Sunday, January 30, 2011

Takeaways From Senior Bowl Week

Telling people you watched hours of Senior Bowl practice, along with the game itself, generally elicits of response someone between confusion and pity. That likely would have been my response as well up until this year. I can't even remember the last time I paid a lick of attention to the game. This off-season is so pivotal for the Seahawks franchise, any shred of information helps form a more educated opinion of which holes the team will try to fill through which methods (e.g., free agency, draft, etc.).

I entered the week mostly curious about the QB play. Ideally, none of them would play well enough to warrant a pick above #25, so the Seahawks would have a full menu of choices. And while there were some interesting things learned by watching that position group, they were not the most eye-opening part of the rosters. Pete Carroll already made it clear that offensive and defensive lines are his areas of focus in the off-season. There are some terrific offensive line options in free agency. It did not take long to realize there is quality depth along the o-line in the draft as well. Seattle could very well find its next right tackle, and at least one of the guards they so desperately need via the draft. There are even some centers that are worth a look. At least a half-dozen players were not only starter material, but were unlikely to be picked ahead of #25, and many should be available in the 2nd round. Any of the kids from University of Wisconsin would look terrific in Seahawk blue.

The defensive lines were not quite as deep as the offensive lines, but again, there were a variety of players that could fit for the Seahawks and be available at #25. Take your pick of thick defensive tackles to stout "Red Bryant" defensive ends to swing players who can move inside on passing downs. Most of the dominant defensive lineman are underclassmen, and the best value pick for the Seahawks may be one of these Seniors. There appear to be a number of guys that are worthy of that first round pick, whereas the offensive lineman or QBs available there might be reaching a little.

For example, let's assume that Nevada's QB Colin Kaepernick is still around at #25. That should be a safe assumption. The kid probably helped himself as much as any player this week, but he's still a raw talent. Picking in the first round could be a stretch, as he could even last until the Hawks 2nd round pick. An offensive guard like John Moffit or right tackle like James Brewer will definitely be there, but picking them in the first would be a serious reach. DT Phil Taylor, all 337 lbs of him, is also a plausible player still on the board at #25. He is a great match of talent, value, need and plausible availability. All of this is fluid, but the point is that there are more defensive lineman who fit the #25 value grade than offensive lineman or quarterbacks. Cornerback is another major area of need, but I'm not sure there are any that fit that value slot.

Back to Kaepernick for a minute, I exited the week attached to him as a target for the Seahawks. I have been a big fan of Jake Locker since his I first saw him play, and have salivated at the idea of him playing for the Seahawks, but seeing him next to a guy like Kaepernick left me thinking there are lower risk quarterbacks to go after with similar upside. Locker has all the tools to be a Top 5 QB in the NFL, but his pace of thought, quality of decisions and inaccuracy of this throws mean he is more likely to fail than to succeed. I'd be excited to see him on the team, but he's going to be painful to watch for at least two years. Kaepernick's worst attribute is his name. Having to type it out for the next decade would suck. He showed plenty of arm strength, timing, and confidence. He running is special. He covers ground in long strides and with great acceleration. He needs a fair amount of work, but some team is going to get a franchise QB in that kid. Christian Ponder is another intriguing prospect. He has some injury history, but shows a good arm and "starter" presence. His ceiling is not as high as some of these guys, but could be a Matt Schaub on the high-end, which is plenty good. Ricky Stanzi is not someone the Seahawks should consider. He very well may start in the NFL at some point, but so does Ryan Fitzpatrick and Derek Anderson. Stanzi will never be the starter for a Super Bowl winner, so color me disinterested.

Running back and cornerback are not as deep, at least in the Senior class. Nobody stood out as a player the Seahawks either have a shot at, or should be targeting. That may mean pursuit of corner via free agency becomes a higher priority. I'm laying some money on Champ Bailey at the moment, since Nnamdi is too expensive and unlikely to come here.

Wide receiver is another position group that has some possible depth and fit. The Seahawks are known to have met with Miami WR Leonard Hankerson, who tore it up on game day. He's big, fast, and runs good routes. He is another consideration at #25, but should be available later. Titus Young was one of the stars of practice with his lightning quick breaks, flashy speed, and good hands. He will be a play-maker for someone. Dane Sanzenbacher would be a great get in later rounds as an understudy to Brandon Stokley. I love his size, routes and hands.

The great news for Seahawks fans is that many of the areas of greatest need on the team (QB, OL, DL, WR) are the areas of greatest depth in this draft. Other needs like LB and CB are less plentiful, and may be better addressed elsewhere or next year.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Seahawks Off-Season Analysis Part II: Defensive Line

Part two of this off-season position analysis will focus on the defensive line. Pete Carroll made it clear that both lines were primary areas of focus. Let's take a look at where we are, and where we might be after the off-season.
Brandon Mebane's free agency leaves a major hole in the line

The Seahawks defensive line made nearly miraculous strides in 2010. This was a pitiful excuse for a unit in 2009. Dan Quinn, Gus Bradley and Pete Carroll put together a scheme that maximized the team's talent, while adding key pieces like Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock. Players like Red Bryant and Colin Cole became better than they had ever been, and Brandon Mebane was his normal disruptive self. This was among the best lines in the NFL when healthy, but it was rarely healthy. The starting four only played four games together all year. The depth here was terrible. Finding new starters would be great, but the goal should be to retain the four starters, and add more quality depth so the defense does not collapse with 1-2 injuries.

2011 Seahawks Free Agent Defensive Lineman:
  • DT Brandon Mebane
  • DT Craig Terrill
  • DT Armon Gordon
  • DE Raheem Brock
  • DE Jay Richardson
  • DT/DE Junior Siavii
Seahawks Lineman Under Contract:
  • DE Red Bryant
  • DE Chris Clemons
  • DT Colin Cole
  • DE Dexter Davis
Retaining Mebane is a top priority. He's young, and among the better tackles in the game. He will command a pretty penny on the open market, and is a legitimate flight risk. Raheem Brock is the only other free agent from the 2010 team that deserves attention. At 32, the team needs to be careful not overpay him for a career season he is unlikely to repeat. Brock would make a nice backup for Clemons at the pass-rushing Leo spot, but after recording 9.0 sacks in the regular season and two more in the playoffs, he may convince a team elsewhere to pay him starter's money. With all the needs on this team, overpaying for Brock would be a major mistake. 

Free agent defensive lineman are expensive, and are harder to project than some other free agent pick-ups. Albert Haynesworth was hands-down the best player at his position in the NFL, and yet, he was far from it after changing teams. Some of that was money and personality, but some of it was the system change. We all saw how Red Bryant was a changed player last season. This happens all the time in reverse with free agent lineman. Pass rushers command the most money, and are usually reliable in any system, but teams often get stuck paying for years beyond the player's prime. See Patrick Kerney as an example. The draft is good place to find lineman that fit your team's scheme and come at low cost. Before exploring the talent there, let's look at some top free agents on the defensive line in 2011:

DT Haloti Ngata
Ngata is arguably the best defensive tackle in the game. The Ravens will probably keep him no matter what. If he somehow becomes available, this is a guy you break the bank for. A whole defense can be built around a guy like this.

DT Richard Seymour
Seymour is going to be 32, but is a perfect target for the Seahawks if another team doesn't give him starters money. He could make up a dynamic part of a tackle rotation for the next few years. This is guy that gave offensive lineman concussions. His attitude and effort is questionable at times, so buyer beware.

DT Aubrayo Franklin
Franklin was a 49er, so there is always the connection with Scott Mcloughlin. He is a run-stuffer that was franchised by the 49ers last year. He is 30, and could be a fit depending on the price he commands. He would be more of Colin Cole role, where Seymour would be more disruptive like Mebane.

DE Cullen Jenkins
Jenkins is great player when healthy, and GM John Schneider should know him well. Jenkins is 30, and has been injury-prone. He is good enough that someone will look past that and give him lots of cash. I wouldn't expect it to be the Seahawks.

DE Mathias Kiwanuka
Kiwanuka is a pass-rushing force, who missed much of last year with a herniated disc in his neck. Those aren't problems that go away, and will cause some to avoid him altogether. He would be an interesting addition in rotation with Red Bryant, but will probably be out of the team's price range.

DE Shaun Ellis
Ellis is 33, and could be the perfect target for Seattle. The Jets are said to be unlikely to re-sign him, and he still can be a difference-maker in a rotation.

There are also guys like DE Ray Edwards, DE Charles Johnson, DE Jason Babin and DT Gerard Warren. The smart move in free agency is to keep Mebane around. The team cannot count on Bryant being the same player he was a year ago after major knee surgery. Remember Marcus Tubbs anyone? Ideally, they are able to re-sign Mebane and Bryant recovers, allowing any free agent additions to be rotational additions. This will save the team money that can be spent elsewhere. If they have to pay starter money on the d-line, that's bad news for the rest of team. There are some strong lineman in the draft, and Seattle may have to roll the dice there if free agency gets too rich for them in this area.

Bringing in a player like Richard Seymour would be the one free agent who could be the perfect combination of talent, cost and fit. He could play all along the line, and brings the nastiness the team is trying to cultivate. It's hard to say if he'd work with Carroll all that well, but I'd take the risk.  

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Seahawks Off-Season Analysis Part I: Offensive Line

Blog forever! Pete Carroll isn't taking any time off, so why should this blogger? Part of what I love about writing this blog is that I don't need to wait for anyone else to research what I want to know. As soon as Tom Cable was hired as offensive line coach, and we heard from Pete Carroll's press conference today that the offensive and defensive lines would be priorities this off-season, I found my imagination wandering toward what our options might be to upgrade. I will be detailing options for each unit on the team in the coming weeks, and why not start with the offensive line?

The line will look very differently next season. Count on it.
Seahawks fans know better than most fan bases how important a great offensive line is to a championship team. It opens up lanes for the running game, keeping your defense off the field. It gives your receivers time to break open and your quarterback time to hit them. It keeps your most important asset, your QB, healthy. The Seahawks did remarkably well with a patchwork line in 2010. There is only one position on the line that has a fixed plan heading into the off-season. Russell Okung will be the left tackle, and should be a great one once he heals up. That's a great start, but it's nowhere near enough. Something to keep in mind is that a fantastic offensive line need not be made up of five Pro Bowl players. The 2005 line had All-World players in Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson, but it also had great role players like Robbie Tobeck, Chris Gray and Sean Locklear. These were all above-average players for their positions, but they were far from dominant. The whole was greater than the sum. Look at the Atlanta Falcons this year, and you'll see a great line without a single Pro Bowler. Stability, communication, healthy, and fit make all the difference for a line.

2011 Seahawks Free Agent Offensive Lineman:
  • Sean Locklear
  • Chris Spencer
  • Ray Willis
  • Tyler Polumbus
  • Chester Pitts
Seahawks Lineman Under Contract:
NOTE: I'm not sure the guys after Gibson are under contract, but they are not on the free agent list.
  • Russell Okung
  • G/C Max Unger
  • G/T Stacy Andrews
  • G Mike Gibson
  • T Breno Giacomini
  • G Chris White
  • G Paul Fanaika
  • C Lemuel Jeanpierre
Before even looking at what's available outside the team, let's talk about which of these guys may compete for roles next season. Unger has not impressed me all that much. That said, he was a 2nd round pick, and will be given a look to see if he can be a Center or Guard. Andrews is not going to work at Guard. He was replaced by Mike Gibson. He may have potential at Right Tackle. If the team believes he can be a tackle, that would really allow them to focus on the interior line. Gibson did pretty well, and will almost definitely be given a chance to compete for a role next season. Carroll talks about some solid line talent Schneider has added this season that nobody knows about yet because they were added mid-season. It's anyone's guess who that might be, but Schneider was pretty excited to add Giacomini from Green Bay. White also got some time as a third tackle in goal line situations, so maybe they saw something there.

Free agency is the quickest way to upgrade your line productivity. It's not like running back, where you are generally nuts to spend money on a running back with less tread left on his tires. Offensive lineman get better with age until their mid-30s in many cases. Grab an experienced lineman in free agency, and you can bet he will have an impact right away. See Mike Wahle as a recent example in Seattle. The good news is that there are potentially a large number of impressive free agents available for the line in 2011. Here are just a few:

G Robert Gallery
Gallery is a former top draft pick that was chosen to play tackle. Tom Cable turned him into a Pro Bowl-level guard who absolutely mauls people in the run game. Gallery is rumored to be testing free agency instead of just re-upping with Oakland because of his loyalty to Cable. Me like! Plug Gallery next to Okung, and you've got a nasty left side of the line for the next five years. Gallery also knows Cable's system so he can hit the ground running (so to speak), and could help teammates adjust.

G Daryn Colledge
Colledge should be well-known by Schneider from his Green Bay days. The Packers don't tend to spend a ton on free agents, as they prefer to cultivate replacements by the time guys hit their free agency years.

G Logan Mankins
Mankins will be a highly sought-after lineman that could fetch a massive deal. The Pats will try to keep him, but are like Green Bay when it comes to over-paying for free agents.

G Harvey Dahl
A tough guard with a mean streak. He gives the Falcons offensive line much-needed swagger. He could be the odd man out since the Falcons have three starting lineman hitting free agency, and the other two are younger.

G Carl Nicks
He made the Pro Bowl with the Saints this year, and the Saints have multiple starting lineman hitting free agency. They just spent a ton on Jahri Evans last season. Maybe they let Nicks go, but probably not.

G Davin Joseph
Joseph is a great run blocker, and good pass blocker for Tampa Bay. He will be one of the top guards in free agency if the Bucs let him get to that point.

C Ryan Kalil
Kalil will be the best Center available, if the Panthers don't lock him up. They won't franchise him because he'd get Tackle money, but he'll be a top priority for them.

There are some decent tackles out there, but not a lot of guys that knock your socks off. Given the overflow of interior line talent that should be in the market, the Seahawks would be wise to pluck at least one, and possibly two upgrades off the stack. Of our own free agents, Chris Spencer is the one that appeals most to me. Spencer appeared to have his most solid season to-date, and was once a first round draft pick. Re-signing Spencer would create the proper competition and depth with Unger and possibly one of these unknown talents Schneider grabbed.

Playing GM, I go hard after Robert Gallery, re-sign Spencer, and go after one more guard. I let Locklear go, and see what I can get from Andrews and Giacomini. There are some talented lineman in the draft, but this unit needs to perform straight-away, so I don't expect early draft picks to be used on lineman unless something amazing falls into the team's laps. Areas like defensive line, quarterback, and cornerback are far more likely to targets for the draft.

The combination of a great line coach, solid talent available in free agency, and commitment from Carroll to upgrade the talent in order to be a more effective running team, makes it highly likely this will be a transformed unit come mid-2011. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Off-Season Officially Underway: Bates Fired, Intrigue Galore

That Pete Carroll guy sure is soft. While everyone else is still digesting a pleasantly surprising 2010 season, he takes all of 48 hours to fire his offensive coordinator and re-shape his coaching staff. If Carroll was anything but the optimistic, energetic guy we are all getting to know, you could make the case he's the most ruthless coach in the NFL. Did anyone else make the kinds of tough choices he made this season with veterans and coaches? People can debate a variety of things about Carroll, but nobody can deny he is decisive. President Teddy Roosevelt once said this about decision-making:
"In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing."
I am still getting a bead on Carroll, but there are some things we can make a pretty good guess about regarding what transpired today. Jeremy Bates was not fired on the off-chance another guy could be hired. Many  speculated today that now-Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was the heir apparent to Bates. The thinking was that Carroll would not let Bates go unless he had a clear upgrade in the bag, and McDaniels fit the bill for many. That's certainly a plausible scenario, but I don't see it that way. Carroll fired Bates because there was a fundamental mismatch in philosophies. Bates stubbornly eschewed high-percentage plays in search of explosive plays. There was tons of well-founded criticism that this offense never established an identity. Trent Dilfer was asked on Brock and Salk what the identity of this offense was, and famously answered, "I have no idea." Looking back, the identity matched Bates' philosophy. It was inconsistent, but featured some epic heights. That's not what Carroll is after. He wants to control the clock and protect the ball. It was no accident that he openly admired Atlanta, saying they were the model of what he wanted his team to be. Bates' scheme bore almost no resemblance to Atlanta. Some of that can be attributed to the same things that effected the players. Namely, an ever-changing offensive line, cast of wide receivers and injuries were obstacles to any real consistency. But even in the games where things went well (@ARZ, @NO, NO), the offense featured lots of big plays, and a lot less ball control. No, this was not a move to get a specific coordinator. It was a hard cut away from something Carroll knew he did not want to build around.

Better to make that kind of call after year one than after year three. In all likelihood, the team will be bringing in at least one, and possibly up to three, new quarterbacks in the off-season. It's painful to have the fourth offensive coordinator in four seasons, but you can bet this next guy will be here a while. The QBOTF (Quarterback of the Future) will grow along with this coordinator, and enjoy some stability. While we are on that topic, be sure to listen to Mitch Levy's interview with Matt Hasselbeck on KJR. In it, Hasselbeck says a ton about Charlie Whitehurst without mentioning him even once. Hasselbeck said that Carroll and Schneider had said that they *eventually* will be bringing in the future quarterback, and that they wanted to know if he *eventually* would be willing to mentor that player. He talked about the lack of QBs the team has drafted the past few years, and how they acknowledge the need to fix that problem. All of his language was very clearly indicating the QBOTF is not already on the team. That should be a surprise to nobody. I will break down the entire team and which folks should stay/go in future posts, but suffice it to say, I expect Whitehurst will not be on the roster next season.

Some are speculating that the firing of Bates is an indication that Hasselbeck might be on the way out. If McDaniels had been hired, I could see how bringing in Kyle Orton would have made a lot of sense, since he will be cheaply available, is youngish, and has had success in that system. Since McDaniels is going elsewhere, we fall back to what we know. Carroll has not shown any inclination to mislead the media. In almost all cases, he answers questions directly. He has stated that he wants Matt back. Matt has said he wants to come back. That has to be the most likely scenario at this point. Somebody else, like Arizona, could come in and make an offer that moves Hasselbeck out of the range Carroll and Schneider are willing to invest in him. My expectation is that we will see Hasselbeck re-signed, a veteran free agent added (e.g., Leinart, Smith, etc.), and draft a rookie. This position needs serious attention if the team is to avoid a major drop-off when Hasselbeck is not a viable starter anymore.

Rumors are that Minnesota Vikings Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell is in town to interview for at least the vacant quarterbacks coach role, and possibly the OC role. Bevell worked in Green Bay when Schneider did, so there is some familiarity there. He's also said to run a more classic West Coast system that plays to Hasselbeck's strengths a little more. Jim Zorn's name came up as well. I talked about Zorn as a possible OC, or even Head Coach, before he left for Washington. He and Matt have a special relationship, and nobody got more out of him than Zorn. In that same time frame, I thought Trent Dilfer would be an ideal quarterbacks coach. I still do. Stepping back, though, I don't know that it makes a ton of sense to optimize this decision around Hasselbeck, even if he is back for a few years. Carroll will almost certainly outlast Hasselbeck in Seattle, so he needs to choose a guy optimized for him. Remember what he said about Atlanta? Do you know the guy rumored for the Rams job if McDaniels didn't get it, and also rumored for the Vikings job that Bevell will be vacating? The guy's name is Bill Musgrave. He's the quarterbacks coach/assistant head coach for the Falcons. Musgrave was a quarterback at University of Oregon. He's got Northwest ties. He brings the quarterback expertise and ball control pedigree Carroll desires. Don't be surprised if Musgrave ends up being the guy.

Tom Cable coming in as offensive line coach is a big deal as well. The Raiders rushing offense finished 2nd in 2010, 21st in 2009, 10th in 2008, and 6th in 2007. Before Cable was hired in 2007 as offensive line coach, they were 29th in 2006, 29th in 2005 and 32nd in 2004. Guess where the Seahawks finished in 2010? The correct answer is 31st. Cable won't solve the problem all by himself, but he brings the attitude and pedigree to make a significant impact. Expect Art Valero to move on and Pat Ruel to potentially stay on as Cable's assistant. If we are lucky, Cable has some sort of sway with Nnamdi Asomugha.

The Seahawks also brought on Todd Wash to as defensive line coach, replacing Dan Quinn. Wash's hiring tells us Gud Bradley is probably going to avoid Bates' fate. Wash worked with Bradley in Tampa Bay, so it's safe bet that Bradley had some say in bringing him in.

The mass exodus of Seahawks coaches says a lot about the quality of the staff Carroll has assembled. Outside of Bates, these guys were recruited away. That's a great sign. Carroll is starting to have a pretty decent coaching lineage himself. That should add to fans confidence since he's proven he can add talent, he's proven he can maximize the talent he has, and he's proven he can win without top talent. All of that plus a solid track record with coaching talent points to better things ahead. Not a bad way to start the team's most critical off-season in recent memory.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Morning After: Bears Beat Seahawks, 35-24

The announcement came down a little over a year ago that Jim Mora was fired as the Seahawks coach. The season had ended horribly, including a home loss to miserable Tampa Bay. The franchise teetered on the edge of  perennial irrelevance. Pete Carroll and John Schneider came in and joked around at press conferences in a way that seemed to indicate they thought all we needed was a few laughs and a good attitude. It felt like someone cracking jokes at a wake. Most fans were too depressed or disinterested to care. Then they shocked everyone inside and outside the organization with a major infusion of talent on draft day. Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Leon Washington, and a host of promising partners came aboard. I wrote back then about how "front office" Pete Carroll had just made it harder on "Coach" Pete Carroll by raising expectations. That one weekend switched the talk from how bad this team was to how good it might be. It was unrealistic, but who cared? It sure was better than talking about Tim Ruskell's latest lousy draft. This 2010 season was a team so clearly in transition, it looked a lot like Two-Face, struggling to escape it's disfigured past. The win against the Rams, and then the Saints did to "front office" Pete Carroll what the draft did to the coach, it has raised expectations. This off-season will be the most critical in the last half-dozen years. Falling back into mediocrity, or worse, is a very real possibility. Ascending to a 10+ win season is within reach as well. The team needs to add at least as much talent as last season just to accomplish what it did this year. The NFC West will improve. The schedule will be far tougher. Carroll has done nothing to indicate fans should expect anything but another step forward. Comparing his task one year ago to the one today is like comparing winning on the road to winning at Qwest. This is far easier.

The season ended Sunday with a thud. Chicago came out and played pretty much as you expected them to play, and the Seahawks came out uninspired and timid. The defense was not good enough in any aspect. Stopping the run didn't happen. Rushing the passer didn't happen. Defending the receivers (and tight end) didn't happen. This is a flawed Bears team. Nothing I saw yesterday made me think any more of them than I did before the game started. They absolutely played the better game, and deserved to win, but this was nothing more than a battle to see who gets the honor of being destroyed by a far superior Packers team next week or AFC opponent in the Super Bowl. Jay Cutler made enough losing plays yesterday to write a totally different script. The Seahawks were no where near sharp enough to take advantage of them.

Offensively, a familiar problem reared its ugly head. Matt Hasselbeck is a solid quarterback, but he relies so heavily on timing that effective jams on receivers and suspect footing leads to mistimed throws. Time and again, receivers were a step behind where Hasselbeck was throwing. The field had a real effect on timing, and that's not meant as an excuse. It's a critique of the offense. They need to be able to re-calibrate in real time. By the end of the game, things were clicking, but the outcome had been decided by then. The injury to Carlson was a major moment. So much of the Seahawks offense is predicated on two tight ends. Again, not an excuse, but a critique. How can a team that has that much of its playbook built on multiple tight ends only carry two healthy players at that position going into a major playoff game? The offense was not nearly as bad as the eight straight punts to start the game indicated. Drops hurt. Great Bears defense against the run hurt. This was a classic example of how a few plays could have drastically changed the make-up of the game. That will be laughable to Bears fans and national media, they haven't watched this Seahawks team. The rhythm they got in toward the end of the game was attainable earlier. It just didn't happen.

A few highlights to remember include Hasselbeck throwing seven touchdowns and just one interception in two playoff games. He ends the season with more TDs than INTs. He was a few dropped passes away from a 300 yard game and 100+ QB rating. Ben Obomanu continues to justify the team's confidence in him. Russell Okung skunked Julius Peppers on the pass rush once again. If there was one thing I was really worried about before the game, it was Peppers' motivation to show game one was a fluke. Okung kept that from happening on two bad ankles. That's a great sign for the future of the franchise. David Hawthorne played a solid game, and looked the part of playoff linebacker. Aaron Curry got his first career interception. Raheem Brock continued his fantastic play in the stretch run with another sack, bringing his season total to 11.0. Chris Clemons was pretty good as well.

Now it's time to look ahead. Next year will be the first time Pete Carroll will have a chance to add more than just patchwork players fill important roles on the team. How will he approach free agency? What will the draft bring? Hope has replaced disinterest and boredom. Seahawks football is worth caring about again. Expect some posts examining the roster, and potential changes in the coming weeks. Thanks to everyone who reads for a great season. The blog went from about 30 followers on Twitter to nearly 1,500 on Facebook and Twitter combined. It's been fun.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Standing Tall

Sam Bradford. Steven Jackson, Patrick Willis. Darnell Dockett. Adrian Wilson. Larry Fitzgerald. Adrian Peterson. Arian Foster. Chris Johnson. DeMarcus Ware. Philip Rivers. Antonio Gates. Eli Manning. Justin Tuck. Nnamdi Asomugha. Drew Brees. Marques Colston. Matt Cassell. Dwane Bowe. Jamaal Charles. Michael Vick. DeSean Jackson. Peyton Manning. Robert Mathis. Dwight Freeney. Reggie Wayne. Matt Ryan. Roddy White. John Abraham. Joe Flacco. Ray Lewis. Terrell Suggs. Ray Rice. Michael Turner.

Their seasons are over.

Ruvell Martin. Kentwan Balmer. Tyler Polumbus. Mike Gibson. Kelly Jennings. Walter Thurmond. Sean Locklear. Chris Spencer. Colin Cole. Brandon Mebane. Chris Clemons. Raheem Brock. Justin Forsett. Marshawn Lynch. Mike Williams. Ben Obomanu. Brandon Stokley. Lofa Tatupu. David Hawthorne. Aaron Curry. Marcus Trufant. Lawyer Milloy. Earl Thomas. Russell Okung. Matt Hasselbeck.

Not theirs.

Play on.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

2010 Seahawks Write Their Own Script

While Packers Nation celebrates and Bears Nation salivates, the Seahawks would be happy with establishing a Seahawks Municipality. East Coast bias, disrespect, ignorance, call it what you will. The Seahawks are a far cry from America's Team. They don't have storied history of winning. They are not made up of MVP candidates or fantasy football studs. This is a team that has been in the debate for worst in the entire NFL for the last two seasons, and were closer to getting worse than getting better when the final game ended last year. Even the team's coach, Pete Carroll, is an NFL anti-body. Watch the average tough guy try to assess Carroll, and it's like someone is shoving a used jock strap in their face. Howie Long was doing his best to pay him a compliment, but even that came across as back-handed when he called Carroll the, "Tony Robbins of the NFL."

In case you hadn't noticed with all this ludicrous lockout talk, the NFL is a business. A team like Seattle makes league pocketbooks pucker. Executives thirst for the customary Packers vs. Bears match-ups. Urlacher, Rodgers, snow, and Heartland heroics make it Easy Street for all involved. The Seahawks victory over the defending champs last week was barely more than a glitch in The Matrix. Everybody noticed it for that split-second, and then quickly got back to life as they know it. Nobody invested any time scratching beneath the surface. Why should they? The game was a fluke to them, and any time they spent on Seattle would just be wasted after the team made their quick exit this week.

The Bears enter this game healthy, hungry and heavily favored. The obvious storyline is that they will physically punish their Northwest opponents into submission. Enough breaks and calls will go their way to move on to the penultimate game. The thing is, the Seahawks have defied the obvious storyline all year long.

This was a team with massive roster turnover, little talent, and two completely new schemes on offense and defense. Winning 4-5 games was a reasonable expectation. Even with the weakness in the NFC West, a division title was a serious long shot. They sprinted out to a 4-2 record with some quality victories in games they would not have won in years past, like San Diego and Chicago. Just as fans had reason to raise their hopes, the team spiraled out of control with a series of humiliating defeats. Teams like Green Bay, who have spent years developing depth, can weather injuries like what the Seahawks faced. Seattle had no business doing so. Mixed in with the tortuous defeats were shocking outbursts of fantastic offense or inspired defense. Predicting when these outbursts would happen was nearly impossible. The team eventually found a way to rise up to secure a historically unlikely division title in the season's last game.

Soon after, they beat the only quarterback in the NFC that rivals Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers and Brees are irrepressible. Just ask Atlanta. Except, Brees is watching the playoffs now. The Saints entered the playoffs with many picking them as the hot team that would find its way back to the Super Bowl. Seattle took them down in one of the biggest upsets in the history of the NFL and with arguably the best running play in the history of the playoffs. Again, these Seahawks don't seem to be taking cues from the same script as everyone else.

In the first game against Chicago, Seattle slayed a series of demons. They won a road game, against an above .500 opponent, after a bye week, with a 10 AM start. This is a team that has infamously not lost a game by less than 15 points all season, but also secretly wins by an average of more than 13 points. They have not lost a game all season that was decided by less than 15 points. When given a chance to win, they win.

The Seahawks will once again face long odds. They are the road team. They are over 10 point underdogs. Their offensive and defensive lines have just recently stabilized. They may need to come from behind to win. The thing is, they've already overcome those things before.

The Bears? They haven't been heavy home favorites. Their QB has never won a playoff game. They haven't faced adversity since they gave up a bunch of sacks early in the year. What happens if they trail early? What happens if the ball bounces Seattle's way for once, or a controversial call goes in the Seahawks favor? What happens if the Seahawks are the ones that come out and punch them in the mouth? As crazy as those things may seem, they are no more crazy than what we've already witnessed.

This Seahawks season has already been a runaway success. A foundation and belief system has been established. Two young wide receivers have been signed to extensions. Two young rookies have established themselves as future Pro Bowlers. A defensive scheme has proven it can work with just a little more talent and depth. These are your 2010 NFC West Division Champs. Anything they do in this game will just be another chapter in the path back to the Super Bowl. Much of Seahawks Town/City/County will go to bed tonight nervous about the game. Not me. Are you nervous when reading a thrilling book or watching a gripping movie? I am as eager as anyone to see what happens next, but I already know I'm going to like how this story ends. Whether it comes this year, or soon after, this Seahawks team will demand respect. Do you hear that Jay Cutler, Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, Terry Bradshaw, and the rest of you? That is the sound of inevitability. The Seahawks are coming, and you're not going to like it.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Hawk Blogger Answers To BearsHQ Questions

And here are my answers to Jonathan's, over at BearsHQ, questions.

BEARSHQ: I was at the first meeting between these two teams. Despite the fact the Chicago Bears lost, Devin Hester had his best return of the year. What was the reaction to Earl Bennett's block on the punter? Is Hester the best returner in the league? 

HBFunny, I had totally forgotten that hit from Bennett. People hear laughed it off the way anyone does when a punter/kicker gets nailed. We're lucky Ryan was not hurt more since he is a fantastic player for the team. Hester is probably the best punt returner in the league, but Washington is a better kick returner. Numbers support that. I kind of shrug my shoulders and say they are both great, and neither team wants the other team's returner to get the ball if possible.

BHQ: Sell me on the notion of the 12th man...I'm not a believer in the home crowd thing, but it almost seems insulting to Seahawks fans to suggest otherwise.

HB: Fans can absolutely effect the game to a point. An ear-shattering ruckus isn't going to make a crappy team to beat a great team. The fans at Qwest stand out for their persistence and volume. It's not just a big boom when the offense steps to the line of scrimmage, it's when the offense is in the huddle communicating. The best way I can explain is that I have yet to hear a single person--whether player, coach or fan--experience Qwest during a meaningful game and come away unimpressed. A number of folks have accused them of piping in noise because they don't believe it could be that loud naturally. Come out and visit one time. I think you'll have your answer.

BHQ: I picked your boys to win last week and have no issue with Seattle being in the playoffs. Is the bitching about it getting old?

HB: People always find something to bitch about. I'd be pissed if I was a fan of different team. Heck, I have been pissed in years the Seahawks have been in AFC West (prior to switching to the NFC West) playing fantastic teams each week while weaker divisions got fat on weak opponents. It's part of the game. Ironically, I don't hear anyone who is banging the drum for re-seeing based on record complaining about how the draft order changes based on division titles and playoff results. Seattle has gone from what would have been the 8th pick in the upcoming draft to 25th, as of now. If people think division winners hosting a playoff game is artificial, what about a team with a better record picking in front of a team with a worse record? That's not to say I support changing anything. I'm just pointing out the rules are the rules, so stop looking to fix something that ain't broke.

BHQ: How do the Seahawks win Sunday? How do the Bears do so?


HB: Both teams really need the same thing: run effectively enough to avoid too many forced, low-percentage passing situations, avoid turnovers, sound decisions from the QB, and defenses that disallow all of those things. I'll be interested to see if the Seahawks have any success running the ball. Most people seem to forget they ran for over 110 yards in the first game, and while the Seahawks offensive line has improved, I'm not sure the Bears defensive line has. Lance Briggs will obviously be a factor, but it wasn't like Iwuh was missing tackles (he led the team in that category). Running effectively for the Seahawks means over 3.5 yard per carry. It doesn't have to be big chunks. Lynch getting 20 touches would be a good sign. I also expect some plays that take advantage of the Bears' aggressiveness by hitting quick routes to slot receivers, draws, and swings to the running backs. Mike Williams has not gotten any smaller or less able to snatch the ball from the air with his massive mitts. Many people are saying the Bears will have Tillman follow him around all day, but I've got news for you. Tillman was the guy Williams beat all day the first game. Anytime Jennings or Moore get matched up on Williams, it's a major advantage for Seattle. That will cause help from other parts of the Bears defense, and open up space for Stokley, Obomanu and either Carlson or Morrah to operate. If the Bears can get away with Tillman 1:1 on Williams, that's a big win for the Bears. 


For the Bears, I'd build a game plan around screens and draw plays. It's a strength of Forte, and with the Seahawks getting the defensive ends upfield so much, they are susceptible to draws. A key thing to watch for Chicago will be whether their tackles can handle Brock and Clemons on the outside. They combined for 20 sacks, and are a major reason the team doesn't  need to take chances with the blitz as often anymore. The Bears absolutely must run the ball, and that means over 100 yards on the ground. All this talk about Briggs absence misses that the Seahawks most talented defensive tackle, Brandon Mebane, was out the first game as well. Seattle still held Forte to under two yards per carry. If you can run on Seattle, a win is almost guaranteed. Knox is a guy you want to get on Kelly Jennings whenever possible. Jennings will be the worst starter for either team and any position. He does not make plays on the ball, and Knox can win down-field against him. 


Special teams will matter for both teams, but there's not much nuance there. Both teams have great special teams. I'm not convinced they will decide the game, but it wouldn't totally shock me if they did.


BHQ: Is it grunge or alternative (Eddie Vedder is ours my friend)?

HB: Ha! I call it good music. I play basketball with Jeff Ament quite a bit, and he's pretty sure Eddie is a Seattlite now. Only the bad parts of his life happened in Chitown. :D

BHQ: Prediction???

HB: Eh, I'm not a big prediction guy when it comes to outcome and score. No matter what the result, I know the Seahawks are more than capable of beating Chicago. Don't be surprised if you see Earl Thomas returning a Cutler pick to the house. He is on the cusp of a breakout game, and may be the fastest player I have ever seen on the field.

Q&A With BearsHQ Blog

Jonathan, over at BearsHQ, traded questions with me. Here are his answers to my questions heading into the game this weekend. You can follow Jonathan on Twitter at @BearsHQ.

HAWKBLOGGER: Are the Chicago newspapers normally this dismissive of an opponent, especially one that beat them on their field earlier this season? 

BEARSHQThe Chicago media actually has been very anti-Bear for most of the season. In fact, they've been picked to lose a majority of their games. I don't just think its the Chicago papers, it is all of the national media.

HB: The general feeling I get from Bears' supporters is that this is a totally different team than they were in the first game, and that losing to the Seahawks would be a humiliating. Has anyone stopped to consider that this might be a totally different Seahawks team than the one that went on that losing streak?

BHQ: I was at the Seattle game and the Bears played like shit. There's no way around it. Many changes have been made and now the Chicago Bears are a different team. While I'm sure the Seahawks are better than expected, I wouldn't quite put them in the category with the Patriots. Would I be shocked if the Chicago Bears lost Sunday...no...but I'd be surprised frankly. I picked the Birds to win against the Saints last week because I felt you were better than advertised. However, having a loss to you probably tells the Bears to take this game seriously.

HB: Chicago players and coaches sound so eager to prove they are willing to run, and that their line can handle the blitz now, what would happen if they struggle to run and Seattle does not blitz?

BHQ: If Seattle doesn't blitz, I owe you a beer. It worked once, they will do it again. As far as the run goes, get ready for it. They're gonna do it whether it works or not. Now that I say that, the Bears will throw. Mike Martz is a great coordinator when he has time, and two weeks gives him plenty of time to adjust.

HB: What types of offenses and players gives the Bears' defense the most trouble?

BHQ: Mike Williams did a good job on the slant. He gets his big ass into a defender and is able to clear space. Surprisingly, Matt Hasselbeck is more dangerous to the Chicago Bears than Michael Vick. The ability to throw a slant is a weakness of this defense, and the master is coming.


HB: Much has been made of the Bears' improved pass protection, but it appears that has more to with simply passing less. When they passed a ton against Green Bay, the big sack numbers were back. Do you think the line is as improved as people are saying?

BHQ: I was in Green Bay, and you shouldn't use that as a measuring stick. The Bears averaged 5.5 yards per carry and didn't run in the second half. They were trying some different things out in the passing game. They weren't going to show a lot and see if certain things worked. You want a better gauge of things, look at the Vikings game. That's what you'll see from this team. As far as the line goes, its much better. It ain't the Hogs but it gets the job done. Mike Martz is a brilliant guy, and he really doesn't tip his hand.

HB: Where are the Bears' weakest, and what would be your wish list for improvements in the off-season?

BHQ: Troy Polamalu, Andre Johnson, Nick Mangold and Ndamukong Suh. OK, I'm exaggerating. I think the Bears need to upgrade safety, receiver, offensive and defensive line.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Roster Comparison: Bears vs. Seahawks

There is so much hot air blowing out of the Windy City, and across the national media, most fans are going to be hard-pressed to find a level of analysis beyond, "Seattle sucks." Let's break apart these teams to see where the real advantages exist.

OFFENSE
Quarterback
It would be easy to look at the the QB ratings for Jay Cutler and Matt Hasselbeck and assume there was a large advantage here for the Bears. Cutler is also younger, has a stronger arm, and more hair. Hasselbeck has been so bad at times that his own fans have begged for his backup. Even with all these factors, I would rest easier with Hasselbeck starting this game than Cutler. Both have proven they can make bad decisions, but only one has proven he can win in the playoffs. For all the bad of Hasselbeck's season, he has proven to be quite good when he has a stable offensive line and healthy wide receivers.
Slight Advantage Seattle


Running Backs
Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett are both quality backs, and Lynch has picked up a lot of steam the last two weeks, but Matt Forte has been consistently productive in the run and pass game for a few years. The guy is an almost automatic 1,500+ total yards guy each season. His ability to threaten the defense in multiple ways makes him a little better than either of Seattle's backs. This is a case where the combined value of Forsett and Lynch may eclipse that of Chester Taylor and Forte, but only one is on the field at a time, and Forte is better than either individually at this point.
Slight Advantage Chicago


Wide Receivers
The Seahawks quietly have assembled a well-formed receiving crew. Mike Williams is indefensible when the ball is put in the right spot. Smaller defenders have no chance, and larger defenders still struggle with his reach and size. Brandon Stokley is a perfect slot receiver that keeps defenses from being able to double the outside on Williams without leaving the middle open for Stokley. Ben Obomanu is the best-kept secret of the bunch. He can win deep, and make tough catches in traffic. At 6'1", opposing defense cannot hide their smaller DBs since they either have to guard Williams or Obomanu. The Bears receivers can flash big plays with Johnny Knox and Devin Hester, but they don't fit together the way Seattle's receivers do. Knox is the deep threat, Hester is that shifty bubble screen kind of guy and Earl Bennett has shown promise, but none have more than 51 receptions.
Large Advantage Seattle


Tight Ends
Greg Olsen is a favorite target for Cutler in the red zone with a team-leading five touchdowns, and is an improved blocker. He has good hands, and runs clever routes. John Carlson has a great week against the Saints, but has been a major disappointment all season. Cameron Morrah is a secret weapon of sorts with his speed and willing blocking, but Olsen easily trumps either Seahawks player in terms of actual production.
Large Advantage Chicago


Offensive Line
The Bears line infamously led the NFL in sacks allowed, but also cleared the way for Forte's 4.6 average per carry. The Seahawks line has been injured, shuffled, and generally in disarray since Alex Gibbs decided to abandon them a week before the season started, but appear to have found their footing the last two weeks with Tyler Polumbus at LG and Mike Gibson at RG. Russell Okung is the best player on either line, and the team's significantly improved ability to get yardage on the ground pushes this match-up toward Seattle.
Slight Advantage Seattle


DEFENSE
Defensive Line
Now here's where things get interesting. Take a poll of ten national "experts" to see which team has a better defensive line, and all ten will likely choose the Bears. After all, the Bears sport one of the great defensive ends in football with Julius Peppers and are second in the NFL in opponents rushing yards. The Seahawks statistics don't fully match the Bears, with a sorry record defending the run in the second half of the season. What people don't see is that not only does Chris Clemons have more sacks than Peppers on the year (11.0 - 8.0), and Raheem Brock's 9.0 sacks trumps Israel Idonije's 8.0, but the Seahawks have defended the run almost as well as the Bears when their defensive line was healthy. Colin Cole and Brandon Mebane are easily better than the Bears defensive tackle duo. If Tommie Harris was playing the way he once did, this would be a very different story, but he's not. The play of Seattle's defensive line could very well decide the outcome of this game. They have the ability to stop the run, and apply pressure on the quarterback without requiring blitzes. The Bears saw Seattle apply pressure via exotic blitzes in the first match-up. They have not seen the way Brock and Clemons are pinching the pocket out of the base defense of late. Aaron Curry playing at DT in passing downs is a wild card as well. Expect Peppers to flash after being embarrassed by Okung in their first battle, and if the Bears can get consistent pressure on Hasselbeck, the offense will bog down.
Slight Advantage Seattle


Linebackers
Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are both better than any linebacker on the Seahawks roster. This one is not close. Briggs and Urlacher can defend the run and the pass with almost equal excellence. Lofa Tatupu can defend the pass better than most, but is a liability against the run. David Hawthorne is terrific against the run, but struggles in coverage. Aaron Curry is improving, but has yet to truly excel at either the run or the pass. Pisa Tinoisamoa is nothing special, and was exploited a few times in the first game, but Briggs and Urlacher are the best players on the Bears team.
Large Advantage Chicago


Cornerbacks
The Bears corners have more impact plays on the season, but a lot of that has to do with the front seven creating opportunities for them. Tim Jennings can be exploited by larger receivers, which Seattle has, and Charles Tillman was dominated by Mike Williams in the first game. Kelly Jennings may the worst starter at any position on either team, but Walter Thurmond is a quality nickel back, as is Jordan Babineaux. This one is tough to call. Bears players have made more plays, but match-ups are unfavorable for them this week.
Call It Even


Safeties

Another tough comparison. Chris Harris is a very good safety for the Bears that matches Earl Thomas' five interceptions. He's physical in supporting against the run as well. He may be the most complete of any of the safeties in this game at this point. Earl Thomas, though, has the most upside. His speed is showing up more and more each week, and is making plays in the backfield as well as the secondary. Lawyer Milloy is a perfect compliment, and has shown the ability to rush the passer with 4.0 sacks, and is among the best in the league against the run. He's a liability in coverage, and Danieal Manning is a liability against the run.
Call It Even


Special Teams
This will be a key battle all day. Both teams are excellent in all phases of special teams. Coverage will be crucial, and the punters will have to be on their games. Nothing of real substance separates these two units.
Call It Even


What does it all mean? Only the game will reveal the answer. The Bears advantage at linebacker may be the biggest separation between the teams. The overall talent and match-ups favors Seattle. A player on defense or special teams is going to stand out with a game-changing performance. Devin Hester and Leon Washington are obvious choices, but so are Julius Peppers and Earl Thomas. This is anything but an obvious outcome.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hawk Blogger Podcast: Divisional Playoff Round

Ryan Burns of FootballSickness.com joined me for some NFL talk and a national view on our Seahawks.You can follow Ryan on Twitter @FtblSickness.

I battled snow storms and an oncoming cold to spend some time with Ryan re-living the Saints searching for bourbon, and exploring the upcoming game against a Bears team that is supposed to win by a thousand points. Enjoy.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Stupidity Is Our Friend

Everywhere you turn, someone is writing or talking about how terrible of a team the Seattle Seahawks are. They are the first losing team to make the playoffs, their losses were by an average of 21 points, their offense and defense ranked near the bottom of the NFL, their quarterback gets injured while walking...and on and on.

Now and then, people are sprinkling in a quick mention of the upset victory over New Orleans, but that is quickly dismissed as an aberration. Apparently, the Seahawks did not make those jaw-dropping plays on Saturday as much as the Saints allowed them. Seattle has little chance of beating the Bears this weekend, the logic goes, because Mike Martz has been re-born as Chuck Knox. Never mind the 39 pass attempts a 17 rush attempts in the Bears last game. The porous Bears offensive line has been replaced by The Hogs. Forget their league-leading 56 sacks allowed. All of those came at the beginning of the year, except for the 11 sacks and 18 QB hits in the last four games. Jay Cutler isn't the same guy that through 7 INT in his first 6 games this year. He's the guy that threw 6 INT in his last 4 games. He also isn't the guy that had a 40.7 QB rating against the Giants in Week Four. He's just the guy that had QB ratings of 32.9 and 43.5 in two of his last four games.

Well, the Bears defense is a different story. Ignore that the Seahawks scored three TDs in the first match-up. These guys boast the 9th-ranked defense, 2nd against the run. It doesn't matter that the Saints defense was ranked 4th overall and 4th against the pass (vs. 20th for the Bears). It's not like the Seahawks did much in the passing game against the Saints, right? It shouldn't matter that Mike Williams had 10 catches and 123 yards in the first game, or that Matt Hasselbeck had the best game of his career last week. The fact that Ben Obomanu  or Cameron Morrah didn't even play in the first game is meaningless. It would be silly to expect the Seahawks to have any success rushing since they *only* managed 111 yards in the first game, which was Marshawn Lynch's first and was behind an offensive line that still featured Stacy "False Start/Hold" Andrews and Ben Hamilton.

Columnists on the Chicago Tribune are already saying people should be fired if the Bears lose (because clearly the Seahawks can't win). Bears players are doing their best to downplay their advantage. It is hard to imagine any team hearing this kind of talk and not starting to get just a little bit complacent. This is just the Seahawks. After all, when's the last time a 10 point underdog won a playoff game in the NFL?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Play Rewind: Beast Quake

It wasn't exactly a play run to perfection, but it was pretty darn close to the perfect play. Marshawn Lynch's 67-yard rumble against the Saints is already the stuff of legends, and I wanted to take a moment to capture how it happened, and give credit to some of the other Seahawks that made it possible.



First, the Seahawks come out in a 2 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB 1 FB formation on 2nd and 10 at their own 33-yard-line. The Saints are expecting pass and have eight men in the box, and are sneaking up their safety as a ninth. Programming note: I had trouble getting all the player numbers on the Saints, so they may have had slightly different personnel than depicted here (e.g., an extra defensive back). Ben Obomanu motions across the formation to create power on the left with Russell Okung and John Carlson.


Mike Gibson pulls around Okung, while C Chris Spencer seals his man toward the inside. Gibson's man drops off the line and follows Gibson toward the hole. Obomanu seals off his man, while Okung starts pushing his toward the middle. FB Michael Robinson throws a vicious block on an approaching linebacker while the safetys start to crash toward the line. Lynch breaks the initial tackle of the other linebacker. This was probably the Saints best chance at bringing him down, and Lynch just ran through the tackle.



I had to rewind this four times to make sure I saw it right, but Carlson actually pancakes his defender. Never thought I'd write that sentence. Gibson and Spencer are into the next level and lay crunching blocks on the safetys, creating a wall for Lynch to cut behind. The DT Spencer had been blocking makes a diving try at Lynch, but he's off to the races at this point.



By the time Tracy Porter made his ill-fated decision to take on Lynch, a Seahawk caravan was forming. Sean Locklear, Matt Hasselbeck, Tyler Polumbus and Mike Williams were running with Lynch. The act of shoving Porter's face into the ground caused Lynch to stumble backwards, so that guys like Hasselbeck and Locklear could catch-up and join the party. You may not have noticed, but Hasselbeck already was raising his finger into the air at this point. Quarterbacks...


DE Alex Brown made a diving attempt along the sideline, and then Polumbus occupies Roman Harper for long enough to allow Lynch to cut back inside toward the end zone. Mike Williams also blocked Jabari Greer for a second that kept Greer from catching Lynch from behind. John Carlson, Ben Obomanu and Chris Spencer join the parade just in time for Lynch to dive in for six.

It will go down as one of the greatest individual efforts in NFL history, but there were key contributions from Michael Robinson, Ben Obomanu, Tyler Polumbus, Chris Spencer, John Carlson, Mike Gibson and Mike Williams. Amazing play.

Click the arrow on the graphic to run through the play

Odds'n'Ends - Bears Trends That Matter

I did a little Bears research yesterday that I published on Twitter. Here is a collection of what I found:

- Bears may be 7-3 since they played the Seahawks, but were 4-1 when they played the first time

- Cutler with 17 TD 13 INT since last game. 6 gms with rating 87+, 4 gms with rating below 65, including a 43.5, 32.9, and 54.3.

- Bears 1-5 when Cutler QB rating below 82.5

- Bears rank 28th in passing yards, 22nd in rushing yards, 20th in opposing passing yards and 2nd in opposing rushing yards.

- Bears dead last in sacks against with 56. Seahawks, by comparison, gave up 35

- The sacks were not only early either. Bears have surrendered 11 sacks and 18 QB hits in last four games, including 6 sacks in last game.

- Bears 2-4 when held under 100 yards rushing. Seahawks held them to 61 yards rushing in 1st matchup.

- Bears are 1-2 when even on turnovers with opponent, 3-2 when they lose the TO battle, 7-0 when they win the TO battle. Zero TOs in 1st game.

- Bears 9-1 when scoring 20 pts or more

- Bears avg fewest pass att/game in the NFL, and only four teams avg fewer passing yard (188.4)

- The Bears convert only 33% of their 3rd downs, 27th in the NFL, which leads to only 16 first downs/game. Seahawks kept the Bears 0-12 on 3rd down

Differences From First Seahawks/Bears Matchup

Just as I did with the Saints game last week, I will outline a few of the differences between these two teams since their first game. I do not even have to look to know the personnel differences won't be even close to as significant as the Saints game. It's also important to remember, the Seahawks dominated that game despite a very late punt return for a score to make the final tally closer. Bears fans will be doing what Seahawks fans did last week, telling themselves why this week will be different. I'll spend more time this week looking into these differences to see which are really worth paying attention to.

DEFINITE DIFFERENCES

The Bears offensive game plan has changed. They have rushed at least 20 times in all but one game since the Seahawks loss. They only rushed 12 times in that game.

Seahawks run defense was 2nd in the NFL, but slid into the 20s after Red Bryant and Colin Cole were injured.

The Seahawks had only one game over 300 yards of offense beforehand, and one where Matt Hasselbeck had a QB rating over 100.

The Bears game was the first time Mike Williams was the featured target, soon after the Deion Branch trade

It was Marshawn Lynch's first game with the Seahawks

It was Russell Okung's first full game of the season

It was Brandon Stokley's second full game of the season

Ben Obomanu was not a starting WR, and did not catch a pass

Golden Tate was returning punts

Players that played in first game, but will miss this one: Red Bryant, Roy Lewis, Deon Butler, Chris Baker, Junior Siavii, Ben Hamilton

Players that missed the first game, but will play in this one: Lance Briggs, Brandon Mebane

POSSIBLE DIFFERENCES


Lofa Tatupu may not play due to a concussion.

Bears supposedly give up less sacks, even though they still finished last in the NFL with 56. There is evidence to the contrary since they gave up 11 sacks and 18 QB hits in the last four games, including six sacks in their final game.

Seahawks offense could not have even sniffed 400 yards as a unit, and would not for another four weeks. Seattle's offense this weekend looked nothing like the team the Bears faced in October.

Neither team turned the ball over in the first game. Hard to imagine that happening twice in a row.

WR Johnny Knox has 120 yards receiving, a season-high by almost 30 yards. Unlikely he does that again.

Justin Forsett ran for 67 yards and 6.7 avg per carry against the 2nd best run defense in the NFL. Hard to see that happening again.

The Seahawks were totally incapable of covering the screen pass in the first game. They have substantially improved since then, which matters with a player like Matt Forte on the other team.

The first game was the debut of the Seahawks 7 defensive back "bandit" package that was the cause of most of the sacks and pressures. 3.5 of the 6 sacks that day came from defensive backs. The Bears have plenty of film to prepare for that now.

Raheem Brock was a rotational player, but is getting significantly more snaps now. He has a sack in four straight games, and 5 of 6.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Tweets From Post-Game

The best way to capture what happened yesterday may be in the combined voice of fans after the game. Check out a sampling of some tweets. Names have been removed, but you may recognize yours:

"Thank you, @PeteCarroll. You made us relevant again!"

"Let's talk about Harbaugh and Whitehurst some more."

"Ahem...TOLD YOU @#$@#$ ASSES!"

"That run by Marshawn Lynch will go into my memory like Griffey sliding home."

"Those who said the Seahawks didn't deserve to be in the playoffs can suck it!"

"Un. Be. Lievable. Best game I've ever been to." 

"I look like a teenager that touched his first boob, can't wipe this goofy grin off my face."

"Who dat...we dat.."

"To all those who doubted the #Seahawks, here's a big @#$# YOU!"

"Thank you, Paul Allen."

"We did it baby! we did it, we won. life is good after all."

"Never been prouder of my team, or to be a Seahawks fan. Even in 2005. My God, this feels amazing!"

"A day to remember. Thank you, @petecarroll."

"After the final gun, I opened the front door of my house in Ohio and screamed, 'Woooooo! SEAHAWKS!' Felt amazing. :)"

"Thank you @hasselbeck for a tremendous effort. You are a #Seattle legend."

"I am literally crying tears of joy. Fuck yes. #seahawks!"

"Would all the media who picked the #Saints to destroy the #Seahawks please punch yourself in the face? Thx."

"If you bet on the Seahawks, have fun with the fleet of space ships you can now afford."

"I love every one of you, 12th Man Army! We dat...We dat...We dat team dat just beat dem Saints!!"

I'll post more as time permits. Feel free to add your favorites.

Sights & Sounds: Seahawks Beat Saints

I am baring my raw sports self in these videos. Enjoy. WARNING: There is swearing in these videos.  Feel free to add your own links in the comments section as a "Picture/Video Wall" of sorts. 


10AM, on the way to game day brunch

Pre-Game Introductions


Reaction After Marshawn Lynch's 67-Yard TD Run


Final Seconds Run Off The Clock


Fans Pour Out Of Qwest After The Win


More Footage Of Post-Game Celebration


Sports Illustrated.com After Game

ESPN.com After Game

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The Morning After: Seahawks Earn Respect, Win Hearts, Beat Saints 41-36

There is a rite of passage for every sports fan. It is a time where you realize the bliss of athletics is not just the thrill of competition or victory. It is the majesty of participating in this perfect soul-touching moment where the wandering paths of players, coaches, and fans fuse together. You can zoom into any one individual life and see how that moment impacted them, or step back and absorb what it meant to entire community. What happened on Saturday was not a football game. It was a revival.

Matt Hasselbeck is possibly my favorite athlete ever. In a world where off-field issues and on-field egos are the rule, Hasselbeck stands out a great person who has also managed to be a great player. When other players flee the Great Northwest in the off-season, Hasselbeck has settled his family here and become a pillar in the community. Where many other Seattle stars have jumped at the chance to go elsewhere in free agency, he signed the first chance he got to come back, and continues to express a desire to finish his career here despite the way fans have treated him of late. He stepped onto the field Saturday with so much stacked against him with his injury, the growing support for his backup, and the Super Bowl champs in town. Then, he threw an interception on the Seahawks first possession and watched his team fall behind 10-0. The measure of man is how he handles adversity, and Matt came out looking like King Kong. Not only did he lead his team back to one of the best victories in franchise history--or even in NFL playoff history--he made some of the best throws of his entire career. Take your pick of the lob to Cameron Morrah, the bomb to Brandon Stokley or the mortar he dropped into Mike Williams. There were a handful of less flashy throws that were at least as impressive. Matt played with the kind of anticipation only a veteran quarterback who has finally had more than a week with the same wide receivers and offensive line can manage. So few fans appreciate how fine of line there is between great and horrid play at the quarterback position. Throws must be made before a player breaks open, before the defense reacts, before the outcome is certain. Matt had been sentenced to exile by many fans for a season where he played zero games in which Mike Williams, Brandon Stokley, Ben Obamanu and himself were all available the entire 60 minutes. Not one game! Even yesterday, Obamanu was out briefly to get his shoulder re-inserted into its socket. That was probably the closest thing to a full week of healthy preparation and in-game availability all season long. It showed. Give the Qwest faithful credit. There was no booing or chants of "Charlie" after the early interception. They lifted their captain today instead of torpedoing his ship. He rewarded them with a performance deserving of space in the Picasso exhibit that is in town. Hallelujah!

Pete Carroll has got to be one of the most compelling people I have ever observed. I can't think of many people that cast such a misleading first impression. The vast majority of people, including myself, read him as a superficial attention-lover that fits exclusively in the mold of "player's coach." Carroll sails through that cynicism as if it is not there. He is so comfortable with who he is that he appears to spend almost no time attempting to shape his image. Despite the great strides made from the depths this franchise reached just one year ago, Carroll was already coming under fire in Seattle. Brock Huard and Mike Salk hosted a segment on their radio show asking for people to grade him as a coach, and a fair number of people were giving him middling grades. Hugh Millen was noticeably dismissive of how Carroll handled the quarterback controversy this week, and has been among the critics that lump Carroll in the Wade Phillips category of guys that are not tough enough to lead an NFL team. A chunk of fans came back to the fold after the victory over the Rams, feeling that it validated the season. Beating the Saints was a whole different class of win. It takes a level of mental, physical and strategic preparation that deserves special recognition. The Seahawks beat a Saints team that put up almost 500 yards of offense and 36 points. They beat a Saints team without any advantage in the turnover category or big special teams plays. They beat the Saints, period. Carroll and his staff have earned at least a two-year free pass with what they accomplished yesterday. 

Jeremy Bates has been my whipping boy this year. He out-schemed one of the best defensive coordinators in football, and he did it for the second time this season. The opening touchdown to John Carlson was tremendous design. It was so good, I may need to dedicate a post to dissecting it. Bunching Carlson with the other receivers and having him sell the run or bubble screen by engaging the linebacker, only to release past the defenders into the clear was masterful. They goofed the Saints again by having Carlson cut block and lull them into thinking he was out of the play, before getting up and waltzing in for six. It was not just how Bates found the scores, it was who he scored with. Carlson had one touchdown on the season and Stokley had zero. They combined for three on Saturday. After being stuck on one TD all season, Mike Williams has caught one in each of the last two games. There is still some question about Bates commitment to a running game that was working all day long, as well as his stubborn insistence on passing on 3rd and 1, but that's like complaining about a pimple on Emmanuelle Chriqui's face. 

Marshawn Lynch ran his way into Seahawks history. After outscoring the Saints 34-10 to take a 34-20 lead, the Seahawks were scuffling. You could feel the energy and edge was ebbing after such a brilliant stretch of football. Drew Brees had brought his team back to within four points at 34-30, and the Seahawks had to punt it back to him. Even after a terrific defensive stand that forced the Saints to punt it right back, there was still over four minutes left on the clock. The offense had not scored since the five-minute mark in the 3rd quarter. Running the ball was required to keep the clock moving, but the Saints knew that, and stuffed Lynch on his 1st down carry for a no gain. Then Lynch did his best Neo impression from The Matrix, and said "No." No to  LB Scott Shanle. No to DE Will Smith. No to S Darren Sharper. No to DT Remi Ayodele. No to Jabari Greer. Hell to the, Hell to the, Hell to NO to CB Tracy Porter. No to DE Alex Brown, and then No to Roman Harper. That play, by itself, would be in the conversation for best in franchise history. That play, at that time, in this game, against that opponent makes it a play that may never have a peer.


It was fitting that Lynch was accompanied down the sideline by LG Tyler Polumbus, Mike Williams, and Ben Obamanu (along with Hasselbeck and Carlson), three guys that run almost as far through almost as many obstacles to be contributing members of this indescribable team. Can I get an Amen?

You won't hear many defensive coordinators brag about a game when they gave up 36 points, over 400 yards passing, and nearly 500 yards in total offense. You probably won't hear Gus Bradley brag about this one, so let me do it for him. His scheme was fantastic. The evidence is there if you know what to look for. Devery Henderson was the Saints leading receiver with 7 catches for 77 yards. Both he and Heath Evans caught touchdown passes. It's what you don't see there that really matters. Brees' favorite targets, Marques Colston, Jeremy Shockey, and Lance Moore each had four receptions or less. None of them found the end zone. Bradley bracketed Colston much of the day, and took Brees off his first read at least three times as often as he did in the first matchup. Brees was not firing the ball at the top of his drop. He was scanning the field because his first option was not there. He's good enough to still beat you that way, but it is a far cry from the five straight touchdowns and 73% 3rd down conversion rate he managed in the first game.

There were contributions across the board with Raheem Brock, David Hawthorne and Earl Thomas standing out. Brock's forced fumble and sack were huge. Hawthorne led the team in tackles, recovered the fumble and  moved to middle linebacker for the end of the game after Lofa Tatupu left with a concussion. Thomas has scaled the rookie wall and is now accelerating through the end of this season. He just may be on the cusp of a game-changing performance. There are fewer false steps, and less hesitation in his game. Even Kam Chancellor got into the act with a great break on the ball to bat down a late 3rd down throw from Brees. The tackling was terrific all day, including the always dependable special teams that consistently pinned the Saints back toward their own end zone.

What made this game an instant classic was not just all these individuals rose to the occasion. It was the way the fans ignored the critics and those trying to convince them the game was an embarrassing waste of time. The energy in the city was palpable as early as 9AM. It was just a notch or two below the NFC Championship game in 2005, but only because there was less on the line. People attacked the Saints with unrelenting noise from beginning to end. They would not be denied, and lifted the team the way only the 12th Man can.

Somewhere yesterday, a kid became a lifelong Seahawks fan. He or she felt something they don't yet understand, but know it was different than anything else they have experienced before. Impossible became possible. The little guy can win. It is safe to cheer. It is safe to hope. There is magic in this game that causes total strangers to hug and slap five. This new fan will eventually feel the pain of following a Northwest sports team, but it will no longer matter. Once you experience a day like yesterday, it all becomes worth it.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Spotlight On Gus Bradley

So much of the focus this week has been about who would start for the Seahawks at quarterback and how big of an underdog Seattle is, that one of the most important story lines has been largely ignored. The Saints are among the most prolific offenses in the NFL, ranking sixth in total yards/game and third in passing. Drew Brees is a top quarterback in the NFL, leading his team to five straight touchdowns in the first game against the Seahawks, and going a nearly perfect 9-10 passing on third down. The Saints convert a league-leading 48.8% of their third downs, helping them to sixth in the NFL in time of possession.

The Seahawks defense started out as a strength of the team, boasting the 2nd-best rush defense in the NFL for seven weeks. Injuries and lack of depth were a major factor in changing that. The defense has been beaten like a member of the Jackson Five for the last few months. There have, however, been glimmers of hope of late. The defense held Atlanta, the #1 seed in the NFC, to what was its season-low in yardage at that point (266 yards). The powerful Falcons rushing game was held almost completely in check with an anemic 2.6 yards per carry. Then again, in the final week of the season, the Rams only managed 184 total yards and six points.

Defensive Coordinator, Gus Bradley, has his work cut out for him today. He doesn't have the horses to beat the Saints on talent. He's going to need to create a scheme that can at least slow Brees down. Holding the Saints under 20 points may not be realistic, but keeping them under 30 is a must. This can't be a situation where the Seahawks sit back in a zone defense all afternoon while Brees picks them apart. Blitzing him is not wise either, given Brees' savvy in exploiting those blitzes. These are the situations that make names for coaches. Bradley has done an admirable job with the talent he has this year, but this will need to be his Mona Lisa. For my money, I'd take an early 15-yard penalty to let Brees know he's going to get hit. I'd love to see Marques Colston doubled all day. The Seahawks have not been able to take away an outside receiver all season. The did a masterful job in taking the Rams Danny Amendola out of the game with his underneath patterns. If Colston is too hard, perhaps, the team focuses on Jeremy Shockey. The point is that one player needs to be removed from the equation. As good as Brees is, he has thrown a boatload of interceptions this year. There will be plays to be made.

This is Bradley's first go-around in the playoffs. How will he approach it? We will learn if he's going to rise to the moment or be overwhelmed by it. Expect the former.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Seahawks Will Dominate

Seattle is so afraid to believe in anything, or anyone, especially related to sports. The day before our city's first NFL playoff game in three years is ushered in by an article on the front page of the Seattle Times mocking our city and our team. Nobody cares about this game, and those that do, don't have any faith that the Seahawks can win. People are too busy sipping their americanos and shuttling their kids to private schools, the writer contends, to be bothered by an uninspiring team playing a game they have little hope of winning. Forget East Coast bias. Northwest apathy is a far bigger problem.

At some point, it became fashionable to be conservative with your emotions, to be realistic above hopeful. A casual glance at this game would tell you the Seahawks are over-matched. They have lost 7 of their last 10 games, only beaten teams below .500 in that stretch, and have lowly rankings on offense and defense. The Saints, on the other hand, are the defending world champs, have already beaten the Hawks this year, and boast one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. What's fascinating and exciting about competition in sports is that the formula for winning has so many variables that even the slightest change can lead to vastly different results. Almost every variable that has changed from these teams first meetings tilts heavily toward Seattle.

The Saints are known as a passing team with Drew Brees running the show, but they are 3-4 since week three of this season when rushing for under 100 yards as a team. Their best running back has not been Reggie Bush. Not only has he been injured, but he's been largely ineffective with only one touchdown all season, and only one game where he rushed for over 39 yards. The best runner has been Chris Ivory, the kid who ran through the Seahawks in the first game, and brandished a 5.2 average gain per carry. Ivory is out injured. So is the only other credible inside rushing threat, Pierre Thomas. Their replacement will be some of Julius Jones, who managed four yards on four carries in the last game these teams played, and some guys the Saints signed off of practice squads of other teams this week. Even if Ivory and/or Thomas had been healthy, the Seahawks have added Colin Cole back to defense, and only one team has been able to rush for over 100 yards since he returned. The Saints will struggle to get 75 yards on the ground Saturday.

Seattle put up a paltry 58 yards rushing in the first game. They hung 141 yards on the Rams last week. Marshawn Lynch fumbled twice against the Saints and will be running with a vengeance. The Saints run defense is a weakness. They allow over 110 yards/game and more than 4 yard per carry. The Seahawks will run the ball on them Saturday, and limit the times Brees is on the field. The Seahawks have not lost a game all season when they win the time of possession battle.

Matt Hasselbeck will make what could be his last home start as the best quarterback in the history of the Seahawks franchise. He is one win from tying Dave Krieg for most wins. He is one win from sealing his legacy. He is one day away from getting the recognition and respect he deserves from Seahawks fans who will cheer him like the champion he is. There will be no chants of "Charlie" when he makes a mistake. Seahawks fans know this isn't the time for cynicism and wandering loyalty. This is the time when our combined voices will carry these players to new heights, and they will carry us along with them.

New Orleans has never won a road playoff game. They have never played in the thrashing torrent of noise they will experience on Saturday. The electricity is back in Qwest Field, and the Saints are going to feel it like lightning bolts striking them in waves. The Saints don't win when they turn the ball over more than their opponent. Brees has thrown an interception in 12 straight games. New Orleans will lose the turnover battle. They will lose this game.

Leon Washington was born to play in games like this. No part of the Saints team will play tighter than their well below-average special teams. They enter the game knowing they have to play better than they normally do to contain the NFL's best return man. They will not play better. While they concentrate on not making a mistake, they will run slower, they will not see the crushing block Matt McCoy or Michael Robinson is going to lay on them. They will see Leon's vapor trail as he bursts by them for a game-changing return.

Saturday is going to be a glorious day for Seahawks fans. Take pride in what this team can do. Relish the opportunity to defy the networks, the NFL and the rest of country. Rise up and crash down on the Saints with every fiber of your being. Expect the best, and then do your part to make it happen.
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