Monday, November 23, 2015

Rise of the Rookies-- Seahawks 29 49ers 13

I wish I had the time and resources to go back and watch yesterday's performance with a fine-tooth comb.  Alas, I don't-- but anyone who watched Sunday's game against the 49ers and compared it against last week's match up with Arizona would be hard pressed to deny that the play calling yesterday was tremendously better than the previous week.  It was arguably Darrell Bevell's best game of the season as far as play calling is concerned.

I'm not trying to take anything away from the outstanding performance of Thomas Rawls, Tyler Lockett or Russell Wilson.  Those guys played with serious intensity and a sense of urgency that this team needs to rely on as the Seahawks attempt to win out.

As much as I have dogged Bevell for our losses, I have to give the man his due for yesterday's win.

He figured it out.  He kept the tempo up when he needed to and controlled the clock when we had to.  The incorporation of slants and screen passes from formations that play to the team's strengths was spot on.  Everything I bitched about in the previous game was addressed and corrected yesterday.  Hats of to Bevell for showing he's not as stubborn as I thought he was.

With all those adjustments, Seattle was still able to play to their identity. They ran the ball with authority (255 yards total) and they closed out with their defense. They opened up the run with the short pass game, softened them up with the pure physical rushing of Rawls and they took shots down field when they could. They didn't turn the ball over and they got everyone involved on offense.

This was a huge game for the guys we consider the future of this team.  Thomas Rawls, an undrafted rookie who showed enough in camp to push Christine Michael and Robert Turbin off the roster, had not only his career best performance-- but one of the best rushing performances by a rookie in NFL history.

Rawls had 209 yards rushing on 30 carries with a touchdown and added 46 yards receiving with another TD. Lockett had 4 grabs for 48 yards and a pair of touchdowns with Wilson throwing for 260 yards and 3 touchdowns with no turnovers.  Wilson completed 83% of his passes and was only sacked twice.

This is the style and production we will need to see out of our offense every week until the season is over.  If we end up losing Marshawn Lynch to season ending hernia surgery-- that is going to be extremely difficult to pull off.

Rawls has shown that he has the skills and passion to be a big part of this team's future.  His post game press conference was refreshing to watch.  I saw a player who was simply thrilled to be there. Thrilled to be an NFL running back. Grateful for the opportunity and aware of what it takes to make it last.  After each question of the press conference, he flashed a smile that almost said "This is so cool! I've made it to the podium!" This kid relishes every aspect and every opportunity of this game.  It's hard not to root for him.

We're not goldfish-- we can't dismiss everything Marshawn has done for this team, year in and year out.  The identity that he built.  The culture he promoted here.  No one has done it like Lynch, and were we to lose him, those would be incredible shoes to fill.  I wouldn't expect Rawls to be able to do it on his own. There's not much we can do this season, so we will have to wait and see.  Hopefully Rawls emergence will buy some time for Lynch to get healthy for a playoff run. Let's not look too far ahead right now.

After the Cardinals pulled off a comeback win last night against the Bengals, it's pretty safe to bet that Seattle will be vying for a Wild Card spot.  The slow start to the season cost Seattle any real shot at winning the division, but a strong finish could certainly punch our ticket to the playoffs. The Seahawks are 5-5, their remaining six opponents are 30-30 and they'll be home for half of those games.

The defense has to improve down the stretch.  Carey Williams has been such a liability, he was finally benched and replaced by a reserve safety.  Seattle has been abysmal when it comes to creating turnovers on defense.

 There were at least 3 interceptions that were dropped in that game with Blaine Gabbert having the best game of his career. Big Ben and Carson Palmer are the only decent QBs this team has left to face, but if you're letting a former bust like Gabbert come in to your house and ball out-- its obvious you need to tighten up the screws and shake things up a bit.

December is going to be an exciting month for these Seahawks.  They may have had some bad breaks early this season, but they'll be catching some down the stretch.  The Ravens lost Joe Flacco and Justin Forsett for the year.  Pittsburgh is coming in here banged up. The Vikings were brought back to reality by the Packers and the Browns are Johnny Football's team for the rest of the year.

Seattle just needs to handle their business to get in.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Identity Crisis-- Seahawks 32 Cardinals 39

I wanted to wait until Monday night to give myself time to collect my thoughts and emotions regarding this team and their performance in prime time on Sunday night.  It was an intensely emotional back-and-forth battle that didn't end the way we'd hoped or expected.

Arizona came into our house as the division leader with one of the best records in the NFC.  They're a good team that is well-coached.  Couple that with the fact that they typically play us tough-- there was no question that we were in for one hell of a fight.

With all due respect to the Cardinals, I still felt like we were the better team.  We have the pedigree of back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, we have a remarkably healthy roster considering how far into the season we are, and we have one of the better home-field advantages in sports.

Even 24 hours after the game ended-- I still feel that way.

There was no shortage of problems that were exposed in the spotlight of Football Night in America.  Not only with the Seahawks, but the NFL's officiating as well. Collectively, there were 23 penalties called (Arizona 9 for 71 yards, Seattle 14 for 131 yards) along with several moments of confusion that stopped play for an extended amount of time.  Last years average amount of penalties per game of 14.41 would've made for a much better prime time presentation.

While some of the penalties called were trivial and unnecessary (against both teams) the Seahawks made more than their share of mental mistakes.

It is unfathomable to me how little discussion is being had about the sheer incompetence of Darrell Bevell. His perplexing play calling constantly sets his players up for failure

There is a wealth of talent on this team and its being poorly utilized. Ten weeks into this season, Seattle has had the lead in every single game-- you can add the Super Bowl if you want to go back
even further. Yet, just before week 11, Seattle finds itself with a 4-5 record and a relatively healthy roster.  The offensive play calling could cost this team the playoffs.

Some of you will point to the glaring deficiencies of the offensive line as the root of the Seahawks problem.  Obviously, the Seahawks brass thought they had a plan in place for the offensive line this season.  They got it wrong.  Max Unger's absence has been massively felt.  Even James Carpenter is missed.  Russell Okung seems to be regressing and the players that were converted from their natural positions just haven't figured it out yet. It's been all too evident that our line just ain't that good.

So ******* what?

Good coaches and good teams overcome their deficiencies.  They adapt. They improvise.  The Pittsburgh Steelers will be coming in here two weeks from now.  They've lost one of the best running backs in the league with Le'Veon Bell out for the rest of the season.  Hell, they beat these very same Cardinals, in their house, with their third string quarterback!

Russell Wilson had a rough night.  Marshawn Lynch is ailing. We put ourselves behind the 8 ball early and fought an uphill battle the all night.  Our defense kept us in the game until the end.  Our play calling blew it.

The Seahawks want to be a Power Run offense that relies on it's defense to close out games. Well, you can't. Not this year. Man up and improvise.  Don't let stubborn pride cost the fans the opportunity for another exciting postseason simply because you're too proud to admit that your plans aren't working.

Great players like Cliff Avril, Bruce Irvin and Michael Bennett, who had outstanding performances last night, won't be with this team for many more games.  Jimmy Graham wasn't paid to come here to block.  I'm not even sure that he knows how-- but he can make spectacular plays in the pass game. Unlike his ability to block, there's evidence of his play making ability.

 It infuriates me to see Bevell squander this opportunity for us. These players deserve a shot at the post season and so do their loyal fans.

I'm not just ranting without offering a solution.  We have the talent and the forgiving portion of our schedule to still make the playoffs, if only as a Wild Card. Seattle must utilize empty backfield formations to spread out their offense.  Our receivers aren't the fastest guys in the league as a whole, but they are shifty.  Get the ball out of Wilson's hand early.  Pick up some quick passes to build confidence and move the chains.  Use the short pass game to open up the run.  Take shots down field but use high percentage passes to get first downs that will keep your defense rested.

Building confidence and sustaining drives with quick slants and swing passes will keep your defense fresh for those crucial 4th quarter drives to seal games. It might even help you out in the red zone.  Go back and watch the past few games-- they've had success running these kinds of plays in these kinds of formations.  The problem is, Bevell always tries to revert back to the power run and it has cost us 5 games so far.

We can't afford to have poor game management cost us anymore games this season.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Leftover Fright-- Seahawks 13 Cowboys 12

Just when we thought all the horror of Halloween was behind us, the Seahawks found the Jerry Dome to have some fright leftover.

Aside from narrowly escaping yet another blown 4th quarter lead, Seahawks receiver and one of the best special teams gunners in the league, Ricardo Lockette, was dealt a blindsided hit that left him unconscious on the field for a lengthy period of time. 

 Here are some update's from Ricardo's father, Earl:

Great to hear that Marshawn was by his side.  Hopefully this tragedy will bring the team closer together and Lockette's recovery will be full and swift.

On a brighter note, it seems that the defense is getting it's act together. Richard Sherman was outstanding, limiting Dez Bryant to a measly two catches for 16 yards.  Dallas was limited to under 100 yards receiving on the day and their only scores came on 4 field goals.

Still, this team must find a way to ignite it's offense. 
Darrell Bevell is the root of the problem-- but that isn't going to be resolved anytime this season, barring complete catastrophe. I know that Tom Cable could take any 5 guys off the street and turn them into a league-leading unit if he had enough time. Unfortunately, he doesn't, so we have to hope he can get this group going before the season ends.

Since those two major issues can't be remedied within the season, I'm going to lay this blame at the feet of someone who doesn't necessarily deserve any blame for the offensive woes-- but still is tasked with finding a solution.

I'm looking at you, Russell Wilson.

That's right. Our $87.6 million-dollar guy needs to be asked to do more of what he did to earn that contract in the first place. I'm not asking him to put himself in harms way, but in the same way this team leans on Kam Chancellor to lift up the defense-- the same should be expected of Wilson.

They seem to be carving out a role for Graham that fits their scheme, same with Tyler Lockett, but there is no reason Baldwin and Kearse have been ghosts for most of the season. A solid and diverse passing attack would do wonders for the run game, which is working out nicely with the three-headed beast comprised of Lynch, Jackson and Rawls.

The scheduling Gods couldn't have been more kind to the Seahawks this year.  They come home this week for their bye, followed by three consecutive home games. The team is still largely healthy and chocked full of talent.  If the coaches and coordinators can't find a way to beat two division rivals and a battered Steelers team before testing their mettle on the road against a Wild Card-contending Vikings team-- they don't deserve to be coaching in this league.

Keep Ricardo Lockette in your thoughts as he recovers.  The Cardinals are next on the schedule and we have a great opportunity to fight our way back to the top of this division.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Better Late than Never-- Seahawks 20 49ers 3

Despite the short week, the Seahawks managed to put on a display that was reminiscent of the team that won consecutive NFC Championships.  Sure, the 49ers looked abysmal and Seattle's pass protection continues to be a point of tremendous concern, but we did escape Santa Clara with a victory while only surrendering a field goal.

The Beast is back!  Marshawn looked to be every bit the runner we know him to be.  Lynch rushed for 122 yards on 27 carries and scored on the opening drive.  He did retreat to the sideline for the following drive as he vomited into a trash can-- but he returned to finish out the game.

Darrell Bevell just might be staring to get it.  We saw the Seahawks mix things up and display some of their adversity.  Russell ran the ball a few times, made the short throws we need to open up the defense and even stretched the field with deep throws, including a 43-yard bomb to Tyler Lockett.

Pass protection continues to be a glaring area of concern.  Russell was sacked another 5 times in this game.  The play calling is moving in the right direction, but we have to hope that Tom Cable can get this team to progress faster as we make our way to the season's midway point.

The defense looked playoff caliber.  Kaepernick was sacked 6 times while the defense allowed a
mere 142 total net yards.  Interceptions remain elusive to this defense, but to be fair, no one was catching Kaepernick's passes.

I'm anticipating that we'll look back to this point 2 months from now as the turning point for two franchises. The point of implosion for the 49ers and the turning point for Seattle.  I was just reading an article yesterday stating that Kaepernick's performance to this point, coupled with the stipulations in his contract, could force the team to bench or cut him to save millions in cap space.

The Seahawks have another achievable challenge ahead of them next week. They travel to Dallas to take on a beat up Cowboys team.  Obviously, they have to get out of there with a win, but even more importantly, they must show that they have overcame their issues in pass protection while showing how multifaceted they can be offensively.

They say that teams just don't fear Seattle like they used to.  Perhaps that is true.  But while we're not the same team we've been the past few seasons-- there is still plenty for opponents to fear.

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Tale of Two Halves-- Seahawks 23 Panthers 27

In what was a tremendously disappointing weekend for Washington-based football, the Seahawks managed to surrender yet another lead in the late stages of the game, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

It appears Seattle has abandoned the mantra "Always Compete" in favor of this years theme of "Too Little, Too Late" if you've watched any of the past two games. The Seahawks have made minor adjustments early in games, but revert promptly back to prevent offense and soft defense in the second half.

Today is Tell The Truth Monday at the VMAC. Since I do not have the privilege of being on site with the team today, I'm going to tell the truth right here for all of you.

This team cannot run the ball.  Not at will or with any dominance, anyway. You might argue the fact Thomas Rawls put up 150+ on the road against the undefeated Bengals, but that only proves that we have great running backs.  I would remind you how we punted on our final 6 possessions of that game, giving the Bengals ample opportunity to steal that game away from us.  We are six games into this season and Seattle has proven without a doubt that they are unable to control the clock late in games with an effective rushing attack. 

There are two reasons why we can't run the ball like we have in previous seasons.  The first reason is that our offensive line is below average. Maybe even well below average.  I swear, every long run by Lynch this season has been wiped out by a holding penalty. I have yet to see the offensive line get any push and rarely do you see holes open up where they're supposed to.

However, the main and most glaring reason this team cannot close out games with the lead in the final quarter is that the play calling has been atrocious. Darrell Bevell either hasn't noticed the deficiencies with his team or he is simply clueless as to how to fix them. Hell, maybe he just doesn't care. 

They've made minor tweaks each week, both too little and too late, but even those tweaks seem to get thrown out the window once the final seconds of the third quarter expire. This week, the small tweaks included replacing the abhorrent Drew Nowak at center in favor of the slightly more competent Patrick Lewis. This move should've been made three weeks ago, but it did seem to help.

Jimmy Graham was finally used as a receiver in this game and all that came of it was his best
performance as a Seahawk against one of the best defenses we've faced all season.  Still, when we need long, clock-controlling drives late in the game, Seattle reverted back to it's ol' 3-and-out in 15 seconds or less page in the playbook.

But the mismanagement hasn't been solely on the offensive side of the ball.  Kris Richard seems to have been issued a roster from three years ago, based on his late-game play calling.  Once Seattle has the lead, if there's less than 30 minutes of clock in the game, Richard eliminates the blitz, rushes 4 and puts everyone else in a soft zone.

This used to drive me nuts when Gus Bradley did this and Dan Quinn after him-- the difference was that they had much better interior pass rushers and FAR better secondary depth. 

Unfortunately, Richard doesn't have the defensive depth to get away with that bend-but-don't-break stuff.  Carey Williams isn't fit to be an NFL cornerback.  He's a complete liability as a starting cornerback.  Initially, when we signed him in the preseason, I was hoping it was more of an insurance signing-- maybe it was supposed to be.  Injuries have decimated our secondary, forcing Williams into a starting role that he has long since played his way out of.

Here's another truth I came to grips with yesterday-- Seattle absolutely must find a way to resign Bruce Irvin this offseason.  Irvin has been one of the few standouts on this team this season. As recently as this preseason, I had made my peace with the fact we wouldn't have Irvin beyond this season.  He would require more money than we have cap space and he would likely command a contract that is more money than he's worth.  His play this season has demonstrated to the contrary-- we can't afford NOT to sign him.

Our defensive secondary issues have gotten so bad that I would go as far as to say that, if our secondary struggles persist through Thursday's game, Seattle needs to make an emergency trade for cornerback help before this weekend is through.

Look-- this season is far from over.  Seattle still has ample opportunity to not only make the playoffs, but they could still win this division.

The Seahawks need to tell the truth today.  Acknowledge their short comings and weaknesses.  After that-- ADAPT.  I know that was my message in the last post here, but it's even more true today. The Seahawks can make the playoffs if they acknowledge their deficiencies and adapt their game plan to account for them.

Look at Pittsburgh.  They were without their star running back for the first four games of the season, then as soon as he returns, they lose their star quarterback for a significant stretch.  If this had happened to the Seahawks, we'd be talking about who we're taking with the first overall pick in the draft. 

But the Steelers adapted. They changed their play calling and style to suit their personnel's strengths while covering up the weaknesses. Even when they looked doomed, they have prevailed due largely in part to their coaching staff's ability to put their players in the best position to win.

We're not even close to being doomed like that.  We have far too much talent to be playing this poorly. It might be a short week for our Seahawks, but they'll need to spend all day today telling the truth.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Adapt or Die-- Seahawks 24 Bengals 27/OT

The Seahawks played a good Bengals team on Sunday and lost a close one in overtime.  This game left a bitter taste in the mouths of Seahawk fans for so many reasons.  For starters, the Seahawks blew a 17-point lead in the 4th quarter, but what was more frustrating was that the team seemed to really overcome a lot of the challenges they were experiencing the past few games, only to have the game slip away from them in the end.

Ultimately, the Seahawks were out-coached.

The offensive line as a whole played it's best game of the season.  It wasn't exactly a championship caliber performance, but there was clear improvement.  They paved the way for Seattle to rush for 200 yards on a Bengals defense that only gives up an average of 85.8 yards per game.

A huge reason they were so successful on the ground was due to the hard running style of undrafted free agent Thomas Rawls, who started in place of the hamstring-plagued Marshawn Lynch.  Rawls compiled a league high 169 yards rushing capped off by a 69-yard rushing touchdown.

The defense struggled early but found their footing eventually.  They netted their first interception of
the season when Earl Thomas stepped in front of a potential touchdown pass.  They kept the Bengals run game in check most of the game while accumulating 3 sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery.

They played well, just not well enough, and I place the bulk of the blame for that upon the coaching staff.

Every coach has a vision for their team's identity. Pete Carroll has been extremely forthcoming with his vision. He's even broke it down into consumable buzz words.  This is a physical, run-first team that wants to pound the ball at you offensively while breaking your will defensively.

So, what happens when inevitable change strikes your team?  What do you do when your run-first team loses it's star running back for a stretch of games?  What if your secondary is so thin, you're not able to be as physically menacing as you would like?  What if you can't do the things you want to do to maintain your identity on a consistent basis?

You have two choices, really.  Adapt or die.

If Pete Carroll is comfortable risking this season on maintaining their identity over adapting to their roster's greatest strengths-- we're in deep trouble as Seahawks fans. The Seahawks need to accept some hard truths and adapt their identity if the have any hopes at all of catching Arizona and winning this division.  So far, Kam or no Kam, this team has not won a road game yet this season and they're not far from playing themselves out of any chance at a home playoff game.

Darrell Bevell needs to show me and everyone else what makes him qualified to be an NFL offensive coordinator and play caller.  Throughout his career he has shown us nothing that indicates he possess any sort of unique or special skill set.

He was the quarterbacks coach for the Packers when they had both Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre.  He then went to Minnesota when they had Favre, Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin before coming here to Seattle.  Everywhere this man has gone, he's been surrounded by phenomenal talent and at best achieved minor success.

I fail to see any positive attributes this guy brings to the table.  The play calling on offense from the 3rd quarter on in that game seemed like he was doing everything in his power to keep the Bengals in that game.

The Seahawks return to Seattle this weekend to face a Panthers team who they've beaten 3 years running.  Still, the Panthers are hot right now and the Seahawks have identity issues.  Seattle must find a way to get to 3-3 next week to keep this season from getting away from them.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Backup Lineman Frustrated-- How can you possibly blame him?

So...  last night, Seahawks reserve lineman, Alvin Bailey, tweeted this out:

Seahawks fans immediately lashed out at Bailey.  "See ya!" "Don't let the door hit ya on the way out" "This guy sucks anyway."  The Seattle fanbase quickly and loyally came to the defense of their team, calling Bailey's tweet immature.

My question is, why?

First, as in almost any situation, you need to try to put yourself in the other person's shoes to get a better understanding as to what lead them to that action.  Bailey fought his way onto the Seahawks roster as an undrafted free agent in 2013.  He served as an admirable back up through both of Seattle's Super Bowl runs.  He even reported to camp this year much slimmer than in previous seasons, in hopes of claiming the guard position vacated by James Carpenter.

Fans have little room to criticize Bailey's talent or effort, but I would go beyond that.

Through the first four games of the season, Seattle's offensive line has been repulsively terrible.  Russell Wilson is on pace to be sacked just 5 times shy of the single season record.  Four games, Zero improvement and Zero changes.

Maybe you're of the impression that it is too early to panic.  Maybe you feel like Seattle has always taken a long while to get their O-Line functioning under Carroll/Cable and this unit just needs time to gel. I get all of that-- but put yourself in Bailey's shoes for a moment.

You've worked your ass off to get where you are.  You've defied the odds to make an NFL roster as an undrafted player.  You worked especially hard this offseason to get into shape and earn the starting job.  You don't get the job, but you quietly keep your head down and plow away.

Now flash forward to week 5.  The guy that took your job has performed abysmally at best.  Week after week, no improvement. You think "Maybe if I keep working hard, they'll give me a chance?" After all, isn't this team predicated on competition and a 'next man up' philosophy?

You've put the time in.  You've done all they've asked of you.  Also, you're a 24 year old kid.  Then you find out on Wednesday that you won't be getting an opportunity to prove yourself. 

If you can consider all of that and still can't fathom why a young man that has worked his butt off to earn a job wouldn't be slightly perturbed upon finding out that the job he wants is being given to someone who has done nothing but show that they can't handle it?

Was airing his frustration perhaps a poor decision in hindsight?  Sure.  It didn't help to solve anything besides maybe blowing off steam and it caused more problems than it alleviated.  Still, how many of you can say that you've never griped about your job on social media? 

If you had a frustrating day at work, let's say you work at Subway, and you posted on Facebook "Man, I wish I had a job that respects me more."-- imagine how you would feel if your friends/followers told you to not let the door hit you on the way out? 

I understand the 12s desire to express their loyalty to the team. We get enough unjustified flack as it is for being fairweather or bandwagon fans.

I would argue that any true Seahawks fan should be every bit as frustrated with our offensive line's performance as Alvin Bailey is.  We should expect better from our team.  We should want our $80million quarterback better protected.

We certainly shouldn't shun players that work hard for the opportunity to compete.