Monday, November 30, 2015

Happy Birthday, Russell! - Seahawks 39 Steelers 30

It may have been Russell Wilson's 27th birthday, but he was the the one distributing the gifts.  Wilson had perhaps his finest game yesterday, throwing for 5 touchdowns and 345 yards.  The Seahawks were able to correct so many of the issues that were plaguing them this season while setting the table for a late-season playoff run.

As great as this victory was for this team, that's not to say that there wasn't a few negatives to take away from this game.  Jimmy Graham, who was finally carving out a role in this offense, is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury after falling awkwardly in the end zone.  Marcus Burley hurt himself again.  He has been playing really well this season, but he can't seem to stay healthy.  Our play-calling seem to have regressed from last game.  While it was frustrating, at least they were able to overcome some of the stupid play calls early in the game.

Along with Wilson, Richard Sherman also had arguably his best game of the season.  Sherman shut down the league's best receiver and notched his first interception of the season.  He could have had two interceptions if the league credited interceptions made on two-point conversion attempts.  Alas, they do not.

DeShaun Shead played remarkably in his first start at cornerback.  Big Ben picked on him, but Shead hung in their and played really well.  I would like to see more of Earl Thomas playing deep center field to protect over the top, but the defense overall bent without breaking.

Outside of Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett-- this team cannot pressure the quarterback.  Up the middle we get nothing from Jordan Hill, Brandon Mebane or Ahtyba Rubin.  Though, I should mention that Rubin has more interceptions this season than Carey Williams.

The Seahawks needed this win for many reasons and they needed it to be won in exactly the fashion that they did.  They needed to prove, if only to themselves, that they can win games on Wilson's arm if they have to.  They needed to show that they could hold a 4th quarter lead (at home, no less) until the end.  They needed to remind themselves that they actually have a fair amount of shifty pass catchers that, when spread out, can make big plays for this team. Plus, they needed to handle a good team with a great quarterback.

Seattle is preparing to embark on a two-game road trip that will ultimately decide this team's post-season mettle.  They might be able to make the playoffs while still dropping one of the remaining 5 games ahead of them-- but if they can't beat a tough Minnesota team on the road, the playoffs might be more than this team can handle.

Seeing Arizona eek out wins against a floundering Bengals team last week and a hapless 49ers team this week only adds to the frustration that came from not being able to close out that game in Seattle against them.  We'll see them again in the final regular season game, but by then, both team's fates may already be decided.

If Seattle can find a way to win this Sunday against the NFC North-leading Vikings, the following games against Baltimore, Cleveland and St. Louis should be a cinch.  This team is hitting its stride late and that's exactly what we need. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Rise of the Rookies-- Seahawks 29 49ers 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seattle just needs to handle their business to get in.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Identity Crisis-- Seahawks 32 Cardinals 39

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So ******* what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 2, 2015

Leftover Fright-- Seahawks 13 Cowboys 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm looking at you, Russell Wilson.

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

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

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

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