Saturday, December 31, 2011

Seahawks Key Stat: Time Of Possession

Time of possession was once the chic stat to talk about in a football era now long gone. The last few decades have emphasized it less as the NFL has become more of a fast-break offensive show that emphasizes passing over running. Turnovers also proved to be a more telling factor, and one that could skew time of possession. Scoring a defensive touchdown or getting the ball on the opponent's 20-yard line due to a turnover means your team is winning, but not possessing the ball for very long. Even with those realities, Pete Carroll is going retro. He is bringing a brand of football back that makes time of possession far important.

In the 33 games Carroll has coached, including playoffs, since joining the Seahawks, the team is undefeated (9-0) when winning the time of possession battle. They are just 6-18 when losing that fight. That includes five of the team's seven wins this season. Their only victories this year when possessing the ball less than their opponent was in Week 3 against the Arizona Cardinals and Week 6 versus the New York Giants. Since the team truly committed to the run, starting in the Dallas game in Week 9, their only losses have come in games when the opponent held the ball for longer than Seattle (@DAL, WAS, SF).

This has been a far larger factor in winning this season that last, when only four of the eight victories required winning time of possession. It is another bit of evidence suggesting that Jeremy Bates and Carroll were a bad match. Bates eschewed the ground game for big chunks of yards. It was a high risk, high reward sort of style that allowed the Seahawks to have some of their best passing games in recent history (@ARZ, @NO, NO), but also made them entirely too inconsistent while putting too much pressure on the defense.

There are ancillary statistics to time of possession that are worth watching as well. Things like the ratio of rushing attempts to passing attempts (the Seahawks target should be 1:1), and opponent yards per carry (should be south of 4.0). Running the ball and stopping the run are obviously key elements to holding onto the ball.

The team has found its identity, and is not turning back. Carroll talks about the importance of the ball all the time, largely referring to turnovers. He had a streak of nearly 60 games where his teams had not lost when winning the turnover battle. That streak ended this season in the loss to the Redskins. This is a new streak. The team stands at 9-0 when winning the time of possession battle under Carroll. Expect it to last.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Hawk Blogger 2011 Power Rankings - Week 16

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.

History has shown the true Super Bowl contenders get strength scores above 10.0. Seahawks remain steady at 17.

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.

Highlights Of 2011

It has been among the most eventful years in Seahawks history, and it seemed worth some reflection. Here is a collection of stories that capture some of the highlights of the last 12 months.


The Division Title
Rams @ Seahawks Division Title Game -  Sights & Sounds
The Morning After - Seahawks Dominate Rams
Interestingly, the story makes note of the Seahawks going with 35 rush attempts and 36 pass attempts. Foreshadowing of a season to come...

An early nod to Pete Carroll's staff, and their ability to get the most from their players

Remember the QB controversy ahead of the Saints game?

A fearless prediction of Seahawks victory over the heavily-favored Saints.

The Glory Of Victory
The Morning After - Seahawks Earn Respect
Sights & Sounds (including me making a fool of myself during Beast Quake)
Awesome Post-Game Tweets
Play Rewind: Beast Quake

Season Ends
Seahawks Fall To The Bears - Hasselbeck's Final Game

Off-Season Begins
Jeremy Bates Fired


2010 Team Analysis
Offensive Line
Defensive Line
Wide Receivers
Running Backs
Hawk Blogger Off-Season Recommendations


The Morning After Draft Day #1
The Morning After Draft Day #2
The Morning After: Draft Complete (early prediction of K.J. Wright pushing Aaron Curry and Richard Sherman being a good fit)


Podcast With Mike Salk
Podcast With Danny Kelly (Field Gulls) and Johnny Peel (Dave Krieg's Strike Beard)


Podcast With Mike Sando
Podcast With Scott Enyeart and Chris Sullivan (early prediction of Lofa in danger and Zach Miller signing)

Why the odds were stacked against any team that traded for Kevin Kolb

Behind The Scenes With Chris Carter (my favorite writing project of the year)
The Next Chris Carter
Hard Knocks - Episode 1
Hard Knocks - Episode 2
Hard Knocks - Episode 3
Hard Knocks - Episode 4
Hard Knocks - Episode 5

Seattle mourns the departure of Matt Hasselbeck, and comes to grips with signing of Tarvaris Jackson (and we thought Matt Leinart).

Tale Of The Tape - Comparing Height, Weight, Age Of Team Before/After Carroll and Schneider
Offensive/Defensive Lines
Secondary (early vote of confidence)

Training Camp Notes - Day 1 (Doug Baldwin, Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner all get highlighted)


Saying goodbye to Lofa Tatupu

More support for the secondary, and a warning to watch out for penalties.

A plea to STFU about Whitehurst

Growing concern the Seahawks offense may be as bad as the 1992 team.


Season Preview
The Franchise
Defense (prediction of a 4-12 record)

Remembering September 11, 2001

Prediction: Earl Thomas will be better than Troy Polamalu this year (I think I was right, btw)

Closing the door on Matt Hasselbeck

The ascension of K.J. Wright, and beginning of the end for Aaron Curry

The Red Bryant Effect

Named #1 Seahawks Blog - Thanks!!

Game Recaps
The Morning After Seahawks lose to 49ers
The Morning After Seahawks lose to Steelers
The Morning After Seahawks beat Cardinals


Game Recaps
The Morning After Seahawks lose to Falcons
The Morning After Seahawks beat Giants
The Morning After Seahawks lose to Browns
The Morning After Seahawks lose to Bengals

Seahawks 1/4 Season Progress Report

Carroll & Schneider's Best/Worst Personnel Moves

First Podcast with Dave "Softy" Mahler

The final word on Aaron Curry being traded

The amazingly cheap (and talented) Seahawks defense

Golden Tate starts to turn his season around


Game Recaps
The Morning After Seahawks lose to Cowboys
The Morning After Seahawks beat Ravens
The Morning After Seahawks beat Rams
The Morning After Seahawks lose to Redskins

Tarvaris Jackson starts to raise expectations

Seahawks midpoint progress report

Calling out Seattle media about treatment of Pete Carroll & resulting throwdown podcast with Softy

Seattle's best drive of the season to close-out Baltimore

The Richard Sherman effect

Turnovers start coming in bunches

Penalties become a story
PenaltyPalooza Part I: Is is Pete Carroll?
PenaltyPalooza Part II: How bad is it, really? (it was bad)


Game Recaps
The Morning After Seahawks beat Eagles
The Morning After Seahawks beat Rams
The Morning After Seahawks beat Bears
The Morning After Seahawks lose to 49ers

Seahawks 3/4 Season Progress Report

Observations 13 games into 2011 season

Play Rewind: Big Red Pick 6

The rarity of getting back to .500 after being 2-6

My studio debut with Softy

It has been a great year. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2012 Seahawks Quarterback Options

John Schneider and Pete Carroll could make another 300 transactions next season, but only one will have the undivided attention of the fan base. Everyone wants to know how the quarterback position will be handled. The primary focus for most fans has been the 2012 draft, and for good reason. Drafting your franchise quarterback is by far the best bet. Eight of the Top 10 rated quarterbacks in the NFL all were drafted by the team they are playing for now. It is clearly not the only way, however, to accomplish the task of finding the right player. Drew Brees, Matt Schaub, Matt Hasselbeck, and others, were acquired via trade or free agency. The following will be an attempt at providing a somewhat comprehensive list of possible moves, and counter-moves, the Seahawks could take to add additional talent to the quarterback position.

Before getting into the additions the team could make, it is worth reviewing the state of the position as it exists today. Tarvaris Jackson is under contract through next season, with a salary of $4M. That is roughly half what the average NFL starter makes in any given year. Jackson almost certainly enters 2012 as the starter. Carroll and Schneider have said multiple times that they believe in the "Aaron Rodgers" method of allowing young quarterbacks to observe and learn from the sidelines for multiple years before pushing them into the starting lineup. Charlie Whitehurst's contract ends this season, and so might his career. He will not be back with the Seahawks, which opens at least one spot. Josh Portis, and undrafted free agent this season, remains on the roster. The expectation is that he will be on the team next season, but it is not out of the realm of possibility that the front office brings in two new quarterbacks, and allows them to compete with Portis for two spots behind Jackson.

Knowing that the front office prefers to allow their quarterbacks to ripen for a few years, and knowing that the team rookie contracts will come up for players like Kam Chancellor, Doug Baldwin, Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, and many others in a few years, this team needs to start grooming their young quarterback this year. Waiting another season to find that player would put the team off-schedule. The Seahawks are fortunate to have such a great pool of young talent across the team, but that will go to waste if they do not have a championship-caliber quarterback at the helm within 2-3 years.

That said, let's look at the different options the Seahawks could explore to address this position.

Drafting a quarterback in the first round is a declaration that he is THE guy, or at least will be eventually. Coaches are made and ruined by these picks, but all must make them at some point.

Andrew Luck
Luck will be the No. 1 overall pick. Some are putting the cost of trading into that spot at four first-round picks plus a couple of second-round picks. Most don't believe the pick can be had if the Colts end up with it. Surrendering that level of value for Luck would be in sharp contrast to a front office that prides itself on building through the draft. They are more likely to trade down that to trade up for that price.

Robert Griffin III
Things get very interesting after Luck is off the board. The Heisman Trophy winner is rumored to be heading back to school for another year. Assuming that is the case, no other player would be worth trading up to get considering Matt Barkley has already announced he is returning to school. If Griffin does enter the draft, it becomes more of a possibility that the Seahawks would trade up for him. The Rams, Jaguars, and Vikings are likely to pick 2-4, and none of them will draft a quarterback. Each team has many needs, and would likely welcome two first-round picks and a second and fourth to slide back 6-8 spots. The Seahawks can finish with anywhere between the 10th and 19th pick. Remember, the Falcons moved up 21 spots to get Julio Jones last season, and that cost them two firsts, one second, and two fourths. It can be done. Still, trading up goes against this team's philosophy, so don't hold your breath.

Landry Jones
No player's stock has fallen farther. Once, projected as a Top 10 pick, Jones is now in the second round of most mock drafts and is rumored to be returning to school. He's got a nice arm, but he'd be a project and not an obvious fit in this offense.

Nick Foles
Foles reminds me a little of Blaine Gabbert. He can make some great throws, but there are questions about his ability to run a pro-style offense. He is an unlikely first-round pick, but considering the run on QBs last year and the players pulling themselves out of the mix this year, Foles could benefit.

Ryan Tannehill
I have never seen Tannehill play, so it's impossible to provide useful info here. Rob Rang has him as the #4 QB prospect, and folks like Brock Huard have said he has the kind of moxie and athleticism to be a possible fit for Seattle. Some project him as a first-rounder.

That's about it for first-round possibilities as this point. Griffin and Tannehill seem like the biggest possibilities.

Picking a player after the first round still leaves open the possibility of finding another guy. It's a silly black & white distinction, but it is true. There are a long list of quarterbacks that could be taken. You can find draft scouting reports all over the place, so this list will just be a few that are worth discussion.

Kellen Moore
Moore is getting some hype as a poor-man's Drew Brees. He's a career winner who is known to be an accurate passer. His measurables will put him in rounds 4-6, but the scarcity of quarterbacks could see him rise as high as the third. I'd be disappointed if Moore was the only quarterback the Seahawks drafted, but he'd be an ideal second quarterback to bring in and create a scrum with Portis and a higher-round draft pick.

Brandon Weeden
Weeden is 28. Not interested.

Kirk Cousins
Cousins is ranked #6 on Rang's quarterback rankings, but has not been impressive when I have watched him. He seems like a guy who could be a career back-up or limited starter. Not interested.

Others who will get mentioned:
Ryan Lindley
Russell Wilson
Case Keenum

These are all players who are worth consideration as the second quarterback taken by the Seahawks, but would be major disappointments if they were the only quarterback added.


Drew Brees
Keep dreaming.

Matt Flynn
Flynn is 26, and unless Schneider is certain he is a better starter than Jackson, bringing him in does not make a ton of sense. Some team is likely to decide Flynn is their starter. He will require a contract considerably more expensive than Jackson's $4M. The guy has started one game. It seems risky and costly to bring him in, and not a great fit for Flynn either.

Kyle Orton
If the Seahawks wanted Orton, they could have made a waiver claim on him to get a look this season. Jackson was playing with half-a-pec, and the team still had playoff aspirations. There is no indication the front office likes what Orton has to offer. For what it's worth, I think he's an upgrade over Jackson, even though he is going to be 30 next year.

Alex Smith
Smith will be looking for a starting quarterback position, and far more coin than Jackson's $4M, without having far more talent. Not a likely move for Seattle.

Vince Young
Young would be an interesting possibility if he could be signed to backup money. Carroll has a ton of respect for his abilities, and Young has not performed well enough subbing for Michael Vick to earn a starter's payday. He does flash potential, and could push Jackson. The biggest downside is his age (will be 29 next year).

Dennis Dixon
Dixon remains an intriguing option. He's only 26, and is incredibly athletic. He's stuck behind Roethlisberger, but has potential. He started one game this season against Atlanta and completed 70% of his passes for over 9 yards per attempt. He'd be a great "add to the pile" sort of addition that could potentially be had for an non-guaranteed contract.

Chase Daniel
Daniel is a restricted free agent who will never see the field behind Drew Brees. He's short, at only 6'0", but is highly regarded by some. He's 25, and has been tutored by one of the best. Might be worth a sniff.

Chad Henne
Henne is 26, and is talented enough to be have already started a bunch of games. He has never, however, managed to throw for more touchdowns than interceptions in a season. The upside does not seem to be there with Henne to warrant taking a flier on him.

Brady Quinn
Quinn is already 27, and has never completed more than 53% of his passes in a year. His career passer rating is 66.8. The age and track record make him a waste of money for what the Seahawks are looking for.

This section is pure speculation, but also may provide some of the more interesting possibilities.

Christian Ponder
The Vikings could become enamored with Robert Griffin III is he comes out, and decide to move Ponder. They went to Joe Webb late in the year. Ponder is a smart player, who is just 23. He's a more interesting prospect than nearly all of the players available in the draft this year.

Blaine Gabbert
Same story could happen with Jacksonville, especially since Gabbert was a major disappointment in his rookie season. Gabbert played with the worst wide receiving corps in the NFL on a terrible team. It is entirely possible that he could grow given time and a chance to develop behind a veteran. He would also be a potentially cheap addition given you would be buying low.

Sam Bradford
There is a chance the Rams get the first pick in the draft. If they do, they will decide between a windfall for Andrew Luck or a small fortune for Sam Bradford. They may go with Luck. The chances the team would trade within the division are slim-to-none, but they might see it as a chance to gut the team's draft choices.

Colt McCoy
Same story here. McCoy is 25, and was picked by Mike Holmgren to be their franchise QB. He has been mediocre so far, but might be exactly the type of player Carroll envisions building his offense around. McCoy can make plays with his legs and is a heady player.

Matt Cassell
Cassell is 29, and had a down year after sporting a 27/7 TD-to-Interception ratio a year ago. Bringing in a veteran like Cassell might not make a ton of sense, but the Chiefs could be looking to off-load him under new management.

Mark Sanchez
Sanchez has been a relentlessly mediocre regular season quarterback who has played well in the post-season. Carroll obviously knows him well, and he's only 25. New York is not a patient fan base, and the Jets are now struggling to make the playoffs. It is possible they could decide to build anew.

Peyton Manning
Manning is coming off a career-threatening neck injury. If he is healthy enough to play, he would make the Seahawks contenders right away, but it seems highly unlikely the Colts would part with him, or that a team would be confident enough in his health to give up much to get him.

Seahawks Long Odds This Sunday

Seattle and Arizona have had similar seasons. Both started 2-6, before going 5-2 in their last seven games. The Seahawks have enjoyed some amount of national recognition for their resurgence, helped in part, by two blowout wins on national television. The Cardinals did not have a quality win until Week 13 and Week 14 when they beat the Cowboys and 49ers at home on successive weekends. Kevin Kolb's failure at quarterback is what most fans think about when thinking of the Cardinals, and for good reason. The truth, at least for this season, is that the Cardinals are a energized defensive team with a decent running game that can rise up and beat any team, especially at home.

The Seahawks have been charging hard at an improbably playoff run for nearly two months. Their run culminated this past weekend against the 49ers. It was an emotional and physical game that ended up in a disappointing loss. For the first time this season, the team has to manufacture motivation. They have played through more than a dozen players going on injured reserve. They have played through quarterback controversies and quarterback injuries. Now, they'll have to play through apathy.

One could argue the Cardinals will be facing the same emotional obstacle, but they have yet to achieve the recognition the Seahawks have as a team on the rise. A wise Cardinals coach would point out the similarities between the two team's seasons, and tell his team they could prove they are the true team to watch after the 49ers in this division. It would give them an 8-8 finish, 2nd place in the division, and a season-closing victory over a team they likely feel is casting a shadow over their own accomplishments. This is a franchise accustomed to playing for morale victories, and has been far tougher at home where they are 5-2.

None of this is to say the Seahawks can't win this weekend, but it would qualify as a surprise. This team has played hard in each game, and effort or motivation has never been a question. Their only real motivation heading into Arizona is ending the season with an 8-8 record. People may dismiss this as psychological hooey, especially coming from a guy who spends a lot of time taking the statistical angles, but football requires an emotional edge. Arizona has that this weekend.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Irrelevant Arizona Cardinals

It may be hard to believe that the Arizona Cardinals were a 10-win team only two years ago, and in the Super Bowl three years ago. The last time the Cardinals had won as many as 10 games in a season was 33 years prior, when the Seahawks were playing their inaugural season. The Seahawks won 10 games or more five times during that stretch of Cardinal ineptitude. Only one team had won fewer games than the Cardinals since the advent of the 16-game schedule, the Detroit Lions, and that will change after a year in which the Lions are certain to win at least two more than the Cardinals. In other words, no franchise has been less relevant than the Arizona Cardinals in the modern NFL era.

Darnell Dockett likes to puff out his chest and play the tough guy role. Jared Brandt, a Twitter friend, sent out a link to Dockett mouthing off after the Seahawks beat the Cardinals in September. He went as far as to say the Seahawks are, "soft as cotton," when playing on the road. Forget, for a moment, that the softies stomped the Cardinals 36-18 the last time they played in Arizona. That's the past. This year, the Seahawks have beat the Giants, the Bears and the Rams on the road. A win in Arizona would leave them at .500 on the road. The Cardinals are 2-5 on the road, including a loss to the soft Seahawks. Their only win worth mention was versus the Eagles by four points. This, after a dominating 1-7 road record a season ago. If Seattle is as soft as cotton on the road, Arizona is as weak as wet toilet paper. Most unfortunate for the Cardinals is that this weakness permeates their entire franchise, not just their road record.

Dockett played during the glory years--all three of them--when Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner led the team to a 27-21 record. He plays with the arrogance of a player that was part of back-to-back division titles, but his words are worth less than the wind they generate. Those Cardinals teams were barely over .500 with one of the league's best quarterbacks playing some of his best football. They could score with any team in the league, and that allowed their defense to look far stronger than it was. The instant the offense turned to Arizona dust, the defense withered as well. Players like Dockett and Adrian Wilson looked far less dominant when being stuck on the field for 35 minutes and playing from behind each game.

The master plan was to acquire their next great quarterback that could team with Larry Fitzgerald to rebuild the offensive powerhouse that led to that dominant run of 8-8, 9-7 and 10-6. They were almost forced to take this tack because Dockett is 30, Wilson is 32, and Fitzgerald is 28. There is no time to develop a quarterback over five years if the goal is contend with these players. They made the bold move to trade for Kevin Kolb and signed both Kolb and Fitzgerald to massive contracts. Contracts so large, the franchise cannot afford to go after another quarterback for some time without handcuffing their ability to plug any of the other holes on the team.

Kolb has not worked out this season. He's 3-6 as a starter, and has been outplayed by John Skelton, who  boasts a 68.1 passer rating on the year.  Larry Fitzgerald is having a monster season with 71 receptions and nearly 1,300 yards. Beanie Wells is a very good young running back who, at 23, has gone over 1,000 yards with 10 touchdowns. Daryl Washington is having a great year at the linebacker spot, leading the team in tackles to go along with 4.0 sacks and a couple of picks. Patrick Peterson has made his largest impact on special teams as a return man, but will be a shutdown corner for years to come. There are some nice pieces, but they did not strike quarterback gold. That leaves them with a disjointed future where major parts will be going downhill by the time they address that hole, assuming they can ever address it.

Step back and ask yourself if it's likely the Cardinals will find another quarterback that can perform at the level of Kurt Warner. Assuming the answer is "no," will the receiving corps be better than Larry Fitzgerald in his prime opposite Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston? Probably not. Might the defense be significantly better than it was when Dockett and Wilson were in their primes, with Karlos Dansby and others playing at a high level? Better is possible. Significantly better? Probably not.

It was worth taking the time to compare the Seahawks to the 49ers. Both teams have young teams, who have room to grow. Comparing the Seahawks to the Cardinals would be an insult to the Seahawks.  The Cardinals could go out on Sunday and throttle the Seahawks. They might even find a way to better record in 2012 (not likely, but possible). It won't matter. They have been the most irrelevant franchise in the NFL for over 30 years, and their foundation is shaky for the next five. They are a balsa wood mansion with a few nice features, built on an eroding hilltop. Do you hear that sound, Mr. Dockett? It is the sound of inevitability. 

2012 DRAFT: Cost Of Trading Up

Danny O'Neil did some homework to find out that the Seahawks could wind up picking as high as No. 10, or as low as No. 19 in the 2012 NFL Draft. You can see the types of players Rob Rang, a fantastic local draft scout, has projected to be taken around the 10-19th picks in the first round. Believe it or not, a player like OG David DeCastro is going to be very tempting if he is available for the Seahawks. Robert Gallery is 31, and injury-prone. John Moffitt had a serious knee injury, and DeCastro is being compared to Steve Hutchinson. Of course, the focus for every Seahawks fan will be who they draft at quarterback.

Matt Barkley returning to USC will have a serious impact on the Seahawks chances of getting the player they want. It is possible that both Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III could be drafted in the Top 5. Trading up that high will be very costly. Costly is not impossible. Just last season the Atlanta Falcons moved up twenty-one spots from the No. 27 pick to the No. 6 pick. The cost for them was their No. 27 pick and 4th-round pick in 2011, and their 2012 1st, 2nd and 4th-round picks.  Moving up twenty-one spots is extreme, but it may take an extreme deal to pry quarterback out of the Top 10. If the Seahawks are drafting near the Top 10, the price to move up to No. 5 could be two firsts and a second. Getting the player that can lead the franchise for then next decade at quarterback is well worth that price or more. Minnesota, Cleveland, and Jacksonville could all be potential trade partners at the top of the draft.

If no team is a willing trade partner, expect the Seahawks to trade down and accumulate additional picks. There doesn't appear to be a quarterback worth taking in the middle of the first-round, but there may be near the end.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Game Managers Don't Need To Suck

No topic generates more discussion amongst Seahawks fans than quarterback. People throw around terms like "franchise quarterback," and "elite." Pete Carroll caused reverberations by promoting the idea that the Seahawks need a "game manager." Somehow, that has led many fans to believe Carroll devalues the quarterback position. Signing Tarvaris Jackson this off-season furthered that fear as people started to worry that Carroll was under the impression that a team could contend with a bad player behind center. Jackson went on to surprise most everyone by performing above NFL average while battling a serious injury that effected his throwing ability. Jackson came on strong late in the year as he drastically cut his turnovers, while leading the team to a series of wins. Media and fans started asking if Jackson was becoming the game manager Carroll wants. That remains a possibility, but is far from likely.

The prevailing image of a "game manager" quarterback is something that resembles what Trent Dilfer was for the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. A guy who is not a Top 10 player at his position, but who will not lose the game for your team. This kind of player requires an abundance of talent surrounding him to counterbalance the lack of ability at football's most important position. It occurred to me recently that Carroll may not be picturing a player like Dilfer when talking about game managers.

Troy Aikman won three Super Bowls and one Super Bowl MVP. Did you know he was a game manager? It's true. Aikman is not among the Top 20 NFL QBs is passing yards, touchdowns or even passer rating. He sported a career rating of 81.6, and only once threw for more than 20 touchdowns in a season. Aikman only had three seasons where his passer rating eclipsed 89.0, and those happened to be the three years his team won it all. His highest rated season was in 1993 (99.0), but he only threw for 15 touchdowns. His six interceptions were exceptional, as was his 69.1 completion percentage. This was not a quarterback, however, who was dominating the game. His ability to play smart football, coupled with Emmitt Smith running the ball and a top-rated defense created a dynasty in the 90s.

Phil Simms won a Super Bowl with the Giants in 1986 in a year he threw for more interceptions (22) than touchdowns (21). His passer rating that year was 74.6, and his completion percentage was 55.6. Yet, Simms went on to win the Super Bowl MVP by "managing" to go the entire post-season without a pick. Joe Morris, Lawrence Taylor, and crew were good enough that Simms did not need to emulate Joe Montana to put his team over the top. Interestingly, Simms never again had a season with a passer rating as low as he had in 1986, but he also never won another Super Bowl (Jeff Hostetler subbed for him after injury in 1990). Note, this style of team can weather an injury to their quarterback far better than a team built like the Colts or Saints.

Jim McMahon was an iconic part of an iconic 1985 Bears team that won the trophy. He only threw for 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions that season, but was a great compliment to Walter Payton and the fearsome Bears defense. Notice a trend? Great running game and strong defense with heady quarterback play has been a winning combination for years.

The great Seahawks team of 2005 had the Super Bowl rings in their grasp with a team based on an elite running game and wise quarterback play. Matt Hasselbeck for all his accomplishments, was never in the same class as Peyton Manning. He excelled at getting the team to the line and putting the team in the best play to exploit the defense. He was a stellar red zone quarterback who rarely turned the ball over when points were there to be had. He won't be a Hall of Fame player, but he was certainly capable of winning a Super Bowl.

This formula has worked beyond the NFL, and we are not talking about wishbone offenses. Think back to the height of the Don James era. What stood out about those championship teams in the early 90s? Dominant defense, fantastic running game and efficient quarterback play. That's not to say Mark Brunnell or Damon Huard lacked talent. They clearly showed they could play at the next level. It should be noted, though, that none of their names were listed when Keith Price was climbing the charts this season for most touchdown passes in a season. Instead, it was players like Cody Pickett that topped the charts. That's not to say having a quarterback that can throw for a bunch of yards and touchdowns is a bad thing, but it doesn't necessarily align with the greatest team success.

The last eight Super Bowls have been won by quarterback-dominated teams. Nobody is going to claim Drew Brees or Tom Brady or Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers are game managers at the quarterback position. It can be easy to mistake a trend for a rule. People will try to convince you that the game has changed and that an elite quarterback is a prerequisite for contending. Think about that. Do you really think the 1985 Bears would have no chance against the teams winning the past few years? What about the 1986 Giants, or the Cowboys teams of the 90s? There is reason to believe that the 49ers success this season, this Chiefs success last season, and even the Seahawks late season surge could be turning the tides back to a time when great defense, a running game and a smart quarterback can win a city a parade. Carroll is betting on it, and while Jackson may not be the guy to lead his team their, he doesn't need to strike it rich with a player the caliber of Brees or Brady. He can afford to find a Simms, and Aikman, a Brunell. That doesn't seem quite as daunting. 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Morning After: Seahawks Fall 19-17 To The 49ers

Just like fifteen weeks ago, one team dominated the first half and the other dominated the second. Just like fifteen weeks ago, special teams played a huge role in the home team's late lead. Even the score taunted Seattle when it reached the same 19-17 mark the teams had reached the last time they played, almost daring the Seahawks to prove they had changed enough to write a different ending. The ending was different, but was no more palatable. A close game always comes down to a few plays. Six pivotal moments really stood out.

- 3rd and 1 at the goal line before half
Pete Carroll complained that there wasn't a penalty called on his team, as the Seahawks clearly false-started. I'm complaining that his team did false start. Moving back five yards would have likely resulted in a field goal anyway. Executing the hand-off almost certainly would have resulted in a touchdown. IMPACT: -4 points

- 3rd and 5 fumble and scramble by Alex Smith on 49ers opening drive of second half
The 49ers "statement" opening drive of the second half should have never happened. A fumbled snap had Smith well behind his line of scrimmage, and the Seahawks not only did not recover the ball, but allowed him to run free for three yards. This made going for it on fourth down far more tempting. IMPACT: An eventual +7 points for 49ers

- 4th and 2 49ers conversion on broken play
The 49ers decided to go for the first down immediately after the fumble. Jim Harbaugh screamed at his line to make it look like they would run for it. He admitted the gamesmanship after the game. Way to take credit for a broken play, douche bag. The 49ers had nothing open, but the Seahawks did not get to Smith who eventually found Vernon Davis tip-toeing the sideline for 16 yards and a first down. IMPACT: An eventual +7 points for 49ers

- 3rd and 8 on 49ers 2nd drive, Smith scrambles for 12
The 49ers had just tied the game, and had a big punt return that put them near mid-field. Seattle's defense forced a 3rd and 8. Nothing was open, but the Seahawks allowed Smith to scramble for 12 yards and a first down. It was one of only three conversions on 3rd down all afternoon for the 49ers, but a completely unacceptable one. IMPACT: An eventual +3 points for the 49ers

- 2nd and 18 pass for 41 yards
Seattle had stunned the 49ers by taking the lead, and now had them backed up in their own territory. The ghosts of Rex Grossman and Anthony Armstrong slimed Brandon Browner. The one thing that cannot happen on a play where your opponent has 18 yards to gain for a first down is to let a receiver get behind you. The one thing that cannot happen when you are up late in a tight football game is to let a receiver get behind you. Michael Crabtree got behind Browner. Some were claiming Crabtree pushed off, but it was not obvious, and does not change the fact that he was pushing off BEHIND YOU! Browner, who has played so brilliantly the past few weeks, made no play on the ball. Almost any leap would have knocked that ball away or made the catch far more difficult. Instead, another back-breaking, game-losing play. IMPACT: Game-winning field goal

- Justin Forsett stays in bounds, costs team 12 seconds and a down
This may seem like a nit to pick, but the Seahawks had 41 seconds to move down field for a chance to win the game with a field goal. Forsett took the first pass and inexplicably cut inside to pick up a whopping eight yards. It cost the team at least 12 seconds off the clock and forced them to use up a down by spiking the ball.  It probably did not cost the team the game, but we'll never know. IMPACT: Many expletives

You could throw in the "helmet-to-helmet" penalty called on the 49ers kickoff returns where the return man fumbled the ball and was hit cleanly as he looked to be getting back up after falling untouched. San Francisco fans might point to David Akers missed 52-yard field goal. Regardless, the Seahawks played an 11-3 team without 3/5ths of their offensive line and either of their starting wide receivers, and truly should have won. That will be the difference between this year and next. Seattle will take significant steps forward again next season. It is not as clear that San Francisco will.

Injuries always seem the norm in Seattle, as the Seahawks have had their second straight season with more than a dozen players on injured reserve, but those things do tend to even themselves out. The Rams made their run last year, in part, due to a remarkably injury-free season. They were paid back, and then some this year. The 49ers are enjoying a similar injury-free year this season, and would be extremely lucky to enjoy that luck two years in a row. How different would that team look without three starters on their offensive line, like the Seahawks, or without 10 cornerbacks, like the Rams?

One thing there is no doubt about is the rivalry ignited between these two teams this year. San Francisco coaches and personnel ran through the Seahawks press box yelling, "Merry Christmas" as the final seconds ticked off the clock. Right tackle Anthony Davis tweeted, "Fuck the Seahawks..Scot McCloughan eat shit..." after the game. McCloughan, a senior personnel exec with the Seahawks and former 49ers GM, had told a reporter before the game that the Seahawks were going to "beat the Hell out of 'em." No love lost.

Seattle exits this game knowing much of what it knew when it entered. They are a young team who is far better than it was when the year began, with some obvious improvement that will happen naturally with an off-season and more experience. They need a young quarterback who can be groomed to eclipse the ability of Tarvaris Jackson in close games, while also hoping Jackson can make some improvement there with more starts.

Happy Holidays to all of you.  Thanks for reading, and commenting, and tweeting, and facebooking

Friday, December 23, 2011

Franchise Stock Market: Comparing 49ers & Seahawks Futures

Saturday is going to be celebration of what has been a remarkably transformative season for the Seattle Seahawks. The team that played the 49ers in Week 1 no longer exists. It has been replaced by a steam-snorting, hard-charging, play-making collection of players that takes a backseat to no team. Bill Parcells famously said, "You are what your record says you are," and the Seahawks enter this game at 7-7 while the 49ers are 11-3. Ask the average fan which franchise has a brighter future, and 99% will pick the 49ers. After all, they have a legitimate NFL Defensive Player of The Year candidate in Patrick Willis, and multiple Pro Bowl players surrounding him on defense. Their new coach, Jim Harbaugh, will get some Coach of the Year votes. Seattle could easily go without a Pro Bowl player this year. Take a closer look, though, and it becomes clear choosing which franchise has the brighter future is not so clear cut.

No position better captures how misleading 2011 can be than this one. Alex Smith has been a bust most of his career with a passer rating around 75.0. He was signed to a one year contract, and has rewarded the team with his best season and a 91.1 passer rating. Tarvaris Jackson had a slightly higher career rating, but was largely the same level of quarterback coming into this season as Smith. He has fought through a torn pectoral muscle on his way to a 79.2 rating. Jackson is signed through next season at $4M/year. The 49ers will likely look to re-sign Smith, and that could be their undoing. Smith will require a multi-year contract for starter's money. He won't be able to command top dollar since there may not be a huge market for his services, but it will definitely be more than the Seahawks commitment of one more year at $4M to Jackson. This is all about ceiling, and it is hard to imagine Smith has a Super Bowl ceiling. Jackson probably does not have that potential either, but the franchise is set to supplant him with someone who does.

Charlie Whitehurst is done. The Seahawks overall roster shuffle has slowed down considerably, but fans should expect the 2nd and 3rd string quarterback slots to be competitive the next few seasons until Pete Carroll and John Schneider find the guy they want to ride long-term. Josh Portis will get his chance next season to compete for the back-up spot, and with names like Matt Barkley and possibly Landry Jones out of the upcoming draft, Portis will get a longer look. It's not out of the question that the Seahawks could have two new quarterbacks on their roster next season if they find guys they like better than Portis.

The 49ers have Colin Kaepernick and Scott Tolzien behind Smith. Kaepernick was taken in the second round, so it is unlikely the 49ers will be bringing any other quarterbacks in the near future. The 49ers future at this position will be either Smith or Kaepernick. The Seahawks future is undefined. Advantage: undefined.

The 49ers have Frank Gore and rookie Kendall Hunter, along with Anthony Dixon. Gore is 28, and is no stranger to injury. He is Marshawn Lynch three years down the line. In other words, don't bet on Gore having much left. The 49ers were wise to get Hunter who is a faster version of Justin Forsett. He's a great pass blocker, good receiver and shifty runner. There may not be a significant drop-off when Gore moves on, but it will be interesting to see how the 49ers handle Gore's inevitable slowing. Their willingness to transition away from a team leader will impact their team's fortunes.

Seattle almost certainly will re-sign Lynch given the positive chatter from Carroll. He's 25, and should have at least three more years of Pro Bowl potential. Forsett will have a hard time holding onto his roster spot past this season. His production has been subpar, and the team will need to find a young back in the draft who can share more of the load with Lynch. Again, that provides the potential for a higher upside than the 49ers since Lynch will be in his prime and the team can add another young stud to the mix. Leon Washington will still be around, but not necessarily a huge part of the backfield. Slight Advantage: Seahawks

The 49ers and Seahawks took very similar approaches to their offensive line rebuilds. The 49ers used two first round picks on Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis in 2010. The Seahawks used three of their top four picks in 2010 and 2011 on Russell Okung, James Carpenter and John Moffitt. Each team has an old man in the mix. The 49ers center Jonathan Goodwin, is 33, and Robert Gallery is 31. The injury situation for the Seahawks line makes the 49ers situation more predictable. However, Tom Cable is a huge advantage for the Seahawks. One healthy season from the Seahawks line could vault them far higher. Slight Advantage: 49ers

Vernon Davis is a near All-Pro tight end. Nobody else on either team's receiving corps can say that. Zach Miller has been a Pro Bowler, but is not an All-Pro guy. Sidney Rice is the best receiver on either team, but has health issues. Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate, and Ben Obomanu are better than Ted Ginn, Kyle Williams and Josh Morgan by a long shot. Rice, even with injury concerns, is more valuable than Michael Crabtree. Delanie Walker is a great second tight end. Cameron Morrah and Anthony McCoy combined are worth Walker, especially given their blocking in the running game. Advantage: Push

Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, Brandon Mebane and Alan Branch are fantastic. Justin Smith, Ray McDonald and Isaac Sopoaga are more disruptive right now. Smith is 32, and Sopoaga is 30. Clemons is 30, but Bryant is only 27 and the other two starters are just 26. Seattle likely adds another edge rusher this coming off-season. Advantage: Seahawks

Willis is a beast. NaVarro Bowman is a Pro Bowl candidate. Aldon Smith has 13 sacks as a rookie. Seattle has some nice players at linebacker, but this one is not close. Advantage: 49ers

Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are in their second year with both playing at a Pro Bowl level. Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are in their first year (even if Browner is 27), and are playing darn near Pro Bowl level. The 49ers have a nice safety tandem as well, but not in the class of Chancellor and Thomas. Carlos Rogers is their best CB and he is 30. This one is not close either. Advantage: Seahawks

It should come as no surprise that the future of these two teams will come down to who fills the quarterback position. Seattle is young all over, and is already good enough to step in the ring with the 49ers. Even in places where they are not close to the 49ers right now (e.g., linebacker), the Seahawks are poised to make significant improvement with young players growing. The 49ers dominance is predicated on a dominant front seven on defense that has a couple of 30+ year-old lineman. Fast forward two years, will it still be as dominant? The Seahawks young defensive lineman, bolstered by a young edge rusher, could easily close the gap. The offensive lines are probably a push, but I like the upside of the Seahawks, especially if the team can secure Cable's services for a few more years before he gets another head coaching job. Seattle has better weapons on offense, and they should improve considerably over the next few years when you think about Rice and Miller still being 26 and Baldwin/Tate enjoying some early career success. Tomorrow marks a great moment to watch these two teams battle for division dominance (both can still end the year 5-1 in the division depending on tomorrow's outcome), but it is only a moment. The war will be won in the coming years, and the Seahawks trajectory is much steeper with a better foundation to help it last.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hawk Blogger On Sports Radio KJR With Softy

Sports Radio KJR host Dave "Softy" Mahler invited me into the studio today to talk Seahawks. He was worried. It took weeks of podcasts and numerous bloody mary's Sunday morning's before the Seahawks games to make him feel comfortable allowing me on his airwaves. We were scheduled for about 20 minutes, and ended up going for over an hour. It was a blast, and we talked to callers about a number of different Seahawks topics.

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**

What's Changed Since Week 1 For The Seahawks & 49ers?

Fifteen weeks ago, on September 11, 2011, the Seahawks opened the season playing in San Francisco versus the 49ers. Alex Smith was still getting booed by his home crowd. Charlie Whitehurst was a few Tarvaris Jackson incomplete passes away from having Seahawks fans screaming at their television to put him in. Richard Sherman was a largely unknown third string cornerback. Nearly three months later, the 49ers are largely considered the best bet to give the mighty Green Bay Packers a run for their money to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Jim Harbaugh is being mentioned as a Coach of The Year candidate, and the Seahawks have surged back into the playoff picture following a dismal 2-6 start.

When these two teams face off in CenturyLink Field on Saturday, both will be far more confident in who they are and how to beat an opponent. One team, the Seahawks, will feature a significantly altered lineup due in part to injury and in part to young players emerging.


QB: Tarvaris Jackson
RB: Marshawn Lynch
FB: Michael Robinson
TE: Zach Miller
TE: Anthony McCoy
WR: Golden Tate (was Mike Williams)
WR: Ben Obomanu
WR: Doug Baldwin
RT: Breno Giacomini
RG: Lemuel Juanpierre (was John Moffitt)
C: Max Unger
LG: Robert Gallery (was James Carpenter)
LT: Paul McQuistan (was Russell Okung)

DE: Chris Clemons
DT: Alan Branch
DT: Brandon Mebane
DE: Red Bryant
SAM: K.J. Wright (was Aaron Curry)
MIKE: David Hawthorne (was K.J. Wright)
WILL: Leroy Hill
CB: Richard Sherman (was Marcus Trufant)
SS: Kam Chancellor
FS: Earl Thomas
CB: Brandon Browner
NICKEL CB: Roy Lewis (was Walter Thurmond)

That's eight different positions that will be manned by a different person than in the first game. Matt McCoy was also the nickel LB in that game and did his famous Superman tackle before having his season end due to injury.

Compare that to a 49ers team that has placed two meaningful players on injured reserve, starting wideout Josh Morgan and DT Will Tukuafu. Patrick Willis may not play as he recovers from a hamstring injury. Largely, though, the 49ers will look a lot like the team that played in that first week from a personnel perspective.

The real difference for the 49ers is they know they are winners now. Ray McDonald is not a secret anymore at DT. Neither is LB NaVarro Bowman who leads the team in tackles. Dashon Goldson and Carlos Rogers sport six picks apiece instead of questions lingering about their ability to play their positions. Alex Smith sports a 91.1 passer rating.

The Seahawks have similar differences beyond just personal. Red Bryant blocked four kicks, after tipping one versus the 49ers. Doug Baldwin is no longer an unknown, undrafted rookie. Golden Tate is not a bust. The offensive line surrendered five sacks in that first game, and has not given up that many since playing the Giants in Week 5. The defense forced zero turnovers, which they haven't done since Week 4 versus Atlanta. The offense had three turnovers, which they haven't done since Week 9 versus the Cowboys.

These are two teams that have found their identities, which happen to look strikingly similar. The Seahawks have changed significantly more than the 49ers in terms of talent, players, execution. Both teams will enter this rematch far more confident than when they played back in September.  

Catch Me On Sports Radio KJR @ 11:30AM Today

Dave "Softy" Mahler has invited me on his show, after a lengthy podcast courtship. You can hear us on 950 AM or 102.9 FM. Softy's show is also broadcast on Comcast Sports Net, which is channel 179 on local Comcast Cable systems. It doesn't appear to be available on DirectTV. The plan is to go for a couple of segments, which will be roughly the same length as our podcasts (25 mins).

We will be talking about the big win on Sunday, the progress of this team since the last time they faced the 49ers, and look ahead to this big game on Saturday. Tune in!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

2011, The 2.8% Season

There had been 35 seasons of Seahawks football before this 2011 campaign began. There have been 7 division titles and 11 playoff appearances, but what has happened this season is far more rare. Five times, prior to 2011, the Seahawks started the season with a 2-6 record. Of the teams that started 2-6, only one ever rallied to reach .500 at any point after the poor start. Dennis Erickson's 1995 team, his first in Seattle, started out 2-6 and got to 7-7, before finishing the season 8-8. Once in 35 years. Or, 2.8% of the time. That is what Pete Carroll and team have pulled off in 2011.

No Seahawks team has ever been more than four games under .500 and ever climbed back to .500 before the year finished. Only one team, the franchise worst 2-14 team in 1992, started worse than 2-6. Those 2-6 teams finished with a combined record of 31-49. Pull out Erickson's 1995 team, and they fall to 23-41, a 0.359 winning percentage. In other words, these are some of the worst years in the history of a franchise that hovers right around .500 overall heading into this season.

There are some similarities to how the 1995 and 2011 team's pulled off their turnarounds. Both teams drastically increased their scoring, turned the ball over less, played far better defense, and forced far more turnovers. When the 2011 Seahawks were 2-6, they looked like this:


In this six game stretch where the team went 5-1, they look like this:

SCORING: 27 (+11.7)
TURNOVERS: 1.3 (-1)
OPPONENT YARDS: 292.7 (-60.3)
PASSING YARDS: 191.8 (-50.5)

Their offensive mix has changed, but they are only gaining an extra 13.5 yards per game. Over 70% of the offense was coming through the air in the first eight games. That has changed to a more balanced 60/40 split of pass to run. They were at 88.3 rushing yards per game, and are now up to 124.7 the last six.

The 1995 team raised their scoring by 9.1 points, dropped their turnovers by 1.1, cut opponent yardage by 52.1, lowered opponent passing yardage by 55.9, and forced 0.5 more turnovers. That secondary caught fire a bit with Robert Blackman, Eugene Robinson, Carlton Gray, and Corey Harris. The defensive line featured a  27-year-old Cortez Kennedy, a 22-year-old Sam Adams, a 27-year-old Michael Sinclair, and a 25-year-old Antonio Edwards. Joe Nash was 35, Michael McCrary was a part-timer at 25, and linebacker Terry Wooden was the team leader in tackles with 114. Rick Mirer was the QB, Chris Warren was the running back, and Brian Blades teamed with a young Joey Galloway at receiver.

That team did not appear to face the same injury situation this 2011 squad has. There were also a few flash games where the 1995 team forced 5 turnovers, where this year's team has forced at least two turnovers in five of the last six games. One year need not be more impressive than the other. They both represent great accomplishments in team history.

Erickson's tenure, along with Randy Mueller in the front office, marked a similar infusion of young talent. They were responsible for Galloway, Christian Fauria, Pete Kendall, Phillip Daniels, Shawn Springs, Walter Jones, Itula Mili, Anthony Simmons, Todd Weiner, and Ahman Green. That's an imposing list of talent, but Erickson was never able to get the team over the top, or even into the playoffs. He was a college coach who had a ton of success in Miami with some allegations that hit the university after he left. Many considered him a player's coach. Sound familiar?

Carroll and Schneider have already won a division and a playoff game, so the comparison only goes so far. Take a moment to appreciate how rare this season has been. One can forgive the Seahawks fan base that was caught off-guard by this resurgence. It simply does not happen to this franchise very often. Many fans have never seen a season like this. Here's to hoping the 2011 Seahawks become the first team in franchise history to fall four games below .500 and finish with a winning record.

Hawk Blogger 2011 Power Rankings - Week 15

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.

History has shown the true Super Bowl contenders get strength scores above 10.0. Seahawks climb another spot.

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.

Play Rewind: Big Red Goes Primetime

No play captured the ability of Pete Carroll's staff to make halftime adjustments than Big Red Bryant's pick-6 on the second play of the Bears first possession of the second half. Caleb Hanie had gained 21 yards scrambling in the first half, nearly out-gaining Marshawn Lynch (27 yards). His lone touchdown came on a play where he escaped the pocket as well. You will see below a stark contrast in how the Seahawks opened up defending Hanie and the Bears versus how they adjusted in the second half.

This was Hanie's first scramble in the first half. The Seahawks sent four rushers and dropped everyone else into coverage. Notice the linebackers have dropped into deep zones, leaving nobody underneath. The Bears line blocks the rushers well, and leaves Hanie good passing or running lanes. He ends up gaining 12 yards on a run to the right.

Three plays later, the Seahawks are in a similar man coverage. The defensive line has completely lost contain to Hanie's left. Hanie would eventually turn and run for 6 more yards in that direction.

This is the alignment prior to the interception. Notice four d-lineman, and K.J. Wright all the way up to the line at the top of the formation. Both corners are rolled up in press (I never get tired of seeing that, btw)

The Bears had not run a bootleg in the first half. They had set it up by running this play to Barber 2-4 times with the pulling guard moving from right-to-left. The most important part of this play is the discipline of the linebackers. Either Malcolm Smith or Leroy Hill (couldn't make out the number) stays home behind Chris Clemons, and is ready to go after Marion Barber should he get the ball. David Hawthorne is right next to him and is closing in. K.J. Wright is still up top, but is not chasing the running back from behind. He is staying home. 

Hanie fakes the handoff and starts rolling to his right. The Bears tight end (#87) is the intended target, and Wright has made the split-second decision to leave him and attack the passer. He read the bootleg immediately, or this would not be possible. Red Bryant is right behind him, providing additional contain should Wright swing and miss. Look at the game clock. It reads 12:18.

The Bears tight end is wide open, but Hanie never has time to make the play. The game clock still sits at 12:18, and Wright is already one step from destroying Hanie. Bryant is coming up behind Wright. I love Brandon Mebane turned completely the wrong direction next to Hawthorne. What's he doing? 

The clock has ticked off one second since Hanie faked the hand-off, and Wright is laying a lick on Hanie who is trying to get enough on the ball to float it out to his wide open tight end, but his arm hits Wright's helmet on the follow-through and causes it to go nearly straight down.

Big Red catches one in the bread basket. Still only one second off the clock from the fake hand-off.

Bryant is high-stepping and Wright is literally jumping for joy.

Bryant goes Primetime as he crosses into the endzone and Wright is still jumping around like a kid who got a Nintendo for Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2011

By The Numbers: Seahawks Defense

The Seahawks defense and individual defenders are rising up the charts like an Adelle single. Check out some of these numbers:

- Brandon Browner is #1 in the NFL with 20 passes defensed and #2 in the NFL with 6 interceptions

- Richard Sherman has 14 passes defensed, good for 15th in the NFL, after only 8 starts. He also has 3 interceptions.

- Red Bryant now has more career interception returns for touchdown (1) than Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, and Richard Sherman combined. He also has as many picks this season as Earl Thomas.

- After netting only two turnovers in the first four games of the season, the Seahawks defense has forced 27 in the 11 games since, and 18 in the last 6 games.

- The Seahawks rank #2 in the NFL with 29 forced turnovers, three behind the league-leading packers.

- Seattle's +8 turnover differential ranks #3 in the NFL behind Green Bay and San Francisco

- Seattle's 21 interceptions rank #2 in the NFL

- Seattle is allowing 5.0 yards per play, good for 5th in the NFL

- Seattle is ranked #6 in opponent scoring at 19.5 points/game

- The Seahawks have allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 56.4% of their passes for a 6.2 average, with 10 touchdowns and 16 interceptions since Richard Sherman joined the starters. That's good for a combined opponent passer rating of 64.1 over nine games.

- Seattle was allowing opposing QBs a 91.4 passer rating after five games in the season. They now rank #5 in the NFL with a combined 74.8 opponent passer rating.

- Seattle has allowed the 7th fewest passing touchdowns

- Seattle ranks #4 in explosive (20+ yard) passing plays allowed with 36

- Seattle ranks #8 in yards/game against

- Seattle is tied for #4 in opponent yards/carry with 3.7

The Morning After: Seahawks Win 38-14 Over Bears

This was one for the record books. Red Bryant gets his first career touchdown. Golden Tate had a career-high 61 yards receiving. Brandon Browner set the franchise record for interception return yards in a season with 220, breaking a 27-year-old mark set by Dave Brown. Marshawn Lynch scored two touchdowns and broke Shaun Alexander's record for consecutive games with a touchdown, by bringing his streak to ten games. Lynch also broke 1,000 yards rushing to become the first player to do that since Alexander in 2005. He actually broke 1,000 yards three times in the game, as many times as Ricky Watters did in his Seattle career. Chris Clemons had (at least) two more sacks, making him the first Seahawk to record back-to-back double-digit sack seasons since Michael Sinclair did it in 1997/1998. Seattle scored 30+ points in three consecutive games for the first time since 2003. Seattle won three games in a row for the first time since 2007. Seattle managed to create a CliffsNotes version of their 2011 season in one game. They followed an embarrassing first half with a virtuoso second that turned Soldier Field into a ghost town in the fourth quarter. The Seahawks effectively ended the Bears playoff chances with that victory. Fitting, given the Bears have ended the Seahawks last two playoff runs.

Many will point to the Bears injury situation as a reason this Seahawks win was unimpressive. Forget the fact that Tim Tebow and the Broncos were feted for beating this same Bears team at home by three points in overtime. Forget that the Bears had lost three in a row. They were up 14-7 at home in a first half that saw them hold the Seahawks to six first downs, 84 yards of offense and a 0.4 yard average gain per rushing attempt. Hanie nearly outrushed Lynch (21 yards versus 27), and had color commentator Tim "Former Bear" Ryan saying things like, "You have to feel good for Caleb Hanie with the way he's playing." That is not how I felt, Tim. This game was a following a familiar script. Everyone expected a low-scoring affair, and the Bears being up seven points felt bigger than one score given the way their defense was playing and timid play from the offense. The Seahawks have played in these games many times before, and 90% of the time it ends up a ruinous day for Seattle fans. The 31-0 second half was just the latest proof point that Pete Carroll is building a team that will challenge every Seahawk norm.

There were so many savory moments in the second half that it will be worth some time memorialize a few of them this week. Bryant's interception was the play of the game, and was keyed by linebacker K.J. Wright's well-timed smack of Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie. I offered some expert analysis of that play here and here. My neighbors likely thought I had won the lottery. The only person more excited than me might have been Wright, who was bounding into the air pumping his fists as Big Red rumbled into the end zone.

Carroll and staff deserve a ton of credit for altering their game plan on offense and defense in the second half. Hanie was getting outside the pocket a ton, and the Seahawks were waiting for him when he tried a bootleg on that Bryant interception. Hanie only escaped the pocket once in the second half, and completed only three passes. He nearly threw as many passes to the Seahawks, who picked him off twice. In fact, Bears quarterbacks completed seven passes in the second half, four to their team and three to the Seahawks. The Bears didn't get a first down until late in the fourth quarter. They managed only two first downs in the entire second half, and converted none of their third downs after converting 50% in the first half. Their longest play from scrimmage in the second half was 12 yards, and that was a big chunk of their 53 total second half yards. The Bears only reached 89 total passing yards for the game, in large part due to the Seahawks getting three of their four sacks after halftime. Total domination.

I told Softy last week that if the Seahawks had to put the game in Tarvaris Jackson's hands to win it, the coaching staff had failed. They had to commit to the run, even if they were not having success. It feels fantastic being wrong. The coaching staff did stick with the run in the first half, but made a concerted effort to open things up in the second half. Some of that was due to the Bears defense of the run, but a large part was also due to the Bears being down to their 3rd-string safety after Chris Conte went down. Jackson and his receivers rose to the occasion. No play was bigger than the third play of the opening series following the second half kickoff. The Seahawks had run two bootleg passes to tight ends for a grand total of one yard. The Bears smelled blood. Jackson dropped back and fired a strike to Golden Tate that was good for a 10-12 yard gain. Tate went "College Mode" on the Bears, breaking tackles and turning it into a 33-yard gain like he was back at Notre Dame playing the Huskies. Ben Obomanu followed that up with a 43-yard gain on a gorgeous deep ball by Jackson up the sideline. Lynch banged it in, and everyone watching the game was stunned. Did that just happen? Wasn't it just 3rd and 9?

Jackson is on a three-game stretch where he is completing 67% of his passes for over 8 yards per attempt, and sterling passer rating of 104.5. It is likely no coincidence that he has been healthier and getting more practice reps over that time. It is nice to see a player who put his health on the line for so many weeks come out on top. As solid as his play has been of late, it does nothing to change the priority of drafting a quarterback in the first round next year. It just means the team can afford to let that player sit for a year or more and still win.

The offensive line deserves a different kind of credit this week. After all the well-deserved praise for clearing lanes in the running game the last few weeks, they provided excellent pass protection on Sunday. The Bears feature Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and a host of other imposing defenders. Their whole defense combined for one sack and two quarterback hits versus a Seahawks line that was playing only two opening day starters. That one sack was the fault of Jackson for holding onto the ball too long. Paul McQuistan was matched up with Peppers one-on-one a fair amount of time. He was the back-up right guard a few weeks back. Amazing.

Picture week three of the season. The Seahawks were 0-2, and had just lost 24-0 in Pittsburgh. They were averaging 8.5 points per game. They now have wins @NYG, BAL, PHI, and @CHI. Any of those would have been considered a signature victory in a normal Seahawks season, but instead, they are simply chapters in a story Carroll, Schneider, and the players have been writing. They have completely dissociated themselves from the lowered expectations of Northwest fans. Seattle teams don't do this. They don't persevere through major injuries, especially when they pile up at specific positions like they did this year at cornerback and offensive line. They don't rise up and smack the tough teams in the mouth. They steal defeat from the jaws of victory. Not the other way around. The only thing sweeter than seeing the Seahawks beat the 49ers this Saturday would be finding a way to beat them in the playoffs. That's the kind of impossible story Carroll & Co are authoring. It's been a page turner thus far, and shows no signs of getting boring.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Weekly Podcast With Softy: Re-Sign Lynch? Only For The Right Price

Sports Radio KJR host Dave "Softy" Mahler and I recorded our weekly conversation about the Seahawks.

This week we re-hashed the Eagles and Rams wins, gushed about the secondary again, and debated re-signing Marshawn Lynch.

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**

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Things I Think, 13 Games In

Sit back for a moment and soak in this 2011 Seahawks season. A season that may have never been had the lockout lasted much longer. A season that has delivered nearly unprecedented player development despite a complete lack of off-season. So much has happened and so much has changed, it almost feels like two or three seasons in one. Remember when Charlie Whitehurst was a polarizing figure? Remember when Marshawn Lynch couldn't break 50 yards in a game? Remember when fans were comparing Brandon Browner to Kelly Jennings? Remember when Doug Baldwin was on the roster bubble? Remember Marcus Trufant starting? Remember James Carpenter playing left guard? Remember Aaron Curry? Remember it taking two touchdown returns from Ted Ginn for SF to beat the Seahawks? Remember when John Carlson was our second tight end? Remember when Golden Tate was a bust? Remember when Kam Chancellor was a question mark? Remember the concerns about finding leaders to replace Lawyer Milloy, Lofa Tatupu and Matt Hasselbeck? Remember Matt McCoy breaking out as nickel LB? Remember when people said CB was a major need in free agency? Remember when you had low expectations?

Many folks are walking down memory lane this week as the Seahawks have kindly provided a perfect point for comparison to the 2010 Seahawks team that was also 6-7 after 13 games. People want to know which team was better. There are far more layers to that question than most fans want to consider. If Red Bryant and Alan Branch were injured for this year's Seahawks the way Bryant and Cole were last season, a game between the two teams might be closer than you think. As far as Tarvaris Jackson has come in demonstrating his worth, he would still be the inferior quarterback in a game against Hasselbeck. Where there is absolutely no doubt is that the full 53-man roster of 2011 is far stronger than what the Seahawks featured last season.

Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman, K.J Wright, Paul McQuistan, Breno Giacomini, John Moffitt, Max Unger, Robert Gallery, James Carpenter, Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin, and Leroy Hill all represent depth and quality that was not available last year (Giacomini and Unger were on the roster, but not playing). Even better, there are very few spots that are being filled by players on the downside of their careers. In fact, you could argue that every player not named Hawthorne, Hill, Gallery, Mebane, Clemons could be markedly better in the future than they are right now.

That's what being a fan is about for me. Show me that there is a ceiling that has yet to be defined. Indicate that greatness is not out of the question. Flash a vision a few times of what this all could look like when the pieces come together. The Seahawks have done all that.

There will be those that judge the success of the season on the outcome of the final three games. Not me. The thirteen regular season games and four pre-season games have told me everything I need to know. The secondary will be the best in the NFL, possibly as soon as next year. The defensive line needs an interior pass rusher and another edge rusher, but will be even better next season if the offense continues to control the clock. The linebackers could be the surprise of next year when Hawthorne finally heals his knee (he is about 50% of the player he should be due to injury), Wright plays even faster, Malcolm Smith challenges for a bigger role, and McCoy returns from injury.

The offensive line is becoming defined by the system instead of the players. That is why three starters can be out and the team can still rush for 150 yards and score 30 points, while the opponents are complaining about how hard it is to play without your starters. Tom Cable has implemented his system. This group could be Patriot-esque in their ability to plug'n'play. If Cable can stick around for another few years, this could become a Top 5 line in the NFL. Sidney Rice and Zach Miller are both part of the answer, despite their individual issues this season. Baldwin will be part of the team's championship run. The team may choose to add another dynamic receiver in the off-season even with Tate's development and some unknown potential for Kris Durham.

Marshawn Lynch is a joy to watch run the ball, but fans forget how impotent he was the first half of the season and all of last year. That says less about Lynch than it does about the line's development. This team does not need Lynch to have an effective rushing game. If the choice becomes Michael Bush for 2 years $14M or Lynch for 5 years $40M, that's not a hard choice. Running backs fall somewhere just above kickers and punters on my value scale, and there is a much bigger downside to a deal of five years for a running back than there is upside. Don't fall into the trap of thinking the Seahawks running game is working because of Lynch. He is a great multiplier to what the line and Cable is doing, but he's just fuel injection on a performance engine (I don't know shit about cars). This team will continue to run effectively with, or without, Lynch next year. That said, it would be great if the team could keep him for 2-3 years.

Jackson is a better quarterback than I'd expected but is not going to be the one who hoists the Lombardi Trophy for Seattle. I still believe that if there is a quarterback this front office loves this year, they need to trade whatever it takes to get him. The thing about football is that building a roster is like erecting a sand castle in that it can look gorgeous and stable one minute, and then is collapsing on itself the next after a wave rolls in. Building with young players reduces the risk of meltdown, but Seattle needs to start coaching up that QBOTF next year in order to be ready to compete for a championship in 2-3 years.

Pete Carroll has done splendidly in creating an identity for the organization and the team. There is little doubt the trajectory is overwhelmingly positive. There are still real questions about his judgment as a coach that will become hyper-magnified if he makes mistakes in crucial games. Substitution-based timeouts, wishy-washy decisions about how to handle things at the end of the half or the game, holding back players healthy enough to play, are all things that must become like the memories described above. Remember when Pete did that stupid shit? Norv Turner had a number of Chargers teams that were talented enough to rank #1 on offense and defense in the NFL, but still never won it all. Carroll must prove he can rise to the occasion as a coach.

Life is good. We are living the Corona commercials where we just get to sit back and watch the waves roll in. Seattle will be a better team next year than it is this year. It will not have a first-place schedule to contend with either. The Rams will very possibly have a new coach. The Cards will still have a fatally flawed quarterback and an aging defense. The 49ers are playing the best they can play. Frank Gore is not getting any younger and Alex Smith is doing the division a favor by forcing the 49ers to keep him around. Nothing would be sweeter than to see the Seahawks sneak into the playoffs and knock off the 49ers. Just the chance to see Jim Harbaugh whine his way to the locker room would be priceless. No matter what happens the rest of the year, few could argue that the Seahawks are the best bet in the division to be a better team next season, and they are already pretty darn competitive right now. Remember when they weren't?