Friday, August 31, 2012

The Morning After: Seahawks Humiliate Raiders 21-3

Try finding a flaw in this Seahawks pre-season without sounding like a troll. The most angst has been about choosing between two starting-caliber quarterbacks. Those are good "problems" to have. The pass rush had been cause for concern before Gus Bradley released the hounds the last two games and had players in the quarterbacks face from kickoff to buzzer. We now transition into tempering our enthusiasm by reminding ourselves that the Detroit Lions won every pre-season game before losing every regular season game, and that the only Seahawks club to go undefeated in pre-season before this year was the 5-11 squad from 2009. It would be nice of me to let you protect your fragile Seattle sports soul by thinking such things, but there is nothing that happened this pre-season that indicates anything but a memorable 2012 for the Seahawks.

2012 Pre-Season Snapshot 
Points: 30.5/gm (NFL Ranking #1)
OPP Points: 11/gm (#1)
Turnovers Forced: 9 (#2)
Rushing Yds: 178.2 (#1)
OPP Rushing Yds: 78.8 (#2)
Passer Rating: 93.2 (#4)
OPP Passer Rating: 55.8 (#1)

The 2009 Seahawks won more quarters than they lost. They enjoyed some good performances from back-ups like Nick Reed and Michael Bennett that had no bearing on the regular season. That team outscored their opponents by 34 points through the pre-season. This team outscored their opponents by 78 points. Take a look at those rankings above again. The Seahawks beat teams by an average of 20 points per game.

Truthfully, I don't believe the score matters as much as the level of sustained dominance. Seattle was only outscored in one out of eight halves, and that was 10-9 in the first half against Denver. Terrell Owens had quite a bit to do with why the team was not ahead even in that half.

Opposing teams starters have been unable to compete with Seattle, especially the Seahawks defense. It tends to get worse when the substitutes come in. Having two quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Matt Flynn helps there, as does having defensive players like Mike Morgan, Jaye Howard and Greg Scruggs waiting to sub in.

Seattle had the worst offensive output of the pre-season versus the Raiders, but still was leading 21-0 until the final seconds. You want dominance? Try Matt Leinart exiting the game with a passer rating of 1.7 after a half of play. Try more than tripling the Raiders yardage (334-101). How about 24 first downs for the Seahawks against just 5 for the Raiders (and one of those came on a questionable penalty). The Raiders had 3 yards passing well into the third quarter. Not only did Howard get a safety, but he tackled the running back three yards deep in the end zone and Bruce Irvin was one step behind him. CenturyLink Field was a slaughterhouse last night.

The biggest questions coming in were about which players were going to help themselves. Here is a quick breakdown:

HELPED
- Vai Taua
- Kregg Lumpkin
- Jaye Howard
- Sean McGrath
- Cooper Helfet
- Allen Bradford
- Mike Morgan
- Malcolm Smith
- Byron Maxwell
- Korey Toomer
- Jeremy Lane
- Jeron Johnson
- Ricardo Lockette

HURT
- Ben Obomanu
- Deon Butler
- Marcus Trufant
- Ricardo Lockette

Yes, Lockette both helped and hurt himself. The slant routes he ran were nice and he made tough catches in traffic. He had a chance to make a big special teams tackle and missed it, which led to a big return. He needed a bigger night than what he had. That is a guy the team will almost certainly regret letting go should they make that decision. It was not a great night for Obomanu. He looked like he was not 100%.

The stars of the night were Vai Taua, Jaye Howard, and Bruce Irvin. Taua is a good bet to make the roster. He can play the role of third running back, backup fullback, and could be a great 3rd down back. He reminds me a little of Roy Helu Jr. in the way he runs decisively. Howard earned a roster spot. There is no way a team can let an interior lineman go that has flashed like that.

Irvin had a breakout game. Some will say it came against back-ups, which is true. That is not what I saw. He was playing against back-ups in every other game as well, but was not able to get home and make plays. The way he looked in this game more closely resembled what I had seen in practice and what I expected to see in games. If he is starting to take that performance from the practice field to the game...watch out. Once Irvin got his first sack, it seemed like he lived in the Raiders back-field. He forced a fumble on special teams by chasing down a returner from behind. He made a couple nice plays against the run. Confidence matters, and Irvin gained a lot last night.

Flynn played a nice game. He had a couple pretty throws, the best was a seam route that was slightly tipped into the hands of McGrath for 24 yards. He led two touchdown drives, and threw his first Seahawks touchdown. He finished with a sparkling 125.0 passer rating, and completed 22-26 pass attempts in his two home games. If not for some problems with Owens, Flynn easily could have exited the pre-season with a completion percentage over 80%.

Wilson made some great passes of his own. The best might have been his play-action to Sidney Rice, but he was on the money more than his numbers indicated. He did misfire a few times, but nothing horrible. Most importantly, he played two series and led what should have been two scoring drives. Steven Hauschka missed the first field goal.

Cuts should come in the next couple of days. I will be camping with my family, so we will see what kind of Internet connection I get, but the focus will be on finishing my season preview. Keep an eye on Twitter for quick thoughts on roster moves, and remember that players must be cut in order to be signed to the practice squad, which does not finalize until next week. Scroll to the bottom of this page if you would like to re-watch the game on DVR or Game Rewind with my commentary. It is a work in progress, so be gentle!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hawk Blogger TV: Catch the Replay

If you were unable to tune into the Hawk Blogger broadcast of the Seahawks vs. Raiders game, worry not!

You can access the recording on-demand. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and find the Past Broadcasts section.











Click on the Listen Now button, and follow the instructions. You will want to sync your video copy of the game to my audio by using the timestamp function.

Hope it is of some value.

CLICK HERE TO FIND THE AUDIO

Chunk Plays: Seahawks Running Game Less Explosive

Pete Carroll will reveal an area of emphasis from time-to-time in his interviews. In between the platitudes, he will mention something worth paying attention to. Chunk plays, or explosive plays, are defined by most as passes over 20 yards and runs over 10 yards. Getting those plays on offense and limiting them on defense is a key focus point for the Seahawks coaching staff. This is the last in a series of short articles exploring where the team is their pursuit of being explosive on offense and defusing on defense.

I. Stopping Chunk Passes
II. Getting Chunk Passes
III. Stopping Chunk Runs
IV. Getting Chunk Runs

Chunk runs are generally considered those of 10 yards or more. NFL.com only has historical data on runs of 20+ yards, so we will use that for reviewing the Seahawks progress. It was surprising to see the Seahawks took a big step back in this category last season, considering their overall rushing output improved. They only had eight chunk runs last season, down from twelve the year prior.



The Seahawks ranked 17th in explosive pass plays and 21st in explosive runs last season. That simply will not cut it. This becomes a key area for the team to improve in 2012. The addition of Robert Turbin, an improved offensive line and a player like Russell Wilson should make instant impact.

Tune In: Hawk Blogger LIVE Broadcast For Tonight's Game

Someone thinks it would be fun to listen to me call a Seahawks game. It is true. I received an email yesterday from the CEO, Ryan Granner, of LetMeHearYa.com asking if I'd be interested in trying their new service to broadcast Seahawks games.

My answer? Why the fuck not? Oops, can I say that on TV? We will find out tonight when I dust off the mic and share my thoughts about the Seahawks vs. Raiders game starting at 6:45 PM. That's right. I will do a little pre-game segment, just because I can.

I have no idea if anyone will enjoy this (including me!), but it sounded like a kick to try. Keep me company, and give me feedback on Twitter.

WHERE: Go HERE and click the button next to the Seahawks vs. Raiders game

TIME: 6:45 PM

WHY? The same reason you read this blog. Get an informed opinion about what you are seeing, and a chance to interact with the broadcaster.

HOW: My voice will be broadcast through your internet-connected device. You should expect some delay in my call relative to the game since it has to travel all over the place, and even TV feeds are not timed exactly in every location. There are markers that let you pause your TV, and sync up with my broadcast. For example, I will mark "Kickoff." You can pause your TV at the kickoff, and then click PLAY when my broadcast catches up. It should be no more than 20-30 seconds.

Be aware, I will absolutely be swearing if I feel like it.

You can use this Twitter hashtag to talk to get my attention during the broadcast:  #HBTV

Let me know what you think!

Seahawks 2012 Season Preview Part III: Grading The Off-Season

HAWK BLOGGER 2012 SEASON PREVIEW PART III: Grading The Off-Season
Procrastination is the sneakiest of all personal demons. It can disguise itself as practical thinking, "I should really wait to clean up the kitchen until after the kids are in bed." It can put people in a perpetual trance where they lose track of the amount of time that has gone by since they said, "I'll get to it soon." Pete Carroll and John Schneider have spent the last two off-seasons completely remaking their roster. Well, almost completely. The two most critical aspects of championship teams, quarterbacks and pass rush, were left unresolved. Everywhere else on the team, fans saw the front office bring in young talent with the potential to start. It was like watching a mansion get built where everything is shiny and new except for the kitchen and master bathroom look like they belong in the rambler a few neighborhoods over. There is a practical argument to be made for why the organization went with the likes of Matt Hasselbeck, Tarvaris Jackson, Chris Clemons, Anthony Hargrove and Raheem Brock (among others). Time in the NFL, however, is faster than dog years. Find a general manager and coach that waited more than three years to identify their franchise quarterback, and you most likely found them with the word "former" at the beginning of their title. Seattle's front office entered this off-season with major questions around the quarterback position and the pass rush. It cannot be said with certainty that they addressed those needs, but they can no longer be accused of procrastination. Their futures will be determined by the choices they made.

2012 FREE AGENTS (Italics = re-signed)
Breno Giacomini
Marshawn Lynch
Red Bryant
Heath Farwell
Roy Lewis*
Marcus Trufant
Leroy Hill
Matt McCoy
Jason Jones
Matt Flynn
Deuce Lutui*
Barrett Ruud*
Kregg Lumpkin
Frank Omiyale

*No longer on the roster

Here's a snippet of analysis prior to free agency beginning that ranked Seahawks free agents. Things on that front played out largely as expected:

I decided to take a stab at prioritizing the Seahawks free agents using a formula. It is not meant to be exact, but provides some classification of the value of each player. Here's how it works: 
Each attribute is given an equally-weighted score of 1-10. 
TEAM NEED - How important is it for the Seahawks to address that position? Linebacker was treated as one need, as opposed to nickel LB vs. back-up WILL vs. starting MIKE. Linebacker is major team need, so it gets a 10. 
PLAYER FIT - How well does that player fill the need for the team? 
TALENT - How talented is the player? 
TOUGH TO REPLACE - Are there easy free agent options or draft options or players on the roster that can fill the role? 
PLAYER POTENTIAL - Can this player still get better, or have they reached their max already? 
Each attribute was multiplied by the other for a total score. Here are the results:



Giacomini rates right up near the top. He gets the highest score for being tough to replace. He also is tied for highest potential for growth from this current Seahawks free agent crop. The team re-signed him to a contract that indicated he would be the future right tackle, and that is exactly the way things have played out. Former 1st round pick James Carpenter will move to left guard when he returns.

David Hawthorne shows up high on the list, but his Player Fit score is the lowest in the top six players. Both he and Leroy Hill are not exactly what the team is looking for. That, along with injury concerns, is why Hawthorne was not re-signed.

Paul McQuistan also shows up higher on the list than most might expect for the exact opposite reason. His ability to sub at LT and both guard spots while being a veteran of Cable's system makes him a near-perfect fit. And given the propensity for injury on the offensive line, that was a big need to address.

It is easy to forget Lynch was a free agent. The team managed to re-sign him at a reasonable contract that they can wash their hands of in a couple of years if he shows signs of decline.

The big new names on the free agent list were Flynn and Jones. Schneider and Carroll deserve huge kudos for how they handled both of those signings. Many front offices in their situation would have overreached on contracts. Chad Brown saw a general manager in Seattle raise the offer over and over until Brown signed. Jim Mora Jr. famously made T.J. Houshmandzadeh leave his watch to promise he would come back. There was no sign of such desperation from this Seahawks group in the case of Flynn or Jones. Their frantic pursuit of Peyton Manning qualified as desperate, but that charade was ridiculous for all involved. Flynn and Jones were both allowed to leave town, and in Flynn's case, visit another team. Both ultimately signed with Seattle.

DRAFT PICKS
RDSEL #PLAYERPOSITIONSCHOOL
115Bruce IrvinDEWest Virginia
247Bobby WagnerLBUtah State
375Russell WilsonQBWisconsin
4106Robert TurbinRBUtah State
4114Jaye HowardDTFlorida
5154Korey ToomerLBIdaho
6172Jeremy LaneCBNorthwestern State-Louisiana
6181Winston GuyDBKentucky
7225J.R. SweezyGNorth Carolina State
7232Greg ScruggsDELouisville
Source: NFL.com

Seattle entered the draft with three major needs: quarterback of the future, edge pass rusher, linebacker (middle or strong-side). They addressed those needs with their first three picks. Bruce Irvin was a controversial pick. Seattle fans didn't know him, and national analysts were convinced it was a major reach. To the credit of Seahawks fans, they became quickly excited by the pick. Wagner was picked after a trade back that netted 5th and 7th round picks that turned into Korey Toomer and Greg Scruggs. Those three players will forever be linked to Mychal Kendricks, who was drafted one pick ahead of Wagner. That is the guy the Seahawks wanted. Only time will tell if the combined value of Toomer, Scruggs and Wagner eclipse Kendricks. Scruggs may be the most valuable of the three when it is all said and done. He has shown real promise as an interior pass rusher.

The pick that will go down in Seahawks history came in the 3rd round, when the team took Russell Wilson. It was clear that the front office believed Wilson could be the future franchise quarterback. He forced the team to drop "future," from that title with a sterling pre-season. The legacy of Carroll and Schneider are now inextricably tied to how Wilson performs.

Schneider was not done. Robert Turbin is a major upgrade over Justin Forsett. Jaye Howard shows signs of being a disruptive interior player. Winston Guy replaced Atari Bigby with a younger and more athletic player who Carroll has said will play a large 3rd down role. J.R. Sweezy was flipped from defense to offense, and may end up starting when all is said and done. Toomer and Lane are lesser lights, but you can forgive them for being normal rookies that could take more than a few weeks to emerge.

OFF-SEASON GRADE: A+
It is easy to be bullish about new players. This off-season was more about shiny new additions. Carroll and Schneider made shrewd investments and showed the courage necessary to make big bets. This is a front office that spends a lot of time limiting their downside. They sign veterans to shorter contracts with little guaranteed money. They preach competition, in part, to limit the risk of getting stuck with a bad investment. They are keenly aware that mistakes are made. They also know that quarterback is one position that cannot be in constant flux. Picking a player and sticking with him will be among the most difficult things for these two men to do. It is also the most crucial aspect of championship teams. Wilson has many characteristics of championship quarterback. The most important of which may be the unwavering support and buy-in from the general manager and coach. He will need that in the valleys in order to reach the peaks.

Irvin, Jones, Scruggs, and possibly Howard could reinvent this pass rush from the inside and out. Even the affordable extension to Chris Clemons was a wise move with little downside. Few Seahawks front offices have demonstrated the understanding for how a push rush is built. It is never just one player. The best pass rush teams leave offensive lines with a variety of headaches from the interior line and the edge, as well as from skilled blitzers. Schneider and Carroll again lowered their risk in this area by creating a pile of players. Maybe Irvin does not become the Pro Bowl pass rusher fans hope for, but maybe Scruggs gives the team five sacks a year they never expected. The team improves either way.

The biggest challenge facing this front-office in the future will be choosing which players to keep, and which to let walk. There will be far more painful choices than watching Hawthorne switch teams. It won't matter if Schneider continues his miraculous draft record. Win forever, indeed.

We will take a look at what the expectations for this revamped offense should be in the next installment of the Seahawks 2012 Season Preview.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Seahawks 2012 Season Preview Part II: A Look Back At 2011

HAWK BLOGGER 2012 SEASON PREVIEW PART II: A Look Back At 2011
Before looking forward, it is useful to look back. The Seahawks went through a major metamorphosis in 2011. A roster that needed nearly 300 transactions in 2010, started to stabilize last season. It is hard to believe that the secondary was one of the major question marks before the year began. Lawyer Milloy was let go. Kam Chancellor had been little-used, mostly just as a short yardage safety, during his rookie year. He was thrust into the starting lineup. Nobody had heard of Brandon Browner. Richard Sherman started the year as a special teams player. A unit made up of two fifth round picks, a free agent from the CFL and a mid-1st rounder, enters this season as arguably the best secondary in the NFL. An offensive line that started the year with no two players having started a game next to the man beside him, ended the season clearing the way for the NFL's leading rusher over the final eight weeks. There were memorable wins over quality opponents like the Giants and Ravens. Gone were the blowout losses. The team ended with the same win total, but everybody that watched the team knew how much better the team had become.

One way of showing the improvement comes from the team strength rankings I compile each week across the NFL. Below is a comparison of the final 2010 team strength versus the final 2011 team strength:


Seattle was the sixth-most improved team in the league by this measure. It is worth noting that San Francisco and Arizona were even more improved.

No stat may better capture the transformation of this team than the most basic of them all, points for and point against. Seattle spent the first half of the season being outscored by nearly eight points per game. They were
CLICK TO ENLARGE
giving up over 23 points per game, which would rank 22nd in the league if they had finished the year there. The offense, meanwhile, was only putting up 15 points per game, which would rank 27th in the NFL if they had kept that up all year. Those numbers saw dramatic shifts in the final eight games. Seattle outscored opponents by almost nine points per game. Only four teams in the NFL posted a higher differential over the season. Yes, doing something for a whole season means far more than doing it for less, but half a season is not exactly an insignificant sample size. The degree of change was remarkable. Scoring was up 56% to 24.9 points per game, and the defense dropped opponent scoring by 29% to 16.3 ppg.

CLICK TO ENLARGE
You can see the crossover clear as day when breaking out the scoring by quarters of the season. It is almost a mirror image. The scoring continued to rise all the way through the final four games, as the team averaged an impressive 26.3 points. The defense peaked in games 9-12, but was still holding teams to 17.3 during their 2-2 and final stretch. Seattle almost doubled up their scoring average from the first four games, where they managed only 14.5 points per game. Consider that Tarvaris Jackson was dealing with his injury that second half and that Sidney Rice was out for much of it as well, not to mention the offensive line injuries. Impressive.

They managed this transformation largely through three areas: (1) better running game (2) better turnover differential (3) weaker opponents. Take a look at how different the offense was from first-half to second.
Seattle went from passing for 1.5X the yards they were gaining on the ground to within spitting distance of a 1:1 rushing yards-to-passing yards ratio. That was no accident. The Seahawks were averaging 35 pass attempts and only 22 rush attempts through eight games. When Pete Carroll and Tom Cable had their fateful post-game chat after losing to Cincy, things changed in the game plan. Seattle flipped the script and ran 34 times per game and passed only 28. 


Try to look past the complexity of the chart above, and notice a few key trends. Seattle more than doubled it's rushing yardage from the first quarter of the season, even with a slight dip toward the end. Take a look at the purple line with X's marked on it. That is opponent passing yards. Seattle's pass defense stiffened considerably as the season wore on. Allowing only 171 yards passing per game for that final quarter was impressive. It is also worth noting that opponent rushing yards spiked the last four games. The negative trend in opponent yards per carry was noted in my Cardinals recap. Interestingly, it was not until the final four games that the Seahawks averaged more total yards than their opponents.

CLICK TO ENLARGE
Most of the improvement in pass defense can be credited to the insertion of Richard Sherman into the starting lineup. Opposing quarterbacks struggled mightily as soon as he started playing opposite Brandon Browner, but the team's pass rush also played a part. Sacks never tell the whole pass rush picture, but you can see the team made a steady climb as the season progressed. They more than doubled the number of sacks they had been producing when the season opened. The league leaders in sacks this year ended with 50, which works out to an average of just over 3 sacks per game. Seattle was closing in on that as the year completed. Opponent sacks had been steadily declining, but took an uptick with all the injuries to the line.

It should come as no surprise that the improvement in the running game led to a shift in time of possession. Seattle was one of the worst three teams in the NFL when it came to TOP in the first half of the year. The below charts show how Seattle did in TOP during the first eight games and the final eight. Half, in this case, refers to the half of a season, not half of a game.
CLICK TO ENLARGE
A big part of why the run defense weakened as the season went on was the amount of time they were on the field for the early part of the year. If the running game had not clicked when it did, and the pass defense had not improved so significantly, those opponent point and yard totals would not have looked nearly as nice in the second half of the year.


Seattle won the bulk of it's games during the third quarter of the season, and so it is no wonder that it enjoyed its best TOP advantage during that time. Only the Redskins won the TOP battle during that stretch, and only the Redskins beat the Seahawks. Seattle was equal with their opponents on TOP during the fourth quarter of the season, and predictably, were 2-2 in those four games.


CLICK TO ENLARGE
Running the ball is not the only thing that impacts TOP. Seattle significantly cut down on the amount of turnovers it was giving opponents, and drastically increased how many turnovers they were creating. They went from giving opponents nearly three extra possessions per game in the season's second quarter to giving them only one in the last quarter. Their defense went from creating almost no extra possessions at year's start to giving them 2-3 extra shots in the final half of the season. That obviously went a long way toward generating more time in possession, and less for the opponent. It also put the team in better position to score, or even turned into defensive scores that helped increase the point totals.


The team finishes the year with 1 win in each of the first two quarters of the season, 3 wins in the third quarter and 2 wins in the last quarter.


SUMMARY STATS (LEAGUE RANKINGS IN PARENTHESES)
Offense
Scoring - 20.1 +2.1 (23rd +3, meaning they were 26th after twelve games and have improved 3 spots in rankings since)
Rushing Yd/Game  - 109.8 +5.7 (21st +2)
Yards Per Carry - 4.0  +0.1 (T21st +1)
Passing Yd/Game - 194.0 -0.4 (22nd +3)
Yards Per Attempt - 6.8 +0.0 (20th no change)
Sacks - 50 +11 (29th +2)
QB Rating - 77.6 +2.8 (20th +4)
Turnovers - 23 +4 (14 INT +1, 9 Fumbles +3)

Defense
Opp Scoring - 19.7 -0.8 (7th +6)
Opp Rushing Yd/Game - 112.3 +8.8 (15th -3, meaning they dropped three spots in the rankings)
Opp Yards Per Carry - 3.8 +0.1 (T4th no change)
Opp Passing Yd/Game - 219.9 -16.3 (11th +7)
Opp Yards Per Attempt - 6.9 -0.2 (T10th +4)
Sacks - 33 +11 (T19th +1)
Opp QB Rating - 74.8 -5.7 (6th +5)
Turnovers Forced - 31 +8 (22 INT +6, Fumbles 9 +2)

A BIG STEP FORWARD
Seattle climbed out of the NFL's basement last season, and became mediocre. That may sound harsh, but it was a major leap from where the team was a year prior. The 2010 squad won in unorthodox, and largely unrepeatable, ways. Last season was built on a solid defense and an improved running game. Many things were repeated over the last half of the season. This is why the massive fluctuations from one game to the next were absent. The overall talent level on offense was not good enough to lift the team out of mediocrity, but as we will explore in the next part of the 2012 Seahawks Season Preview, there are many reasons to think the team has made the moves needed to challenge the best teams in the NFL. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Golden Tate Still Has Work To Do

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Three times? Golden Tate has flashed in pre-season practices every year for three years. Each year, he gets "play of the day" honors. Each year local media starts to talk up how this could be his breakout season. Then the games start, and the production stops.Tate's sparkling punt return for a touchdown last week was impressive, but it obscured what has so far been another unproductive pre-season.

NOTE: 2012 stats are through three pre-season games
Tate was struggling to produce last year in pre-season until he had a big 5 catch, 79 yard performance in the fourth game. He was steady, if not spectacular, in his sophomore season. His most notable accomplishment was not dropping a single pass. Catching the ball, though, has never been Tate's issue.

He can make leaping, acrobatic, catches in traffic. He can bulldoze defenders and run after the catch. Tate's challenge has been getting open consistently enough to get the opportunity to make those plays. Many of his eye-popping plays in practice come when he is well-covered down the sideline and leaps up to make the play anyway. It is a terrific skill, and one I think matches perfectly with Russell Wilson's willingness to let his receivers make plays, but it does not make someone a starting caliber receiver in the NFL.

It is important to see more variety of routes from Tate. He needs to show he can separate from defenders. He needs to prove to the quarterbacks that he will be in the right place at the right time. All indications are that he has been taking football more seriously off the field. This will be the season that defines Tate's ceiling. The hope is that he can prove himself to be the dynamic playmaker many thought he would be coming out of Notre Dame. Fans would be forgiven should they choose to see it before they believe it.

The Best Schneider Draft Picks

John Schneider came to the Seahawks with a reputation for being a hardcore talent evaluator. He has proven to be every bit of that in his three seasons as GM. There have been some great moves through free agency, but Schneider's pride and joy is the draft. Every year his front office seems to hit home runs. Some are early, some are middle, and some are late. Deciding which of his terrific picks is the best is a matter of opinion. I decided to have a little fun and come up with a simple grading system to see where the choices all stack up.

I listed all of the Seahawks draft choices from the last three years and included key undrafted free agents as well. Each selection was scored based on three categories:

VALUE: Did the Seahawks get the player later than their talent indicates they should have been selected?

UPSIDE: How good can this player be? Roughly, 10 is All-Pro, 8-9 is Pro Bowl, 7 Starter

PERFORMANCE: How have they performed on the field? This takes into account injuries and production.

There is obviously more projection involved in players drafted this year that have not played in the regular season, but this is just for fun, so relax!

Note: Try clicking here if you are having trouble viewing the table below


This stacked up reasonably well. I struggled a bit with Golden Tate, whose upside I rate as just below a starter. I don't see starting as his future, but I realize others (including the coaching staff) may disagree. The 2012 rookies got a little inflated due to their performance being based on pre-season and practice. Then again, this may end up being the best of the three drafts this regime has managed.

Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman top the charts and have helped to make every Seahawks fan anticipate the fifth round as much as the first. This year's magic round may end up being the seventh, where J.R. Sweezy and Greg Scruggs look like they could be significant additions. If Walter Thurmond can get healthy, he can still pop up this list quickly. He showed great talent last season in the short time before getting injured.

How would you rate these draft choices? Which do you think was the best? Discuss!

Announcing: Buy Seahawks Gear, All Proceeds Donated To Ben's Fund

THE QUICK OF IT
All Hawk Blogger proceeds from any purchases you make by clicking on the Fanatics ad (top-right corner of my blog) will be donated to Ben's Fund. As of now, that means 11% of all purchases go straight to a great charity. Buy Seahawks gear and support charity!

NOTE: You MUST click on the ad (or links in this article) for this to work. Going directly to Fanatics will not work.

MORE DETAILS
Some of you may know that I have a younger son who has an unnamed developmental delay that shares many traits with autism. It has changed my life, and the lives of those around us. Those changes have been more positive than negative, which is something I never thought I'd be able to say before having Nate join our family. The experience has made me hyper-aware of the extra work and help that families need to work with special needs children.

That is why I was so thrilled when I found out John and Traci Schneider had started Ben's Fund, in conjunction with FEAT of Washington. FEAT is an organization that supports families who cannot afford the expensive therapies and treatments needed to work with autistic children. I had the pleasure of meeting Ben at a recent training camp practice. He's a great kid, and John and Traci have told me how fortunate they feel to have been able to give Ben the support he needs. Traci and I have discussed a broader cooperative effort, but details are still pending. In the meantime, I will simply transfer any proceeds I get to Ben's Fund.

The way this works is that I get offers regularly to put ads on my blog. Mostly, I ignore them. I've never made any money on this. It's not why I do it, at least not yet. It dawned on me that I could apply the money to people who could use it, and it seemed like a win for everyone. Different businesses offer different commissions, and mine with Fanatics gives me 11% of any purchase you make. I will simply take that money and donate it.

There are some additional sponsorships in the works, but there is no reason to hold back on this one. As a final push, the guy that runs the Fanatics affiliate program, Wade, is a big Seahawks fan. Support the Seahawks, get some gear, and support charity. No brainer!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Seahawks 2012 Season Preview Part I: The Franchise

HAWK BLOGGER 2012 SEASON PREVIEW PART I: The Franchise
Players are told to approach each game one play at a time and each season one game at a time. Coaches and general managers build up their rosters and teams one season at a time. Fans are different. Seahawks fans have been around long before any current coaches, players, general managers, or even owners, and will be here long after they are gone. Fans endure. Seahawks fans have endured playoff droughts that last more than 10 years. They have endured referees that feel so bad about the quality of their championship calls, that they feel compelled to come forward and apologize years later. Being a fan allows for a big picture perspective that nobody else can afford. History is always the best predictor of the future. Even while some teams have broken from their franchise histories in recent years (e.g., Patriots become champions, 49ers become a joke for a decade), much can be learned by exploring the patterns across generations. Before diving into the detail of this 37th season of Seahawks football, take a moment to see what history tells us about how things may unfold.

FRANCHISE QUARTERBACKS
It all starts with the most important position on the field, the quarterback. This season is already historic in that it marks only the 9th time the Seahawks will open the season with a new starting quarterback. Although, this will be the third new starting quarterback in as many years. Matt Hasselbeck enjoyed the longest stint as opening day starter in franchise history, starting 10 seasons for the Seahawks. Dave Krieg and Jim Zorn each opened eight seasons as the starter. The franchise history at QB looks like this:

OPENING DAY STARTER AT QB
1976 - 1983: Jim Zorn
1984 - 1991: Dave Krieg
1992: Kelly Stouffer
1993 - 1996: Rick Mirer
1997 - 1998: Warren Moon*
1999 - 2000: Jon Kitna
2001 - 2010: Matt Hasselbeck*
2011: Tarvaris Jackson
2012: Russell Wilson
*Indicates at least one opening day start was the result of another player's injury

That is a rather remarkable level of stability at the QB position, especially for a franchise that has yet to win a Super Bowl. Hasselbeck's tenure was not only the longest, but the most successful with six playoff appearances. All the other QB's combined only have five playoff appearances. Tarvaris Jackson's departure makes him only the second Seahawks quarterback in franchise history to be a one-year opening day starter. The other was Kelly Stouffer. Stouffer made it until the 5th game before yielding to Dan McGwire who eventually gave way to Stan Gelbaugh. That was the worst season in Seahawks franchise history, setting the NFL record for fewest points scored in a season. Jackson fared much better last season, but will be remembered more for his toughness than for his production.

The Seahawks are a combined 55-69 in the first year under a new quarterback, but that includes the franchises first season (2-12) with Zorn. A better indicator may be the effect on team win totals from the previous year. For example, the team upped their win total from 9 to 12 in Krieg's first season as opening day starter. From that lens, the Seahawks are +7 in wins in the first year of a new opening-day starter. In fact, the only time the team win total declined in a year with a new starting QB was in 1992, when the team dropped five wins during the change from Krieg to Stouffer. Jackson maintained the seven win pace from the previous year (not including the playoff win versus New Orleans). There are a number of reasons to believe Wilson's first year as starter will again lead to a win total boost over his predecessor. We will touch on those in the future parts of the season preview.

TEAM STRENGTH
There are many ways to judge team performance, but point differential is a great way to get a quick overview.   The Seahawks have outscored their opponents in 16 of their 36 seasons. Their peak being during the 2005 Super Bowl season, and the floor being the inaugural season in 1976. Pete Carroll inherited a team that was trending down from +102 in 2007 to -98 in 2008 to -110 in 2009. The team was able to stop the free-fall in 2010, but still had the franchise's 6th-worst point differential. Three of those bottom six have come in the last three seasons. That paints a rather grim picture that the team has been struggling both to score points and to keep opponents from scoring. The franchise total differential, over 36 seasons, works out to -492.
Pete Carroll managed to stem the tide last year, making a big leap
That means the Seahawks have been outscored by an average of 0.86 points per game. Think about that. After playing 572 regular season games, the Seahawks have played their opponents almost to a standstill, separated by less than 1 point per game. The sunny spin on that would be to say the franchise is competitive. The gloomier interpretation is that this franchise is defined by mediocrity. That can be the kiss of death in the NFL. Mediocre teams are rarely bad enough to land the franchise-defining talent found at the top of NFL drafts, but also not good enough to win the ultimate prize in a Super Bowl ring.

Only four Seahawks teams have had a negative point differential and a winning record. None have had more than nine victories. The +6 point differential was a massive jump from the 2010 squad, and represented the best evidence of real progress in the quality of this team. As you will see later, the biggest improvement came from limiting opponents scoring. As exciting as it was to see this step forward, this was only the second time in franchise history that the team posted a positive point differential and had a losing record. The other was in 1991. The last two times the Seahawks posted a +6 differential was the 1983 and 1979 seasons, when they won nine games each time.

BATTLING MEDIOCRITY
Take a look at how often the franchise had churned out teams that won between seven and nine games.
NOTE: If you cannot see the chart below, click here.

Twenty of the thirty-six seasons have resulted in victory totals between seven and nine. Only five times has the team won at least 10 games, and only twice has the team won fewer than four games. By those odds, the Seahawks have over a 56% chance of ending 2012 with between 7-9 victories. Getting a player like Wilson in the third round was key for this organization. Their chances of finishing with a record bad enough to draft a top-tier quarterback in the first round is incredibly low. Franchise history shows less than a 5% chance of the a Seattle squad winning fewer than four games. Carroll and GM John Schneider saw to a two-game improvement in the win total from 2009 to 2010, but no win total improvement in 2011.  Chuck Knox remains the franchise record-holder with a 5-game improvement in his first season as Head Coach. Mike Holmgren led a one-game improvement, and Dennis Erickson saw his team improve their previous season's win total by two.

DIVISION FINISH
Carroll and Schneider led the 2010 Seahawks to the franchise's seventh division title, and fifth in seven
Seattle has finished 3rd in three of the past four seasons
seasons. The move to the NFC West has treated the Seahawks well. After only winning one division title before 1999, and only two in all their years in the AFC West, the Seahawks have won five NFC West division titles in only ten seasons. The 2011 team fell to 3rd place in the division. Carroll will have his work cut out for him to match Holmgren's starting sprint with the Seahawks when he led the team to either a 1st or 2nd place finish in eight of his first nine seasons with the franchise.

The front office has stocked the organization with some of the youngest talent in the NFL. They were the second-youngest roster in the NFL last season, and the youngest starters. If the talent plays to its potential, there should be a long stretch of contending. The quality of the division has improved dramatically compared to when Holmgren was running things, so enjoying that sort of sustained divisional dominance may be a little optimistic.


OFFENSE
Scoring a lot of points has always been a key to producing winning Seattle football teams. The Seahawks
CLICK TO ENLARGE

averaged 25.7 points per game in the five seasons that produced at least 10 wins. That scoring pace would have made the Seahawks 6th in the NFL in scoring last season, as a bit of context. The Seahawks have steadily improved from 17.50 pts/game in 2009 to 19.38 in 2010 to 20.06 in 2011. That's a notable improvement, especially after team scoring dropped 30% from 2007 to 2009. Note in the graph to the left  that scoring has a rather strong correlation to team victories. The team's best scoring season happened during the 2005 Super Bowl run. Some franchises are built around defense. The Seahawks have historically relied much more on a powerful offense. It is an area Carroll will be questioned on until the team clicks on offense. His defensive expertise is showing through, as you will see below, but there is significant growth still required on offense to be a contender. Eclipsing the 20 pts/game mark, however, is meaningful. Last year was only the third time in franchise history the team averaged over 20 points and had a losing record. They need the improvement to continue as the Seahawks average only 5.7 wins in seasons where the offense scores less than 20 points per game, and have been over .500 only twice.

DEFENSE
Carroll came to Seattle with a reputation built on defense. He was a defensive player in college, coached

CLICK TO ENLARGE

defense in college and the NFL, and made most of his initial changes to scheme in Seattle on the defensive side of the ball. The results were mixed. Only three Seahawks teams have allowed more than the 25.4 points per game Seattle gave up in his first season, and none since 1980. Outside of 2003, when they gave up 20.44 points/game, all of the Seahawks 10+ win seasons have featured a defense that gives up 18 points or less. That would have ranked as 5th-best in the NFL last season. Score 25+ and give up 18 or less. That's the goal.

The franchise made major strides in 2011 toward reaching that on the defensive side as they shaved 5.75 points per game off their opponents scoring average. Their average of 19.7 point allowed per game ranked 7th in the NFL last year. The 2005 Super Bowl team allowed 16.9 points per game and also ranked seventh. Scoring is increasing in the NFL overall, so Seattle's defense may already be nearing Super Bowl caliber when it comes to holding opponents scoring down.

Defense has not correlated as strongly to Seahawks victory totals over the years as offense. Carroll may be the most defensive-minded coach at the helm outside of Jim Mora Jr. It will be interesting to see how much he breaks the franchise from tradition. Many of the most memorable players in franchise history were defenders. Players like Jeff Bryant, Jacob Green, Kenny Easley, Cortez Kennedy, Sam Adams, Chad Brown, Rufus Porter, Lofa Tatupu, and many others. It is looking like a number of the current crop of Seahawks defenders will add their names to that list.

THE JOURNEY
Some will say that a team that played in 1984 has nothing to do with one that plays in 2011. There are different coaches, owners, players, rules, opponents and virtually nothing shared. One critical thing that is shared is fans. A coach may tell the media there is nothing special about playing a 10AM PST road game, but Seahawks fans know better. A general manager may say that the overall talent of a team is more important than any one individual player like a quarterback, but Seahawks fans know the difference between Kelly Stouffer and Dave Krieg. Even the NFL Defensive Player Of The Year could not stop a Stouffer/McGwire/Gelbaugh-led 1992 team from a massive free-fall. Carroll and Schneider inherited a franchise in its own free-fall. The offense was deteriorating and the numbers were collapsing. The same thing was happening on the defensive side of the ball. History shows that the Seahawks are championship contenders when they score over 25 points/game and allow less than 18/game. That represents a 13.5-point swing from what they inherited in 2009. They have now increased their offensive output by about 2.5 points, and improved their defensive effectiveness by 4.7 points. In other words, they are about 7.2 points down the road to that 13.5-point change they must target. The fact that they were able to gain any momentum at all, let alone a division title and playoff victory, while overhauling the roster was a commendable feat. In fact, Carroll is only the third coach in franchise history to win a playoff game.

There are signs of rejuvenation taking root, but as we will explore more deeply in part two of the Hawk Blogger 2012 Season Preview, the offense must show it can keep pace with what appears to be a championship defense.


Podcast: Guest Appearance on Softy

Dave "Softy" Mahler invited me on his show today to talk about the Seahawks and the quarterback decision.

The podcast of our conversation is available: **download it here**


Did Terrell Owens Kill Matt Flynn's Career?


Terrell Owens spent three weeks with the Seahawks. Most will forget he was ever here. Matt Flynn likely will not be one of them.

Flynn was winning the Seahawks quarterback competition heading into the second pre-season game against the Broncos. In fact, it really felt like the competition had essentially ended when Pete Carroll named Flynn the starter for the second straight week. Nobody changes their starting quarterback after the second pre-season game, right?? Kidding aside, Flynn has finished his first game by being nearly perfect. He had two incompletions in 13 passes. One was a flat drop by Anthony McCoy, and the other was an interception he should not have thrown after a running back did not execute the play-action properly.

Owens played his first game against the Broncos. He was inserted in the starting lineup and proceeded to have zero catches in five targets. Four of the five incompletions were blatant mistakes by Owens that were acknowledged by Carroll after the game. Flynn's passer rating would have been over 120.0 if Owens had simply caught the 46-yard touchdown that Flynn placed perfectly in his hands. His rating would have been much higher had Owens made the right plays on any of the other throws, especially the back-shoulder pass along the right sideline that Owens ran right by. As well as Wilson played that day, are we sure Flynn would have lost the starting role if he exited the Broncos game with a touchdown and a 130 or higher passer rating that included some deep throws?

Stories are coming out today that Wilson needed to be "markedly better" than Flynn to win the starting job. It is hard to be markedly better than 11-13 in game one and a 130 passer rating in game two. Should Wilson realize his potential and never relinquish this starting job, Flynn may look back at that Broncos game as the one that blocked his shot at starting in the NFL. He is still young enough at age 26 to find a spot somewhere else, but time is running out on his chances to be QB1 for an NFL team.

In a cruel twist of irony, it may have been a quarterback that cost Owens his job. There was no need for the Seahawks to cut Owens yesterday. There was certainly another player or two they already know will not be on their roster in a week or so. More likely, the front office linked the decision to name Wilson the starter with the decision to remove a personality like Owens from the equation. The front office is taking a risk by starting Wilson. They know it. The last thing they want to do is sabotage themselves by putting people around Wilson who could drag him down.

And so ends the Terrell Owens era in Seattle. Dramatic. Short. Massively impacting quarterbacks in record time.

Seahawks Trades Should Not Be Over

Tarvaris Jackson was traded, for what Peter King is reporting to be a conditional 7th round pick, to the Bills yesterday. Everyone has been expected the Seahawks to either trade Jackson or release him for some time. Do not be surprised if there are few more trades this week. Here are some likely candidates:

Ben Obomanu
Obomanu is possibly the most well-rounded player in the Seahawks receiving corps. He can play any of the three positions, and can contribute on special teams. Still, the front office may want to make room for a younger player or keep additional players at different positions that require his roster spot.

Deon Butler
Butler is in a similar place to Obomanu. He is an NFL caliber receiver that will be on a roster somewhere this season. It just may not be in Seattle. Butler is not a special teams guy, although he has tried playing some on coverage this pre-season.

Kris Durham
Durham was a touted prospect as recently as last year. No longer. The team is said to still like him, and he is practice squad eligible. It would not be shocking if they got a 6th or 7th round pick in 2013 or a even a 5th in 2014 for Durham since he is still young and has some unique measurables.

Leon Washington
Washington still has plenty of value for a team needing a secondary runner and playmaker. This would open up a spot for a guy like Kregg Lumpkin or Vai Taua.

Frank Omiyale
Signed as a free agent this off-season, Omiyale does not look good enough to make this squad. There are plenty of teams in need of offensive line help that could be tempted to acquire him via trade so they don't have to compete for him on the waiver wire.

Catch Me On Sports Radio KJR Today @ ~12:20

Softy is having me on his show today sometime around 12:20 to talk about the quarterback decision, and what can reasonably be expected from Russell Wilson this year. Catch it on 950 AM, 102.9 FM or listen live on the KJR website.

I will post the podcast link here later. Then again, Softy could find a better guest between now and then! 

The Undeniable

Defensive coordinators across the NFL would be wise to make a few phone calls to managers in the South Atlantic League. That is the last known place Russell Wilson was held down. Given the trajectory of Wilson's football career, you can bet some collection of minor league pitchers will be telling their grand-kids about the day they struck out, "The Great Russell Wilson."  Wilson seemingly got all the failures out of his system while batting .229 through his professional baseball career. All he has done since the moment he chose to walk away from baseball is choose Wisconsin for football, be named team captain within a few weeks, set an NCAA record for passing efficiency, lead his team to a Rose Bowl, get drafted higher than any "expert" thought appropriate, earn his way into the Seahawks quarterback competition, rocket to the top of the depth chart, and be named week one starter. Translated into baseball statistics, that's an OPS of around 1.500. Translated into English, Wilson has yet to find an obstacle he cannot overcome on the football field.

Martial arts or boxing instructors teach their students to punch past the point of impact. They want their students to aim for a spot beyond where their fist will collide with what is front of them. Wilson approaches his football career in much the same way. There is no sense of achievement or completion. While everyone is spinning around with excitement and amazement of what he has accomplished so far, Wilson gives the impression that he is merely one step down a path that leads to heights most will never reach. If Manifest Destiny was a strategy for football careers, Wilson would be the poster child for applying it. 

Wilson was not a player I watched much in college. Seeing him in Senior Bowl practices was the first moment when I thought he was both a special player and special fit for the Seahawks philosophy and scheme. I admit to being a little excited when they announced the Seahawks selected Wilson, maybe more than a grown man should be

My instant comparison for Wilson was Drew Brees, and not because of the height. They are both natural winners, with uncommon feel for the game, and extraordinary football IQ. I called him the "Powerball" aspect of this year's Seahawks draft class because every other pick could be mediocre, and if Wilson hit, it would still be considered a massively successful draft. 

Taking some time to do a deeper comparison with Brees was instructive because it is so easy to forget the challenges even the most successful quarterbacks have in their early years. Brees did not start as a rookie, and did not have a passer rating over 80.0 until his fourth season (not counting his single game as a rookie). That was part of the reasoning behind expecting that Wilson's participation in the quarterback competition was largely to allow him to win the back-up job.

People that only saw the pre-season games could only conclude that Wilson was the obvious winner of the quarterback competition. Players, media, and coaches all saw Matt Flynn winning this thing during training camp. He was making throws Wilson simply was not making. Pete Carroll was transparent in where the quarterbacks stood throughout camp if you knew where to look. Tarvaris Jackson opened camp taking starter snaps because he was the top of the depth chart at that time. Flynn started two weeks in a row during pre-season because he was the best quarterback on the roster through that time. I was convinced he would be the starter early in the camp. The gap between him and Wilson at that time was greater than most fans and media will ever know. Wilson's rise to starter truly came in the last week. He was unstoppable, irrepressible, undeniable. 

What happens now will shape the legacy of Carroll in Seattle. Fans and media have aggressively pushed Carroll to find his franchise quarterback since the moment he arrived. It was noted multiple times on this blog that Mike Holmgren found his franchise signal caller in his third season, and stuck with him all the way to the Super Bowl. Jackson and Josh Portis were the only quarterbacks on this roster heading into this off-season. Finding that transcendent player seemed out of reach. Signing Flynn gave the team quality, even if his upside was unclear. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were pipe dreams. There was talk of Ryan Tannehill if he slid to them in the first round. The hand-wringing over passing on Andy Dalton last year and the strikeout on Charlie Whitehurst only increased the uneasiness. Well, now it is year three of Carroll's time in Seattle, and he has hitched his ride to a player that is the physical embodiment of his personality: unconventional, fast moving, and forever successful. 

Guessing how Wilson's pre-season success will translate into the regular season is challenging. The most optimistic read would be that his NFL performances so far look strikingly similar to his college performances. His style of play has migrated beautifully into this level, and perhaps as importantly, into this system that so closely resembles the type of offense he had at Wisconsin. Wilson's play against reserves in the first two pre-season games looked almost identical to his play against starters in the third game. Hurdles that trip up rookie quarterbacks appear more like staples under Wilson's shoe so far. History tells us that will change. 

The Chiefs were missing significant portions of their starting secondary on Friday. There is light game-planning for those third pre-season games, but nothing like what Wilson will face come week one. The Cardinals defense is among the most exotic in the NFL, and more talented than most give it credit for. Wilson will see "walk around" defenses in Arizona where none of the lineman or linebackers have their hand on the ground or stay in one place. Finding his keys to make the right reads will be difficult. The intensity of environment will go up ten-fold. Wilson took a few weeks to adjust to NFL speed after OTAs and mini-camp. It is reasonable to expect similar adjustment time will be required as he transitions into the faster current of regular season play. 

History tells us it is unlikely Wilson will have a passer rating higher than Jackson's 79.2 last season. It also says pre-season statistics have very little correlation with regular season performance. There is even evidence suggesting that Wilson may ultimately have been a better quarterback if he sat for at least the start of his rookie season. Wilson's career tells us he will take the mental approach of another famous Badger: Russell Wilson don't give a shit about history.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Roy Lewis Appreciation Thread

There were far bigger Seahawks headlines today, but I cannot let the departure of Roy Lewis go without taking a moment to acknowledge him as a player and a person. It has been my pleasure to get to know a number of the guys on the team the past couple of years. Lewis was one of the giants in that locker room.

He first showed up on my radar as a hard-hitting special teams player that played with fire and ferocity. It did not take long before the put that on display as a cornerback. He had a swagger that was missing on defense back then. I loved watching him play.

It was a pleasant surprise to get to know him off the field last year. Some of you may remember my series on Chris Carter, an undrafted wide receiver trying to make the team. Carter was not a household name. He did not play at a big-time school. There were not many obvious friends to be made, but Lewis made a point to reach out to Carter and show him around the city. He offered Carter advice as a guy who had made it into the NFL as an undrafted free agent himself.

I got to see Lewis sign autograph after autograph for fans, and treat every person he met with respect and a smile. I dubbed him "The Mayor," after witnessing him work the room after a Seahawks pre-season game. He made his way to every table to talk to all the players and their families.

He was having a great camp this year, and looked to be doing a great job at nickel corner and swing safety. This latest injury must have been enough to cause the team to look elsewhere on the roster.

Whatever the case, Lewis is everything Seahawks fans should want in their players. I wish him the best wherever he ends up, and thank him for the great years of play while he was here. 

Rookie QBs: Are They Better Off Starting Or Sitting?

Our pal Scott Enyeart made a point on our recent podcast that Pete Carroll may be making this quarterback decision with an eye on 2013. The reasoning would be that if Russell Wilson is the designated "franchise quarterback," he might be better off starting this year and taking his lumps in order to make a massive leap in year two and vault the Seahawks into Super Bowl contention. To that end, I did some research looking into how the best second-year quarterbacks in the history of the NFL to see how many of them were starters as rookies.

These are top 30 second-year quarterbacks, sorted by passer rating, in the history of pro football:

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

The quarterbacks highlighted in blue started at least ten games in their rookie seasons. Some others played a few games as rookies, but did not start out the season as the designated starter. It should also be noted that this only includes second-year quarterbacks that started at least 10 games in their second year.

One of the first things I noticed was how few quarterbacks had great passer ratings in their second year. Only 18 players in the history of pro football have had a passer rating over 85.0 in their second season. The other interesting factor here is the age of some of these "second-year" players. Seven of the thirty were 26-years-old, or older, when they played their second year in the league.

To Scott's question, only 12 of the top 30 second-year quarterbacks started at least ten games as rookies. Again, that does not mean they never played a snap. Some even played meaningful snaps (e.g., Jay Cutler started five games and played very well). The question, though, is whether history suggests quarterbacks are better off learning on the field their first season or observing. This data indicates teams have better odds of getting great production from their young quarterbacks if they allow them to at least begin their first season on the sidelines.

There is another way to interpret these results. Seven of the top eleven second-year quarterbacks did start as rookies. One could make the argument the highest possible passer ratings for second-year players come from guys who learned on the field as rookies.

Let's look at this from another angle. Take the top twenty quarterbacks in the NFL last season, as determined by passer rating:

  1. Aaron Rodgers
  2. Drew Brees
  3. Tom Brady
  4. Tony Romo
  5. Mathew Stafford
  6. Matt Schaub
  7. Eli Manning
  8. Matt Ryan
  9. Alex Smith
  10. Ben Roethlisberger
  11. Philip Rivers
  12. Matt Moore
  13. Jay Cutler
  14. Michael Vick
  15. Cam Newton
  16. Matt Hasselbeck
  17. Kevin Kolb (!?)
  18. Joe Flacco
  19. Carson Palmer
  20. Andy Dalton
Out of those 20 players, seven started at least 10 games as rookies. Three of the top ten started at least 10 games as rookies. Again, evidence suggests most of the best quarterbacks in the game did not start out as starters their rookie seasons.

Does this mean Wilson is doomed to mediocrity if he starts? Of course not. He has already proven to be an outlier to those that said 5'10" quarterbacks can't play pro football. Everyone that watches him can tell he is special. The key question I keep coming back to is whether the best thing for him and this franchise is for him to start or for him to learn more on the sidelines. Very few, if any, teams that started rookie quarterbacks had a player like Matt Flynn as an alternative. The Seahawks are not deciding between forcing a rookie into the lineup or suffering with a terrible veteran. This is why Carroll and John Schneider get paid the big bucks. It is one thing to defy convention. It is another thing to bet against history.

Rookie QBs: Pre-Seasons vs. Regular Season

Russell Wilson has been so good, so convincing, this pre-season that every Seahawks fan cannot wait until they get to see him play next. Most assume Pete Carroll will name him the starter for the regular season. This is the second in a series of articles exploring what realistic expectations might be for Wilson should he be the Seahawks starting quarterback this season. The first article explored the history of rookie passers in the NFL.This one will focus on the correlation between pre-season and regular season performance for rookies.

Statistics for past pre-seasons are hard to find, and do not seem to go back all that far. The following is what was available at NFL.com:

Source: NFL.com

That is 14 rookie quarterbacks, over the past six years. No rookie quarterback pre-season statistics were available for 2010 or 2009. No player pre-season stats appear to be available before 2006.

Of the 14 quarterbacks we do have data for, 10 played significant portions of their rookie seasons. Those that have an N/A did not have any statistics to speak of in their rookie years. Six of the 10 rookies that played during the regular season improved their passer rating in the regular season, as compared to the pre-season. That belies the fact that there is still a slight negative correlation overall (-0.03), which means the higher the pre-season rating goes, the lower the regular season rating goes. We see evidence of this in cases like Trent Edwards (99.9 to 70.4), Jay Cutler (108.3 to 88.5), and Bruce Gradkowski (105.3 to 65.9).

One critical difference that makes it hard to compare with Wilson is that these quarterbacks were all playing against starting NFL defenses from the beginning of pre-season. Many of them struggled mightily early on. Cam Newton looked like a major project watching him last year before the real season started. Wilson got a soft landing against the 2nd and 3rd string players his first two games. That likely inflated his lofty pre-season rating (119.4), but may have also given him the confidence to do play wonderfully versus the Chiefs starters in game three.

It does not seem fair to Wilson to expect his rating would improve heading into the regular season the way Newton's or Dalton's did. A drop is far more realistic, but it needn't be as tragic as Edwards or Gradkowski. One thing is clear, pre-season numbers are not great predictors of regular season numbers.