Wednesday, October 31, 2012

PODCAST: Week 8 Chat With Softy

Softy and I talked about the Seahawks at the midway point, the problems in Detroit, and why I still don't regret Peyton Manning signing elsewhere.

***DOWNLOAD THE PODCAST***


Hawk Blogger 2012 Power Rankings: Week 8

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

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


The formula has proven to be a pretty accurate predictor of success. Even in the first week of the 2008 season, 5 of the top 10 ranked teams were playoff bound. As with any statistic, it becomes more meaningful as the sample size grows. Only 3 of the top 10 teams from week one of 2010 made the playoffs, and a team as low as #27 (Atlanta) was a league power. Usually, these become most meaningful after week 3. In 2007, 9 of the top 10 ranked teams were playoff teams, with the lowest ranked playoff team coming in at #15. In 2008, 8 the top 10 were playoff teams, with Arizona being the lowest ranked playoff team at #19. In 2010 8 of top 10 teams from week 3 made the playoffs.

If you'd like to see final rankings from 2011, you can read more here.

THIS WEEK
History shows that a team strength score above 10.0 generally indicates a Super Bowl contender. Keep in mind that these rankings are best used to judge playoff spots, not necessarily predicting which team would beat another head-to-head. The difference between a team strength of 14.9 and 13.9 is not nearly as important as the general tiers of strength illustrated in the second chart below. Seattle dropped down to it's lowest ranking in weeks.



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. Note, the massive drop-off between the top seven teams, and the next tier.



Tuesday, October 30, 2012

2012 Seahawks Progress Report: Mid-Season

Breaking the season up into quarters has proved to be a useful measure of progress. I started this last season, and have referenced it over and over again for my own use. You can find the final 2011 Season Progress Report by clicking here. The report can show trends as the season wears on. You can find the quarter-point progress report here.

Summary Stats +/- 2011 (NFL Rank)



Seattle's offense has become more balanced as the passing game has stepped forward, while the rushing attack has made some room. Not shown above is that Seattle has attempted fewer rushes in the last four games (34.3 vs. 27.3), while modesty increasing their pass attempts (25 vs. 27.5). The large increase in passing yards is coming from greater efficiency in yards per attempt (5.4 vs 7.7). Before celebrating, Seahawks fans should take note of where the team still ranks in major passing categories. One of the most impressive stats is the decrease in sacks allowed, even while attempting more throws per game and longer throws. The offensive line deserves more credit for the job they are doing in pass protection. The team is averaging the same amount of points despite the increased yardage because 3rd down conversions and red zone efficiency is still lacking. There is reason for optimism on the red zone side as the Seahawks are over 57% in the last three games, which ranks in the Top 15. 

The increase in passing has led to more turnovers.There is a strong correlation (0.3) between pass attempts and turnovers for Seattle. The team is averaging 2.2 turnovers/game on the road versus 0.7 at home, a huge part of why the team is 1-3 away from Seattle. 

The defense has taken a significant step backwards. The quality of opponent offenses has something to do with it, but the numbers are undeniable. Under-reported is the large decline in rush defense. Much of that was the 49ers game, but teams are regularly getting 80+ yards on the ground now versus around 60 in the first four. Each of the last four teams have had at least 80 yards rushing, when only one of the first four did. Even with the step back on defense, the team ranks in the Top 10 in every category outside of two key ones, 3rd downs and takeaways where they are 27th and 24th, respectively. There is no difference in the team's ability to take the ball away at home or on the road. In other words, this is a chronic issue for a team that pride's itself on taking the ball away.

The coaching staff and players deserve a pat on the back for a drastic turnaround in penalties. After nearly challenging the NFL penalty record last season, Seattle was on it's way to an even worse performance after four games, but have been among the best teams in football the last four games to climb out of the cellar.

Explosive Plays




Explosive plays are going to be a key area to watch for this team, both on offense and defense. Explosive plays are defined here as 20+ yards. Usually, 10+ yards counts as an explosive run, but the NFL does not publish that stat.

The defense needs to be aware of what is going on here. Facing Tom Brady and Mathew Stafford is part of the explanation for the drastic jump in explosive pass plays, but Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo were part of the first four games. Allowing an average of five explosive plays per game will not be a winning formula the rest of the way.

The offense has made a modest step forward, adding one additional explosive pass per game.

Outstanding Individuals

Bobby Wagner is on pace for 124 tackles, which would set the Seahawks franchise record for rookie tackles in a season. He continues to lead all NFL rookies in tackles. He is also on pace for 10 tackles for loss.

K.J. Wright is on pace for 130 tackles, which would be the third-most in franchise history, behind Tony Woods 141 in 1988 and Terry Beeson 153 in 1978. He is 2nd among 2nd year players in tackles, two behind Akeem Ayers of Tennessee. 

Kam Chancellor is on pace for 120 tackles, which would set the franchise record for a safety. He is tied for 2nd in the NFL in tackles among defensive backs.

Richard Sherman is on pace for 6 interceptions, and 22 passes defensed. He ranks fourth in the NFL in passes defensed and fifth in interceptions. (crazy aside, J.J. Watt, a defensive lineman, is tied for fifth in the NFL in passes defensed)

Marshawn Lynch is on pace for 1,514 yards rushing, which would be a career high. He is currently 2nd in the NFL in rushing behind Adrian Peterson.

Chris Clemons is on pace for 14 sacks, which would be a career high. He is fifth in the NFL in sacks.

Bruce Irvin is on pace for 9 sacks, which would set the franchise rookie record.

Breaking It Down By Quarters Of The Season

Seattle went 2-2 in the first four games, and followed that up with another 2-2 performance in the last four. That does not mean they performed the same in both quarters of the season. The charts below will illustrate how different this team has been the last four games, for better or for worse.


The team has been outscored in the last four games, largely as a result of the offense being stagnant in scoring and the defense sliding back. Allowing 19 points/game would still rank as 8th best in the NFL if the Seahawks had allowed that all year. As much as people want to pile on the defense, they are holding up on the scoring side against the best offenses in the NFL. The offense must pick up the scoring pace. I would also expect the defensive numbers to improve with the second half schedule that features fewer explosive offenses.


This one is the killer. Giving the ball away twice per game just cannot happen if the team hopes to be in the playoffs. As mentioned above, they are far better at home in that category, but they must find a way to score more and turn the ball over less. The defense showed minor improvements, but needs to be up near 2.0 takeaways/game to be impacting the outcome more often.


The defense is giving up far more yards the last four games (275 vs. 348), and most of that is due to increased rushing totals. The defense is giving up over 100 yards rushing the past four games. Those three yard runs the team surrendered versus the Patriots and Lions were 0-1 yard runs the first four games. It is unclear if the team is allowing more rushing yards as they try to get after the passer more, but it must be corrected.

The passing game on offense took a major step forward in yardage, but even 211.5 yards/game passing would only be good for 24th in the NFL if they had been there for the season. Improvement is what matters, and the most important thing is to maintain or increase that passing total while reducing interceptions.


You can see here that the pass defense is actually on point in terms of efficiency. The increased passing yards allowed is completely due to additional attempts by opponents. Again, it is the rush defense that has my attention with a nearly 1.5 yard per carry swing in the last four games.


Russell Wilson's progress is demonstrated no place better than in yards per attempt. Expect that to continue as the team grows. Rushing is a little less effective, and is worth keeping an eye on.

Final Notes

The first half of 2012 has been a mixed bag. There was a dominant defense that became merely very good, and a passing offense that went from pre-natal to elementary school.  The real determining factor will continue to be turnovers. The team is way off pace in those categories. The defense, especially, needs to find a way to be more disruptive and cause bad decisions. We have seen relatively few blitzes the first eight games. I'd expect that to change with more home games and a coaching staff determined to get off the field more often on 3rd downs. Where is the aggressive bandit package blitzing we fell in love with two years ago? Maybe Winston Guy finds more playing time. Maybe not.

The other areas to watch will be 3rd down conversions on both sides of the ball, and red zone efficiency on offense. There are signs of life on the red zone side for the offense, but 3rd downs remain a major negative factor on both sides of the ball.

Seattle has back-to-back home games against Minnesota and the Jets before their bye week. They then have back-to-back road games against Miami and Chicago. Nothing but a 3-1 record will allow the team to seriously talk about the playoffs. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Morning After: Seattle Loses To Lions, 28-24

Sidney Rice did not make the critical catch on a deep ball in the second half. Russell Wilson once again threw a costly interception on the road immediately following the defense turning over the Lions. The vaunted defense that had not given up 300 yards in the first five games, has now given up over 300 in each of their past three, including more than 400 yards twice. The defense surrendered another long fourth-quarter drive, and the lead. Seattle was out-coached. The Seahawks special teams never made a play against the worst special teams unit in the NFL. Fans surely have other reasons Seattle lost another winnable game. I know some have said Richard Sherman talked too much pre-game (I disagree), and many have blamed a lackluster pass rush (I agree). The thing is, the reasons do not matter today. Seattle lost. They are 4-4 halfway through the season. That is the only analysis that matters today.

For the fourth time this season, Seattle lost a game it had a chance to win in the final quarter. Playoff teams can afford one or two of those games to go the wrong way. There have been a few seasons where Seahawks fans could look back at one game, and credibly say, "that was the one that cost us." This year, people have been given a variety to choose from. There was the season opener in Arizona, when the team ahead 16-13 in the fourth quarter before giving up an 80-yard touchdown drive, and finally being unable to score a game-winning touchdown with what felt like a dozen chances at the end. There was the Rams game, where the Rams offense never scored a touchdown, Russell Wilson threw three interceptions, Pete Carroll kicked a ridiculous onsides kick to start the second half, and the defense gave up a 74-yard field goal drive in the fourth to require a touchdown to win. Seattle thoroughly outplayed the division-leading 49ers for one half of football, but were only up 6-3, and then were beaten in all three phases in the second half. Then, there was yesterday when the team with three extra days of rest and prep got beaten by the team coming off a short week. Take your pick. Pick a couple, if you like.

The thing is, this first half of 2012 looks completely different with just one win in those four games. A win in any of those division games would put Seattle at 1-2 in the division, with a chance to still take the title if they held serve at home. A win yesterday would have put Seattle at 5-3 after a brutal opening schedule, a clear sign of progress for the coaches, players and fans. The truth is, the Lions offense played a fantastic game. Their coaches deserve credit for out-scheming the Seahawks defense. They took a page out of the 49ers game plan, a page out of the Patriots game plan, and sprinkled in some of their stuff to keep Seattle off-balance all day. I never believed the Lions were as bad as their 2-4 record indicated. This would be a forgivable loss, or at least digestible, if Seattle had taken care of business in St. Louis, or Arizona, or San Francisco. The team surrendered margin for error by losing every one of those games. What a shame.

The season is not over. The second half schedule is still favorable to Seattle. A 6-2 finish is entirely possible, would would get the team to 10 wins. The fair question is, what have the Seahawks done to give fans any reason to expect better than mediocrity? Sure, there have been signature victories over the Cowboys, Patriots, and Packers. Those highlights have been surrounded by disappointments. It is almost unthinkable that the Seahawks could finish the first half of their season mired in mediocrity with wins against those teams on their resume. If you told me Seattle would win those three games, and beat the Panthers on the road before the season started, I would have put the odds of a 4-4 record at about 0.0%. Yet, that's exactly where the team is.

I will publish my 2012 Season Progress Report for the mid-point in the season later this week. In it, you will see signs of the maligned passing game making significant progress, while the defense, running game and special teams, have taken large steps backwards. You will see a team that talks an awful lot about turnovers has only won the turnover battle once in eight games. There will be evidence that the pass rush improvements are not reliable enough to be a factor in more than a few games. This is a team that has been offensively challenged, yet has scored first in every game this year. You will see a muddy picture that befits a .500 team.

The frustration is high right now, but anyone that claims this team has not improved should re-visit the first half of last season. The team was 2-6, allowing 23.1 points/game, while scoring only 15.3. They had lost two home games, were allowing 3.5 sacks/game (1.8 this year), and were averaging only 88.3 rushing yards. Has the team improved? Undoubtedly. Are they playing to their potential? Not even close.

More and more, it appears that this will be a season where Seattle will attempt to break free of their adolescence. So much potential, so much drama, such little predictability. Everything they want is still within their reach. The quality of the individuals is just as strong now as it was before the season started. The dedication to improvement and greatness is still there. This team will be great. Their opportunities to prove that this season, though, are nearly gone.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

TUNE IN: Hawk Blogger Broadcast Seahawks vs Lions

About 400 of you seem to be willing to listen to me broadcast Seahawks games. That's about 400 more than I expected. My observations are much less filtered, and far more R-rated, during the broadcast versus my blog.

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

TIME: 9:55 AM PST

WHY? Do you really want to listen to more nonsensical and obnoxious national commentary? 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!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Things I Think Heading Into Detroit

The beginning of this season has been a blur. Every week has brought a big division game, or a big-name opponent. There has already been two nationally telecast contests, and controversies ranging from last-second touchdowns to smack-talking cornerbacks. The season will be halfway done after Sunday, and Seattle will either find themselves at either 5-3 or 4-4. It will be time for a mid-season progress report, and a full assessment of where the team has progressed, stalled and regressed. The simplest evaluation of this game against Detroit is that Seattle has already beaten multiple opponents that are markedly better than the Lions. The Seahawks just lost a road game to a true Super Bowl contender by seven points, and Seattle did not even play their best game. The Lions are 2-4, and are on the brink of a failed season with the divisional success of Green Bay, Minnesota and Chicago. Seattle should win. That is the simple evaluation. Get past the superficial, and the forecast is not nearly so clear.

Turnover Tales
Detroit was third in the NFL in takeaways in 2011. They are 29th in the NFL this year. They gave the ball away 1.5 times/game last year, and are giving it away 1.8 times/games this year. They have not won a game this season without winning the turnover battle. There was one game where they tied (@SF), and they lost that game as well. Seattle has given the ball away a little less, and taken it away a bit more. Seattle has won the turnover battle once all season. That was their 27-7 win over Dallas, and the only game all season decided by more than a touchdown. They are 2-2 in the four games when ending the game dead even in turnovers with their opponent. They are 1-1 in games when losing the turnover battle. Seattle is well off their takeaway pace from 2011. Detroit is tied for worst in the NFL with only two interceptions. The Seahawks need to find a way to win the turnover battle if they want to take this road win.

Chain Gang
Seattle may have finally met it's match when it comes to flags. Seattle has improved to 25th in total penalties and 21st in penalty yards. Detroit checks in at 29th in total flags and 31st in penalty yards. They had a 16 penalty game a few weeks ago. D-Baugh's comments this week about the physical play of the Seahawks secondary could have some short-term impact, especially on the road and against the marquee receiver in the league. Penalties that prolong drives for opponents or stall drives on offense are nearly as bad as turnovers. Discipline will be key.

Fools Rush In
The Lions have a fearsome defensive line that is built to rush the passer. They did that well last season, but surrendered a boatload of rushing yards (128.1/gm, 23rd). Only one team in the NFL allowed more yards per carry than their 5.0 number. They are at a more respectable 108.8 this year (16th), and 4.1 YPC (16th). Only three of the six opponents have eclipsed the 100 rushing yard mark. The Lions are 0-3 in those games. Seattle has gone over 100 yards rushing in five of their seven games. Interestingly, they are 2-0 in the games when they failed to reach the 100-yard mark (@CAR, NWE). In any event, the safer bet is to commit to a running game in Detroit that limits the potential for turnovers, and keeps the Detroit offense off the field. Look for Robert Turbin to get additional carries this week. His cutback style could play well against this penetrating and aggressive front four.

The Power Of Twenty
Seattle has played seven games. Opponents have have scored under 20 points in six of those seven games. The Lions have played six games, and have scored over 20 points in three of those games. They are 0-3 in the games when they fail to score 20 points. In fact, they are 0-8 when scoring fewer than 20 points dating back to last season. Seattle's defense has been the team's backbone thus far. They played a physical game against the 49ers last week, and need to find a way to match that intensity against the Lions.

Play Through Takeoff
This is not a team Seattle can expect to coast to victory against. The Lions lead the NFL in fourth quarter scoring at an eye-popping 13.3 pts/game. Seattle averages 16.6 points per game. As you might imagine with a 2-4 team that scores that many points in the fourth quarter, they struggle to score early. They are 30th in the NFL in first half points. Seattle has led in every game so far this season. They cannot afford to be inefficient with their scoring opportunities early. Equally importantly, they must maintain their intensity through the fourth quarter.

Chunk Likes Explosive Plays
Seattle has fallen in love with the deep ball. They are throwing it as much as anyone the past three games, at least as a percentage of pass attempts. Detroit's secondary is supposed to be a team weakness. Remember, a certain NFL back-up torched them for 500 yards and 6 touchdowns last year. They only have two interceptions, as mentioned above. The surprise might be that they are 2nd in the NFL in allowing explosive pass plays of 20+ yards, with only 12 all year. Seattle's vaunted secondary has given up 17. The Lions have not faced a quarterback as good as Tony Romo yet this year, let alone Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. That certainly plays some role, but Russell Wilson is not yet a player to fear. On the flip side, the Lions are 7th in the NFL in explosive pass plays on offense. Seattle could enjoy a big day if they find a way to crack the Lions coverage down-field.

The typical Seattle script would have the Seahawks lose this game, and ignite a panic among the fan base. A loss would wash away nearly all of the ground gained by surprising wins against powerhouse opponents. A win would put the team on pace for 10 wins, with a promising second-half schedule in front of them. To put it simply, this is a game that a playoff team wins. 

PODCAST: Week 7 Conversation With Softy

Softy and I talked 49ers, Harbaugh, and the traps in this upcoming Lions game.



***DOWNLOAD THE PODCAST***

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hawk Blogger 2012 Power Rankings - Week 7

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

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


The formula has proven to be a pretty accurate predictor of success. Even in the first week of the 2008 season, 5 of the top 10 ranked teams were playoff bound. As with any statistic, it becomes more meaningful as the sample size grows. Only 3 of the top 10 teams from week one of 2010 made the playoffs, and a team as low as #27 (Atlanta) was a league power. Usually, these become most meaningful after week 3. In 2007, 9 of the top 10 ranked teams were playoff teams, with the lowest ranked playoff team coming in at #15. In 2008, 8 the top 10 were playoff teams, with Arizona being the lowest ranked playoff team at #19. In 2010 8 of top 10 teams from week 3 made the playoffs.

If you'd like to see final rankings from 2011, you can read more here.

THIS WEEK
History shows that a team strength score above 10.0 generally indicates a Super Bowl contender. Keep in mind that these rankings are best used to judge playoff spots, not necessarily predicting which team would beat another head-to-head. The difference between a team strength of 15.3 and 13.3 is not nearly as important as the general tiers of strength illustrated in the second chart below. Seattle has settled in, moving a spot down, after moving a spot up the previous two weeks.



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



Monday, October 22, 2012

Happy Monday GIF: Okung Pancakes Justin Smith

It already feels like a year since the Seahawks last played. The memories are not all good, but lost in the game was another great game from the offensive line. This block from Russell Okung on Justin Smith was an instant favorite. Smith is regularly talked about as a Top 5 player in the NFL, and one of the strongest men in the NFL. There is an unconfirmed report--that I am starting right now--that Okung said, "Suck it," after planting Smith here. If he didn't, I certainly did.

Enjoy.

Note: Clicking the image will open in a larger window






Friday, October 19, 2012

The Morning After: Seahawks Fall To 49ers 13-6

Seattle let one get away. Then, they let another. No, I am not talking about they bevy of passes the team dropped on Thursday. I am not talking about the series of break-out runs by the 49ers in the second half, either. As the final seconds ticked off the clock during the Thursday night defeat, my mind wandered to the earlier losses to the Cardinals and Rams. Win just one of those two games, and this one likely would have not felt as desperate as it did for so many Seahawks fans. The mood on Twitter after the game was near panic. People were scouring NFL rosters for wide receivers, proposing trades and scouting potential draft choices for next April. Nobody hates Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers more than me, but was this game that awful? I seem to remember a series of drops by Patriots receivers, including Wes Welker, in the Super Bowl last year that effected the outcome of the game. It happens to the best. It happened to the Seahawks. Speaking of the best, there was ample evidence that Seattle can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the NFL. They did not play their best game, missing easy opportunities, faced a Top 2-3 opponent on the road that was amped up after a disastrous loss, on a short week and lost by seven points. No team in the NFL will face opponents as diverse as the Patriots and 49ers in such a short time and be more impressive. Let's revisit that topic December 23rd after the 49ers play @NE and then come to Century Link the following (full) week later. That said, this loss has consequences.

San Francisco should be on their way to at least twelve wins. They only need to hold serve at home, and win one division game on the road to eliminate Seattle's chances at a division title. At 4-3, Seattle would need to win their remaining nine games to beat a 12-4 record. As bullish as I am on Seattle's ability to make hay the rest of the way, that is pushing it. The Seahawks path to the playoffs will very likely be through the wildcard route. That's okay. Get this team in the post-season, and anything could happen. Seattle needs to beat a quality opponent on the road if they hope to make the most of any playoff appearance because they will need have to do it then, likely more than once. Detroit is as good a place to start as any.

This team will need the rest between now and next Sunday. They have played on the road in three of the past four games, with the one home game being against the Patriots. This represents a mini-intermission almost halfway through the season. I fully expect the team to gather itself and make a strong run. Wins at Detroit, at home against the Vikings and Jets should be expected, which would have them at 7-3 heading into the bye week. That will leave a pivotal two-week stretch of back-to-back road games against the Dolphins and Bears. Win one of those, and you get to finish with three of four at home and a winnable road game against the Bills. Twelve wins is well within reach.

It is easy to look at this 4-3 record, a struggling offense, a rookie quarterback, and think talk of playoffs and twelve wins is ludicrous. Relativity matters. The only games left on the schedule that come close to the degree of difficulty the games against the Packers, Patriots and 49ers presented is the road game against Chicago and the home game against San Francisco.

Some are wringing their hands about this defense getting gashed for 175 rushing yards last night. There is not a team left that will come close to that total. The 49ers earned those yards with fantastic line play. Their blocking was amazing. There were more "wow" moments from their blocking than any skill player. Sure, Frank Gore got the glory, but he was running through the line untouched. There is not another offensive line in football that could do what the 49ers did. Give them credit. Even with those 175 yards, their offense managed just 13 points. They were the number one offense in football six days ago. They had put up 621 yards in their last game, and 77 points in their last two.

Seattle's secondary was exceptional. There were only six receptions to 49er wide receivers for 63 yards. The Seahawks much-maligned receiving corps had seven receptions for 97 yards. There was another 30-80 yards Seattle let slip their hands. The only success San Francisco found was on  their opening drive of the second half when Smith checked down time and again. Seattle stoned them the rest of the game. There was another crushing hit from Browner, and another red zone interception. Be critical of the rush defense, if you must, but try not to lose sight of the entirety of their performance.

I have spent a fair amount of time attempting to keep some semblance of balance in how Russell Wilson is judged. His most ardent supporters dropped any pretense this week, declaring a full on religious devotion on KIRO 710. I love Wilson. I love the Seahawks more. He will continue to get called out here, as with any player or coach, when he is standing between this team and great things. He will also get praise and credit where he earns it. He earned a ton of it last night. That was the best 9/23, 38.7 rating performance you are likely to see this season. Pointing the finger anywhere near his direction for the loss is ludicrous. He was a rookie quarterback, facing the most intimidating defense in the NFL on the road with minimal prep, and he came out on fire. His whole first half was impressive. He gave his receivers and running backs and tight ends numerous chances to make big plays. His first half numbers were 6/13 103 yds 7.9 YPA and a 73.6 passer rating. There were at least three straight drops in that half, two deep balls that could have been caught, and a few throwaways. In other words, he was nearly perfect. He entered what was likely to be his biggest challenge of the regular season, and was nearly perfect out of the gates. Impressive.

This was not the Wilson of a few weeks ago that looked confused and bailed from the pocket for no reason. He was patient, and made some courageous decisions. There is no doubt he still locked onto certain reads and missed open receivers. He has not "arrived" as some wanted to believe after his stirring performance against the Pats. He has, however, showed far greater growth the last three weeks than he had the first four. That is encouraging.

The best performance on the team last night may have come from the offensive line. Did you happen to see Russell Okung drive Justin Smith back five yards and plant him on his back? I did. It was fabulous. Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin ran hard, both averaging over 4.3 yards per carry. It was the line, however, that impressed most. There was great pass protection, allowing only one true sack, on their last drive. The 49ers were credited for another sack when Wilson scrambled and was brought down just shy of the line. There was only one holding penalty. Wilson was able to throw deep so often because he had the time and pocket to do it from. And when the team ran, the Seahawks moved that defense.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the loss was the play of special teams. A missed field goal, poor punt coverage, poor returns led to a negative day for the group as a whole. No team this year has had a worse average starting field position (the 15-yard line), according the ESPN Stats & Info, than the Seahawks did yesterday.

Beating the 49ers would have been a win that could have set the town ablaze. It was a great opportunity, but it was also the third massive challenge the team has faced early in the season. They are 2-1 in those games. There is every reason to expect the Seahawks to be much better the next time these two teams face off. There is nothing that happened in the game last night that indicated the 49ers were out of the Seahawks league. If anything, it was Seattle that played a game below their capabilities. San Francisco did not have a long list of missed opportunities in that game. The path forward is clear for the Seahawks. No more losses to inferior opponents. Continue to make progress in the passing game, and on scoring points. Put a win streak together. A division title may be unrealistic at this point, but everything else is well within reach.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Tall Order

I know what you would like to read. I know, because I would like to write it. You want to hear about why the Seahawks should win the game tonight against the 49ers. Why wouldn't you? A win tonight would leave the Seahawks with no limits on this season. A win tonight would thrust Seattle into the NFL elite. A win tonight would feel so good. The truth is, the Seahawks should not be able to win this game. The opponent is undoubtedly one of the best teams in the NFL. They are coming off a devasting loss that has them standing at full attention, and most importantly, they are playing at home. I have written the past few weeks why the Seahawks, and their fans, should fear noone. This game is not about fear. It is about two equally matched teams that are playing a game that unevenly (not unfairly) favors one of them.

It will be tough for Russell Wilson to face this 49ers defense on his best days. Facing them for the first time, in San Francisco, on a short week is exceptionally difficult. The best case for Wilson is to put up 150+ yards, a 7.5+ YPA, 1 TD and 0 INT. That would qualify as a stellar performance. It also happens that I listed them in reverse order of importance. Any turnovers by the Seahawks likely puts this game out of reach.

Running will be stagnant. Marshawn Lynch will not see many holes. Carries that go more than two yards, especially early on, should be celebrated. The goal for the running game in the first half is to put the team in 3rd and 5 yards or less. Prepare yourself for lots of the run on first, run on second, throw on third moments. Possessing the ball is far more important than scoring, until the fourth quarter. That may sound crazy, but is going to be more like an epic arm wrestling match than a tennis match. Seattle must find the right time to curl their fingers a la Sly Stallone, and go Over The Top.

Receivers and tight ends will need to be perfect. They can expect hard hits, but must catch whatever hits their hands, and hold onto the ball after contact. Any broken tackles are likely to come from this group, more than running backs trying to slip through the 49er front seven.

As with every Seahawks game in the early part of this season, the defense must carry the day. The 49ers hang their hat on being careful with the ball. They have had some hiccups this year, but will be waiting for the Seahawks offense to make a mistake. Expect a lot of runs, and mostly quick passes. Colin Kaepernick is more turnover-prone than Smith, despite what happened versus the Giants. There can be no dropped interceptions this week. It very well could take a defensive score to find a way out of town with a victory. Pass rush will be critical, but stopping the run is everything. Odds of winning go way down if the 49ers go over 110 yards rushing.

Mission impossible? Not quite. This is going to be a tall order, but no team is better equipped to carry it out than the 2012 Seattle Seahawks. This team was built for this type of game. They are incredibly young and this is will be their biggest test. Winning would mean they out-toughed the team most consider the toughest in the NFL. Winning would mean they are the odds-on favorite to win the division. Winning would mean the 49ers would fall into disarray. Most expected the Seahawks to lose to the Cowboys, Packers and Patriots. They beat each one. This one is different. Seattle cannot play well and expect to win. They must play great. The stage is set for a colossal battle. Time to see what happens. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

PODCAST: Chat With Softy - Pats & 49ers

Softy and I had our weekly chat about the Seahawks, covering the win over the Patriots, whether this team is truly a Super Bowl contender, and what this match-up with the 49ers can mean. Take a listen...


 

***Download The Podcast***

Initial Thoughts On 49ers Match-Up

The San Francisco 49ers, a franchise that dominated the 80s, and early 90s, before collapsing for over a decade to the point of irrelevance. They re-emerged last season as a team that bore little resemblance to the offense-driven Bill Walsh dynasty. No team in the NFL was tougher. No team did more with less on offense.  They posted insane takeaway and giveaway numbers. They physically imposed their will on teams, ripping respect away from opponents and national media. By the time the season ended, they found themselves a play or two away from the Super Bowl. Seattle attempts to repeat history just a year later as they hurdle toward a true heavy-weight bout on Thursday night. There will be no game in the NFL this season that comes close to matching the intensity and physicality of what will happen tomorrow evening. Much is on the line for both teams, and both are capable of making life miserable for the other.


Just Two Years Ago Removed From Fox Disrespect

Seattle played in San Francisco late in 2010 when the Seahawks were 6-6 and the 49ers were 5-8. Nobody cared what happened in that game beyond Seahawks fans. Even 49ers fans were disinterested after another disastrous season. Fox broadcast the game and decided it was so worthless, and the fans watching it mattered so little, that they could use it as an experiment, playing a ridiculous soundtrack during various parts of the game. It was quite possibly the worst viewing experience in NFL history. In part, because it was clear that Fox was indirectly telling fans of both teams that they did not matter. They were worth no more than lab rats or focus group participants, without the compensation of course. Two years later, these two teams will collide on national television as two of the best teams in football.

This One Is On Marshawn, Not Russell

Many fans and sports radio folks have jumped on the Russell Wilson bandwagon after a sterling and stirring performance against the Patriots. He deserves the recognition. He also deserves appropriate expectations heading into this contest. There will be no 300-yard performance this week. There will be not be 3 touchdown passes. Wilson has faced two of the worst secondaries in football the past two weeks, and had great protection to throw down the field. The 49ers are an entirely different animal. They much more closely resemble the Cardinals defense Wilson faced the first week of the season. Wilson is a better player than he was then, but relying on him to carry the team this week is a recipe for certain defeat. Marshawn Lynch had his fewest carries of the season on Sunday (15), and fewest yards (41). He must bring his best on Thursday if the Seahawks hope to emerge with a win. The 49ers will geared up to stop the run. They will want to make this game about a rookie quarterback playing on the road. Lynch must not allow that. His offensive line must come prepared to play their best game. He managed 109 yards and a rare rushing touchdown against the 49ers in their last match-up. Pete Carroll mentioned finding a blocking scheme that was effective against the 49ers front after that game. Lynch's play will matter more than just production. San Francisco will be looking to intimidate Seattle. Lynch is the guy that must fight back. Do not be surprised to see some big-time jawing happening, especially early on. The tone of the game will be set by what happens with Lynch. The team needs his best.

Emotions & Penalties

Both teams will be geared up for this game. Neither team likes the other. The Seahawks, especially, have reason to despise Jim Harbaugh and the team. Carroll's Win Forever philosophy includes a concept of reaching the right balance of preparation, emotion and control. The team will need to find that balance point in a game that could swing on a single play. It is one thing for Lynch to go face mask-to-face mask with a defender who is barking. It is another for a Seahawks player to get a late hit on 3rd down, or personal foul after the offense makes a big play. That simply cannot happen if the Seahawks want to come out on top.

Expect The Heat, Protect The Ball

The 49ers are a shocking 26th in the NFL in sacks, with only 9 through six games. It has been a topic of conversation in their papers all week. Vic Fangio is a terrific defensive coordinator, who has not had to focus on the sack production while his team was dismantling opponents up until last week. He will bring out all the tricks on Thursday. Wilson will need to get rid of the ball quickly and make good decisions. A sack is preferable to a turnover every time. Robert Turbin and Leon Washington could play important roles on swing passes, although Wilson has been hesitant to check-down at times. That new third-down decisiveness he has been working on will be paramount.

Big Receivers, Big Plays

There are unlikely to be any moments that resemble wide open receivers running behind the defense like Sidney Rice did against the Patriots. There definitely could be a few jump balls that could be the difference between a completely unproductive offense and points on the board. Braylon Edwards will have reason to prove a point to his old mates. Rice, Tate, and even Evan Moore could find themselves needing to win a crucial ball in the air. Each is capable.

Turnovers

It is almost not worth mentioning, but whoever wins the turnover battle is nearly certain to win this game. The 49ers have the advantage there as they are creating more, and giving away fewer than the Seahawks so far, after an insane turnover season in 2011. Seattle's passing game is the most likely source of turnovers. Wilson's most important stat on Thursday will be zero interceptions. This is a game where fans should expect an offense that much more closely resembles what we saw in the first few weeks in terms of run-heavy and high-percentage throws. Ball control is crucial.

Run Defense

The 49ers have lost two games this season. They ran for less than 100 yards in both games. They average a league-leading 177 yards/game on the ground. This is legitimately the best rushing attack in football with a great run-blocking offensive line, three terrific running backs, and a back-up quarterback that can get into the act as well. Seattle's 2nd-ranked rush defense will face no greater challenge all season. The 49ers rush offense can say the same thing. Seattle stared down the #1 passing offense in the NFL last Sunday. This will be a very different match-up, but the Seahawks are well-armed for the battle.

Coverage Units

The 49ers do not have a clear weakness the way the Patriots did (pass defense). If there is any area that stands out as sub-par, it is the San Francisco coverage teams. According to FootballOutsiders.com, the 49ers kick coverage team is the 2nd-worst in the NFL. Their punt coverage team is not great either. In a game where yards will be hard to come by, a big return could be the difference. Expect some trickery from the SF kick teams as well. Fake punts, fake field goals, reverse returns, are all possible from a team that is always looking for a way to embarrass their opponent.



Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bobby Wagner Climbs Into DROY Conversation

Ask someone to name the best rookies in the NFL this season. They will tell you about the quarterback quintuplets. They may mention Trent Richardson. Press them to name the best rookies on the defensive side. Be sure to count how many players they name. If they mention Bobby Wagner at all, give them a big pat on the back. Even among Seahawks fans, Wagner has taken a back seat to the quarterback mayhem, the Legion of Boom, and his more controversial rookie classmate, Bruce Irvin. Yet, it is Wagner that leads all NFL rookies in tackles after a 14 tackle performance on Sunday. It was Wagner that tackled Wes Welker to end the game. Michael Robinson made some headlines in pre-season when he compared Wagner to his former 49ers teammate, Patrick Willis. That seemed like hyperbole at the time, but through six games, Wagner compares favorably to six of the most recent defensive rookies of the year that played middle linebacker.

Ten of the last twelve rookies of the year played linebacker. Not all those players make good comparables for Wagner. Players like Von Miller and Shawn Merriman are more rush linebackers. Wagner plays in the middle, so it made sense to narrow the field to those that would be judged on similar performance. Beyond Willis (2007 DROY), players like Brian Cushing (2009), Jerod Mayo (2008),  DeMeco Ryans (2006), Jonathan Vilma (2004), and Brian Urlacher (2000) make sense to compare to Wagner. Seahawks fans may be interested to see where their best rookie linebacker, Lofa Tatupu, stacks up, so he was included in the comparison as well.

The glamour stats for linebackers are tackles, sacks, and tackles for loss. Wagner holds his own against these great rookie linebackers through their first six games.



Wagner ranks 5th among the group in tackles, is tied for 3rd in sacks, and ties for first in tackles for loss. It is worth noting that all of Wagner's sacks and tackles for loss have come in the last three games. And after averaging just 5.3 tackles per game in his first three contests, he is averaging 9.0 in his last three. As a point of comparison, Willis averaged 10.9 tackles/game in his record-setting rookie season in which he finished with the 3rd-highest tackle total in NFL history. It should be noted that tackles were not officially tracked as an NFL statistic until 2001, so some of the numbers before then are suspect. In any event, if Wagner were to sustain his 9.0 tackles/game pace the rest of the year, he would finish with 133 tackles, or fourth-highest of this group behind Willis (174), Ryans (156), and Cushing (134).

His 1.5 sacks through six games puts him on pace for 4 in the season. However, Wagner only started playing on nickle downs the past three games, which is where he collected all his sacks. If he matches his three-game pace the rest of season, he would finish with 6.5 sacks. That would be good for 2nd-most of this group, behind only Urlacher's 8.0 sacks.

Wagner's most impressive stat may be his tackles for loss, where he is already tied the pace of the leaders through six games. He is on pace for 10-11 tackles for loss. Taking into account his three-game pace, where he was getting more snaps and collected all his TFLs, he would wind up with 17. The highest total among this group is 9, by Ryans. Needless to say, that would be an outstanding total.

Wagner showed a knack for reading dump-off passes out of the back-field during training camp and in college, picking off a few. His new responsibilities in nickel defense will provide even more opportunities to make impact plays against the pass.

Irvin may wind up being Wagner's toughest competition for the rookie award if he continues his near-record sack pace. The fact is, Wagner has played his way into the debate. Most people around the NFL still would laugh at Robinson's comparison of Wagner to Willis, but like the entire Seahawks team, Wagner will need to earn his respect one game at a time.


Hawk Blogger 2012 Power Rankings: Week 6

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

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


The formula has proven to be a pretty accurate predictor of success. Even in the first week of the 2008 season, 5 of the top 10 ranked teams were playoff bound. As with any statistic, it becomes more meaningful as the sample size grows. Only 3 of the top 10 teams from week one of 2010 made the playoffs, and a team as low as #27 (Atlanta) was a league power. Usually, these become most meaningful after week 3. In 2007, 9 of the top 10 ranked teams were playoff teams, with the lowest ranked playoff team coming in at #15. In 2008, 8 the top 10 were playoff teams, with Arizona being the lowest ranked playoff team at #19. In 2010 8 of top 10 teams from week 3 made the playoffs.

If you'd like to see final rankings from 2011, you can read more here.

THIS WEEK
History shows that a team strength score above 10.0 generally indicates a Super Bowl contender. The Bears ascend to the top spot on their bye week, while SF and HOU tumble. Seattle stays steady, and climbs another spot, into the Top 10.



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



Monday, October 15, 2012

The Morning After, Seahawks Earn Their Stripes, Beat Pats 24-23

This game was over. Doug Baldwin had caught a gorgeous touchdown pass from Russell Wilson with 1:50 to go in the first quarter, and the Seahawks had not scored since. A 10-7 lead at that point, turned into a 20-10 deficit heading into the fourth quarter. Future Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick was 84-1 when leading by 10 points or more heading into the final period while with the Patriots. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady had the ball at the Seahawks 6-yard line, after marching 82 yards, on what should have been the dagger drive. But then, the heroes slowly started to emerge. Earl Thomas intercepted Brady in the end zone, one of five times the Pats got to the red zone without scoring a touchdown. Seattle ran a wide receiver option with Sidney Rice throwing deep down-field for a big gain on a penalty, only to see Zach Miller fumble the ball at the New England 30-yard line. This game was over. Brady marched his team down into the red zone again, and this time managed to come away with a field goal to make the score 23-10, with just over nine minutes left to play. The Patriots had now scored 16 unanswered points. There is no record of Brady or Belichick ever losing a game when they led by as many as 13 points in the 4th quarter. Believing the Seahawks were going to win at this point would be beyond optimistic. It was certifiable. The entire Seahawks team could have qualified for psychiatric care, because they showed no signs of giving in. Wilson, Golden Tate and Braylon Edwards all made great plays on a "why didn't we do that all game" five-play, 83-yard touchdown drive in only two minutes. The defense stopped the Pats again, and the stage was set for game-ending drive for the Seahawks with just under four minutes to play. Only the Seahawks could not even get a first down. They had the ball for 42 seconds before punting it back to Brady. It was over. It had to be. The Patriots offense had only four 3-and-outs in their first 72 possessions of 2012. Seattle's defense made it five on this series. Special Teams joined the party with with a clutch 25-yard punt return to near mid-field. Four plays later, Sidney Rice pushed the defense outside with a great fake, before bursting through the middle of the Pats defense to collect a 46-yard touchdown from Wilson. Pandemonium. Still, Brady and his 29 career game-winning drives was coming back on the field with just over a minute to play. Incomplete. Sack. Incomplete. Then, it was fourth down...



Victory. Sweet, undisputed victory. A Seahawks franchise that was 8-148 when entering the fourth quarter trailing by 10 points or more, had found their way to win #9. The last time they had come back from so far, so late was in 2003 versus the Rams. They did it a game of paradoxes. The defense that yielded 475 yards, the most since a 2010 game against the Chiefs, dropped numerous interceptions, and had allowed the Pats to 8-12 on 3rd down conversions, found a way to hold the Pats to 0 for their final 6 third down attempts and intercept two passes. The Seahawks offense, that could not run the ball, and could not score for nearly three quarters, passed their way to two touchdowns in nine minutes.

It was the rookie quarterback that shined. In three games versus elite NFL quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, and Tom Brady, Wilson has posted a composite 116.9 passer rating, while his opponents have managed a 79.0. That includes a sparkling six touchdowns and zero interceptions. No rookie quarterback has led two game-winning drives in the first six games of the season, until now. No rookie quarterback facing Belichick, while with the Pats, had ever had a passer rating as high as Wilson's 133.7 rating on Sunday. No Seahawks rookie had ever thrown for a rating that high. No Seahawks rookie had ever thrown for as many yards (293). And if chicks dig the long ball, they may want to check out Wilson. No Seahawks quarterback, rookie or other, has ever thrown three passes of 46 yards or more in one game, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com. Many will point to the horrible secondaries he has faced the past two weeks. While that is fair to bring up for perspective, it ignores the fact that Wilson outperformed the likes of Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco in terms of passer efficiency. It is one thing to play better against bad competition. It is quite another to blow the roof off. Wilson has battled back from the precipice after his losing performance against the Rams, to make significant and steady improvement. We are watching history being written.

Meanwhile, the receivers, tight ends and offensive line that took so much blame for the early problems in the passing game, came up big yesterday. Baldwin caught two big passes to get the team in the end zone. Rice had 81 yards receiving, and would have had another 50 passing if Golden Tate had held on. Tate drew an interference call on that pass and hauled in another 50-yarder. Edwards made a tough catch at a big moment.

Doug Baldwin and Sidney Rice have seen their receiving yards steadily improve the last four games

The line gave Wilson a clean pocket to step into for most of his 27 pass attempts. Wilson's height is not an issue when there is nobody within three yards of him. There were no stupid penalties. It was the Patriots who had 6 penalties for 80 yards, while the Seahawks had only 4 for 35.

Seattle is now 4-2, with wins over the Cowboy, Packers and Patriots. National media will not know what to do with this Seahawks team. They will continue to poke fun at Pete Carroll's celebrations on the sideline. They will stammer while trying to make a thoughtful observation about a team they never think about. None of it matters. What matters is the talent, determination and trajectory of this team. They accomplished more than the unlikely on Sunday. They did the unthinkable, and they did it in all phases of the game. It was one to savor. Done savoring? Good, because it will not get any easier this Thursday in San Francisco. If there is a game that supplies enough motivation to reload on such short notice, it will be this one. The Seahawks want this one bad, and all the odds are against them. Most analysts won't pick them. Their opponent will get the lion's share of coverage. Sound familiar?

Tidbits

- Bobby Wagner had 14 tackles, a single-game rookie record for the Seahawks. He is now on pace for 115 tackles, which would shatter Lofa Tatupu's rookie tackle record of 92.

- This is the third straight home game opponents have come to the CLink in droves, talking big, and the third straight game they left mumbling about Super Bowls they won way back when.

- More on Wagner: Michael Robinson made waves in the pre-season by calling him "Baby Patrick Willis." Absurd, right? Well, look at the first six games of their careers:

Willis: 63 tackles, 0 sacks, 4 tackles for loss
Wagner: 44 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4 tackles for loss

Willis is one of the best players in football, so comparisons are still unfair, but there is little doubt Wagner is having a sterling rookie season.




Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Quick Update On Russell Wilson

A few weeks back, I wrote an article comparing Russell Wilson's rookie season to those of Alex Smith from 2011 and Ben Roethlisberger as a rookie in 2004. I plan on doing a more thorough comparison of Wilson's rookie year to other rookie QBs later, but enjoy the trends in these three charts for now.

CLICK THE IMAGES TO SEE FULL SIZE




Saturday, October 13, 2012

On Second Thought: Patriots vs Seahawks

I shared some initial thoughts on the Seahawks game against the Patriots earlier in the week. A few more things have bubbled up after thinking more about the game, and doing a little more studying.

East Coast Bias

Nobody is talking about the cross-country trip the Patriots are having to make. Seattle has to do it all the time, but this will only be the ninth game in fourteen seasons for the Patriots on the West Coast. Two of those games came in the season when Tom Brady was injured in 2008. Overall, the Pats are just 5-3 on their trips to this side of the country, and only 1-2 when facing a team that had a winning record heading into the game. Travel is tough for teams like Seattle that do it all the time. It is even tougher for teams that don't do it.

Let It Rain

The weather forecast is looking pretty nasty. There was initially talk about a few showers, but that has now transitioned to a special weather statement that is predicting heavy showers in the afternoon and evening. There appears to be some wind coming with the rain. The Patriots are accustomed to playing in bad weather, but that is more about snow and cold. If the weather is as bad as the forecast is showing, neither team is likely to have much success passing the ball. Suffice it to say, that would change everything. Seattle can stop any running team in the NFL, especially when they can key on it. Much of the Pats running success has come out of shotgun formations, and often off of the no-huddle. They are not equipped to pound the ball down the Seahawks throat if they do not have the passing game to keep the defense honest.

Seattle would not be in much better shape offensively. They are certainly familiar with grinding it out in the running game, but the Pats are a far superior run defense than they are a pass defense. There figures to be plays to make in the passing game. One of the things John Schneider remarked about Russell Wilson when he drafted him was his abnormally large hands. Wilson's ability to still succeed with play-action in bad weather could be a major factor. Then again, when have weather forecasters ever been right?


Jonesing

In the unlikely event that the Patriots are able to run their no-huddle offense in a raucous CenturyLink Field, one guy to watch is Jason Jones. One way to combat the substitution issue the no-huddle presents is to have Jones on the field more often. He can play inside, but can switch to outside if the Seahawks can't get Bruce Irvin on the field. Red Bryant can flip inside to tackle in those situations. All this can happen without substitutions.  Even if they decide to leave Jones inside, he is a two-way player that can provide pass rush and be disruptive against the run. Alan Branch would be the player I would expect to see fewer snaps if Gus Bradley decides to go this route.


California Bill

One team comes into this game running a no-huddle offense with little dink and dunk passes and a college-influenced tempo. They have a suspect defense that gives up major chunks of yards, but has managed to get away with it because of their offense and because they have forced a few turnovers. That is what you call a finesse team. Yet, nobody would ever accuse Bill Belichick of being a finesse coach. The other team comes in with the top defense in the NFL, eschews the pass for a pounding run game, and has injured as many opposing defensive players as they have opposing offensive players. They are young, brash, and tough as nails. Pete Carroll is from California and shows emotion on the sidelines, so that somehow makes them less worthy of respect. Reality is defined by perception. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Fear No Man, No Team

Tom Brady and the Patriots roll into town this Sunday. There was a time, not that long ago, where I would have thrown in the towel before the wheels of the Patriot team jet touched down at Sea-Tac. Brady's hair, alone, clearly outclassed the Seahawks. Heck, his marriage to Gisele Bundchen may be a greater accomplishment than anything the Seattle football franchise has managed in 35-plus years of existence. Brady surely feels that way. He has won triple the Super Bowls Seattle has even appeared in. National media is doing nothing to challenge the expectation that New England has a nearly certain win in front of them. Twelve of fourteen ESPN "experts" pick the Patriots to win. Christian Fauria was heard on NFL Network predicting a three touchdown, or greater, win by New England. This is the number one offense in all of football, led by the ideal snarly football coach, with weapons all over the field. Worse yet, the Seahawks have the big bad 49ers a few days later, than the Lions. What is this poor little team from Seattle to do? I can tell you one thing they won't be doing. This group will not fear what comes. They will not "hope" they can win. This Seahawks team fears no quarterback, no team, no challenge. Neither should you.

The old Seahawks would face a handful of games every year where they were simply overmatched. They could not compete. Fans remember the feeling of these games. Think of how you felt prior to the match-up with the Steelers in Week 2 last season. We all knew what was coming. The same thing happened when the Giants rolled into town in 2010 after the Seahawks had lost half their defense to injury in a road game against the Raiders. There is a sense of gritting your teeth, and just holding on until the pain subsided. Even when the team has been good, there were these games where fans had little reason to believe the Seahawks could hang.

The Ravens game last year was a good example. Baltimore was too tough for a young Seattle team. The Seahawks may try hard. It would be cute, but in the end, irrelevant. Something strange happened in that game. It was the Seahawks who were delivering the big hits. It was the Seahawks who were running the ball with purpose and determination. And, with four minutes left to go, it was the Seahawks that drove the ball down the field and ran the clock down to zero for what was an inspiring victory. The trends are starting to show that this Seahawks team can stand up to any team.

Seattle has yet to trail in any game in 2012, at the end of any quarter, by more than a touchdown. Last season, they lost three games by a touchdown or more. That number was down from nine in 2010 and 2009. I have made the point before that Pete Carroll has done an amazing job of always having his team ready to play come game time. Evidence supporting that is the team has only had one game in each of his first two seasons where they trailed by more than a touchdown after the first quarter, and have zero such games this year. Jim Mora's team trailed by more than seven points after the first quarter a staggering five times in 2009, and Holmgren's final Seahawks team had it happen three times in 2008.

What's most impressive is the team has a chance to win heading into the fourth quarter of almost every game they have played in the past season. There has only been one game in the past nineteen when the Seahawks have trailed by more than a touchdown heading into the fourth quarter. They had eight such games in 2010 and 2009, and seven in 2008. This Seahawks team does not care who you are. It does not care who you are married to, how many Super Bowls you have won, or how often the NFL Network kisses your feet. When you face them, they will punch you in the mouth, and you will have to earn everything you get.

The score is the ultimate indicator, but take a look below the covers, and you will find more evidence. Twenty-six teams in the league average more than 300 yards of offense per game. It's not a hard number to reach in today's NFL. Seattle has faced the Packers, Cowboys and Panthers so far this season. Each team finished among the Top 11 offenses in 2011 in yards per game. Yet, no team that has faced Seattle in 2012 has reached the 300 yard mark.



There were eleven games where the defense yielded at least 300 yards the last two years, down from fourteen the previous two seasons. Said another way, the 2012 defense has already matched the total number of sub-300 yard games that both the 2011 and 2010 teams registered (5), and have blown past the 2009 and 2008 marks (2) with eleven games left to play.

It is a quarterback-driven league. Brady should cut through the little old Seahawks like a hot knife through butter, right? Think again. This team has been designed to make life miserable for quarterbacks.  Ask the five teams the Seahawks have faced so far.


No quarterback has managed a passer rating over 90.0 (min 10 attempts) or thrown two touchdowns in a game. Not Tony Romo. Not Aaron Rodgers. Not Sam Bradford. Not Cam Newton. Compare that to 2008 and 2009 when the Seahawks allowed a pitiful ten players to eclipse the 90.0 passer rating mark. This secondary is where quarterbacks and receivers come to die.

Seattle fans have become accustomed to taking on the role of of David, where every big name team that comes to face the Seahawks is Goliath. We are the bully on the block now. Tom Brady and the vaunted Patriots think they are coming to Seattle for a track meet. They think they will be able to silence the 12th man  with a fast-break offense. What they fail to realize is that this will be a steel cage match. Go ahead and try to run. Track meets don't last very long when you keep running into a metal wall. Seahawks fans should eagerly anticipate this challenge. They have a team that fears no man, and no franchise. They are teaching the rest of the NFL what fear is.

Zeek's Pizza + Hawk Blogger = Tasty Charity

Those of you that have read this blog for a while, know that I currently donate all proceeds I make from ads or reader purchases (tickets or gear links above) to Ben's Fund. We are really just getting started, and I am pleased to announce today what might be the best promotion yet.

Nothing goes better with football than pizza, and there is no better pizza in the Seattle area than Zeek's Pizza. Today, I am pleased to announce that 10% of every order you make with Zeek's Pizza will go directly to Ben's Fund when you mention "Hawk Blogger."

The call center's for Zeek's are prepped, and you must order via phone for this to work.

I will continue to look for great ways to tie charities I care about, the game I love, the team I love, and this blog together. If you have a business that would like to join the party, please email me.

For everyone else, eat some Zeek's Pizza! 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

PODCAST: Week 6 call with Softy

Softy and I had our weekly conversation about the Hawks. We talked Bobby Wagner, gave our reactions to the Panthers win, and looked forward to how the Seahawks will match-up to the Pats and their no-huddle. Enjoy!

***DOWNLOAD THE PODCAST***


Watch the replay of the Richard Sherman chat

We had a great time last night talking with future All-Pro Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman last night.

You can see the replay embedded below in the post from last night, or click here to see it directly on the Spreecast site. There are apparently some challenges with Chrome right now and Flash, so you may want to try a different browser if there are any problems watching.

Sherman and I talked about Steve Smith, what he's learned facing greats like Larry Fitzgerald, Greg Jennings and Steve Smith in the first part of the year, how Brandon Browner has developed, and how he handles all the people that cling to celebrities.

I spent 20-30 minutes answering some questions at the end. It was fun. We'll do it again sometime.

Huge thanks to Richard for putting up with some technical difficulties, and taking time out of his night to hang with fans.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Web Chat With Richard Sherman 8:30PM TONIGHT

I will be trying out a new service tonight, called Spreecast. Seth Everett reached out and asked if I would be interested in taking it for a spin. The idea is to have a web video conversation, combined with real-time chat.

My first guest will be Richard Sherman, future All-Pro Cornerback of the Seattle Seahawks. The format will consist of some questions I have for Sherm, as well as the chance for the audience members to submit some questions.

WHEN: 8:30PM PACIFIC

WHERE: http://www.spreecast.com/events/shermanchat or, see if the embedded item below works for you (I'm still learning)

WHO: RICHARD SHERMAN!

Formation Exploration: Seahawks Read Option

A play that was lost in the shuffle in the last game may be a sign of things to come. Immediately after the 56-yard bomb to Golden Tate was called back, the Seahawks faced a 2nd and 20. This was a hopeless situation for the Seahawks offense in the first four weeks of the season. Darrell Bevell dialed up a new wrinkle, the read option, and the team executed it perfectly for 19 yards. It is a play the Panthers use to great effect with Cam Newton, but is generally considered a gimmick in the NFL. Watch how it unfolded on Sunday.

CLICK ANY IMAGE TO ENLARGE


Zach Miller lines up at the top of the formation, before going in motion. He winds up at the bottom, near Russell Okung pre-snap.


The entire line crashes to their right. Miller is engaged with the right defensive end to the far right of the screen. Marshawn Lynch heads toward Russell Wilson, in what appears to be a standard hand-off from a shotgun formation.



Doug Baldwin gets a clean release off the line from the slot. Luke Keuchly is moving to fill where he believes Lynch will be going, leaving the middle of the field wide open. Note the timing here, where Miller is still engaged with the lineman on the right as if this is a running play.


Here's the same moment from a different angle. Look at the open space behind Kuechly, and how the Panthers entire defense, save one cornerback is above the hash mark, a sign of effective misdirection.


Wilson pulls the ball back and starts rolling to his left. You can now see that Miller has disengaged the lineman, and is releasing into a shallow pattern. Baldwin has continued his route across the field, and Kuechly is having an "Oh shit!" moment to Baldwin's top-left.


Note that Miller was wide open underneath, but Wilson chose to the deeper receiver. This is a big deal for Wilson, who has been making the conservative choice far too often in his first four weeks. If you watch the play in full speed, you see Wilson make a first read, come off of it and find Baldwin. It was a good sign of progress for Wilson.


Baldwin is poised to catch the ball with wide open space around him. Some people have asked for Wilson's receivers to "make plays" for him or get more yards after the catch. That becomes possible when the player's get the ball in space. Baldwin took this pass for another 10 yards after hauling in the pass.

Defenses will continue to load up against the run when facing the Seahawks. Showing misdirection plays like this will force them to stay disciplined, or risk giving up easy chunks of yards. This is play that puts Wilson in a great position to succeed as he is on the move, outside the pocket, with multiple options, including the possibility of scrambling. It should not be a foundation of the offense, the way it is at University of Oregon, or even as common as it is with the 250 lb Newton in Carolina, but it should be something we see 1-2 times each game.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Initial Thoughts On Patriots Match-Up

Admit it. When the Seahawks schedule was announced this year, you did not think there was any chance the team could go 3-0 versus the Cowboys, Packers and Patriots. Yet, that is exactly what is possible this coming Sunday. As exciting as that would be, the fan base and players would have about an hour to savor it before starting the 49ers in the eye a few days later. You can only beat one team at a time, though, so let's put on our thinking caps and examine what this Sunday might bring.

The Best Bobby Since Boucher

Bobby Wagner is the "other" rookie on this Seahawks squad. Apparently, there is some guy starting at quarterback as a rookie that is getting some attention. After him, there is another rookie on pace to tie the NFL record for sacks by a first-year player. Then, there is Wagner. All he has been asked to do is step in for the team's leading tackler over the last few seasons, and be the quarterback of a defense where he would be the only new starter. The coaches hedged on whether Wagner would take play-calling duties and man the middle linebacker position coming into training camp, knowing they could rely on 2nd year player, K.J. Wright. Wagner made it a moot point by showing Russell Wilson is not the only hard-working book worm in the bunch. Wagner has been setting the bar higher each and every week. His best game has been his last five weeks running. 

What really matters for this Patriots match-up is that the coaching staff has allowed Wagner to start playing in their nickel package. Why does that matter? First, Wagner may be better in coverage than in run support, and he's damn good against the run. His most notable impact plays during camp came when he read passes to runners coming out of the back-field and used his remarkable speed to step in front of passes for interceptions. Second, the Patriots no-huddle will make it harder to sub personnel in and out on defense. The more players can operate in multiple situations, the better. Wagner allows Gus Bradley to stay in base defensive personnel, but do some more flexible calls. 

Bruuuuuuce!

Bruce Irvin has become the impact player the team hoped for when they drafted him. He, however, will have the opposite situation of Wagner come Sunday. Irvin plays less than half the defensive snaps so far, and is generally subbed in for specific situations that indicate a more likely pass down. The no-huddle will make it harder to swap Red Bryant and Irvin. That could mean Bradley needs to leave one player, or the other, in for a series instead of specific situations. The Patriots rushing offense makes it hard to lean on Irvin. Their passing offense makes it hard to lean on Bryant. That's why Bradley gets paid the big bucks. Finding a way to get Irvin enough snaps without opening up the Patriots running game will be a key.

Patriots No Better Than Carolina Defending The Pass

There has been some hand-wringing that Russell Wilson's career-high passing yardage and strong 3rd-down performance was fool's gold, inflated by a terrible Panthers defense. Assume that is true for a second. Now, explain why he should have any tougher treading against the Patriots pass defense that is equal, or worse, than the Panthers in many categories. New England allows 44% of 3rd downs to be converted (25th in the NFL), compared to 46% for the Panthers. They allow 291.6 yards passing per game (30th in the NFL), a full 40 yards more than the Panthers. They have a cumulative opponent passer rating of 96.5 (22nd), where Carolina is at 92.2. No team in football has allowed more explosive pass plays of 20+ yards than the Pats. They have given up 27 such plays, averaging more than 5 per game! The Panthers allowed 11 fewer. No other team has allowed more than 23 explosive passing plays. Seattle has allowed 11, in case you were wondering. Oh, and remember those nice fat pockets Wilson was throwing from on Sunday? The Panthers had sacked Matt Ryan 7 times the week before, and rank 9th in the NFL in sacks. The Patriots check in at 19th, with only 9 sacks, for less than 2 per game. The Patriots are Juggernaut, that will be tough for anyone to beat, but there should be opportunities for this passing offense to make plays.

Blackjack!

Seattle will enter the game against the Patriots as one of only two teams that has not allowed an opponent to score 20 points or more. They can breathe easy because history indicates they can allow 21 and still have a good chance to win. Since the record-setting season in 2007, the Patriots have gone 8-13 when scoring 21 points or less in a game. That includes a 20-18 loss to the Cardinals this season. The trouble is, the offense rarely finds itself below that mark, and things get ugly when they score more than 21 points. New England is a stunning 59-5 when they score 22 points or more since 2007. One of those losses came this year, when they fell to the Ravens 31-30. Given this Seahawks offense remains in its formative stages, the team would be wise to find a way to hold the Pats at 21 points or fewer. 

Turnover Tales

Turnovers always matter. In this case, they help explain how the Patriots can look so dominant while giving up so many yards on defense. New England ranks 3rd in the NFL in takeaways, and 5th in giveaways, good for the 2nd-best turnover margin in the league. Tom Brady is a major part of this equation. For a team that has the 10th-most pass attempts in the league, the Pats have only thrown one interception. They throw a pick on 0.54% of their attempts. Yikes. The reality is the Seahawks have zero chance of winning this game if they turn the ball over. The plus side is if the Seahawks can take the ball away from the Pats, it will be an unfamiliar situation for them. 

12th Man Prep

Get ready, folks. This weekend will not only be about how well the Seahawks defense handles the no-huddle offense, it will be about how well the fans handle it. The noise level against the Packers was fantastic and constant. It will need to match that because there will not be many opportunities for down time. The waves of sound must come crashing down without interruption. Opposing teams are managing to escape the CLink without any false starts. Seattle is close to losing the lead for false starts since 2005. It is time for fans to pick up their game.