Saturday, November 30, 2013

Richard Sherman Must Lead On Monday


Matt Schaub used to be a quarterback in the NFL. The Houston Texans used to be a football team. That is, before they ran into Richard Sherman. It may be hard to recall that the Texans were 2-1 heading into that game and looked like they had found their stride while dominating the Seahawks during a 20-3 first half. Seattle clawed back to 20-13 in the second half after a memorable Russell Wilson-led drive for a touchdown. What happened next ended a player's career in Houston, ended a team's season in week four, and may well lead to a coach being fired. Sherman correctly read the play call on third down, wrestled away the ball from the Texans tight end, and ran the interception back for a game-tying touchdown with only one shoe. Sherman has ability that goes beyond shutting down an opposing receiver. He can take down entire teams when he is on his game. The turbulent situation at the cornerback position and the potent passing offense Seattle faces necessitates Sherman play his best ball Monday night.

It was a strong start to 2013 for the Seahawks boisterous defensive back. Not only did he carpet bomb the Texans, but he nearly forced Anquan Boldin into early retirement while also giving Colin Kapernick night terrors that seemed to last for most of the season thereafter. He had two picks in four games, and was a major factor in determining the outcome of games for Seattle. The pace has slowed recently though.

Sherman has been targeted a total of 3 times in the last 3 games. He had been targeted at least 4 times in 7 of the first 8 games of 2013.
Sherman has not had an interception in his last three games. That ties the longest drought of his career since becoming a starter in 2011. He also does not have a pass defensed in that span, which is the longest such streak in his career. When Sherman impacts the game, Seattle wins.

The Seahawks have won their last 9 games when Richard Sherman has an interception
The simple plan for Dan Quinn and the Seahawks is to slap Sherman on the left side and bottle up whoever the Saints line up across from him. That would be a mistake. Drew Brees and Sean Payton would be happy to sacrifice Marques Colston or Kenny Stills to Sherman if it meant leaving other options reliably facing other defenders. I am no Bobby Fischer, but sacrificing a pawn to take a knight off the board seems like a win every time.

It may be time to unleash a new utilization of Sherman over the next four games; make his position on the field flexible and unpredictable. It would not even be entirely new, as it was employed versus Boldin and the 49ers to some extent. In that game, Sherman left his side of the field to shadow Boldin wherever he lined up. The Saints have Jimmy Graham, who qualifies as their primary option. Putting Sherman on Graham from time-to-time may be a sensible decision. Having him shadow Graham makes much less sense. You don't want Sherman sucked in while Graham is acting as an in-line blocker. Graham is also 265 lbs to Sherman's 195 lbs. As big as Sherman is for a corner, a defensive coach does not want to eliminate his size advantage by putting him on a bigger player all the time. Instead, have rules that puts Sherman on Graham when he lines up wide, and perhaps even in certain slot situations.

Identify patterns and preferences in the Saints offense and for Brees. Use Sherman to dissuade them from going to their primary read. It is like taking away a basketball players strong hand or making him shoot from a spot other than his go-to position on the floor. Force him to use his weak hand and to take shots that are not his favorite. Invariably, shooting percentages drop. If teams really want to avoid throwing at Sherman, use him to disrupt their reads by putting him in the least convenient spots on the field for the offense.

Leaving him on one side of the field allows the offense to dictate terms. It is time for that to end.

Sherman must also step up. He is a player I touted as a defensive player of the year candidate heading into the season. He was on track for exactly that after the Texans triumph, but has been caught guessing incorrectly a couple of times since then, and has not impacted the game at quite the level we have come to expect. He is a leader on this team now. They need him more than ever to step forward and be elite. Make plays. Be assignment correct. Bring intensity and discipline. Be the knight that makes the King surrender. Devastate another team and another fan base. Be Richard Sherman.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Saints: What I've Learned


Among the many things we can be thankful for today is that there is an exciting football game inching closer for the Seahawks and the Saints. I have spent the last week getting to know the 2013 Saints better, and have a few observations to pass along.

Underrated Rushing Attack

Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham dominate the headlines, but it was the New Orleans running game that impressed me while digging into their numbers and watching them play. Pierre Thomas is a big part of how that offense creates rhythm. Both he and Mark Ingram are running hard and wasting little motion laterally. They will never shake a tackler, but they will run through them. Combine their North-South style with impressive interior line play led by very good guards, and the Saints are certain to test Seattle's interior rush defense. 

Who Dat Quarterback?

New Orleans has been fortunate in facing a number of bad quarterbacks on the road. Russell Wilson will be among the best their defense has seen. The three most reputable players the Saints have gone up against are: Jay Cutler, Tom Brady, and Matt Ryan. Those three have combined for a 97.7 rating that included a 69% completion rate and nearly 8 yards per attempt. It is worth mentioning that the Saints won two of those three games, but they were lucky to escape Chicago with a win, and the Falcons were in the game throughout, despite being a team legitimately in the hunt for the first overall pick in the draft. 

Rob Ryan's defense relies a fair amount on deception and catching opposing offenses off-guard with timely blitzes from a variety of positions. More prepared quarterbacks are better equipped to identify and defuse those plays. Of the 26 explosive passes the Saints defense has surrendered on the road, 18 (70%) of them have come at the hands of Ryan, Brady and Cutler. 

Seahawks Linebacker Play Crucial

There is plenty of talk about how the Seahawks losses in the secondary could impact this game, but if there was one position group I could pick to step up and have a great game, it would be the linebackers. There may not be a team in the NFL that puts more strain on linebackers than the Saints. They need to fill the gaps in the run game, get out wide to contain screens and swing passes to players like Darren Sproles, and get appropriate depth in their zones against guys like Lance Moore and Graham. No human can be in three places at once, so Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and Bruce Irvin will need to diagnose plays well and make sure tackles. Brees makes ample use of his running backs--Thomas and Sproles are #2 and #4 in targets for New Orleans--in the passing game, and is happy to take yards after the catch wherever he can get them. This could be a great game to rotate Malcolm Smith in. He is ideally suited to face offenses like this as he has demonstrated great ability to read the run game and the screen game, while also being a plus coverage linebacker. Graham is not priority one or two for this group. The linebackers must first fill the gaps with the verve they displayed versus the last two opponents, and then discourage the screen game and swing pass. Graham can get 150 yards and two touchdowns and still lose. It would be far harder to beat this team if they are getting steady yardage on the ground and via low-risk throws.

Saints Defense Is Legit

I am always skeptical of defenses that make a big leap from one year to the next when they add a defensive coordinator known for exotic schemes. Rob Ryan likes to be the star of the show, and the network cameras are happy to oblige. New Orleans, however, has legitimately improved their personnel, which is a bigger reason for the improvement than their new coordinator. Akiem Hicks has specific relevance to this game. This is his second season, and is thriving as a 3-4 DE in Ryan's system. He is one of the better run defenders on the line, and shows some pass rush ability from time-to-time. How Breno Giacomini and J.R. Sweezy handle him will be key to the running game. 

The linebacker crew is playing extremely well, led by ex-Seahawks David Hawthorne. Seattle fans remember how well Hawthorne closed gaps versus the run and tackles with passion. He looks back to full health, and is having fun playing behind this active defensive line. Junior Galette is a favorite pass rush option for Ryan, and has 5.0 sacks to show for it. 

Blitz pick-up will be more important than normal in this game, which means the tight ends and running backs will have to be on point. The Saints lead the NFL in sack percentage, and have been very consistent at creating pressure both at home and on the road. Cameron Jordan is the centerpiece, but Pete Carroll and Tom Cable have demonstrated a good ability to scheme for single pass rushers on the edge. Handling the games and extra rushers Ryan likes to send is a far bigger focal point for Seattle.

Saints Secondary Is Young

New Orleans has a rookie safety in Kenny Vacarro, a third year safety in Rafael Bush, and a second year corner in Corey White that all see significant action. White has been playing well, but is being asked to step into a starting role after Jabari Greer was lost for the season versus San Francisco. Vacarro is a guy who likes to fill versus the run, but has already had two concussions doing so. The Greer injury means veteran Chris Carr has to step up as well. The 49ers were struggling to get a first down before Greer was injured, but things opened up more after. The Falcons are limited in so many ways, but still passed with high efficiency against this newly minted secondary personnel for the Saints. There is no doubt that the Seahawks offense will be the biggest test this group has faced, and the variety of weapons at Seattle's disposal has to be giving Ryan indigestion. 

Look for Ryan to try and protect his secondary with aggressive pressure packages to try and induce Wilson to get rid of the ball quicker and to more predictable targets. If the Seahawks can pick up pressure or if Wilson can escape pressure, the Saints secondary could be in for a long day.

There have been two games this season when the Saints have been held to 2 sacks or less. They lost one, and won the other by two points versus Tampa Bay.

X-Factors

Bill Harvin

Percy Harvin has not been a full participant in a game plan yet this season. The Saints have no way to know how the Seahawks will use him. He may be the most talented player on the offense, but nobody can say for sure until he plays full tilt. Imagine if the roles were reversed, and the Seahawks were playing the Saints on the road on Monday Night Football and Brees was getting back Harvin for the first time. That is largely what the Saints are facing. Wilson is not Brees, but he is a top five quarterback this year, and it is the Seahawks that are second in the NFL in scoring, not the Saints. 

 Weather

The forecast is calling from some rain/snow mix Monday morning, and clear and cold (under 40 degrees) at game time. Anybody that lives in the PNW knows forecasts are crap in Seattle. It will be cold. That seems highly likely. The rest of it is anybody's guess. If it is just cold, advantage Seattle. If it is cold and raining, bigger advantage Seattle. If it is cold and snowing, biggest advantage Seattle. Brees and this Ferrari offense are not built for games like that. Their improved running game gives them a chance, but if Brees is slowed, the team will be hard-pressed to score points.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Where Things Stand With Brandon Browner

There is a lot of information flying around about the Brandon Browner situation. A lot of the information initially reported has already been proven to be incorrect. I do not want to add to that, so please know from the jump that my intent here is to offer my best understanding of where things are right now, and what the potential outcomes may be. I am not an expert in the law around this or the rules. I have not had personal contact with Browner or the league. I have had contact with a number of people familiar with the situation from a variety of angles, and have done my best to read up on the subject. With all those caveats aside, here is where we stand.

NEAR 100% CONFIDENCE THE FOLLOWING ARE TRUE

- Browner has not been suspended yet
The league has not announced a suspension (they have for Walter Thurmond). Pete Carroll could not comment on it yesterday because a decision has not been announced. 

- Browner has not placed on IR yet
There were some reports yesterday that he was placed on IR to make room for the other players the Seahawks signed. That is not the case. 

- The league substance abuse program and discipline is separate and distinct from the PED program
Browner's suspension last year for PEDs plays no role in his reported non-PED violation this year.

- The stages of discipline are as follows for the NFL's substance abuse process:

You can read the whole policy here.

STAGE 1
If the Medical Director, after consultation with the Medical Advisor, determines in his discretion that a player in Stage One has failed to cooperate with the evaluation process or fails to comply with his Treatment Plan, both the NFL Management Council and the NFLPA shall be notified and the player will be subject to an immediate fine equal to three-seventeenths (3/17) of the amount in Paragraph 5 of the NFL Player Contract.

STAGE 2
(a) A fine of four-seventeenths (4/17) of the amount in Paragraph 5 of the NFL Player Contract if the player has successfully completed Stage One; and

(b) A suspension for the period of time to cover four consecutive regular season and post-season (including Pro Bowl, if selected) games without pay if he did not successfully complete Stage One

STAGE 3
A player who fails to cooperate with testing, treatment, evaluation or other requirements imposed on him by this policy or fails to comply with his Treatment Plan, both as determined by the Medical Director, or who has a Positive Test, will be banished from the NFL for a minimum period of one calendar year.

- Browner has not been suspended four games under the substance abuse policy yet
This is a big one. If the proposed penalty is one-year, that is a STAGE 3 disciplinary action. That means he at least skipped STAGE 2. 

- Browner had at least one violation in his short time with the Broncos
That would have started him in the program at STAGE 1. That stage is not announced publicly, and no suspension is levied. 

**UPDATE** Browner may not have had an initial violation. See the section below for details.

- Players skip STAGE 2 if they either fail two tests or do not comply with testing over the course of two years
Browner went to the CFL after playing for the Broncos. The NFL policy states that players that miss tests after entering STAGE 1 will automatically be moved to STAGE 3 even if the was not employed by the NFL anymore. This appears to be what happened with Browner.

- Browner did fail a drug test
This may seem obvious, but it is important to point out. He would not be appealing if he had not failed a test. At a minimum, that means he would be a STAGE 2 offender of the policy, and be subject to a four game suspension plus a fine.

- Teams cannot cut an injured player
Those fans that are upset Seattle has not just cut Browner already may want to know that the team does not have that option.

90% CONFIDENCE THE FOLLOWING ARE TRUE

- Seattle has until Saturday to place Browner on IR
This means the team will have to make a move with him by then, and unless the appeal decision is won, all of this probably is moot. The team may have already decided to move on regardless of the outcome. The fact that they have not placed him on IR already indicates they are leaving themselves open to the possibility he could return.

- Browner's best case scenario is a four-game suspension
It sounds as if he is challenging the notion that missing a test while in the CFL should not count as a violation, and his new violation should be treated as his second. That would still mean a four-game suspension. The reason I am not closer to 100% confident in this is that I do not know the full breadth of possible outcomes. It may be possible that the whole test is thrown out because he was only being tested due to being in STAGE 3, and he was only in STAGE 3 because he missed tests while in the CFL. 

- Players can serve suspensions while injured
This would mean that if Browner won his appeal, but still had to serve a four-game suspension, he could serve it with Thurmond, and still be available for the playoffs if he was healthy and the Seahawks wanted him.

**NEW**

- Browner may have voluntarily joined the substance program out of school to help his draft stock
I had previously written that Browner had to have violated the substance abuse policy during his time with the Broncos in order to have been in the program to begin with. I have since learned it is also possible that he volunteered to enter the program out of school because he had some issues during college that may have scared NFL teams off. Players can voluntarily join the program for reasons such as this. So now, it is possible this would be Browner's first failed test.

IN SUMMARY

Browner has not been suspended. He is waiting for the outcome of his appeal, with the hope that either his suspension is completely lifted or it is a four-game duration that could be served while he is injured the next four games. His defense is that he is being unfairly disciplined as a STAGE 3 offender due to missed NFL tests while he was in the CFL. 


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Secondary Changes Sure To Get Saints Attention

Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints have to be prime suspects in supplying Walter Thurmond III with recreational substances. His absence from the clash on Monday Night Football changes the complexion of the match-up, greatly increasing their odds of coming out with a victory. Seattle has played without Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond before and have a darn good record when doing so. That have not, however, faced a passing offense like what the Saints feature. Quarterbacks like Brees and offensive coaches like Sean Payton know they can succeed in a variety of ways, and are experts at finding the path of least resistance. While everyone will be wondering what the Seahawks are going to do to stop Jimmy Graham, Payton and Brees have to be thinking about utilizing a less heralded weapon.


Lance Moore has been injured much of the 2013 season, and he's been only modestly effective when he has played. He has only 19 catches for 207 yards and a touchdown. Those are not numbers that will strike fear in the hearts of Seahawks fans, especially when compared to the 65 catches, nearly 1,000 yards and 11 TDs for Graham. Moore is a favorite target for Brees, and this could be the perfect game to bring him back into focus. He had over 100 targets last year, 1,000 yards and 6 TDs, and 8 TDs the year prior. He excels in the slot, the spot vacated by Thurmond, and the most vulnerable part of a very good Seahawks defense. 


Graham has over 30 more targets than any other Saints receiver, so he's going to be a big part of the game plan no matter what. Seattle has done well against Vernon Davis and Tony Gonzalez this season. When they want to slow a tight end, guys like Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, and even Byron Maxwell offer some decent options. Too much focus there will give Brees plenty of opportunity to find Moore. Jeremy Lane would likely get that assignment. That is where I would test Seattle if I was facing them this week.


The other options to watch will be Darren Sproles and Kenny Stills. He was out last week with injury, but was the second on the team in targets. Graham and Moore can clear out the linebackers and leave a lot of room underneath for Sproles to create havoc. Bruce Irvin could find himself tracking Sproles a lot, and be asked to make some open-field tackles. Irvin has unique attributes in size, speed and versatility to make that an intriguing match-up. 


Stills is a deep threat. He is largely an edge receiver, but they can line him up in the slot. He is less of a concern on the edge, but is the type of guy that has given Sherman some trouble at times when he guesses wrong on short routes and leaves the deep play open behind him.


Marques Colston has not been the threat he had been in past years, and is the guy who will struggle the most against the Seahawks edge corners. Colston can slide inside to the slot. That is his most dangerous alignment this week. 

Even guys like Robert Meachem and Nick Toon can occasionally be difference-makers down the field. In other words, this is a team with a variety of weapons in the passing game, and a quarterback and coach who knows how to stress defenses with the most favorable match-ups. Graham is sure to be central to what the Saints do, but the game is more likely to be won or lost based on how Seattle defends Moore and Sproles.

Key Names To Watch In Seahawks Secondary

So much has changed in the last two days regarding the Seahawks and their defensive backfield, that it is worth taking a few minutes to get acquainted with some new names--and some old ones--that may figure into the way the rest of this season unfolds.

HEADING OUT


Brandon Browner

As best as we know from media reports, which we have been reminded need to be taken with a grain of salt, Browner has failed a drug test for a substance that is not listed on the performance-enhancing drugs (PED) list, most often reported to be marijuana. It is not yet clear how that has resulted in the reported one-year suspension for Browner versus the four-game penalty usually given first. It is possible that Browner's four-game suspension for a PED last season counts as his first, even if it was a different policy (PED vs Banned Substance). In any event, given Browner is an unrestricted free agent after this season, and word is that his appeal has already been heard, he likely has played his last game in Seattle. The team very likely will cut him to make a somewhat hollow point to locker room. They do not need to cut him as they gain a roster spot from the suspension. Players are very close to him on the team, and will not be thrilled if the team cuts him, but he is not allowed around the team or the facilities during his suspension, so there is little point in keeping him on the roster. 

IMPACT: Seattle has 9-0 in the games without Browner in the last two seasons, winning by a combined score of 320-110. That, combined with Browner's very specific skill set, leads many fans to wave off his loss as no big deal. The Seahawks are certainly good enough to win without him, but they are better with him. There is a reason he was starting for the best secondary in football. He has elite ability to disrupt receivers off the line. Nobody may be better at it in the NFL. He is also terrific in run support. There are better pure cover covers on the Seahawks roster, but the real loss is how this impacts depth, which will be discussed later. On a personal note, Browner was among my favorite players on this defense, and I'm very disappointed he made decisions to cost him a chance to be a part of this Super Bowl run. 

Walter Thurmond III

The Thurmond situation is more clear. He is suspended for the next four games for violating the substance abuse policy, again for marijuana, according to multiple reports. To reach the point of suspension for a non-PED offense, this has to be the second or third positive test for Thurmond. A player that was playing himself into a lucrative free agent contract next year has cost himself millions of dollars. Top corners of a young age can command as much as $25M guaranteed on the open market. Thurmond will be lucky to get $5M guaranteed at this point. His next offense will mean a full year suspension.

IMPACT:  Thurmond is due back for the last game of the season against the Rams if he can stay clean. When someone has ignored repeated warnings, it is not generally wise to rely on him. Seattle is a terrific secondary when Thurmond plays, but the front office needs to protect the team against the possibility that Thurmond slips up again. Some numbers could lead one to conclude he has been the best corner on the team this year. His loss is significant. Not only is he a great cover corner, but he is the only player on the roster with the skill set to play inside as a nickel corner. That is why the team starts him on the outside and then slides him inside when Browner is out. The fact that the team is putting on a full-court press to find a slot corner proves they are not satisfied with their internal options for that role. There is no sideline to help a nickel corner, and lateral movement is paramount. The angular corners Seattle employs on the outside tend to be less laterally-gifted, which is part of why Seattle can draft them in the late rounds. Other teams require their corners to be more well-rounded. The Seahawks face Lance Moore, Victor Cruz and Andre Roberts in the time Thurmond will be out. The team is far less equipped to defend those players now than they were with him in the lineup.

NEXT MEN UP


Byron Maxwell

Maxwell appeared to take a big step forward in the pre-season, and should be ready to be a starting edge corner. He is physical, but does still tend to be a little handsy, and is more prone to penalty than Browner or Thurmond. He will likely be exposed at times as he adjusts to the additional snaps, but he also may make some terrific plays on the ball. He is ultra-aggressive and is a strong tackler and run supporter. He can slide inside, but is not well-suited for it. He did it at the end of last season when Browner and Thurmond were out, but only after the team tried Jeremy Lane there first. Putting him inside takes a good edge player and makes him a below average inside corner. Coaches want to optimize the use of their players, which is why adding a capable slot corner helps maximize Maxwell's contributions.

Jeremy Lane

Lane has a loyal following among Seahawks fans for a guy that has played a very limited number of snaps. He is a fierce competitor with elite top-end speed. He was uneven during his opportunity at the end of last season. There were impressive plays defending the deep ball on the edge, and a number of face palm moments when asked to cover inside players. The team would like him to be the answer at nickel corner, and he very well may get a shot, but it is not what he was built to do. The dropoff from Maxwell to Lane on the edge is far steeper than the dropoff from either Browner or Thurmond to Maxwell. Another injury or player loss at the position makes them more vulnerable.

DeShawn Shead

Shead is on the practice squad after a promising training camp. He has been listed as a corner, but started getting a number of snaps at free safety toward the end of camp. He played well enough there that I thought he may displace Chris Maragos and his larger contract. Not only does Shead display higher upside at safety, but he can play corner as well. That is valuable versatility on any roster. He was at the bottom, though, of the corner pile during camp. It was a damn talented pile that included a guy like Will Blackmon who is starting for Jacksonville. John Schneider has to be wondering if he made the right call in keeping players like Mike Person, Spencer Ware and Derrick Coleman over Blackmon. But I digress. Shead is an unknown at corner. he may have the lateral movement skills needed to be a decent inside corner, but it makes little sense to build any plans around him given the places this team wants to go. He could very well be one of the players added to the active roster, but almost certainly will not see playing time.

Tharold Simon

Simon never suited up for training camp after being drafted in the fifth round this year. The team knows almost nothing about him, and he knows very little about this scheme. He fits the bill physically of a Seahawks edge corner with height and strength. He is said to be starting practice this week. It is hard to imagine a scenario where the team decides he is part of the answer. Maxwell and Lane are firmly ahead of him on the edge, and no corner position requires more experience and savvy than the nickel corner. He would have perform like a star during practice in the next week or two to get a shot, and even then, the odds are long for him seeing the field.


POSSIBLE OUTSIDE ADDITIONS

Antoine Winfield

Winfield was on top of the depth chart at nickel corner during camp. Thurmond played well enough that the team did not see a reason to carry Winfield's contract. That has looked like a prudent decision until this weekend. Winfield did not stand out during pre-season games or in practice. His age shows, as his speed and reactions just are not on par with a guy like Thurmond. He would be a definite step backward in nickel defense, but his pedigree still puts him light years ahead of any other option on table. Multiple reports state that the Seahawks have been contact with Winfield, and his signing was imminent late Sunday, but something unraveled in the contract negotiations. Winfield may be still evaluating his options. The only reason he would want to come back is if he was going to be part of a Super Bowl run. Coming back for four games until Thurmond is off suspension would not be worth playing for. Other teams have offered him deals to play this year, but has turned them all down. The Seahawks players have a ton of respect for Winfield, and he'd be an ideal replacement in terms of savvy, trust and ability to hit the ground running at the nickel corner position that he has known so well for so many years. The Seahawks would be wise to pay him what he wants and meet his demands. Seasons like this do not come along very often, and to risk it for what has to be a small amount of money or guarantees would border on arrogance. 

Marcus Trufant

Trufant is a career Seahawk, and a great guy. I would hate to see him come back and be the weak spot in the defense for a second straight season. Stay retired, Marcus. If the Seahawks sign Trufant, it is only because they refused to meet Winfield's demands. That would be a really tough pill to swallow.

Perrish Cox

I know the least about Cox. He was released by the 49ers, and has not signed elsewhere. Their corners were not great, as evidenced by Nnamdi Asoughma making their opening day roster. A Cox signing would fall under a similar category as Trufant in that it would mean the team did not meet Winfield's demands. 

Hawk Blogger 2013 Power Rankings: Week 12

THIS WEEK
Denver continues their slide, losing 11.3 points over the last three weeks. The 49ers gain almost as must as the Broncos lost this week, and climb ahead of the Panthers into the top four. Seahawks fans would like to believe the 49ers were on the brink of playoff elimination, but the numbers imply this still may be the team to beat in the NFC when the playoffs roll around.

The Cardinals are streaking, up 16.5 over the past three weeks. The only team moving farther and faster is the Tampa Bay Bucs. And keep an eye on the Steelers. Every team the Seahawks play over the next five weeks is playing better ball than they were a few weeks ago. There will be no gimmies.

UPDATE:  I have added a 3-Week difference in team strength to help identify teams that are climbing or sliding over a larger chunk of time. This should help find teams that may be playing above or below their current ranking.

Note: If you are having problems viewing the rankings below, try this link(Leave a comment if it doesn't work for you!)



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.



RANKINGS EXPLAINED
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 was simple, I measured 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" was 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, but I am always looking for ways to improve it. I read a great article on ColdHardFootballFacts.com. There was one gem in there about predicting championship teams. The article mentioned passer rating differential as the "mother of all stats." A full 69 of 72 champions have ranked in the Top 10 in this statistic. It is a stat after my own heart, as I believe offensive and defensive efficiency is the key measurable outside of point differential. Turnovers would factor in there as well, but I am not convinced a team has as much control over that. My power rankings use YPA and YPC differentials. I went ahead and replaced the YPA with offensive and defensive passer rating, to give me this:

(YPC (offense) + Passer Rating (offense) + Avg Pts/Game Scored) - (OPP YPC (defense) + OPP Passer Rating (defense)+ OPP Avg Pts/Game)


Saturday, November 23, 2013

PODCAST: Talking Vikings Reactions & Bye Week Thoughts With Softy


Softy and I talked about how the Vikings game went, as well as biggest surprises and disappointments thus far in the season. We briefly look ahead to the Saints game, and why I don't think it as big of a game as Softy does.

***DOWNLOAD THE PODCAST***


Friday, November 22, 2013

NEW ISSUE: Hawk Blogger Weekly #HBW - Week 11

The response to last week's launch of our new magazine, Hawk Blogger Weekly, was well beyond my expectations. And we are just getting started. This week, we welcome Anthony May as our guest photographer. The magazine cover, and all the story covers where you see AMP were shot by Anthony. He is a gifted photographer, good guy and a great 12. Give him a follow! I'd like to find other ways to make this a place to celebrate the work of other Seahawks fans, not just me. If you are a photographer, a writer, or have another idea for how you could be featured, please let me know.

This is primarily designed for tablet and phone viewing, as most of you are now reading my stuff there anyway, but it will work on the desktop. Thanks for your patience as we work out the kinks!

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE LATEST ISSUE




Past Issues Can Be Found Here


Seahawks Receivers Anything But Average

Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate have publicly voiced their displeasure in recent weeks about the moniker that many pundits have bestowed upon the Seahawks receiving corps: average. The truth is, with the injury to Sidney Rice, the receiving crew is well below average in at least one important way; they are shorter than just about any group of receivers in the NFL. Take the top one-hundred receivers in the NFL this year, based on receiving yards or receiving touchdowns, and their average height is 6'1". Limit it to the top twenty, and the average height rises to 6'2" and a weight of 211 pounds. The Seahawks have one active receiver that even meets that average of 6'2" and 211 pounds, Ricardo Lockette, and he happens to be at the bottom of the depth chart. In league where receivers and cornerbacks are getting taller and heavier, the Seahawks have once again charted an unconventional path to extraordinary results.

Pete Carroll loves to defy convention. He revels in it. But he has made no secret of his preference for tall receivers. One of the first players he brought in to help the Seahawks receiving corps in 2010 was his old behemoth, Mike Williams, all 6'5" of him. Then he and John Schneider opened up their pocket books for 6'4" Sidney Rice in free agency. Even when Rice recently was lost for the season, it was apparent how conflicted Carroll was about shifting the diminutive Baldwin into the vacant flanker spot on the outside. All Baldwin has done since getting that opportunity is catch 13 passes for 214 yards for a 16.5 average per reception and 2 touchdowns. If he were to maintain that pace for a full 16-game season, he would have 69 receptions for 1,141 yards and 11 TDs. People are just now realizing the proper comparison for Baldwin is not to Bobby Engram, but to Victor Cruz, and Baldwin's numbers imply he may be the better of the two players. 



In Baldwin's two healthy seasons he has averaged 15.5 and 16.3 yards per catch. Cruz has only one season over 14.2 yards per catch. Baldwin has been incorrectly classified as a possession slot receiver where Cruz is thought of as the deep threat. The numbers do not support that perception. 


Cruz has 65 explosive receptions (defined as 16+ yards) in his three years. That means 29% of his catches are of the explosive variety. That is nearly 1-in-3. Impressive. Take Baldwin's two healthy years in 2011 and 2013. He has 36 explosive receptions in those two seasons out of 87 total catches. That means 41% of his catches have been of the explosive variety. Perception? Meet reality.

Golden Tate checks in at 5'10", just like Baldwin, but he brings over 200 pounds of punishment with him. No receiver in the NFL has broken more tackles (29) the past two seasons than Tate, according to Pro Football Focus. He leads the NFL in yards after catch per reception at 8.7. That equals the number another mini-Seahawks receiver, Percy Harvin, posted during an MVP-type season last year. If all the short Seahawks receivers were Smurfs, Tate would have to be Playmaker Smurf (Baldwin would likely be Grumpy Smurf). Tate does not just take short passes and break tackles. He specializes in the deep ball.


Only eleven receivers in the NFL have caught more passes of 40+ yards in the last two seasons than Tate. Only three players, Torrey Smith, T.Y. Hilton and A.J. Green have caught more 40+ yard catches as a percentage of their total receptions the last two seasons (min 85 receptions). 

Jermaine Kearse is the second of three undrafted free agents in the Seahawks receiving room. All Kearse has done is lead the NFL in percentage of catches resulting in a touchdown (min 10 receptions). Nearly 31% of the time Kearse touches the ball, Steven Hauschka is trotting on the field after to him for a PAT. And these are not little slant routes or fades from five-yards out. Three of Kearse's 13 receptions have been over 20 yards, and all were for touchdowns. Football Outsiders does advanced statistics that include measuring the efficiency and effectiveness of receivers that are outside the spotlight, and have been targeted less than 34 times to this point in the year. Kearse sits atop that list. His teammate, Baldwin, ranks #4 in the NFL in value per play as a receiver, and #9 in overall receiver value, ahead of names like Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall and Torrey Smith.


These three players have been called average by many. They have been doubted and blamed even within the Seahawks fan base. As they welcome in yet another sub-six-foot dynamo, it is time to recognize this group for being anything but average. They have won games for this team this season. They will win more down the line. A franchise that has seen the like of Steve Largent, Brian Blades, and Joey Galloway may be witnessing the best performance by a wide receiver group in Seahawks history. No collection of players has done more with the opportunities given than these guys. The story line from here on out will be that Percy Harvin elevated this group of receivers. The truth is that they are already great, and are about to get a whole lot better.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Get Seahawks, Huskies, Ducks, Cougars Gear, Proceeds To Charity!

We are not only nearing the end of the NFL season, but the end of another calendar year. That means it is almost time to add up any profits made here at HawkBlogger.com and donate them to Ben's Fund, a charity started by Seahawks GM John Schneider and his wife Tracy, to benefit parents who struggle to pay for expensive Autism treatments. We donated $1000 last year, and I'd love to do more this year. Come on Seahawks fans!!

There are great ways for you to contribute this holiday season, just by doing what you already need to do: Shop! The prices are all the same. The only difference is you click on the links below to get started.

HawkBlogger.com receives a portion of the proceeds when you click on one of the links below and purchase something. I then take that money and add it to the donation pile. You get to purchase your holiday gifts, and know that some of the money will go to a great charity. It should be a no-brainer.

11% of Proceeds Go To Charity From These Links:










4% of Proceeds To Charity From These Links:

You can shop for anything at Amazon.





If you'd prefer to just donate directly to Ben's Fund, you can do so here.


Thanks!
Brian

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Seahawks 5-Year Roster Outlook Updated


Seahawks Five-Year Roster Outlook It can be confusing trying to keep track of who is coming and who is going on the Seahawks roster. Specifically, who is under club control contractually, for how long, and when does everyone become an unrestricted free agent? I have created a page as a constant reference for players I believe are critical to track. You can find it on the 5-YR Roster Outlook section. Bookmark it! Here is the updated table in-line for your convenience.

LEGEND: SIGNED
CANNOT RENEGOTIATE DEAL
RESTRICTED FREE AGENT
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT
Position Player 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
QB Russell Wilson 24 25 26 27 28
RB Marshawn Lynch 27 28 29 30 31
RB  Robert Turbin 23 24 25 26 27
RB Christine Michael 22 23 24 25 26
FB Derrick Coleman 22 23 24 25 26
RB/FB Spencer Ware 22 23 24 25 26
Flanker (WR) Sidney Rice 27 28 29 30 31
Split End (WR) Golden Tate 25 26 27 28 29
Slot (WR) Percy Harvin 24 25 26 27 28
Slot (WR) Doug Baldwin 25 26 27 28 29
WR Jermaine Kearse 23 24 25 26 27
WR Ricardo Lockette 27 28 29 30 31
LT Russell Okung 26 27 28 29 30
LG James Carpenter 24 25 26 27 28
C Max Unger 27 28 29 30 31
RG Paul McQuistan 30 31 32 33 34
G J.R. Sweezy 24 25 26 27 28
RT Breno Giacomini 28 29 30 31 32
TE1 Zach Miller 27 28 29 30 31
TE2 Luke Willson 23 24 25 26 27
TE3 Kellen Davis 28 29 30 31 32
Left DE Red Bryant 29 30 31 32 33
DT Brandon Mebane 28 29 30 31 32
DT Tony McDaniel 28 29 30 31 32
DT

Clinton McDonald

26 27 28 29 30
Rush DT Michael Bennett 27 28 29 30 31
Leo/SAM Cliff Avril 27 28 29 30 31
Leo Chris Clemons 32 33 34 35 36
SAM/Leo Bruce Irvin 26 27 28 29 30
LB K.J. Wright 24 25 26 27 28
MIKE (LB) Bobby Wagner 23 24 25 26 27
CB Richard Sherman 25 26 27 28 29
CB Brandon Browner 29 30 31 32 33
Nickel CB Walter Thurmond  25 26 27 28 29
SS Kam Chancellor 25 26 27 28 29
FS Earl Thomas 24 25 26 27 28
Punter Jon Ryan 31 32 33 34 35
Kicker Steven Hauschka 28 29 30 31 32
Long Snapper Clint Gresham 27 28 29 30 31
TOP RESERVES 
G/T Alvin Bailey 22 23 24 25 26
G/T Michael Bowie 21 22 23 24 25
CB Jeremy Lane 22 23 24 25 26
CB Byron Maxwell 25 26 27 28 29
Safety Jeron Johnson 25 26 27 28 29
LB O'Brien Schofield 26 27 28 29 30
LB Malcolm Smith 24 25 26 27 28
DT Jordan Hill 22 23 24 25 26
Leo/SAM Benson Mayowa 22 23 24 25 26
LB Heath Farwell 31 32 33 34 35
QB Tarvaris Jackson 30 31 32 33 34
NOTABLE IR PLAYERS
DT Jessie Williams 22 23 24 25 26
TE Anthony McCoy 25 26 27 28 29
CB Tharold Simon 22 23 24 25 26
DT/DE Greg Scruggs 22 23 24 25 26

Updated Seahawks Player Rankings 1-59

The bye week is a good time to revisit my player rankings of all 53 players on the Seahawks roster, plus a few key folks that are injured. In total, I have stack-ranked 59 Seahawks players, giving them scores on five key characteristics. You can always find these rankings in the Seahawks Player Rankings section of HawkBlogger.com.

As a reminder, the factors are as follows:

AGE - The younger, the better. Some positions, like RB, are more harshly rated as age is a larger factor.

HEALTH - This could also be called dependability as it encompasses injury and absences for other reasons like suspension. A player with a current injury is rated more harshly as their recovery is unknown.

IMPACT TO DATE - This is about how the player has performed on the field thus far through their career. What level of performance have they already demonstrated?

POTENTIAL GROWTH - How much better can they be than they are right now? A great player may not have much more room to grow.

HARD TO REPLACE - This combines a variety of considerations including: salary for that position type, scheme demands on that position, uniqueness of skill set for the player, and typical ability to find fill that position played in to that level in the NFL.

Not all of these factors are equal. It is far more important, for example, to have demonstrated your impact on the field than it is to be young or have potential. I weighted the factors to address this:

IMPACT TO DATE = 45%

HARD TO REPLACE = 25%

POTENTIAL GROWTH = 15%

AGE = 10%

HEALTH 5%

The formula looks like this:

(AGE*0.10) + (HEALTH*0.05) + (IMPACT TO DATE*0.45) + (POTENTIAL GROWTH*0.15) + (HARD TO REPLACE*0.25) = PLAYER SCORE
To the results!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Accessing Past Issues of Hawk Blogger Weekly


The first issue of Hawk Blogger Weekly was a bigger success than I anticipated, which is cool. We are still in the early phases of what I hope will become a fun part of your weekly Seahawks routine. Expect some messes as we build it out, but look forward to some cool innovations along the way as well.

I have created a page where I will store past issues for now. On a desktop or tablet, you can find it by clicking the "Hawk Blogger Weekly" tab near the top of the page. On a phone, you can find it by clicking on the arrow in the top-right corner, and selecting Hawk Blogger Weekly from the menu.

Thanks for all the great feedback!

Take care,
Brian

Hawk Blogger 2013 Power Rankings: Week 11

THIS WEEK
For the first time since Week 3, someone other than Denver owns the top spot in the rankings. Seattle rises to #1 on the strength of a solid margin of victory and league-best passer rating differential. The Broncos have been sliding slightly the past few weeks, while the Seahawks have been gaining ground. The Saints spot at #3 sets up a titanic battle once Seattle returns from the bye. Only three teams have strength ratings of 40 or more, and two of them will face-off in Seattle on Monday Night Football.

Elsewhere, the Cardinals cross over into the land of positive rankings with their stretch of strong play. The Steelers join them. Meanwhile, Green Bay and Indianapolis sink near, or below, the zero barrier.

The Seahawks do not have any easy games left on the schedule, or at least as easy as they might have been a few weeks back. The Giants, Rams and Cardinals are all playing decent football.

UPDATE: New This Week!! I have added a 3-Week difference in team strength to help identify teams that are climbing or sliding over a larger chunk of time. This should help find teams that may be playing above or below their current ranking.

Note: If you are having problems viewing the rankings below, try this link(Leave a comment if it doesn't work for you!)



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.



RANKINGS EXPLAINED
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 was simple, I measured 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" was 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, but I am always looking for ways to improve it. I read a great article on ColdHardFootballFacts.com. There was one gem in there about predicting championship teams. The article mentioned passer rating differential as the "mother of all stats." A full 69 of 72 champions have ranked in the Top 10 in this statistic. It is a stat after my own heart, as I believe offensive and defensive efficiency is the key measurable outside of point differential. Turnovers would factor in there as well, but I am not convinced a team has as much control over that. My power rankings use YPA and YPC differentials. I went ahead and replaced the YPA with offensive and defensive passer rating, to give me this:

(YPC (offense) + Passer Rating (offense) + Avg Pts/Game Scored) - (OPP YPC (defense) + OPP Passer Rating (defense)+ OPP Avg Pts/Game)


Monday, November 18, 2013

The Morning After: Seahawks Head To The Bye In Style, 41-20 Over Vikings

Logo by Kevin Gamache, Hammerhead 

On Adrian Peterson's second carry from scrimmage, he ran to his right, and looked to be bottled up near the Seahawks sideline, only to cut back inside and find a gaping hole. He burst through and galloped 74 yards before Brandon Browner caught him at the 1-yard line. Just over a year later, Peterson took the ball 21 times and finished with nine fewer rushing yards on the day (65) than he had gained in that single run. He has played in 99 games over seven years, and only two other times has he finished with so few yards on so many carries. The final rushing totals for the Vikings do not begin to tell the story of how well the Seahawks run defense played against a determined opponent with Hall of Fame talent. Their young quarterback was playing well enough on this day that if the running game had found some footing, this could have been a much longer afternoon for the Seahawks. Instead, Brandon Mebane, Tony McDaniel, Red Bryant, Clinton McDonald, K.J. Wright, Kam Chancellor and Bobby Wagner deserve top billing for doing hard labor in a game most will remember for a more flashy debut.

That win over the Vikings last year was more pivotal than any of us knew at the time. It marked the beginning of a memorable second half of the season for Seattle. The Seahawks have gone 17-2 since that point in the regular season. The offense scored 30 points that day, and went on to average 34 points per game the last half of 2012. Some talked about that run as unlikely to be repeated. Seattle is averaging 33.7 ppg in the last three games to start the second half of 2013. In fact, the Seahawks are now the 4th-highest scoring offense in football at 27.8 ppg. They continue to show signs of recapturing the scoring magic that led them to such lofty heights at the end of last season.

FACT: Seattle is scoring on 56% of their drives in the second half of 2013 after scoring on just 39% of their drives the first eight games

The formula involves a bruising rushing attack and a highly efficient passing attack that takes big chunks of yards. That the Seahawks were able to score 31 points without a lot of help from the running game Sunday is a testament to the growth of Russell Wilson and the receiving corps. The defense then quickly helped turned that into 41 points once blood was in the water.

Percy Harvin played his last game as a Viking in the same place he played his first game as a Seahawk. You could feel the caution from the coaching staff. They had to be conflicted about letting him play before the bye week. He was not even introduced with the starting offense, as if to send a message to the home crowd not to count on seeing him much. Whether that was their intent or not, it was how he was used. Harvin played a fair number of snaps, but was only thrown to twice, with one official target after the other was nullified due to off-setting penalties. There was no noticeable change to the offense in terms of play-calling.

Harvin is at his best on screens, crossing patterns, and swing passes, but there was none of that on Sunday. It was interesting to see how few targets all the receivers got in this game. Doug Baldwin only got two, but made the most of them with a 44-yard catch and yet another highlight reel catch for a touchdown before the half. Golden Tate was an afterthought with just four targets and one catch. He appeared to lose more snaps than other receivers with Harvin back, but it is hard to believe that will be the plan going forward. He is playing too well to reduce his playing time. A total of 10 players were targeted on just 21 total pass attempts. Distribution is great when trying to keep defenses off-balance, but Darrell Bevell must be careful not to allow defenses to keep the ball away from his best players. This team needs Harvin, Baldwin, Tate and Jermaine Kearse to get the bulk of the targets.

One player who is struggling to justify the reps he is getting is Robert Turbin. He lacks elusiveness as a runner, which would be okay if he was not going down on first contact so often. Pete Carroll has made it clear that Christine Michael is being held back by his lack of polish in the passing game in terms of blitz pickup and general pass protection. There is no credible case for saying Turbin is a better asset as a runner, which further reinforces the notion that this is about less glamorous jobs like pass blocking.

It has been eleven games now, fifteen if you include pre-season. At some point, this becomes about the coaches inability to get Michael prepared to take the field. Inserting yet another wildcard into the pass blocking while Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini and Max Unger were missing games probably did not make a lot of sense. Now that they are back, the Seahawks would be wise to start mixing Michael in more regularly. He is a weapon that could change a game. Turbin simply has not shown evidence that he is more than a solid back-up runner. One story line to follow will be whether coaches look to Harvin to take some snaps from Turbin. In any case, we should see less of Turbin the rest of the way if the coaches are looking to optimize this offense.

Speaking of pass protection, the Seahawks surrendered just one sack, which makes it three games in a row at one sack or less. The offensive line played okay against what looked to be an inspired Minnesota defensive line. I was not able to observe the substitution pattern, but did see James Carpenter and McQuistan swapping throughout the game. It was clearly a blow to Michael Bowie to go from 7th round pick to starter to inactive. Lynch showed part of what makes him a hidden leader on this team in how he handled it.




FACT: The Seahawks are allowing 0.7 sacks per game the last three games after allowing 3.4 sacks per game in the first eight games


Tom Cable has some work to do to get this group humming again coming out of the bye with two tough match-ups. Line play is about continuity nearly as much as it is about talent. As great as it is to have Okung and Giacomini back, it will take some time for them to regain their form, and they don't have much time to do it.

No group of players will benefit more from the week off than the defensive line, and even more specifically, the defensive tackles. The same philosophy running teams have about pounding away at a defense in the first half of games to wear them down for the second half, applies in aggregate across the season. Even granite cracks eventually. There is no glory to be found in taking on multiple blockers or squeezing gaps, but guys like Bryant, Mebane and McDaniel do it game after game. Thank your neighborhood defensive lineman.

The defense, as a whole, is dragging a bit as they reach the bye. They are allowing 19 ppg over their last seven games, and have seen opponent 3rd down success, rushing success, and red zone success increase. If there is one group that has shown marked improvement the past two weeks, it would be the linebackers. Wagner is finally looking like the player we saw a season ago. He has had at least nine tackles in each of the past three games, and has added 2.5 sacks and an interception. He very easily could have had two interceptions on Sunday. His weakside counterpart, K.J. Wright had another monster game, matching Wagner's nine tackles and adding another tackle for loss. Those two needed to step up, and have done exactly that the past couple of weeks.

Eleven games into the season, Seattle has much to be thankful for. They are the best team in football, and will have a great chance to reinforce that truth against their next two opponents. No team had ever won 10 games or more in consecutive seasons in Seahawks franchise history until yesterday. Only six teams had reached 10 wins in 37 years of Seahawks football. This team, and this city, are walking an unspoiled path. We pause now to take in the sweeping views from high above the valley we have known all too well, knowing that the best views are still ahead. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Russell Wilson Defies Doubters Yet Again

Poor sophomores. Everyone assumes they are either immature, or destined for a slump. That was certainly the talk this NFL off-season as people evaluated the stellar quarterback class of 2012 as they entered their second seasons. No player was whispered about more than Russell Wilson. It did not matter that they had been wrong about his height a year earlier. The new reasons he would not succeed were his reliance on the read-option and improvisation. Oh, and just in case you had not heard, he is short. The poster boy for the dangers of believing too much in an improvisational quarterback was now-Vikings quarterback Josh Freeman. A look at how their careers have evolved shows, once again, that Wilson is walking his own path to NFL stardom.

Freeman had a modestly successful rookie year in 2009 for the Buccaneers. It was his 2010 season that sparkled. He threw 25 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions on his way to a 95.9 passer rating. His breakout year compared favorably to Wilson's.


When I would ask people to show me a quarterback that had failed after the type of success Wilson had, some would try to bring up Rick Mirer. In relative terms, that is a joke. Mirer never had a season that approached what Wilson did as a rookie. Mirer had a promising rookie year. Wilson had one of the greatest rookie seasons in NFL history. The tougher comparison to dispel was Freeman. Even if it was not his rookie year, it was his first full year starting and there was no doubt his 2010 season was in Wilson territory. He also had been known for making many of his throws outside the offense. When it worked, like in 2010, it was called creativity. Many questioned whether success based on non-rhythm throwing was sustainable. In Freeman's case, it has not been.

The first ten games of this season, Wilson has bordered on MVP-level numbers behind a battered offensive line. In doing so, he has left the cautionary tale of Josh Freeman in the rear-view mirror.


One of the lessons Seahawks coaches may have learned from Freeman's history is that a successful year for a young player does not necessarily mean the smart coaching move is to push more of the offense through that player. Freeman's attempts went up and his production went down. Wilson has been asked to do roughly what he was asked to do last year. Seattle still leans heavily on a rushing attack to reduce the load on the quarterback.

That, combined with Wilson's innate ability to throw the deep ball and find the end zone, has allowed Wilson to stand out among his sophomore quarterback brethren despite having fewer pass attempts.

Passing
Player G Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Rate Y/A
Andrew Luck 10 206 347 59.37% 2430 14 6 87.0 7.00
Robert Griffin III 9 205 337 60.83% 2450 12 9 83.8 7.27
Ryan Tannehill 8 182 303 60.07% 1998 13 10 80.2 6.59
Russell Wilson 10 163 257 63.42% 2132 17 6 101.8 8.30
Colin Kaepernick* 9 124 220 56.36% 1675 9 6 83.0 7.61
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/17/2013.

Wilson has more touchdowns than top three quarterbacks taken last year, is tied for fewest interceptions, and has the highest passer rating and yards per attempt by a long shot. It is worth noting that three of the four second-year players listed above have improved on their passer rating so far as sophomores. Only Robert Griffinn III has regressed, and most would equate his second-year slide to injury. Nick Foles has thrown himself into this group with a glowing second season that has him a hair behind Wilson in touchdowns (16), no interceptions and a nutso 132.5 rating. He was omitted from the table above because he entered this season with very modest expectations. Nobody was worried about a Nick Foles sophomore slump. The same could be said about Case Keenum and his 7 touchdown-to-zero interception second season.

Colin Kapernick was included even though this is his third season in the NFL, mainly because he was often lumped in with this group due to having his breakout season the same year. If any of these guys had a Freeman-like slump after their breakout year, it would be Kaepernick.

Wilson appears to be setting the stage for another big finish as his passer rating in the last four games has been a heady 116.5, with nine touchdowns against only two interceptions. Three of those four games have seen his rating over 117.

Analysts will continue to find reasons to question the pedigree of Russell Wilson. He will keep finding ways to make them look foolish. He is already among the most efficient quarterbacks in the NFL. By the time this season ends, he may be in the debate for the best rookie year and best second year of any quarterback in NFL history. It does not take a genius to imagine the conversation if he continues that trend in future years.


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