Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top Stories Of 2013

We have two weeks before the next Seahawks game. Take a moment an re-live some of the top stories of 2013 before the new year kicks in.

Top 10 Stories By Pageviews

#10 - The Facts of Richard Sherman vs Darrelle Revis


#9 - The Plan For Better Pass Protection


#8 - Seahawks Receivers Anything But Average


#7 - Birds Of A Different Feather: The 2011 Eagles And 2013 Seahawks


#6 - First Impressions: The Redskins Face A Tough Task


#5 - An In-Depth Look At Seahawks OFfensive Struggles & What Should Change


#4 - Rapid Reactions: Seahawks 2013 Draft


#3 - Sean McGrath, The Most Important Seahawks You Don't Know


#2 - The Unauthorized Story Of Matt Flynn In Seattle


#1 - Russell Wilson: An Inconvenient Truth


Top Game Stories

#5 - The Morning After: Seahawks Tumble In Indianapolis


#4 - The Night After: Seahawks Bow Out, Lose 30-28 To Falcons


#3 - The Morning After: Seahawks Survive Panthers


#2 - The Morning After: Seahawks Soul Stomp 49ers


#1 - The Morning After: Seattle's Historic Win Over Houston

Monday, December 30, 2013

Carroll And Schneider Try For Rare Super Bowl Feat


Black Monday in the NFL claimed a number of victims today as five coaches were fired. Whoever gets the opportunity to lead those teams will have at least some talent to build with. Each of the teams with a vacant head coaching position has at least one 2013 Pro Bowl player on their roster. Some, like the Tampa Bay Bucs, have multiple Pro Bowl players and a stable of promising young talent that could reach the Pro Bowl in the future. Many coaches are crowned as kings for coming into a team with pre-existing talent and getting the most out of them. Jim Harbaugh, for example, inherited all eight of his 2013 Pro Bowl players. The team was not winning before he arrived, but the talent was in place to be great. Pete Carroll and John Schneider are taking a road less traveled. The team they inherited in 2010 was coming off a season where there were no Pro Bowl players on the roster, and only one of their current Pro Bowl players, Max Unger, was even on the roster when they arrived. Should they eventually lead the Seahawks to a Super Bowl, this year, or in the future, they will become just the second front office to complete such a drastic turnaround.

There have been 47 Super Bowls and 18 different teams that have won. Based on the information I could find on Pro-Football-Reference.com, the only Super Bowl winner to come from a front office that inherited a similar situation to what Carroll and Schneider took on was Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren in Green Bay. They won the Super Bowl in 1996, but the roster they inherited in 1992 was coming off a season without any Pro Bowl players. And, the only player on that 1991 roster they took over that eventually become a Pro Bowl player for that 1996 championship team was LeRoy Butler.

I scoured the rosters of each of the Super Bowl winners looking for: players that made the Pro Bowl the year before the new front office arrived, and Pro Bowl players from the Super Bowl winning year that were on the roster when they arrived, but had not reached that status yet.

The 2001 Patriots with Bill Belichick were close, but Lawer Milloy was a Pro Bowl players when he arrived, and played on the championship team. Troy Brown and Ty Law were also on the roster, and became Pro Bowl members of the 2001 squad.

Bill Parcells 1986 Super Bowl team in New York had a roster that already included names like Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson before he arrived.

Mike Ditka won a championship in 1985 with the Bears, but Walter Payton and Gary Fencik were existing Pro Bowlers and a guy named Mike Singletary was already in tow.

The 1992 Cowboys completely overhauled their roster when Jimmy Johnson arrived in 1989, leading to a dismal 1-15 record one season. Even Johnson, though, had Herschel Walker on the squad when he got there, and a young trio of Nate Newton, Michael Irvin, and Ken Norton Jr. ready to blossom.

Joe Gibbs had Joe Theismann, Art Monk, Mike Nelms and Mark Mosley there when he arrived before eventually winning in 1982.

The perfect 1972 Dolphins were led by Hall of Fame coach Don Shula. He had a Pro Bowler named Jim Kiick on the roster when he got there, and three guys that would grow into Pro Bowlers that championshop season in Larry Csonka, Mercury Morris and Dick Anderson.

There are four players on the current Seahawks roster that were around in 2009 before Carroll arrived: Jon Ryan, Max Unger, Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant. Only Unger has made the Pro Bowl. Mebane has an outside chance at All-Pro consideration, and deserves it, but is unlikely to be recognized for his work.

Almost every core piece of the a team many consider the odds-on favorite to win the Super Bowl this season was added by the two men leading the team right now. Where most coaches and general managers come into an apartment and renovate, Carroll and Schneider moved into a crack house, tore it down to the studs, and built a luxury high rise.

The time it would take to research how many front offices have even been able to take a roster without Pro Bowlers and become the #1 seed four years later is just too tedious with the tools available, but I'd wager the list is very short.

Carroll and Schneider do not need to win a Super Bowl to validate their accomplishment. What they have done to this point is remarkable in it's own right. Should they lead the team to a championship, they will have done something legends like Parcells, Shula, Belichick, Gibbs, Ditka and Johnson never did. Go ahead and give the Coach of the Year award to Andy Reid for taking a team that had six Pro Bowl players from 2012 already on the roster, and all of their eight 2013 Pro Bowlers, and leading them to second-place in the AFC West. Name guys like Ryan Grigson Executive of the Year for drafting Andrew Luck with the #1 overall pick while Schneider was busy getting Russell Wilson in the third round. Anyone who cares to take the time and really break down what Schneider and Carroll have done in four short years will see true award-winning work. A Super Bowl ring is certainly the best way to drive the point home.

Final 2013 Hawk Blogger Power Rankings

THIS WEEK
For the second straight season, the Seahawks finish with the top spot in the power rankings. Denver finishes second for back-to-back seasons as well. And San Francisco finishes fourth again. Remarkable consistency for a parity-drive league. You can check out the final rankings from 2012 here.

The formula proved pretty accurate at predicting playoff teams yet again. By week three, 7 of 10 teams in the top ten made the playoffs, and 9 of the top 13. By week four, 8 of the top 10 teams were playoff qualifiers, and 10 of the 12 playoff teams were among the top 15. This is why I trust the numbers more than subjective expert picks.

The lowest ranked team in week four to make the playoffs was the then-23rd-ranked Eagles. Just like the Packers now, it is hard for the numbers to reflect drastic personnel changes like Aaron Rodgers returning does not erase all the weeks of him being absent, even if it makes the team that much better right now. Same for Nick Foles being inserted as a full-time starter much later in the season.

San Francisco boasts a far higher ranking than the Packers, but the difference has to be much less with Rodgers back in. Green Bay reached a Team Strength as high as 20.7 before Rodgers was injured, not far off the 49ers 24.2 right now.

On to the playoffs...

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)


The Morning After: Seahawks Control Super Bowl Path, Beat Rams, 27-9


Logo by Kevin Gamache, Hammerhead 

Sockeye salmon are all driven by the same goal when returning to spawn. They come en masse with a singular focus. Not all can make it. The obstacles in their path are varied and unrelenting. A Scooby-Doo trap is less convoluted than the path a salmon must follow. The journey changes them. Going from salt water to fresh water causes physical transformations. You would not recognize a sockeye that entered the mouth of the river when he reaches the spawning ground. Only the most cunning, determined, strong, and lucky reach their goal. Some will get their scars from propellers or seals. Others will have hooks and fishing line adorning them. The pain, the adversity, the cumulative experience of their lives do not occupy their mind. Only the goal. Seattle is not the team it was when it started the year. Injuries, experience, wins, and losses, have changed the names on some of the jerseys, and the players inside of them. They have traveled a great distance, bested nearly every obstacle, and seen their peers lessen in number. The challenges that lay in front of them are different than the ones behind them, but the journey has prepared them to finish what they started. Your Seattle Seahawks are NFC West Champions and #1 in the NFC, but their gaze remains fixed on the goal in front of them.

It seems a lifetime ago when Seattle was fighting the heat in Carolina, and fans were sweating out a game they expected to be easier. There was Stephen Williams barely missing a diving catch, D'Anthony Smith playing on the defensive line, and Mike Person playing the third tight end. There was also Doug Baldwin making a miraculous sideline catch, Jermaine Kearse hauling in a gorgeous deep pass, and Earl Thomas chasing down DeAngelo Williams for a game-saving forced fumble. Some things changed. Some endured.

The Seahawks exited the game against the Rams with lingering questions about the offense, but the defense has left little doubt the past few weeks about who is the best in the NFL. They end the season best in a variety of measures, ranging from fewest points allowed (14.4 ppg) to fewest yards allowed (273.6) to most takeaways (39). There was a time when Seattle allowed 405 yards rushing in back-to-back weeks and the talking heads latched onto the idea that they were vulnerable to the run. In the seven games since, Seattle has allowed 82.8 yards rushing per game, good for third-best in the NFL over that span. That includes a spectacular game against a Rams team that had entered Sunday as the second-best rushing team in football the last eight games.

The 13 rushing yards allowed tied a Seahawks record, and the 0.7 YPC set one

Over that seven game span where they had the third-best rush defense in the NFL, they were allowing opposing quarterbacks a microscopic 54.9 passer rating, leading the NFL in takeaways with 18, and allowing just 11.7 points per game. Mind you, this was all happening while the rest of the NFL was setting scoring records every weekend.

Some of the challenges on offense have stolen attention from a defense that was taking the step from great to elite. The post-season could cement them as a historic unit, something I will dig into more later in the week.

Bobby Wagner stands out as a player who has stepped up his game significantly over that time. He had 9+ tackles only once in his first six games. He finished with at least 9 tackles in each of his last eight games. This was the player I saw in training camp that I thought could be an All-Pro this season. His battery mate, Malcolm Smith has sparkled in relief of injured starter K.J. Wright. Smith had a tackle for loss and pick-six on the first series versus the Rams. He has at least one tackle for loss in each of the last four games, and has an interception in his last two. I've seen some suggest he should take the starting role from Bruce Irvin when/if Wright returns this year. Smith is a great weakside linebacker. That is his natural spot. If there was going to be a battle at Irvin's strongside position, it would be between Wright and Irvin. It is possible Smith could force that conversation, but Irvin is playing very good football, even if his numbers do not jump off the page.

The defensive line has been masterful. So much talk focuses on edge lineman and the LEO position, but it has been the interior lineman that have stood out. Michael Bennett finishes as the team leader in sacks with 8.5. Clinton McDonald had zero sacks in his first 37 career games, and 5.5 in his last 15. Tony McDaniel is probably the least recognized aspect of what has become a dynamic defensive tackle rotation. He was completely unblockable at the start of Sunday's game. Not only did he stuff multiple runs, but he was the pressure in Kellen Clemons face that led to the Smith interception return. Brandon Mebane has played his most complete season. He has worn down in prior years, but seems more fresh at this late date than I ever remember. Red Bryant is an end, but belongs in the conversation based on his responsibilities, and he played one his best games of the season against the Rams while nursing a sore knee.

And we haven't even talked about the secondary yet. Legion, indeed. Byron Maxwell has four interceptions in five starts, good for 11th in the NFL.

Richard Sherman finishes the year with two more interceptions than any other player despite being thrown at 3rd-fewest in the NFL
Earl Thomas set his career-high for tackles in a season, tied his career high for interceptions and was nearly perfect from the jump. Kam Chancellor had more legal body denting hits versus the Rams than any player in recent memory. Oh, and they are all 25 or younger and under contract for next season.

This was a scintillating performance by a defense that has enjoyed a season of them. Their next proving ground is the harsh light of post-season football. They may be good enough to carry even a troubled offense all the way to New York.

Russell Wilson and that offense took a small step forward against the Rams. The 111 yards rushing for the Seahawks may seem paltry, but the Rams have been the best rushing defense in the NFL over the last seven weeks. Only one other team has topped 100 yards on the ground against them since week nine. Seattle earned those yards with some great blocking by their line, but what stood out was the re-emergence of fullback Michael Robinson. His work with Marshawn Lynch was some of the best on the day. When snap counts are released, expect Robinson's numbers to have jumped back up to 30%+ of the offensive snaps. That number could grow even greater with the injury to Luke Willson, which will reduce the use of two-tight end formations.

Darrell Bevell also recommitted himself to getting the ball in Golden Tate's hands. It worked. Short passes led to longer gains, and the connection between Wilson and Tate was rediscovered. Sometimes the pump has to be primed. Kudos to Bevell for force-feeding this without taking unnecessary risks.

Wilson played a better game, but was under more real (as opposed to self-inflicted) pressure versus the Rams. He rarely got a chance to set his feet at the top of his drop, and took some big hits. Russell Okung looked like his toe was giving him fits. That will be something to watch over the next two weeks. The team can only hope that rest will do him good. Alvin Bailey subbed for him late and did his normal good work.

Doug Baldwin was a forgotten man with only one target that was thrown well over his head on the first series. Take it as an aberration. Jermaine Kearse watched as Bryan Walters took his snaps, and Ricardo Lockette had what is becoming his customary one catch. Lockette deserves credit for embracing a special teams role. Rumor was that the last time he was in Seattle, he showed little interest in special teams. A trip on the edge of the NFL seems to have helped him see that helping the team in any way is better than helping it no way.

The Seahawks now enjoy a two-week break from the pounding of a game. Players can always use the rest for their bodies, and coaches like Pete Carroll and Tom Cable can use the time to self-scout and examine opponent tendencies. Football is a game of moves and counter-moves. Opponents made changes to how they were playing the Seahawks in recent weeks, and Seattle found some success with their counter-moves this week. There is plenty more to come. The Seahawks have faced four of the NFL's best defenses in the last five weeks. Those challenges have armored them for the challenges in front of them. The best defense, though, resides in the Great Northwest. While Seattle remains focused on the goal ahead, the rest of the NFC must swim through our neck of the woods. Danger lurks around every bend. The odds do not favor their survival. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

NFC West Champion Gear Available

The folks over Fanatics have your NFC West Champion gear available for those that want to have something to remember each step with. Below are a few of the items, including a plaque, cap and hoodie.

CLICK HERE to check out the selection, or on any of the images below.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Percy Harvin Contract Explained


Former sports agent Joel Corry spent a few minutes explaining some details of Percy Harvin's contract that I had not previously understood. In the interest of keeping Seahawks fan informed, I will share what I learned, as well as some thoughts on the significance of it.

First, let's get acquainted with the different types of guaranteed money in an NFL contract. I had always thought money was either guaranteed, or it wasn't. Not true. There is fully guaranteed money, but there are also guarantees that can be restricted to injury, cap or skill. I found a decent explanation of the differences over at NYJetsCap.com:

Fully guaranteed money is the real deal. That means your money is protected from skill, injury, and cap terminations. For you to not earn that money you have to do something egregious to be cut and not paid. The most complete form is that with “no offset” meaning not only do you get paid from the team that cut you but any additional money you earn from another team that year is yours to keep. Most contain offset language meaning if the player has a $7 million dollar guarantee and signs with a new team for $2 million you are only on the hook for $5 million in cap and cash dollars.

Often times reported guarantees are not fully guaranteed. Normally they just contain protection for 1 of the 3 termination reasons. So if you are protected from injury but don’t get hurt that injury guarantee was worth nothing. You have a skill guarantee but the teams cap is awful you are out of luck. You will never see a roster or workout bonus guaranteed for all 3 terminations upon signing, due to rules in the CBA treating them as a prorated bonus. In my mind the skill guarantee is the best of the three to have because it’s the most subjective but that’s just my opinion on it.


Corry passed along that Harvin's deal is injury guaranteed for 2014. That means that if he was injured at the end of this league year (6 days after the Super Bowl), his $11M base salary for 2014 becomes guaranteed. A number of different media sources reported this week that the Seahawks would not put Harvin on IR because it would guarantee his 2014 contract. This is what they were referring to. 

When Seattle cut Perrish Cox yesterday instead of putting Harvin on IR, this would appear to be the reason. It likely has nothing to do with leaving open the chance for Harvin to return this season. Pete Carroll has grown increasingly terse with his responses to Harvin questions, and this could be part of the reason. The coach likely is ready to turn the page and use Harvin's roster spot, but the front office may be insisting that the Seahawks keep their options open. 

In literal terms, this means Seattle could choose to cut Harvin after the Super Bowl and recoup his 2014 salary. They would still owe the pro-rated portion of his signing bonus, which would count as dead money against the cap.

In real world terms, this means very little. Seattle will not cut Harvin after paying him $14M for one catch and one kick return. They want to see a return on their fiscal and draft pick investment. Still, keeping their options open is worthy of note. It gives the team leverage, but with no clear reason to use it. Most likely, this allows them to keep options open in case they hear something that causes them to question to long-term prospects of the Harvin deal. An escape valve nobody expects them to use.

Friday, December 27, 2013

NEW ISSUE: Hawk Blogger Weekly - Week 16

Hawk Blogger Weekly Issue #6 is now available! A record number of people enjoyed last week's issue, featuring Doug Baldwin on the cover.

We continue to feature the great work of Anthony May and Jeff Marsh, who have some amazing shots for you in this week's issue.

You can contribute to Hawk Blogger Weekly as well! Have an article you'd like to write? Want to see your photo in a magazine that thousands of people see? Shoot me a note.

Speaking of future issues, be sure to click the Subscribe link on the blog or within the magazine to be notified automatically when a new issue gets published.

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 ideas for how you could be featured, drop me a line!

REMINDER: 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





The Cowboy Way

Pete Carroll grew up in the NFL during the 80s and 90s. He saw dynasties built with strong running games, dominating defenses and a passing game that filled in the gaps. It should come as little surprise that his current Seahawks team is following a trail blazed by one of the dynasties of that age. What may be somewhat surprising is that it is not the 49ers teams that he was a part of, but instead, the Jimmy Johnson's Cowboys.

People remember the 1990s Cowboys for their three Super Bowl victories, Johnson's impenetrable hairdo, Troy Aikman's All-American play and image, and Emmit Smith. Many people picture Aikman as a prolific franchise quarterback like the John Elway's and Dan Marino's of that era. The truth is, while Elway was throwing for 4000+ yards and 35 attempts per game, Aikman was leading a much more balanced offense that started with Smith and that dominating offensive line.

Their defenses featured imposing pass rushers like Charles Haley and eventually a shutdown corner in Deion Sanders. There were no game-breaking receivers, but there were players like Michael Irvin that ran terrific routes and made tough catches in traffic.

Back in 1990, they finished 7-9. The following season, they went 11-5 and won their first road playoff game in 11 years before losing in the divisional round on the road. In 1992, they lost an important divisional game to the Redskins just weeks before the end of the regular season. They went on to finish 13-3 and win the Super Bowl, beating their bitter rival, the 49ers along the way.

Sound familiar?

*one game left
The Seahawks won their first road playoff game last season for the first time in nearly 30 years. They lost in the divisional round, and are looking to rebound from a tough divisional loss to go 13-3 this year. Both teams counted San Francisco as their chief competition.

The similarities between that 1992 Cowboys squad and the 2013 Seahawks doesn't end there.


Both teams were nearly identical in points per game, points allowed, yards per play for and against and point differential. And let's not forget that both teams featured Ken Norton Jr.

Should Seattle realize their potential this season, they will have youth and talent similar to that of the 92 Cowboys. This is a group that has already mimicked so much of how that Cowboys squad approached the game to largely the same result. This weekend is their next chance to follow in the footsteps of a champion.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

An In-Depth Look At Seahawks Offensive Struggles & What Should Change

Seattle lost a game to the Cardinals last weekend, but their offense has been struggling for much longer. As we wait for the season finale on Sunday versus a Rams team that handed Seattle their worst offensive performance of the Pete Carroll era, it seemed worth delving a little deeper. No one thing is causing the Seahawks offensive decline the past three weeks. A variety of factors are at play.

The Running Game

Marshawn Lynch ran for 91 yards in his first game against the Cardinals, but managed only 71 in the second. I charted each carry in both games, documenting personnel groupings, which direction the run went and how many players the Cardinals stacked in the box. 

Something changed drastically in the Seahawks game plan from game one to game two. Thirteen of Lynch's 21 carries went up the middle in Arizona. He gained an average of 4.7 yards on those carries. Only three of his 18 carries back in Seattle went up the middle. Tom Cable must have liked the idea of his starting tackles back in this game. He ran left eight times and right seven times, averaging 5.0 yards per carry going right versus 3.6 heading left. 

My initial hypothesis was that part of why Lynch and the running game struggled more in the second game was due to more defenders committed to the run by the Cardinals. That turned out to be completely wrong. The Cardinals had 8 or more men in the box on 61% of Lynch's runs in the second game compared to 71% in the first game. Seattle actually faced fewer run defenders the second go-around. Add to that, Lynch fared better against 8+ men in the box (5.4 YPC) in the second game than when there were 7 or less (2.3 YPC). That performance against a standard 7-man front was in stark contrast to the whopping 8.3 YPC the Lynch managed in the first game.

Something else changed, though. Derrick Coleman was injured in that first Cardinals game. Before he got hurt, Lynch ran behind a fullback on five of his first nine carries and averaged 5.0 yards per tote. He averaged 3.8 on his remaining 12 carries. Michael Robinson was signed after that game. He played sparingly in that Rams game, but then started to play significant snaps over the next four games, which happened to coincide with Lynch's two highest rushing totals of the season. He has had three 100-yard rushing performances in 2013, and two of them came in the three weeks following adding Robinson back to the mix.


The coaches clearly did not see the correlation between Robinson's snap count and Lynch's productivity, because they have drastically reduced his snaps the past three weeks. He played just six offensive snaps versus Arizona last week.

Lynch is a player with immense talent, but his strength is in running people over, not in reading the running lanes. He trusts Robinson like nobody else. When Coleman was his lead blocker, he was far less likely to follow him into the hole, and often ad-libbed. Watch him when Robinson leads. They are like train cars on a track. Trust.

At this point, no fullback is making a difference because the team has shifted the fullback snaps elsewhere. Jermaine Kearse and  Luke Willson, among others, have seen increased reps that are coming at the expense of the fullback. Coleman's return from injury has also meant Robinson is splitting what few fullback snaps there are with him.

Watching Lynch on tape these last few games shows a guy who is searching for a hole that is not there. He is moving laterally far more at the line of scrimmage than last season when he would commit to a hole and run through it. Part of the reason for that is there is a guy waiting for him in the assigned lane nearly every time. Robinson does an excellent job, far better than Coleman or Miller or Willson, as a lead blocker. It was no accident that Lynch averaged 6.0 yards per carry when following Robinson's lead on Sunday.

Robinson played 32% of the offensive snaps last season. Seattle would be wise to get him back to that level. It will not single-handedly turn the rushing game around, but it is something they can control. Making 2013 Max Unger into 2012 Max Unger is not nearly as straight-forward. Do not be surprised, however, to see Michael Bowie starting to steal snaps at guard.

Missing Golden

Golden Tate is not a separation receiver. He makes plays in traffic, and can run after the catch if given the chance. To take advantage of his skill set, a team has to force-feed him the ball because he will not get open on his own in most cases. Darrell Bevell and the offense was far more committed to that early in the season than they have been of late. 

Golden Tate was targeted 7+ times in 6 of the first 10 games, but only once in the last 5
Teams are working to take him away, and the offense is suffering for it. Seattle needs to re-commit to getting the ball in Tate's hands in a variety of ways. It cannot just be down-field throws. He has struggled to make some of those high-point catches the past few weeks, most notably in New York. It feels a little like a jump shooter that needs a layup to see the ball go in before the rest of his game opens up. A few wide receiver screens or short crossing routes could go a long way toward getting Tate back on track, and the offense along with it.

Scheme Diversity

Coaches can get in a rut just like players. Bevell and Cable need to take some responsibility for how the offense has sputtered the past few weeks. They have dialed up a number of deep passes, but without the running game setting them up. Seattle has been at it's best when the running game is chipping away, and play-action passes off that create explosive plays down-field. 



Those explosive plays have all but disappeared the past three weeks. The play-calling has appeared desperate at times to create those explosive plays instead of earning them with smaller gains on the ground and through more conservative pass plays. There have been fewer stop routes, slants, crossing patterns and screens. These plays will not usually net big yardage, but they can mean the difference between 2nd and 10 and 2nd and 6.  

Seattle needs to rediscover their ball control attack in order to unlock their big-play ability. 


As you can see, the defense is doing more than it's share to control explosive plays for the opponent. This is the first quarter of the season where the Seahawks have not enjoyed a decided advantage in explosive plays per game. The offense needs to start pulling their weight in this regard, and that starts with better results on early downs with higher percentage runs and passes.

The Forgotten Down

So much is made of how the Seahawks perform on third down, and for good reason. Seattle averaged 32 ppg and 419.5 yards per game in their four best third down games of the season compared to 18.8 ppg and 255 yards per game in their four worst third down games. Doing well on third down is about far more than how the team performs on that particular down. The down that people should be paying more attention to is first down. 

Seattle's offense is not built for converting 3rd and long

No team is great at converting 3rd and long, but Seattle is 26th in the NFL at just 15.5%. Team like Denver and San Diego can convert at double that rate. So that means getting yards on early downs is paramount for the Seahawks, and they have not been doing that of late.

Over the last three games, the Seahawks are averaging 4.68 yards on first down, down more than a full yard compared to their first 12 games (5.95). They were 6th in the NFL in first down yardage over those first 12 games. They are 20th in the NFL over the past three games. To hammer home just how much of a belle weather down this is, Seattle has averaged a whopping 6.5 yards on first downs in their four best 3rd down performances, compared to 4.6 in their four worst. That is a massive two-yard gap, and if you didn't notice, that low number is exactly what they have been averaging the past three weeks.

A lot of this goes back to the three things above. Coaches have every option open to them on first down. Seattle is being out-schemed and out-executed on first down, and it is having a cascading effect on the rest of the downs. They have become more likely to pass on first down than they had before. 

During those first 12 games, the team ran on 61% of first downs and passed 39% of the time. That ratio has closed to 57% run and 43% throw the last three weeks. This offense is built on the run setting up the pass. They consistently do it against extra men in the box, so this is a conscious choice to move more toward passing than the defense forcing their hand. 

Add It Up

The Seahawks head into their final game of the regular season with something to prove. Their offense has not been performing at a level close to their standards. They face a defense that embarrassed them earlier in the season, and given them fits in prior years. It shapes up as a good test for a team that appears to thirst for adversity and doubt to sharpen their focus. 

Percy Harvin is not coming to the rescue, and it appears Christine Michael will remain in lock-up as well. The men that built one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL over the last 8 games of 2012 and first 12 games of 2013 need to find their footing again.

It starts with a renewed commitment to execution on first down. Short passes and greater percentages of run plays is a good place to start. Increase the utilization of Robinson as a fullback to keep Lynch running in a straight line and allowing the offensive line a little more room for error. When there are two tight ends or three receivers, there is nobody to clear out the man waiting in the running lane. Every block must be right. A player like Robinson gives Lynch that little extra chance to gain yardage. 

Coaches need to get Tate back into the flow. He went without a target in the first half on Sunday. It doesn't matter who is guarding him. The team needs to find high percentage ways to get him touches. 

And last, but far from least, Russell Wilson needs to get back on his game. He has been uncharacteristically inaccurate the past three weeks. After four straight games of 72%+ completion percentages, he has been at 60% or less in two of the last three. He had seven straight games of a passer rating above 91, but has not risen above 86.3 in any of his last three. There is no doubt he is capable of better play than we have seen the last three weeks. His team needs him to regain that form.

This game will tell Seahawks fans and Seahawks players a lot about their offense. Expect them to step back into the light.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Robert Turbin, Meet John L. Williams



Robert Turbin is a player that has been on my mind a lot this year. I sat next to his father at Turbin's first game as a pro in Arizona last year, and am incredibly impressed by the way he has led his life off the field. He has met a variety of family challenges with courage and integrity that most would call heroic. His rookie season was promising, if not spectacular, and he looked to be a better-than-average backup running back heading into this year, with possible starting potential. Then the Seahawks drafted Christine Michael in the 2nd round of the draft. Michael has barely played so far this season, and Turbin has not had the year he or fans would hope for. The fair question becomes what will happen next season when Michael undoubtedly will get more reps? I had assumed Turbin would become trade fodder, and that is still the most likely scenario. But as I watched a ton of game tape the last few days, another possibility occurred to me. Maybe Turbin does not have to share reps with Michael or Marshawn Lynch. Maybe he can share the back-field with them as a fullback.

Older Seahawks fans, like me, grew up watching a guy named John L. Williams turn the fullback position into something more than a blocker for eight years in Seattle. Williams was 5'11" and 232 lbs, and was one of the best receiving backs I have had the pleasure of watching play. He had massive hands that could pluck the ball from the air and his instincts in the screen game were something to behold. His running abilities were good, but he was a special player catching the ball.  He did all that while also blocking for the likes of Curt Warner and Chris Warren while they rushed for over 1,000 yards. 

Williams made the Pro Bowl twice. The first time came in 1990 when he combined for over 1,400 yards in rushing (714) and receiving (699). He went for another 1,250 in combined yards the following year. He remains 6th on the Seahawks all-time receiving yards list and 4th in rushing yards. He trails only Steve Largent and Shaun Alexander in total yards gained as a Seahawk. 

Turbin checks in at 5'10 and 222 lbs. Pete Carroll has complimented him on his blocking ability, saying he is ahead of where most young backs are. Michael Robinson, as much as we all like him, is getting older, and Derrick Coleman was not playing great football before he got injured and opened the door for Robinson to come back in. 

The team has drastically reduced the use of the fullback overall, and is relying more and more an H-Back sets that have Luke Willson or Zach Miller lining up as a lead blocker, but why not Turbin? For one, he'd probably hate the idea. Fullbacks make among the lowest average salaries in the NFL, and he has to feel like he has not really got his shot at running back yet.

As much as I cheer for Turbin as a person, it is hard to imagine any scenario where he will maintain his spot ahead of Michael on the depth chart next season. Turbin is simply not the runner Michael is. He has an unfortunate habit of finding tacklers in the open field, which just so happens to be a skill if he was a fullback. 

He is also a plus receiver that could be utilized more in the screen game. Robinson has made some big plays in the passing game as a receiver the last couple of years, including in the playoffs last season. 

Getting Turbin on the field as a fullback would give defenses one more weapon to plan for. Turbin may be an average threat as a running back, but he'd be among the most dangerous fullbacks in the NFL. The trend may be to reduce the role of the fullback, but Carroll has a history of bucking the trends, and often pulls from his experience in the 80s and 90s which just so happens to be the era of guys like Williams and Mike Alstott. More than likely, John Schneider will try to recoup a 3rd round pick for Turbin, but at least one Seahawks fan would love to see the legend of John L. Williams make a comeback.



















A Gift You Should All Be Proud Of

This has been a special year for Seahawks fans. The team has thrilled us. World records have been set, and then set again. It should come as no surprise that you all have done something special once again. HawkBlogger.com just made the largest charitable donation in site history thanks to all the purchases you have made through the site this year. Last year, you all helped me raise about $600 through page views (ads), ticket sales, buying team gear and even Zeek's Pizza. I rounded that up to $1000. This year, you all doubled that, as the site raised $1200, and I rounded that up to $2000.

You are making a difference!! Thanks for reading!

I never felt right about making money on HB.com. I may someday, but for now, I just wanted to take a minute to thank all of you for your time and interest and passion around the team we all love.

Ben's Fund, which was setup by John and Traci Schneider, helps parents who cannot afford expensive Autism treatments. Ben Schneider has Autism, and John and Traci understand how blessed they are to have been able to afford the best for him. My youngest son has special needs as well, so this charity makes a lot of sense on a variety of levels. It will continue to be where HB.com proceeds go for the foreseeable future.

With sponsorship money from SMS Audio, Glidden, and hopefully others coming in the new year, we should be set to blow away our contribution mark again next December.

You can continue to help by reading and sharing articles from HB.com and buying products from our sponsors.

Thanks again, for a fantastic 2013, and here's to hoping for a 2014 we will never forget.

- Brian Nemhauser
Editor, Writer and Publisher - HawkBlogger.com

San Francisco Billboard Fail Gets National Coverage

CNN got a laugh out of the 49ers fans paying $8K for a billboard to taunt Seahawks fans that ended up in Fife, 27 miles from the stadium. Do we have a billboard company to thank?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Percy Harvin, A Trade To Regret

Pete Carroll wasted no time in declaring Percy Harvin out of practice this week. That means he will not play in 15 of the team's 16 regular season games, and I expect an announcement this week that he will be placed on injured reserve, with Walter Thurmond III taking his roster spot as he returns from the suspended list. Carroll and John Schneider have had a remarkable run of personnel decisions in their four years in Seattle. Their biggest misstep may have been trading for Charlie Whitehurst. Even then, the damage on the field and to the roster was minimal. The forumula has been to aquire young talent through the draft, give them early playing time to allow for maximum impact during the rookie contract years, and sprinkle in short-term free agents of varying costs to fill in around the. The Harvin deal represented a departure from the formula. It was a massive contract and structured in a way that locks the team in for a chunk of time and a collection of draft picks. If the team had simply signed Harvin to the contract without the draft picks, or just the draft picks without the contract, there would be little to question. The risk in acquiring Harvin was never in the player. It was in the cost of acquisition and deviation from team philosophy. There are precious few players and situations when taking that risk is justified. One year into that deal, the odds are looking long that Seattle made the right decision.

Backstory - The Draft

Seattle entered the off-season with a goal of adding new pass rushers and a few new weapons for Russell Wilson on offense. They nailed the pass rushers with Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, but Luke Willson is the only player that qualifies as a new weapon. Before zeroing in on the move to get Harvin this off-season, it is worth understanding the choices that led to Seattle feeling the need to make a big move like that.

Schneider has overseen four drafts now. He has drafted 39 players over those four years. Where the team has invested those picks tells a story.

Schneider draft picks by pos
Weapons have not been a high priority for the Seahawks to acquire via the draft. Only six "skill" players have been drafted at the wide receiver and running back position, and three of those came in this last draft with Christine Michael, Spencer Ware and Chris Harper. Of the three receivers drafted by Schneider, only Golden Tate (2nd) was drafted above the fourth round. It could be argued that receiver has not only been a low priority for the Seahawks front office, but one of their weaker positions to evaluate.

Harper did not make the team out of training camp, and was subsequently cut by the 49ers. Kris Durham has grown into a serviceable player for the Lions, but Seattle drafted him to play in the slot. It was Detroit that saw him as an edge receiver and have benefited from their evaluation. Tate is clearly the best receiving prospect that they drafted, but even he took far longer to develop than they could have expected. Maybe some of it is coaching as well. The best receiver moves the front office has made came through unrestricted free agency where they added Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse. They deserve a lot of credit for bringing those players aboard, but if they knew each player was as good as they have been, it is reasonable to have expected a draft choice to spent. There is some fortune involved when an undrafted free agent hits.

Part of how a front office has to be judged is who they drafted at a position relative to who was available. Tate, for example, is the 7th-leading receiver this season from his draft class in terms of receptions. The only players the Seahawks could have taken at his 60th spot that have performed better are Antonio Brown (6th rd), Eric Decker (3rd) and Emmanuel Sanders (3rd). Knowing how far below the league average Seattle is in pass attempts, that is pretty darn good.

The next year worked out even better. Baldwin ranks fourth in his receiver class for receptions this season, beaten only by A.J. Green, Cecil Shorts and Torrey Smith. He ranks 3rd in receiving yards and 2nd in touchdowns from that class for this season.

Deciding to eschew a receiver in the 2012 draft looks less defensible. Alshon Jeffrey was taken with a pick the Seahawks trade to the Bears that turned into Bobby Wagner. Not exactly a loss there, but Jeffrey has become an All-Pro level talent in just his second season. Josh Gordon was taken by the Browns with their 2nd round pick in the supplemental draft. T.Y. Hilton was taken with the 92nd pick in the 3rd round. Rod Streater went undrafted. Jarrett Boykin went undrafted. Marvin Jones was taken with the 166th pick in the 5th round.

Seattle drafted Robert Turbin, Jaye Howard and Korey Toomer in rounds 4-5 in 2012. They say the only way to evaluate a draft is at least a year later. The Seahawks 2012 draft will always rightfully be know for nabbing Wilson, but those mid-round selections are looking regrettable. Missing out on another receiver helped to increase the pressure the front office felt to manufacture a receiver addition the following year.

Backstory - Free Agency

The draft is only one way to address a positional need. Seattle showed it will dive into the free agent waters with the high-priced signing of Sidney Rice in 2011. Let's take a look at who was available to be added via free agency in 2011 and 2012 that might have obviated the need for a Harvin trade.

Vincent Jackson was signed by the Bucs in 2012 for 5 years, $55M and $36M guaranteed. The guys at OverTheCap.com see that as essentially an identical deal to Harvin's in terms of really being a 3-year deal for $36M. Jackson is the prototypical big-bodied split end that Carroll covets, and has turned in two terrific seasons in Tampa despite questionable quarterback play. He will finish the year with a second straight season over over 1,200 yard receiving and at least 7 TDs. Same contract. No draft choices.

Stevie Johnson re-signed with the Bills in 2012 for 5 years, $36M and $19.5M guaranteed. Johnson is 6'2" 207 lbs and one of the best route runners in the NFL. He was 26 when he signed his new deal. Injuries and bad quarterbacks have plagued him this year, but he was over 1,000 yards and 6 TDs last season.

Those are the two that stand out prior to this off-season. Specifically the Jackson deal and fit with what Seattle needed. Signing him would have been a departure from team philosophy as well because he was 29 at the time of the deal, and the Seahawks prefer to give big contracts to players under 26. Once the total opportunity cost of the Harvin deal is considered, though, Jackson's age seems like a far smaller risk at a far lesser cost.

Opportunity Cost

Now let's look at the Harvin deal, and what some alternatives were this season. First, we know it cost Seattle their first-round pick in the 2013 draft, the 25th pick overall. 

Forget the Alex Ogletrees, Giovani Bernards, Kiko Alonsos and Kawann Shorts of the world for our purposes here. We will ignore other positions that could have been drafted at that spot, and just focus on the wide receivers. DeAndre Hopkins was drafted 27th and Cordarrelle Patterson was drafted 29th. Terrence Williams was drafted 74th. Keenan Allen was drafted 76th, 15 spots after Christine Michael was taken. Kenny Stills was drafted 144th. Marlon Brown was undrafted. Kenbrell Tompkins was undrafted. 

Some will say that Schneider had no way to know who would be available with the 25th pick. His job is to know who would be available and make a decision about whether it was worth the risk to move out of that draft position. Imagine the impact to the Seahawks cap flexibility over the next two years and the impact to the team this season if Seattle had Hopkins, Patterson or Allen instead of Harvin. There is no objective argument to be made at this time that the Seahawks are better off with having made the Harvin trade than to spend a high draft pick on a receiver.

There were also other options for adding receiver talent to the roster outside of the draft. Seattle fans no doubt remember the Anquan Boldin deal for San Francisco that cost them only a 6th round pick and a short-term contract. Even if nepotism was at play, and the price would have been higher for a non-Harbaugh team to acquire Boldin, that was clearly the most cost-effective and low risk wide receiver addition to make. Boldin will never change a game the way Harvin can, but he would have been a great addition to this receiver corps that would have provided the big body target they still lack. 

Mike Wallace was signed to what amounts to a 3-year $32M deal with the Dolphins. For all the negatives people say about him, he is 27, can take the top off the defense and has produced over 900 yards in a pass-challenged offense in Miami. Signing him would have restricted the cap in a similar way to Harvin, but allowed the draft picks to be used in other ways and gave Seattle something it lacks.

We still do not know which players Seattle will miss out on in the 3rd round next year when that pick goes to the Vikings as well. We also do not know if the pressure of justifying this move will cause the team to move players like Baldwin in the off-season that have already proven their worth. It is hard to imagine the team going into 2014 with three starting receivers under 6'0". 

There is still time

Some will read this as unfair given we have the benefit of hindsight. Jobs are won and lost based on how decisions turn out, not on what information the person had who made the decision at the time. Trading away three draft picks, two of high value, and giving a high-priced contract to a player with a variety of question marks about durability and character was a risky move by any measure. It has not worked out thus far. 

Harvin could return and become the game-changer Schneider and Carroll hoped he would be. He could be so central to what Seattle does that he earns an extension down the line. 

Source: OverTheCap.com
Seattle is not going to cut ties with him anytime soon. He would count nearly $10M against the cap next year if he was cut, and $7M in 2015. Carroll has repeatedly said they are in this for the long haul with Harvin and want to get him right. If he was on a one-year deal, or one that allowed the team to walk away more easily, the team may have handled the injury situation differently. Harvin might be playing right now. He is not, and probably won't the rest of the way.

Seahawks fans have become accustomed to celebrating genius moves by Schneider over the years. This one is not living up to his reputation. Going big for a small receiver was a move that shocked fans, analysts and players when it happened. The ramifications of that move have been negative thus far, and could get worse over time. It is up to Harvin to prove Schneider and Carroll right. He has a lot of work to do.

Hawk Blogger 2013 Power Rankings: Week 16

THIS WEEK
Take a look at the NFC. Four of the top five teams reside in the NFC. The Eagles blowout win helped them climb into the top five, and the 49ers remaining relatively steady while the Saints faltered again, allowed San Francisco to gain the #3 spot.

Cardinals fans will be angry to see their team lost team strength despite a rousing win in Seattle. That is the second time in three weeks a team has beat the Seahawks, but done so in a fashion that cost them strength in the rankings. Passer rating differential plays a large role here, and as bad as Russell Wilson's numbers were, there were not as bad as Carson Palmer's. Yards per carry was also in Seattle's favor. Arizona fans can be happy they get a win.

Seattle slides back, but not a ton because their defense has played so well.

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, December 23, 2013

A Club I Want No Part Of

My parents came to town this weekend to pick up my oldest son for a trip to the beach during the holiday break. They wanted to see a Seahawks game. I made arrangements so that they could sit with my son in our seats, and I found a pair of club seats for my buddy and I to sit in for this one week. That will be the last time I do that.

I have been a season ticket holder since I moved to Seattle in 1997. My first tickets were the very last row of the 50-yard line in the Kingdome. We could literally stand and touch the ceiling. Way up there, we could do and say just about anything. I became accustomed to the ritual of letting all my week's frustrations out at the game. It was a side of my nobody that knows me professionally would ever expect. Time has mellowed me a bit.

Obscenities are not quite as constant as they once were. I don't stomp and carry on like a tantrumming toddler. At least, not often. What did persist was the passion of participation in the game. Football is the one sport where your impact on the outcome is palpable. No place has illustrated that better than Seattle over the years.

It is common for me to leave my seats in the 300 level with ringing ears. Save the warnings. I know it is not wise. The point is that the noise is deafening. Sitting on third down never happens. I can barely hear myself screaming most of the time. Not yesterday.

Nobody stood in the club level. Not once (other than me on occasion). I could hear myself screaming the whole game. I looked around and saw some yelling, but mostly clapping and sitting, as if they were taking in a performance at Benaroya Hall. If Seahawks fans broke the world record without the 200 level, I wonder what would happen if they joined in.

The icing on the cake for me was when my buddy came back with two water bottles for us. They came with the caps on. Those of us that have been to enough games know that they take the bottle caps at the concessions stands. Anyone that is attending with a child has to hope that some portion of the water remains in the bottle by the time you climb back to your seats. Nobody has given an official explanation, but it is believed to be because people were throwing the caps at other fans. Whatever the reason, it pissed me off to find that fans in the club section are considered a higher grade of human simply because they paid more money for their seats.

The Seahawks organization may want to reconsider how they handle fans in the 300 level. They may be a third of the seats, but they are 70% of the passion. Those fans reading this that sit in the club level, feel free to prove me wrong. Until then, I'll stick with my bottle cap assassin brethren in the cheap seats, participating instead of observing.

The Morning After: Seahawks Coaches, Offense Beaten Badly By Cardinals, 17-10


Logo by Kevin Gamache, Hammerhead 

Somebody asked me last night on Twitter if I thought the Jets would take Russell Wilson in a trade for Geno Smith. It was that kind of game. Seahawks coaches came out with an offensive game plan that bordered on arrogant, stubbornly stuck with it, and mismanaged a game-changing situation before half. Seahawks offensive players collectively put together their worst home performance since 2010. A defense that heroically held the Cardinals time and again throughout the game, once again cracked with the game on the line. Even the flawless special teams refused to be left out of the error extravaganza with a fumble, a missed field goal, and very nearly a missed extra point. This was a complete team loss to an inferior team at home. A team that appears to need adversity and disrespect to fuel them will have no shortage of either this week.

Seattle entered this game with a clear plan to spread out the Cardinals defense and attack them down-field. With four minutes to go in the first quarter, the Seahawks had not completed a pass. The plan had the Seahawks offense off schedule all game. Out of the 13 drives for the Seahawks on the day, only four started with a gain of greater than three yards. The second half became laughably predictable with a deep pass on first down that was not completed, followed by an obligatory run that the Cardinals knew was coming on second down, and then a 3rd and long. How this became the plan after gaining 51 yards on the ground in the first quarter is befuddling.

Seahawks receivers had their worst game of the season at first glance. It is always difficult to judge where exactly pass plays are breaking down in real-time. It can be protection, poor reads or throws by the quarterback, or lack of separation and catching by the receivers. There have been plenty of games where the Seahawks receivers have been incorrectly blamed for passing problems. Not in this game. Arizona's secondary, even missing two key players, made the receivers look like the liability the national pundits believe they are. Golden Tate did not see a pass until the second half, and had a nearly disastrous fumble when he did finally catch one. Doug Baldwin had only one catch in six targets. Jermaine Kearse matched his couple of nice plays with at least a couple of poor ones, including inexcusably not running full speed on a go route early.

They had plenty of company. Russell Wilson had his worst game of the season. He was not under constant pressure, but repeatedly bailed out and created pressure situations. Some of that was because his first read was not there, but he was feeling pressure that was not there most of the day. When he did throw, he was inaccurate. That makes three weeks in a row that his accuracy has been well below his standards. There is justifiable focus on the running game woes, but Wilson's recent struggles making throws he has made his whole career is equally problematic. His decision making was not much better. He was fortunate to get away with a couple desperation throws into a crowd that could have easily been intercepted. Wilson has built his reputation on accurate throws, heady play, and poise. He needs to rediscover those traits this week.

The offensive line started off wonderfully. Michael Bowie was doing a nice job in his first start at right guard. The run blocking was decent and the pass blocking was above average. Most of the Cardinals sacks came late in the game. The line mostly withstood the pressure packages the Cardinals sent. The passing game simply could not take advantage of it. Things started breaking down later. Calais Campbell dominated late in the game. James Carpenter and Paul McQuistan are not cutting it at left guard. The change won't happen this year, but there is a very real chance that next year's starting guards will be Bowie and Alvin Bailey, depending on what the team decides to do with Breno Giacomini at right tackle. My eyes tell me the team would be better for that change right now, but making that kind of switch this late in the season seems highly unlikely.

That there is a discussion to be had about the offensive line after fifteen games of the season speaks volumes. This was a group that missed a combined one start last season. Every starter outside of Paul McQuistan has missed at least one start this season. It is the single-biggest risk to the team's Super Bowl aspirations. The bye week that had been a foregone conclusion, could be the last, best, hope for Tom Cable to get his guys back on track. Seattle won 12 games with a line playing well below expectations. They can win more, but the probabilities increase a lot if this group can come together for the playoffs.

Game management also becomes a bigger factor in the playoffs and close games. Pete Carroll has made highly questionable clock management decisions in both division-title-clinching games. Seattle had the ball at the three-yard line with two timeouts before halftime. They ran once. Timeout. They ran a second time. Timeout. Calling that last timeout telegraphed the 3rd down play call to the Cardinals. Seattle could have conceivably run the ball and then hustled their field goal team out there in time, but the chances were far less that they would risk that, and the Cardinals knew it. Had Carroll had his team ready with a 3rd down play call after they called the first timeout, the Cardinals would not have had time to make substitutions or adjust their defense and would have had a true 50/50 chance of run or pass to defend, knowing Seattle could have just called a timeout if they didn't make it. This is not debatable. It was flat wrong. Carroll is such a progressive coach, who is open to all methods to make his team better, it is time he invests in a quality control coach that specializes in data analysis for what the right and wrong times are to use timeouts at the end of halves. There is a formula to be found, similar to the one that coaches use to determine when to go for two points, that will at least point out the black and white situations. This is a problem that can be almost completely corrected. On this Tell The Truth Monday, Carroll needs to start with himself.

The defense. So tough to point a finger in the direction of the one group on the team that showed up with an edge and that kept this game from being a Cardinals laugher. They turned the Cardinals back time and again. They overcame an impotent offense. They tried to prop that offense up with four turnovers that resulted in a pitiful three points. They took points off the board with interceptions in the end zone. Richard Sherman had two more interceptions, and needs just two more to tie Everson Walls for most interceptions in the first three years of a players career since the NFL/AFL merger in 1970. Michael Bennett, god love him, was dancing and growling at the Cardinals offense when many defenders would begrudge the fact that they were back on the field after three uninspiring offensive plays. They were collectively in position to be feted for one of the all-time great defensive performances in Seahawks history. That was, until the final drive.

There were a few ways I could imagine the Cardinals beating the Seahawks prior to the game. None of them involved Carson Palmer scrambling for his life on a 3rd down and making a heady throw on the run just before he hit the sideline. He might as well have said, "The separation is in the preparation," in his post-game presser to complete the mimicry. Another crucial 3rd down conversion came on a very late holding flag against Malcolm Smith. And a last dagger 3rd down conversion came on a deep ball that Byron Maxwell could not make a play on despite having better position than the receiver. Before that possession, the Cardinals had been 3-16 on 3rd downs.

Referees do not decide football games, but these refs had a clear impact on the outcome. Six of the Cardinals 16 first downs came from penalties. With penalty-gifted first downs taken out of the mix, the Cardinals advantage there would have shrunk to 10-9 over Seattle. The two late replays went the wrong way. There were replays earlier that were only necessary because the officials blatantly missed plays that were not difficult to see from my seat in the stands. The pass interference on Sherman late in the game came on the 17-yard line near the hash breaking inward when the ball landed in the endzone heading for the corner. As great as Larry Fitzgerald is, that ball is not catchable. No excuses here. Just an observation that the refs had a very poor game.

Someone needs to find out what is keeping Christine Michael off the field. He is a player that could be impacting the game if he had been worked into the offense earlier in the season. Everything that Cardinals running back Andre Ellington brings to the game are things Michael could bring to the Seahawks. Carroll has made a career of putting players in position to succeed by playing to their strengths. Even if Michael is a liability in pass protection, he provides things that nobody else on this team does. This coaching staff should have found a way to use him by now, and I remain convinced a valuable offensive weapon is sitting on the shelf while the offense struggles.

And so we enter the final week of the 2013 season with a lot to play for. For the first time in three weeks, Seattle will play a game with their backs against the wall. One could arguably go back even farther. The first two opportunities the Seahawks had to clinch the division and home-field came in games when the opponent had more to play for than Seattle. That will not be the case this week. All the talent and power that made Seattle the best team in football for most of the season is still there, waiting to resurface. It will be no easy task against a Rams defense that held the Seahawks down even more than this Cardinals defense did yesterday. Seattle abhors easy. The playoffs begin a week early. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Seahawks Must Sharpen Their Blades Today


We can try. Convince yourself this game against Arizona is a must-win. Seattle has to win this game, or faces the possibility of losing all they worked for next week versus St. Louis. This Cardinal team is 9-5, won 6 of their last 7 games, and boasts the best rushing defense in the NFL. They enter the game with slim, but real, playoff aspirations, and will put it all on the line against the Seahawks. The problem is that while all that is true, most of that is about Arizona. Allow yourself, for a moment, to imagine a loss to the Cardinals. There would anger and frustration and little trepidation, but would you have any real doubt that the Seahawks would turn around next week and pound the Rams in a game they absolutely needed? Not if you are being honest with yourself. The truth is this game is not about beating the Cardinals, or winning the NFC West or home-field advantage. This game is about taking a step toward regaining the edge that was lost after embarrassing New Orleans.

Toughness is a relative term. Seattle plays with a style and mentality on both sides of the ball that exudes it. There is only one team in the league that can come close to matching the Seahawks in brawn, if not brains, and they reside just a few hundred miles south in San Francisco. Play out the coming weeks in a variety of combinations and the likelihood that the 49ers and Seahawks will stand in each other's playoff path seems more likely than not.

The recipe to beat, and sometimes humiliate, the 49ers involves heavy does of a rushing attack that can take on one of the best front sevens in the NFL and win. Seattle's run game has had trouble beating the likes of Minnesota and New York in recent weeks, let alone Justin Smith and NaVarro Bowman. Welcoming the run defense that leads the NFL statistically this week is a golden opportunity to regain the swagger that has been waning in recent weeks. Another stunted performance would further allow doubt to start creeping in.

Calling yourself a running team, and having your coach say everything starts with that, opens you up to legitimate questions if you cannot run the ball effectively for over a month. This will be like a playoff game for the Cardinals. They will pull out all the stops. Expect fake punts, going for it on fourth down, onsides kicks and a lot of emotion. Seattle can try to trick itself into the "championship opportunity" mentality, but there is no way the Seahawks players and coaches can completely believe their backs are against the wall.

This game will not be won by matching the Cardinals emotion. It will be won be championship level execution and game-planning. A Seahawks team that can grind out yardage on the ground, even if it is a close game, is a team that is properly gearing up for a memorable run in the playoffs.

The rain is already falling. Receivers will be fighting the rain drops as much as defensive backs. A perfect setting for a game to be decided by the play of the big boys up front. Let us see James Carpenter be the road grader he was drafted to be. Maybe we get to see a young Alvin Bailey stake his claim to more playing time if the coaches allow him to sub in for the injured J.R. Sweezy. Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini's return to the lineup has coincided with the challenges in the run game. Prove that is a coincidence, or at least, past tense. Let Max Unger and possibly Marshawn Lynch force Darnell Dockett to do his talking on Twitter.

Return to Seahawks football. Do it against a great defense. Win the West. Win home-field. Begin to armor yourself for the battle ahead. You will need that edge to be sharpened. Your enemies are legion, but they will retreat in fear when your true power is revealed. That begins today.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Good Luck Driving Against Seahawks Defense

Most of my articles start with a question. Is there a problem with the running game? How do the Seahawks do with the game on the line? This one started when Pete Carroll once again decided to punt on the opponents side of the field in NY on 4th and short. Why? Carroll made reference multiple times that he "likes the numbers" when they pin a team inside their own 20 yard line. Thanks to Pro-Football-Reference.com, we can get an idea of what numbers Carroll might be referring to.

The quick project would have been to just see how teams do when they start a drive inside their own 20. I did that, and found only 11.1% of those drives result in a touchdown, and only 19.2% result in a score of any kind. More eye-catching was the fact that opponents have an equal chance of turning the ball over (19.2%) as they do of scoring when they start with the ball inside their own 20. Cool. But then more questions surface. Are those good numbers? How does that compare to the league average? What if the team starts inside their own 10? Are they even more gaudy? Sigh. Time to launch Excel and start cataloging.

Through fourteen games, here are the percentages of opponent drives that result in a touchdown, any score (TD or FG), or a turnover. It also includes a home split. I was curious how the team did in CenturyLink compared to the road, especially since it looks like we will be here a while. It also includes the league average. Cells are colored from green to red to indicate where the defense is doing well. You can use the numbers above that I gave you for the Seahawks opponent starting inside their own 20 to orient you.

Source of data: Pro-football-reference.com


You can see from this that the Seahawks holding opponents to scoring 19.2% of the times they start with the ball inside their own 20 is well above the league average of 26.2%. As is their 19.2% performance in forcing turnovers compared to the league 14.2% average. More questions.

How is it more likely for a team to score against the Seahawks if they start inside their own 10 than it is if they start inside their own 20? The answer comes from the massive drop-off in the number of drives that have started inside their own 10. Of the 99 drives that started inside the 20-yard-line versus Seattle, only 12 have started inside the 10. In case it isn't obvious, these are cumulative numbers. All the drives that start inside the 10, also show up in the inside the 20, inside the 30, and so forth up until inside their own 50. It then builds back down on the other half of the field. 

It did not seem right that only 12 opponent drives have started inside their own 10 against Seattle all year. I tried to validate the number by looking at Jon Ryan's stats, but there does not appear a site that publishes splits for punters outside of "Inside 20." At the very least, the Pro-Football-Reference numbers should be either wrong or right the same relative rate for Seattle as every other team. That led me down the path of trying to figure out the distribution of drive starts for Seattle opponents, and how that compared to the league averages. Below you will find another table that shows all the drives against the Seahawks, and what percent started in various spots along the field.


You can see that while 62.5% of opponent drives start inside their own 20, only 7.5% start inside the 10. The rest of the league has a similar drop-off. The center column is, again, just the Seahawks home games. 

A Few Observations

It is interesting to see how much higher of a percentage of opponent drives start inside their own 20 for Seattle than the rest of the league. When Carroll has a team that is well above league average in either taking the ball away or keeping the opponent from scoring when they are pinned back, of course he is going to be more inclined to kick the ball down there. Consider that the Seahawks have a higher percentage of opponent drives start backed up in their part of the field and hold opponents to a lower scoring percentage. More chances, but fewer relative successes. 

It is almost unfair that the Seahawks force a turnover on nearly 25% of opponent drives started inside their own 20 in CenturyLink Field (23.1%). The league average is 14.2%. 

Seattle has had very few opponent drives start on the Seattle side of the field. That is a big part of how the Seahawks have managed a pornagraphic 40% turnover rate on all those drives when playing at home. There have only been five opponent drives in CenturyLink Field that have started on the Seattle side of the 50, and two have those have resulted in a turnover. The league average in those situations is 6.8%. 

Carroll has to be looking at these numbers, combined with the unprecedented prowess of the Seahawks punt coverage team and very good punt return teams, and feeling like a punt is almost an offensive play. There is very little here that would lead a coach to feel worried about giving the ball back to an opponent. It was a little surprising to see that there was not a large improvement in the numbers at home. A positive spin to that would be that the defense has been consistent wherever they have played this season.

Look for Carroll to continue pinning opponent offenses back near their own end zone. The hope is that these numbers help soothe the savage fan's frustration, as they did mine. Go Hawks.