Sunday, February 18, 2018

Seahawks Year in Review

I suppose I should write an end-of-the-year summation.

I just can't bring myself to do it.

The 2017 season was not supposed to end this way. The Seahawks were not supposed to miss the playoffs-- even with the Rams' stellar year. It'd been five seasons since the Seahawks season ended after 16 games.

The Seahawks entered Week 17 with their destiny in the hands of others. They needed to not only win their home game against the Cardinals, but they needed the Panthers to eliminate the Falcons.

Much like the Seahawks, Carolina didn't look all that interested in making the playoffs.

As soon as the Panthers' lost-- the Seahawks season was over.

That wasn't the disappointing part. With the opportunity to still go out on a high note-- Seattle found
a way to lose to an Arizona team that trotted out their back up quarterback and a losing record.

Leading up to the game, Cardinals coach, Bruce Arians, made a comment in the locker room that was captured on camera where he suggested that CenturyLink Field is their home field.

Evidently, that bulletin board material and playoff hopes wasn't enough to motivate the Seahawks.

It was a fitting end to a season wrought with bad luck.  A season where nothing seemed to go as planned.  The problems started about this time last year.

The Seahawks ultimately decided that their solution to filling the hole left behind by Marshawn Lynch was signing Eddie Lacy to pair with Thomas Rawls, who was coming off of a broken ankle.

I said from the start that this was risky and insufficient. Lacy, when healthy, was declining in production.  Even behind Aaron Rodgers, who has made a career out of making mediocre backs look great.

Rawls looked great in 8 games his rookie season, but we had no reason to think that he'd produce at that level once healthy. Alex Collins hadn't shown any promise, despite making the Pro Bowl for the Ravens after getting cut.  Chris Carson was a 7th round pick-- who would've thought he'd end up the starter?

One of the teams I have been comparing the Seahawks against this year is the Minnesota Vikings.  Like Seattle, the Vikings had recently parted ways with a back that was legendary to their franchise. Minnesota's approach was much smarter than Seattle's.

The Vikings already had Jerrick McKinnon on their roster, likely drafted as an eventual replacement for Adrian Peterson. McKinnon never quite emerged as a starer, but like Rawls, showed flashes of promise.

They then brought in free agent Latavious Murray, but didn't stop there.  Early in the second round of the draft, they took the speedy Dalvin Cook. They covered all their bases in an attempt to replace a legend. 

Also like Seattle-- it didn't exactly work out as planned.  Dalvin Cook looked like he was a runaway candidate for Rookie of the Year before his season-ending injury. However, the Vikings had sufficient depth to overcome the loss.

The Vikings had every bit as much attrition as the Seahawks.  Arguably more.  Yet, they were a game away from the Super Bowl while the Seahawks stayed home.

Now, the Seahawks are riddled with question marks heading into the offseason. They've already cut a ton of staff, including key personnel Darrell Bevell, Tom Cable and Chris Richard.

Their replacements were anything but exciting to Seattle's disappointed fan base. This report from Rotoworld (left) hits it right on the head quite eloquently.

Schottenheimer hasn't had much success to stand behind.  Despite the clear nepotism in play, most of the people that have worked with Schottenheimer rave about his dedication to the game.

Bringing back Ken Norton, Jr. to run the defense is more exciting.  Norton struggled in Oakland after leaving the Seahawks, but the Seahawks defense was never better than when he was on staff.

Another promising hire was Tom Cable's replacement, Mike Solari.  Solari is a proven offensive line coach with 30 plus years of experience.  As well regarded as Cable was, I never saw significant development from any of the linemen in his tenure.  Hopefully, Solari can provide a fresh perspective and scheme that helps keep our franchise quarterback clean.

It's not just the coaching staff that will look vastly different from the previous season.  Seattle has some difficult roster decisions to make for the future.

It has been suggested that the Seahawks will look to move on from Richard Sherman in the wake of his Achilles injury and the fact that he's entering the final year of his contract.  I think it would be incredibly foolish of the Seahawks to do anything with Sherman this year. 

Let 2018 play out.  If he bounces back from injury anywhere close to where he was before-- try to resign him.  If not, let him test the free agent market next off season. Seattle has nothing to lose. Just don't handle his inevitable departure like the Giants did with Eli.

Similar tough calls will have to be made throughout the roster.  Should the Seahawks resign Paul Richardson or look to upgrade in the draft? Will the Seahawks be able to keep both Michael Bennett and Sheldon Richardson? Will Kam Chancellor or Cliff Avril ever play again?

Those questions will be easier to answer once the free agency period is underway and after the draft. The bottom line is that Seattle has a lot of work to do in order to get back to the playoffs. They will need to be active in free agency, trades and the draft to revamp this roster.  They have the most important piece of the puzzle-- but they have to do a better job building around him than they did last season.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Fitting End to a Rough Year-- Seahawks 24 Cardinals 26

Seattle needed just two things to go there way to put themselves three games away from their 3rd Super Bowl appearance under Pete Carroll.

They needed to handle their business at home against a floundering division rival and they needed the Panthers to express some interest in winning their division by beating Atlanta.

Tampa Bay rallied to beat New Orleans, which meant that a Panthers win would give Carolina the NFC North title. Unfortunately, Cam Newton played like shit and the Falcons' victory eliminated the Seahawks from the playoffs, regardless of the outcome of Seattle's game.

Seattle, before a raucous home crowd, did what they had done too many times all season.

The committed too many penalties.  They failed to convert third downs. They started slow.  They played down to their competition.  They could not run the football.

Perhaps most fitting of all, Blair Walsh missed the game-winning field goal wide right. 

I'd love to think that Vikings fans are having a good chuckle at our expense, but they're probably just enjoying their team's victory and dreaming of a home Super Bowl.

There's no doubt that the rash of significant injuries suffered by key personnel played a substantial role in Seattle's struggles this season.  I'll dig deeper into those when I write my end of the season review, but I wanted to bring them up now because I do not want to hear about them being an excuse this season.

Injuries are a part of the game.  Since it's a quarterback-driven league, unless your signal caller is knocked out for the year, the expectation is for you to figure it out and move on.

If anyone tries to peddle this BS excuse to you-- remind them that we just lost on our home field to Drew Stanton and the David Johnson-less Cardinals.  They were without their best player (Johnson) and their franchise QB.

Additionally, the Vikings lost their franchise QB last year to an injury that kept him out almost two full seasons.  They then traded their first round pick to acquire Sam Bradford, who was lost for the year.  Couple that with the fact that, when their franchise-leading running back, Adrian Peterson, parted ways like Marshawn Lynch did with us-- they didn't just hope that an undrafted kid would hop right in and assume the load.  They drafted Dalvin Cook, one of the top rated backs in the draft, only to see him lost for the year early in the season.

Now, Mike Zimmer could've made excuses for his misfortune.  He could have even sat out the year to recover from a serious eye issue that caused him to miss some time.  Instead, the Vikings made adjustments and now have a first round bye in the playoffs.

The Seahawks problems in this game were no different that their problems all season long-- and probably the past two seasons, as well.  Pete Carroll's belief in his philosophy is so steadfast that he seems blinded by reality.

I, personally, have completely bought in to Carroll's philosophy-- but it is nothing short of maddening to see them flat out ignore the cold hard reality of what is right in front of them.

The Seahawks were hit hard by injuries and had some preseason gambles bust on them. They are by no means the only team that can claim that hardship this year.  Good teams find a way to play to their strengths-- even if that means throwing out the game plan and starting from scratch.  There is no pride to glean from 'going down with the ship'. 

Maybe Dave Wyman is right-- perhaps I'm spoiled by the Seahawks recent string of success. 

But we were never without Russell Wilson this season.  Not even a half-injured Russell Wilson.  When you have a player like that on your team, there is no reason to not win ten games. 

Friday, December 29, 2017

Staying Alive-- Seahawks 21 @ Cowboys 12

The Seahawks, despite a lackluster offensive performance, managed to keep their postseason hopes alive in Dallas on Christmas Eve.

In an atmosphere that felt strangely like a playoff game, Seattle fended off the freshly reinstated Zeke Elliott and the Cowboys while the Falcons lost their game, keeping Seattle squarely in the hunt for the final NFC Wild Card spot.

The defense was able to shake off an abysmal showing against Los Angeles last week to hold the Cowboys to a handful of field goals. Largely due to having KJ and Bobby back in the lineup, but also due to the fact that Dak Prescott simply isn't that great. I admittedly haven't seen much of Dak's film but he did not live up to the residual hype of his rookie season.

I've watched enough of the Seahawks to know that our defense is in arguably its roughest shape since Pete Carroll arrived and they made the Cowboys look nothing more than ordinary on Christmas Eve.

The offense continues to look lost.  Even Wilson has played his way out of the MVP discussion, despite Carson Wentz being done for the year and Tom Brady having nothing to play for the final few weeks of this season.

Even with everything on the line and a relatively healthy offense, all Seattle has done to affect the MVP race recently was to put an enormous spotlight on Todd Gurley.

Nevertheless, we find ourselves with one game remaining in the regular season.  It's a home game, though that doesn't seem to hold the same regard this season.  It's against a crestfallen Cardinals team that has not only no playoff hopes, but will quite possibly be without Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and coach Bruce Arians next season. Also, the Seahawks destiny isn't solely in their own hands-- we need to not only win our match up with Arizona, but a Carolina win over Atlanta in order to play football in January.

Oh, yeah.  Even if all of that falls the Seahawks way, it's more than likely that they will have to play the Rams in the Wild Card game.  Sure, we beat them in LA, but the most recent game appeared to show that the Seahawks have no answer for Gurley and Goff.

I desperately hope that Seattle is able to reach their sixth consecutive post season, but I'm admittedly not terribly optimistic of their chances.  Not only to get in to the playoffs-- but what they might accomplish, should they get in.

If not for the majesty of number 3, this would've long since been considered a lost season for the Seahawks. Not only have the Seahawks been severe victims of attrition, but seemingly every gamble they took in the offseason has seemingly blown up in their faces. 

I will undoubtedly have a lot to say when they season is ultimately completed for the Seahawks, but I will say this with confidence-- if the defense can perform anywhere close to its potential and the offensive line simply doesn't play its worst games in January -- Russell Wilson has the potential to win the Super Bowl.

There's just one guaranteed game left this season-- keep dreaming.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Surrendering the West-- Seahawks 7 Rams 42

Did you hear that?

That was the sound of the Seahawks' championship window slamming shut.

That doesn't mean that a Wilson-captained Seahawks team will never reach the big dance.  Not at all.  What it does mean is that the landscape where the Seahawks were clearly elite has most certainly transformed.

I hate to start in on my end-of-the-year-post-mortem when we still have two games to play, but the Seahawks had the opportunity to control their own destiny heading into the playoffs and, instead, let the Rams-- who haven't made the post season in 13 years-- beat the stuffing out of them on their home turf.

Now, Seattle is not yet mathematically eliminated from post season play-- but now they must not only win-out, but they will need help from other teams in order to back into the playoffs.

We've been seeing the tides change in the NFL this season.  Perennial pushovers like the Rams and Jaguars now appear to be legitimate, young powerhouses in this league. Don't let the Browns fool you-- this is how the NFL is set up to operate. Bad teams with a decade of top-ten picks are supposed to eventually turn their rosters around, providing the parity the NFL thrives upon.

They Seahawks aren't old.  They have a core group of seasoned veterans with ample playoff experience, but I don't really see anyone on this roster that we should worry about retiring in the offseason-- from injury, perhaps, but not age.

What happened with the Seahawks was that they gambled and lost.

They have been rolling the dice with their run game and offensive line since Marshawn left.  With the exception of a stretch of games with Thomas Rawls 2 seasons ago and a few games this year with Chris Carson-- the Seahawks have majorly whiffed on their backfield.

Rawls never looked the same after breaking his leg.  Despite being healthy, he cannot seem to get on the field.  The free agent signing of Eddie Lacy will go down as one of the worst moves in the NFL this year.  Lacy wasn't productive last season with Aaron Rodgers and a decent line-- why on earth would he be any better behind a markedly worse line?

The Seahawks went into this year expecting to lean heavily on its talented defense while putting the offense entirely on the shoulders of Wilson. That might have been a good plan had Seattle used its cap salary to sign some veteran offensive linemen like Andrew Whitworth and used some of it draft capital to bring in a promising young lineman instead of selecting Malik McDowell. 

When your team has no threat of running the ball and your line is bottom of the barrel-- teams are going to have no issue blitzing the hell out of you.  They send the house at Russell.  Sometimes he scrambles for his life and makes a remarkable play, but more often than not, it doesn't work.

The defense has suffered unparalleled loss this season when it comes to injuries.   Losses we've largely been able to overcome because we had decent depth, except at the cornerback position.  All together, the defense had hung in admirably with the exception of this Rams game.

I don't want to hear about injuries, though.  Vikings coach, Mike Zimmer, is without question the Coach of the Year.  He lost his franchise QB last season and was forced to trade high draft picks to get Sam Bradford to fill in.  Not only did they lose Bradford this year, essentially causing them to rely on their 3rd string quarterback, but their first-round running back went down early in the season, too.

Yet, the Vikings are battling for the #1 seed in the NFC. 

The Seahawks simply drank too much of their own Kool Aid this year and it came back to bite them in the ass. There will undoubtedly be consequences to this season.  The band will break up.  You can expect some familiar faces to be dealt or let loose.  I hope the coaching staff gets a bit of a face lift, as well.

It's great when Pete & John find a late-round gem in the draft, but I'm getting real sick of relying on them to pay off.  It's been too long since a late pick turned into a major contributor.  I want to see Seattle trade up to get someone that is a consensus top-pick.  I want to see Seattle add some experience as well as talent to their offensive line in free agency.

Most of all, I want to see the Seahawks get back to being a physically-intimidating, dominate team.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Hard Fought -- Seahawks 24 Jaguars 30

The better team lost on Sunday. For that matter, the better fan base lost on Sunday. 

I know there are a lot of people on both sides upset, frustrated, disappointed, angry and embarrassed by what transpired in the final moments of Sunday's loss to the Jaguars.  I understand why you would feel that way, just having witnessed the opportunity for victory slip from the hands of the team you worship. 

The blame for the transgressions of the last few plays rests solely with one group.

No-- it's not Michael Bennett, no matter how badly some 'fans' would love to vilify him as the everything that is wrong with the Seahawks.  All Bennett is guilty of is playing the game of football for a full 60 minutes.

Seahawks fan Bob White asks Mike Salk how he's supposed
 to explain the late-game skirmish to his children.
It's not even Sheldon Richardson or Quinton Jefferson who let their emotions get the better of them at the end of the game.

The fights, the penalties, the awful behavior of the fans can be squarely placed on this officiating group.

Jacksonville, its players, coaches and fan base, are about as familiar with success as fish are with the concept of aviation.  Winning is completely and utterly foreign to them.  There is no question that they are a good team right now with a spectacularly talented defense and a powerful rushing attack. However, it was evident very early in the game that this was their Super Bowl and because of that, their players were unnecessarily chippy.

There were no less than 4 plays in the first half of the game where Jacksonville players more than

warranted a late hit or a taunting penalty. There were a number of plays throughout the game where pass interference probably should've been called-- but these officials, for whatever reason, opted to 'let 'em play'.
Football is a game of extreme emotion.  When you let that kind of shit persist-- you're inviting fights like we saw at the end of this match.

Moose Johnson and Chris Meyers did fans a tremendous disservice.  Not just by virtue of calling the game, but by insinuating that Michael Bennett's actions were motivated by spite or poor-sportsmanship and ultimately suggesting that he's unworthy of his Man of the Year nomination.

The only thing Michael Bennett is guilty of is never giving up.  There was still 51 seconds on the clock and the Seahawks had a timeout.  When the Jaguars were in victory formation, Bennett tried to 'intercept' the snap by shooting low through the A gap. I will never be upset with a player going 100% until the game is over.

Seattle overcame costly, early-game mistakes to find themselves a touchdown away from victory.  A victory Seattle surely would have saw if only the officiating crew had seen the most blatant defensive holding penalty executed this season.

Once again, most of the obstacles Seattle faced were by their own creation.  As the offense continues to improve, our defense continually falls victim to attrition. Its no coincidence that Jacksonville scored 27 of their 30 points after Bobby Wagner left with injury.

In spite of a loss that undoubtedly left the team and fans emotionally exhausted, I feel good about the direction this team is heading. Seattle faces an equally banged up Rams team, that they already defeated earlier in the season, at home with the division title on the line. We have to hope that we start getting some guys back from injury soon, but the offense is rallying behind Wilson-- and I've always said that this team goes as far as Wilson will take them.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Thriving in December-- Seahawks 24 Eagles 10

Russell Wilson lives for primetime games in December.  Make no mistake about it-- this was far and away the most exciting game of the year.

The week leading up to this game had all the experts going against Seattle.  Even the staunchest of 'homers' believed the Seahawks to be outmatched by the NFL's top-ranked Eagles. Why shouldn't they feel the Seahawks were done?  After all, they are without Cliff Avril, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman.

The Seahawks, on the other hand, never had a single doubt.

Admittedly, I, too, was worried going into this game.  Not necessarily because of anything the Eagles do-- but because I know the Seahawks most difficult opponent has always been themselves.

My fears were put to rest after the very first play of the game when Darrell Bevell called a designed run for Wilson. The play only picked up seven yards, but it wasn't so much the result of the play that calmed me, but the statement that play made. Rather than cross their fingers and hope that Mike Davis was the answer to their rushing attack's prayers, they made a concerted effort to do what they do best.

The Seahawks basically said that they were going to play their brand of football and dared the young Eagles to try to stop it.

Seattle came away with a field goal on the opening drive, but it was enough to fire up the 12s and set the tone for the rest of the game. On their 3rd possession of the game, the Seahawks did what no other team had done this season against the Eagles-- they scored a touchdown in the first quarter.

When dumb penalties had become a consistent theme in Seattle's losses this year as well as their victories, you could tell early on that Seattle was executing at an extremely high level.  They played as if they had been preparing for Philadelphia for two weeks or more.

Seattle only committed 5 penalties all game. The offensive line seemed to have altered it's blocking style overnight, adapting a scramble-friendly style that provided protection while preventing bone-headed holding calls.  It was a hopeful sign that this line is solidifying just in time for the playoffs and meaningful December football.

The defense had been criticized all week.  They were told they were good, but that they simply could not be elite in the absences of Sherman, Chancellor and Avril. This obviously got back to the players, because we saw a colossal effort from the entire defense. 

Frank Clark has made it to the next level.  He's shown that he can be the Chris Clemons of this year's team, recording two sacks and numerous QB hurries.  Quinton Jefferson is starting to come along, too. Byron Maxwell, Justin Coleman, Shaq Griffin and the rest of the secondary stepped up big in this game.

However there were three players on the defense that really stole the show.  Bradley MacDougald was lights-out with a dozen tackles, filling in for Chancellor. Still, this new amalgamation of the Seahawks defense belongs to and runs through it's veteran linebackers-- KJ Wright and Bobby Wagner. Those two are on a whole other level.

If Bobby Wagner isn't the Defensive MVP, no one is.

In private conversations leading up to this game, I said on more than one occasion that if Seattle doesn't win this game, there is no chance at them winning the Super Bowl.  While mathematically untrue, dropping this game to the Eagles would have been the 3rd home field loss for Seattle this year and would essentially confirm the national opinion that Seattle has not and cannot beat a good football team. 

There's still plenty of room for improvement in these final four games.  Seattle has the opportunity this week to get a road win against an playoff-bound AFC team.  The offensive line needs to continue to gel while showing consistency.  We should even get some guys back like DeShawn Shead and Dion Jordan that will provide rotational depth.

There was plenty of praise to go around from the Sunday Night matchup, but one point cannot be stressed enough-- Russell Wilson was extraordinary.

Number 3 is the very definition of a Most Valuable Player.  Over 80% of Seattle's offensive production has gone through Wilson.  He is carrying this team and the sky is the limit.

A lot can shake up in the 4th quarter of the season.  Seattle could very likely win-out and find themselves in the top seed.  This loss could potentially send the Eagles into a tailspin of self doubt.  The NFC South should continue to cannibalize itself and we essentially control the Rams fate. As good as Case Keenum has been, I'm just not convinced that he has what it takes to lead the Vikings to the #1 seed.

It's December now.  This is when Russell Wilson, Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks are at their very best.  Buckle up and brace yourselves for a remarkable final four games.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Playing Down to the Competition-- Seahawks 24 @ 49ers 13

It's Monday morning and Seattle has a record of 7-4.  Respectable, but far from intimidating.  Playoff projections show the NFC South claiming both Wildcard spots with the Seahawks on the outside looking in.  Only 5 games remain, but a lot can happen in the final month of the regular season.

In their final 7 games of this season, Seattle will face 4 of the projected playoff teams.  They already lost to Atlanta and will next face the Eagles in Seattle, who possess the NFL's best record, on Sunday Night Football.

We now find ourselves 12 weeks into the season and it's pretty clear what team's identities, strengths and weaknesses are.  If you haven't figured yourself out by now, you're not going to this year.

 After yesterday's convincing-yet-somehow-challenging victory, here's what we know about our team as they prepare for this season's 4th quarter:

  • This team lives and dies with Russell Wilson.  Despite his apparent one-stupid-turnover per game quota of the past few games, Wilson is having another spectacular season. With Wilson, Seahawks are never out of any game, no matter the opponent.  However, Wilson isn't without his flaws.  Wilson will end up as either the MVP or the scapegoat for this team's failure to win the Super Bowl.  Fair or not, there is no in between.
  • Seattle cannot run the football.  Period, end of discussion.  The Seahawks knew coming out of last year that this was a problem and they took a gamble on the potential solution.  They opted to address the offensive line in free agency with Joeckel, Aboushi and Tobin.  They drafted Pocic  in the second round but didn't draft a running back until the seventh.  Before all of that, they signed Eddie Lacy and gave him the cap resources that might have better been served resigning Steven Hauschka.  The only bright spots in their run game were seemingly afterthoughts in solving their rushing inefficiencies-- McKissic, who just doesn't have the frame to be the workhorse, Carson, who went out for season with a bad leg injury and Mike Davis, who promptly hurt his groin after getting his shot.
  • We have a kicking problem.  Wouldn't it be great if Blair Walsh made the kick that sends this team to the Super Bowl?  That'd be a wonderful redemption story.  Unfortunately, what's more likely is that he misses the kick that ends our season.  We're blessed with a quarterback that will always keep us in games, but sometimes that means getting the team in position for a game winning/tying field goal.  If Walsh hits it-- he'll be a hero.  If he misses it, we'll be second guessing every personnel decision that is made this offseason, which could quite possibly lead to a breaking up of the band when it comes to the team's core group of players.

  • The defense can hang.  Look-- with Chancellor, Sherman, Griffin, Avril and so many other key personnel out or otherwise banged up-- you're not going to see the pure, shutdown defensive performances we've all been spoiled with the past few seasons. That should be expected.  But as we've seen the past two games, these backups are no slouches. We saw some of the young bucks like Branden Jackson and Marcus Smith get home for sacks against the 49ers.  We'll need more of the youngsters to step up down the stretch.  If history is any indicator, we should expect this to continue. Pete Carroll's teams have always sprinkled in youth early in seasons to prepare them for a more expansive role as the season progresses.  We've seen tremendous results in the past with this process.
  • If you're getting paid, earn your keep.  This is not an indictment of any of these guys, but December is where you need to earn your paycheck.  Wilson, Thomas, Graham, Brown, Britt, Baldwin, Wright, Wagner and Bennett need to play like the players we know they are. I would include Lacy in that list, but to paraphrase Denny Green-- he is who we think he is.

San Francisco certainly appears to be heading in the right direction.  Their rebuild will continue for another season or two, but I expect this rivalry to heat up like it used to be. Kyle Shanahan isn't nearly as annoying as Harbaugh, but it could still return to being a preeminent rivalry in the NFL.

Seattle will need to win, at minimum, three of these next five games if they have any hopes of a post season birth.  It's still entirely possible that they could win the NFC West by beating the Rams and closing the gap in their records. Either way, the path to the Super Bowl will more than likely be a road trip for the Seahawks.  They will need to start making their case for respect by taking care of the Eagles next week.