Friday, September 30, 2011

#1 Seahawks Blog - THANKS!

There is Sun shining on a dog's ass somewhere. The devil is looking for a Winter coat. The Seahawks have won a Super Bowl. Well...not all of the unlikeliest things have happened. According to Joe Sousa, of, this little one-man Seahawks blogging band is the best one on the InterWeb.
Top 1 Sounds Better!

Sousa has been running a poll for a couple weeks, asking people to vote for their favorite Seahawks blogs. A thousand votes later, Hawk Blogger finished third. Sousa counted the public poll as only one input into his selection process. He looked at social media presence, update frequency, amount of writers, quality of writing, and bunch of other things you can read about on his blog. Whatever formula he used was brilliant.

Seahawks fans are lucky to have such a vibrant blogging community. is under new management this year, and Danny Kelly has done a wonderful job is adding great writing talent to the staff. Johnny Peel, over at, is an impossibly passionate fan who blends unbending optimism with the swearing necessary to cope with Seahawks fandom. There are many others. If you don't already follow,,,, you should!

Enough grandstanding. I should be writing about the fascinating match-ups I'm looking forward to watching on Sunday. Today was a good day to be a blogger, though, and I owe much of that to all of you that take the time to read my posts. Thank you!

Hawk Blogger Interview On EYES Radio Network

Ed Cole, of and and the Eyes Radio Network had me on for an interview this morning. Cole asked me about the victory over the Cardinals, the development of the secondary, and what to look for this week against Atlanta. Hope you enjoy it.

**Take a listen**

Thursday, September 29, 2011

New National Article: Matt Hasselbeck' Strong Start

I just finished my second article for Bloguin's NFL Blog, This Given Sunday. It's on our old quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck, and his fast start for the Titans. He has thrown for more yards in his first three games than any free agent QB in the last 10 years, outside of Drew Bledsoe in 2002.

I spend a lot of time getting into the reasoning why Pete Carroll moved on from Hasselbeck, and the gamble he is taking. It should be interesting to see what the national response is.

Take a read!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Atlanta Offers Perfect Test For Carroll

Ten months ago, an 11-2 Atlanta Falcons team strolled into Qwest Field to face a reeling 6-7 Seahawks team that had lost five of their last seven games. It looked like a mismatch on paper, but was far from it on the field. Seattle struck first on a 12-play, 80 yard drive, capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch. The teams battled back-and-forth and were tied 10-10 with only two minutes to go in the first half. Atlanta managed to get a touchdown right before half to go up 17-10. The Seahawks defense was solid. The running game had a healthy 4.3 average per carry, but the game turned into a blowout on three second half turnovers by Seahawks quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck. Pete Carroll eventually pulled Hasselbeck and brought in Charlie Whitehurst. There may be no better platform for Carroll to make his case for a game manager at quarterback than the rematch against Atlanta this week.

It could be argued that the additions of Red Bryant, Leroy Hill, Kam Chancellor and Brandon Browner make this defense better than the one that held Atlanta to only 4.8 yards per pass, and 2.6 yards per run and 266 total yards in last year's game. Roddy White bullied Kelly Jennings on a number of key 3rd down conversions. Browner may make other mistakes, but White will not be able to muscle his way to success on Sunday. The Falcons are heavily reliant on Michael Turner and the running game to setup their passing attack. Tampa Bay stoned them last week, holding them to 30 yards rushing. That's a Bucs defense that ranks 17th in the NFL in opponents yards per carry, compared to a 4th ranked Seahawks run defense. Matt Ryan has not started the season very well, and barely has more touchdowns than interceptions. He came into last years game playing at a much higher level, and still finished with only 174 yards passing and 5.0 yards per attempt. Add it all up, and there is reason to believe the Seahawks defense can at least match last year's effort against the Atlanta offense.

Carroll has been preaching taking care of the football since he got here. He now has a quarterback whose only two interceptions have come on Hail Mary passes at the end of halves. Tarvaris Jackson continues to get skewered by most fans who are more interested in fireworks than limited mistakes. The prevailing opinion is that playing conservatively, "playing not to lose," is not the way to win games in the NFL. A quarterback, the thinking goes, that throws for 25 touchdowns and 17 interceptions is preferable to one that throws for 14 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Carroll doesn't much care which way the prevailing wind is blowing. His top priority is limiting turnovers on offense and creating them on defense. Looking at last year's Atlanta game provides some support for that logic. Hasselbeck got pulled in the second half with only 83 yards passing. There isn't a record of how many of those yards came in the first half, but it is safe to assume it was less than 83. All of the three Seahawks turnovers happened in that second half. That means you had a quarterback who had thrown for less than 83 yards in a full half of football, with no turnovers, tied 10-10 with 2 minutes to go in the first half. That's a pretty compelling case for how a strong defense, a decent running game and a conservative quarterback can allow a David to compete with a Goliath.

Carroll now has a quarterback that is protecting the ball and a stronger defense. The running game is comparable to the 31st-ranked group from last season. His opponent is a struggling 1-2 instead of a dominating 11-2. If there was ever a chance to demonstrate the effectiveness of Carroll's coaching philosophy, it would be this week. Doing better than a 34-18 loss at home is a pretty low bar. It will be fascinating to see if this conservative offense can clear it.

Hawk Blogger 2011 Power Rankings - Week 3

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. Only 3 of the top 10 teams from week one of 2010 made the playoffs, and a team as low as #27 (Atlanta) was a league power. 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. In 2010 8 of top 10 teams from week 3 made the playoffs.

If you'd like to see final rankings from 2010, you can read more here.

These rankings start to mean something this week. By this time last season, 8 of the top 10 teams ended up making the playoffs. That has been relatively consistent for the past three years of doing these rankings. That's great news for Detroit, Buffalo, Houston, Tennessee and San Francisco. Odds are that three of those five teams make a surprising playoff run. On the flip side, no team below #18 (New Orleans) at week three turned their season around and made the playoffs. Atlanta, Chicago, Tampa Bay and The Dream Team should be feeling the heat.

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

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Red Bryant Effect

Red Bryant is a large man. He doesn't really tackle people as much as fall in their general direction. Fans that watched closely last season knew how critical he was to the play of the defense. The defensive line ranked among the Top 5 in the NFL last season while he was healthy. Some have claimed that six games was not a large enough sample size, or that the opponents were not great rushing teams. Three games into the 2011 season, the Red Bryant Effect continues to show up. Take a look at all nine games in 2010 and 2011 when Bryant played a complete game:

That YPC would have been good for 2nd in the NFL in 2010, and would rank 4th so far in 2011. Five of those nine games were on the road, including games at Chicago and Pittsburgh. Only two teams have broke 100 yards rushing, and only one team had what could be considered a good rushing game (ARZ 20 for 113, 5.65 YPC).

The strength against the run has logically translated into a lower 3rd down conversion percentage. Opponents are only converting 32.31% of their 3rd downs when Bryant plays the full game. That would have been tied for 1st in the NFL last season, and is good for 5th this season. The Seahawks, overall, are only allowing a 29% conversion rate on 3rd downs this season, good for 3rd in the NFL.

Atlanta comes to town this week as a team that ranked #12 in the NFL in rushing yards a year ago. They are down to 19th this season. Michael Turner is 11th in the league in rushing yards. The Falcons are 13th in the NFL in 3rd down conversion rate. They become the latest to step to the line, hoping to defy The Red Bryant Effect. Good luck, Atlanta. History shows you will need it.

Possible Trade Value For Aaron Curry

Those fans clutching their Aaron Curry jersey's, hoping against hope, that the linebackers career in Seattle will turn around, may want to kick off the 12 stages of grieving. According to rumors on Twitter, the enigmatic linebacker has been put on the trading block with a number of teams expressing interest. Any story based on Twitter rumors is idiotic, but there is a method to the madness here. Curry's time with this team is nearing an end.  His performance has not lived up to expectations. He feels misused. Both parties agreed to a restructured deal that essentially makes him a free agent after this season. Rookie linebacker K.J. Wright moved ahead of Curry on the depth chart this week. These are not exactly sweet nothings being whispered across the negotiating table. Curry's time in Seattle is going to be over. Attempting to get some sort of value back for him via a trade makes sense, regardless of whether the Twitter rumors are true. John Schneider and Pete Carroll have certainly been open to trades in their brief tenure.

The better question is what level of compensation might the team be offered for Curry. After all, this was a player selected #4 overall in the 2009 draft. Most fans that chimed in on Twitter were looking for a 3rd round draft choice in return. Others want Carson Palmer, or some other player. Bringing players into the deal is much harder to project. Sure, the idea of giving Cincinnati some value for a player who doesn't want to be there makes sense on paper, but there is no indication that the Bengals will move Palmer for any amount of compensation. Guessing at other possible players would be like throwing darts in the dark.

Draft picks are a little easier to project. The reality is, though, Top 10 picks just don't get traded all that often, especially within three years of being drafted. Going back to the 2007 draft, only Gaines Adams and Ted Ginn, Jr. have been traded. There have been players like JaMarcus Russell, Jamaal Anderson, Vernon Gholston, and Derrick Harvey that have been released, but only a couple of Top 10 trades from the last four drafts (not including 2011). Ginn, Jr. was traded to San Francisco for a 5th round pick, and Adams was traded to the Bears for a 2nd round pick.

The players that got released were borderline NFL players. Some, are no longer in the league. Curry is not a borderline NFL player. He has started every game except for this past week, and will likely start for whatever team he moves to next. There is even some reason to expect he could still develop into a Pro Bowl player in the right system, with the right coaching. He is a hard worker and still has off-the-chart physical tools. At least a few teams would likely consider him a better bet than a draft choice they would make next year. A 3rd or 4th round choice makes sense. Landing a conditional 4th that becomes a 3rd based on certain performance achievements would be a coup. 

Give Him The Damn Ball

Both Pete Carroll and Tarvaris Jackson put more effort into explaining why Mike Williams did not get the ball thrown to him on Sunday than they did actually trying to get the ball to him. Williams is a 6'5" 240 lb beast of a receiver that is always open. He is not open in the classic sense, where he has created yards of separation from a defender. He is open because very few individual defenders can win a ball away from him due to his size, strength and hands.

Matt Hasselbeck was quick to learn this last season when Williams became a popular target, especially on 3rd downs or when a play broke down. Hasselbeck trusted Williams enough to throw in his vicinity, but away from the defender, and allow Williams to snatch the ball. He torched the Cardinals last season for 22 catches 232 yards and a touchdown. He was rewarded with zero targets, zero receptions and zero yards in yesterday's game. For an offense that has been struggling to find any reliable paths to yardage, that is inexcusable.

Most fans will point the finger at Tarvaris Jackson, but it all starts with Carroll. The coach has put such an emphasis on protecting the ball that his coordinator and quarterback are looking for sure-bets. Throwing to a player like Williams, who gets less separation, is riskier. This is where Carroll needs to go into Darrell Bevell's office and tell him very clearly that Williams is the exception to the rule. He needs to be force-fed. Double coverage is one thing, but that should not be a problem with Sidney Rice on the field. This offense is better off taking the risk throwing Williams' way, and frankly, it is just not that big of a risk.

Jackson is not without blame. He knows Ben Obomanu from before college, and has a history with Rice in the NFL. Those relationships have led to more opportunities. The pressure about taking care of the ball from Carroll exacerbates Jackson's already cautious mindset. This is his last shot in the NFL. Do you throw to the guys you know, or take chances on the guys that you don't? Jackson must come to realize that playing tentatively only guarantees a bad fate as a quarterback. He must learn to toe that fine line between leaning forward and keeping his balance. Williams is a big part of Jackson's potential that the quarterback has yet to tap into. That cannot continue.

Williams, for his part, deserves a ton of credit for not distracting the team from a needed win. Lesser men would have spouted off. Remember, though, he is fighting for his NFL future and reputation as well. A big drop in his production from last season will lead the uninformed national analysts and fans to assume he is back to the "same old Mike Williams." His goals were to shatter that perception with a stronger second year, and he came back in great shape to do that. Expecting him to sit back and watch receivers like Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate to get more looks than him without making a fuss is unrealistic, especially if the team loses as many games as seems likely. Williams wants to be a leader on the team, and is doing the things off the field to back that up. His coach and quarterback need to do their jobs and help him be the leader he deserves to be on the field as well, starting with this next game.

The Morning After: Seahawks Win 13-10, Against Cardinals

Today is a tough day to be a Cardinals fan. They added Kevin Kolb in the off-season, signed Larry Fitzgerald to a $120M+ contract, and had shown a propensity for the big play through the first two weeks of the season. The Seahawks had been so weak on offense that other 0-2 teams tried their best to distance themselves, "We may be 0-2, but it is not like we are the Seahawks." Seattle's offensive line had given up 10 sacks, and only cleared the way for 58 rushing yards from running backs. It is hard to imagine a better opportunity to come in and win a game in Seattle. And yet, the Cardinals still lost. They have faced Cam Newton, Rex Grossman and Tarvaris Jackson through three weeks and are 1-2. Ouch.

The Seahawks players may have been able to puff out their chests a bit after the victory, but Paul Allen may have the real bragging rights. His $8M quarterback and $41M receiver looked like the deal of the century next to Arizona's $60M quarterback (who also cost a 2nd round pick and a Pro Bowl cornerback) and $120M receiver. Sidney Rice went for 109 yards without breaking a sweat. His receptions were mostly of the repeatable variety. There were a lot of 8-12 yard plays to go along with his two "big" plays of 23 and 32 yards. It was a game that left you feeling he could challenge 200 yards if the offensive line could protect a seven-step drop and allow Rice the chance at real big plays.

Jackson had his worst quarterback rating of the season in the team's best offensive game. The offense went for a season-high 261 yards, roughly 100 yards more than last week against Pittsburgh. How many yards did Rice have again? While Kevin Kolb has 17 career interceptions to 16 career touchdowns after throwing two more yesterday, Jackson still has more touchdowns than interceptions in his career (26 to 24). Jackson's only two interceptions this season have come on Hail Mary passes. None of these facts mean any general manager in the league would pick Jackson over Kolb, but they do raise more questions about the cost of each player.

Seattle's offense was last in the league in a number of categories, but explosive plays was one of the best indicators of how toothless the offense has been. The Seahawks had only one play over 20 yards through two games (Doug Baldwin's 55-yard touchdown catch @ SF). They had five of those plays against Arizona. Rice had his two, Baldwin had another, and both Marshawn Lynch and Leon Washington had runs over 20 yards. That was the best indicator of progress for an offense that still has a long ways to go. Tom Cable said he felt like the running game was "close, maybe a couple weeks away." Lynch more than double his season-high in rushing yards with 73, and the team had a healthy 4.1 yards per carry. The much-maligned offensive line opened some holes and did a much better job protecting the quarterback. Statistics will show four more sacks and 12 total QB hits. What they won't show is how much more often there tight ends and receivers went out into pass patterns instead of staying back to pass block. It is worth watching more carefully on tape, but James Carpenter appeared to have his best game. This is a season in which victory is redefined by player development progress instead of scores, and there were wins all over the field on Sunday by that definition.

Kam Chancellor continued a spectacular start to his career with more big plays, including one of the best hits of the short season on his block of Todd Heap. His late interception sealed the victory. Not bad for a guy who is supposed to be a liability against the pass. Brandon Browner played a fantastic game, as did his opposite corner, Marcus Trufant. Browner got an early illegal contact penalty that nullified an interception, but it was that same physical style of play that ran Larry Fitzgerald off a number of routes throughout the game. Fitzgerald beat Browner for two receptions. One, was a pinpoint pass from Kolb where Fitzgerald was a step beyond Browner along the sideline. The other was a desperation heave from Kolb that Fitzgerald snatched for a touchdown. Browner needs to do a better job of finding the ball in the air on plays like that. He played Fitzgerald tough enough through the rest of the game that the Cardinals started lining Fitzgerald up against Trufant exclusively later in the game. That didn't work either, as the receiver went without a catch in the second half. The television cameras will not show it, but Browner had Fitzgerald blanketed several times down-field on plays where Kolb was eyeing him, and instead had to take a sack or move to a different option. Browner frustrated Braylon Edwards in week one and Fitzgerald in week three. Even with a bad game against Mike Wallace in week two, that's a pretty darn good start.

The Seahawks defense played a nice game. Chris Clemons has been a beast against the run this year, defying his position's reputation as a pass-rush specialist. He added a sack and had a total of three tackles for loss. He forced Kolb into another sack by Leroy Hill. The pass rush is still a long way from being effective. The interior lineman are not collapsing the pocket, and it is becoming clear that is an area the team will have to address in the coming off-season. K.J. Wright got the majority of snaps at the SAM position in place of Aaron Curry, and played a nice game holding his gaps. He was not credited with a tackle, but his assignment-discipline was part of how the defense continued to be stout against the run. Walter Thurmond appears close to being all the way back. He played a nice game.

There may not be many victories this season, so it is worth savoring each and every one. Stepping back and looking at the big picture should widen that smile a bit more as a number of young Seahawks made important strides while a division rival saw a fair number of critical players step backward. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Morning Thoughts

Expect More Risk, More Reward, More Failure
Pete Carroll is not going to continue to lose with an offense that is playing this conservatively. Expect to see the coaches challenge the lineman, receivers and quarterback this week with a game plan that pushes the ball farther down-field. Carroll will want to get the fans into the game early. A long throw to Sidney Rice or a trick play is likely. The player who may benefit the most from this change in attack is Zach Miller. Hugh Millen has been beating the drum all week about getting Miller out in pass patterns and away from pass blocking. Miller will catch at least five passes today, and will be Jackson's primary target. Doug Baldwin could also benefit from attacking the middle of the field, and Golden Tate could finally see some of those bubble screens and swing passes fans have been calling for. The coaches know they can't get away with an ultra-conservative game plan, and spent last week just trying to protect their quarterback in a game they had very little chance to win.

Inaugural Regular Season Game @ CLINK
Qwest Field opened in 2002 with a regular season Monday Night Football game against the San Francisco 49ers. The Seahawks lost 28-21 when Terrell Owens caught a 37-yard TD from Jeff Garcia and did his infamous "sharpie" celebration by signing a ball and throwing it into an endzone suite. Trent Dilfer started that game, and it was Shaun Alexander's first game as the featured running back after moving on from Ricky Watters. Bobby Engram was the leading receiver. The Seahawks first game in the Kingdome was back in 1976 against the St Louis Cardinals. Somehow, the Cardinals manage to be the team opening up CenturyLink Field 35 yeards later. Weird. The Cardinals won that game in 1976 30-24.  Jim Hart passed for two touchdowns and Jim Otis ran for 140 yards and a TD. Steve Largent began his amazing Seahawks career with 5 catches for 86 yards, but Sam McCullum led the team with 112 yards receiving. The only other time the Seahawks opened the season at a new stadium was in 2000, when they played their first home game at Husky Stadium. They lost a heart-breaker to the St. Louis Rams, 37-34. The "Greatest Show On Turf" was in full effect with 476 yards of offense behind Kurt Warner, Torry Holt, Marshall Faulk, and Isaac Bruce. Jay Bellamy tried to spark the Seahawks with an 84-yard interception return for a touchdown. Jon Kitna brought got the Seahawks back to even at 34-34 with a touchdown pass to Darrell Jackson, but Jeff Wilkins ended things with 27-yard field goal. The Seahawks have not won a stadium-opening regular season game in three tries so far, but some great players made great plays in each game. Let's hope we are talking about the impact of Earl Thomas, Sidney Rice, Russell Okung, Kam Chancellor, K.J. Wright or some other player five years from now.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

New National Writing Gig

The Bloguin network approached me about writing for their new NFL blog, This Given Sunday. My work on the Seahawks will still dominate my writing time, but I'll let you know as I post on Bloguin as well.

My first article went live this morning about the Detroit Lions, and their attempt to break from a history of losing. I learned a bunch writing the article, including the Seahawks rank 20th in the NFL in winning percentage since the advent of the 16-game schedule.

Seahawks fans should be able to appreciate the suffering of Lions fans. They are an easy team to cheer for. Take a read, and let me know what you think.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Time Is Wright

In a rare and surprising upset, work has trumped football this week. So when I grabbed my Seattle Times off the driveway this morning and read that Aaron Curry had been bumped to the 2nd team defense, my jaw dropped. Of course, asking HawkBloggerWife, "Can you believe what happened to Curry?" would just result in some discussion about basmati rice and naan. Most writers seem to be focusing on Curry's potential demotion, but this may be more about what is right with Wright than what is wrong with Curry.

Wright is 6'4" 246 lbs, making him two inches taller and roughly 10 lbs lighter than Curry. He also boasts an 80-inch wingspan that helps him press blockers off him and make passes near him tougher to complete. This potential for displacing Curry was seen as early as the day he was drafted. Wright's ability to pick-up the defense and play middle linebacker was a significant part of why the Seahawks felt comfortable approaching Lofa Tatupu about restructuring his contract, according to a source close to the Seahawks. The team got to see Wright play in the middle sooner than they would have liked during week one, when starter David Hawthorne was out with an injury. He played an assignment-correct game, and finished with five tackles.

Being in the right place at the right time has been harder for Curry. He likes to make big plays, and can struggle to make the right read and take the right angle. Curry's biggest challenges have been tackling in space and pass coverage. Both of these Curry weaknesses are strengths for Wright. There were multiple times in the pre-season where Wright was one-on-one with a receiver or running back in space, and he made the tackle each time. Folks, that is not easy. Chad Brown was possibly the best open-field tackler in Seahawks history, and few have really come close. Leroy Hill is pretty darn good in those situations, but Wright has the potential to be better. 

Wright was originally talked about as a LEO back-up when he was drafted. That is the Chris Clemons, full-time pass rush, defensive end role. The fact that he was considered there, found his way to middle linebacker and now back to SAM shows just how broad his skill set is. His best NFL comparable may be Julian Peterson, who was 6'3" 240 lbs and had a similar wingspan. Wright has not been put in a position to show his pass rush ability yet, and that was a big part of Peterson's game.

Curry deserves credit for handling this with class thus far, and admitting to some mistakes in his play last week. Growing as a man absolutely has a positive effect on the quality of your work, and Curry has shown some signs of maturity this season. This blog has repeatedly shown that linebackers tend to explode onto the NFL scene. They don't grow into greatness the way quarterbacks or wide receivers do. Curry is unlikely to be a great NFL linebacker, but he could be a much better player than he is here. Expect him to wind up in a 3-4 system somewhere as an inside linebacker. He always seemed like the type of player that would thrive with the Steelers, and it is looking increasingly likely he will wearing some other team's uniform next year.

One scenario worth watching is whether the team moves Curry to either middle or weakside linebacker now that he is running with the second unit. The team likes Malcolm Smith at WILL, and is much more likely to swing Wright back to middle if Hawthorne went down, but taking the spotlight off Curry gives them an opportunity to experiment more with him. 

It is also possible the coaches will start Curry on Sunday, and that this week was a final warning shot. Either way, there is another reason to watch the Seahawks defense on Sunday.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Explosive Plays Go *POOF*

Pete Carroll has made mention of "opening up the offense" and the lack of "explosive plays" a few times following the shutout loss to Pittsburgh. Explosive plays are defined differently by various sources, but most would agree the minimum yardage for an explosive play is 20. Some analysts will say a pass play must be 40+ yards to be explosive, while a running play only needs to be 20+ yards. Knowing how hard yardage has been to come by for the Seahawks, let's stick to a 20-yard minimum across the board. With that in mind, take a guess how many plays of 20+ yards the Seahawks have through eight quarters? Don't look it up. Just guess.

The correct answer is one. apparently double-counts plays that are 40+ yards as also being 20+ yards. While, technically, that is accurate, it sure makes it difficult to compare with other teams unless you want to go through every play by every team. The Seahawks explosive play was the Doug Baldwin 55-yard touchdown against San Francisco. The Seahawks have no running plays over 20 yards through two games. In fact, they only have two running plays over 10 yards, and one of them was a 13-yard end-around to Ben Obomanu. Remember Shaun Alexander's streak of 68 straight games with a 10+ yard run? No Seahawks player broke double digits against the Steelers.

Now, take a guess at which team leads the NFL in explosive plays (20+ yards)? Nope. Try again. Nope. It's the Carolina Panthers with 16 passing plays of 20+ yards and zero running plays of 20+ yards. They have three passing plays of 40+ yards as well. Only 11 NFL teams have more than one running play of 20+ yards so far. The Buffalo Bills and Oakland Raiders share the lead with five apiece, followed by the Kansas City Chiefs. The top three explosive passing teams are Carolina, New England and Dallas. Huh, I wonder whether explosive passing or explosive running is more conducive to winning?

The Arizona Cardinals enter this weekend's game with 11 total explosive plays (9 passing, 2 rushing). Of their nine explosive pass plays, three went for 40+ yards. That's a big part of why they are 3rd in the NFL in yards per attempt at 9.8. The Seahawks are 31st in the NFL in that stat with a paltry 5.4 YPA.

There is hope on the flip-side. Seattle's defense is tied for 6th in the NFL in limiting explosive pass plays, with only five allowed so far. Arizona's defense ranks 29th in the NFL, having allowed 13 explosive pass plays, three for more than 40 yards. Seattle and Arizona are both among the 21 NFL teams that have allowed one explosive running play or less (both have allowed one).

Sidney Rice is clearly the Seahawks biggest deep threat, and he appears ready to play this weekend. That helps. No quarterback can throw deep if they are limited to three-step drops due to poor pass protection, so the line has to help. Finally, the quarterback and offensive coordinator must have the confidence and swagger to take a shot down-field. This Seahawks offense has a long way to go before it could be considered explosive, but the first step could come this weekend.

On My Mind...Week Three 2011

This is an occasional series of thought fragments that are either the early stages of a full post concept, or just bits of information that do not warrant a full write-up. It is also an invitation to share things running through your Seahawk Brain at the moment. 

James Carpenter Improved In Week Two
Lost in the apocalyptic reactions after the blowout loss to Pittsburgh was a step forward for the team's first-round draft choice, RT, no LG, no RT James Carpenter. Hugh Millen rightfully pointed out on his Hardcore Football segment on KJR that Carpenter was getting a lot of help from tight ends and was often blocking down on the defensive tackle instead of being left alone with a defensive end. Millen went as far as to say the Seahawks have no tackles on this team since nobody is blocking ends one-on-one. Even Millen would admit that's hyperbole, but the point is fair. I watched every snap of the Seahawks/Steelers game again, and was going to write about each of Carpenter's snaps. More simply, I can share that while he was helped a lot, he did handle some ends on an island. He did not surrender a sack. He was not bull-rushed straight back into the quarterback. That is faint praise, but for a kid who had no off-season and is being asked to learn a new position playing next to another rookie, every step forward is worth celebrating. The most alarming part of Carpenter's play has been watching him get beat physically, both in bull-rush and speed rush situations. Physical flaws are harder to overcome, whereas communication errors (e.g., a line stunt causes a miscommunication with the guard about who is blocking who) generally resolve on their own with experience. Carpenter got his man to the ground a couple of times on running plays. The bad news is he still is getting minimal push. It would be nice to be able to say his run blocking is above average even if his pass protection is not. Unfortunately, he is not there yet. Baby steps are still steps, and getting long-term value for their first-round pick is crucial to future Seahawks success.

3-4 Defenses Up The Wazoo
The Seahawks won't see their first 4-3 defense until Week 4 against Atlanta. There was a time that 3-4 defenses were a rarity in the NFL. They have become much more common. So much so that the Seahawks first three opponents this year all feature a 3-4 look. These sorts of defenses historically have been difficult for the Seahawks to play against. I have not gone back and done the research, but even the vaunted 2005 line had their biggest struggles against these fronts. Instead of having four down lineman that you know are coming each time, there is always some question about which linebacker is coming in addition to the three down lineman when a 3-4 is in place. Now, none of this is to say the offensive line struggles are exclusively due to facing 3-4 defenses. There is reason to believe it is contributing to the problems, especially for the tackles. One way to tell is if the Seahawks have noticeably greater success pass blocking when they face an Atlanta team that plays 4-3, but still features great ends like John Abraham.

DVR Set For College Football
Time is precious, and between family, work, blogging, exercising, and watching Seahawks football, there isn't much left over. I gave up watching most college football a few years ago. I tune into Huskies games whenever I can, but that's about it. Last weekend I taped four college games: Oklahoma vs. FSU, Stanford vs. Arizona, Michigan State vs. Notre Dame and Washington vs. Nebraska. In fact, I'm watching the Oklahoma game right now. I plan to watch any game I can that features a decent quarterback prospect. I don't like waiting, and I don't like feeling like I need to hope for Seahawks losses to guarantee the team gets the top player in the draft. Instead, I'd rather spend time finding players not named Andrew Luck so I can get comfortable with something other than the #1 overall pick in 2012. Instead of cheering for a bad Seahawks season, I'd rather cheer for more great quarterback prospects to develop. Plenty of draft pundits will tell you Luck, Matt Barkley and Landry Jones are the only great prospects. Whatever. How many of them had Cam Newton as the best QB in college at this time last season? Watch a few games for yourself. That's my plan. I just set the USC vs. ASU game to tape this weekend...

What Would 0-16 Mean? 
A number of people have asked me if it is too early to be talking about a possible 0-16 season. The truth is that it is way too early to talk about it. So, let me talk about. If the worst--and I'm not convinced 0-16 is the worst--happens to Seattle this season, does that threaten Pete Carroll and John Schneider? Does it mean that the team is in need of a lot more than just a franchise quarterback? I don't really think so. It could lead to a much shorter leash from Paul Allen after the 2012 draft. Asking him to wait another two years for his rookie QB to develop probably wouldn't fly. You could see the front office more aggressively go after a *viable* veteran starter to get the wins flowing right away while the young QB is the understudy. It also does not have to be an indictment on the rest of the team. The 1992 Seahawks had a Top 10 defense that likely would have been a #1 overall defense if they had an offense that could score more than 8.8 points/game. This season's offense is averaging 8.5 points/game so far. I don't believe this defense is as good as the Cortez Kennedy-led group in 1992, but they still appear on the upswing. Additionally, good offensive lines come from continuity as much as from talent. It will take at least 2-3 years before this unit really forms up. The great Walter Jones/Steve Hutchinson lines were together for 4+ years before things really clicked in 2005. Terrible line play this year does not mean the team is stuck with bad line play in the future.

2011 Hawk Blogger Power Rankings: Week 2

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. Only 3 of the top 10 teams from week one of 2010 made the playoffs, and a team as low as #27 (Atlanta) was a league power. 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. In 2010 8 of top 10 teams from week 3 made the playoffs.

If you'd like to see final rankings from 2010, you can read more here.

Some unfamiliar names in the top three. Nice to see. By next week, these will start having some efficacy.

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.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Greatest Seahawk Of Them All

Growing up as a Seahawks fan in Oregon was not easy. People complained about being forced to watch their games on TV due to regional coverage rules. There was even a brief uprising attempting to argue that San Francisco or Oakland should be considered Portland's regional NFL team so their games could be televised instead of the Seahawks. Being a Seahawks fan was still a few notches above being a Mariners or Huskies fan (which I was, as well). At least there was Curt Warner and Steve Largent and Kenny Easley. There were players worth being proud of, even if the team was maddeningly middle-of-the-road.

The championship season of 1984 had come and gone by the time my Seahawks obsession really took root. Becoming a "watch every game" Seahawks fan during the 8-8 season in 1985 painted everything in a different light. Twenty years went by before I ever saw a Seahawks playoff victory. In that time, I had completed middle school, high school and college. I met my wife, got married, bought a house, had my first child, sold that house, bought a second house, and had my second child. I had been working for eight years after moving to Seattle. The franchise had played in both conferences, had four coaches, four general managers and three owners. I had been a season ticket holder since 1997, when one seat for a full season cost $100, so I bought two. My seats were the very last row of the Kingdome on the 50-yard line. You could touch the Kingdome ceiling, stand whenever you felt like it, and curse like a sailor. In those twenty years, the team had a winning record eight times, a losing record eight times and were .500 four times, for a combined record of 158-161 (15-game season in 1987). The team finished more than one game over .500 (i.e., 10 wins) twice during that stretch. The playoffs were the promised land.

I can vividly remember January 3rd, 1988 when I got to watch my first Seahawks playoff game against Warren Moon and the Houston Oilers. There was a fire in the fireplace, and like any good football Sunday, I never got out of my pajamas. The Seahawks battled their way to a 20-20 tie, before losing on a Tony Zendejas field goal in overtime. The following year the team lost to the Super Bowl-bound, Ickey Shufflin', Cincinnati Bengals 21-13. No team ever faked more injuries than the Seahawks did that day while trying to slow down the no-huddle Boomer Esiason offense. Then all went dark. Ten years went by before there was another playoff game to watch. Included in that retched span of seasons was the franchises worst team ever, a 1992 squad that set the NFL record for fewest points per game and surrendered 67 sacks. You know you are a Seahawks fan when your first response to 1992 is, "That was the year Cortez Kennedy won NFL Defensive Player of the Year!" Silver linings defined this franchise, all the way down to the uniforms.

Then, at the turn of the century, Mike Holmgren changed the course of Seahawks history. He had come to Seattle with a history of winning and grooming quarterbacks. His Green Bay team had seemingly populated half the NFL with their starting quarterbacks, while still always having plenty in reserve. He arrived with an aura that said "when," not "if." I remember thinking that he was exactly what this franchise needed, but that he had no idea the task he was facing. Seahawks teams have good quarterbacks, never great. Even in Dave Krieg's three Pro Bowl seasons, he threw a combined 52 interceptions. Krieg benefited from Pro Bowl receivers in Brian Blades and Steve Largent, the latter being a Hall of Famer. He was the embodiment of what the Seahawks franchise had been in the 20th century, a gritty underdog that would never back down from a fight, but was rarely talented enough to beat the best.

At first, it appeared the gravity of Seahawks mediocrity was winning its fight with Holmgren. He inherited Jon Kitna, and drafted Brock Huard. Kitna was Krieg-lite, with limited upside. Huard had real potential to be a fantastic NFL QB, but injuries kept him from ever fulfilling that promise. Then, in 2001, Holmgren brought in Matt Hasselbeck and Trent Dilfer. Hasselbeck was an apple picked from Holmgren's Green Bay tree, and came to Seattle with the tongue-in-cheek nickname "Mr. August" for his pre-season prowess. Dilfer had just won a Super Bowl with Baltimore, but was given about as much credit as the water boy for the victory due to a dominating defense. Hasselbeck was so bad in the early part of his career, I was among those chanting for Dilfer every time he stepped on the field. I hated Matt Hasselbeck. Some of the things I shouted are not fit for print. He looked nothing like a future franchise quarterback as he would scramble wildly around the field hucking passes blindly down-field that invariably were intercepted. His arm was not that impressive. His command of the offense was questionable as passes got thrown to empty spaces. That first 2001 season with the Seahawks saw him go 5-7 as a starter and Dilfer go 4-0. The only thing Hasselbeck had going for him was he was 26, and Dilfer was 29.

The team was not lacking in talent. Walter Jones had been the left tackle since 1997, and Steve Hutchinson had just been drafted to play beside him. Robbie Tobeck was added as the center and Chris Gray was the right guard. Four-fifths of the famed 2005 Super Bowl line was in place. The backfield boasted both Ricky Watters and a rookie named Shaun Alexander. Darrell Jackson was in his second season and Koren Robinson was a heralded rookie. The defense had Chad Brown, Michael Sinclair, Shawn Springs, John Randle, and Anthony Simmons. Even with arguably the best left tackle in the NFL, and a bunch of notable surrounding talent, it was still the same old 9-7 (2001) or 7-9 (2002) Seahawks. It wasn't until Week 8 of the 2002 season, when Hasselbeck re-took the starting QB role from an injured Dilfer in Dallas, that the team's fortunes truly changed. Hasselbeck led that 2002 team to a 6-4 finish, including winning their final three, after a 1-5 start. He finished with an 87.8 QB rating, and followed it up with an 88.8 rating in the 2003 season that included 26 touchdowns and only 15 interceptions. No Seahawk quarterback had ever thrown for that many touchdowns with that few interceptions. The team ended up 10-6, and started a franchise-record stretch of five straight division titles.

Hasselbeck was special. My jeers had been replaced with hope. This could be the guy. He was making throws that were so well timed, and with such precision, that it was hard to picture how teams would stop him. His personality had grown on me as well. This was a man who had come from obscurity, struggled mightily and been humbled. He famously credited his turnaround to surrendering to Holmgren and the coaches strict guidelines of how to run the offense. Any man can tell you a story about a humbling experience that helped shape who he is today. Hasselbeck was just like any of us. His openness about his family, and his sense of humor made him that much easier to cheer for. Nothing was better than listening to Tobeck and Hasselbeck go back-and-forth. It was Entourage, Seahawks style. This was not like the 80s Seahawks. The ceiling was higher. You could feel it.

Hasselbeck certainly felt it when he declared, "We'll take the ball, and we're gonna score," after the overtime coin toss in the 2003 playoff game against Green Bay. Alex Bannister robbed him of the chance to make good on that promise by running the wrong route, but Hasselbeck earned a fan for life that day. No Seahawk had ever approached a team like the Green Bay Packers, with Brett Favre, on a stage like that with so much bravado. Loud and proud was something Seahawks fans generally only got half-right. Here was a player that had been ridiculed as much as any in Seattle, who had come back to be the unquestioned leader of the team, and he was saying, "I believe." Lots of people lampooned Hasselbeck for that statement. It immediately made him my favorite player.

His finest season fittingly coincided with best season in franchise history. His 98.2 rating in 2005 was a franchise best, tops in the NFC, and good for fourth in all the NFL. He completed nearly 66% of his passes and had a 24/9 touchdown-to-interception ratio on the way to leading the Seahawks to becoming the NFL's highest scoring offense. Shaun Alexander was given the MVP that year, but anyone that actually followed the team knew Hasselbeck was the central figure. Many of Alexander's big runs came on plays where Hasselbeck checked out of a pass and into a run. He was, without question, one of the top five quarterbacks in football that year.

Some will tell you that Walter Jones or Steve Largent are the greatest Seahawks of all-time. If you measure greatness by pure talent, it would be hard to argue against Jones. He was the best player at his position for a decade. Hasselbeck most certainly was not the greatest quarterback in the NFL, even for a season. It was his combination of talent, charisma, leadership and resolve that unlocked the best stretch of pro football this town has ever seen. His dignity, even in exit, makes him a man I'd want my children to look up to. His commitment to this city was unparalleled. When Ken Griffey Jr, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and almost every other sports star got a chance to leave, they ran. Hasselbeck was the first Seahawks free agent to re-sign after the 2004 season and immediately started recruiting others. He wanted to be here.

Those of you that read this blog know my challenges with jersey selection. I had given up on ever buying another one. A funny thing happened, though, last year before the Saints game. I was waiting for an oil change and decided to buy a Seahawks lottery ticket at a nearby 7-Eleven. It was the first lottery ticket I had purchased in probably 10 years. It was a winner. A fat $50 gift card to the Seahawks Pro Shop. That probably would buy me a pen, so I sat on it for a bit. Heading into the first pre-season game this year, I was determined to use it. That's when it hit me. The only player I can't curse by buying his jersey happens to be my favorite Seahawk of all-time. I walked over to the "sale" rack and found one Hasselbeck jersey that was my size. The price? $50. Wearing that jersey is not about being stuck in the past. It's about honoring the best this franchise has ever produced. It represents the pinnacle of what this franchise has achieved, and until someone eclipses what Matt accomplished as a player and a person, it will not be replaced. Thank you, Matt. 

Top 5 Seahawks Blogs

Ultimate Seahawk is running a poll asking Seahawks fans what their favorite Seahawks blog is. He's got some great blogs on there that you should check out if you haven't already.

Take a look, and vote for your favorite!

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Morning After: Steelers Beat Seahawks, 24-0

Halloween is still more than a month away, but the Seahawks offense decided to wear dunce caps for the second straight week in a 24-0 snoozefest in Pittsburgh. This may be a long season, Seahawks fans. Arm yourself with lowered expectations, and a sense of humor. As you go out searching for you perfect Halloween costume in the coming weeks, consider these Seahawks-themed characters:

The Man With The Iron Hands - Aaron Curry had a chance to turn a 7-0 game into a 7-7 tie after making a nice break on a ball, but wily Steelers quarterback Ben Roethisberger was clever enough to hit Curry in the iron hands, making a catch all but impossible. A few plays later, the Steelers were ahead 14-0.

Dracula - Tarvaris Jackson sucked the life out of Seahawks fans and team hopes with an abysmal performance. Despite the final box score showing five sacks and eight QB hits (identical to last week), Jackson had plenty of time to make decisions in the pocket against Pittsburgh. The reality that many/all of his receivers were covered does not excuse habitual indecisiveness, inaccuracy, and lack of defense recognition. Jackson could not decide whether he wanted to pass or run multiple times, and almost always made the wrong choice (e.g., scrambling on a 3rd and 15). He continues to sail throws over receivers heads, and has yet to make an audible at the line that got his team into an advantageous play. This was the first game where Jackson could reasonably be judged, and he did nothing to show he will ever be more than the lackluster player he has been throughout his career. Jackson being bad does not make Charlie Whitehurst good. Pete Carroll was already answering questions about making a switch at quarterback after the game. He said the loss had nothing to do with the quarterback position. Expect him to continue protecting Jackson, even if his lineman won't, all the way through the bye week.

Human Torch - Brandon Browner was initiated on Sunday. The Steelers receivers presented a tough match-up with their speed, but Browner can play much better than he did. The lack of Seahawks pass rush was a major contributor to the problem, and Earl Thomas got caught underneath a few times, leaving Browner without the inside support he was counting on. Fans on Twitter were jumping off the deep end, comparing Browner to Kelly Jennings. That is beyond silly. Browner has now played two NFL games. He was good in the first game and bad in the second. Give the kid a chance. Arizona presents a good chance for redemption.

Captain Transparency & InvisiBoy - Mike Williams and Zach Miller have to be among the most frustrated players in the locker room. They aren't even getting the chance to succeed or fail. Jackson is locking onto Ben Obomanu, and is barely even looking Williams way. At least a couple of Jackson's bad decisions involved giving up on Williams' routes too early, and missing chances for intermediate gains (which equal big gains for this offense). Williams will never be the guy that gets major separation from defenders, but Jackson needs to force-feed him the ball a few times. Miller is basically an offensive lineman at this point. He is only going out into pass patterns a few times each game. Mike Holmgren used to always say a team needed its best players to play their best in order to win tough games. Williams and Miller need more chances to influence the outcome of the game.

Red Warriors - Seattle's defense is proving to be stout in the red-zone. They had their two more goal line stands against the Steelers, raising their total to five in two games. It is a good indication of the identity forming with the unit. They are tough, unyielding, and far more effective when they don't have to concern themselves with the deep ball. Both safeties are able to get involved, which is always a positive. Clinton McDonald did some great work again in the middle of the line, as did Brandon Mebane.

King Sidestep - Marshawn Lynch almost looks like he is playing hopscotch as he bounces from foot-to-foot in a diagonal fashion. He is such a tough guy, but his running style is so lateral that he hits the hole with similar force to Shaun Alexander. This team and this offensive line needs Lynch to run with much more conviction and decisiveness. It seems unlikely that Lynch will change his running style after all these years, but that might mean more Justin Forsett or Leon Washington. Someone has to hit the hole, even if there isn't one to hit.

The Steelers held the ball for over 38 minutes, which is a shocking number. Seattle passed the ball 29 times and ran it only 13, three of which were QB scrambles. That works out to 32 called pass plays to 10 called runs. This team cannot function that way. Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable need to insist on the run. This team may not win a game all year when they pass more than they run. Passing three times as often as they run is a guaranteed loss. It will not be easy. The Seahawks tried to put both Russell Okung and James Carpenter on the same side for one run as an unbalanced line, and they still only managed a single yard. Running two times for every pass should be a goal. It may lead to an uninspired and limited offense, but at least it would be an uninspired and limited offense that was developing a smash-mouth mentality. The lineman, the running backs, the opponents need to know the Seahawks are not going to abandon the run. Only three teams have scored fewer points than the Seahawks, and two of them do not play their second game until tonight. Committing to the run can't lead to fewer points.

Seattle's defense has gone two games without forcing a turnover. There is only one other team in the NFL that has not forced a turnover, and the Seahawks played them on Sunday. Coaches will have to weigh how much it is worth taking some more risks as the season progresses. The unit is playing sound defense, but they may need to apply more pressure to try and win a game or two with big plays.

Arizona comes to town next week. It is the most winnable game on the schedule for quite some time. Seattle better come out with a different approach, or this could get very ugly.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Blueprint For Seahawks Win In Pittsburgh

Guess what? The Steelers have not won a damn game yet. In fact, they got their asses kicked far worse than the Seahawks last week. They got run over, passed by, and an offense led by Tarvaris Jackson outscored one led by Ben Roethlisberger by 10 points. They are a proud franchise that was in the Super Bowl as recently as last season, but they bleed just the same. Ask 1000 NFL fans in any city, including Seattle, which team will win on Sunday, and 99% of them will tell you the Steelers are locks to embarrass the Seahawks. Look a little closer, and there is reason to think the Seahawks may have what it takes to shock the NFL nation this weekend.

First, take a look at the key differences in the Steelers wins versus losses. Over the last three seasons, the Steelers have lost 16 times, including their SB loss to Green Bay in 2010. In those 16 losses, the Steelers:

Score 9.7 fewer points/game (16.4)
Surrender 8.4 more points/game (22.8)
Rush for under 100 yards (avg 97.5, 20 yards less than their wins)
Turn the ball over 2 times/game (0.6 more than their wins)
Give up 51 yards more on defense (309.4 yards versus 258.1)
Grab 2 turnovers (.4 less than their wins)

The Steelers are 14-10 (.583) during that time period when rushing for 105 yards or less, compared to 24-6 (.800) when they rush for more than that total. They are only 7-5 when 80% or more of their total yards are gained through the air. In other words, making them a reliant on the passing game makes them far more vulnerable. The Seahawks can make a name for themselves on defense by going in and stuffing the run. Pittsburgh has offensive line challenges, and the Seahawks defensive line may be the strength of the team.

Roethlisberger historically takes care of the ball pretty well. He threw only five interceptions last season, but had three in the first game this year. His interception percentage can climb into the 3.0%+ range during his less years, including a 23 pick, 4.9% INT season in 2006. Earl Thomas is a player who will be critical to the outcome of the game. He has multi-interception capability, and is a threat to return any ball he catches back for a score.

Stoning the Steelers running game early, and possibly even taking the lead on a special teams play, turnover, or surprising drive by the offense would push the Steelers further away from their comfort zone. Teams that beat the Steelers don't dominate them. They play them to a standstill. The turnovers are almost the same (2.1 given, 2 taken). The yardage even favors Pittsburgh in those losses (321 yards for, 309 yards against). Seattle's offense does not have to be special. It needs to limit turnovers, and be opportunistic. Any ability to establish a running game would a go long way, as it will limit the Steelers time of possession, and further reduce their ability to rely on the run.

A Seahawks victory is not a ridiculous notion. This defense has what it takes to force Pittsburgh away from their strengths on offense, and the players to create turnovers. A chided Seattle special teams could also be in position to take advantage of an older Steelers team. Funny things happen in the NFL when nobody is expecting a team to win. Seahawks fans may be the ones smiling on Sunday.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lightning Strikes: Earl Thomas Eclipses Troy Polamalu in 2011

Pete Carroll talks about his time coaching at USC quite a bit. He mentions a number situations and players that helped shape his experience and his teams. No player gets referenced more than Troy Polamalu. He is the gold standard by which Carroll judges all safeties and team leaders. Having played safety himself in college, Carroll has a special affinity for that position, and has crafted his defenses to feature great safeties. That is why it came as no surprise when Carroll used one of his first two 1st-round draft picks in 2010 to select a safety, Earl Thomas.

Thomas, given the nickname "Lightning" by the Seahawks PR staff, had a unique blend of speed and toughness that allowed him to project as both the top cover corner and top safety on many scouts boards. At only 5'10" and 202 lbs, there were some that questioned whether Thomas could withstand the pounding at the NFL level. Only time will reveal the truth there, but he would not be the first safety to make it at that size. Polamalu checks in at 5'10" and 207 lbs, and played in 88 of his first 96 games.

Over his first eight seasons, Polamalu has averaged 64.5 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 3.4 interceptions, 10.25 passes defensed, and 3.6 tackles for loss each year. He made the Pro Bowl six times, the All-Pro team four times, and was awarded the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 2010. He is kinda good. Earl Thomas will be better...this year.

Thomas was a Pro Bowl alternate in his rookie season. He led the Seahawks in interceptions, with five, collected 76 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 7 passes defensed, and 1 tackle for loss. Four of his five picks came in the first six weeks of the season. Thomas went through a rookie lull before finishing strong with a sparkling performance against the Rams and then Drew Brees and the Saints, where coaches started to utilize him as a slot corner as well as a safety. He never dominated a game, but he rarely got beat. It was a solid, if not spectacular, rookie campaign. So why the bullish prediction for 2011?

Thomas is one of the most physically gifted players in the NFL, and he compliments those gifts with an outstanding work ethic, intellect and competitive drive. Rookies often make dramatic improvements from year one to year two in their careers. Safeties have similar requirements to read offenses as a middle linebacker. After all, if a safety makes the wrong read, it can often lead to a touchdown. Thomas has commented on how much the game has slowed down for him this season, and it showed in the season opener where he did his best Neo impersonation as he blurred all over the field while the 49ers were operating in normal space and time.

What was most impressive about Thomas' opening game was that none of his memorable impact plays came against the pass. Thomas was constantly getting into the 49ers backfield on his way to collecting 9 tackles (7 solo) and 2 tackles for loss. Remember, he had one tackle for loss in his entire rookie season. That was always the part that did not quite fit when Carroll would favorably compare Thomas to Polamalu. The Steelers do-everything safety is often around the line of scrimmage making big hits. We never saw that out of Thomas last season. Part of that is the addition of safeties next to him (Kam Chancellor, Atari Bigby) that are good enough to allow Thomas to roam where he could not with Lawyer Milloy and Jordan Babineaux last season. Another part can be explained by the growth of a rookie into a veteran. Thomas still has plenty to learn, but he appears to have reached the nexus point where extreme talent meets with enough know-how to enable high-impact results.

Polamalu enjoyed a break-out sophomore season when he more than doubled his tackles, went from zero to five interceptions, and almost quadrupled his passes defensed. He did not get as many snaps as Thomas during his rookie season, which explains some of the jump, but that was also because he was not ready to play at that level until his second year. As great as Polamalu has been, as recently as last year, he is also getting older. He started his ninth season, at the age of 30, with a forgettable game. He collected six tackles, but made no significant plays as Joe Flacco was able to carve up the Steelers defense. Now, nobody is writing off Polamalu after one game. In fact, he will probably have another Pro Bowl season this year. He certainly won't be getting better, though, any time soon. Thomas is a rising star, and Polamalu is the setting Sun.

Fans can count on a break-out game from Thomas at some point this season. A game that will have everyone in the NFL talking. He is good enough to win a game for his team from the safety position. It has not happened yet, but lightning will strike. Seahawks fans are hoping it strikes often.

2011 Hawk Blogger Power Rankings: Week 1

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. Only 3 of the top 10 teams from week one of 2010 made the playoffs, and a team as low as #27 (Atlanta) was a league power. 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. In 2010 8 of top 10 teams from week 3 made the playoffs.

If you'd like to see how teams rankings changed from 2009 to 2010, you can read more here.

Break up the Buffalo Bills!

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. Completely symmetrical after week one.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Play Rewind: Matt McCoy Goes Airborne


Matt McCoy made a spectacular leaping tackle of Frank Gore in yesterday's game for a loss of two yards. The Seahawks were trailing 16-10 at that point, and had just finished holding the 49ers to a FG after they had a 1st and Goal from the 8-yard-line. A silly penalty call on the field goal attempt gave the 49ers the ball back with a 1st down at the 1-yard-line. Give an NFL team a 1st down from the 1-yard-line, and they are going to score a TD nearly every time. Give it to them immediately after the defense spent a ton of energy stuffing the last goal-line effort? That is a touchdown 99 out of 100 times. The 1 out of 100 came on Sunday.

The play starts with the 49ers lined up in a 3-TE set. One of the TEs motions across the line of scrimmage and Earl Thomas (#29) drags across with him. This removes one defender from the hole the 49ers intend to run through. Of note for the Seahawks is Clinton McDonald (#69, the player received in the Kelly Jennings trade) playing nose tackle, Atari Bigby (#27) as the third safety, and McCoy (#52) in place of K.J. Wright.

McDonald and Alan Branch (#99) make their presence felt immediately after the ball is snapped, collapsing the entire right side of the 49ers line. McDonald, in particular, gets terrific penetration into the 49ers back-field. His play ensured Gore had no chance to cut back. Brandon Mebane (#92) and Chris Clemons (#91) were being double-teamed and driven back into the end-zone. Kam Chancellor (#31) was moving up to meet the fullback in the back-field for the second-best collision of the play. McCoy, Aaron Curry (#59) and Leroy Hill (#56) were flowing toward the play. McCoy takes two steps before launching himself from just inside the goal line.

Chancellor yields no ground to the fullback. It was not as flashy as what McCoy was about to do, but it was every bit as critical to the stop. As Gore (#21) reaches the pile-up caused by Chancellor, McCoy completes his cross-country trip through the air by slamming into the running back. Gore crumples to the ground under a pile of McCoy, Chancellor and Curry.

The result of the play was a loss of two yards, turning 1st and Goal at the 1-yard-line into 2nd and Goal at the 3. On the very next play, McDonald repeats his submarine job, Alan Branch slides down the line to make the tackle, McCoy undercuts his blocker and Chancellor take the fullback and slams him to the ground like a rag-doll for a loss of another yard. The drive ends with Gore falling a few feet short of the end-zone. Chancellor was in on that tackle as well. Outstanding run defense by the Seahawks.

The Morning After: Seahawks Lose To 49ers, 33-17

San Francisco was already ahead 3-0. The Seahawks offense could not get out of it's own way. On a 4th and 1 from the Seahawks 1-yard line, the 49ers called the perfect play to score a critical touchdown, except fullback Moran Norris dropped the Alex Smith pass. The 49ers would go on to take a 6-0 lead, but a key penalty and a couple of late turnovers in the first half led to a 31-6 victory for the Seahawks. As if to prove how slim the margin is between big win and big loss in the NFL, the Seahawks played a game that was statistically similar to last season's opener, but the result was decidedly different.

Last year's starting quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck, threw an interception on the season's first play before passing for 170 yards. Tarvaris Jackson threw for 197. Last year's running backs combined for 23 rushing attempts and 77 yards, a 3.3 average per carry. This year's backs went 22 for 64 yards and a 2.9 average. The defense held the 49ers to 1-15 on 3rd down conversions last year, compared to 1-12 this season. The similarities continue, but it is the differences that will reveal why this game was lost.

The obvious place to start is special teams. Ted Ginn Jr. had 268 return yards and two touchdowns, after the 49ers managed just 94 total return yards in Seattle. Turnovers played in a key role in both games, with Seattle getting a pick-6 that led to the way to a 2-1 turnover advantage last year, but getting pummeled 3-0 in turnovers this year. There were other minor differences, but those two areas are where the game turned. Some will point to Jackson as the prime suspect since he was involved in all three turnovers. Some will point to the offensive line that surrendered five sacks and eight quarterback hits. Lost in all the scapegoating is an appreciation for a virtuoso defensive performance and a remarkable recovery from a young and injury-depleted offense in the 2nd half.

In case you missed it, the Seahawks defense blew the doors off yesterday. Earl Thomas just made another play while I wrote this sentence. His battery mate, Kam Chancellor, went for 10 tackles and two tackles for loss (TFL) in his first career start. Between the two of them, they accounted for 19 tackles and four TFL. If there is a better young safety tandem in the NFL, I haven't seen it. These were not touchdown-saving tackles 20 yards down-field. These were two players attacking the line of scrimmage and punishing opponents. The Seahawks appear to be using both safeties more like linebackers, shooting gaps instead of providing support. This could be fun.

The defensive line was breath-taking. San Francisco was so intent on running the ball down the Seahawks throat, but they spent most of the afternoon choking on it as the Seahawks absolutely stoned them. These weren't just pig-piles either. Frank Gore and his buddies were getting hammered. Gore ended the game with a 2.7 YPC. Only two teams have held him to a lower YPC in his last 12 games, Tampa Bay (1.1) and your very own Seahawks in last year's opener (2.2).

Lofa Tatupu was nowhere to be seen, but the linebackers did not miss him. Aaron Curry started the game with a couple great tackles, and Matt McCoy ended it with one of the best Seahawks hits in recent memory. McCoy got snaps as the team's nickel linebacker, and played extremely well all day. Tatupu's back-up, and arguably the team's best linebacker, David Hawthorne, didn't even play. Rookie K.J. Wright filled in admirably, only being noticed when making positive plays.

Poor Brandon Browner deserves his own spotlight for playing the best game the referees never saw. The pass interference call against him on 3rd and 1, from the goal-line with Seattle trailing 9-0, opened the door for a decisive 16-0 lead. Replays showed 49ers receiver Braylon Edwards was the one grabbing Browner's jersey and pushing off. Those are tough plays to call, but when a guy blocks an opponent on the shoulder and gets called for a block in the back, that is inexcusable. Leon Washington was sprung for a huge return on a great block by Browner that was called back [Note: Pete Carroll has since said the penalty was called against Atari Bigby]. And then Browner was the victim of a phantom roughing the kicker call that gave the 49ers a 1st down from the 1-yard-line. The ensuing second goal-line stand was the exclamation mark on a day full of inspired play from the defense.

The lack of a pass rush was a concern, but not cause for alarm. San Francisco spent much of the day relying on quick drops. There were only a couple of times where Alex Smith had the chance to scan the field for more than a few seconds. Even without a pass rush, coverage was great. Explosive plays were a bugaboo for the Seahawks defense last season, giving up the 2nd most pass plays over 20 yards in the NFL (71), for an average of nearly four per game. The 49ers only managed two such plays yesterday, and were stuck on one until late in the 4th quarter. A much stronger test comes next week in Pittsburgh.

Focusing only on the defense would be ignoring an offense that will have many fans wringing their hands. After all, this was an offense that managed only 37 yards in the first half, and an offensive line that surrendered five sacks and eight QB hits. The offense was inexcusably bad in that opening half. The offensive line was so bad that it did not appear any sustained drive was realistic. That is what made the team's second half performance all the more remarkable. Jackson and team took the opening possession of the second half 56 yards for a touchdown, out-gaining their entire first half in three minutes. The touchdown play to Golden Tate was beautifully designed by Darrell Bevell and well executed. The offense was not exactly dynamic on its way to 182 yards in the second half, but it was competitive. Jackson ended with a 78.3 QB rating, which was higher than all but five of Matt Hasselbeck's regular season games last year. Take away his Hail Mary interception at the end of the first half, and he would have been at 89.6. It is too early to decide who Jackson will be at quarterback, but some patterns are emerging.

Jackson's leadership and poise are going to be a valuable asset as his offensive line will likely get him pummeled regularly. If he gets up and keeps playing hard, what excuse does anyone else have not to? His block on a Ben Obomanu reverse was bad-ass. He also has a tendency to hold onto the ball too long, which is a bad combination with this line. His throws tend to be high, which can also lead to turnovers. He will not win many games based on his talent or performance, but his second half play yesterday gives hope he could grow into more than he is if he can get 5-6 starts in a row.

The offensive line played a retro game Sunday, circa 1992. That group surrendered 4+ sacks per game, and 67 for the season. The biggest disappointment yesterday was Russell Okung. He can be an elite left tackle, and players of that caliber do not play as poorly as he did in the first half no matter how much practice and off-season they missed. He must play better for this line to have any chance at stability. James Carpenter can officially be put on the "trouble" watch list. Forget left guard, right tackle, inexperience and every other excuse. Carpenter is getting physically beaten on a regular basis. Lineman, big and small, are bull-rushing him and speed-rushing him with almost equal success. If Robert Gallery can return next week, I'd guess Carpenter sits. Fellow rookie John Moffitt was not great, but was far less of a liability. Breno Giacomini was not a lot better than Carpenter, but was better. The trouble on the line forced Zach Miller to stay back and block, which was made worse when FB Michael Robinson left early with an ankle injury. Miller ended up playing some fullback as well. That's not how the team envisioned their $18M tight end being utilized. Expect Mike Karney, or another fullback to be signed this week if Robinson is out for an extended period.

Doug Baldwin had an impressive debut that included a 55-yard TD that would have put the team in great position to win if the special teams remembered to tackle. The rest of the receivers were hard-pressed to get the ball, and did not appear to be getting open very often. What looked to help the team more than anything was playing with great pace. The speed at which the team reached the line and snapped the ball was dramatically faster in the second half. It is not a cure-all for a lack of cohesion, but it certainly helps.

Judging this team solely by wins and losses will almost certainly lead to frustration and anger. Fans in that camp will miss the story of Brandon Browner, the development of an elite run defense, and the dual Pro Bowl threat at safety. Imagine that defense playing in front of the 12th Man at home. The offense will struggle. There are no guarantees it will ever find its footing this season, but the experience will improve the offensive line. Things get tougher next week in Pittsburgh, but there is victory in going into their house and punching them in the face, even if the final score doesn't make fans smile.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I Remember

Isaac was a physically gifted kid from the first day he was born, and he proved it again when he started crawling at just over five months of age. It was his first visit to see his grandpa, and he was putting on a good show. My wife and I were happy to see his progress, but dreading his new-found mobility. Twenty-four hours later, we were all trapped.

The morning started early, as it always did with Isaac. He was scampering around while I was in the back room of my father-in-laws house ironing a shirt to wear for a round of golf we had scheduled for later that morning. My wife was in the family room drinking her morning coffee while watching TV with her step mother. Bagels were warm, and orange juice was flowing. The rhythm of the morning skipped when my wife and her step-mother simultaneously said, "Whoa! It looks like a plan hit one of the towers." Nobody was particularly alarmed. It was tragic, but probably just a prop plane that crashed. I didn't stop ironing, or even leave the back room to see the TV. That changed a few minutes later when the gasps I heard from the other room signaled more than just a news story, "Oh my god! Another one! Brian, another plane just hit one of the towers!!"

My first thought was, "We're on an island. How do I get my family out of here?" I rushed into the family room to see for myself what was going on. Everyone was standing, silent, staring. The towers were smoking. It looked like the attack was successful, but largely contained. We settled in to watch what happened. CNN, and others, were already broadcasting video of the towers after the first plane hit, so they had footage of the second plane that they replayed repeatedly, trying to judge what size plane it had been. Nobody could believe it was a full-size passenger plane. My thoughts wandered as I saw the smoke wafting from the buildings. What if those planes hitting was just the first stage? What if they were carrying chemical weapons? What direction is the wind blowing? Twenty minutes in, and I was thinking about where we might be able to buy gas masks for a five-month-old.

My father-in-law climbed on his roof, and could see the smoke rising well off in the distance. The rest of us stayed glued to the TV. People were jumping out of the towers at a sickeningly steady pace. An hour or two went by before the first tower collapsed. Ash and debris careened through the city in a display reserved for blockbuster movies. My wife got a call from one of her friends in the city. She had been on the subway when the second plane hit, and the operator had gotten the call to stop the train and empty out the passengers. She climbed up to the streets to find a chaotic scene. The street and people were gray with ash, and were running away. She instinctively joined them, and started an urban pilgrimage out of the city. Another friend met up with her, and they were calling my wife hoping to come out our way.

My father-in-law and I had started talking about finding a blood bank where we could donate. Was it irresponsible to leave my son and wife, even for a few hours? We decided to take the chance and drove around to various clinics, only to find evidence of America's greatness. Hundreds of people had beaten us to the punch. We were turned away from every location because there were too many volunteers already waiting, lines wrapping repeatedly around each building.

We returned home, and settled in. The second tower collapsed. The pentagon was hit. Nobody knew what would happen next. Helpless, all we could do was watch.

Our return flight had been scheduled for September 12th out of JFK. That clearly wasn't going to happen. We started looking into trains (sold out), and even considered renting a car to drive back to Seattle. My wife had a broken ankle, and was on crutches. My son was colicky, and the thought of a cross-country drive was terrifying in its own way. We decided to wait it out. JFK was re-opened on September 13th, and we made our way there. Security was like nothing we had ever seen. Police roamed the halls in force, carrying shotguns. They made us remove Isaac from his Baby Bjorn so he could be patted down. As we waited for our flight, multiple false alarms caused police to rush onto planes that had already started boarding. Eventually, they shut down the airport again before our flight could take off. A day later, we returned, and were allowed to take off this time. It was a JetBlue flight that was equipped with TVs at every seat. I sat with my son asleep in my arms as I watched footage on CNN of a plane flying into the tower, and then I looked out the window to see the smoldering remains below as we flew over them. The area was lit, even at night, as rescue workers were still attempting to save people trapped in the wreckage.

Every single time I go to a sporting event and it is time for the national anthem, I sing it, and think about that day. I think about how lucky we are to have luxuries like professional sports. I think about the people that no longer get to revel in the fun and excess. For a long time, when I'd see a plane flying over the stadium, I'd watch for a few seconds to see where it was headed. We are blessed to live in a country that provides us so much that we can afford to spend this much time and energy on something as unnecessary as football. I will never take that for granted. Isaac is now 10, and he just got his first dog yesterday, September 10th, 2011. The family named him Lucky this morning. One can only hope.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Introducing Blog Topic Suggestion Box

If there is ever anything you'd like me to write about, go ahead and submit your idea here.

Readers can discuss the suggestions and who knows what else? I wanted to try out this new web gadget I found. Tell me what you think.

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Seahawks 2011 Season Preview Part III: Defense, Special Teams and Predictions

Defense – Starters

Red Bryant – LDE
Brandon Mebane* – DT
Alan Branch* – DT
Chris Clemons – RDE
Aaron Curry – SAM (Strongside Linebacker)
David Hawthorne* – MIKE (Middle Linebacker)
Leroy Hill* – WILL (Weakside Linebacker)
Brandon Browner* – RCB
Kam Chancellor* – SS
Earl Thomas – FS
Marcus Trufant – LCB

* New starter or new position
** Pro Bowl

Defense – Running Game

No part of the Seahawks 2011 team has the chance to be as dominant as the Seahawks run defense. Many of the same key elements that were part of a strong run defense last season return, along with some upgrades. While scoring points is critical for success, don't sell run defense short. Six of the Seahawks eight victories (including playoffs) last season came in games the team held opponents under 100 yards rushing. Red Bryant is a key element, as is Brandon Mebane. David Hawthorne is an upgrade over Lofa Tatupu, and Leroy Hill may prove to be an upgrade at WILL over Hawthorne. A less heralded part of the run defense last year was Lawyer Milloy who has been replaced by 237 lb wrecking ball, Kam Chancellor. Add to that, strong run supporting corners in Brandon Browner and Marcus Trufant, and you can see this defense is built to stop the run. It will be very difficult to win any games when opposing teams establish a running attack. Reasonable goals this year are to hold opponents average below 4.0 yards per carry and under 100 yards per game. A healthy Seahawks defense should limit those types of games, and has the potential to be the best run defense in recent team history.

Defense – Passing Game

If addition by subtraction is can truly happen, the Seahawks became infinitely better when they traded away Kelly Jennings. No move in the secondary may have a bigger impact that subtracting the team's weakest pass defender and hopeless run supporter. The fact that the team replaced Jennings with some capable young talent makes the juxtaposition all the more stark. Youth is the rule for this secondary, as I detailed here. The team needed to do something as they were hopeless against the pass much of last season, yielding a 25th-ranked opposing 89.7 QB rating and a 31st-ranked 71 pass plays over 20 yards. The bright spot was an improved pass rush that recorded 37 sacks (13th), and the top-ranked sack duo in Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock. This defense is so stacked to stop the run, that it can struggle to get pass pressure and defend the pass. As great as Bryant is against the run, he's a below average pass rusher. Creative blitzes, including many involving the secondary, were a staple last season, and should be again. Chancellor could be a special blitzer, as could the lighting fast Earl Thomas, and oft-forgotten Hill. The team will face improved QB play within the division, so they must improve just to maintain their level of last year. Treading water, though, is not enough. Reasonable goals should be to add 5-7 interceptions to the 2010 total of 12 (25th), and to drop opponents QB rating under 85.0. 

Defense – Defensive Line

Bryant was the talk of the team before he got injured last season, and appears to be back to his old wrecking ball self. An element of the team's great line play that was less discussed was Colin Cole. Cole was among the league leaders for tackles/game for a defensive lineman. He was injured in the same game Bryant was, but most attributed the drop-off in run defense to Bryant's absence. Numbers tell otherwise. The Seahawks had 4 of 5 opponents to rush for more than 100 yards while Cole and Bryant were out. They then held 4 of 5 opponents under 100 yards after Cole returned. The team decided to cut Cole this season, and go with Alan Branch and a series of lesser-known guys like Clinton McDonald, Landon Cohen, and Al Woods. Time will tell if that was a proper trade-off. Mebane shifts to the nose tackle position, where he had his best seasons in years past. Branch takes over Mebane's spot. He was a highly-drafted player who the Arizona Cardinals let walk. He has shown a penchant for batting down passes, but not a lot else so far. Clemons and Brock return as strong rush ends, but the team must force opponents into passing situations to get both players on the field at the same time. Brock has proven to be a dynamic playmaker, and looks to be headed for another big year. 

Defense – Linebackers

Despite high-profile signings like Sidney Rice, Robert Gallery and Zach Miller, the most impressive move of the Seahawks off-season was having the stones to move on from Lofa Tatupu. He was an unquestioned fan favorite, coaches dream, and team leader. He was also a below league-average starting linebacker whose production was steadily fading, and was unlikely to recover. There is a reason no team in the league has offered him a starting position. Hawthorne is battling a knee injury as the season begins, but is a major upgrade if healthy. Hawthorne is not the pass defender Tatupu is, but excels in run support. Hill returns to his familiar WILL position where he has always been an above average player when healthy. There is some hope this coaching staff can give him a chance to recapture some of the pass rush ability he flashed while recording 7.5 sacks his rookie season (no more than 3.0 since). Aaron Curry is probably entering his last season with the team after his contract was renegotiated, but it could be his best. He made a handful of heady plays in the pre-season that he simply never demonstrated the ability to do in his first two years. Curry's ideal is to be a Lance Briggs-style enforcer. Briggs never gets more than a couple of sacks in a season, but is able to impact the game in other ways like tackles for loss, forced fumbles and sure-tackling. Don't be surprised if Curry has his best season, and then leaves. The depth at linebacker is far better than it has been in recent history. Rookies K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith are potential impact players. Both should see the field over the course of the season. Wright is a strong open-field tackler, with great length and appears to have some special coverage ability. Smith is a blur that tackles with ferocity. Wright or Smith may even push Hawthorne on Nickel or Dime snaps as the year goes on.

Defense – Secondary

Brandon Browner stood out from the very first time he was spotted at practice. Not only is he 6'4", but he covers with confidence. He frustrated Mike Williams multiple times during training camp. The larger corners Carroll likes to employ are going to be less prone to jump balls and fade patterns, but will probably draw more pass interference and illegal contact penalties than their smaller counterparts. Browner, Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell all use their hands all over the field. That could become their reputation around the league if they start out drawing penalties early on. Fans should welcome that shift in risk. The Bears corners manhandled the Seahawks all afternoon in the playoffs last season, but the refs are not going to call it every time. Same thing with the Packers cornerbacks. Penalties are preferable to hopelessness. 

Look for Earl Thomas to roll up on the slot receiver far more this season. He has cover corner abilities, and it also allows the team to utilize him as a blitzer on occasion. He practically teleports around the field, so putting him three steps from the QB can be dynamic. Atari Bigby will partner with Thomas is those Nickel and Dime situations, and is a veteran who can be a playmaker. Health has been his issue. Rookie Jeron Johnson was a surprise to make the team, and is promising, but should not see much time this season. Chancellor is the biggest unknown of the bunch as he has a Pro Bowl ceiling, but there are reasons other teams don't sport 230+ lb safeties. Time will tell if he gets exposed. The best guess here is he becomes the breakout player on the team this season.

Defense – Overall 2010 Outlook

The defense is farther along than the offense in the overall rebuilding process. There are pieces in place to be a good defense this season, and their is enough talent to potentially be better than good. The secondary is similar to the offensive line in its youth and inexperience, but should not need the same 2-3 years to gel. Expect faster play and more turnovers this season. Health, as always, will be a major factor. Seahawks coaches hope they have better depth at some of those key positions than last season, but nobody really knows what the team has in McDonald, Cohen and Woods backing up along the line. Fans will enjoy watching this defense play, possibly more than the offense.

Special Teams – Overall 2010 Outlook

Special teams were the best unit on the team last season. Losing Olindo Mare was significant, and Steven Hauschka is unknown. Jon Ryan is a terrific punter, and the coverage teams should again be stacked with a good mix of athletic youngsters and proven veterans. The return game will be effected by the new kickoff rules, but fans should still expect at least a return or two for touchdowns.

Scouting the NFC West
San Francisco 49ers

No team had a more confusing off-season than the 49ers. They added Jim Harbaugh as coach, but lost key parts like Aubrayo Franklin, Takeo Spikes, Manny Lawson and Nate Clements. They brought back Alex Smith. Their best addition may be rookie RB Kendall Hunter, who will be a thorn in the Seahawks side for years to come. They have a struggling offensive line as well, but have the size to be a good running team. It is hard to see how this team wins more than 4-6 games.

St. Louis Rams

Sam Bradford could be the best player in the NFC West this season. He threw a lot of short passes last season, but was brilliant as a rookie. He has some improved weapons, including rookie TE Lance Kendricks who Seahawks fans will also grow to hate for many seasons ahead. The defense is overshadowed by the bigger names on offense, but that could be the better part of the team. Anything less than a division title would be a serious failure for a Rams team that has more pieces in place than any other team in the division. Bradford sets them apart.

Arizona Cardinals

Much has been made of how much better Kevin Kolb will be than the schlock the Cardinals trotted out at QB last season. It is true that Kolb will be a major upgrade, but Cards fans should remember that their defense was just as bad as their offense last year, and is old. Their defense was always reliant on a special offense to score a lot of points and keep them off the field, even during their division title days. But is Kolb really going to play on par with Kurt Warner? Is the offense, as a whole, as talented as when they had Steve Breaston and Anquan Boldin? That is highly doubtful, and the defense is less capable as well. Expect a middling season for the Cardinals. They don't know it yet, but they are locked into mediocrity for the foreseeable future as they will need to rebuild their defense and their offense will not be elite. 

Scouting The Opponents

Past Predictions:
2010: 8-8 (Actual: 7-9)
2009:  10-6 (Actual: 5-12)
2008: 12-4 (Actual: 4-12)
2007: 10-6 (Actual 9-7)

There may never have been a team that could slide farther back from a record perspective, and still have a moved so much closer to a championship. This team is significantly younger and more talented than the team from last season, but expecting a better outcome than last year is like expecting a pie to taste good before you bake it. The things that matter this season are progress in building cornerstones for what could be a Super Bowl contending team in two years. Can Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor become a dominant safety tandem? Will Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell show they can be big and good? Can Russell Okung set aside the injury concerns? The answers to these questions are far more important in the big picture than what will the Seahawks record be. 

Spending a bunch of time fretting about Tarvaris Jackson, Charlie Whitehurst, or any other stop-gap quarterback is  pointless. The team is setup to find their long-term quarterback next year, one way or another. Jackson will be a guy worth rooting for, who will take a beating and keep popping up for more. The defense could be fun to watch, and is the reason their is potential for a surprising outcome this season. A flurry of turnovers could give the offense the leg up it needs to make the club competitive. The forest is there, even if this season may be full of trees blocking your view.