Thursday, November 29, 2012

PODCAST: Talking Russell Wilson, Bears and Seahawks with Softy

I had my weekly conversation with Softy about the sad facts about losing to Miami, why what he calls "panic," I call "reality." And we spoke about whether Russell Wilson deserves to be called a franchise quarterback yet.

Alternatively, here are instructions to subscribe manually in iTunes:

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Different Take On Sherman & Browner

Sometime Sunday afternoon, Adam Schefter reported that Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner were facing four-game suspensions for violating the league's performance-enhancing drugs (PED) policy. The immediate response from many Seahawks fans and various media was anger at these players, and fear about what this would mean for the rest of the Seahawks season. Those two feelings persisted, and may have even amplified in the days that followed. I understood why people had those feelings, but I did not share them. I am neither assuming both of these players are guilty, nor do I believe the team will crash and burn should they be suspended.

Save The Judging For Judges
It is a fact that Sherman and Browner failed a league drug test. It is also a fact that the results are supposed to be confidential because there is an appeals process. The appeals process exists because the results are not always right, or there may be circumstances that effect the outcome. We, as Americans, have a bad habit of rushing to judge a person before all sides have been heard and the final judgment has been made. Ask Leroy Hill how that worked out for him this past April when it was reported that he was arrested for drug possession, only to later find out it was someone who had been staying in his apartment while Hill was traveling that was at fault. Hill was cleared of all wrongdoing, but that report very well may have cost him millions of dollars on the free agent market, and you can be sure some portion of the population does not remember that he was cleared. Hope Solo was all over the front page a few weeks back for marrying Jerramy Stevens after he was arrested for suspicion of domestic violence. The Seattle Times ran a 500 word story today, buried in their sports section, where Solo publicly states she was not abused, and would never stand for it. The percentage of people that read that story versus the ones that read the first reports will be infinitesimal. For most people in the country, and maybe even around the world, a fantastic Olympic athlete is  now known more for being a willingly abused wife, even if that does not appear to be the reality.

Sherman and Browner both are up for Pro Bowl spots. Sherman has been in the running for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. They have no prior history, as Hill did, that would indicate drug use is part of their make-up. Sherman has been one of the most fan-friendly athletes in recent Seattle history. He makes time for people at public training camps. He interacts with fans on Twitter. He attends local events, and makes himself available for media more than most guys are willing to do.Yet, he and Browner are already being labeled as cheaters. What's worse, Seahawks fans in large numbers are rushing to be among the first to denounce them. For what? To be morally correct? I don't see how one could argue the moral choice is to disparage someone without knowing anything more than scant media reports. I much prefer to stand behind these players. The worst-case scenario is that I supported people I believe in when many people didn't, and would be disappointed if they are proven to have made a mistake. I can live with that far easier than finding out I participated in the character assassination of two people I cheer for, only to find out they were wrongly accused. Let fans from other teams tear down our Seahawks prematurely. I stand with them.

Good People Make Mistakes
Now, as confusing as it may be given the argument above, let's dive into what it says about these two players if they are found guilty. A prevailing opinion is that taking a PED means a player is a cheater. Getting away with holding a player's jersey is also cheating, but is often celebrated as "savvy" on the field, so there is clearly some spectrum of what is considered allowable when it comes to getting an edge over the competition. The specific substance both players are accused of taking, Adderall, is not a banned substance in the NFL. In fact, players that have a prescription from a doctor can legally take the drug. Those players have the same substance in their body as these two young men are accused of taking. Are those players cheaters? You may say the prescription proves they need the drug, but think about how many people you know that now have a prescription to take marijuana in Washington. It is not difficult to get a prescription for a drug that is illegal in most states. How sure are you that the players who are legally taking Adderall have a legitimate need for it?

Now that marijuana is legal here, employers are facing the dilemma about how to handle employees who are banned from taking a drug by their corporate policies that is deemed legal in this state. Are you a criminal for taking a legalized drug? People like life to be black and white. It is not.

Push it all the way to the limit for a moment. Assume that Sherman and Browner intentionally took a PED, and hoped to get away with it. Does that make them bad people? I have never met a person that did not make a mistake, and most have made some big ones that they really regret. The people that are arrogant enough to repeat those mistakes are the ones that lose my sympathy. Many of us drank alcohol before we were 21. Many smoked pot before it was legal. Nearly everyone breaks the speed limit, and often every day. There are laws and rules throughout our lives that we all challenge. It does not make us evil. It makes us human.

Some have said that taking PEDs intentionally is selfish, jeopardizes the teams a playoff chances, and the players should know that they disappointed the fans and city if that happens. All that is true and fair, again, if they are found guilty. No player should be excused for taking a PED. It should not be swept under the rug. I will be disappointed in these guys if the accusations turn out to be true. I will still support them, and cheer for them, and defend them against people will want to label them as cheaters and bad people. I was 24 once, and I am glad people have forgiven me for mistakes I made then. Now, if players were to repeat a mistake like this, they should be asked to find another team to play for.

Impact To The Defense
Should Seattle lose Sherman or Browner for suspension, injuries or otherwise, the impact may not be as great as many are predicting. First of all, the biggest problem on Seattle's defense right now is defending the run, which Sherman and Browner have little to do with. The team could have both players, and still not make the playoffs if the defense does not cure the problem there. The other major issue is lack of pass pressure and takeaways. The corners can play a role there by helping to create coverage sacks, but it has not translated that way so far. Both players are good at taking the ball from opponents, but teams are increasingly staying away from the outside of Seattle's defense to reduce their impact on the game. It is hard to take the ball away when you are not being targeted.

That brings us to the players that would potentially fill-in for the starters. The list includes: Walter Thurmond III, Byron Maxwell, Jeremy Lane, and Marcus Trufant. There are others that might find a place like DeShawn Snead off the practice squad, but let's stick with those four to start with. Thurmond exited training camp last season ahead of Sherman on the depth chart. He was the starting nickel back, and first in line to fill in for Trufant on the outside. He is possibly the most talented corner on this team. Yes, I said that. He is big enough to press, but agile enough to get in and out of breaks with the quickest of receivers. His coverage in the two games before his injury last season was fantastic. Only the coaches know whether he is back to form after his injuries, but even Carroll said on Monday that Thurmond was a "starting-caliber outside corner."  They like Thurmond in the nickel, but I would not be surprised to see him go outside.

Trufant has not done well in the nickel most of the year. It is possible that he would be better on the outside, while sliding someone else inside. That is the one I feel least confident about. Assume he stays put for the moment. That means you have the same slot corner you have had all year. Not great, but not a drop-off.

Maxwell is the guy most people know least about. He was drafted last year just like Sherman. He is a blend of Browner and Sherman, a big physical player like Browner who has some of the agility that Sherman brings. He started off slow in camp last year, but came on strong as it wrapped up, and was challenging for snaps when he got injured. Injuries have held him back, his skills have not. Maxwell showed the same tendencies as Browner and Sherman did when it came to physical play that would lead to penalties. He does not have their reputation in the league as elite corners, so I would expect him to draw flags at the rate those two did last season. At the same time, I'd expect him to blow a lot of guys up at the line of scrimmage, and be a better-than-average corner for this team. Some have accused me of rose-colored glasses, but I picked out Sherman and Browner from day one of camp last year, and feel comfortable in saying Maxwell would not be a disaster out there, and could even be a playmaker. He is a guy that would likely play on the outside.

Lane was rough in camp. He has tons of physical skill, but had a lot of trouble staying with receivers. Guys like Charly Martin that could come in and out of their breaks quickly gave Lane fits. He is a fierce competitor, and plays with a Sherman-like chip on his shoulder. He has been a fantastic special teams gunner in the last few games, as Sherman was last year before ascending to a starter. It is possible that he has made strides as a corner since the season started, and could help. I'd expect him to be the dime back.

Where Sherman and Browner really come into play is against the top-tier teams, especially the ones that rely on the pass with outside receivers. Atlanta is a good example. Playing the Falcons with those corners would be a completely different game than playing them without. It is not as clear that losing the pair would lead to certain doom.

Losing them would alter the defense, but that may not always be a bad thing. Gus Bradley could decide to get more aggressive with blitzes to help his coverage units. The team could discover they play better that way. There might be more turnovers, more sacks. I honestly can't say whether that is more likely than a big drop in play, but that's the point.

It is also important to point out the role that corners play in Carroll's defense. Scott Enyeart pointed out to me a couple of years ago that safeties play a far more integral role than corners. You have heard the names Troy Polamalu and Taylor Mays. Name a USC cornerback that played under Carroll. He does not ask a ton from that position. It is not a coincidence that Seattle has not drafted a corner before the fourth-round in Carroll's three years here. It is also debatable whether a player like Browner would be as valued by other teams that run a different defense. Of course, hitting big with highly talented corners is not a bad thing for Carroll, and he has taken advantage of what Sherman and Browner allow him to do. Fans should just keep in mind that Carroll has never needed top-flight talent at corner to field a great defense. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Live Web Cam Chat With Roy Lewis

You may have attended my first Spreecast a few weeks back when I interviewed Richard Sherman. I finally had the time to schedule another session, and am pleased to tell you former Seahawks cornerback and Husky, Roy Lewis will be joining me for a timely discussion about his health, what he has observed watching the Seahawks this year, and what he Seahawks fans should know about players like Byron Maxwell, Walter Thurmond and Jeremy Lane. We will also talk about how situations like the one happening with Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman are handled within an NFL locker room. Come join us, and you may get to ask Roy some questions as well!

WHEN: 11/28 8PM

Hawk Blogger 2012 Power Rankings: Week 12

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.

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.

Seattle drops a spot, but not more due to Green Bay and Pittsburgh laying their own eggs. The Bengals are a strong, late riser. The Seahawks take on their third Top 5 opponent this week. They are 1-1 against the other two.

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.

The Seahawks have dropped into the fifth tier of teams, along with the Packers and Steelers.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Morning After: Seahawks Lose Their Way, Fall To Dolphins 24-21

It is a good thing that the Seahawks all have legs, waists and torsos. They have shot themselves in the foot so often this season, they will need to start decimating other body parts. Pete Carroll may want to show his team a few episodes of The Walking Dead before the team returns to the road. In it, a group of regular people band together to survive relentless enemies on the road. They are forced to make impossible decisions in a split second, often choosing between life and death for them and the ones they love. The individuals grow stronger through the experience and the group becomes a family. Kill, or be killed. There is a simplicity of their reality, even in the face of what appear to be incredible complexities. There are some characters in the show that have been sheltered from the horrors of the road. They are living in denial, believing they are safe as long as they protect the little patch of land they call home. These two groups are setting up for a clash, and the smart money is on the ones who have stared down death on the road. Their adversity has wrought an unbendable will. Home is a luxury to them, not a necessity for survival. Guess which group the Seahawks are. Imagine what they could become.

Imagination may be the real problem for Seahawks fans. A team riddled with young Pro Bowl talent makes it easy to start envisioning greatness. The hard truth is mediocrity is clinging to this team, as it has to so many others in franchise history. The mediocrity may be more confounding this season, but it is there nonetheless. I could try to tell you why this loss to a weaker Miami Dolphins team was the worst of the year. I could tell you why it will be the game the team and their fans look back on as the reason their goals were not met. That just is not true. This loss is no worse than the one in Arizona, the one in St. Louis, or the one in Detroit. The team has provided fans with a veritable smorgasbord of regrettable losses to choose from.

I made the statement on Twitter yesterday that this loss ended the Seahawks season. That is certainly not factually accurate. Not only can the team still make the playoffs, but they still control their own destiny. Figuratively, the dominant team I expected to see this year is not there. That hope has largely been extinguished. Perhaps there is some good that comes from this latest road disaster. Maybe it catalyzes the team to a great finish that includes a pair of road victories. The evidence does not support it. Neither does my gut. There have already been plenty of reasons to alter game plans on the road, to be more aggressive. It has not happened. There has already been perfect opportunities to shed the label of road patsies. It has not happened. I have been a big fan of Gus Bradley, but it may be time to question his place on this team. To have this amount of talent, and to be so vanilla with it, while regressing as the season wears on, is unthinkable. It is not just one person. There simply aren't enough fingers to be able to point them at all the people who should be held accountable for the state of this team.

In the end, there is one man that must lead this group to realize their potential. The clock has officially started on the Pete Carroll era. With a franchise quarterback, and young talent all over the field, this team should be among the elite. Beating teams like Green Bay and New England, and taking the 49ers to the limit on the road shows this team is good enough right now. NFL history is full of championship teams that were built by one man, but found their stride with another. Carroll has proven he can assemble one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. He has yet to prove he can do any more than that. Until he does, his credibility as an NFL head coach remains in question. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A First In Miami

Back in 1998, Neil O'Donnell and the 1-2 Cincinnati Bengals marched into Baltimore to face Eric Zeier and the 1-2 Ravens. Priest Holmes had a massive game, rushing for 173 yards and two touchdowns. He would go on to have the first 1,000 yard season of his career.

Holmes and the Ravens got out to a huge 21-0 lead early in the 2nd quarter after Zeier found Jermaine Lewis for a 73-yard touchdown pass. The Bengals, though, roared back by scoring the game's next 17 points, including a Tremain Mack 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half. The Ravens finally found the endzone again with their own return for touchdown when Lewis took a punt back for 87-yards.

Jeff Blake subbed for O'Donnell, and found Carl Pickens for a 67-yard strike to bring the Ravens back to within four points at 28-24 in the 4th quarter. Alas, a late Matt Stover field goal iced it, and the Ravens won by a final score of 31-24.

Why should Seahawks fans care? That was the only other game in NFL history where a team passed for at least two touchdowns, had at least one takeaway, surrendered zero giveaways, and had a kick returned for a touchdown, but still managed to lose the game. That is, until today, when the Seahawks repeated the feat.

Don't worry Seahawks fans. Seattle gets to stand on its own since the Dolphins had no special teams touchdown of their own. The Seahawks managed to lose this one in an entirely new way. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Few Thoughts About Seattle vs. Miami

Pull that Seahawks gear off the hangar. The two weeks off for the bye may have felt like an off-season, but the boys get back work tomorrow in what likely will be a season-defining performance. A win puts Seattle three games over .500, and three victories shy of the ten victories they will need to join the post-season party. A loss would leave them only a game over .500 and in the unenviable position of needing to win four of their last five. The Dolphins are the perfect opponent. They are talented enough to provide meaningful opposition, but vulnerable enough to leave victory a realistic outcome. I have spent the last two weeks reading and listening to all things Dolphins, and have come away with a few observations.

Bag the Dime
Walter Thurmond is due back this week after a year of rehabbing an injury. He is a major talent in the secondary, and Pete Carroll mentioned he may get some snaps in the team's dime package. The problem there is that the Dolphins released Jabar Gaffney this week, and are barely comfortable with their two starting receivers, let alone adding a third and a fourth. They will play almost exclusively with two receivers, and often with two tight ends. The nickel package may not even see much of the field on Sunday. Thurmond will either need to wait another week, steal snaps from Marcus Trufant, or just get time on special teams. The return of K.J. Wright comes at a key time when discipline against the run and coverage against tight ends will be critical. Wright has not been especially strong in coverage this year. He needs to be on his game.

The Cowboy Slant
Tony Romo and the Cowboys are reliant on the slant pass an the hole shot along the sideline (over the corner, in front of the safety) to power their offense. Seattle devised a game plan in Week 2 that took away the inside slants by playing inside leverage, and pressing all day to disrupt the hole shots. Romo never really found the anecdote, in part, because Jason Witten kept dropping passes over the middle. The Dolphins offense were playing better than expected earlier in the year, largely because Ryan Tannehill displayed a great command of the slant pass. He delivers it quickly and accurately. Teams have started doing what Seattle did to Dallas, and take away those routes. The Miami offense has yet to find an effective counter-punch. Tight end Anthony Fasano is a fine player, but he is not a game-changer in the middle. Neither wide receiver is dynamic enough to go over the top or reliably nail other routes. Expect Seattle to take away the slant routes, and their corners are so good, that the outside should be largely taken away as well. Miami most likely try to get Reggie Bush in space via dump-offs, and screens. Seattle could see a dose of fullback Jovorskie Lane as well. Seattle has its biggest mismatch in their corners versus the Dolphins receivers. It could dictate the entire game.

Bush League
Seattle's run defense has been merely "very good" the last six games. The late bye week has taken its toll on this aspect of the team, but the Seahawks defensive line should come back refreshed and ready to battle. Fans should see the greatest difference in play this week along that line. The Dolphins have been struggling on both lines the last few weeks. Their yards per attempt has dropped to 3.5, and the scuffling running game has led to an increase in pass attempts, which has led to an increase in interceptions. Runners like Bush have given Seattle trouble in past years, because of their ability to bounce the runs outside. Seattle is built to funnel all the runs to the meat in the middle. Players who can break that contain can find some running room. The tough part for Miami is that their tight ends are below average blockers. They will definitely have a tight end to help their tackle against Red Bryant all game, but look for Bryant to have his most disruptive game of the year. Bryant's ability, with the help of Wright, to force Bush back inside could make things ugly for the Dolphins. The better plan will be for them to attack Chris Clemons and Leroy Hill with Jake Long and whoever else they bring to that side. This is predictable, and the Seahawks should be waiting for it. Bobby Wagner will have chances to make plays behind the line of scrimmage on toss plays. He needs to be a sure tackler. The Dolphins only chance at offensive success is getting the running game going. The Dolphins are not built for 3rd and long situations in general, but could be in real trouble against a Seattle secondary that will be the best they face all year.

Psychology Favors Seattle
The last two weeks took a lot out of the Dolphins. They had been 4-4, heading into winnable games against the Titans and Bills. They were embarrassed by the Titans, and were talking about how happy they were to have a quick turnaround for a Thursday game versus the Bills, before getting beat up there as well. The Miami Herald has been running articles about free agency decisions the team will have. The local media is writing about playing young guys instead of veterans like Gaffney so they can find out what they have on the roster. They have played a very easy schedule so far, and now face three straight against Seattle, New England and San Francisco. There is general sense of acceptance that this team will soon be 4-9. They are searching for confidence, but see little reason for it.

Seattle, on the other hand, is more concerned with the team's performance on the road thus far, the challenges of traveling across country and playing at 10AM PST. They have proven they can beat the best teams in football. They have improved on 3rd downs. They have improved in the red zone. Playing well on the road is the last place to prove themselves. The team and coaches have spent the last two weeks with that in mind. They should be primed to give their best road effort of the season. Effort does not always equal good result, but it certainly increases the chances.

Ready For Russell
The Dolphins feature a stout interior line that will make it hard to run up the middle. The guys that have been gashing Miami are quick backs like Chris Johnson and C.J. Spiller. It is not clear that Seattle will run effectively up the gut. The Dolphins secondary is suspect. This adds up to needing Russell Wilson to have a solid game on the road. Cameron Wake will be hell-bent on wreaking havoc in the back-field, and will likely swap over to go against Breno Giacomini on occasion. Look for Zach Miller to spend some time helping on Wake so that Wilson has some time to find receivers. This could be a great game for the Seahawks to utilize their new screen game, and also a good time for Doug Baldwin to find some open space as a release valve for Wilson. Wilson's number one priority needs to be eliminating turnovers on the road. He can have a moderate day statistically, and still lead the team to a victory if he can avoid giving the ball away. The Seattle defense has enough advantages over the Miami offense that Wilson could have some short fields to work with, and possibly even some points he didn't create. Wilson has shown he can play a professional game, and that's what the team needs this week.

Friday, November 23, 2012

TUNE IN: Hawk Blogger Broadcast of Seahawks vs. Dolphins

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. Dolphins game


WHY? Nonsensical and obnoxious national commentary gets old really fast. I will try to proved a more 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

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Play Breakdown: Seahawks Rediscover the Screen Pass

There has been some level of debate about just how good the pass protection has been for Russell Wilson. The facts are that the Seahawks have given up the 10th-fewest sacks in the NFL, but are ranked 20th in sack surrendered as a percentage of pass attempts (a big drop after they gave up four vs the Jets). Both are significantly improved over last season when Seattle finished among the bottom five teams in football in both categories. Some will tell you that Wilson's elusiveness in the pocket is the key to the improvement. Others will credit the offensive line. The unspoken element is the play-calling of Darrell Bevell. Specifically, the use of play-action passes on a high percentage of throws has a direct effect on defensive players ability to rush the passer aggressively. A new element has emerged from Bevell's playbook in recent weeks that has a similar impact on pass rushers. The screen pass has returned to Seattle. Seahawks fans that are old enough to remember John L. Williams and Dave Krieg know the screen pass very well. It was a staple of the Chuck Knox offenses, and was a deadly counter-punch when used effectively.

Bevell has dabbled with it in the last two games, in a way that reminds me of the way he dabbled with the read-option against Carolina. That scheme emerged more and more over the past few weeks as the team got more comfortable with it. The same may be happening with the screen game. Take a look at the two very different approaches the Seahawks took with the screen pass in the Jets and Vikings game. First, we will explore the play against the Jets.

Click any image to zoom

2nd & 10 @ NYJ 47 with 5:11 left in the 2nd quarter

Seattle lines up in a 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB formation. The Jets have two linebackers in the box, and four down lineman. After the snap, the Jets linebackers drop into zone coverage.

Marshawn Lynch leaks out to the left, and Wilson scans the field, looking like he is going to throw to a receiver. Doug Baldwin is open underneath, and it is possible Wilson had the option to throw there. Two lineman are already leaking out the left with Lynch, so there is no doubt the screen is a designed play. The only question is whether it was the primary read for Wilson. This is different than the classic screen where the quarterback is back-pedaling in the hopes of baiting the lineman deep into the back-field before he throws it over their heads. The receiver, I believe to be Golden Tate, is running his man off the play deep down-field, leaving a gaping hole on the left side.

Wilson waits until the Jets lineman are right on him, and then executes a shovel pass to Lynch.

At this point, Seattle has two lineman, and Lynch against just a single defender on that half of the field. 

The first lineman, Paul McQuistan, whiffs on his block, but interferes enough with the defender to allow Lynch to run by untouched. John Moffitt is still leading the convoy, and can pick which defender he wants to erase.

Antonio Cromartie is getting blocked at the 25, and Lynch has still gone untouched at the 35 with Moffitt leading the way.

Lynch is finally tackled by Cromartie at the 21, after a 26-yard gain.

Now, look at the inside screen run in the Vikings game.

2nd & 10 @ SEA 37 with 11:12 left in the 4th quarter

Seattle lines up with 2 tight ends, 2 WRs, and 1 RB. Golden Tate comes in motion toward the line. The two tight ends are on the left side off the formation, which draws two of the Vikings eight defenders in the box that side of the formation. The Vikings are geared up for the run.

Lynch slides out to the right, as do a couple of his lineman. Sidney Rice is occupying the corner and safety on that side with a go route. Tate runs a crossing pattern that holds the linebacker on that side, and occupies the middle linebacker who appears to have zone responsibility. Both tight ends are out in patterns.

Wilson has yielded some ground and got the ball out to Lynch, with what now is three lineman in front of him. There is one Viking defender on his side of the field within 20 yards of him. Unlucky for that guy. Tate has effectively pulled his defender away from the play with his crossing pattern.

Lynch chooses to take the play inside. It is unclear whether it was designed to be an inside screen, or he just read it that way. Check out the lineman running from left to right and the defender to Lynch's right. He's about to go bye-bye.

Breno Giacomini eliminates the nearest threat, and Lynch is off to the races. He ends up running all the way back across the field for a 23-yard gain.

Closing Thoughts
Two plays in two weeks does not a trend make, but this has not been part of the offensive approach for a number of years, so it stands out. The fact that both plays were extremely effective would make most coaches explore it further. These are timing plays, and require a lot of repetition. Even if they are only a minor part of the offense, the threat of these sorts of plays will give defensive coordinators headaches. Seattle ran one from a passing formation and one from a running formation. Players have enough trouble tackling Lynch when he runs right into them. Tackling him with 2-3 lineman acting as body guards is nearly impossible. Keep an eye out to see how this evolves over the rest of the season.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Podcast: Week 11 Conversation with Softy

Softy and I talked about Colin Kaepernick's debut, what Seattle needs to do on the road, and why I am not paying a ton of attention to the NFC West division race.


You can always subscribe to Hawk Blogger Podcasts in iTunes

It is all about the Seahawks

Many Seahawks fans spent the bye weekend watching teams play from across the NFL. The most common question I was asked was, "Do we want team X or team Y to win in order to help the Seahawks?" It is a natural question, especially during a week when a Seahawks fan has no other rooting interest. It also is an annual tradition in Seattle, since Seahawks fans are so accustomed to being right on the edge of the playoffs. The franchise has a career record of 275-299. The team has finished with between 7-9 wins in twenty of their thirty-six seasons. Fans have become so accustomed to mediocrity that scoreboard watching is second-nature. I am no different. Usually, I am no different.

This season, I can't bring myself to care that much about who wins and who loses. I am not combing the playoff scenario sites trying to figure out which teams might be the biggest threat to Seattle's playoff hopes. The reason is that this team should not squeak into the playoffs. It should not win a complex series of tie-breakers, or hold its breath the last week hoping another team will lose. Part of how I am measuring this Seahawks team is whether they back into the post-season, or kick the door in.

Nine victories would be a massive disappointment for a team this talented, especially during a season in which they beat Green Bay, New England, and Dallas. Success this year must include at least ten wins. That is part of why this week is so important. A win puts some distance between Seattle and a .500 record. The goal is to be at least four games over .500, and they are currently just two. One victory in St. Louis, Arizona, San Francisco or Detroit would have the team at four games over. That is how critical each game can be.

I also get questions about whether I think Seattle can still win the division, albeit much fewer of those after the 49ers massacre on Monday night versus the Bears. I am not tracking that either. San Francisco may stumble. Seattle may finish with a flourish. I only care about the latter half of that equation. If Seattle goes 5-1 down the stretch, and finishes 11-5, I don't really care if the 49ers finish 11-4-1. Well, maybe I'd care a little...

The point is that this season is about how good the Seahawks can be. It is not about making the playoffs. It is not about division titles. It is not about what other teams hand to Seattle. It is about what Seattle can take. They exit the bye week with glory sitting in front of them, waiting to be seized. I will be watching to see if they take it. Forgive me, if I ignore the other teams who have their eyes on the same prize.

Hawk Blogger 2012 Power Rankings: Week 11

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.

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 Seahawks remain steady at #10. They have already played four of the teams in the Top 15 so far, going 3-1. The 49ers, by comparison, have faced five teams in the Top 15, and have gone 3-2. Seattle plays two teams in the Top 5 the rest of the way, and the rest sit at #20 or later.

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, November 19, 2012

Seahawks Secondary Remains Underrated

Seattle has the best secondary in the NFL. The evidence continues to mount that this is a unit that no quarterback wants to face, even if the national recognition remains elusive and the local attention is inconsistent.

Many Seattle radio stations have belittled the last two Seahawks secondary efforts, as they came against questionable competition. Christian Ponder is just a second year player, and Mark Sanchez is a disaster, right? All Ponder did the week after his loss to the Seahawks was go 24-32 for 221 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions in a 34-24 win over Detroit. The week before the game against Seattle, Ponder threw for 251 yards and a touchdown. Sanchez followed his game against the Seahawks by going 15-20 for 178 yards, 1 touchdown and zero interceptions for a 118.3 rating. Elite secondaries punish weaker opposition. Ponder and Sanchez are more than capable of rising up and winning a game. The fact that the did not do that against Seattle deserves praise, not indifference.

The Seattle secondary has not just prayed on the weak. They have faced three of the top four rated passers in the NFL in Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Alex Smith. Rodgers and Brady had their lowest-rated games of the year against Seattle, and Smith had his second-lowest. Brady had another stellar game yesterday when he threw for another three touchdowns with zero interceptions. He has thrown one interception all season when playing teams not named Seattle. The Seahawks intercepted him twice, and certainly should have had at least one more when Earl Thomas dropped a pick-six in the end zone. Brady's touchdown-to-interception ratio against the rest of the NFL is 19:1 this year, and was 2:2 against the Seahawks. His passer rating is 106.6 against the rest of the league, and was 79.3 versus Seattle.

Rodgers has 27 touchdowns on the year, for an average of 3.0 in games against the rest of the NFL. He had a goose egg in Seattle. Say what you want about the Golden Tate touchdown at the end of that game, but it there was nothing controversial about the Seahawks shutting Rodgers out of the end zone. His rating against Seattle was 81.5. It is 110.5 against the rest of the NFL, including 93.3 against the 49ers, 85.3 against the Bears, and 133.8 against the Texans.

Smith is completing 71.1% of his passes against the rest of the league, but managed just 61% versus the Seahawks. His rating was 74.5 when facing the Seahawks, and 107.6 against the rest of the NFL.

This Seahawks secondary is worth every ounce of hype they had going into the season, and deserve more recognition for what they have done. The one element that has been missing has been more takeaways, and there is reason to believe quarterbacks like Ryan Tannehill, Jay Cutler, Ryan Fitzpatrick and John Skelton/Ryan Lindley/Kevin Kolb will be in a giving mood in the coming weeks.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Rookie QB Comparison: Calm in the Clutch

Part I: Performance vs. Top 10 Defenses
Part II: Trended Performance Over First Three Months
Part III: Home vs. Road Performance
Part IV: Performance on Deep Throws
Part V: Calm in the Clutch

Quarterbacks are measured at the combine by their height, weight, arm strength, and accuracy. It is their performance in clutch situations, however, that defines the measure of their careers in the NFL. Playing the best when it matters most is what separates great players from very good ones. Defining clutch play for rookie quarterbacks that have never received a snap in a playoff game yet requires a little projection. For the purposes of this article, we will look at 3rd downs, red zone, 4th quarter play, and game-winning drives.

Russell Wilson finishes first or second in every category except the last two minutes of a half, where he finishes third. His strengths are in the red zone, and in the fourth quarter. The red zone performance has been a work-in-progress that has seen Wilson make significant strides in the last five games. His third-down performance has also sky-rocketed from what was a mid-40s rating after four games, to his over-80 performance now. His fourth quarter play drops a bit if the game is close, which is not exactly clutch. Wilson plays reasonably well when trailing, albeit below his normal level of play (90.5 is his overall passer rating). He steps up when the game is tied, and already has two game-winning drives.

Brandon Weeden is the anti-Wilson as he finishes worst, or second-to-worst in every category. He is struggling in tie games and in the red zone, in particular. Ryan Tannehill is not a ton better. He is the only player without a game-winning drive to this point. It is more remarkable that all the others already have one, than that a rookie quarterback does not. What jumps out on Tannehill is his performance at the end of halves. That 8.0 rating is not a typo. He is 8-24 for 102 yds, no touchdowns and 4 interceptions in those situations. He is also struggling on third downs, where he is worst among the group.

Robert Griffin III finishes second or first in every category other than when the game is tied and in game-winning drives, where he finishes third. His red zone rating and play when trailing are the only two situations where he plays better than his overall rating (93.9). Part of clutch play is raising your play in important situations, but part of it is maintaining your performance no matter the situation. Griffin gets good scores for clutch play thus far.

Luck excels in what may be the two most important predictors of clutch play, the last two minutes of a half, and game-winning drives. He struggles in the red zone, on third downs and in the fourth quarter. His struggles in the fourth quarter would seem to indicate his clutch play in the last two minutes is generally happening at the end of the first half. Either that, or he struggles in the fourth until the last two minutes.

There are clearly three players, Luck, RG3 and Wilson that are showing signs of becoming clutch players. The other two are far off the pace. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Rookie QB Comparison: Chicks Dig The Long Ball

Part I: Performance vs. Top 10 Defenses
Part II: Trended Performance Over First Three Months
Part III: Home vs. Road Performance
Part IV: Performance on Deep Throws
Part V: Calm in the Clutch

In the fourth installment of this comparison of the 2012 rookie quarterback class we will take a look at the difficulty of their throws. Some have been quick to point out that Russell Wilson, for example, is not being asked to throw the ball down-field all that often, as a way of questioning just how impressive his numbers really are. ESPN does a nice job of breaking out all the quarterbacks throws by distance. The table below shows the cumulative numbers for each rookie quarterback on throws traveling more than 20 yards in the air.

Wilson has attempted fewer throws, overall, than any of the rookies that have started since week one. Interestingly, he has attempted more deep throws than two of the others, and by a rather healthy margin. That is because the percentage of his throws that travel more than 20 yards is 2nd-highest in his class. This would seem to throw into question the caveat some have been using about the difficulty of his throws. He throws less often than other quarterbacks, but he is far from a dink-and-dunk passer.

Robert Griffin III has the fewest deep attempts, but has a sparkling 114.2 rating on those throws. Most of that comes from throws 21-30 yards, where he has a nearly perfect 156.0 rating. He is only 1-12 on throws longer than 30 yards, although that one completion resulted in a touchdown, and he has no interceptions. Ryan Tannehill, similarly, has a fantastic 94.0 rating on deep throws. Unlike RG3, he has excelled on the deepest of throws. He has a 141.0 rating on throws 31-40 yards down field, where he is 4-7 with one touchdown and no interceptions. Andrew Luck has thrown the most deep balls and the highest percentage of them, but his rating is 2nd-lowest on throws of this nature.

If any of these players should be questioned about the difficulty of their throws, it should be RG3 and Tannehill. They are throwing less of these throws, both in absolute numbers, and as percentage of their overall pass attempts than their counterparts. Wilson, Brandon Weeden, and Luck may not have the high passer rating on these throws, but nobody can deny they are being asked to make these challenging throws at high rates. 

Rookie QB Comparison: Taking Their Show On The Road

Part I: Performance vs. Top 10 Defenses
Part II: Trended Performance Over First Three Months
Part III: Home vs. Road Performance
Part IV: Performance on Deep Throws
Part V: Calm in the Clutch

An important aspect of evaluating any quarterback is whether they can lead their team on the road. Defenses bring out their most exotic looks when playing in front of their home crowd. Offenses tend to be more jittery and struggle with communication due to crowd noise. Let's look at how the rookie quarterbacks from this year are faring so far.

Russell Wilson has made headlines with a home passer rating that not only leads all rookies, but leads all NFL quarterbacks. The flip side is that he has had the worst road passer rating of any of the rookie quarterbacks. He is roughly half the player on the road, up until now. It should be noted that three of his five road contests came in the first four weeks of the season, and we know that he is a much different quarterback now than he was then. His last road game was against Detroit, a Top 10 defense, where he finished with a 96.8 rating.

Robert Griffin III has been sterling on the road. That is a great sign for his development. The Redskins played three of their five road games in the first month of the season, when Griffin surprised NFL defenses with his talent and style of play. His last two road games were against the Giants and the Steelers (another Top 10 defense), and his results were mixed. He has not yet had a breakout game against a top defense on the road the way Wilson has. That is a next step to look for, but it is hard to argue with Griffin's ability to lead his team on the road.

One of the most fascinating findings was how much better Brandon Weeden has been on the road. Weeden has faced some of his toughest competition away from home, including the Giants, Baltimore (also at home), Cincinnati and the Colts. I don't know how Weeden is treated by the home crowd, but the team has been bad, so one explanation may be that he and the team are playing more care-free away from the judging home fans.

Andrew Luck is barely better than Wilson on the road. He has won his last two road games, however, while posting passer ratings of 89.5 and 80.1. Neither Tennessee nor Jacksonville qualifies as a tough road opponent, so it will be interesting to see if Luck can play well @Detroit or @Houston later this season.

Ryan Tannehill is the same mediocre player no matter where he is. Now, there is something to be said for consistency. If he can start to improve his play, it looks like it should transfer to wherever field his team is on.

Rookie QB Comparison: Not Every Rookie QB Improves

Part I: Performance vs. Top 10 Defenses
Part II: Trended Performance Over First Three Months
Part III: Home vs. Road Performance
Part IV: Performance on Deep Throws
Part V: Calm in the Clutch

Everyone knows how challenging it is to succeed as a rookie quarterback in the NFL. Very few have done it. The natural expectation is that a rookie will struggle early, and progress as the season moves along. This would seem especially true with quarterbacks, who are facing defensive sets and talent they have never seen before. Over time, quarterbacks become more familiar with what their opponents are doing, and vice versa. One test of a quarterback is do they start catching up with defenses, or do the defenses catch up to them? Take a look at home each of the current rookie quarterbacks has fared on a month-by-month basis:

Andrew Luck was largely the same player in September and October, but has really popped in November. Robert Griffin III got off to a flashy start, but has started sliding back. Ryan Tannehill had a great October, but has been largely ineffective the rest of the year. Brandon Weeden had a solid October, but has been poor other than that. Russell Wilson has made steady, and significant, steps forward in each month. He has done this while facing the toughest competition of the five rookies.

The RG3 numbers deserve an asterisk as he has only played one game in November. Still, there is some evidence that NFL defenses are catching up to his style of play. Luck and Wilson are showing signs of catching up to the defenses they are facing, and in some cases, dominating them. Wilson is about to go on the road, where he has not performed as well, for two games against tough defenses. We will check back to see if his progress is sustained after those match-ups. Regardless, his progress to this point is eye-opening.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Rookie QB Comparison: Wilson's Faced Toughest Competition

Part I: Performance vs. Top 10 Defenses
Part II: Trended Performance Over First Three Months
Part III: Home vs. Road Performance
Part IV: Performance on Deep Throws
Part V: Calm in the Clutch

Before anyone crowns Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, they may want to take a look at the story behind the statistics. This is the first in a series of articles comparing the rookie quarterback class of 2012. First up, let's take a look at how each has stacked up against the best defenses in the NFL.

The table below shows how many games each player played against a Top 10 defense (based on opponent yards per game), how many games versus a Top 10 pass defense (based on opponent passer rating), and the cumulative total games played against Top 10 defenses (either yards or passer rating). Note, some defenses are both Top 10 in yards against and opponent passer rating, so those games are counted in both columns. To get the cumulative passer rating against the discrete opponents, take a look at the last column.

The first thing you might notice is that Wilson's cumulative rating against Top 10 defense is higher than either of his individual splits. It did not make sense to me at first, either. Wilson was the only player to face two teams that were both Top 10 in opponent yards and Top 10 in opponent passer rating, and he threw an interception against both, so those showed up in both of the first two columns. Those are only counted as single games in the last column. If you would like to check for yourself, his splits are here. The Top 10 yardage defenses he faced are: @ARZ, DAL, @DET, @SF, and the Top 10 pass defenses he faced are: @ARZ, GB, NYJ, @SF.

His totals in the six games versus Top 10 defenses are:

YARDS: 980
TD: 8
INT: 3

Wilson has faced some of the best defenses in the NFL, and is playing at almost the same rate against those defenses (87.1) as he is overall (90.5). The other rookie quarterbacks are well off their ratings when facing these tougher opponents.

Luck's yards per game against these defenses is amazing. Wilson really makes his statement in efficiency with the highest percentage of touchdowns per attempt and the lowest percentage of interceptions per attempt. Robert Griffin III technically is lowest on the interception rate, but he's played only one game. Luck has the second-highest interception rate, and look at how dismal Tannehill and Weeden's touchdown rates are.

Wilson has faced the toughest competition and had the highest rating thus far. Level of competition matters when evaluating teams, and players. Wilson is clearly leading the pack.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Podcast: Bye Week Call With Softy

Softy and I had our weekly Seahawks chat. We talked about where the team is, and where it could potentially go the rest of the year.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hanging Out With Field Gulls Tonight @ 7:30

Hey all,

Kenneth Arthur and Jacson Bevens, over at invited me to a Google Hangout this evening. They are a combination video and chat session, and something I've been meaning to play with myself. Stop by, and talk some Hawks tonight!

More info, including instructions, can be found here.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

REVISED: Grading John Schneider's Draft Picks

Back in August, I took a stab at grading all of Pete Carroll and John Schneider's draft picks through their first three off-seasons. I took a moment to update my grades based on player performances through ten games of this season. Injuries have knocked some player's down on performance. Stellar play has brought some people up. Keep in mind, I am trying to grade the draft choice, not necessarily the player. In other words, picking Andrew Luck with the first overall pick would not score at the top of this list because it required no special ability to evaluate talent. Drafting Russell Wilson in the 3rd round? That deserves some recognition. That does not mean Wilson is a better player than Luck. Hopefully, that makes sense. 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. This factor is weighted 1.5X the others, as performance is what matters most.

There is obviously more projection involved in players drafted this year that have not played a full 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. Greg Scruggs feels a little high, but he has performed well in limited action. I also greatly value interior pass rushers, who are among the hardest talents to find, so getting one in the 7th round gets props. James Carpenter feels a little low, but a starting guard in the first round is just not a great value pick. If he becomes a perennial Pro Bowl player, that would make the value aspect go up, as those are harder to find. Some may question the Sweezy spot, but he is a likely starter in the future, and was a fantastic value pick. I'm still a huge believer in Doug Baldwin, but his injuries have reduced his overall performance score.

Richard Sherman is a worthy top choice. Kam Chancellor has been getting a little less respect lately in local media, where a number of folks have put him as the fourth-best player in that secondary. I see it differently. Kam is Adrian Wilson reincarnate. His production has not been as high this season, so I knocked him down a bit, but his upside and value are outstanding as a draft choice. Russell Wilson zooms up the charts as his performance has outpaced expectations.

As far as best overall draft goes, the 2012 draft totals 5,101 points, or 463 points per player. The 2010 draft totals 3,791 points, or 421 points per player. The 2011 draft class totals 3,775 points, or 378 points per player.

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

Seahawks Road Woes Overblown

You hear it everywhere. This Seahawks team is a different animal at home. If only they could only bring their home play on the road. I have fallen into the trap as well, and it is understandable. Seattle is a perfect 5-0 at CenturyLink Field, and a dismal 1-4 on the road. This is a bottom line league, and the bottom line is the Seahawks are getting vastly different outcomes depending on where they play. But like so many things, the perception is out of whack with reality. Seattle is not far from being a formidable road team.

Seattle has lost @Arizona, @St. Louis, @San Francisco, and @Detroit. They held a lead in each of those games, were ahead in the second half in three of the four, and ahead in the fourth quarter in two of the four. They lost by 4, 6, 7, and 4, for a 5.3 average margin of defeat. That does not exactly qualify as getting outclassed.

When comparing overall performance at home versus the road, a few key areas jump out. One, in particular, looks to be crucial.

Seattle averages 0.8 giveaways at home and a whopping 2.2 on the road. If there was only one stat the Seahawks could change on the road, this would be the one. It leads to shorter fields for the opposing offense. It increases opponent time of possession. And it has, on occasion, led directly to a defensive touchdown. Even in Seattle's lone road victory, they turned the ball over three times. It took a herculean effort by the Seahawks defense, possibly their best of the season, to overcome those mistakes. Seattle is showing signs of improvement there. There were two turnovers against the Lions, but one of those was on the game's final play when the Seahawks were lateraling the ball around to try and score. The other came on a bomb to an open Sidney Rice along the right sideline. Russell Wilson is 100% the key here. He is improving steadily, and should be better equipped to make good decisions, regardless of location.

Red Zone
Seattle has climbed out of the cellar in terms of red zone offense. They are now 20th in the NFL, after being 30th or worse all season. They are 11th in the NFL in red zone efficiency at home, but only 27th in the NFL on the road. They score a touchdown on 60% of their home red zone possessions, and only 35% of their road red zone possessions. This is showing up in the points column. Seattle averages 24.6 points at home, and 15 points on the road. They are getting an almost identical number of opportunities (3.0 red zone possessions per game at home versus 2.8 on the road), so this is about execution. Bringing their red zone numbers up to match their home production would have added 12-16 points to their total, and raised their scoring average 2-3 points per game. When you are losing by five points per game, that matters. Seattle has been scoring touchdowns at a 72% clip the last three games in the red zone, including 2-3 (66%) in their last road game in Detroit.

Sacks + Takeaways
The Seahawks defense averages 3.4 sacks and 1.8 takeaways at home versus 2.2 sacks and 1.4 takeaways on the road. They have been largely content to play fundamentally sound defense away from Seattle, but they have not been dynamic. The Seahawks are 9-1 in the last two seasons when sacking the quarterback three or more times in a game. Their only loss was 6-3 in Cleveland last year with Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback and Marshawn Lynch out with back spasms. They have one game this year on the road with more than two sacks, and that was the four-sack effort at Carolina. They need to warm it up. The Seahawks are a perfect 8-0 in Pete Carroll's tenure when taking the ball away three or more times in a game. They did it for the first time this year in the Jets game. They did it three times last year on the road. It has to be part of the formula.

Seattle is not a different team at home and on the road. We have seen Jekyll and Hyde teams before. This is not one of them. They are in every game, and should have won at least a couple of the ones that got away. Improvement in a few key areas could make this team a very unwelcome guest. 

Hawk Blogger 2012 Power Rankings: Week 10

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.

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 Seahawks climb into the Top 10. Seattle has already played three of the teams in the Top 10 so far, going 2-1. Combined with their win against the Vikings, that gives them three victories over Top 15 teams. I don't believe any other team has accomplished that.

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. Seattle has clawed into the third tier of teams.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Things I Think Ten Games In

Seattle heads into the bye week with a 6-4 record. It is a record that elicits a collective shoulder shrug from most. Not exactly great, but better than what many predicted. I had Seattle down for 7-3 at this point, but was only correct in predicting four of the ten games. I flipped a coin to pick whether the team would beat the Packers or the Patriots because I knew they would win one of those. Low and behold, they won both. The road game in Carolina looked dangerous from the get-go, and turned out to be the only road win thus far. Part of what we love in sports, especially the NFL, is how impossibly unpredictable each season, each game, each play is. Seattle's season has been no different. Not everything has been unpredictable, though, and we have learned some things that should remain constant for years to come.

Seattle Has A Franchise QB
People are saying this, without saying it right now. I'm saying it. Got that? Russell Wilson is going to be the Seahawks quarterback as long as Pete Carroll is coaching. If I had to bet, Wilson will be quarterbacking in Seattle after Carroll moves on. Only ten rookie quarterbacks in the history of pro football have finished with a passer rating over 80.0. Only eight of those quarterbacks played in the NFL. Only one NFL rookie has ever finished with a passer rating over 90.0 (Ben Roethlisberger). Wilson stands at 90.5. The most touchdowns ever thrown by a rookie quarterback in the NFL was 26, by Peyton Manning. Wilson is on pace for 24. Only two players have ever completed more than 62% of their passes as rookies. Wilson is at 62.1%. He's completing 67.9% in his last three games. This is a player who was struggling so mightily on 3rd downs early in the season that his passer rating was 45.5 in those situations after the Rams game. He has raised that to 80.3 only six games later (which means he is performing well above that number during that time). His red zone passer rating is 104.2. Take a look at how that compares to some of the greats in the game today:

Aaron Rodger: 117.0
Drew Brees: 106.4
Russell Wilson: 104.2
Tom Brady: 102.9
Peyton Manning: 102.6
Matt Ryan: 98.8

Wilson stood with a 67.2 rating in the red zone after the Rams game. Say what you will about being aided by a strong running game and a great defense. Say what you want about simplified game plans and shorter throws. The kid is getting it done, and he not the first rookie quarterback to play with those benefits. Ben Roethlisberger did it. Mark Sanchez did it. Joe Flacco did it. Tom Brady did it. It is not reserved for rookies, either. Alex Smith did it last year, and still does this year. There are plenty of players the Seahawks could drop into their quarterback position who would not be able to reproduce Wilson's numbers. A handful would do better. The vast majority would do worse.

Part of the simpatico that Carroll has found with Wilson is a kindred spirit in constant will to improve and utmost respect for ball security. Wilson will throw more interceptions this year, but I'd be shocked if he ever has another season total that approaches this one, even while his pass attempts go up in the coming years. Brady has thrown three interceptions all year (two came from Seattle). Wilson is going to be that kind of player when it comes to smart throws. 

What does all this mean? Besides solidifying the most important position on the field, it also means the team can use the next couple of off-seasons as bonus rounds. There will be no need to mortgage their future to find a franchise quarterback. They have one. They can spend their resources creating piles and piles of talent at whichever positions they choose, knowing the team will be competitive no matter who they add via the draft or free agency. Speaking of that...

I have spent a fair amount of time shouting down the talk of wide receivers and tight ends holding Wilson back this year. He was not good enough to be held back early in the season. In fact, he was holding the receivers and tight ends back. As he grows and starts to reach his potential, the front office will need to find out what kind of weapons to place around him. Sidney Rice is doing a lot with limited opportunities. He is young, and will be around for a while. Golden Tate is having a breakout year, and works well with Wilson. He will definitely be around next year, but then becomes a free agent in 2014. I don't know that the team believes he can be a starting split end in the long run, and he is not cut out to be a slot receiver. He makes plays on the edge, and struggles more against zone coverage. Expect the team to bring one or two receivers next season to challenge for that split end spot. They will likely be rookies, and could be a first-round pick if there is someone John Schneider really likes. 

Doug Baldwin has battled injuries all year, and has not completely connected with Wilson yet. I expect he and Wilson will spend the Summer together working everyday. They are both grinders, and the team will be all the better for it next season in what will be Baldwin's final year before free agency. He is a more likely player to be back than Tate because Baldwin is uniquely suited for the role the team asks him to fill. Tate nearly lost his job to Braylon Edwards two games ago, so this front office will definitely bring in competition there, and likely someone with height and speed. 

Zach Miller has had a great season. There are not enough passes being thrown to give him gaudy numbers, but he's doing a great job with his opportunities. The team would be happy to bring in a pass-catching tight end if they find one in free agency or the draft that they love. That player would be paired with Miller, not replace him. 

Leon Washington is almost certainly playing his final season with the Seahawks. What would it look like to replace him with a blazing fast back that could get five snaps a game? I think it would look pretty darn cool.

2013 Offense = 2012 Defense
It may be a bit of a stretch to say the offense is a year behind the defense. After all, the defense featured three Pro Bowl players last season, and the offense is not likely to get three this year. However, the 2013 offense should be well positioned to challenge for the Top 10 in points scored and yards per play. Averaging 25 points per game is not out of the question. They are averaging nearly 20 per game this season, and their trajectory should put them safely north of that by the time the season ends. An offense that averages in the mid-20s paired with a defense that holds teams under 17 points/game is a championship contender. Only six teams sport an average scoring margin North of 8 points/game this season. They are: Chicago, Houston, New England, San Francisco, Denver, and Atlanta. 

All this talk of next year does not mean I have given up on anything this season. The future is just always going to fascinate me. 

Richard Sherman May Have MVP Potential
There is one player in the NFL that has at least 3 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles and 1.0 sack. He plays cornerback for your Seattle Seahawks, and his name is Richard Sherman. When Charles Woodson won the defensive player of the year award in 2009, he finished with 4 forced fumbles, 9 interceptions, 2.0 sacks, 18 passes defensed and 74 tackles. Sherman stands at 4 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, 1.0 sack, 14 passes defensed and 34 tackles through 10 games. It won't happen this year, but this guy could end up as the best player at his position in the NFL. He may become more important to that secondary than Earl Thomas, which I never thought I would write. Oh, and he has only started 20 games. He will get better. Much better. 

Brandon Browner Is Improved
Browner made the Pro Bowl last season. He may actually be better this year, and not make the roster. He is seeing far fewer balls thrown his way, but has still managed 3 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles. The guy hits like like the entire league left him undrafted and made him play in the CFL. Oh, that's right. They did. I have been among Browner's staunchest supporters, and I was not sure he would be part of the long-term answer at corner. I am now. Or, at least, I think he is talented enough to be part of that picture. He will be a free agent in 2014, so we will see where he falls in the overall priorities. 

Best Resume In The NFL
Seattle has beat the Packers, Cowboys, Vikings and Patriots. Beating the Bears and the 49ers would have to give them the most impressive collection of wins against premiere teams in the NFL. The 49ers have beat the Packers, Lions, and Seahawks. The Bears have beaten the Cowboys, Lions, and I guess you could throw the Colts in as a nice win. The Falcons have beaten the Broncos, Cowboys, and maybe the Chargers are worth mentioning. The Packers have beaten the Bears, Texans, and the Saints. The Giants have beaten the Cowboys, 49ers, and Buccaneers. Seahawks fans have become so accustomed to measuring themselves against how the team competes against the top teams in the league. This team is already shoulder-to-shoulder with those teams. Nobody can question the quality of the teams Seattle has beat this year.

Cooking The Books
I can't prove it, but I have reason to think the Seahawks are doctoring the false start penalty numbers at CenturyLink. They show them on the board before each game, and have shown them for years (at least since 2005). Seattle had been far and away the leader in home false start penalties for opponents, but the gap has closed each year to the point where Seattle was only one penalty ahead of Minnesota (I believe it was Minnesota, but they flash it up quickly). Sunday's game against the Jets may have been the first all year with multiple opponent false starts this season. I remember reading someone a year or so back that other stadiums were showing false start tallies that had their team leading the NFL. As someone who plays with stats all the time, I know they can be manipulated. The Vikings may only show the last year, where their stadium has outperformed others. Seattle will always include 2005, since that was a year they blew away the other stadiums. Whatever the case, Seattle's home-field advantage, in terms of penalties, is melting away. The fans need to take some pride in that, and turn things around. The stadium should show the truth, even if we slip into second place. Especially if we slip into second place.

Takeaway Binge
Seattle got three takeaways this Sunday for the first time all season. They have been well off their pace from last season, when they averaged close to 2.0 per game. They had been tracking to around half that total. The team plays the Dolphins, Bears, Cardinals and Bills over the next four weeks. The team needs to average at least 2.0 turnovers per game for that stretch, and it would not shock me if they went on a a little streak and got up near 3.0. Turnovers are a funny thing in that they tend to come in bunches. Just ask the Bears and the 2011 49ers. On a side note, the Patriots are actually ahead of the 49ers turnover margin pace from last season. Seattle has zero defensive touchdowns all year. It is time for that to change.

I could go on, but life beckons. Two weeks of over-analysis is coming your way. At least that is predictable.

The Morning After: Seahawks Stomp the Jets, 28-7

Enjoy it, Seahawks fans. That was the easiest two-game stretch of the Seahawks season. Seattle did what it was supposed to do, winning both games convincingly. That deserves a special sort of recognition. Talented young teams lose games they should win. This team has done it at least twice this season, maybe more. Seattle did not lose this game. They did not make it a nail-biter. They went out and forced their opponent into submission. It was so subtle that many of the reactions in New York have been about how this game was within reach for three quarters. The Jets had 185 yards of offense. They did not score a point all day. This game was never close, not even when it was tied. The Seahawks gave the Jets seven points the way Bruce Lee would toss the unarmed bad guy a weapon. Asking the Jets offense to make a game of this would be like asking a one-armed man to clap, and that may be an insult to one-armed men out there.

This game was never about the Jets. They entered, and exit, this game irrelevant. Seattle, however, has earned back it's relevance with an offense gaining steam and a defense that remains one of the best in football. Remember when we all asked what this team would look like with even a mediocre offense? Don't look now, but Seattle has averaged 27.3 points over their last three games, good for 5th in the NFL over that span. Russell Wilson has a passer rating of 115.2 rating for those three games with seven touchdowns and one interception while completing 68% of his throws. Only Drew Brees and Josh Freeman have been better in that time. Wilson has 105.3 rating in his last five games, which includes a 0.0 rating for the second half of the 49ers game. Only Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Freeman and Brees are better over that time. Wilson's 15 passing touchdowns already rank as the 16th-best rookie total in NFL history, with six games left to play. His on pace for 24 touchdowns, which would be two shy of Manning's rookie record, and he's doing it with 10 fewer pass attempts per game. No other rookie in NFL history has had more passing touchdowns through his first 10 games. Let that sink in.

Marshawn Lynch rushed for his fourth straight 100+ yard game, and went over 1000 yards. Golden Tate and Sidney Rice ended the game with six receiving touchdowns on the year, tied for 10th in the NFL. Rice's career-high for receiving touchdowns came in 2009 when he had eight. Tate already has set his career high, and is making the most of every touch he gets. He had two receptions yesterday. One was a touchdown, and the other was a highlight-reel run-after-catch for a first down. His third touch was a lefty hurl into the endzone for his first career touchdown pass. Rice was not entirely impressed with the throw, "It was a spiral, and I scored. Before that, I give him a two. His throwing motion was the worst. I thought we traded for Tebow for a second."

Still, there is no denying that Tate is having a major impact on this season. He is becoming the play-maker people envisioned when he was drafted. There are still questions about whether he is a starting split end, or a rotational receiver. There is no question that the player we have seen earn more play-of-the-day accolades in training camp and practice over the last three years than anyone is finally bringing that to the field on Sundays. That catch he made for the touchdown, leaping over the helpless Jets cornerback along the sideline, is something I have seen at least a dozen times during a Seahawks practice. It is a signature play for Tate, something that comes easily to him. It won't be the last time you see it in a game. His antics are a little much after making these plays. It would be nice to see him act like he's been there before instead of flexing after knocking out Sean Lee or giggling after breaking tackles for a first down. That may just come with the territory for a player that enjoys the spotlight. He has the potential to raise his game when the lights come on. That could bode well come playoff time.

Doug Baldwin continued his gutty comeback from a high ankle sprain with three receptions for 42 yards, and Zach Miller caught five balls to bring him within two receptions of where he finished last season. That group of receivers and tight ends deserve recognition for making the most of their opportunities.

The defense held another offense without a touchdown. This was the third time this year an offense could not reach the endzone against Seattle. They came into the season with a goal to improve their pass rush, and now find themselves tied for 2nd in the NFL with 28 sacks. They had 33 all of last season. Rookie Bruce Irvin climbed within a half-sack of the Seahawks rookie sack record with his 6th and 7th sack of the year. He is on pace for 11.0, and took back the lead among rookies from the Patriots Chandler Jones. The improved pressure, combined with the stunning secondary play has led to Seattle ranking second in the NFL in opponent passer rating (73.8). The last two teams have thrown for a combined 145 passing yards.

Seattle has forced five turnovers in the last two games, after forcing only six in the previous four games combined. Takeaways and third down defense will continue to be key areas to improve, and the team held the last two opponents to a combined 5-21 on third downs. Bobby Wagner continued his stellar rookie season with nine more tackles, and remains in second place among NFL rookies in tackles, behind Luke Kuechly.

The run defense is not all the way back. New York ran for 84 yards and 3.8 yards per carry. That looks like a fine performance. It was below the Seahawks standard. Runs that were getting stuffed for no gain the first four games of the year are going for 3+ yards now. There were no explosive runs, but this is not an explosive run team. Let's see if the bye week allows this group to get refreshed. When this defense is truly elite, they are holding team close to 3.0 yards per carry. They did that in three of their first four games, but have not done it in the last four games.

Now the team gets the bye week. Pete Carroll has led his team to a 1-1 record after the bye week in his first two seasons. The Seahawks need to split the next two road games if they want to real shot at the playoffs. Losing both would put them at 6-6, needing to most likely win out. Winning one would make them 7-5, allowing them to at least have a shot at 11 wins and a division title if a lot breaks their way. Win both, and things really get interesting. This team needs to prove it can bring it on the road. Nothing about their game is predicated on playing at home. They run effectively, play great defense, and throw it efficiently. All those things should travel well. The time to prove it comes in two weeks.