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. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Saved by the Bell-Ringer-- Seahawks 13 Lions 10

After escaping by the skin of their teeth from a home game against a winless opponent-- it's hard to be optimistic about your team's trajectory.

The first quarter of the NFL season is in the books and by now, every team should have a pretty thorough understanding of who they are and what they have. I think we know what this team has-- and I hate to break it to the coaching staff, but what they have and what they expect their identity to be doesn't fit.

There's no question that the Seahawks have championship caliber talent, but it doesn't fit the bill for a team that predicates its style on being a ball controlling, run-first offense supported by a stingy, bend-but-don't-break defense. 

The Seahawks coaching staff needs to come to grips with a few things before they depart for Ohio to face the undefeated Bengals this weekend.  If they don't change anything, they'll still win some games, but they can't count on a last minute miracle from Kam Chancellor week in and week out. They'll have to adapt their style if they expect any shot at a Super Bowl return.
Here's my 'To Do' list for the Seahawks going forward:

Acknowledge the awfulness of your offensive line.  The Seahawks might have the worst offensive line in the NFL.  It's certainly the worst they've had in Pete Carroll's tenure.  At first, the concept of converting a player from a defensive lineman or tight end into an offensive lineman was exciting and curious-- that was when it worked to some degree. 

Now, it looks like Tom Cable has never seen American Football before and perhaps just doesn't know any better.  JR Sweezy looked horrendous on Monday Night.  Like a turn style with the number '64' painted on it, he couldn't seem to stop a nosebleed.  New center, Drew Nowak, just plain looks lost out there.  Perhaps there are some changes that can be made internally or maybe even a trade, but it all begins with acknowledging that this team cannot protect the quarterback or establish a run game.

Jimmy Graham is not a Tight End.  The first time this issue was brought up was when he was given the franchise tag by his former team, the New Orleans Saints.  The issue was raised because Graham's production and use on the field had all of the markings of a wide receiver despite him being listed as a tight end on the roster.

The significance of this is that wide receivers make more money than tight ends.  When designated by the franchise tag, you remain under contract with your team at the cost of the average of the top 5 highest-paid players at your position.  Graham, understandably, wanted to be paid for his receiver-like production while the Saints wanted the financially-friendly benefits of a tight end's wage.

 On the field, however, Graham is every bit a receiver-- and a damned good one, at that!  If Seattle brought him here to block, they wasted a tremendous amount of cap space. If they brought him here to score touchdowns and dominate in the red zone-- they need to use him as more of a slot receiver like the Saints did.

You are no longer a run-first team.  Maybe next year, through the draft and free agency, the Seahawks can rebuild into a run-first dominant team.  But it ain't happening this season.  Not with Marshawn banged up and entering the twilight of his career. Not when your backup running back is the oldest in the league, now nursing a high-ankle sprain.  Not when your offensive line is just that-- offensive. 

On the bright side-- we have options! 

Your receivers are pretty damned good.  Look around.  This team isn't hurting for offensive play makers as bad as their game plan would indicate through these first 4 weeks of the season. The aforementioned Jimmy Graham is one of the best receivers and touchdown-makers in the game today.  Tyler Lockett has grown from week to week, showing that he's much more than just a kick returner.  Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse are deadly reliable in the clutch.  Even roll playing contributors like Ricardo Lockette and Luke Willson have been known to shine when called upon.  Hell, even former quarterback BJ Daniels saw some action Monday Night with a 12 yard reception!

Trust in Russ.  This kid is special-- and he's ours for the next 4 seasons!  I know the idea of him incorporating more designed runs into the game plan might be unsettling, but Russell is a smart runner who knows when to give himself up.  Plus, I'd rather see him take a hit on a 15-yard run than repeatedly for 9-yard sacks!

I'm sick of waiting until late in games for Darrell Bevell to put the game on Russell's shoulders.  Wilson needs to sling the ball around and stretch the field early in games to get the defense softened up for the run game.

Seattle is going to have to lean on it's defense all season, but that shouldn't be to account for incompetent offensive play calling.  Imagine if Seattle were to go into Cincinnati on Sunday and came out throwing on the Bengals. Make the first 10 plays of the game passing plays.  Screen pass to Lockett, a slant to Baldwin, Jimmy Graham on a tight end seam and go deep to Kearse early. 

You'd have the defense on their toes right off the bat-- that's when you hit them with the read option. 

If Seattle would make it a priority to incorporate all of their strengths while avoiding their weaknesses, there wouldn't be a defense in the league that could hold us down.  The good ones will limit us, but that's where we lean on our defense. Teams like the Bears and Lions should lose to us by no less than 3 scores.  Teams like the Packers and Rams should still lose to us, but in low-scoring, defensive affairs.

The second quarter of the season will be a challenge to say the least.  3 of the next 4 games will be on the road against teams that are either red-hot, perpetual headaches for the Seahawks or both.  Our week 9 Bye is a literal halftime for our season, but with good preparation and game-planning, this team could easily be 5-3 at the halfway point.

If the Seahawks are below .500 by week nine-- they absolutely have to fire Darrell Bevell.  Maybe even Tom Cable, too, to a much lesser extent.  Cable's crew is admittedly a group of guys that no other coaching staff desires, but Bevell has players that any coach would envy.  If you can't find a way to win with Wilson, Lynch, Graham, Lockett and Baldwin-- you don't deserve to be coaching at this level.