 14 points and 217 yards of offense, but even that was mostly uninspiring. It has become very clear that Seattle's offense must be dominant for Seattle to compete in a game with any credible opponent. Dominance looks like over 400 yards of offense and red zone success. It looks like what the Chiefs did yesterday.

Matt did not have a great day, but the bandwagon jumpers are missing the point entirely. Forget for a moment that he threw for 282 yards without his best receiver and with a broken wrist, or that his receivers dropped critical passes. Charlie Whitehurst did not get better on Sunday. Hasselbeck is this team's best QB now, and certainly next year. If you do not believe that, there is nothing that can be said to convince you. Of all the problems on this team this season, quarterback play may be the least of them.

The running game was absent, but not because it was ineffective. Twelve carries is a joke. Some of that is because the game got away from Seattle, and yes, some of that was because there were not big gains early in the game. A large part of that is play-calling. Marshawn Lynch was getting 3-5 yard gains, but there was no commitment to making the Chiefs respect the run. Look no further than 4th and an inch when the game was still early and in question. Jeremy Bates dialed up a desperate hail mary fade pass to Golden Tate that was a failure as soon as it was called. I hate that call even if it's a touchdown. For those that play basketball, it would be like defending a player that makes a jump shot you know he can't make with any consistency, and smiling because you know he'll keep shooting it now. Every defender prefers contesting a jump shot to staying in front of guy who is driving to the hoop. Bates makes this offense a bunch of jump shooters far too often. Guess what happened when he ran Marshawn Lynch on 3rd and 1 later? HE GOT A FRIGGIN' FIRST DOWN!! Progress was made since at least Lynch was on the field for short yardage plays this week, and did get that one opportunity to convert. So while Bates as a whole struggles on 3rd and 1, Lynch is sporting a nice 100% conversion rate.

Kansas City may have the best young offensive line in the NFL. It is impossible not to respect the efficiency and effectiveness of their work. It is hard to believe they went 48 rushing plays with only one holding call. The refs probably missed a couple, but still, that is impressive. Any major analysis of the Seahawks defense is a waste of time. They will battle as best they can the rest of the year, but this is a horribly flawed unit. They are the player that hurt a knee who is valiantly trying to limp off the field under their own power, only to need to cart to come out after they collapse. They are not hopeless, but they also are not likely to make meaningful strides forward the rest of the season.

This loss was brutal. People will be jumping off the bandwagon--if previously .500 football teams have bandwagons--in droves. The same people who were writing about how great the Seahawks looked in a loss to New Orleans last week will now be writing apocalyptic prophecies. This team is at once inspiring and soul-sucking. That duality is a welcome change from the pure suckage of the past two seasons. Health, more than any other factor, will determine the outcome of this year. Winning a playoff game remains a very realistic possibility, as does finishing 3rd place in a horrid NFC West. There are benefits to either result. Anything other than a win this week against Carolina starts to eliminate possibilities. In a week where we spent time being thankful, the fact that football will still be worth talking about in December is worth some gratitude.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ceiling Setter

There are must-win games during a season. Games that keep a season meaningful. Games that make the playoffs possible. Games that keep hope alive. The game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday is not one of those games. The Seahawks can still win their division and make the playoffs without beating the Chiefs. I might go as far as to say it is still likely the Seahawks will accomplish those goals without a victory on Sunday. This is a different sort of contest. This game will go a long way toward determining the ceiling for this season. Can the Seahawks get to 9 victories, or even a long shot chance at 10? Will it take a win in the last game of the season against St. Louis to get to the playoffs, or will the Seahawks coast in?

The last six games look like this:
  • KC
  • CAR
  • @SF
  • ATL
  • @TB
  • STL
The Seahawks will only be favored to win in two of those six games (CAR, STL), and one of those teams has already beat Seattle rather easily. The Carolina game is the best bet of the bunch, so let's call that one win. The STL game should be a win, so let's call that two. That would be seven wins, and the tie-breaker over STL. That is probably enough to win the division. Games @SF and home against KC are about equal in difficulty. Dismiss SF at your own risk, and road games are always tough. Splitting those two gets the Seahawks to eight wins. Hosting ATL and traveling to TB will be major tests, but not any harder than facing the Saints last week. Losses in both games are expected, but projecting too far ahead is tough given the injury situation with Seattle. Colin Cole, Mike Williams, and Left Guard'O'The'Day, could be having everyone feeling rosy or red-faced.

If things go largely as expected, there will be wins against CAR and STL, and losses to TB and ATL. Losing to KC would mean a win in SF would be required to get to 8 wins, and clinch the division. Nobody wants to bet the season on a road game. Winning against the Chiefs makes the 49ers game a bonus match that could be part of a 3-game win streak, lifting the team to 8-5 with three games to go, and probably clinching the division early. Going that route means choices can be made about resting players, installing new schemes, or possibly even going for a first round bye (unlikely) or drawing the lower-seeded wildcard team. 

The Seahawks do not need to win on Sunday, but doing so raises the ceiling on a season has seen a dizzying collection of ups and downs. 

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

Kansas City deserves respect. The one game they were blown out (49-29 in Denver), they trailed 35-0 before outscoring the Broncos 29-14 the rest of the game. Take a look at the box score. The Chiefs out-gained Denver, and only had one turnover. Matt Cassell had QB rating of 116.0 and Dwayne Bowe had over 180 yards receiving and two TDs. These are not the stats that usually spell blowout loss. The Chiefs, however, are not your typical team. Look one more time at the box score and find the rushing yards for, and against. Denver is the only team all season that shut down the Chiefs rushing attack. Some of that was due to good Broncos defense, and some of it was due to getting out in front early so that KC had to rely on passing the ball. Holding down the Chiefs running game is the only way you beat them. Houston managed to beat them without doing that, but the other three KC losses were their three worst rushing performances of the season. The Seahawks must contain the run. Hold the Chiefs under 120 yards rushing, and the Seahawks have a good shot at winning. Only two teams have eclipsed that mark against Seattle. Even with the "poor tackling" last week, the Saints only ran for 113.

Height will matter for the second straight week. Whether or not Mike Williams plays, the Seahawks WRs have proven they can go up and win a jump ball. The Chiefs cornerbacks are all 6'0" and under. A few of them are in the 5'9" range. The offense has to like their chances with Golden Tate, Ben Obamanu and even Deon Butler going against those guys. The rest of league has liked their match-ups as well, as KC ranks 25th in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game. Consider that the Seahawks just torched the NFL's 1st ranked pass defense for nearly 400 yards. Williams status will be important, and could turn an advantage into a dominant factor, but the Seahawks don't need Williams to win on offense this week. Seattle should eclipse 300 yards passing for the third straight week. The key will be pass protection. Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali checks in with 8.0 sacks. Matt must have time, and stay healthy.

Michael Robinson is questionable to return, but he may be a key factor in unlocking the run game for Marshawn Lynch. Lynch is best with a full back, and John Carlson has been filling that role horribly for a few weeks while Robinson has been out. Marshawn should be running mad, even more than normal. This could be the week the running game busts out. The Chiefs run defense is not great. Seattle might be able to break 125 yards rushing, and if they do, this becomes a comfortable victory.

This is not a game that Seattle should win, but it is not one they should lose either. Both teams enjoy some distinct advantages they could exploit on the way to an important victory. KC is eager to prove they can win on the road. Seattle has momentum and are coming home for the stretch run. This should be a great game.

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

Each week I attempt to look at the approaching game from both perspectives. First, let's take a look at what a loss might look like for the home team.

Kansas City is being largely overlooked by many Seahawks fans and pundits. The common refrain is that KC is a game Seattle should win at home. When people talk about how the Seahawks likely need three wins to get the division title, they point to home games against St. Louis, Carolina and KC. One of those things is not like the others. This is a disciplined and talented Chiefs team that could have won every game except one. Oddsmakers have KC as 2.5 point favorites in Seattle, where the home team typically gets 3 points automatically. It is highly unlikely that either Carolina or STL will be considered 5.5 points better than the Seahawks in Qwest.

KC is 1-4 on the road with its lone win @CLE, and the four losses @IND (by 10), @HOU (4), @OAK (3, OT), @DEN (20). They win with a league-leading rushing attack that averages nearly double what the Seahawks manage. Only once all year have they rushed for less than 113 yards as a team. They have gone over 200 yards rushing multiple times, including 274 in a game against Buffalo. Rushing yards correlate to wins & losses more than any other for the Chiefs. A win for them on Sunday will need to include over 135 yards rushing. Only two teams have rushed for more than 113 yards against the Seahawks all season. Unfortunately, both came within the last four games.

The Chiefs protect the ball better than any other team in the NFL, with only seven turnovers. Seattle feasts off of opponent mistakes in Qwest. The Chiefs can't turn the ball over more than once and expect to win on Sunday.

Three players performance will largely decide the makeup of this game. Jamaal Charles, Thomas Jones and Dexter McCluster will make or break things for the Chiefs. Charles and McCluster are game-breakers who can take it to the house on any run or screen play. McCluster has been injured for a number of weeks and is coming back on Sunday. He is a rookie that has returned a punt for a TD, and is a threat in the short passing game. Seattle played the screen better against the Saints then they have at any point this season, but the Chiefs weapons are far more potent in space. Jones is the hammering counter-balance to Charles' lighting speed. Seattle must quickly prove last week's problems tackling were due to a great day by Chris Ivory, and not a trend. Jones will be the barometer there. Dwayne Bowe is a major threat in the passing game, but the Chiefs ability to control the ball with runs and short passes will be far more critical to the outcome. A Chiefs victory will have at least two TDs between the trio of Jones, McCluster and Charles.

The Chiefs have only won once when allowing more than 14 points. Victories generally include part ball control due to successful running on offense, and better play by their defense. Getting in a shootout is not something KC wants, or is built for. Staying in front, and keeping the Seahawks offense off the field will be key to a win for them. If Seattle scores less than 20 points, the chances of a Chiefs victory go up considerably.

Overlooking the Chiefs would be a major mistake by the Seahawks. Even looking at them as if they are just a tough opponent would be foolish. Seattle must play an excellent game to beat the Chiefs. Kansas City will be motivated to pick up just their second road victory, and have the personnel to do it. If the Chiefs can keep the Seahawks offense from continuing its resurgence, and run effectively, they could deal the Seahawks a second straight home defeat.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful

Thanksgiving is a favorite in the HawkBlogger household. We fly all over creation to celebrate. HawkBloggerWife has family in NY, I have family in Boston. Family politics, cramped hotel rooms, bad football games, and great food somehow combine for a special day year-after-year. Before the day inevitably spins beyond my control, I wanted to take a few seconds to express thanks.

There is plenty to be thankful for. Pete Carroll and John Schneider have almost instantly changed the trajectory of my favorite franchise. My favorite Seahawk of all-time has enjoyed a resurrection, passing for more yards than he has since 2002 in a two-week span. The backfield is full of more talent than anytime since 2005. Mike Williams may become the best Seahawks wide receiver since Steve Largent, and nothing was sacrificed in order to add him to the roster. Russell Okung could be everything we could have hoped for in a Walter Jones replacement, maybe more. The offense has become more fun to watch than almost any season since 2005 after being one of the most anemic just a few weeks ago.

Red Bryant could be a cornerstone in turning around the defensive line for years to come. Colin Cole raised his play to near Pro Bowl level before injury. Chris Clemons has been every bit the pass rusher we needed. Aaron Curry has raised his level of play. Lawyer Milloy has been an inspiration. Earl Thomas will challenge for defensive rookie of the year.

People actually read my ramblings. Hawkgirl and CWU91 are my oldest and dearest readers. Pablo enthusiastically urged me to try new things like podcasting. Jeff is a consistent commenter. I'm thankful for DKSB's swearing and raw optimistic emotion and Seahawk Addicts sense of humor. Being able to have a conversation with people I've never met through Twitter, along with people I've always wanted to meet like Ray Roberts, Liz Mathews and Mitch Levy is pretty darn cool.

Oops, and there's HawkBloggerSon asking why I'm not coming down for breakfast. The day is officially beginning, and I'm thankful for that as well. Have a great day, and thanks for reading!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Golden Opportunity

Mike Williams felt a pop in his foot on Sunday. The rest of us felt a pop in our collective rising Seahawk balloon. Few teams claim to be rising after a 15-point loss, but those of us watching this team can see what is happening. The great and horrible news is that Williams is such a integral part of the offensive fireworks that have been on display. Great, because Williams looks every bit the #1 receiver some of us have hoped he might become in flummoxing defenses with size, savvy and sticky hands. Horrible, because rarely do athletes feel a pop and play anytime soon thereafter.

Nobody is writing Williams off. Many have already seen how foolish that can be. Even before news of his injury, I had begun to daydream about the forgotten weapon in Seattle's arsenal. A player thought so highly of that he was our 2nd round draft pick. A player who conveniently has been studying to be Williams understudy. Golden Tate has disappointed thus far in his career, but may just have the opportunity he needs to shine.

Tate famously participated in some maple bar mayhem prior to training camp, and then proceeded to show his lack of maturity extended onto the football field by struggling with route running and play studying. He admitted the playbook looked like Chinese, and that he largely had been allowed to "just ball" in College and High School. Tate's tantalizing athletic ability made it possible for him to just run down field, jump, and snare the ball away from defenders. Precision and discipline would have just been so much frosting on an already appealing donut from his perspective.

He was not on the active list for the first week of the season, and made an instant impact in his first playing time in Denver. Very little of note has happened since then. He made a great couple of catches (one wrongly disallowed and not reviewed before half) in Oakland, badly spraining his ankle on the second one. Pete Carroll mentioned last week that he made a lot of progress, and was at least being considered for coming off the injury report against the Saints.

Williams injury could leave a playmaking void that Tate could fill better than any other on the Seahawks roster. Yes, he still is going to be raw and make more mistakes than Williams, but he also offers things that Williams does not like run-after-catch and the ability to take the ball on reverses or screens. Hasselbeck has shown some trust in Tate when he has been in there, throwing the ball up to let him do what he does best. Guess what has happened in the few weeks Tate has been out? Hasselbeck has caught on fire and is throwing down field more than ever. Tate was a square peg in a round hole before. Now, he may be the team's most dangerous receiver.

Adding Tate to Williams would be the far better scenario, but replacing Williams with Tate could be the next great story in what has already been a fascinating season.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hawk Blogger 2010 Power Rankings - Week 11

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
UPDATED: MNF game stats now included. San Diego rises to #3 overall. They are a classic case of the record not reflecting the true strength of the team. They have not left the Top 10 of these rankings all season, and have often been in the Top 5. They will win the division, and be a tough out in the playoffs. New Orleans is sneaking up the rankings.



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 Morning After: Saints Beat Seahawks, 34-19

Mike Holmgren was nearly fired the last time the Seahawks offense played this well. The Seahawks stood at 3-7  after 11 weeks into the 2002 season. Holmgren had been GM and Head Coach since 1999, and patience was running thin around Seattle that he could turn around this moribund franchise. A 31-9 home loss to the hated Denver Broncos where the Seahawks offense could only muster 204 total yards was a low point in a season where Matt Hasselbeck and Trent Dilfer both spent time as the team's starting QB. The team was not showing signs of becoming the offensive machine Holmgren was famous for building, and local writers were openly calling for a change at the top. Then, almost out of thin air, the offense put together back-to-back games of over 500 yards, that included 354 yards passing in the first and 427 in the second. The Seahawks ended up winning four of their final six games to finish 7-9. That was enough to save Holmgren the coach, but not enough to save Holmgren the GM, which eventually led us to our current benevolent ruler, Pete Carroll. It has been almost eight years to the day since that passing explosion in 2002. The 781 yards combined passing yards in those two weeks was the only time in team history the team has eclipsed the two-week total we have witnessed the last two games where the Seahawks have rolled up 746 passing yards. The Seahawks have lost by 15 points on the road many times before. They have given up nearly 500 yards of offense before. Only once before have they ever passed for this many yards in back-to-back games. That is worth being excited about.

Hasselbeck should remember that six-game span in 2002, because it cemented his status as the team's starting quarterback after a multi-year battle with the likes of Brock Huard and Dilfer. Koren Robinson's fluctuating performance, and a variety of other factors including a great running game, made that stretch and aberration in Hasselbeck's career. Sure, he become a Pro Bowler and Super Bowl QB, but he never passed for more yardage in a six-week stretch than he did in those six games. History may be repeating itself in what would be a shocking development for a 35-year-old QB with a broken wrist in a new offense that has struggled to break 200 yards passing for much of the season, let alone double that. Let me offer some advice. Sign him to an extension now Carroll and Schneider. Have you ever bought a stock a week, a day, an hour too late? Hasselbeck's stock is rising fast, and even if he does not match this kind of output down the stretch, we have seen more than enough to know that the team is better off with him next year than without him. None of that changes the need to draft a franchise QB of the future in April, but now we have a legitimate bridge to that future. Don't fumble it away.

Speaking of fumbles, Marshawn Lynch has a choice to make. He can continue the downward slide we have witnessed for the past few weeks and possibly lose the bulk of snaps to Justin Forsett and Leon Washington, or he can run angry and ignite the running attack the way Mike Williams and Hasselbeck have ignited the passing attack. It is hard to watch Forsett the last two weeks and not cringe a little every time you see Lynch in the game. The numbers from the Saints game tell a different story. Lynch surprisingly averaged over 5 yards per carry compared to only 1.3 for Forsett. Perception does not always match reality, but Lynch looks to be running East/West a lot more than in his first two games with the team. The line should theoretically improve in the running game if it can stay healthy. The threat of a running game was the only difference between the Seahawks offense yesterday and a Super Bowl champion's offense on the same field. Drew Brees was quoted after the game saying it was the best they have played all year, and possibly ever. Few would have picked Seattle to be within 30 points of Saints team that played a game like that.

Only 70 yards separated the two teams, and the Saints rushed for 54 more yards than the Hawks to make up most of that difference. The other obvious difference was red zone offense. Often the last thing to snap into place for a new offense with new players is scoring in the red zone. Precision, anticipation and trust are at a premium in the tight space inside the 20. Running is also critical. Improvement in this area over the next six games is not a given, but is a reasonable goal.

There are a few more things worth taking away from the offensive performance yesterday. Ben Obamanu (or Obamanabanmajoojoo if you are Thom Brenneman) has put a bear hug on the starting WR role opposite Mike Williams. He is 6'1" and can go up and get the ball. He has more speed than Williams, runs decent routes and is only 27 years old. It will be interesting to see what this means to Golden Tate's ascension. Tate has exclusively training behind Williams to avoid having to learn too many WR positions, but the expectation is that he'd challenge for the spot opposite Williams next year. Obamanu could make that less of a certainty. On the flip side, this passing game could experience even greater heights when a person of Tate's abilities gets back on the field. File it away. He may yet have a major impact on this season. Brandon Stokley blends wonderfully into the WR corps with six catches in six targets, many critical plays. Teams will not be able to focus on taking away Williams on 3rd down with Stokley playing. Lastly, 10 of Matt's 32 completions were to running backs. Utilizing the check-down receivers is something Matt has never been great at, and was often coached to avoid doing by Holmgren who wanted throws down the field. Look at the great passing offenses in the NFL like the Saints, the Colts, and the Patriots, and you will see lots of swing passes for 3-8 yards mixed in with the down field throws. Watching Matt rediscover that weapon bodes well for the stretch run.

Tough game for the defense. Gus Bradley clearly felt that blitzing Brees was not a good way to go. He mostly rushed four players early in the game. That is not what this defense is good at. They are best when they are gambling and pressuring the passer. Having said that, Bradley did eventually start blitzing and the Saints did a masterful job at picking up the extra rushers while Brees completed passes anyway. There was probably no game plan that would have slowed down the Saints yesterday, at least with Seattle's personnel. Many great defenses have tried to stop that offense and failed, so it is hard to get too upset about it.

Fans and media alike were ripping the Seahawks for poor tackling. Give Chris Ivory credit. He ran extremely hard. Seattle has not been a bad tackling team all year, and while they were unsuccessful in many tackles today, many were still solid hits and wrap-ups. Ivory was running through everyone. No other running back we have seen has moved the pile that way. When Julius Jones stepped on the field, he was getting brought down easily by the exact same "bad" tackling. Sometimes, you just have to tip your cap to a great individual performance. Figuring out why Jones is ever in the game is a mystery when a guy like Ivory is available. Even with the "bad" tackling, New Orleans only managed 3.9 yards per carry.

Whenever there is a total lack of pass pressure and a running game that eclipses 100 yards, the defense is getting whipped. It happened, and it would happen again if they played next week. The goal against an offense playing like that is to try and hold them to field goals. That didn't happen either. I have excused the passing yard surrendered by this defense much of the year. The opposing QB rating has been in the top half of the league, and the points against had been as well until the Raiders/Giants fiascoes. Enough is enough. The defense needs to rise up, especially the corner backs. Some passes need to be picked off by a DB other than Earl Thomas. Quarterbacks need to have some fear when they release the ball. It may be too much to ask at this point, but is a glaring weakness that must improve.

There is a reasonable chance the Seahawks could host the Saints in round one of the playoffs in Qwest field. Most would favor the Saints in a rematch. I would not. New Orleans played a nearly flawless offensive game. Having players like Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas and Jeremey Shockey back would not have made them all that much better. Ivory would have had less carries. Their back-up tight end had over 70 yards receiving. They scored touchdowns on four straight possessions. They would still be lethal on offense, but matching their 34 point output in Qwest field during a playoff game is far from certain. They might be able to count on the same number of favorable game-defining calls, given Seattle's history with officiating. The Seahawks offense will be better by the playoffs if it can stay healthy. The defense can't be worse. After a humiliating defeat to the Giants at home, everyone rightfully questioned whether Seattle could play with a contending team. A glance at the 34-19 score would lead one to believe the answer is still "no." Anyone who watched that game knows different. It took Matt all the way until game number 11 to take command of a new offense and lead a dynamic passing game to new heights in 2002. He was two games earlier in 2010. The next six Sundays could be lots of fun, and hopefully, they save Matt's job the way he saved Holmgren's in 2002.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

SEAHAWKS@SAINTS PREVIEW PART II: What A Seahawks Win Might Look Like

The Seahawks have no business winning this game. Let me walk you through a few reasons why they might shock the league, and regain some of the credibility that was lost in the Giants game.

New Orleans, like any team, would like to establish the running game. However, unlike most teams, the Saints are not committed to getting yardage on the ground. They love short, quick passes. On the surface that could be a big problem for a Seahawks team that has shown little ability to defend those types of plays. The hidden gem, though, is the ability for Seattle to make heavy use of its bandit package on defense.

The bandit package included seven defensive backs, including all three safeties. Seattle uses it largely in obvious passing situations. It can be susceptible to runs up the gut, but puts the best playmakers the Seahawks have to offer on the field at the same time. Most of the teams great sacks and turnovers have come with this group on the field. Teams like the Giants that can use a power running game to jam it down your throat make it hard to get this unit on the field, especially while Colin Cole is out. The Saints have some great interior lineman, but not necessarily great interior runners. If the Seahawks can get away with putting this group out there for extended periods of time, it significantly increases the chances of a Seattle win.

As good of a coordinator as Gregg Williams is, Hasselbeck is 2-for-2 against him in the playoffs. He almost single-handedly beat Williams in 2005 when Shaun Alexander left early with a concussion. Williams may also think he knows Matt, but the offense looks nothing like the one Williams defended years ago. Many of his defensive principles will be the same regardless, but advantage Hasselbeck in terms of being able to anticipate what the opposition will do.

None of the Saints corner backs are taller than 5'11". Mike Williams should be able to post-up his man all day long. Rolling a safety over the top is great, but that can only help so much. A safety helping gives the CB some help on a deep ball, and allows him to cover more aggressively underneath. It doesn't help a CB grow six inches or climb around Williams' big body. These corners should be an easier assignment for Williams than the Cardinals. Proving he will catch the ball in traffic again this week will be huge.

As good as the Saints defense has been overall, it really is vulnerable to the run. They are 17th in rushing yards against and yards-per-carry. With Russell Okung back this week, this might be the time where Seattle gets the last monkey off its back. We have not seen a dominant rushing performance. Marshawn Lynch is due for a breakout game, and Forsett looks as good as ever. With New Orleans geared up to stop the passing game they same on display last week, the running lanes could be wider than ever. If Lynch can have his first 100-yard game as a Seahawk, watch out.

This is one of those games that any cursory glance will lead a person to expect a huge Saints victory. Even a second-level investigation yields the same result. If you have been watching the Seahawks closely this year, though, there are some credible signs that point to the potential for a major upset. It would be foolish to say a Seahawks win was likely, but let's just say I'm looking forward to the game.

SEAHAWKS@SAINTS PREVIEW PART I: What A Seahawks Loss Might Look Like

Each week I attempt to see both sides of the upcoming game. First, let's explore what a potential loss might look like.

This is another game where almost any statistical measure points to a Saints victory. Their defense against the pass it better, they allow fewer points, they score more points, and their passing game is better than the Seahawks. The intangibles also point toward a Saints win. This is a Super Bowl champ that is getting back a key part of their offense, has regained key parts of its defense in the past few weeks, is gaining momentum while playing at home. Things gets a little cloudier when comparing position-by-position, but that we will cover that in the next post.

New Orleans will enter this game fresh off a bye week, excited to get Reggie Bush back, and fully expecting to dismantle the Seahawks. A sprinter's start that gets them out in front by 10 or more points, coupled with the league's stingiest scoring defense would likely end the game quickly.

The Saints are not a big-strike team. Their passing game is primarily in the short-to-intermediate range. Expect lots of quick passes to receivers who are looking to tack on a handful of yards after each catch. Their running game has been mostly ineffective, yet sadly that still is statistically superior to the Seahawks. They beat the Steelers at home 20-10, while only rushing for 30 yards and a 1.4 average. Stopping the running game matters, but is not a major factor in deciding the outcome.The Saints will use a variety of swing and screen passes to get players like Bush into space. I don't have to tell you how hard it has been for Seattle to defend plays like that this season. No team has really exploited that weakness, but the Saints will. Inability to adjust and cover the screen or swing pass will lead to a disastrous result for the Seahawks.

The Saints defense is led by coordinator Gregg Williams. Williams is a respected coach who you might recall was responsible for those Redskins defenses that were so tough in the playoffs for two years. Matt Hasselbeck will be quite familiar with his scheme, and Williams will be familiar with Hasselbeck. This game qualifies as one that cannot be won without Matt's experience. Playing with a broken wrist is tenuous, and if he needs to leave the game, there is almost no way the Seahawks could recover.

New Orleans has the experience, the talent, and the offensive scheme to present major problems to the Seahawks. Anything but a comfortable victory would be a shock to the majority of pundits across the NFL.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hawk Blogger 2010 Power Rankings - Week 10

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
This continues to be a unique season where no team can maintain the top spot for very long, and no pack of elite teams has really emerged. The prevailing opinion is the AFC is far superior to the NFC, but I'm not so sure that's how it will play out in the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh, that really looked like the class of the NFL, has fallen back a bit. Seattle, for what it's worth, moves up one spot this week. It will take many big wins to climb out of the hole they dug.



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. Talk about a clear class system. Check out the chasm between KC and Detroit, Dallas and Buffalo.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Morning After: Seahawks Beat Cardinals, 36-18

Watching the Seahawks play on the road is something that I typically do on my own. My man-cave could easily hold more spectators, but entering has often has been like sticking your head into a lion's cage. The Seahawks have not exactly made a habit of playing well enough on the road to bring out my good side. I scream, I swear, I punch things, and unless you are equally insane, you would probably not describe the experience as "fun." Yesterday was different. I woke up relatively care-free. The devastation of the last two weeks had been so severe, so complete, that there did not appear to be much on the line heading into Sunday's game. Sure, this was a division game, and one the Seahawks could conceivably win, but to what end? The way I pictured a possible Seahawks victory was a low-scoring war of attrition. It would be the type of game that you left happier than you were at the start, but not exactly uplifting. Given these tepid expectations, I called an audible from my lone wolf game viewing plan, and made an off-hand Sunday morning invitation to one of my friends to come over if he wanted. This was a guy who is far more friend than fan. He enjoys watching a game now and then, but would be very uncomfortable with my typical game-day display. I was basically making an implicit commitment to behave. No big deal to most, but a symbol of my emotional distance heading into kickoff to be sure. All the way up to the Seahawks first 3rd down, that appeared to be a wise approach. Seattle was already trailing 7-0, had been jobbed on a bad call for Fitzgerald's first catch, and Matt had thrown what should have been a certain interception on 2nd down. Third and eight the past two weeks might as well have been third and fifty. As Matt lofted this 3rd down pass up the left sideline to a well-covered Mike Williams, I felt an unreasonable amount of hope. After all, this offense does not make plays like that and Williams has been dropping far easier balls lately. Williams exploded off the ground and thrust his bear paws directly into the path of the ball to make a catch very few receivers in Seahawks history could have made. The Cardinals defensive back, Toller, was lost and outmatched. Cardinal fans, at that moment, got to feel what it has been like to play against Larry Fitzgerald. Everyone who watched the first game between these teams and then saw that catch knew it meant Seattle was not going to a pushover in this game. Thirty-six points and nearly 500 yards of offense later, my friend had no idea how shocking the outcome was or how rare it was for me to be engaged in casual conversation. It was a fabulously odd day.

Any review of the game itself has to start with Matt Hasselbeck. The knee-jerk reaction is to compare it to his last Pro Bowl season in 2007, but this was nothing like 2007 Matt. This wasn't even like 2005 Matt. This was  more like 2002 Matt. Do you remember the last few games of 2002? Hasselbeck threw for over 400 yards twice, over 350 once, and right at 300 twice in the last six games. Koren Robinson finished with his career-high of 1240 yards receiving. Hasselbeck wasn't operating a ball control passing game in those games. He was tossing the rock all over the yard. It was more Steve Nash Phoenix Suns than John Stockton Utah Jazz. For reasons I have yet to grasp, we saw that again yesterday. Was it bad defense? Great play-calling? Probably...maybe...I don't really know. I can say it was a beautifully thrown game by #8. Assume for moment that it was bad defense and great play-calling and whatever else, Hasselbeck still put the ball right on receivers hands all day long. Watch the game again if you have a chance. Pay special attention to where each throw is hitting the receiver. Even Matt's under thrown ball to Obamanu was still far enough past the defenders to go for 50+ yards. There may not be a great statistical way to prove it, but it felt like Matt threw more deep balls yesterday than he ever has in a game. He ended up with 9.8 YPA, his highest since a 2005 game against Tennessee. Even in that game, there was only one pass longer than 23 yards. You probably have to go back to at least 2004 when Jerry Rice went nuts on MNF and Matt threw for over 400 yards and handful of passes over 30 yards to even be in the vicinity of what we saw yesterday. Four passes over 30 yards, three over 40, and one over 60 is enough to make any fan smile. It was the kind of game that has me thinking the Seahawks should be talking contract extension. If you have paid attention over the years, there is a mutual admiration between Matt and the Cardinals. Rumor has it they even made a strong effort to trade for him this off-season. If the Seahawks aren't careful, Matt could very easily be throwing to Larry Fitzgerald next season. Think about that before calling for Charlie Whitehurst anytime soon.

Whitehurst, by the way, acquitted himself well during his stint. Many will remember his terrible interception, which they should, but it was one of two incompletions during what should have been two scoring drives in two tries. He made some good throws. What we see in Whitehurst is a guy who needs a lot more experience and coaching. Matt used to make similarly bad throws when he was battling with Dilfer. Whitehurst throws off his back foot way too often, including during the pick yesterday. The problem with decision-making is that it is impossible to project whether the player will ever get better at it. That, more than anything else, is why the team cannot marry itself to Whitehurst as the future of the franchise. He can earn that spot, but it cannot be given to him.

Mike Williams was an inspiration yesterday. It will be fascinating to watch how he plays in New Orleans and beyond. This was his most dominant performance, and we can only hope he is ready to assert himself even more now. He has reached 10-11 catches and ~150 yards pretty darn quick. What's to say he couldn't get to 15 and 200+ as he, Matt and Jeremy Bates get better acquainted?

The offensive line was great, but it is hard to know how much of it was due to Darnell Dockett's absence. Regardless of reason, they were the reason that offensive display was possible. Chester Pitts may not be the upgrade we were hoping for at LG. He got owned a few times and had some costly penalties.

Defensively, Aaron Curry was a revelation. The team has been putting him on the interior of the line in passing situations recently, and it worked to the tune of two huge sacks yesterday. It is too early to say, but this may be just the latest example of how creative coaching is leading to maximum use of talent. And it could not come at a better time. Any spark of production from a new place is going to be key for a defense that has lost some cornerstones. Many talk about their replacements needing to step up, and of course, they do. What matters more is that new play-makers emerge, regardless of position. Curry always had the tools to be one, and he has never had a bigger impact on a game than yesterday.

I will need to watch the game more closely, but something was different about the team's alignments. Specifically, how Earl Thomas was used. We saw more of Thomas coming up to cover and support the short throws than we have all season long. It led to a team-high seven tackles and countless near interceptions. Thomas usually is a single-high safety, asked to cover the deep ball on either side of the field. He was not doing much of that against the Cards. It's worth keeping an eye on to see if the coaching staff is being clever again.

One of the biggest surprises that will likely fall off the radar was the lack of Cardinals rushing yards. There is no logical reason a team that rushed for over 100 yards in Qwest against a healthy 2nd-ranked rush defense should have been held to 41 yards on their home field against a shattered defensive line. Fourteen rushing attempts is inexcusable in a game where the outcome was in question for much of three quarters. Give the Seahawks credit for stuffing many of the Cards attempts, but this was more about bad play-calling than great rush defense.

The game yesterday was a rebirth. A team that shocked us all with their game-changing defense and special teams for six games, now has shown it may have an offense that can win games. This was the first time all year someone could make a credible case that the offense was the best unit on the field. With Russell Okung coming back next week, there is a chance we may finally see stability in the offensive line. Now we watch, and wait to see what from this performance can be sustained. Predicting the team's ceiling just got harder, and that's a very good thing. I will be happy to invite hope back into my man-cave, even if that means nobody else  is.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Don't Stop Believing

Rain-soaked weekends in the Northwest make for great opportunities to cozy up on the couch with the family and bust out a few tunes on Rock Band. We celebrated a HawkBloggerKid early morning soccer victory yesterday with a rousing rendition of Kids in America, Livin' on a Prayer, and Eye of the Tiger, before moving on to the contemporary with Unthought Known. I woke up this morning with two things stuck in my head: the karaoke classic Don't Stop Believing, and the thought that I'm really having trouble following the song's advice when it comes to this Seahawks season.

For all the passion and love I have for Seahawks football, I have had to develop a pragmatic side over the years. It used to be that I could pour myself into my sports without reservation. When the teams won, nobody on Earth was happier or more fun to be around. When my teams lost, the opposite was true. Being an emotional powder keg became untenable after adding HawkBloggerWife, HawkBloggerKid1&2, and HawkBloggerCareer into the mix. I used to lose a whole day, sometimes a whole week to the anger and frustration after a bad loss. It would cast a shadow over everything. At some point, I learned that I needed to sacrifice a little of my passion to create a bit more buffer between me and the teams I cared so much about.

Where I once watched every minute of every game, I began to turn the channel during a blowout or go take a jog to burn off some steam. Where before I might wallow in a loss by reading every article and listening to all the analysis, now I shut much of it out until the next game begins. The guilt of feeling like a fare-weather fan hung over me for the first few years of this new approach. Never did the guilt come close to competing with the happier HawkBloggerFamily this philosophical shift allowed. I still feel guilty, like when I left at halftime during the blowout last week to go watch my son's soccer game, but no longer do I worry about being a fare-weather fan. The Seahawks could 0-16 for 10 seasons, and I would still tell people they were my favorite team if asked. I have hated the Mariners teams for almost the last decade. They bore me to tears to the point where I have not watched a full game in almost two seasons, but they are still my favorite team. That's a constant.

All this brings me back to the crossroads we face today in Arizona as Seahawks fans. Most of us reasonably entered the season expecting a handful of wins, and hoping for some signs of hope in the future. Pete Carroll and Co. quickly raised our expectations beyond the reasonable. This team stood at 4-2 two weeks ago, with legitimate hopes of not only winning their division, but getting a bye in the first round of the playoffs. Crippling injuries have led to two massacres, and a 4-4 record. The team Seattle faces today has lost three in a row and has already lost to the Seahawks in Seattle. My senses tell me this Seahawks team has been hollowed out by the events of the past two weeks. My mind can't take the pieces of the shattered defense and offense and put them together into a whole that feels strong enough to be a winning team again. That pragmatic protective shield is deploying, telling me to back away slowly or risk nuclear meltdown. And while some hardcore fans may read that as blasphemy, my experience as an athlete tells me there are players and coaches on the team that are having a similar crisis of confidence.

The team can change its fate with a victory today. Winning would not be notable to anyone outside of the NFC West. The Cardinals are generally considered a crappy team that has lost three in a row. Nobody cares how much better they have played the last two weeks. Bragging about a victory over them would be like showing all your friends a dollar-winning scratch ticket. As with most things in life, though, the truth is reserved for the people that seek it. A victory today would mean the Seahawks found some new identity to hang their hats on. It would mean their resolve is strong enough to propel them back into a forward-facing path. It would mean that Russell Okung's return next week would build momentum instead of feeling like a last hope. I'm sitting here square on the fence, looking for any sign that it is safe to come back inside. Don't stop believing just yet.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Grand Salami Time

It was August of 1995. Vince Coleman had just been traded to the Mariners, just weeks after the team acquired Andy Benes and signed veteran Norm Charlton off the scrap heap. It was also the time my family went to Black Butte Ranch every Summer to find solace from our mundane suburban existence. Black Butte was great because  it was an escape from almost everything. The house we rented had no TV. Cars were a rarely used contraption that seemed almost pointless with so many bike trails and 20 MPH speed limits. People came here to swim, to fish, to golf. And so did I, but the Mariners just traded for Vince Coleman.

More important than any swimming pool, or flirting with bikini clad teenagers, the objective was to find a way to stay in touch with the Mariners. No TV station in central Oregon was going to carry Mariners games. Why would they? The Mariners had never even made the playoffs, and were a joke to most Oregonians. It would have been like Seattle carrying Oregon State football games during the 90s. Instead, I tried every radio I could find. The walkman was too weak. The stereo was, too. The car radio seemed like the only apparatus capable of acquiring a signal. Even then, it was hardly a signal. The sound pulsated in and out of audible range. Static riddled the transmission to where anyone that wasn't fused with Mariners DNA at their core would have been lost trying to follow what was happening. Dave and I were close, though.

He had been telling me the Mariners story since I was a little boy. Like so many others, I often fell asleep to his dulcet tones, knowing that the morning paper would probably show a Mariners loss. Back then, when Niehaus said, "and it's BELTED," it was a near certainty the ball was leaving the yard. It was safe to celebrate. I missed that certainty as he got older and had a harder time judging the result at the crack of the bat. Niehaus got to break out that line more often and in more crucial at-bats during 1995 than in any other season. He also told us about Grand Salami time, and when pitches were "looooooooooooow" or "HIIIgh." Even through the static. Even through the pulsating. Even though I needed to keep my hand on the radio knob to keep some semblance of consistency to the broadcast, Dave was able to tell me exactly what was happening. His intonation, his phrasing, his ability to fuse quintessential American storytelling with America's greatest pastime was enough to overcome hundreds of miles and countless mountains attempting to block his path.

Even when I couldn't hear Dave, I could still hear him. The season progressed, as did my life. By September, it was time to head back to college in Washington D.C. This was a land of so many wonderful things, but nobody within 1000 miles had any idea who Dave Niehaus was or how to get KIRO 710 on the radio. Most barely could tell you the name of the baseball franchise in Seattle. Ken Griffey Jr. was cool, but Don Mattingly and Cal Ripken Jr. were just around the corner. My roommates consisted of Will, an existential drug enthusiast who feigned some interest in sports for my benefit, and a guy from New York city named Jay. He looked every bit the New Yorker with the hairy chest, long heavy metal hair, and aggressive demeanor. I liked Jay. Jay liked the Yankees. He liked them like so many New Yorkers do, in passing. They were his team because "who doesn't like the Yankees?" and nobody else really matters. When the Yankees lose, it has little effect on a large portion of the Yankee fan base. They move on and, rightfully, assume the team would find a way to win in the long run. This total lack of burden incensed me. How could any fan be so cavalier about their team's losses, but be so obnoxious when they won? Don't they realize how much suffering Mariners fans have gone through? This was a team that never made the playoffs, let alone win a World Series. They had the best pitcher in the game and the best player, and that still had not been enough to break the curse. How dare you not feel like your life was on the line during the first-round playoff series Yankees fans?

The series started, and even though I was on the East Coast, I had no way to watch game 1. The internet was just getting off the ground, and ESPN.com was only so helpful. I knew Ken Griffey Jr. had homered in his first playoff at-bat. Of course he did. The loss was tough, but game two was much tougher. Fucking Jim Leyritz. By the time the series reached game five, my life had come to a complete halt. I was trapped in a world that could not care less about the Mariners at a time when nothing mattered to me more. Thankfully, I was able to watch game five on TV in my apartment...with Jay and Will. When the Yankees took the lead in the Top of the 11th off of Randy Johnson, it seemed like all was lost. Jay was celebrating in my face, and my world was crumbling. It was fitting that my most hated team would continue my lifetime of bitter disappointment as a Mariners fan. And then, Joey Cora bunted his way on base. And then, Ken Griffey Jr. singled him to third base. And then, the most flawless hitter in his most flawless season, Edgar Martinez, ripped a double down the line to score my hero from first base and send my most hated team out of the playoffs. I bounded through the apartment screaming a scream I may never repeat. Jay and Will had no basis for which to compare this reaction to. People don't typically act like that, and certainly not their mostly mild-mannered roommate. The Seahawks making the Super Bowl came close, but never have I participated in a trip from such depths to such heights in such a short period of time. Even then, the moment was incomplete.

The only person I had ever shared my love of the Mariners with growing up was nowhere to be found. Not even calling my best friends growing up, or my family would have helped. None of them had cared, or at least none had followed the team for more than a few marvelous months. What did they know of path that had taken the team here? How much had they suffered through one miserable season after another? All I wanted to do was listen to Dave put words to my feelings. He understood. His job had so often been grief counselor that my imagination ran wild thinking of what he must have sounded like during that fateful play. It was no surprise at all that his call became the seminal moment in his perfect career. When I finally got to hear it replayed with his call, it was as if I was right there next to him. It was one of life's perfections. The perfect team, with the perfect history, beating the perfect opponent in the perfect fashion with the perfect storyteller. Dave, I miss you. I miss our Mariners. When the ship finally gets righted and we win our first World Series, it will be a thrilling occasion. It will be imperfect, though, because you won't be there to tell me about it. I love you, and thank you for all that you did to make my life that much better. Rest in peace.

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

Arizona is not a good team. They have lost three games in a row, including one to our very own Seattle Seahawks. The three games they have won were unimpressive. It looked like they were going to get their signature victory last week in Minnesota, but instead stumbled into an agonizing loss in which they gave up 14 4th quarter points and fumbled a certain defensive touchdown on the Vikings first possession. Take heart, Seahawks fans, that another fan base knows heartache and frustration.

The Seahawks beat Arizona in Seattle with perhaps the worst winning effort we have seen from the team. A five-to-one turnover advantage helped Seattle's woeful offense to 22 points. There were epic mistakes like drop-kicking returns and attempting to pick up fumbles with one hand. Max Hall was so abysmal that Derek Anderson looked dangerous when he relieved him in the 2nd half.

This game will be different. If the Seahawks want to right the ship, they will need to do it by stopping the run and sustaining at least two scoring drives of over 50 yards. Stopping the run will be a tall order given the injury situation, but Brandon Mebane is back, which helps. I also have a lot of faith in Pete Carroll's ability to be creative on defense to cover the team's weaknesses.

If the Seahawks can slow down the run, the Cardinals passing game is weak as is their pass protection. The game plan in the first game involved very little pass pressure or blitzes. We didn't see the bandit package until the 4th quarter, when Arizona clearly had to pass. When it was used, it was effective. Carroll clearly thought Max Hall was not good enough to beat his defense regardless of how much time he had to throw. That proved to be true. Expect to see more pressure and gambling this week. The Seahawks defense is too injured to sit back and wait for the offense to fail. A key area to watch will be Kelly Jennings in the lineup instead of Walter Thurmond. Thurmond did a great job against Fitzgerald in game one, and Jennings has a history of being a whipping boy to the Cards. Either Jennings needs to step up, or the coaches need to make a substitution.

Offensively, the Seahawks will struggle to run the ball unless Russell Okung is back and healthy. The team got almost nothing on the ground against the Cardinals at Qwest after Okung limped off during the first series. Mike Williams dominated the Cardinals secondary, and will need to repeat his performance. The Seahawks will not win unless Williams has at least 75 yards receiving and a touchdown. Turnovers will be more important in this game than the average NFL match-up. Neither offense is likely to put up big numbers, and the first team to give the opponent a short field will be at a severe disadvantage. Matt will need to be turnover free for the Seahawks to have a chance.

Despite the three-game losing streak and previous loss to the Seahawks, the Cardinals should win this game at home. They have fewer key injuries, and have been stepping up their game while the Seahawks have been crumbling under the weight of the last two losses. Winning this game on the road would be more impressive for this version of the 2010 Seahawks than the Chicago win was for that version of the 2010 Seahawks. That said, Arizona is bad enough that it has a real chance of happening. Seattle must be the aggressors, and do everything possible to make the Cardinals offense move the whole field to score. Neither Arizona QB is capable of throwing consistently. Make them win the game, and the Cardinals almost certainly lose.

SEAHAWKS@CARDINALS PREVIEW PART I: What A Seahawks Loss Might Look Like

Each week I will try to look at the upcoming game from both sides. First, let's see what a Seahawks loss might look like.

Seattle is decimated by injuries. The best-case scenario has the Seahawks fielding one of their three run-stuffing defensive lineman. The Cardinals were the first team all season to run for over 100 yards against the Seahawks as a team. It was an impressive accomplishment because it came when the Seahawks were healthy on defense and at Qwest field with absolutely no threat of a passing game. All of those factors should have led to Seahawks dominance, but it did not. Now, the Cardinals didn't exactly light the world on fire with 113 yards rushing (3.5 YPC), but when you translate that to this week, things get a little more concerning. Colin Cole and Red Bryant are out. The game is in Arizona. The Seahawks are reeling from two massive blowouts. Those factors should mean the Cardinals will be able to run with success against Seattle. Any Cardinals victory will certainly include over 110 yards rushing as a team.

Increased focus and success running the ball should open up some simple passing options off of play-action. Simple passes are about the only thing Arizona can reasonably attempt given their struggles in that area. It does not matter much whether Derek Anderson or Max Hall ends up as QB. Both are no better than Charlie Whitehurst, and may be worse. Larry Fitzgerald shockingly had his first 100-yard receiving game of the season last week.You have to be a terrible QB to take nine weeks to get Fitz 100 yards. The Cardinals passing game has been so bad that it cannot be used as a barometer for their wins/losses since it's almost always been poor. Even an interception or two won't spell certain defeat for Arizona.

The Cardinals defense has been a play-making machine.They had two more interceptions last week, and were 1-yard away from another defensive TD. Special teams did manage a return TD last week. A Cardinals victory will likely include at least a couple of game-changing turnovers or returns. The Cardinal offense is not reliable enough to move down the field consistently on their own.

Scoring will be at a premium for both teams. Twenty points should be more than enough to win this game. In fact, getting to twenty points may be a precursor to a blowout for whichever side gets there. Arizona has played well in their last two games despite losing both of them. They have the momentum, which speaks more about the state of the Seahawks than it does about the Cardinals. The Cardinals should win this game, and possibly by a large margin, if they can avoid some of the devastating mistakes that have characterized their season.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Hawk Blogger 2010 Power Rankings - Week 9

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
Seattle drops into the ranks of the undead, and the NFC makes its strongest appearance in the top 5.



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 teams came back to the pack this week, further proving there does not appear to be a powerhouse this season.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Morning After: Giants Beat Seahawks, 41-7

Humiliation is a dish best served to someone else. Seahawks fans have had their fair share. In a season that was showing a promise nobody could have reasonably expected, a stark reality slammed those hopes right back to the ground in two nightmarish games. There was nothing more than a faint hope that the Seahawks could compete with the Giants given their injury situation. Nobody except the most informed Seahawks fan will know that the team that took the field yesterday was not the team that was 4-2 two weeks ago. As much credit as Schneider and Carroll deserve for finding enough quality starters, and building a scheme that maximizes that talent, it is unfair to think they could create enough depth to survive these sorts of injuries. Even good teams like the Packers are having trouble dealing with significant injuries. Last week's game was more than just a loss. It completely changed the course of the season. Instead of building toward a peak as the team comes together throughout the season, the team will now be fighting just to regain the footing it once had. The goal is not to win 10+ games and possibly get a 1st round bye anymore. We are back to square one, where it is reasonable to equally hope for a high draft pick or a mediocre division-winning season. Either is possible.

The biggest positive yesterday was that we were only forced to watch the offense for 18 minutes. Charlie Whitehurst is getting a ridiculous amount of blame for the outcome. I continue to be in a tiny minority in my assessment of Whitehurst, and the QB situation. Matt Hasselbeck is the clear starter when he's healthy, and Whitehurst is in the mix for that role next year. Even if Charlie had played well yesterday, Matt would have been the starter when healthy. Save the Denver game, Hasselbeck has not been the reason for Seahawks losses. If Matt can stay healthy and lead the team to a division title, I expect he will be resigned and compete for the starting role again next season. People seem so ready to move on, but to what? An unproven starter that almost certainly removes your chances of competing for the playoffs? Have you seen how hard it is to find a QB that can take you to the playoffs? Many fans assume that Carroll and Schneider will be compelled to move to Whitehurst because they paid so much to get him. I don't get that feeling even a little bit. They want to win. A "next QB" is needed, but when that QB is needed is variable. In the one game all season Matt has played behind Russell Okung, he was terrific. It would be unfair to expect that level of performance from Whitehurst at this stage. Playing Whitehurst other than when Matt is hurt is waving the white flag, plain and simple. I'm not sure what people expected from him yesterday in his first career start against a great defense with a terrible offensive line. What I saw was promising. His throws were mostly on target and he avoided the head-slapping decisions we saw in the pre-season. Both interceptions were at least as much the fault of Mike Williams. Whitehurst put the ball right on Williams in the endzone on the first, and Williams couldn't make the grab. The second came when Whitehurst left the ball too far inside, but Williams sat at the bottom of his route for a good 1-2 seconds while the DB broke back to the ball. If Williams had come back to the ball like receivers are taught to do, the DB would not have been able to get to it and Williams likely would have had a catch. Whitehurst ended up doing a little better than I would have expected, but apparently far worse than the bulk of Seahawks fans were anticipating. I still rank him above Max Hall and Derek Anderson.

The guy who does deserve scrutiny is Jeremy Bates. His play-calling was predictable when it needed to be creative and creative when it needed to be predictable. I won't go into yet another diatribe about his horrible 3rd and 1 resume. There is no excuse for what we are witnessing there. Where were the screen passes? The draws? The quick-hitting plays that take advantage of a defense's aggressiveness were missing. I expect better. I'm starting to wonder if that's a valid expectation.

I'm not going to spend much time on the defense because those guys deserve a break. Give the Giants credit. They were great at the back-shoulder routes that are so hard to defend. It is doubtful this team can win any game without Colin Cole, Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant. There simply is nothing to replace that void. Even getting one of them back is unlikely to be enough. And given that Cole is supposed to be out a few more weeks, this could quickly turn into a four-game losing streak, or more.

All is not lost, but quite a bit is. Yesterday was the beginning of a new season with this new team. It was a start many expected when the team faced SF in game one. The good news is we got to see there is hope for this franchise, regardless of what happens the rest of the year. Keep your eyes on the big goal. It's less humiliating.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Today Will Be Fun

The Seahawks entered last week's game against the Raiders relatively healthy, and with apparent advantages in a number of key spots. I never once felt confident or comfortable about the game, and the feeling got worse as time ticked closer to kickoff. Today, the Seahawks face the consensus best team in the NFC with key injuries at key positions. Charlie Whitehurst will make his first career start against a defense that destroys opposing QBs. The Seahawks offense has stumbled along when it was healthy and facing lesser teams. Despite all of this, I am looking forward to this game more than the Raiders game last week.

Everyone expects a blowout, so the worst thing the Seahawks can do is meet expectations. Whitehurst showed absolutely no courage facing the pass rush in the pre-season, so he should make some terrible decisions today. He also may take chances that other QBs would never take, and allow our receivers to make plays. The offense should not be able to run or pass against this Giants defense, so Jeremy Bates has reason to get creative. Not cute, creative. The Giants walk into this game brimming with confidence and swagger. They are coming off of a bye. It is hard to imagine them respecting the Seahawks. Bates can use this to his advantage. Screen passes, draws, end arounds and every other quick-hitting play that uses the defenses aggression against them should be used today. Giants lineman will expect to beat the Seahawks offensive line. The setup for "rope-a-dope" is perfect. Don't be surprised to see more of Leon Washington in the backfield for screen passes.

The defense is going to smack some good looks into Eli Manning. The Giants will be expecting a broken, depressed team that will be lacking heart. Seattle is missing key players on defense, but Lawyer Milloy, Roy Lewis, Chris Clemons, Lofa Tatupu, Earl Thomas and David Hawthorne are still playing. Each of them capable of rising up and making the big play.

Every minute that Seattle leads or is close is a minute the Giants will start to get uncomfortable. Every time the defense stops a run without Cole or Bryant, the Giants offensive coordinator will get frustrated. Tiny success can lead to bigger success.

Expect the unexpected, and have some fun!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

This One's On You, 12th Man

We have all seen it. The moment where a rock climber loses his grip, or a mountain climber slips and slides down the ice toward certain disaster. The person falling has trained. He has experience, and has bested many mountains before. The trouble he finds himself in now is not due to arrogance, lack of effort or preparation. Today, this mountain has presented a challenge that cannot be overcome by the climber alone.  Others will have to intercede in order to save him and allow his ascent to continue.

12th man, your team is falling.

They have clawed and fought their way farther up the NFL ranks than anyone could have reasonably expected in this amount of time. John Schneider and Pete Carroll have made over 230 roster moves. They have brought you Marshawn Lynch for a pittance and traded away Deion Branch for a ransom. They have plucked Mike Williams off the scrap heap and given you the best young receiver this city has seen in years. They executed a near perfect draft, upgrading the roster almost overnight with cornerstones like Russell Okung and Earl Thomas. Carroll and his staff have revamped the defense, maximizing their talent in clever and unexpected ways. Backups like Red Bryant and middling talents like Colin Cole were alarmingly worthy of Pro Bowl consideration. Veteran Lawyer Milloy is playing better than nearly any safety in the NFL at the age of 36.

The players have delivered consistent effort each and every week, even if the results have not been as consistent. There has never been a point where their energy or focus could be questioned. They brought home the first meaningful road victory 5+ years. They have embraced Carroll's compete mantra and showed amazing professionalism in handling the constant roster churn that goes along with it.

And now, they've reached a moment they will not be able to overcome on their own.

Devastating injuries, a faith-testing loss, and possibly the season's toughest opponent staring them down has left the team shaken. No amount of great leadership can keep a team from losing its breath when it gets hit as hard as the Seahawks have this week.

That is where all of you come in. The team needs your best on Sunday, and I'm not talking about a few screams until they fall behind kind of stuff. The Seahawks need the kind of 12th man presence that will apply shock paddles to their faintly-beating heart. It won't be easy. Qwest Field was in rare form for both the 49ers and Chargers games. The team has already witnessed greatness. What they need on Sunday is chanting to start during warm-ups. What they need on Sunday is screaming to start while the Giants are still calling the play in the huddle. What they need is the loudest cheers to come when their faith is most tested. If you can talk on Monday and their isn't ringing in your ears, you haven't done your job.

I understand that this is a hard game to get up for as a fan. Many signs point to a soul-crushing whupping one week after a gut-punching loss. Any attempt to come up with a statistical or match-up advantage for the Seahawks is largely wasted time. The Seahawks team that takes the field this week will not be the one that's taken the field so far this year. It's almost like opening day all over again. Use whatever motivation you can find to prepare yourself.

Angry that Republicans just took over the House? Use it. Angry that the Democrats still have the Senate? Use it. Pissed off that the Sonics will be back in the NW via the OKC Thunder @ Portland tomorrow? Use it. Frustrated that the Huskies are flailing in another lost season? Use it.

The East Coast thinks your team is crap. The Steelers won the Super Bowl fair and square. The Summer in Seattle sucked. The days are already getting shorter. Your colleague across the hall is talking smack about you behind your back. You're ugly.

The crowd noise in Qwest is piped in artificially. Arrowhead is louder.

That's right. I said it. What are YOU going to do about it? How are you going to win this game for your team?

Write the next chapter in your legend 12th man. Reach out and grab the hand of your falling team and pull them back up so they can keep climbing.

Red Bryant MCL Tear

Thanks to reader Mr Posh for pointing out that we have more word on Red Bryant's injury:


According to Seahawks Insider Red has a MCL tear - http://bit.ly/bwAbwC. I thought the worst on this as I was convinced that this type of tear is more severe than an ACL, but seemingly not.
Normally it requires no surgery but he's been shipped straight in so this must be a grade III tear; a tear which takes 3-4 months to heal.
MCL tears are much less concerning than say an ACL or something that would require micro-fracture surgery. See Marcus Tubbs for the issues that can come up there. I would hope he will have a full recovery in time for the off-season program.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Hawk Blogger 2010 Power Rankings - Week 8

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
Seattle, Jacksonville and Oakland have changes over 4. That is unusual this far into the season when the sample size has grown to a reasonable level. There is obviously symmetry in the Oakland/Seattle changes due to the Raiders blowout victory. The Seahawks drop a whopping nine spots in one week, and now fall into the category of having stats that don't support their 4-3 record. San Diego continues to try and justify their lofty ranking, despite a nasty record. Shocking to see three AFC West teams in the top eight.



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 teams came back to the pack this week, further proving there does not appear to be a powerhouse this season.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Morning After: Seahawkalypse Now, Raiders Beat Seahawks, 33-3

I can't believe the news today
Oh, I can't close my eyes and make it go away
How long, how long must we sing this song?
How long? How long?
'Cause tonight we can be as one, tonight

Broken bottles under children's feet
Bodies strewn across the dead end streets
But I won't heed the battle call
It puts my back up, puts my back up against the wall

Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
I'm not going to lie to you. Every fiber of my Seahawks-being was screaming loss, and probably a bad loss, before the first snap. Nothing about this game felt right. The Seahawks had not produced a total stinker yet, despite being a team with obvious flaws. Three victories in a row for a team still finding its footing seemed unrealistic. That said, the season has been unrealistic so far. The point here is more that losing this game was not something unexpected. Being sodomized and hospitalized was a little more shocking. 

Blame me for the injuries. I had planned to start a series on who the most valuable and irreplaceable Seahawks were in this surprising season. Among the first names that came to mind were Red Bryant, Matt Hasselbeck, Mike Williams, Russell Okung, and Colin Cole. All of those players either entered, or exited, this game injured. Red Bryant is by far the most devastating. He is a primary reason the team has been elite against the run. Success stopping the run is a primary reason the Seahawks are better than anticipated this year. Expect to see EJ Wilson get some reps for the first time this season in upcoming games.

Crippling injuries can be overcome when facing weak teams. The Seahawks are in their toughest stretch, and these injuries could derail the season. Expect to hear the catcalls all week from trolls who will love to say, "I told you so" about the Seahawks. They will take the team's worst moment, magnify the complete and total domination by a mediocre AFC team, and dismiss any improvements the team has made. This was the type of loss that starts you back at square one from a credibility perspective. The Seahawks *own* square one, so nothing new there. Don't waste your time pointing out the flaws in those arguments. Take the week off. Dial back in for the Giants game and hope there is a better outcome. The next six days are going to be a pity party with the pile-on local media leading the conga line. Steve Kelley should be making a nauseating appearance in 3...2...1...

This game was largely decided in the first 20 minutes despite a 3-0 score. Seattle's offensive line was dominated to such a degree that lineman were getting knocked out of the game with concussions and the offense had more negative plays than positive. The Raiders defensive line played out of its mind, and the Seahawks offensive line was totally over-matched. This was a Raiders team that was being gashed against the run and was mediocre rushing the QB before Sunday. What happened? The Seahawks certainly left Oakland dazed. That was not the team they saw on film. 

Pete Carroll now gets to show us how he handles adversity. This was a loss like no other so far. The team now moves onto a rested Giants team that has a better defensive line than the Raiders, and a superior offense. Expect some amount of overconfidence from the Giants after they watch this debacle and take the 20 minutes necessary to read the injury report, but the Seahawks will need more than to be overlooked. Carroll will have to show how he can lead through the valleys, and not just the peaks. A storm is rolling in. Return to your seats and brace for some turbulence. 


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