Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Another NFL Season in the books

Another season passed, another Patriots championship.

Certainly everyone outside of the New England area has had their fill of seeing Tom Brady hoist the Lombardi Trophy.  There's no doubting his greatness at this point-- he is the most complete quarterback to ever play the game.

He's not the most accurate, he doesn't have the strongest arm, he's not the most mobile nor is he the smartest.  He's really, really good in all of those areas, but I wouldn't put him #1 in any of those categories. He is, however, the most competitive.

He also happens to have spent his entire professional career under the tutelage of the greatest coaching mind in the history of organized sports. As much as it pains me to admit it-- Bill Belichick is the real G.O.A.T.

There are good coaches that can make an average team good.  There are good coaches that make a good team great.  Then there is Belichick, who can make a good coach with a good team second guess their own gameplan and make mistakes.

Mistakes that Tom Brady and his teammates will capitalize on.

We all watched the Falcons choke away a tremendous lead in the Super Bowl on Sunday.  They flat out outplayed the Patriots through 3 quarters before inexplicably imploding, sending the game into the first overtime period in Super Bowl history, and rolling over as Tom Brady marched his offense right into the endzone for the game winning score.

Both teams were pretty evenly matched, but Atlanta boasted the better running game.  You would think that the team that could control the clock on the ground would have the advantage-- and that was indeed the case for the vast majority of the game.

But down the stretch, it looked as though Kyle Shanahan started trying to outsmart the Patriots, rather than play to their strengths.  It wasn't long before their foolish playcalling created opportunities for Tom Brady to do Tom Brady-things.

Dan Quinn must have felt a tremendous sense of Déjà vu after the final whistle blew. After all, he was on the sidelines as the defensive coordinator of the Seahawks when they tried to outsmart the Patriots in Super Bowl 49.

It's not that Belichick, Brady or the Patriots are especially smart.  They simply do not stray from the 'Patriot Way'.

In Super Bowl 49, Seattle had the superior team.  I think the Patriots would've told you that in a private moment.  The Patriots know what they want to do and they're going to do it.  They'll tweak the gameplan here and there as needed, but they never venture far from what they had planned all along.

Admittedly, I haven't watched the Patriots terribly closely throughout their dynasty, but I've paid especially close attention the past few years.  The one recurring theme I've noticed over that period is that they do not waiver.

That is not to say that they don't make adjustments.

You absolutely have to make small adjustments throughout every game.  Too many NFL coaches and coordinators are too proud and bullheaded to admit when the strategy they rehearsed all week isn't cutting it in the game.  We've seen innumerable examples from our offensive coordinator, most notably the goalline pass that dashed our Super Bowl hopes against New England.

Next year should be interesting.  We've got a few new faces as first time coaches.  Kyle Shanahan will be joining the NFC West as the new 49ers coach and the Rams have a new coach who is 4 years younger than I am.  I would like to see the Seahawks take a page out of Belichick's book and play to whatever strengths surround Russell Wilson.

You can't bank on having draft classes that yield 5 starters and 3 perennial Pro Bowlers every year.  Additionally, you can't pay everyone a big-time contract.  You have to put together the most talent you can fit under the cap to surround your core players and play to their strengths while minimizing their weaknesses.

I know that sounds oversimplified, but its astonishing how rare you see it in action.

I'll leave you with the perfect example of that sentiment not being executed.  The Seahawks best player (Marshawn Lynch) retires.  The were unable to replace his production through the draft or free agency, so they were dependent upon Thomas Rawls recovering from injury and taking over that workload.

When injury setbacks prohibited that, you would think that the Seahawks would adjust their philosophy from being 'run first' to 'make use of your $100-million quarterback, Jimmy Graham and Doug Baldwin'. It seemed plain as day to alter the offensive gameplan to be more pass heavy, given the incredible production we saw from Wilson and Baldwin down the stretch of the previous season.


But that never happened.

Instead, they continued to beat the dead horse we know to be Christine Michael.  When Rawls was finally healthy, too much was expected of him. Seattle had spent all of their offensive resources on their quarterback and pass catchers, yet maintained that they were a running football team throughout.

This season was mindbogglingly frustrating because of that.  If Seattle had adapted a New England's offensive strategy-- spread out multiple receivers and pick the defense  apart with quick, short passes-- it would've taken a huge load off of the offensive line and backfield and more than likely would've helped secure home field advantage for the Seahawks.

As well as the Falcons had played through the playoffs and right up until the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl, its hard to say whether home field advantage would've been enough-- but it would've been a hell of a lot more entertaining to watch .

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Another Missed Opportunity - Seahawks 20 @ Falcons 36

The Seahawks season is officially over.

This is the second consecutive season where the Seahawks failed to reach the NFC Championship game. Once again, the Seahawks lacked the depth that was their calling card in their Super Bowl championship run and it killed them yet again in the playoffs.

The Falcons were indeed the better team yesterday.  Their top rated offense lived up to its billing and the defense played like their season depended on it-- because it did.

The Seahawks defense did not play poorly.  I won't throw any blame on them for this loss.

The difference was that the Falcon's offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, drew up a game plan that played to their offense's strengths and minimized the strengths of the Seahawks defense.

Had Darrell Bevell employed this logic earlier in the season, yesterday's game might have been held in Seattle.

Michael Bennett went off on a reporter after the game for this very reason.  When it was suggested that the defensive line wasn't getting pressure on the potential MVP Matt Ryan, Bennett reminded them that Ryan was simply getting the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible-- something Bevell should have considered as the Seahawks struggled with their offensive line all season long.

When things aren't going your way, you really only have two choices.  You can make excuses or you can make adjustments.  The Falcons played without their Pro Bowl cornerback, Desmond Trufant, but not a single mention was made of him on the broadcast.  Conversely, every time the Falcons made any sort of offensive progress, the broadcasters were always quick to note Earl Thomas' absence.

I sincerely believed that Seattle had the ability to beat Atlanta.  After that, I think they would've matched up much better against Green Bay at home or Dallas on the road.  I expected a rematch of Super Bowl 49 with a Seahawks team hungry for revenge and a regular season win at Foxborough under their belts.

But the reality is that former Carroll disciple Dan Quinn has put together a a well-rounded and highly talented team.  Another reality that might not be as easy to swallow is that the Seahawks past success has made them a bit too arrogant.

With the exception of George Fant starting at left tackle, who has been a pleasant surprise,  the Seahawks had the offensive line that they intended on using all season.  They did not play well for most of this season and they showed minimal improvement throughout the season.  This specific area of neglect had a huge role in the Seahawks missing the Super Bowl.

You can't replace a guy like Earl Thomas.  It's foolish to even suggest that you could. But you need to have sufficient depth in each position group to survive the attrition of the NFL season.  The Seahawks simply asked too much of half of their starters on both sides of the ball.

I thought for certain that Seattle would shut down Atlanta's run game and force Ryan to beat them with the deep ball. Seattle started the game great and it sure looked like they were in place to put the game away, but a series of bonehead plays soon forced them to play from behind and eventually collapse.

If not for the arrogance of the Falcons players during the game, I would be pulling for this team in the playoffs.  Dan Quinn is a great guy and a terrific coach.  The Seahawks have a lot to consider in the coming months, but that is for another post.

This was a difficult and unusual season that had it's share of great moments and crushing disappointment.  Seattle is in a fortunate position where they do not need to do much to remain the front runners for the NFC West next season, but there is a lot of work to do if they hope to win Super Bowl 52.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Bring on the Dirty Birds-- Seahawks 26 Lions 6

Seattle handled their business with Detroit and now look ahead to Atlanta.  They not only came away with the victory, but they also built up some serious momentum going into the Divisional round of the NFL Playoffs. Two games now stand between the Seahawks and another shot at a Super Bowl title.

Unlike previous seasons where we saw Seattle's offensive production intensify in the month of December, it appears as though they waited until January to get things sorted out this season.  The offensive line was outstanding as they paved the way for Thomas Rawls to set the franchise's single-game playoff rushing record.

Paul Richardson put on a receiving clinic against the Lions.  The former Colorado Buffalo made three
separate receptions that could have rivaled some of Odell Beckham's top plays.  Doug Baldwin added a few great snags of his own, including a touchdown reception he stole right out from under Jermaine Kearse.  After the game, Baldwin said he felt terrible about robbing his teammate of a piece of the glory.

Seattle will need to build upon this solid performance this weekend when they take on MVP front-runner, Matt Ryan and his Falcons.
The Seahawks had the best defensive performance of any team in the Wildcard round and they will be heavily leaned upon if Seattle has any hope of advancing.

Former Seahawks defensive coordinator, Dan Quinn, has assembled an impressive team as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.  His offense can move the ball through the air effortlessly and their two-headed run game has been among the league's finest.  Defensively, they're middle of the road.

Former UW standout, Desmond Trufant, is out for the season which is a significant blow to Atlanta's secondary. If Rawls plays half as well as he did against Detroit, Russell Wilson should have no problem picking apart the Falcons defense.

Keep in mind, while the Seahawks 2013 season ended on a last minute field goal by the Falcons in the divisional round of the playoffs-- that's the past.  This year, mind you it was in Seattle, the Seahawks defeated the Falcons without Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett and Thomas Rawls.

Not to mention, Russell Wilson was arguably at his most-injured point in the season.

This will be a tough game for both teams.  Seattle has the experience and the momentum, but Atlanta is well rested and plenty capable.   The key for the Seahawks will be shutting down the Falcons offense and controlling the clock. If Seattle can keep the Falcons under 20 points and collectively put up 100 rushing yards, they will advance to the Conference Championship.

Friday, January 6, 2017

SeahawksFTW Special Edition: Wildcard Preview and Season Review


The Seahawks will take on the Detroit Lions in the NFC Wildcard round of the playoffs this Saturday night at CenturyLink Field.  That means that the Seahawks are among the 12 remaining teams left standing this league year and that's nothing to shake a stick at. Still, opinions are mixed among the 12s and emotions are all over the place.

So for this special edition of SeahawksFTW, I have brought in Adam Hayes, a lifelong Seahawks fan and tremendous writer that recently relocated to New York City, to provide a bird's eye perspective of the Seahawks. We're going to review the season and speculate on the playoffs while hopefully drumming up your excitement for the Wildcard match up.

Will Adam's experience of following this team from the other side of the country this season differ from mine-- someone who lives 10 minutes from team headquarters and works 5 minutes from CenturyLink Field? Let's find out!


2016 in Review

Adam

The Seahawks 2016 campaign started off well enough as they won four of their first five games, but then signs of trouble began to show. A 6-6 tie in Arizona, followed by a loss in New Orleans, had people thinking this Seattle team was not as good as previous versions. The Seahawks, however, rallied to win their next three and stood at 7-2-1, firmly in control of one of the top spots in the NFC playoffs. They faded from there however, going 3-3 over their last six games, including a loss to Tampa Bay in which they only scored five points and a 28-point drubbing in Green Bay. During that span,
they lost all-world safety Earl Thomas to a season-ending leg injury and Russell Wilson battled knee issues. Through it all, they still managed to finish 10-5-1, winning the NFC West, securing the #3 playoff seed and guaranteeing at least one home game.

Chris


It's hard to complain about a season wherein you accumulate double-digit wins and come away with a division title, but we have been spoiled in Seattle the last 5 years or so.  Things felt unusually different this season and I believe the team took a small step backward this season. Through 16 regular season games, it became increasingly apparent to me that this team's addressing of Marshawn Lynch's departure was poorly executed. The offensive line has proven to be the worst that's been assembled under Pete Carroll. One of the more under-criticized roster moves was replacing the team's long snapper, Clint Gresham, with rookie Nolan Frese-- who has struggled mightily and cost Seattle a few games with his inconsistency. Perhaps all of those things may have gone unnoticed, had Russell Wilson not struggled with significant injuries for most of the season.  While the team never seemed to find consistency on the offensive line or establish much of a running game, they did find ways to win games and earn a home playoff game.



Wild Card Round vs. Detroit


Adam


When the Seahawks kick off against the Lions on Saturday night at CenturyLink Field, they’ll be doing so a week earlier than many people would’ve thought when the season began. Just two years removed from back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, many people thought Seattle would again grab a top spot in the playoffs and at least get a first-round bye, but the season didn’t exactly unfold that way. While some people will argue that Seattle is in a slump because of the way they finished the season, there is no argument that Detroit is not playing well coming into this matchup, having lost three straight to finish 9-7, while falling from the NFC North lead (and possible home and game first round bye) all the way to the sixth and final playoff spot. On paper, this matchup favors Seattle in many ways. The Seahawks were 7-1 at home this year, while the Lions went 0-5 against playoff teams they faced this season. The Seahawks are also better in major statistical categories including total offense, rush and pass offense, as well as total defense, rush and pass defense. The one red flag that could point to an improbable Detroit victory is the loss of Thomas in the Seattle secondary. As the numbers show, the Seahawks defense is vulnerable without him and if Matthew Stafford gets hot, anything can happen.

Chris

As challenging as this season has been for the Seahawks and their fans, outside of a first round bye, they could not have asked for much softer of a landing than Detroit.  The Lions started this season 1-3 and finished the season 1-3.  In between, they won a handful of games on some late 4th quarter heroics at the hand of Matthew Stafford.  That hand, by the way, will not be 100% when the Lions play here Saturday night.  Less than a month ago against the Bears, Stafford dislocated the middle finger on his throwing hand and tore ligaments as well. They have not won a game since he sustained that injury, which speaks volumes. 

Believe it or not, the Lions are actually worse than us when it comes to running the football, despite having the best white running back in the NFL today. The Lions' defense ranks middle of the pack and they give up an average of about 106 yards per game on the ground. Stafford is a great quarterback, the Lions' best player and an MVP candidate to boot-- but Seattle's defense is solid, he's hurt and we have home-field advantage.


Offensive Player to Watch For

Adam

Yes, Seattle would like to run the ball better in the playoffs than they have in the regular season, but the truth is that the outcome of this game, along with any others they play, as Russell Wilson goes, so go the Seahawks. Wilson, one of the most accurate quarterbacks this season, completing over 64 percent of his throws, faces a Detroit defense that gave up a
league-worst 72.7 percent completion rate to opposing quarterbacks. This matchup will go a long way towards determining the winner of this game.


Chris

I certainly can't disagree with Adam's assessment-- this team will only go as far as Russell Wilson takes them. However, he's not the only one on the offensive side of the ball consuming too much cap space to not be expected to shine in moments like this. Jimmy Graham needs to have a huge game.  We've seen flashes of brilliance from Graham this season that prove he's capable of earning the huge contract he was given to pry him out of New Orleans and we need to see a whole lot more on Saturday.

Defensive Player to Watch For

Adam


Just like year’s past, there isn’t one player who is going to have to step up if Seattle is going to advance to the Divisional Round, it will take a group effort, but that group will not be the Legion of Boom. Weakened without Thomas, the group will need an assist from the Seahawks able-bodied pass rushers. Cliff Avril, Frank Clark and Michael Bennett had 26.5 sacks between them this season and Seattle will count on that ferocious pass rush to harass Stafford into mistakes that their secondary can take advantage of.

Chris

I'm go away from conventional wisdom on this one. We know that we need big games from Chancellor, Wagner, Sherman, Avril and Bennett. Hell, the entire defensive front needs to pressure Stafford if Seattle wants to win. But I'm going to pick Jeremy Lane as my player to keep an eye on. Lane has had an up and down season this year, but he has come through in big games in the past. Before sustaining a gruesome injury in the Super Bowl against the Patriots, Lane was the X factor. I'm counting on him to make a big play Saturday.

Wild Card Player to Watch For

Adam


There are actually two and both play special teams. The first is long snapper Tyler Ott. He was just signed by the Seahawks after they placed their normal long snapper, Nolan Frese on injured reserve. Ott will play a key role not just in snapping for field goals and punts, but for those 33-yard extra points. His ability to quickly (or not) gel with the kicking unit could be a factor in this game. You should also watch out for recently signed kick/punt returner Devin Hester. While the 34-year old’s numbers weren’t great this year, he holds the NFL record with 20 return touchdowns and all it takes is one to flip a game.

Chris

I'd love to see Devin Hester prove he's still got something left in the tank, but I'm just relieved that we have a dedicated return specialist for the playoffs. My 'wild card' for this Wild Card game is the same guy that has been the wildcard all season-- Tanner McEvoy. They have sprinkled McEvoy in throughout the season with great success and I believe they have more in store for the playoffs.


Playoff/Super Bowl Expectations

Adam

While all signs point to Seattle advancing to the Divisional Round, things get murky after that. If the Giants beat Green Bay and the Seahawks go to Atlanta, despite the Falcons high-powered offense, Seattle could take advantage of an average defense and advance to the NFC Championship Game. In this scenario they are either in Dallas or hosting the Giants. The home game would be a win while the road game would likely be a loss. If the Packers beat the Giants, Seattle goes to Dallas in the Divisional Round and bows out there. Either way, a World Championship is probably out of reach this season with New England and Kansas City being too strong for Seattle, in my opinion.

Chris

I'm confident that Seattle will defeat Detroit on Saturday-- my hope is that they do it in a manner that inspires the team to go forward with momentum. The funny thing is, I'm more worried about our chances against a Green Bay or New York than I am with the top seeds. We beat Atlanta earlier in the season and we match up well against Dallas. If the Seahawks manage to beat the Lions and win in Atlanta, they will defeat whoever remains in the NFC Championship.  As for the Super Bowl, I'm anticipating a rematch against the Patriots.  Not only did we beat them this year in Foxborough, but you can bet there's a lot of pissed off players and staff that want nothing more than vengeance. 

_______________________________________________________________________________
Special thanks to Adam Hayes for contributing to this article.  Adam is a die-hard Seahawks fan now living on the east coast. He has written for Pro Football Guru and Fantasy Omatic, and his website is USS Sports Machine.


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Ending on a Relatively Positive Note-- Seahawks 25 @ 49ers 23

The Seahawks ended the 2016 season with their 5th consecutive 10-win season and another NFC West crown.  They won the final game of the regular season by defeating a division rival.  The team appears to be in relatively good health and their playoff game is home in Seattle.

So why am I so unhappy with where we are and the way this season ended?

SeahawksFTW will be putting out a special piece before Saturday's playoff game that will delve more

We can't run the ball.  We just can't.  Time to accept that, make adjustments and move on.
deeply into the 2016 season, so I won't go into much depth in this piece.  To make a long story short-- we don't know what this team's identity is.

I would love to see Seattle reincorporate the zone read into their offense, the way we saw Colin Kaepernick work over the Seahawks defense.  At present, we have no threat of a run, which places a tremendous burden on our passing game. 

This season has exhausted our defense.  Losing Earl Thomas hurt this team without question, but you could tell they've been overworked as a unit all year.  It's catching up down the stretch.

But everyone is undefeated in the post season.  This Saturday, the Seahawks will face the Detroit Lions, coming off a 3-game losing streak, at home in CenturyLink. As rough as this year has been, you should still feel good about this weekend.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Nightmare Before Christmas-- Seahawks 31 Cardinals 34

We're down to the final game of the regular season and this team looks every bit as uncertain as they did going into training camp. 

Traditionally, under coach Pete Carroll, December is a month of dominance for the Seahawks.

Statistically, Russell Wilson is in a league of his own at this point in the season. 

Additionally, the roster decisions that had us scratching our collective heads early on begin to come to fruition and help us see the vision the staff had for this roster from day one.

This year has been quite different, however.  The Seahawks are .500 this month and still plenty of
questions remain unanswered. Something isn't right with our rushing offense.  Whether it's the offensive line, an inconsistent Thomas Rawls or a combination of the two is a topic of debate.  The only thing we can be certain of this season is just how much Marshawn Lynch had meant to this team and how much we had taken his presence for granted.

I was at the game on Saturday, Christmas Eve, when they faced a Cardinals team that had had Super Bowl aspirations going into this season, but had long since collapsed and played their way out of playoff contention.  Sure, they have arguably the best, most complete running back in the NFL with David Johnson, but many and more of their star players are done for the season.  Half of their defensive starters seemed to be on IR.

The Seahawks were at home, relatively healthy and in dire need of some momentum to carry them into the playoffs.   Everything was lined up in Seattle's favor, yet somehow they squandered the opportunity. 

Seattle fought through losing their best offensive weapon when Tyler Lockett went down with a broken leg and Wilson lead the team on a comeback to tie the game with about a minute left.  The stadium was raucous and the momentum had swung back into their favor.  All we needed was a 'gimme' extra point, a big kickoff and a stout defensive series to shore up the victory.

Haushka missed the PAT and Carson Palmer marched the Cardinals into field goal range where they kicked the game winner as time expired.

It was heartbreaking.

What a shitty way to begin the night before one of the most joyous days of the year.  However, it wasn't just the choke-job and losing Lockett that stung.  It wasn't even the fact that we basically handed the Falcons the number two seed and a first round bye.  The most painfully frustrating part of this weekend was the fear that accompanies uncertainty.

We have no idea what this team's identity is heading into the playoffs.

There's only one get-right game left in the regular season.  While it is about as soft of a landing as this team could hope for, shy of a regular season finale at home against Cleveland-- we've had 15 games to sort ourselves out, yet every week seems to raise more questions than it answers.

Here's a list of the teams that will likely make the playoffs in the NFC and their rank in offensive/defensive scoring:


Giants         Scoring Defense    #3      Scoring Offense   #25
Cowboys    Scoring Defense    #4      Scoring Offense   #4
Packers       Scoring Defense   #22     Scoring Offense   #6
Lions          Scoring Defense   #13     Scoring Offense   #21
Falcons       Scoring Defense   #25     Scoring Offense   #1

Seahawks   Scoring Defense #2   Scoring Offense #20

The seeding won't be entirely finalized until the conclusion of the coming weekend's games, but Seattle will have their first playoff game at home.  I really hope the Seahawks put forth a good showing against San Francisco so us 12s can go into that playoff game with some confidence.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Lights, Camera, Action Green-- Seahawks 24 Rams 3

The Seahawks were back in the spotlight on Thursday, sporting a vibrant, new look. As part of Nike's partnership with Thursday Night Football the Seahawks donned 'Action Green' uniforms that looked as though they might glow in the dark.

Unfortunately, the color was about the only thing that 'rushed' on Thursday.  Both teams combined for 119 yards on the ground (47 for LA, 72 for Seattle).  However, we did see a resurgence in Seattle's pass rush.  Seattle registered 4 sacks on the night.

Russell Wilson had an outstanding night, throwing for 3 touchdowns and one head-scratching interception. Tyler Lockett had a career game (while single handedly keeping my fantasy football playoff hopes alive) putting up 130 yards and a touchdown.

My favorite play was when Richard Sherman knocked Jared Goff out of the game with a good, clean
hit that saved a touchdown.  It would have been Jon Ryan's fake punt run that picked up 26 yards and a first down, had it not ended with Ryan getting knocked out cold.

Not only is Jon Ryan a top 5 punter-- he's a helluva athlete and a bad ass, to boot.

Seahawks have a pair of winnable division matchups to close out the season and are sitting well to get a first round bye for the playoffs. I will be in attendance for the game against the Cardinals on Christmas Eve and the one thing I want to see is marked improvement in the run game. 

Thomas Rawls needs a 100 yard game.  I want to see Kelvin Taylor get some carries and show that he can be a complementary back down the stretch. The defense should continue to hold steady and the offense needs to shift to a pass-first mentality. 

Most importantly, Seattle needs to string together a few wins to get momentum going in their favor to rally in the playoffs.