Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Monday Night Crystal Ball

With a quarter of the NFL season already in the books, it's fairly safe to say that this will be an interesting year.  The lone unbeaten teams are perennial disappointments (Bengals, Cardinals) and we've been underwhelmed by teams that were supposed to challenge us for the Lombardi (Saints, Patriots).

The NFL is set up beautifully, allowing for teams in the cellar to climb their way out if they make the right moves in the draft and free agency.  The NFL doesn't have it's version of the Yankees and Red Sox because teams cannot buy a winning roster. You have to find the right coaching staff, the right players and keep it all together under the salary cap.  This gives every fan base hope at the beginning of each season that it could be their year-- unless you're a Raiders fan.

The one team that has managed to remain dominant in the salary cap era is the New England Patriots.  Since Bill Belichick took the reins from Pete Carroll in 2000, the Patriots have amassed an astonishing 165-63 record.  Only two of those seasons saw Belichick & company finish with less than 10 wins-- his inaugural season (5-11) and 2002 (9-7).  That's incredible.

What has made and kept the Patriots atop the NFL food chain for the past 14 years? They've had a lot of great players in that time.  They've had great coaching staffs that have moved on to teams of their own.  Still, with all of that, there's only 2 constants over that period: quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick.

When it comes to two of the most important components of an NFL team, the Patriots have had two of the all-time greats for almost 15 years. Sure, they've had some great supporting casts around them over the years, but as great players have come and gone-- Belichick, Brady and success have always been there.

Seattle seems to be on the right path.  They've got their coach in Pete Carroll.  A proven winner just beginning his dynasty with Seattle.   They've got their quarterback in Russell Wilson-- who, like Brady, began his career as a late draft pick that found success almost immediately. The immediate future looks incredibly bright for our Seahawks.

However, after watching last nights match up of the Patriots and Chiefs, the distant future has me a little concerned.

Here's the dilemma: Tom Brady is still a great quarterback, but he is old.  He's not quite as great as he once was.  As he ages, his cap hit tends to increase.  While Brady is irrefutably deserving to be among the highest paid players in the league, tying up so much of your team's salary cap to one player makes it difficult to field a solid team from top to bottom. This has forced the Patriots to rely on a bevy of young, unproven players to fill a lot of the holes left in their roster by players that have earned a big contract through consecutive years of success.

Clearly, this hasn't seemed to have affected the Patriots much over the past nearly 15 years, but it looks as though the balance of experience and inexperience is wearing on them.  It was on full display Monday night.

This got me to thinking:  what if I'm looking at the future of the Seahawks?  We all know that when Russell Wilson's contract comes due-- he's getting paid.  Likely top-3-in-the-league-type money.  With Sherman, Chancellor, Thomas, Lynch, Wagner and more either earning or coming up on a big payday, you have to wonder at what point to we begin to see the band break up.

At some point, to some degree, it will inevitably happen.  The Seahawks built an incredibly skilled, young team and were very fortunate to have it all come together so quickly. However, as rookie contracts begin to expire, the pool of funds known as the salary cap begins to rapidly dry up.

Given that the quarterback is the most important position on the field, one would think that Wilson will probably be the last chip to fall. Will he be able to carry a team like Brady when/if the talent pool isn't so rich? Will the Seahawks find themselves in the position the Patriots are currently in?

I think we're safe, 12s.

After all-- how did we get here in the first place?  If you look back at the key ingredient in the Seahawks transition from a 5 win team to Super Bowl champions, you'll plainly see that it was Pete Carroll and John Schneider's remarkable ability to find diamond-in-the-rough talent in the late rounds of the draft and through free agency.

This was no fluke.  They didn't simply stumble into drafting Russell Wilson in the 3rd round.  It wasn't just the draft day acquisition of Marshawn Lynch for merely a 5th round pick.  It wasn't the Sherman's, Chancellor's and Maxwell's found in the late rounds or the home run early round selections of Thomas, Okung or Wagner.  It's all of it.

As long as we retain the services of Pete & John, this team will always be competitive.  The dynasty won't end when we cut Lynch to preserve cap space or when we have to trade a beloved commodity like Earl Thomas in his later years because we can't pay him what he's worth.  No, this dynasty will sparkle and fade the day the dynamic duo of Carroll and Schneider eventually part ways.

That will be a sad day, indeed.  Here's hoping that the trophy shelf is well-decorated before that day comes.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Super Rematch: Seahawks 26 v. Broncos 20 OT

The Broncos made it their mission to bolster their roster this offseason in the aftermath of the shellacking they received from the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.  They improved their defense by adding guys like DeMarcus Ware and provided additional weapons for Peyton Manning such as speedster Emmanuel Sanders. While they definitely improved as a team, ultimately it wasn't enough to overcome Russell Wilson and the Seahawks.

The game that was held in Seattle yesterday afternoon wasn't nearly as close as the final score would have you believe.  The Seahawks dominated for most of the game before Peyton Manning executed a touchdown scoring drive and the game tying two-point conversion.  There was a brief moment of concern for us Seahawks fans, but it was quelled when Seattle won the overtime coin toss and Russell Wilson lead his team on a game winning drive that was capped by a Marshawn Lynch touchdown.

Like the Broncos, the Seahawks made moves to improve their roster this offseason, too.  The difference was in the fact that the Seahawks didn't add marquee names to their roster and instead looked to better themselves through the draft and within the guys they already had.

While the Seahawks have certainly looked good through all 3 games this season, they've yet to really impose their will on teams like they had in previous seasons. This leads me to think that we've yet to see our team really hit its stride. With an early bye week coming next week Seattle will be forced to do this down the stretch.

While its still way too early to talk about playoffs, Super Bowls and end of the year awards, I want to say this publicly so you all can keep it on your radar: Marshawn Lynch will be an MVP candidate.  As spectacular as our defense has been, it'll be too difficult to discern a single standout player from that group.  Russell Wilson will continue his brilliance, but at the end of the year, his numbers won't hold up against pass-happy players like Brees, Stafford and Rodgers. Lynch, on the other hand, will continue to be the staple of our offense and he looks like he's more than up for the challenge.

I abhor the fact that Seattle has their bye week so early in the season.  Fortunately, we appear to be in good health through the first quarter of the season.  The Cardinals stand atop the NFC West, but like their previous hot start, you know its going to be unsustainable.  The Rams are preparing themselves for the Marcus Mariota sweepstakes while the 49ers are just one or two losses away from a total catastrophic meltdown.  Despite the early bye, you have to feel really good about how your Seahawks look and where they are right now.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Majesty of Gameday

There is nothing quite like going to a Seahawks game. The atmosphere of CenturyLink Field, the camaraderie among strangers and the possibility of witnessing history first-hand is worth the cost of admission.

The problem is-- the cost of admission ain't cheap.

I'm not getting on a soap box to chastise the NFL for gouging its fans, nor am I supporting the poorly contrived (albeit, well intentioned) argument that school teachers, firemen and police officers should switch salaries with professional athletes. Supply and Demand: I get it. 

The cost of attending an NFL game is both perfectly reasonable and absurdly exorbitant at the same
time. It makes sense given the limited amount of games, the incredible popularity and the tremendous production costs that make the games so great. However, for many of us, attending a game is a rare treat if not completely out of the question all together.

I've been fortunate enough to attend my share of Seahawks games.  I remember times when you couldn't give them away and periods like the Holmgren era and the present where they are as scarce as they are spendy.

I have memories that I will cherish forever involving the Kingdome, Husky Stadium and Centurylink.  I love being able to tell people that I was at the game where Tony Romo botched the place hold-- or simply having had the opportunity to have witnessed legends like Largent, Kennedy, Jones and Moon in action.

I was there, man.  I was there.

Times have certainly changed, though.  As admission prices, concession and parking rates have exponentially risen-- so has the production quality of the games and the technology of televisions and home theater systems.

Now, while I still make an effort to try to get out to one game each season, I prefer to instead gather with my friends, family and loved ones to watch together on a 60" Plasma television with abundant food and beverages from the comfort of a familiar living room.

However, the ultimate deciding factor in how I choose to spend my game day experience is the obscene difference in price between seeing the game live and watching it at home.

Let's say I wanted to take my girlfriend to the assuredly spectacular match up this Sunday against the Denver Broncos.  A quick search at StubHub.com shows the cheapest available pair of tickets for this sold out game going for $175-- and here's the kicker-- they're upper level endzone standing room only seats!

Right off the bat, we're out $350, and we're only getting started.

The next issue is transportation.  The cheapest and most preferable option, in my opinion, is to park and take the Link Light Rail.  Parking is free at the Light Rail stations, but it is extremely limited.   Even for Mariners games, I've found you have to get to the station about an hour and a half before the game starts.  I imagine it's even worse for Seahawks games.

So, the light rail will only set us back about $10 bucks, but isn't a guarantee by any means.  Most likely you'll have to pay for parking.  That can cost you anywhere between $10 and $100 plus gas used in transit. We'll meet in the middle and say $40-- bringing us to $390.

Now, because attending a game has become a special occasion, I've found that I have a tendency to almost always pick up some sort of souvenir to commemorate the experience.  It could be anything from a toy for my daughter, picking up your new jersey for the season or something simple like a program.  Depending on your budget and your restraint, you're probably going to drop about $50 on some form of a keepsake.

We've already spent $440 and we haven't eaten anything yet!

Mind you, there are thriftier ways to enjoy a game, but if you're one of 'those guys' you're probably going to skip out on the excursion to the CLink altogether. So, if you're not going to stuff a PB&J into your pocket, chances are you're spending about $35 to feed two people.  Don't kid yourself into thinking that you'll be fine foregoing sustenance for 3 and 1/2 hours-- that ain't happening. You owe it to your fellow 12s to maintain your energy to cheer throughout the game!

If we each enjoy a single $9 Miller Lite during the game, we'll have spent just shy of $500 for the experience. That's a lot of money for a lot of people. Still, it's an amazing, worthwhile experience for any fan, irrespective of your income level. Just as I'm sure Lamborghini makes terrific cars and they're probably well worth the price-- it's unlikely that you'll ever find my name on the title of such a fine luxury car.

For $500, you could host a KILLER party for you and your close friends to watch the game together.  You could even charge for parking or premium seating-- but I wouldn't recommend it. I watch the games with about a dozen of my dearest friends and we spend maybe $100 on food and drinks collectively. 

There's seldom a line for the bathroom, the seats are substantially more comfortable and you can converse with the people sitting near you without screaming.  As great as seeing our favorite team live is, it's pretty hard to equal the personalized game day experience.

There's definitely more than one way to enjoy the game.  Tweet @SeahawksFTW your favorite tips for the perfect game day at home with the hashtag #MyKindofGameday and I'll share them on Friday.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Can't Get Right: Seahawks 21 @ Chargers 30

The Seattle Seahawks suffered their first meaningful loss since winning the Super Bowl and, boy, does it hurt.

The Chargers, a playoff team last season, looked extremely sharp and well prepared.  They didn't overpower the Seahawks by any means--- hell, the Seahawks looked like they were going to wake up and put the game away at any moment. Alas, that moment never came.

There were a lot of factors that contributed to this loss.  Just looking at the box score, you could easily point to Marshawn Lynch's measly 6 carries to being a factor. At one point early in the broadcast, there was speculation that perhaps Lynch was injured because of his absence from the field, but Carroll cleared that up with the sideline reporter by saying "We can't give him the ball if the defense can't get off the field."

The Seahawks simply had no answer for the future Hall of Fame tight end, Antonio Gates.  Kam Chancellor, KJ Wright and Bobby Wagner were all burned at one point or another by the former college basketball standout. Gates finished the game with all 3 of Phillip Rivers touchdowns and some crucial first down conversions.

The heat may have been a factor.  It was reported that it was as hot as 120 degrees in certain spots on the field.  Seattle was forced to wear their home blue jerseys which had to draw in the heat more than their usual white road uniforms.  Nevertheless, you can't hide behind that excuse.

San Diego dominated the Seahawks in time of possession throughout the game.  They systematically took advantage of the injuries in Seattle's secondary by picking them apart with dink-and-dunk passes and short but effective runs. Seattle couldn't adjust and their offense never made up for the lost time.

Mistakes plagued the Seahawks on both sides of the ball and certainly had an affect on the outcome. Zach Miller had 3 costly mistake that were the only reason his name was mentioned during the game's broadcast. Percy Harvin coughed up the ball on a kick return which completely killed any momentum the Seahawks may have had.  Ryan Matthews had 2 fumbles that could've swung things the other direction, but they were both retained by San Diego. Bruce Irvin added a stupid late hit penalty late in the game.

There was some controversy surrounding the 51-yard touchdown run by Percy Harvin in the first half.  The replay showed that he may have stepped out after the last defender dove at him.  Deion Sanders argued that his heel never went down out of bounds, and since the original ruling was a touchdown, they would've needed conclusive evidence to overturn the call. Whether it was conclusive or not was irrelevant the instant the PAT was kicked, but the broadcast crew hoped with all their might that the Seahawks would pull this win out so that it would be a controversy-- but it ultimately had no impact on the game outcome.

This was a win Seattle should've had. They were the better team and they had opportunities but they were all squandered. They might be coming home this weekend but it's not going to get any easier with the defending AFC Champions coming into town.  You have to hope that this loss will motivate them.

Judging from the preseason matchup against Denver, I expect them to use same high-efficiency, dink-and-dunk strategy employed by the Chargers yesterday.  Seattle must revert back to their mantra "If we Man up, we Stand up" if they want to put an abrupt end to that exploitation of their overly aggressive, high-flying defense.

The Seahawks need to get Marshawn Lynch established early and often while mixing in a few shots down field and trick plays-- none of these were utilized Sunday.  As much as every game matters, this loss is still just one game. Maybe Seattle needed this reminder that teams are going to get up for them every week.  The Super Bowl rematch is going down at CenturyLink Field next week.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Ready to Re-Pete: Seahawks 36 Packers 16

What an incredible start to the NFL season!

The city of Seattle and our Seahawks were once again under the national microscope as they faced the Green Bay Packers in the NFL regular season opener. The pregame included performances from superstar Pharrell Williams and Seattle's own Soundgarden-- who was my favorite band among those that spawned from Seattle's grunge explosion in the 1990s.

Adding to the pre-kickoff frenzy was the ceremonial revealing of the World Champions banner and the raising of the 12th Man flag by the three of the greatest Seahawks of all time: Hall of Famers Walter Jones, Steve Largent and Cortez Kennedy. Before a single second of actual NFL football had transpired-- the city was on fire with enthusiasm.

Then, the game happened.

Now, I'd have to believe that every serious football fan and analyst was watching last night.  After all, it was the first taste of 'real' football since the Super Bowl and there wasn't any other games on that night. That being said, hopefully all of this ignorance of Seattle Seahawks football will go away for a while.

Remember how the 'experts' were telling us that Russell Wilson still isn't an elite quarterback?  Remember hearing how he was merely a product of a solid running game and an excellent defense?

How about these guys on the message boards shouting in all caps about how Marshawn Lynch is selfish and we'd be just fine without him?  Remember them?

I'm curious as to what will be the first words from their mouths once they remove their foot from it.

Marshawn Lynch was spectacular. He finished with 124 all-purpose yards and a pair of hard earned touchdowns.

Wilson was great as well going 19 for 28 for 191 yards and 2 touchdowns through the air,
adding 29 more yards on the ground. Despite the loss of BJ Raji, the Packers defense looked much improved. All said and told, Seattle amassed 207 yards rushing on the Packers.

We finally saw the intended use for Percy Harvin-- and it was spectacular!  Harvin was electric whether he was returning kicks, catching passes or taking hand-offs in the backfield.

There was a lot of questions regarding the Seahawks decision to keep 8 receivers on the roster but after last night, we found out why.  Wilson completed passes to 8 different receivers last night.

Mistakes were few and far between for the Seahawks.  They played surprisingly clean by only having 4 penalties levied against them-- half as many as the Packers had.  Earl Thomas's toughness cost the team a turnover when he refused to call for a fair catch and subsequently coughed up the ball after being bumped by an opposing player while fielding a punt. Wilson also underthrew a pass that would've surely been a huge touchdown in the first half.

With the exception of those minor issues, Seattle was flawless and looks primed for a repeat.  If they're not #1 in the power rankings by Tuesday morning it will be a travesty. Byron Maxwell proved that, if your'e going to avoid throwing on Sherman, he's not going to make it any easier. Not a single pass was thrown Sherman's way but Maxwell managed an interception in his extra opportunities.

The competition won't decrease much next week.  Seattle is headed to San Diego next week to face the Chargers who were a playoff team just last year. If Seattle plays like they did last night, there will be no stopping them.