Monday, January 25, 2016

An Open Letter to Cam Newton

Dear Mr. Newton,

First and foremost, I wanted to congratulate you on a remarkable season. You piloted the best team in the league to the Super Bowl and it looks all but certain that you will be the league's most valuable player this year.

You laid waste to every opponent that crossed your path-- including my beloved Seattle Seahawks. I thought it was a foregone conclusion that we'd find ourselves in a third consecutive Super Bowl, but you put an abrupt end to that.

Instead, I'll be watching you next weekend. But I won't be rooting for you.

This has absolutely nothing to do with you as a person, whatsoever. Hell, I was in your corner as soon as I heard that you were being taken under the wing of one of my childhood heroes, Warren Moon.  

There is no argument against your talents. You have a rifle for an arm, the speed of a running back, the body of a linebacker and a winning smile. I'm sure if I lived in Auburn or Charlotte, you might be my favorite player.

But a rivalry is brewing between my Seahawks and your Panthers-- and I love that.

Two similarly-built defenses. Two young, gifted quarterbacks. Two physical run games.  

The only thing that makes that rivalry better, in my opinion, is your antics on the field.  I've echoed your sentiment 'if you don't like it, then stop it' all along. I was disgusted by the open letter that some candy-assed Seahawks fan penned about you throwing our flag on the field.  A real '12' wouldn't have left their gear behind to begin with!

The Panthers fan that griped about you setting a bad example for her son was just as clueless. No one should be parking their kids in front of the TV on Sunday expecting to be taught life lessons.

Personally, I hope that stuff motivates my Seahawks to bring their A-game next time we face off against you. If they don't, we will only be making our next shot at a Super Bowl more difficult.  If they do, its going to be incredible football for everyone that's watching.

Another one of my childhood heroes will be facing off with you in Super Bowl 50.  Old Man Manning. I've admired him since he was a Tennessee Volunteer. 

I was fortunate that my Seahawks were able to get their first Lombardi against him-- that made it all the more special-- but I do hope he rides off a Champion after this game.

If not, I will still respect you as an elite athlete and it will probably add fuel to the fire for the next time you face my Seahawks.

I'm sure my opinion means nothing to you-- as it should. Nobody's opinion should matter to you outside of your team and your family. But I have a feeling you are already well aware of that. My 'sports hate' for you comes from a place of respect. Thank you for loving the game of football and playing it with passion. 

Until our teams meet again....

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Marshawn Lynch and the Identity of the Seahawks in 2016

It seems it's a forgone conclusion.  Marshawn Lynch, more than likely, has played his final game in a Seahawks uniform.

It isn't necessarily because he's 30 years old and missed considerable time to injury.  The most glaring reason is the $11.5 million cap hit that comes if he's on the roster in June.

The Seahawks have very little room to work with under the salary cap next year and they have a lot of expired contracts to sort out along with holes that need to be filled based on this past season. Thomas Rawls has shown that he certainly has the potential to handle the starting running back duties, though durability will be a legitimate concern going into next season.

For me, personally, it's sad to envision a Seahawks team without #24 in the backfield. In my opinion, Marshawn Lynch is the greatest rusher Seattle has ever had.  While his five-year tenure with the team feels brief, even for a position where the average career span is about 3 seasons, he has accomplished a tremendous amount in that short time.

Let's first remember how Lynch came to be a part of this team. On October 5th, 2010, the Seahawks traded the Buffalo Bills a 2011 4th round pick (122nd overall) and a 2012 5th round pick (147th overall) for Marshawn Lynch.  Lynch was a first round selection coming out of Cal with a tremendous amount of promise.

Unfortunately for Buffalo, Lynch never really got it together in his time there and even faced some run ins with the law. Pete Carrol and John Schneider were able to look past the off field troubles and it paid huge dividends.

Lynch gave this team an identity. He was, by many accounts, a strange dude.  He gorged on candy during games, loathed dealing with the media and was beloved by his teammates.  His effort was never called into question. He was first team All Pro in 2012 and second team in 2014.  He carried Seattle to their first World Championship and, had he been given the ball on the 3 yard line, he likely would've been the hero who brought us our second consecutive Lombardi trophy.

But it wasn't the trophies and accolades that I will remember Lynch for-- it was the numerous remarkable highlights he put on film in his 5 seasons in Seattle.

Two of the 3 most phenomenal plays I've ever bore witness to were executed by Marshawn Lynch. The player affectionately known as "Beastmode" gave fans the sense that he could go off on any play.  Here are two clips of the 'Beastquake' runs, named as such because (the first one) actually registered seismic activity from the fan reaction to the play.

Even if he continues his career beyond Seattle, it's unlikely that Lynch will retire with any Top 5 All Time rushing titles.  It's been said that he's a borderline Hall of Fame candidate at this point.  Nevertheless, Lynch has been a consistently extraordinary talent, the likes of which the NFL may never see again. Outside of maybe Russell Wilson and Peyton Manning-- Lynch has been my favorite player to watch in my 30 years of NFL fandom.

For the first time in half of a decade, Seattle looks to start next season without the bruising, intimidating rushing ability of Marshawn Lynch.

So, what does this mean for our Seahawks?

It doesn't mean that we're no longer a Championship contender. Regardless of who heads up our backfield, as long as #3 is at the helm-- we've got a shot.

But this will certainly have an impact on this team's identity.  At least it should, anyway.

Russell Wilson has shown that he has what it takes.  He can command a run game, he can beat you with his legs and he can put up 300 yards through the air whenever called upon.  Yet, this team, to it's own detriment, seems to insist upon predicating it's identity upon the run game.

First off, it's astonishing to me that any team would identify as a run-first team while almost completely neglecting the development of it's offensive line.  In Pete Carroll's entire tenure with the Seahawks, he has seemingly made everything but the offensive line a priority-- which is typically a fairly important component of a run-first team.

Because of the presence of Lynch, Wilson and the outstanding work from offensive line coach Tom Cable, the Seahawks have been able to mask many of the deficiencies brought on by the neglect of resources allocated to the offensive line.  What on Earth would cause anyone to believe that this will improve, much less stay the same, in the absence of Lynch?

Cable was able to form a semblance of a decent line in the latter part of last season-- as he usually does.  Since this coincidentally coincided with Lynch succumbing to injury, many fans speculated incorrectly that Lynch was somehow responsible for the unproductive start of the season. In this 'what have you done for me lately?' NFL-- fans have jumped on the Rawls bandwagon and largely washed their hands of Lynch.

To those people, I would remind them that Russell Okung (the team's only high-draft selection on the offensive line) becomes a free agent this offseason who will also, more than likely, have a new home next year based on his cap number. JR Sweezy is also due a new contract and Patrick Lewis is a restricted free agent.  That leaves us with Alvin Bailey, Justin Britt and Gary Gilliam being the only guarantees to return next year.

That should be a tremendous concern for Seahawks fans next year.

Again, no reason to freak out, it's nothing that cannot be overcome.  Still, I would argue that this team absolutely needs to publicly renounce it's identity as a run-first team. Instead, I suggest they adapt the following identity:

The Seahawks are a team that will beat you by any means necessary and give 100% in all four quarters of every game.

Hell, they've already showed that they're capable of that.  They can beat you on special teams, they can beat you with defense.  They can beat you on the ground and they can beat you through the air.

The run game is an extremely important aspect of the game of football.  However, it doesn't work when you fall behind big, early in games.  Too often, the Seahawks have stubbornly forced their run game when it just wasn't there.  There are numerous examples of this from the past few seasons, but you need not look further back than the Divisional Playoff game against Carolina.

In the NFL, you have to be willing and able to adapt in games.  You can't always wait until halftime to make adjustments to your gameplan. While I agree with Pete that you can't win the game until the 4th quarter-- you can very easily cost your team an opportunity for victory in the first 3 quarters.

Even though the bulk of Seattle's salary cap has been spent on the defensive side of the ball, that doesn't mean we have to expect our defense to win every game for us.

I anticipate a great deal of change to take place between now and the start of next season.  No one can predict the moves Seattle will make internally, through free agency or through the draft. Every year that Pete & John have been here-- they've surprised us in the offseason.

We do know that we'll have Wilson leading the offense.  We should have a spectacular playmaker in Jimmy Graham returning next year.  We have the NFL's leading scorer at the receiver position in Doug Baldwin and an exciting star-in-the-making with Tyler Lockett.  Everyone loves what we've seen from Thomas Rawls and the defensive core should not change much.

The ability to win in all three phases won't change much and should even improve, if the right moves get made.  However, Seattle will need to change it's identity.  They can't wait until midseason to get their act together, like (virtually all) previous years.

Carolina seems to have finally made the next-level leap from a good team to a great one.  Arizona, barring Carson Palmer's retirement should be on top of their game next season.  The Rams swept us this past season.  Green Bay still has Aaron Rodgers and who knows what we can expect from the Chip Kelly-led 49ers.

What I'm saying is that we're not the only great team in the NFC and home-field advantage will continue to be crucial in vying for that next Super Bowl appearance. Since winning Super Bowl 48, the only team that has really prevented us from becoming an undisputed dynasty is ourselves. We've managed to overcome just about every obstacle we've faced, but there's two Lombardi's missing from our trophy shelf for which we only have ourselves to blame.

Next year's road to the Championship will only be harder.  The division will be as tough, if not tougher. We face Carolina, Green Bay and New England-- all playoff teams with Super Bowl potential. They also face Drew Brees, the up-and-coming Jameis Winston and a Jets team that just barely missed the playoffs this year.

Failing to win home divisional games and dropping conference games to likely playoff opponents will once again put Seattle behind the 8-Ball with their Super Bowl hopes.  While I will continue to believe that the core of this team is never out of any contest-- they cannot continue to make the journey harder on themselves by not playing up to their potential in all four quarters of every, single game.

The offseason is a time for reflection and speculation.  It is, far and away, my favorite time to write about this team that I love so much.  During the season, fans and media alike boast and speculate every day of the week-- but everything gets settled on the field on Sunday.  In the offseason, everyone is undefeated and nothing can be proven until the kickoff of the very first game.

I will have plenty of speculative posts in the coming weeks and months, but below is a brief 'Wish List' of what I would like to see happen before next season:

Restructure Lynch's contract-- Hear me out. John Schneider set a bad precedent by reworking Lynch's contract when he still had years remaining because he was coming off an outstanding season.  He could undo that by telling Lynch "You are getting up there in age, but you've still got a few productive years left in you.  We want you to retire as a Seahawk, but we are going to reduce your role somewhat.  If you can play two more seasons at $5mil and accept a lesser role, we will get you at least one more ring and get you closer to achieving some of those career accolades."   Think about it-- if Thomas Rawls was our feature back with Lynch spelling him over the next two seasons.  That'd be amazing.

Let Okung walk-- If we can't secure Sweezy on a cap-friendly deal, he can walk, too.  While I agree that continuity is a significant factor in a line's success-- I don't think that Okung or Sweezy is at all beyond replacement.  A solid veteran and a high draft pick could easily patch those holes up. Plus, the team seems to love what they've seen from Mark Glowinski. 

Find a way to keep Irvin-- This might be more improbable than my dream of retaining Lynch, but it would sure be sweet if it happened. Irvin started the season vocally expressing an interest in playing for Atlanta, but has since 180'd to say that he'd take a substantial discount to stay here.  The problem is, he's too good to not get a huge contract.  His speed and athleticism are incredibly rare and will be almost impossible to replace.

Retain Jermaine Kearse, but only if its cheap-- Kearse has played a tremendous role in this team's recent success.  He's also spent his entire football career in the state of Washington. His post game interview with Ian Furness was all the indication you need to know that he wants to be a part of this team in the future-- but he has now gone on record saying that he's worked too hard to give any discount for his services. I would LOVE to have him back-- but this team won't miss a beat without him, especially if Paul Richardson can stay healthy.  Expect another receiver to be drafted, too.

Keep Jeremy Lane, but replenish the secondary-- Cornerback depth was a huge reason for this team's early failures.  We can't let that continue into next year.  Tharold Simon will be back, but he's shown nothing on the field.  It would be awesome if Seattle were able to find a rookie like former Washington Husky Marcus Peters who came in for Kansas City and was golden from the get go, but I understand that's unlikely.  Having Lane available for the start of next season will make a huge difference.

If you want to be a run first team, start acting like it!--
The Seahawks offense has incredible potential to be exciting week in and week out.  Still, I have a feeling that Pete won't read this and consider my proposal for an identity change. Alright, I accept that you want to be a run first team-- but, damn it, you better invest in your offensive line!  Should the Seahawks stay the course with their identity, I want to see them trade up to get a top-tier left tackle.  Add a few more reserve linemen in the late rounds and through the undrafted pile.  Pick up not one, but TWO more running backs to compete with Rawls and seriously consider retaining Lynch.  Draft a pure blocking tight end and completely absolve Jimmy Graham from any and all blocking assignments.  If that's the identity this team insists on having-- commit to it!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Too Little, Too Late -- Seahawks 24 Panthers 31

A roller coaster of a season comes to a disappointing end in a stadium where these Seahawks have had so much success in the past. It wasn't the abrupt end we saw last season, but it was still unexpected in many ways.

No one expected Seattle to be down 31-0 going into half time.

The Seahawks looked like garbage in the first half.  There is no denying that.  The players and coaches will tell you the same. But even as the teams were heading to the locker rooms at the midway point, most Seahawks fans had a feeling that there was still a chance.

This team is never down.

In the second half, Seattle's defense shut out the Panthers offense.  Russell Wilson launched into a furious comeback attempt. All said and told-- the Seahawks were an onside kick away from winning this game.

Alas, it wasn't enough.  The Seahawks dug themselves a hole too deep to pull out from. Our season ended in Charlotte yesterday afternoon.  So close to an improbable third consecutive Super Bowl appearance.

Congrats to the Panthers.  I've long been a fan of Ron Rivera, Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly. They deserve the success they've attained this season.  I look forward to a continued rivalry with them and await our match up next season.

As for the Seahawks.  It was a fun season. It was a frustrating season.   There will be plenty of memorable moments as well as disappointments that stick with us for a long time. This team will not look the same next year and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

This might come as a shock to anyone that follows this blog, but I actually hope Darrell Bevell is back next year as the offensive coordinator. As much as he has driven me mad this year, he has potential to be great. But, he will certainly have to change his philosophies before next season.

The Divisional Playoff game was the perfect example of how this entire season went for this team.  Slow start with an exciting finish-- you could flip a coin to determine how it would end, but it would always be exciting.

What that has shown us over 16 regular season games and a pair of playoff match ups is that we have extraordinary talent on this team that's only rivaled by the fight in these players. Bob Condotta even offered this fascinating observation on Twitter:

What does this tell us? To me, it shows an arrogance, a stubbornness that Darell Bevell and Pete Carroll have in adhering to a specific identity they insist that this team possess. There were several instances throughout the season, and yesterday was no exception, where I felt that it was more important to the coaches to adhere to their identity and philosophy than it was to win the game.

You can say that I'm being irrational or over-reacting, but the evidence is there.  Look at the play calling.

Carolina is a team with a dominating defensive front. Arguably as good as ours-- perhaps even better. Our offensive line is not our strong suit.  You'd think that a team who was as dedicated to the run game as we are might invest more heavily in building up an offensive line that can impose it's will on teams.  That is not the case for us.

We have an offensive line that is patched together.  There's as many early-round draft picks as there are players converted from other positions.  While Tom Cable has done remarkable work in making that line perform, it's certainly had it's share of struggles.

You would think a team with shifty play-makers like Lockett, Baldwin, Kearse and Russell Wilson, you would go into a match up with a team like Carolina looking to spread that defense out and get the ball out of your quarterback's hand early.  You'd want to use a hurry-up tempo to wear them out.  Once the defense is softened up and tired-- hit 'em with Marshawn Lynch.

Instead, we thought we could shut them up by running right at them.  First play was what appeared to be a read option that Wilson should've kept.  Lynch was met in the backfield for a 3 yard loss. The next play, the offense still bunched together, they tried again to get Lynch involved on a screen play that took too long to develop.  The result was an interception returned for a touchdown.

However, when Bevell's back is to the wall, he finds a way to dial up great plays. Sometimes, he reverts back to appeasing their 'identity', but you can't be a run oriented team when you're down multiple scores.

My hope is that this team changes their identity this offseason. Don't be a run-first team.  Don't be a

Be the team that does whatever it takes to win games.  Be a team that is fluid and flexible.  Be a team that is so talented, they'll beat you in any way they can.
team that relies on its defense to close out games.  Don't just expect Wilson to make magic in the 4th quarter.

The Panther's secondary was decimated going into that game, yet they were the ones who won the turnover battle.  They shut us out until we took it to them in the second half.  Imagine how the game might have been different if we came out the gate playing like we did in the second half.

The Seahawks have some holes to fill in the offseason.  We're going to lose some pieces that have been vital to our success over the past few seasons.  I have confidence that we'll fill those holes and come back next season as a competitor.

But, until we change that philosophy and stop being so damned stubborn about what is our 'identity', we're going to have to sweat out every game to the finish.  This team has always made great adjustments at the midway point-- mid-play, mid-game, mid-season-- but it shouldn't have to always come to that.

Thanks for another great season, everyone. Can't wait for the next one.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Ice Cold-- Seahawks 10 Vikings 9

This year's playoffs started off strangely enough.  For the first time ever, all four road teams were victorious in the first slate of games. The Seahawks and Vikings match up was the 3rd coldest in NFL history-- but nothing was colder than how the game ended.

The Seahawks had largely outplayed the Vikings throughout most of the game.  Once again, Seattle's defense had shut down the league's best running back in Adrian Peterson. Seattle was getting decent production out of Christine Michael, who became the starting running back sometime Friday afternoon after finding out that Marshawn Lynch wouldn't travel with the team. We were out playing Minnesota, but not by much.

The game plan and play calling that Darrell Bevell brought out was once again head scratching.  The Vikings had made adjustments from the previous visit and did a much better job containing Russell Wilson.  The Seahawks QB was under duress for most of the game and the negative temperatures were clearly affecting his accuracy on deep throws. 

Despite the ugly back and forth, Seattle found themselves with the lead late in the game and the opportunity to put it all away.

Seattle ended up with the ball and all but one of their 3 time outs with 2:13 left in the game.  These are the situations Seattle prefers to find themselves in when they have the lead late in a game.  A first down would have all but clinched the game, but Bevell's peculiar play calling resulted in a 3 and out that only depleted one of the Vikings time outs.

They began the drive 7 seconds from the two minute warning. On 1st and 10, this would've been

Seattle followed that up with a run for a yard that brought on the two minute warning and then failed to convert a 3rd down pass attempt to sustain the drive.  Like they had all game, Seattle put the outcome on their defense's shoulders.

There was a ticky-tacky pass interference call that never should've been called. The officials need to be reminded this week not to call non-flagrant penalties that could decide the outcome of a playoff game.  Still, after that penalty, Kam Chancellor got beat once again by a tight end and it looked like Seattle was doomed.

Seattle's best chance at taking a shot at an intermediate pass.  Some trademark Wilson scrambling might have taken the play clock right to the two minute warning, especially if it ended with a completion. Instead they ran up the middle for a modest gain that allowed Minnesota to use a timeout before the warning.

But that's when the improbable happened.

Blair Walsh, who had scored all 9 of the Vikings points in this game, missed a chip-shot of a field goal that set Seattle up for a game winning kneel down.

Michael Bennett and Richard Sherman were outstanding. Doug Baldwin made the catch of the year and the Seahawks collectively fought 'til the bitter end. It's a game that I just assume we put behind us immediately and focus on winning in Carolina next Sunday.

It was an ugly game, but we'll take it.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Kickin' AZ and Takin' Names-- Seahawks 36 Cardinals 6

Some folks said that this season finale road game held no meaning.  Some folks said it would behoove Pete Carroll to hold his starters out of this game to preserve them for the playoff run.  Some folks said that the league didn't have an answer for the Arizona Cardinals.

The Seahawks let their play do the talking-- and it spoke volumes.

The 2015 regular season is now in the books and the playoff picture is in focus. As flat as Seattle played last week against St. Louis, they needed a statement game to prove to everyone, as well as themselves, that they can win games on the road in convincing fashion,

The Seahawks seemed to have fixed the laundry list of issues from the week before. Seattle handed Arizona their worst loss of the season, humiliating them in front of their home crowd in Glendale.

All phases were going off-- Tyler Lockett put on a return clinic in setting a franchise record for most punt return yards in a game (139).  Russell Wilson's 3 touchdown passes made him the Seahawks single-season record holder for touchdown passes (34) and passing yards (4,024). Doug Baldwin's 14 touchdown receptions set a franchise record and his 1,069 receiving yards was 6th best in franchise history-- his first 1,000 yard season.

Those were great milestones for this franchise, but the most important thing we saw from the offense Sunday was a 102-yard rushing performance by Christine Michael. His story perfectly sums up the Seahawks season-- he gets cut from Seattle, bounces around almost right out of the NFL and comes back to help power this team into the playoffs.

That was perhaps the biggest thing Seattle had to prove in this game-- Lynch or not, we can still run the ball.  All signs are pointing to Lynch returning to the team on Monday and that is great news as Seattle prepares for a Wild Card match up with the NFC North Champion Minnesota Vikings.

As for the defense which was playing without Kam Chancellor, this game was the most visually dominating performance since Super Bowl XLVIII.  They looked fired up and made the Cardinals look perplexed and hapless.

Arizona will spending the next two weeks stewing on that ass kicking while the Seahawks are heading into Minnesota next week with a full head of steam.  The same Vikings team we destroyed 38 to 7 in Week 13-- in that very same stadium.

Seattle looks like the hottest team in the NFC right now and nobody wants to play them.