Monday, October 31, 2011

The Morning After: Bengals Embarrass Seahawks, 34-12

Dave "Softy" Mahler stood behind the KJR prize table on the 75th floor of the Columbia Tower. A patron had just won a DVD as part of a raffle, and Mahler decided to toss it to her from across the room. He announced, "Here's my best Charlie Whitehurst," before spinning the DVD case like a frisbee that covered a surprising distance at a startling speed. The case veered hard left of its intended target and shattered a glass on another table, showering people with water and shards of glass. It was shocking, hilarious, and sadly indicative of the game that was still an hour away. The whole pre-game brunch felt a little like being inside Pete Carroll's brain. The normally expansive view was replaced with a thick fog. People got glimpses of beauty that were then quickly covered up by something not worth watching.

Carroll opened Pandora's Box by not only making mind-boggling decisions, but by offering a frightening glimpse into his thought process for how he got there. The decision to start Whitehurst despite having a healthy-enough Tarvaris Jackson available was one of the worst coaching mistakes I have witnessed in the NFL. This was not just about starting Whitehurst. It was a collection of flawed choices that led up to the decision. Whitehurst is not an NFL starter, and is questionable as an NFL back-up. Playing him when there is any other choice calls into question Carroll's ability to appropriately assess his players. Announcing Jackson as the starter, but then starting Whitehurst, does not set either up in the best position to succeed. Telling people in the post-game press conference that he made the decision, in part, because he "wanted to see if we could get away without playing Tarvaris for another week," leaves the impression that he thought the Bengals were so inferior to the Seahawks that Carroll's team could win with one hand tied behind their backs. The Bengals are the team that entered the game 4-2, and the Seahawks were the ones who sat at 2-4, coming off an unspeakable loss one week prior.

The coach also showed a tone deafness to reading the fans. CenturyLink was already somewhat subdued to start the game as fans were pissed after last week's game, and the Bengals are far from a marquee match-up. Whatever excitement was in the stadium was sucked out when Whitehurst trotted on the field. People were confused, angry, and depressed. This game would have played out much differently if Jackson had run onto the field to a loud ovation and led the team to an opening score. There is no proof to say that would have happened, but Carroll robbed the team, the player and the fans of that chance. This could have been Jackson's moment to connect with fans by saving them from the depths of Whitehurst.

One also has to now question previous and future Carroll decisions to sit or play his players. How do we know Jackson could not have played last week? As upset as people were that Jackson could not go, that emotion was harmlessly vented into the ether because there was nobody to blame. Now, what is going to keep fans from questioning whether Carroll held back a healthy-enough player?

Almost all of Carroll's poor choices appear to stem from his relentless glass half-full perspective. He sees hope for Whitehurst where there is none. He believes his team is good enough to beat a decent opponent without their starting quarterback when they are not. He assumes his offense can run for a touchdown from five yards out when they have averaged under a yard per carry. He thinks his kicker will be the first player in CenturyLink to kick a 61-yard field goal when the chances are nil. Carroll may not be a glass half-full guy. His decisions paint a picture of a person who sees a glass with a drop of water in it as almost full. By some measures, that is called delusional.

The loss to the Bengals does not matter in the grande scheme of where this franchise is going. Carroll and John Schneider have assembled one of the most talented young rosters in the league in very short order. Nothing that happened yesterday changes that. This team is destined to be very good in the next few years in large part because of the personnel philosophy of Carroll the front office guy and Carroll the defensive coach. What needs to be determined is whether Carroll the head coach is good enough to lead a team to a Super Bowl. To get there, he needs to rid himself of the indecisiveness he showed on Sunday. Do not apologize for running the ball before half if that is what you thought was the best way to win the game. Bill Belichick didn't apologize for going for it on fourth down in his own territory on the road in Indianapolis a few years back when that backfired. Have the courage of your convictions. Don't talk about what we will be in a few years. Instill that mentality right now. Take responsibility for those decisions, but do not apologize for them. All coaches have to make tough choices, and will always be second-guessed. Carroll's biggest challenge is being confident enough to make that hard decision and stand behind it without equivocation. Leaders do not have the luxury of showing that kind of weakness.

This week was all about the head coach. There were areas of game play worth reviewing that will come later. For now, there is some broken glass that needs to be cleaned up, and a leader that must never let it break again.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Refreshingly Humble Seahawks

Thursday night was a rare night out for this blogger. HawkBloggerWife had just finished jury duty, and my short, but too long, stint as a single working parent was coming to an end. Scott Enyeart is in town from LA, and was meeting up with some other Twitter buddies at Joey's in Bellevue for the Seahawks Weekly radio show KIRO710 puts on each week. It was a regular who's who of people who only matter when sitting behind a keyboard. Scott, Davis Hsu, Danny Kelly, Chris Sullivan, Erik (didn't catch the last name), and I circled a table waiting for the show to start. There were surprisingly few pocket protectors for guys that all met via Twitter. Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings never even came up.

The show was hosted by Matt Pittman, Mack Strong and Dave Wyman. Kam Chancellor called in part way through, as did John Clayton and Mike Sando. Later, Anthony Hargrove showed up for an in-person interview. Someone noticed John Moffitt and Breno Giacomini were hanging out in a booth toward the back. The show was fine, but it was the men who made up the show that left an impression.

Wyman came by our table after they were done and spent probably 15-20 minutes just shootin' the shit. We talked about guys he played with like Alonzo Mitts and Rufus Porter. We talked about radio show personalities that shall remain nameless. We just talked. He wasn't doing the obligatory "mix with the fans" thing. He was just a guy in a bar talking.

Behind me was Mack Strong sitting in a booth with who I assume was his wife and a couple other ladies. The World Series was on the TV in extra innings, and Albert Pujols was coming to bat with a chance to tie the game. Strong and I were both expecting a big hit until we realized they were going to intentionally walk Pujols. I told Strong the story of Lance Berkman, and what he had said about the Rangers before the season as we watched Berkman look horrible on a few swings before tying the game with a clutch hit. By the time I had to leave, I shook Strong's hand and thanked him for being a great Seahawk, and for one of my favorite runs ever when he clinched the victory over the Redskins in the playoffs with a 30-yard rumble.

Earlier, Hargrove took the time to shake the hands of everyone at our table and around the restaurant that was paying attention. I passed Moffitt on the way to the restroom, and he was gracious when I introduced myself and shook his hand. Meanwhile, I had been jokingly harassing Chancellor on Twitter that he should be there in person, and he was responding.

We all know that this new age of social media has reduced the degrees of separation between fans and players. That sounds great until you find out the player you are talking to is a prick. Meeting guys that are as successful and humble as Wyman, Strong, Hargrove, and Moffitt isn't only rewarding as a fan, but it is refreshing as a man to know success doesn't have to equal conceit.

There are people far less successful than these guys who fancy themselves as far bigger celebrities. I was not impressed by a few media members at Seahawks training camp who gave me the "kiss the ring" reaction when I introduced myself. Consider yourselves lucky that this franchise is made up of more than just great players, but good solid people.




Thursday, October 27, 2011

Weekly Seahawks Podcast With Softy: Exit Browns, Enter Bengals

KJR950AM sports radio host Dave "Softy" Mahler and I recorded our weekly conversation about the Seahawks.

Lots of discussion about the Browns game, the lack of focus on the run, Charlie Whitehurst, the impact of Thurmond's injury, and why I believe this team could still win 10 games.

Tell me what you think. Tell me what you'd like us to cover in the future. Hope you like it!



**Listen to the Podcast**

Golden Tate Making Most Of His Chances

Golden Tate spent a fair amount of time in the news last season for all the wrong reasons. There was The Great Donut Caper, being made inactive for the team's first game, underwhelming coaches and fans when he did play, and various Twitter Troubles. Pete Carroll built him up in the off-season, telling the media they would make a more concerted effort to get him the ball this year. Tate responded with a pre-season that had some fans wondering if he would even make the squad. Since then, Tate has been used sparingly. He is so quiet, some fans have forgotten him entirely. There is reason to believe that represents real growth.

Tate has 7 rec in his last 9 targets
Tate's first regular season game was mostly another disappointment. He was targeted five times and made only one reception. It was a beautifully designed touchdown, but a 20% catch rate is not something to celebrate. His chances have dwindled after that game, but Tate is quietly making the most of almost every opportunity. He has seven receptions in his last nine targets for a 78% catch rate. That's outstanding. Doug Baldwin, in comparison, has 20 receptions in 30 targets on the year for a 66% catch rate. Sidney Rice is right behind at 17 receptions in 26 targets. An 80% catch rate is something generally reserved for running backs (Leon Washington is 8 for 10 this year).

None of this is to say Tate is playing fantastically. The story is that he is taking advantage of the chances he is being given, and likely earning more confidence from teammates and coaches. He is also keeping his mouth shut about the lack of playing time. Remember, this kid was a star in college who is being asked to adjust to life as a deep back-up in the NFL. That's humbling stuff for any man. Put it all together and there is hope that another one of Schneider's draft choices could grow into a player Seahawks fans would be proud of.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Play Rewind: Obomanu Corner Route Gone Wrong

Charlie Whitehurst had a bad game on Sunday. Everyone has already said that. All quarterbacks have bad games. Heck, Carson Palmer only managed half of Whitehurst's 35 passer rating on Sunday. The difference with Whitehurst was there were a few plays that stood out as indictments on his ability to play quarterback in the NFL. Plays that are not about having a bad game, they are about a player's viability. One such play came very early in the game. Hugh Millen discussed it on Hardcore Football with Ian Furness on Monday. It was a throw on 3rd and 13 to Ben Obomanu on what is called a corner or flag route that was severely under-thrown. Let's walk through it to see how it developed, and why it was an inexcusable miss.

THE SNAP: The Seahawks a 3WR, 1TE, 1RB set, and at the snap of the ball, Cleveland was showing blitz with six players crowding the line of scrimmage. Two safeties are not visible in this shot, and all the corners are rolled up in press coverage. 
PLAY FAKE: After the ball is snapped, LG Robert Gallery pulls to the right, and Whitehurst fakes a handoff to Leon Washington. It is worth noting that Washington would have had a ton of green in front of him if they play call had been to him. Cleveland only sends four rushers, but keeps two players near the line. All three corners are playing man coverage.


ROLLOUT: Whitehurst rolls to his right after the play fake to Washington. The line has done it's job wonderfully, and creates a gorgeous pocket for Whitehurst to throw from. Nobody is within 10 yards of the QB. Whitehurst has time and space to wind up and throw the ball as far as he can. He could survey the field and pick any target. The ball is being thrown from about the 35-yard line after Whitehurst steps into the throw.

BEHIND THE DEFENSE: Obomanu ran what appeared to be a Post-Corner route where the receiver breaks inward toward the middle of the field, and the out toward the corner of the endzone. He had gotten by the corner and the safety, and was running free two yards past the nearest defender. The ball is already in the air at this point (it's above the 42-yard line). Note that Doug Baldwin is five yards past his defender, and looked to be a viable choice as well.

IN-FLIGHT ADJUSTMENT: Obomanu sees that the ball is under-thrown, and breaks off his route to try and come back to the ball. His defender sees it as well, and positions himself between Obomanu and the ball. 

INCOMPLETE: The ball falls harmlessly at the 23-yard line, which make the throw about 42-yards vertically. Add another 10 yards since it was across the field, so figure a 52-yard throw. For Whitehurst to have completed the throw, he would have needed to get it to about the 20-yard line, maybe a few yards beyond. He also could have thrown a shorter pass to Baldwin.

So why is this so egregious? A quarterback needs a few things to go right in order to make a big play. Primarily, he needs protection and he needs a receiver to run a good route and give him a place to throw. Whitehurst had plenty of time, and a massive pocket. He was able to take all the time he needed to select his target, and had space to step into his throw to give it everything he had. He had multiple receivers that were open by more than a step. In the case of Baldwin and Obomanu, they were open by at least two steps. That's serious separation in the NFL. Whitehurst chose the right receiver to target since a completion could have led to a touchdown. All he needed to do was throw the ball 55-60 yards down-field. For a guy that is supposed to have a good arm, that should not be a problem. If it is a problem, he either should have selected a closer target or thrown the ball sooner. Whitehurst will not get a better designed play, executed with more precision than he got on this one.

People will tell you it takes a team to lose a game, and it is never on one guy. This play is a prime example of everyone on the field doing their job except the quarterback. There were other plays like this, that I may choose to breakdown as well. These are the plays that stick out when evaluating a quarterback. These are the plays that cause a person to write-off a player. This is not about having a bad game. It's about not being good enough to play the position.

Spending Wisely On Defense

Imagine shopping for linebackers. You see a deal that gets you 99 tackles, two sacks, three tackles for loss, and 1 interception that will cost $1,960,000. On the other shelf, there is a choice to get 29 tackles, no sacks, no tackles for loss, and no interceptions. You check the price tag and see a whopping $5,076,250. For less than half the price, the first option provides more than triple the production. Oh, and by the way, it represents three starters where the other is just one. That first deal, as you may have guessed, is the combined 2011 salaries of Leroy Hill ($685K), David Hawthorne ($900K), and K.J. Wright ($375K). The other option is former Seahawks Aaron Curry. Even if you throw in promising back-up Malcolm Smith, the four linebackers would still cost less than half of Curry's deal.

This represents a quantum shift from former GM Timmay! Ruskell, who infamously spent nearly a third of the team's salary cap on Lofa Tatupu, Hill and Curry. They were to be the foundation of his defense. Only Hill remains from that starting trio, and was only re-signed because of the greatly depressed market for his services. Current GM John Schneider owes Ruskell a tip of the cap for signing David Hawthorne as an unrestricted free agent and bringing in Hill. He might follow that with a kick in the pants as he gets stuck with Curry's contract. Given the quality of linebacker additions under Schneider for very little investment (e.g., Smith, Wright, Matt McCoy), he deserves the benefit of the doubt that he can add quality players at small prices. He also properly separated the wheat from the chaff, by keeping Hawthorne and re-signing Hill, while showing Tatupu the door. 

Terrific bargains like the Seahawks enjoy at linebacker have to be rare, right? Not necessarily. Push your shopping cart past the linebacker aisle and into the secondary aisle. On one shelf you see 89 tackles, 1 sack, 3 tackles for loss, 11 passes defensed, 3 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, and 1 touchdown for a price of $1,560,000. Across the way, there is 23 tackles, 1 interception, 1 tackle for loss for $3M. And again, the first item includes four players, all of which have started. In this case, the bargain is Kam Chancellor ($405K), Brandon Browner ($375K), Walter Thurmond ($405K), and Richard Sherman ($375K). They cost almost exactly half of Marcus Trufant's 2011 salary of $3M. 

It is debatable whether any one of those cornerbacks are as good as Trufant when he is healthy. The goal is not just to get cheaper players, but to improve the talent. Chancellor is already a more valuable player than Trufant, and his ceiling has yet to be determined. The quality of play in the secondary has not dropped off since Trufant has left. There is at least some evidence to suggest things have improved. There is no credit to be shared with the former regime here. In less than two seasons, the entire secondary has been made over with far more talent at a far smaller price. Byron Maxwell has yet to get his real shot due to injury, and he showed that he might fit right into this group for just another $375K. 

All this matters when evaluating other player decisions made this off-season. Matt Hasselbeck was roughly $3-4M more expensive than Tarvaris Jackson. Colin Cole was going to make about $1M more than Alan Branch. Those seem like small differences, but when you see how far Schneider can stretch $3-5M, it should re-orient fans thinking a bit. Hill was brought in for less than $1M. Branch signed for $2.5M this year. Atari Bigby was $685K. Clint McDonald cost $405K. That's $4.5M right there. Keep that in mind as this roster continues to evolve. This is what it means to build through the draft, and it is a wonderful thing.

NOTE: All salary information was based on the great work of Davis Hsu who writes for FieldGulls.com on occasion. You can find his roster spreadsheet here.

Hawk Blogger 2011 Power Rankings - Week 7

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

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


The formula has proven to be a pretty accurate predictor of success. Even in the first week of the 2008 season, 5 of the top 10 ranked teams were playoff bound. As with any statistic, it becomes more meaningful as the sample size grows. 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.

THIS WEEK
New Orleans makes quite the climb this week, while Detroit exits the Top 5 for the first time this season.



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



Monday, October 24, 2011

The Morning After: Seahawks Lose To Browns, 6-3

Years of following the Seahawks, Mariners and Trail Blazers have made caused a Darwinian mutation in my psyche. Some fans pick teams to follow that are consistent winners. This choice allows them to enter every contest with swagger. I, on the other hand, have learned the art of lowered expectations. You can not rip out my soul if I was anticipating your loss. It gives me the illusion of control needed to carry on despite wave after wave of negative results. This coping mechanism applies to players, as well as to teams. Heading into Sunday's game versus the Browns, I had what I thought were very modest expectations of Charlie Whitehurst. After all, I am on record as saying he will never develop into a starting caliber quarterback and that the team should move on from him. I thought a passer rating in the 60s or 70s was reasonable, and should be enough to beat a truly bad Browns team. His play against the Giants gave me enough evidence to suggest he might even exceed those expectations. That's the game, you see. Imagine a poor outcome, and then set your hopes a notch or two below that. It's so much harder to be disappointed when you are expecting so little. A perverted congratulations must be given to Whitehurst who managed to play so badly that he practically tunneled miles beneath my ground-floor expectations of what he would do. He beat my system. I raise my finger to you.

Apparently, I wasn't alone. I asked folks on Twitter to fill in this sentence,

Charlie Whitehurst was so bad, ________________
Here are some of my favorites:

Charlie Whitehurst was so bad, that Jesus went to the trouble of resurrecting to cut his hair and shave his beard to end comparisons
Charlie Whitehurst was so bad, he made the officials look like they had a good day...
Charlie Whitehurst was so bad, I want to punch a baby
Charlie Whitehurst was so bad, I ALMOST turned it to the Teblow game
Charlie Whitehurst was so bad, I opted to watch Dora the Explorer instead
Charlie Whitehurst was so bad, the folks at Webster's are busy working on new words to describe him
Charlie Whitehurst was so bad, the Seahawks should have called Dan McGwire at halftime

The shame of all this is that Whitehurst does not deserve all the anger and frustration. He's a man who is trying to do his job, and failing publicly. The real frustration comes from a sense that he simply didn't compete in this game. He didn't compete when his reputation and career was on the line. He played his worst game on a day when even a bad game would have won it. Did he take his four days off for the bye week? I don't know, but something about him gives me the impression that he did. Tarvaris Jackson scratches and claws to get back in the lineup knowing full well that half the fan base doesn't even support him. He dusts himself off without a harsh word after getting sacked time and again. He leads. He improves. And yet, he is subject to constant talk of quarterback controversies. Enough. The only controversy at quarterback in 2011 for the Seahawks is whether Whitehurst should be allowed to keep his back-up spot ahead of Josh Portis. Line up behind your undeniable starter, Seahawks fans. Jackson has earned it, and Whitehurst has earned permanent silence.

Play-calling may have been the biggest villain after the quarterback spot. Marshawn Lynch went out in the pre-game warm-ups with a back injury. The coaches seemed to think that was a major blow to their running game and decided to throw 30 times compared to 17 rushes. Surely, those 17 runs had to be unproductive to keep the team passing while they were getting such poor play from their quarterback...right? The Seahawks averaged 3.8 yards per carry on the ground and only 2.4 yards per pass attempt. They were nearly TWICE as effective on the ground, and yet the pass plays persisted. One could argue that the Browns were stacking the line and forcing the Seahawks to throw. Nobody can force a team to call a play. Look at the Browns offense. They were facing the best run defense in the NFL without their best rusher, and averaged a predictable 3.2 yards per carry. The difference was they ran the ball 44 times! The Seahawks ran 50 plays, total. No place was this more pronounced than the 1st and Goal from the two-yard line late in the 3rd quarter. Seattle chose to pass two out of three times, and settled for a FG. Leon Washington had 3 carries for 20 yards on that series. He averaged 5.6 YPC on the day. It does not matter how big or small he is. Given the options, there is no excuse to do anything but give him the ball three times in that situation.

Everyone will be up in arms about the refs in this game. They should be. The refs were so bad that they effected the outcome of the game. Every game I have ever watched where bad calls impacted the result had situations where the losing team could have controlled their own destiny. In other words, score a touchdown from the two-yards line, don't reach your hands out toward a player's back on a punt return when your team is clearly going to score, make a halfway decent pass to Sidney Rice when he is wide open so that he can walk into the endzone instead of fall out of bounds. Any one of those plays would have rendered the poor officiating irrelevant. Focus on what your can control, because it is a waste of energy to fret about the rest.

On a day when the defense played like an elite NFL unit is so many aspects, they were felled by poor execution on 3rd down. Over half of the Browns yardage came on 3rd downs. Of the 298 yards they gained on the day, 150 of them came on 3rd down plays. That doesn't include the two 15-yard personal foul penalties against Kam Chancellor and Red Bryant. It also doesn't include the offside penalty on Malcolm Smith on 4th down that turned a punt into the Browns first field goal. It does include conversions on 3rd and 12, 3rd and 14, 3rd and 8 (three times), and 3rd and 6. The Seahawks defense is too good, and the Browns offense is too feeble to allow that to happen. Allowing a 50% conversion rate on 3rd downs is reprehensible. Remember, that 150 yards was just what happened on 3rd down plays. The Browns gained 112 yards after converting 3rd downs of six yards or longer. That means that if the Seahawks could have just eliminated the conversions on 3rd and long, the Browns would have had 33% fewer yards on the day. Both field goals they scored came on drives where there was either a long 3rd down conversion or a 4th down penalty. The Browns never should have scored.

Losing Walter Thurmond to a season-ending leg injury played a factor. The team had held the Browns to 4-11 on 3rd downs at halftime, but allowed conversions on 8-13 after Thurmond left the game. Kennard Cox was forced into action and simply is not good enough. Expect Roy Lewis to be activated this week from PUP, and Richard Sherman to take over as the starter opposite Brandon Browner. Don't be surprised if the team adds another player, possibly a guy like Josh Pinkard, to the secondary after losing key players like Marcus Trufant and Thurmond in the span of two weeks.

There were a number of fantastic defensive performances that should not go unmentioned. David Hawthorne was the best player on the field Sunday. He was all over the field making tackles. He had two tackles for loss, a sack and an interception. Lofa Tatupu would have taken that in a whole season the last few years. This was the player we thought would be stepping in at middle linebacker. His knee injury seemed to really be hampering him earlier, and the week off looked like it helped. Red Bryant was right there with Hawthorne. Two blocked field goals? Seriously? He dominated much of the day, and even his head butt that resulted in an ejection was forgivable. Did anyone really want to see the Seahawks offense on the field again? Kam Chancellor was a beast. Between Chancellor and Hawthorne, there are sure to be long lines at the cold tubs in the Browns locker room today. K.J. Wright and Leroy Hill played at a high level as well, both notching a tackle for loss. Any time three of your top four tacklers are your starting linebackers, that's a good thing.

Chris Clemons has been so good, it almost goes without saying. He added two more sacks to bring his total to six on the year, which is on pace for 16 on the season. There was more than just pass rush with Clemons. He sniffed out two change-of-direction plays and made two tackles for loss. He is a smart, instinctive, player who deserves a contract extension. Now.

This was the most winnable game on the Seahawks schedule this year. The team very well may win a bunch of other games this season if they can get their quarterback healthy, and avoid more significant injuries on defense. Most of us thought the team was going to be driving Honda Civic this season on the road towards rebuilding. We knew we would get there, but it was going to take a while. The rapid improvement of the offensive line, secondary and the overall game against the Giants provided hope that the team had upgraded to a Corvette Stingray. Rebuilding would still take time, but this might be a fun ride along the way. What happens next will determine whether this week's game was simply a flat tire, or if that Corvette was just a rental. I'm betting on the former, but that feels dangerously close to breaking my rule about lowered expectations. This team can't play that bad again, right? 

Brighten Your Monday - Kam BAM

There were some plays worth remembering in that ugly loss to the Browns. Here's one of them.

***CLICK IMAGE TO VIEW***




















ZOOMED VERSION:


















SLOW-MO:


Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Ghost Of Jeremy Bates

An unexpected name came up when Scott Enyeart and I were talking after completing our podcast today. Enyeart wondered aloud whether Jeremy Bates was to blame for the acquisition of Charlie Whitehurst. At first, it  seemed like a reach. I respect Enyeart a lot on football matters, but he can sometimes be a little too quick to deflect blame away from Pete Carroll. Trading for Whitehurst was considered Carroll and GM John Schneider's first big move. Carroll is ultimately responsible for all moves the team makes, plays his coaches call, and the performance of every player on the field. The question to ask here is whether the moderate swing and massive miss on Whitehurst is indicative of Carroll and Schneider's ability to find the true franchise quarterback this team needs. There is some evidence to indicate it was Bates, not Schneider and Carroll, that campaigned for Whitehurst.

Start by looking at who Carroll is as a coach. Like almost all NFL coaches, he came up on one side of the ball. Carroll was a defensive coach, which meant he would need extra help on the offensive side when he ascended to a head coaching position. Mike Holmgren did this with Fritz Shurmur in the opposite direction since Holmgren was the offensive guru. The way a good head coach works in the NFL is not totally unlike a good corporate executive. It is important to set some high-level parameters without micro-managing. They may establish a style (e.g., run-oriented, ball control, etc.) and some points of emphasis (e.g., low turnovers), but the assistants get a lot of room to figure out how to meet the head coaches requests. Carroll showed more patience in that regard last season with Bates than most coaches ever would. There were multiple examples where Carroll clearly did not like the play-calling of Bates, but he never went so far as to take over play-calling or dictate a change in philosophy to Bates. Carroll wanted more emphasis on the run and less risk-taking, as evidenced by the desire to add Tom Cable as assistant head coach after the season. Bates did not want to relinquish that control, and was fired.

Carroll did not bring Cable in just so he could tell Cable how to build and coach an offensive line. In the business world, executives call it 'empowering.' Employees tend to just roll their eyes because many execs talk a good game, but seize control and take critical decisions out of their employees hands whenever they feel like it. Carroll has shown some restraint. Look at the draft in 2012. Anyone that thinks James Carpenter and John Moffitt were Carroll and Schneider picks are not looking hard enough. Carroll brought in Cable to transform the offensive line and running game. A people manager like Carroll would then ask, "what do you need to succeed?" Cable surely pointed to a need for upgraded talent. When the Seahawks 1st and 3rd round picks came up, and the team was unable to trade down or find a different player they loved, Cable got his wish. This both gives Cable some key cogs to build his line, and leaves him with no excuses for failure. Building ownership like that is how good managers get the best out of their employees. It's also evidence that Carroll gives his assistants a fair amount of sway in picking personnel.

More evidence came when Darrell Bevell was added to the staff. Does anyone really want to argue that it was Schneider or Carroll's idea to bring in Tarvaris Jackson? Bevell had coached him in Minnesota, and certainly had to be the guy advocating for him in the off-season meetings. Is it possible that Schneider or Carroll were huge Jackson fans? Sure, but it is far from likely. The logical conclusion is that Carroll, again, deferred to his assistant to make the moves he needed to complete the task Carroll assigned him.

Look back now at Whitehurst. His performance against the Browns leaves no doubt this team will never get equal value back in the trade with the Chargers. He is not an NFL starting quarterback, and might not even be a serviceable back-up. Giving up too much to acquire him goes squarely on Schneider's shoulders as the GM, but evaluating his talent smells more like Bates. Remember, Bates was a guy who wanted to institute a deep passing game. He wanted big chunks of yards. Whitehurst was rumored to be a strong-armed quarterback. And if Carroll has given this much power to his current offensive assistants in picking personnel, why wouldn't he have done it with Bates last year?

It all starts to make sense when you replay training camp this year and the "no-competition" decision at quarterback. Whitehurst was never Bevell's guy. He was never Carroll's guy. He probably was never Schneider's guy. One look at his hair, and you can be sure he was never going to be Cable's guy. Whitehurst was never good enough to earn the support of any one of these guys. He had a chance to do that against the Browns today, and failed miserably.

What does this mean for the future? Jackson is looking like a smart move so far, certainly better than Whitehurst. That bodes well for Bevell's ability to find a decent quarterback given the dregs the team had to choose from this off-season (Matt Hasselbeck notwithstanding). One could argue that passing on Andy Dalton was a mistake, but I have a hard time picturing Dalton as anything but a decent pro quarterback. The goal is to win a Super Bowl, and Dalton does not seem to be a player of that caliber even if he is enjoying a nice rookie season. Plus, you need to be damn sure a quarterback drafted in the first round is *the* guy because it is your job if you are wrong. Acquiring Whitehurst will go down as a bad move by this front office. Given his win in the division title game last season and the back-up performance against the Giants, it was not disastrous. Fans should take some solace in the likelihood that the guy who pined after Whitehurst is no longer making decisions that can impact the franchise. 

Hawk Blogger Podcast: Browns Rant Edition With Scott Enyeart

That was a brutal loss. Scott Enyeart and I could not wait for tomorrow to share some thoughts about what we saw, and what happens next. Charlie Whitehurst may not want to listen to this.

Scott is one of the most informative follows you can do on Twitter. Follow him!


Take a listen, and let us know what you think.

**Download the podcast**

Subscribe here:



Alternatively, here are instructions to subscribe manually in iTunes:

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

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

Friday, October 21, 2011

Seahawks Chat Replay - Now Available

I will b taking questions about the Seahawks, Browns or any other football related items today. Stop by and let's talk!


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hawk Blogger Podcast: Browns Preview With Guest Ryan Burns of FootballSickness.com

It is on, Seahawks fans. Ryan Burns, of FootballSickness.com, joined me for a Seahawks/Browns preview podcast and there were no punches pulled. Burns is a longtime Browns fan who still falls asleep clutching his Bernie Kosar and Kevin Mack dolls.

We talked about Mike Holmgren's performance to date, who Colt McCoy is, and could be, why the Browns receivers have no hope against the Seahawks secondary and why the Browns won't be able to run either. Ryan asked me some questions about the Seahawks as well. Lots of goodness in there.

Ryan is a fantastic follow on Twitter. Be sure to add him to your timeline.

Take a listen, and let us know what you think:


**Download the podcast**

Subscribe here:



Alternatively, here are instructions to subscribe manually in iTunes:

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

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Weekly Podcast With Softy: Week 6

KJR950AM sports radio host Dave "Softy" Mahler and I recorded our second weekly conversation about the Seahawks.

We talked about Whitehurst, the Browns, "sucking for Luck," and the young secondary.

Tell me what you think. Tell me what you'd like us to cover in the future. Hope you like it!



**Listen to the Podcast**

Scouting The Cleveland Browns

Bernie Kosar, Earnest Byner, Kevin Mack, mud brown uniforms, the dog pound...these are the things that come to mind when thinking about the Cleveland Browns. Those old teams, tormented by John Elway, were among my favorite non-Seahawk teams to follow. Everything was blue collar, from their field to their fans to their playing style. Fast forward a few decades, and much has changed. Art Modell is still an asshole, but the Browns are a shell of their former selves. Year after year of bad football has sapped the soul from the once-proud franchise. Mike Holmgren was brought in to right the ship a couple years ago. The results have been uneven thus far. First-round picks CB Joe Haden and DT Phil Taylor look to be great additions. Colt McCoy was a good pick in the 3rd round. Even if he never becomes a great quarterback, he has already outperformed his draft level. The Browns also fleeced the Falcons out of five picks, including two 1st and two 4th round picks, by trading their first-round pick where the Falcons selected Julio Jones. The talent looks to be improving, but the results are not.

Here are a few things I noticed when scouting the Browns:

- Despite being tied for 7th in the NFL in pass attempts, the Browns are dead-last with a dismal 5.5 yards-per-attempt. McCoy's performance against the Raiders was indicative of his season thus far. He threw a whopping 45 times, completed only 21 for 215 yards and an average of 4.8 YPA.

- McCoy is not turning the ball over as much. He has a "game-manager-esque" 8:3 touchdown:interception ratio. That's a solid improvement from the 6 TD:9 INT performance from 2010.

- The Browns wide receivers are horrible. None of them should scare any defensive coordinator. Josh Cribbs can be dangerous when he gets the ball, but he's not a great at creating separation. At 6'1", 215 lbs, Cribbs is an ideal match-up for the Seahawks big press corners. Cribbs is not Hakeem Nicks, let alone Roddy White or Larry Fitzgerald. The Seahawks corners have given those players fits in recent weeks, and Cribbs should be the latest. Greg Little is a rookie 2nd round pick, who leads the team with 20 receptions. He is 6'2", 220 lbs, and is exactly the type of player the Seahawks corners want to play against.

- Ben Watson is a nice safety valve for McCoy, but will have trouble matching up with Kam Chancellor.

- Peyton Hillis was this team's engine last season, both running and receiving. He does not look like the same player, and is possibly out with an injury. Montario Hardesty is a league-average back. In some ways, he matches up better with the Seahawks than Hillis since Hardesty will test the edges more where Hillis would just try to run up the gut.

- If the Browns can run the ball at all, it will be because of some quality lineman like T Joe Thomas and C Alex Mack. The line is decent, and held up pretty well against a very good Raiders defensive line, giving up only two sacks. Head Coach Pat Shurmur appears to be trying to gain running yards via conservative passes.

- The defense is almost faceless. Haden and Taylor are good players, but few other guys seem to stand out. They rank 27th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed, but are 10th in yards-per-carry at 3.9. That trend continued as they yielded 151 yards to the Raiders, but at a 3.8 YPC clip. They appeared more like a team giving up a bunch of rushing yards than a team limiting that yardage per carry. In other words, this run defense looks suspect.

- Their bad run defense makes their pass defense look better than it is. The Browns are 4th in the NFL in passing yards allowed/game, but teams have attempted the 2nd fewest passes in the league against them. Quarterbacks have a 89.8 rating against the Browns, which includes Matt Henne, Andy Dalton, Kerry Collins, and a lot of Kyle Boller. The Seahawks have yielded a passer rating of 91.8, but that has come against Alex Smith (I know, but he is a Top 10 passer), Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, and Eli Manning.

This is the first game all season that the Seahawks should win. Seattle is the more talented team, and has match-ups all over the field that favor them. Whether they can translate that into a win is something nobody will know until Sunday.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Anatomy Of Super Bowl Winners Part II: Where All-Pro Players Are Drafted

To Suck, Or Not To Suck is a series exploring whether franchises have a better chance of winning a Super Bowl by suffering through some terrible seasons to get higher draft choices, or whether winning begets more winning. Each article will look at this question from a different angle. All will be based on quantifiable data. Varying interpretations and debate are highly encouraged!

The first part of this series examined the all-important position of quarterback, and where Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks are taken in the draft. No matter how critical the quarterback is to a team's championship aspirations, there needs to be dominant talent surrounding that player to have a real chance. NBA teams often talk about needing three all-stars to be true championship-contenders. There has never been a similar formula for NFL teams, so this article will examine how many dominant players a team must have to win a ring, and where those dominant players are drafted. The measure of a dominant player for this analysis will be selection to an All-Pro team. NFL All-Pros are the best of the best. These are not the Pro Bowl players that are often selected based on past achievements or popularity. The key question for every article in this series will be whether there is evidence to suggest losing, and the higher draft choices that come with it, is the best way to build a championship team. In this case, history shows that teams have just as much of a chance to draft an All-Pro player late in the first round as they do at the top.

It should be noted that All-Pro voting has been around since the 30s. A number of different press corps have held All-Pro voting through the NFL era. All the data for this article was pulled from Pro-Football-Reference.com where they list a player as an All-Pro if any of the various All-Pro voting polls nominate the player to either the first or second team. Kickers, punters and special teams players were omitted as the focus was on positions that have a larger impact on teams winning or losing. Nobody is going to build their franchise around dominant punters.

There have been 160 players named to the All-Pro team since 2008. More than half of those (86) were first-round draft choices. Consider that for a moment. Every year there are at least 224 players selected (7 rounds X 32 teams). Only 32 of those players (14%) are selected in the first round (since the Texans were added in 2001). The fact that 14% of the population of draft choices is making up more than half of the dominant players in the league, gives fans some indication of why first-round draft choices are so valuable.

Interestingly, it doesn't really matter where in the first-round a team is selecting. There are just as many All-Pro players that were selected in the bottom of the round (20-32) as there were in the top (1-10). Of the 86 All-Pro players that were drafted in the first round, 31 were picked in the Top 10 of their draft class, 24 were picked between 11-19, and 31 were picked from 20-32. It is tempting to believe that being part of a winning team influences voters. In other words, the best middle linebacker in the NFL may play on a last place team and not get the notoriety that winning team players get. That likely plays some part, but when you see names like Ray Lewis (drafted #26), Clay Mathews (26), Ed Reed (24), Nick Mangold (29), Nnamdi Asomugha (31), Steven Jackson (24), and Chris Johnson (24), it is hard to argue these players are solely getting votes because of their team's fortunes.

Once you get out of the first round, all bets are off. A whopping 23% of the All-Pro players not drafted in the first round were completely undrafted. Names like Arian Foster, Antonio Gates, James Harrison, Cameron Wake, Wes Welker, Jeff Saturday, and Kris Dielman appear on the undrafted list. There were only 19 All-Pro players in this time frame that were drafted in rounds 4-7. That means teams have almost an equal chance of finding an All-Pro in the undrafted free agent pool as they are after round three.

It's a crapshoot after the 2nd round

All this information does is tell us the best places to draft an All-Pro player. Anywhere in the first round is good, the 2nd round is decent, and then it's a mixture of luck and scouting. What this does not tell us is if there is any correlation to All-Pro players and Super Bowl wins. History shows that all but four of the forty-five Super Bowl winners had at least three All-Pro players on their roster. Two of the winners that had zero All-Pro players were New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl II and III where it does not appear that AFL players were selected to the All-Pro teams. That leaves the Eli Manning New York Giants that also had zero All-Pro players and the 2001 New England Patriots that had two. Both the Giants and Patriots wins are considered among the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history.

There is also a clear trend where it is taking fewer and fewer All-Pro players to win a ring. Free agency, the salary cap, and other factors have led to more parity than ever before. It was not all that uncommon to have 10+ All-Pro players on a Super Bowl team in the 60s and 70s. There has not been a Super Bowl winner with 10+ All-Pro players since the 1995 Dallas Cowboys. 


Of the last 10 Super Bowl winners, only three teams had more than three All-Pro players on their roster. Again, keep in mind, that this is not counting kickers, punters, kick returners or other special teams selections. Four of the last five winners, and five of the last seven, have had exactly three All-Pro players. It is almost as if the NFL has become the NBA in that respect. Find three dominant players to build around, and your team has a good shot to win it all. It also seems to pay to bunch the dominant players on one side of the ball. Two of the past three winners (Green Bay, Pittsburgh) had all three of their All-Pros on defense. The pattern continues as you see teams known for their offense (1999 St. Louis Rams) with most of their All-Pros on the offensive side of the ball, and dominant defenses (2002 Tampa Bay Bucs) with all of their All-Pros on defense. Of course, when you go back to the age of dynasties like the Cowboys of the 90s and the 49ers of the 80s, their dominant players were spread across the field.

The simplest interpretation of all this data is that teams likely need at least three All-Pro-caliber players to win a Super Bowl, and that the best way to find those players is to get as many first-round picks as possible. It doesn't appear to matter where those first-round picks are. So, in that sense, losing teams don't seem to have any better chance to add dominant All-Pro players than winning teams that pick at the back of the first-round.  The team that ends up with the #1 overall pick next year is in the catbird seat since they will either add a quarterback that figures to be one of the best in the NFL, or add multiple first-round picks.

Hawk Blogger 2011 Power Rankings - Week 6

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

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


The formula has proven to be a pretty accurate predictor of success. Even in the first week of the 2008 season, 5 of the top 10 ranked teams were playoff bound. As with any statistic, it becomes more meaningful as the sample size grows. 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.

THIS WEEK
The Top 5 is decidedly NFC with spots 2-4 occupied by NFC teams. Cincinnati continues to creep up, now at #8. Their close loss to the 49ers looks very different now than it did then. Perhaps, the Bengals are tougher than people give them credit for. The Raiders have been a borderline Top 10 team without Carson Palmer. It should be interesting to see how they change with him.



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, October 17, 2011

Trufant To IR, Richard Sherman and Roy Lewis In Spotlight

News broke today that Marcus Trufant was put on injured reserve, ending his season due to a back injury. Given Trufant's age, injury history, and contract status, it is safe to assume he will not pull on a Seahawks uniform again. Trufant has been a very solid Seahawk, and deserves a feature looking back on his career, but this is not that post. Fans will hear a bunch about Walter Thurmond this week as he officially takes over for Trufant as the starter, but Thurmond is not the guy to watch.

Richard Sherman is 6'3" and over 200 lbs. He is a rookie, and is not built to play inside as a nickel CB.  Thurmond will be on the outside in the base defense, but will almost certainly slide inside to cover the slot receiver in the nickel. That is what happened in the Giants game when Trufant was out. Teams are playing a significant amount of nickel, possibly even more than base, depending on the opponent. That means Sherman is going to out there a ton. Roy Lewis is eligible to come off the PUP, but he is much more of a pure slot CB. He excelled in that role last season. He is a better player, when healthy, than Sherman at this point of Sherman's career, so it is conceivable that Thurmond could stay on the outside while Lewis takes over his nickel CB role. The competition is on.

Assume for the time being, Sherman will get most of the snaps as Lewis gets his football legs back. Those fans who have been frustrated by Brandon Browner's propensity for penalties should brace themselves. I watched many Seahawks training camp practices and all the pre-season games. Sherman is far more prone to blatant physical contact after five yards, and is far worse at getting his head around on deep balls to avoid pass interference penalties than Browner. Sherman also can get lost in coverage more than Browner. Knowing when to hand a receiver off to a safety and when to close on receiver in front of you in zone coverage takes time. Browner is more seasoned, and does a better job of it.

Sherman is incredibly competitive, and relishes contact. Don't be surprised if you see a few late hit penalties from an overzealous rookie. He is also very close with fellow Stanford rookie, Doug Baldwin. They both are smart and hard-working, so expect steady improvement as his playing time increases.

Sherman will get picked on more now, so there is likely to be at least one or two "Mike Wallace vs. Brandon Browner" games. Seeing 6'3" and 6"4" cornerbacks on opposing sides of the field is amazing. Opposing teams will continue to test these players deep, as Sherman was when Victor Cruz caught his lucky 68-yard TD in New York. Coly McCoy and Andy Dalton are the next two opponents, so the Seahawks catch a bit of break in terms of avoiding top-shelf quarterback competition while this revamped secondary takes shape.


Anatomy of Super Bowl Winners Part I: Where Super Bowl Winning QBs Are Drafted

To Suck, Or Not To Suck is a series exploring whether franchises have a better chance of winning a Super Bowl by suffering through some terrible seasons to get higher draft choices, or whether winning begets more winning. Each article will look at this question from a different angle. All will be based on quantifiable data. Varying interpretations and debate are highly encouraged!


Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck will be the #1 pick in the 2012 draft, barring something unforeseeable happening. Many draft experts are calling him the best quarterback prospect to hit the NFL since Peyton Manning or John Elway, and some are saying there has never been a college quarterback prospect as good as Luck. Unsurprisingly, every team in the NFL would love to add a player of Luck's caliber to their roster, but only a small handful can realistically accomplish the 2011 NFL season's second-most sought after accomplishment, suck for Luck. The rest of the league will be left building their Super Bowl plans around either veteran quarterbacks, or a less-touted prospect. There have been past #1 overall picks at the quarterback position, like Peyton Manning or Troy Aikman, that have led their franchises to Super Bowl victories. It is easy for a fan to believe that is the best way to get to the promised land. Examining the reality of where all 45 Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks were drafted paints a different picture.

Strictly speaking, more Super Bowls have been won by quarterbacks drafted a #1 overall than at any other draft spot. There is no pattern that says quarterbacks drafted at #4 or #215 are destined for greatness. Fourteen Super Bowls (31.1%) have been won by quarterback drafted #1 overall. These quarterbacks did not always win their Super Bowls with the teams that made them the #1 pick. Players like Steve Young, Jim Plunkett, and John Elway were all drafted by different teams than the ones that they lifted the Lombardi trophy with. Those fourteen Super Bowls were won by a total of seven quarterbacks. In other words, the odds are good that if your team wins a Super Bowl with a quarterback drafted #1 overall, it is likely they will win another. Four out of the seven quarterbacks drafted #1 overall that have a Super Bowl have won multiple rings. Terry Bradshaw leads the pack with four, Aikman has three, Plunkett and Elway have two apiece. Only both Manning brothers and Steve Young are #1 overall picks who only won a single championship. The Manning's clearly still have a chance to remedy that.

That feels like rather substantial evidence supporting the theory that franchises should figure out a way to get a great quarterback at that #1 overall spot in the draft. Look again, though. Nearly 70% (68.9%) of all Super Bowls have been won by quarterbacks not drafted #1 overall. Not only that, but more than half (56%) of all Super Bowls are won by quarterbacks not drafted in the top 10 picks of the first round. Further, a substantial 40% of Super Bowls have been won by quarterbacks drafted after the first round. To put it another way, more Super Bowls have been won by quarterbacks drafted after the first round than by quarterbacks drafted #1 overall.

Lots has changed since the days of the Ice Bowl when Bart Starr, drafted #199, won the first championships. Maybe scouting has gotten better. Perhaps, the growing importance of the passing game has added emphasis to the quarterback position. Think again. Only two of the past twelve Super Bowls have been won by a quarterback drafted #1 overall. In fact, there are as many quarterbacks with Super Bowl rings who were acquired *after* the 7th round (Kurt Warner (undrafted), Brad Johnson (#227)) in the last twelve seasons as there are quarterbacks who were taken with the top pick. Over 83% of Super Bowl winners since 1999 have featured a quarterback who was not taken #1.

It might just be a case of the long tail effect. In this context, the long tail refers to the fact that there can only be one player chosen each year as the top pick. That means there are hundreds of players each year, and probably 12-20 quarterbacks, who are not the top pick. As mentioned at the beginning, the #1 slot has yielded more championship-winning quarterbacks than any other single draft position, but it cannot stand up to the odds of facing dozens of players drafted elsewhere. Just like a Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers-led team enters the season with the best odds of winning a Super Bowl, the larger odds are still that one of the 30 other starting quarterbacks will get the ring this season. The same can be said of quarterbacks drafted #1 overall vs. the field.

Dynasties do seem to come more from teams led by by top picks. Of the 21 quarterbacks drafted after the #1 selection who have won a Super Bowl, only six (29%) have won more than one ring. That, compared to 57% for the seven top picks. The field still comes out on top here in some ways. More quarterbacks selected after #1 have won multiple rings (six to four), led by Joe Montana with four (tied with Bradshaw), Brady with three, Roger Staubach, Starr, Bob Griese, and Ben Roethlisberger each have two. Only Griese was drafted in the top 10 of his draft class.

The best player in any given draft might not be a quarterback. Another explanation for these numbers could be that quarterbacks worthy of the top pick just don't come along very often. If that is the case, there should still be a high percentage of quarterbacks taken #1 overall that end up winning a championship. Dating back to 1976 (35 drafts), 15 quarterbacks have been taken first overall (43%). Of those 15 players, four have won  the big game (27%). Go back five more, to 40 drafts, and that number grows to 17 quarterbacks taken, and five (29%) that have won Super Bowls. Those do not appear to be staggering odds proving the worth of quarterbacks taken #1 overall.

Luck may very well end up being the next great franchise quarterback. He could follow in the footsteps of players like Bradshaw, Aikman, and Elway to win multiple rings. History, however, shows that more Super Bowls will be won by quarterbacks drafted at a position lower than #1 overall. Luck may be great, but it is highly unlikely that he will beat the field more than the field beats him. 

List of draft position for every quarterback to win a Super Bowl

New Series Coming To Hawk Blogger: To Suck Or Not To Suck

Are you one of the fans that finds yourself conflicted about whether the Seahawks are better off winning this year or losing? Maybe you subscribe to the belief that mediocrity begets mediocrity. Teams that lose big get the highest draft picks, and any one of those picks can turn around the fortunes of a franchise. Or, you might be the fan that subscribes to the Herm Edwards philosophy of, "You play...to win...the game!" People in that camp likely point to teams like the Steelers and Patriots that perennially contend while drafting near the bottom of the first round each year.

I honestly do not know the answer. I admit to feeling a little empty sitting in the stands while the Seahawks beat the Rams for the division title last year. Winning always feels good, but it felt like a classic example of winning the battle while losing the war. All Seahawks fans know that this team needs a franchise quarterback. The Suck For Luck campaign has broken out across the country, with Seattle being no exception. When the Seahawks beat the Giants last week, many fans faced the reality that having the worst record in football may be almost as unlikely for the Seahawks as having the best record. Unlucky. Or, maybe not.

In a series that will run as long as I find new ways to analyze the question, I will be exploring whether a franchise has a better chance to win the Super Bowl by enduring terrible seasons to get the highest draft picks or if winning truly does beget winning.

Look for the first few articles of this series to show up this week, starting with an analysis of where every winning Super Bowl quarterback was drafted. Coming soon will be a review of where All-Pro players, the best of the best, were drafted. There will also be an evaluation of Super Bowl winning teams, and the drafts that preceded their championships. Fans should exit this series with more confidence about whether they can drop the "bitter" from "bittersweet" during Seahawks victories, or if each win this year is stealing many wins in the future.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Final Word On Aaron Curry

Tim Ruskell's name makes my teeth clench. He did more damage to the Seahawks franchise than Bill Leavy, Ken Behring, and Etric Pruitt combined. Nearly every personnel decision he made was wrong, and by the time he had cursed the team into position for a #4 overall draft choice in 2009, I had already decided he was Seahawks Enemy #1. It is always easy to second-guess decisions from general managers, but with Ruskell, I spent a fair amount of time criticizing his decisions immediately after they were made. One of the lone exceptions was a his pick of Aaron Curry with that 2009 first-round draft choice.

Curry was considered the most talented player in that draft by many, and was projected as the #1 overall pick for at least a few weeks. The Lions owned that pick, and were bad enough that picking the best player was more important than filling a particular position. Ruskell made what I thought was a clever move by trading the Lions Julian Peterson a month before the draft. Not only did he clear some salary off the cap, but he made it easier for the Lions to move off of Curry and onto Matt Stafford. Maybe they would have picked Stafford no matter what, but I thought Ruskell deserved some credit for increasing the odds of nabbing Curry.

Everyone was fairly certain the Rams would pick the top offensive tackle, Jason Smith, with the #2 pick. The Chiefs were the wildcard at #3. Many had them taking Curry until people realized Scott Pioli was helping them move to a 3-4 defense and that Tyson Jackson could be uniquely valuable to them. Sure enough, the Chiefs drafted Jackson, and I pumped my fist in the car as I drove down to Olympia with my family for a visit to grandma. Curry was ours. A sure-fire Pro Bowl linebacker that could be our answer to Patrick Willis, who the 49ers had just drafted.

The warning signs appeared as soon as his first practice during training camp, that I happened to attend. Curry had just signed his massive contract, and came running onto the field. I watched him like a hawk (no pun intended), and saw a guy that was eager to hit, but not necessarily wise about when to do it. I wrote very briefly about seeing him take on lineman head on instead of shedding the blocks. At the time, there was plenty of hope that it was just a rookie learning some early lessons. Only, Curry never seemed to learn.

My second mini-panic started building when I did some research on great NFL linebackers, and found that most of the Pro Bowl-level linebackers tend to flash their rookie year. It is not a position that requires the adjustment period like a quarterback, wide receiver or defensive back might. If a linebacker is going to be great, and at #4 overall Curry needed to be great, he should show signs right away. Those signs never came.

Curry went on to have a mediocre rookie season where he impacted at least a couple of games, but never dominated. It was said that Lofa Tatupu's injury that year hurt his progress as Tatupu had been helping to line him up in positions to succeed. Tatupu's return, combined with continued mediocrity from Curry put that theory to rest in 2010.

Pete Carroll came in and made a big deal out of looking at tape of Curry first when he got the job. He went so far as to employ an over 4-3 defense that would put Curry on the line of scrimmage over the tight end more like he did in college. It was a chance for him to just cut it loose and play quickly instead of having to make so many choices. In some ways, Curry's greatest contribution to the Seahawks may have been the fact that he was considered so important that the team employed a defense that best suited him. That defensive change then changed the type of defensive ends the team needed, and gave Red Bryant a chance he would have never gotten to played defensive end.

Curry struggled in some areas that coaching can not fix. He was incredibly uncomfortable in space. He was not a good open-field tackler. He was often lost in zone coverage, and was equally flawed in man coverage. He never showed an ability to shed blocks or speed rush around guys. Curry, though, was not as terrible as some would have you believe. He was excellent at setting the edge and blowing up tight ends and offensive tackles to turn running plays back inside. He was a big part of the great run defense the Seahawks played. He filled gaps with ferocity, stopping runners and fullbacks dead in their tracks.

Strongside linebacker is not a position where you see lots of flashy plays, in general. Curry was a league-average player at that position with some potential for growth. His best position is probably an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense where he does not have to play in space very often and can just seek and destroy. He still has the tools to be an impact player.

Many are wasting time debating whether he is the biggest bust in Seahawks draft history. For my money, a bust is guy who never made an impact in the league and has proven to have no potential to be a quality NFL player. Busts are players who get released, not players who get traded for multiple draft choices. Busts are players who are out of the league within a few years. In the end, it doesn't really matter if he is a bust or not. What matters is that both he and the Seahawks are better off without one another. I'd love to see him succeed in Oakland because I am confident he would have never succeeded here. This Seahawks team has enough young talent that fans don't need to wish for bad things to happen to players that are no longer here, especially guys who have played their hardest. It was Ruskell's finale. At least that's something to celebrate.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

First Weekly Podcast on KJR With Dave "Softy" Mahler

After trading glances across Twitter, Dave "Softy" Mahler and I did the first of what we hope is a series of conversations about the Seahawks. Mahler is a good guy who grew up in the area, and a passionate fan along with being a long-time radio host on KJR 950.

We talked about Softy's friend, former Huskies & NFL QB, Hugh Millen and whether there may be some personal bias leaking into his Seahawks evaluations. I also gave my thoughts on some of the best personnel moves this front office has made, as well as the worst. Softy has been a critic of Brandon Browner, and I've been an ardent supporter. We mostly played nice in this first chat, but the gloves will come off as we go on.

Tell me what you think. Tell me what you'd like us to cover in the future. Hope you like it!

**Listen to the Podcast**

Upcoming Seahawks Personnel Decisions Nobody Is Talking About

Week six of the NFL season means players currently on the Physically Unable To Perform (PUP) are eligible to be added to the active roster. Teams will need to decide whether to add the players, place them on injured reserve or release them. Seattle has three players on their PUP list: WR Deon Butler, CB Roy Lewis, and TE Cameron Morrah.

All three played significant roles in the Seahawks 2010 season. Their roles in 2011 and beyond are less certain. Butler would appear to be the clearest cut situation. At 5'10" 182 lbs, Butler is almost a carbon copy of Doug Baldwin, and played largely the same role. It's possible that the team thinks it can stow rookie Kris Durham on the practice squad, but that's highly unlikely because they like him and other teams would probably sign him to their roster. Golden Tate is the only guy who could conceivably be cut in favor of Butler. They are of similar size, but are different players. Most general managers would value diversity of talent on their roster over redundancy. In this case, it would be a surprise if the team would rather have a back-up to Baldwin that will only play if he is injured versus a player like Tate that provides value, albeit minor value, even when Baldwin is healthy. Tate is also a 2nd round pick from this front office who has yet to play two full seasons, and has been showing improvement this season. Expect Butler, who is recovering from a grisly leg injury, to be released and given an injury settlement.

Cameron Morrah is a tough one. The team currently has two tight ends on the roster, and Zach Miller is fighting an injury. Morrah is a unique player at tight end who can run like a receiver. He made more of an impact in the passing game last season than John Carlson. He also is a mediocre blocker. Assuming he is healthy enough to play, the question would be whose roster spot would he take? Jameson Konz is heading to the injured reserve, so that opens up one spot. Another possibility is the team moves on from Morrah. If they do, don't be surprised if Dominque Byrd gets a call back to the team. Byrd and Morrah are similar players. This decision is not something to lose sleep over, but could have an impact on the way this season plays out.

Roy Lewis is a stud. Great guy. Great player. He has been recovering from a knee injury, but keep your fingers crossed he is all healed up because he is an impact player at slot cornerback and on special teams. Lewis was a special teams captain for part of last year, and one of the heaviest hitters on defense. He'll have a hard time breaking the rotation given how well Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner are playing. If Marcus Trufant is hurt for an extended period of time, Thurmond could slide outside and allow Lewis to take over nickel duties. As far as the roster spot he'd inherit, Kennard Cox may want to start looking over his shoulder. Cox is a great special teams player who has already made plays this year, but will never see the field as a corner. Cox becomes less important when Malcolm Smith and Byron Maxwell return to the field after the bye, and Richard Sherman has been a great gunner as well.

The Lewis addition could be significant if he is healthy. Morrah and/or Byrd would also be players fans would feel the impact of. It is nice to be looking at how the team can get healthier in the face of a laundry list of injuries the past few weeks.

Hawk Blogger 2011 Power Rankings - Week 5

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

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


The formula has proven to be a pretty accurate predictor of success. Even in the first week of the 2008 season, 5 of the top 10 ranked teams were playoff bound. As with any statistic, it becomes more meaningful as the sample size grows. 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.

THIS WEEK
Hello, San Francisco. The 49ers burst into the Top 5 with their dominating win over the Bucs who fall all the way to 28th. The Seahawks climb five spots to 24th, and have been improving in nearly every category each week since their shutout loss to the Steelers.



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, October 10, 2011

Hawk Blogger Podcast: Week 5 w/Scott Enyeart

There is no better way to spend a Monday night after a big Seahawks win than talking Hawks with friends. Scott Enyeart, who has coached High School and Division I football, and has ties to the Pete Carroll coaching staff joined me for a long conversation about the first five weeks of the season. Quarterback, defensive line, secondary, linebacker, offensive line, wide receiver, running back. We talked about almost everything.

We tell you why the quarterback controversy should be the last thing on your mind, and why Alan Branch is underrated. Brandon Browner, John Moffitt, Richard Sherman, and more get discussed.

Scott is one of the most informative follows you can do on Twitter. Follow him!


Take a listen, and let us know what you think.

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John Schneider & Pete Carroll's Best (and Worst) Moves

Much of the conversation today following the Seahawks upset victory over the Giants centered around the position Pete Carroll and John Schneider have arguably done the least to address, the quarterback. Sure, they traded for Charlie Whitehurst as their first move last season and signed Tarvaris Jackson this off-season, but neither deal was done with an eye toward building a championship team. Signing a player like Sidney Rice or drafting a player like Kam Chancellor will almost certainly have a greater impact on the franchise's championship aspirations than any quarterback move made to date. That realization got me thinking about all the moves that this front office has made, both in acquiring personnel and maximizing what is already on the roster. Making a simple Top 10 personnel moves list seemed a little boring, so I decided to create a subjective ranking formula to apply to some of the most visible choices this regime has made. Here's how it works:

1) Any signing, trade, or change to a player's role is eligible.

2) Each move is scored from 1-10 (10 is always the best) on three levels: cost, impact, and ingenuity

3) Cost is assessed according to how much the team had to spend, or give up, in order to make the move. Changing a player's position is free. Signing an undrafted free agent is slightly more expensive. Drafting a player in the 7th round is more costly than drafting one in the first, and so on.

4) Impact is assessed by how much of an impact the move has had on the team. Has the move improved the team's performance? Grading a move at a 5 for impact means the player involved has had a modest impact. Grading it at 1 means the player has had a negligible impact.

5) Ingenuity is assessed according to how clever the move was, and how likely another coach or GM would have been to do the same thing. Drafting a highly-rated left tackle with a 1st round pick is not exactly rocket science. That would earn a 1 for ingenuity. Trading for a player or signing a player that nobody else wanted would rate much higher, as would utilizing a player in a unique way.

6) Each move is then given a score that is simply an equal weighting of all the categories:
COST X IMPACT X INGENUITY = SCORE

Note that judging the impact of players that are new to the team this season is even more fuzzy since they have not even completed a full season with the team. They were given scores based on how their current performance projects out for the rest of the season.

Without further explanation, let's see how it came out.




The top five moves, based on this scoring system are:
- Moving Red Bryant to DE
- The Chris Clemons trade
- Signing Mike Williams
- Signing Brandon Browner
- Making Lawyer Milloy a starter

Let's look at each a little more closely.

RED BRYANT TO DE
This move has gotten plenty of press coverage, but it should be noted this was the brain child of former defensive line coach Dan Quinn. He approached Gus Bradley who approached Pete Carroll. Carroll deserves credit for listening to his coaches, but nobody could have predicted how well this would work out. Since moving to defensive end, Bryant has been one of the best players on the defense, and in many ways is the most valuable player on that side of the ball. In the twelve full games he has played, the team is allowing 3.2 yards-per-carry and 32.9% opponent 3rd down conversions. I've often wondered how I'd rank this move compared to other the front office made, and the scoring system feels right here. It cost the team nothing. The impact has been massive, and no other NFL team is running something like this. Heck, the previous regime had Bryant riding the pine on his way out of the NFL, and they drafted him.

CHRIS CLEMONS TRADE
Acquiring a player that leads your team in sacks (11.0) is always a good thing. Doing it without a massive free agent contract is even better. Darryl Tapp is a nice rotational defensive end. He will never be as valuable as Chris Clemons. Getting Clemons straight-up for Tapp would have been a steal. Getting Clemons and a 4th-round draft choice for Tapp was just a fleecing. This move gets high marks for ingenuity as Clemons had been on two other teams, and nobody else was banging down the door for him to drive the price up. This was solid scouting and understanding how players can fit your scheme.

MIKE WILLIAMS SIGNING
Williams was the story of the year last year for the front office, and was in the conversation for comeback player of the year in the NFL. Everyone knows his story by now, and his signing obviously gets high marks for cost and ingenuity considering nobody else in the league wanted anything to do with Williams or had ever gotten that kind of performance out of him. His high mark for impact could be debated, but he was unguardable in several games last season, and was a huge part of the unlikely playoff appearance.

BRANDON BROWNER SIGNING
People consider me Browner's publicist at this point, but he is the Mike Williams move of 2011. Browner was a cast-off that no other team wanted. He had tried out multiple times, and was stuck in the CFL. Many people believe 6'4" 220+ lb cornerbacks cannot play in the NFL. Carroll and Schneider deserves huge kudos for going against the grain here. When every "expert" and fan was criticizing the front office for not drafting a CB in the early rounds or signing a veteran, Carroll and Schneider stuck to their guns and wound up finding a cornerback that is effecting the way opposing receivers are having to prepare for the Seahawks each week. The Seahawks have had cornerbacks that were more talented than Browner, but they have never had one like him. He does not need to be a Pro Bowler to validate this as a great move. Solidifying a role as a reliable starter considering his cost and pedigree would be astonishing.

MAKING LAWYER MILLOY A STARTER
This one was a head-scratcher. It benefited from matching Bryant in terms of cost, since it was free to elevate Milloy to a starter. Carroll also gets high marks for ingenuity since no other team wanted Milloy and the previous coaching staff had him on the bench. He was arguably the best player on the defense during the early part of last season. He was a beast against the run, and was a vocal leader. His largest impact may have come in mentoring young Earl Thomas and Chancellor. What they learned from him that one season could pay dividends for years to come.

I had expected to see the Doug Baldwin signing rise up higher, but it was hard to argue for ingenuity when Carroll has said multiple times that most every team in the league was trying to sign him after the draft. Robert Gallery showing up at the bottom has more to do with his lack of playing time due to injury than any indication that he's going to be a player fans regret signing. That score could change dramatically by seasons end. Charlie Whitehurst's acquisition is widely considered the worst move of the Carroll/Schneider regime. It will be interesting to see how that plays out if Tarvaris Jackson is injured for an extended period of time. If Whitehurst plays well, it is going to be that much harder to find a personnel move this team has made that can be criticized.

What move do you think was the best? Would you use the same categories to grade them? Discuss...
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