Monday, September 26, 2016

Seahawks Offense Improving -- Seahawks 37 49ers 18

Now, that's more like the San Francisco offense we were all expecting...

After impressively shutting out the Rams in their home opener, the 49ers began falling slowly back to earth in their week two loss to the Panthers-- before explosively crashing to the ground against the Seahawks this past Sunday.

The Seahawks held Blaine Gabbert to 14 of 25 completed passes with a measly 119 yards and an interception-- Seattle's first of the season. If anything, Gabbert proved that he has no business being an NFL starting quarterback and I personally was astonished that Colin Kaepernick didn't take over in relief at some point in the second half.

After a minor lull against the Rams, the Seahawks defense played up to their billing in this one.  Still, it was the Seahawks offense that had their homecoming on Sunday.

Russell Wilson looked far more mobile than he had the week before-- that is at least until he suffered a knee sprain in the 3rd quarter on a cheap and borderline dirty tackle by the 49ers Eli Harold.  Wilson went down hard on Harold's horse collar tackle as his knee caught under the defensive player's body while he was pulled down sideways by the back of his shoulder pads.  Grimacing in obvious pain, Wilson stayed down well after the tackle.

Travone Boykin came in to relieve Russell for a single play before Wilson returned to finish the drive.  Boykin took over on the next series and finished the game-- throwing both is first interception and first touchdown pass before all was said and done.

The franchise quarterback's injury certainly put a damper on the much needed offensive explosion,
but Wilson's improvement coming off of last week's loss wasn't the greatest revelation of the game. Christine Michael scored the first and second rushing touchdowns of his tumultuous career and finished the game with 106 yards on 20 carries.

With news coming out today that Thomas Rawls fractured his leg in last weeks game in LA, we can only take comfort from Michael's performance in conjunction with the improvement across the offensive line yesterday. Both Rawls and rookie CJ Prosise were inactive on Sunday, leaving all of the ground work to Michael and rookie Alex Collins.

Germaine Ifedi could potentially return for next week's match up with the Jets, but after Sunday's showing, I would give him another week of rest before the Bye week and let him come back in week 6. I cannot see the benefit to rushing him into his first game if we don't absolutely need him.  J'Marcus Webb played markedly improved from his effort against the Rams.

Wilson is expected to play on Sunday against the New York Jets and Boykin has some live-fire experience under his belt.  The defense is rolling and the offensive line and the passing game appear to be hitting their stride. As I said before the season even began-- my greatest concern is how this team will replace Marshawn Lynch.

I love Thomas Rawls as the next 12, but now more than ever, I feel justified in my concerns regarding his long-term durability.

After all-- we had only seen a small sample size of Rawl's ability.  Granted, we were all impressed with what he had put on tape. 830 yards on 147 carries while only starting in 7 games.  His aggressive running style was reminiscent of Lynch at a time before we even knew Lynch was in his final NFL season.  We were confident that we had found Beastmode Jr.

Believe me.  I was excited to have Rawls as our presumptive starter this season.  But with every ounce of excitement came an equal part concern, for myself.

We had been spoiled in our time with Marshawn.  A running back isn't supposed to carry your team for 5 years and consistently be considered among the 3 best at his position without missing so much as a game. When Lynch began to show the first, long overdue signs of wear-- fans were not very forgiving.  Part of that could very well be due in part to Rawls powerful emergence.

After the dust settled and Lynch had proclaimed his retirement, Rawls became our guy.  It's a far better transition than most teams get, but he hadn't even started a half of a season's worth of games before his ankle injury-- there was plenty of concern to be had.

Some of those concerns were eased when Seattle selected 3 running backs in the subsequent draft.  They drafted as many running backs as they did offensive linemen, which seemed to be an area of concern even more pressing since Russell Okung and JR Sweezy departed in free agency.  The Seahawks response in free agency was considerably less flashy with J'Marcus Webb and Bradley Sowell.

At that point, I was fairly pleased with how the organization handled replacing Lynch.  As the pieces began to shuffle around and come back together, my concerns crept back in.

As it turns out, CJ Prosise was brought here to be more of a 3rd down and pass catching specialist.  More of an answer to replacing Fred Jackson than replacing Marshawn.  Zac Brooks spent the preseason being consistently outperformed by Troymaine Pope-- both of whom are no longer with the team.

Alex Collins and his unofficial fan club president, ESPN 710AM's Mike Salk, had me fired up.  An explosive SEC running back?  SIGN ME UP! But in the days and weeks that followed the draft, Collins has done nothing to convince me that he'll ever be good enough to lead this team's rushing attack.

The only veteran this team brought in to compete in the backfield was their own failed, high draft pick.  If you would have told me Christine Michael was going to come back and assume the starting running back role back when Lynch first announced his retirement, I might have openly wept.

Alas, here we are.

Our quarterback is beat up and Thomas Rawls could be out the next 4 weeks. Christine Michael has performed admirably, but did cough up the fumble that cost the Seahawks a 3-0 record.  Plus, we're one injury away from Alex Collins and Terrence Magee being our only options in the run game.

So, what are we going to do about that?

University of Washington standout and 4 time Pro Bowl fullback, Marcel Reece, was recently released by the Raiders. Given that the Seahawks have yet to settle on a fullback, I feel that the 31-year old fullback would provide an immediate upgrade to the rushing attack. His build, style and ability seem to fit well with Pete Carroll's scheme, too.

I know the Seahawks love to keep 'their guys' but it wouldn't hurt to bring in a veteran running back, too.

The offensive line showed excellent progress against San Francisco and I expect to see that continue next week against the Jets, despite their fearsome defensive front. We're in a position where we shouldn't have to rush Ifedi into the lineup until he's fully healed.

This early bye will greatly benefit the Seahawks this year.  They have had their bumps and bruises, but all teams will have their fill through the course of the season.  The offensive line will grow through experience, just as they do every season. They appear to be off to a faster start than usual. Christine Michael will need to be relied on as this team works through injuries and growing pains.  Russell will have to get the ball out of his hands quicker and the defense will have to keep playing to their ridiculously high standards.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Starstruck in LA-- Seahawks 3 @ Rams 9

Through the first two weeks of the season, I can confidently say one thing about this team:

These Seahawks are NOT fun to watch.

Mike Salk from 710 ESPN Seattle described it best this morning when he said the Seahawks have been playing in 'Survival Mode'.  Call it what you like-- its no fun waiting to see which team will make the first mistake and who can capitalize on that mistake.

It's hard to lay any of the blame on the defense. Through the first two games, this team is allowing an average of 9.5 points per game.  I think most fan bases across the country would be happy with that number.

The problem lies within how this team was constructed. Here's a look at the top 11 highest-paid players on this team--  I did 11 because the kicker is in the top 10.
No.                  Player  Age Pos  Cap Hit
25          Richard Sherman   28  DB 12569000
3            Russell Wilson   28  QB 12342000
88             Jimmy Graham   30  TE  8900000
29              Earl Thomas   27  DB  8000000
56              Cliff Avril   30  DE  6000000
50              K.J. Wright   27  LB  5250000
31           Kam Chancellor   28  DB  5100000
72          Michael Bennett   31  DE  4000000
54             Bobby Wagner   26 ILB  3000000
4           Steven Hauschka   31   K  2700000
20              Jeremy Lane   26  CB  2000000

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 9/19/2016.

Take Hauschka out of the equation and 8 of the 10 highest paid on this team are defensive players.  Essentially, your entire defensive secondary, 2/3 of your Linebacker group and your two most prominent pass rushers.

Your lone offensive stars on this list are Russell Wilson and Jimmy Graham.  Wilson makes absolute sense.  This team will live and die by his performances.  Graham's prominence in our cap allocation makes less and less sense with each passing week-- though, we should all understand the team's initial though process with this acquisition.

 A mere glance at this list should give an ancillary picture of this team's MO.  They want their defense to keep you within one score before the final two minutes so that Russell Wilson can make just enough plays for Hauschka to kick a game winning field goal or perhaps for Wilson to find Graham in the endzone for the go ahead TD reception.

So far, that has worked fairly well.

But what if, say, Russell Wilson were to get banged up?  You know, from playing behind a shit offensive line?  What if we come to find out that Marshawn Lynch isn't quite as replaceable as we had initially thought?

Then what?

Well, any coach worth his salt would make adjustments to the gameplan and lineup to accommodate for these worst-case-scenarios. One of the most glaring faults of this coaching staff is stubbornness.  I get that you want to own your philosophies, especially if you're hoping to get others to buy in, but if it ain't working, at some point, you have to go back to the drawing board.

It's times like these, in the aftermath of a 9-3 loss to a divisional opponent, where your offensive line couldn't stop a nosebleed, where I get real sick & tired of hearing about what a genius Tom Cable is.

This team has had tremendous success the past three seasons in spite of it's offensive line. At no point over the last few seasons has anyone gone on record saying anything positive about the way Coach Cable's unit has performed.

I suppose you could say that JR Sweezy's big deal in Tampa Bay points to Cable's ability to develop players but I think its lends itself more to bad teams raiding the trash pile of Super Bowl teams.

I cannot stand sweating out the initial months of the season, hoping and praying that some amalgamation of players on Seattle's roster will emerge as some semblance of a middle-of-the-road offensive line unit. Knowing that we always have a chance with the ball in #3's hands is comforting, but we all need to accept that there is a possibility that he will not be at 100% for the rest of the season. 

While Wilson's 50% is better than most quarterbacks 100%-- it is laughably unreasonable to expect him to carry an offense on a broken leg with a turnstile offensive line and a running back group that appears to be without a leader.

Furthermore, if this defense continues to fail to create turnovers like they have thus far-- you're doomed.

Richard Sherman said after the game that opponents are not going to provide as many opportunities for them to create turnovers if Seattle's offense isn't playing with the lead.  This is 100% true, but with the money this team has allocated to it's defense, particularly in the secondary, it's not unreasonable for us to expect them to create turnovers no matter the circumstance.

Perhaps the brass should have taken this into account this offseason and shifted some funds to the offensive side of the ball.  Would this team have found itself better off had they traded someone like Cliff Avril for a competent Left Tackle? I would argue that, despite Avril's tremendous pass rushing contributions, we could've been better served having a young, inexperienced pass rusher bookending Michael Bennett and getting a veteran to provide blindside protection to your franchise quarterback.

 With the exception of Germaine Ifedi being injured-- this is exactly the offensive line group this staff CHOSE to enter this season with.  They were willing to go with 5 new starters and a new running back group-- even if it meant endangering the most valuable player on their roster.

Well, it's not paying off.

At best, we have to hope that they get their shit figured out by midseason in time to make a playoff run.  But will it be enough? If our run game continues to sputter and pass protection continues to get Wilson attacked and possibly further injured-- will this team have enough in the tank for a road playoff run?

The reason this makes me so angry and invokes 'the sky is falling' mentality is knowing that this team's window is still open.  As fans, we will have to live with the last minute interception in the Super Bowl against the Patriots for the rest of our lives. We will remember being about one drive short of beating the Panthers in the playoffs last season.  If Seattle fails to reach the Super Bowl this season, it will be considered a failure in my eyes.

This is the last season where this team's window is wide open.  It won't close next year-- but it will begin closing.  More and more integral players will have contracts coming up due to cash in on huge paydays the Seahawks may not have the space to accommodate.  Certain players who already have huge contracts will continue to age and the questions may arise whether or not they are playing up to their pay grade.  Guys will get hurt and every draft will not be the goldmine that was the 2012 draft.  It's just the way of the world in today's NFL-- it's part of what makes this game so great.

But the 2016 season is already underway and this staff needs to figure out how to get the best out of the guys they chose to enter this season with. Like the first two games of the season, the next two will also feature two tough defenses with questionable offenses.  Seattle needs to find a way to get their run game going, adjust their offense to accommodate Wilson's temporary limitations and their defense needs to not only find a way to create turnovers-- they're going to have to find ways to score.

After those two games, Seattle will have a bye week to get players healthy and figure shit out going forward. They won't have the luxury of starting 2-4 this season and having a shot at the Lombardi.  The Wildcard isn't guaranteed to come out of the NFC West this year.  Tampa Bay is chasing the Panthers in the South, Green Bay and Minnesota look neck and neck in the North and who knows what will happen in the NFC East.

The focus now shifts to the 49ers who are coming off a beatdown at the hands of the reigning NFC champs.  Like the Rams, the 49ers also have a hapless offense, but their defense seems to be playing much better under Chip Kelly than they ever did under Jim Tomsula. The Seahawks must score early in this game and keep their foot on the gas pedal.  Even a 7-0 lead in the first quarter would be enough for your defense to seize turnover opportunities that may win the game.

Changes need to be made to cater to this team's strengths.   The staff might have to swallow their pride and admit that they're not able to impose their will, but good coaches know how to maximize their players skill sets while masking their vulnerabilities.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Too Close for Comfort-- Seahawks 12 Dolphins 10

The Seahawks were able to escape week one with a victory in a game that was ugly, to say the least. Perhaps nothing captures the essence of what transpired on Sunday than the changes to the NFL Week Two power rankings.  Despite winning, the Seahawks dropped two spots in the rankings.  Conversely, in the wake of the loss, the Dolphins jumped up a spot from their previous rank.

Before I shell out criticism, I must first complement Seattle's defense. As a whole, this defense played up to their pedigree.  DeShawn Shead and Jeremy Lane were absolutely spectacular.   Seattle's corner back group is far and away the best in the NFL. Meanwhile, Cassius Marsh and Frank Clark proved to be the foundation of Seattle's second wave of future superstars. Additionally, Jarran Reed was impressive in his rookie debut. Earl Thomas certainly didn't play up to his own impossible standards, but that shouldn't be a tremendous concern going forward.  I expect him to bounce back next week against the Rams.

The offense, to me, was supremely disappointing. I'm sick and tired of waiting until mid-season for the offensive line to get it's shit together.  Perhaps it's just the consequence of using the entirety of your cap space on a superstar-laden defense and a franchise quarterback-- maybe it's just a bizarre tactic to insure that Tom Cable isn't snatched up for a head coaching job elsewhere.  No matter what the excuse-- it's become the norm here in Seattle.

The only difference between this opener and previous years is that Seattle seemed to expect substandard line play more this game.  They knew they would be without Marshawn Lynch and they were well aware of the talent Miami has across their defensive front. They even seemingly game planned for it. 

Coach Bevell favored the short pass in lieu of the run, going against the team's self-described philosophy of being a run first team. My guess is that this was a decision made from equal parts fear and necessity. Despite this strategy yielding no points-- it did seem to be working in conjunction with spectacular defensive play.

That is, until Ndamukong Suh came down hard on Russell Wilson's right ankle.

Wilson never missed a snap, but he was clearly in pain.  He returned the following series with both of his feet heavily taped and went on to throw the game winning touchdown-- but he clearly was not his usual, mobile self.

Seattle held on and came away with the win but it was hard for fans to feel good about the game.  The Seahawks were favored to win by two touchdowns, but you never would've guessed that from watching their performance.  Maybe the Dolphins are better than anticipated, but its more likely that we're in for another rocky start for our team's offense.

Then again, it could have been worse-- the Rams were expected to be one of the nastiest defenses in the league, but they were shut out by a 49ers team with little expectations of their own.

All indications are that there is no doubt as to Wilson's availability for the showdown with Los Angeles next Sunday. Still, no one is convinced that number 3 isn't at least somewhat injured. Seattle will need to dramatically alter their game plan in week two if they expect to get the win while preventing any further injury to their franchise quarterback.

The 49ers gave us the blue print for defeating the Rams.  They effectively took LA's star running back, Todd Gurley, out of the game by loading the box and sent the heat whenever Case Keenum dropped back to throw. The Rams simply lack the offensive weapons to overcome a powerful defense.  If San Francisco was able to shut them out and put up 4 touchdowns with Blaine Gabbert-- a one-legged Russell Wilson should be able to match that while blindfolded.

Seattle is going to have to revert back to being a run-first team and trust in their line to create lanes for both Thomas Rawls and Christine Michael.  We saw flashes on Sunday of this, but Seattle didn't commit to their run as much as they're going to have to in LA next weekend.

Keeping Russell out of harms way will be integral over these next few games and Trevone Boykin needs to be ready to be thrown to the fire. For the first time perhaps ever, I am grateful that Seattle has an early bye week.  Unfortunately, they'll be seeing some of the league's toughest defenses leading up to that bye. This is certainly a season where this team can ill afford another slow start from the offensive unit. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Who's at RB?

The Seahawks just concluded another successful offseason by retaining in-house talent and some minor free agent acquisitions. They got through the preseason without being dealt any significant injury blows.  Most preseason rankings have the Seahawks at or near the top.  Even the ever-troubling offensive line appears to be operating ahead of schedule. 

So, what does that leave us with to obsessively worry about before we see a moment of REAL football action?

This team has been running a championship-caliber program for the past 4 seasons and there is absolutely zero reason to believe that this season will play out any different.  Sure-- it's the NFL.  Anything can happen.  Any team can pull together when it matters most and find themselves hoisting the Lombardi trophy in February.  Still, few teams have been as consistently competitive as the Seahawks have the past few seasons.

But we STILL need something to bitch about until the opening game!

This week has shed light on the topic that sports radio, social media and water cooler talk have selected as our subject of petty, unnecessary concern that will carry us to kickoff.

The running back depth chart.

I know, that's a pretty stupid topic to parse-- but it's all we have.  Every other detail is ironed out, but for some reason, fans are overly concerned about who is going to come out of the tunnel when they announce the running back for the starting offense.

The cause of this concern?  The Seahawks depth chart was recently made available and Christine Michael is listed ahead of Thomas Rawls as the team's feature back.

Despite the fact that Pete Carroll himself pointed out in his Wednesday press conference that Senior VP of Communications & Broadcasting, Dave Pearson, compiled the 'unofficial' depth chart for the team's website, this is being read into as Rawls losing his job or otherwise being unhealthy.

However, Rawls was absent from the team's injury report for the first time since late last season.  So, it is safe to assume that his recovery hasn't suffered any dramatic setbacks.

Not only am I not concerned about the hierarchy of the backfield-- I think this is the perfect scenario for Pete Carroll.

Losing Marshawn Lynch sucks no matter how you look at it, but Seattle is excited for their young stable of backs.  Running back depth is a luxury for this team in 2016.

Just a few short months ago, this team pulled Bryce Brown off the garbage heap to ensure they had enough depth for a playoff run.  Just last week we saw Troymaine Pope, a talented undrafted rookie running back, get cut because this team simply didn't have the roster space to accommodate the slough of quality running backs they assembled this past offseason.

Thomas Rawls was electric in his rookie debut last year.  He more than proved he was a perfect fit for Carroll's system before succumbing to injury late in the season.  The confidence this staff has for Rawls allowed them to play a cool hand when it came to adding depth.  They spent a couple of mid and late round picks on running backs that possessed promising talent with specifically unique skill sets and instead focused on shoring up the offensive and defensive lines in the early rounds.

Perhaps the feel good story of the off season was the reclamation and resurgence of Christine Michael.  Michael was a high second round pick for Seattle just a few short seasons ago but he failed to carve out a role for himself.  Reports were abundant that Michael was immature and wasn't putting the work in.  After the Seahawks cut him last season coming out of camp, he bounced around the NFC East before Seattle claimed him off the Washington practice squad when Seattle was thin at the position.

Still, Seattle didn't resign Michael after last season.  They let him test the market and no one was calling.  The Seahawks agreed to bring him back at the veteran minimum and his preseason performance made it abundantly clear that Christine Michael had received his wake up call and he's not going to take another moment in this league for granted.

So, you have a young running back in Thomas Rawls who effectively earned the starting running back job last season, but is coming off a serious leg injury and you have a young, yet salty veteran in Christine Michael who is out to earn a long-term contract-- even if it's not with this team next season.

I'm telling you: Pete Carroll LOVES this!

Obviously, you don't want to rush Rawls back too quickly.  Everyone is in agreement that he appears to possess the greatest upside of all Seattle's running backs.  At the same time, this team doesn't hand people anything.  In fact, some might say, including myself, that the lack of competition was a tremendous factor in Seattle's slow start last year.

Christine Michael had a terrific offseason.  If we're not basing anything on past performance, the starting job is rightfully his.  He is healthy, he's hungry and he's playing for his next contract.  While I agree that Rawls is the eventual franchise running back, I would absolutely start Michael until I was 100% comfortable with Rawls recovery from injury.

Starting Michael pushes Rawls to keep working and not get complacent.  I never liked the idea that we would just pass the torch from Lynch to Rawls without any competition-- it goes against everything this team has repeatedly claimed to stand for.

I'm telling you to let go of your fears about this backfield heading into the new season and be thankful that we're in this situation.  Rawls will get eased into the mix over the next few games.  If Michael struggles-- we know we can count on Rawls to shoulder the load when he's back to 100% again.  If Michael succeeds-- you continue to work Rawls in but then you can just ride the hot hand.

The bottom line is that competition is the foundation that this team's recent success is built upon.  We've let that get away from us recently as superstar after superstar has emerged from this team and locked down roster spots.  While that does provide a level of security in knowing that certain positions are locked in, it does limit the amount of the internal competition that fuels this team in preparing for Sundays. 

UPDATE:  Germain Ifedi left practice yesterday with an apparent ankle injury.  He walked off the field on his own, but his status for the opener Sunday is in question.  THIS is definitely worth your concern.

FURTHER UPDATE:  Damn it.  It's a high ankle sprain.  Looks like Ifedi is going to be out until October.  

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Preseason is OVER-- Seahawks 23 @ Raiders 21

Seahawks wrapped up another NFL preseason and escaped relatively injury-free.  That is, with the exception of the cases of preexisting injuries with Thomas Rawls and Jimmy Graham. Other than that, Seattle is poised to make another deep playoff run this year-- and it all starts against the Miami Dolphins this Sunday at CenturyLink Field.

The Seahawks first had to trim their roster down to 53 players before the regular season commences. The team did end up adding a fullback to their roster, former Washington Huskies player, Tani Tupou. I have to admit, I didn't feel great about the possibility of entering the season, this team's first Marshawn-less season in a long time, without a fullback even on the roster.  How good Tupou will be remains to be seen, but it should be a good safety net for this team's uncertain backfield.

Seattle added Garrison Smith to their defensive line rotation after claiming him from the 49ers. Additionally, the Seahawks added 8 players to their practice squad. Defensive end Tylor Harris, receiver Kenny Lawler, linebacker Kache Palacio, guard/center Will Pericak, receiver Kasen Williams, receiver Rodney Smith, receiver Marcus Lucas and linebacker Jordan Tripp will be a part of this team's practice squad moving forward.

There were a few players I was somewhat surprised to find left off the 53 man roster and practice squad. Kam's brother, Keenan Lambert, was someone I thought could carve out a special teams role. Wide receiver Antwan Goodley was another preseason standout that I thought looked promising. Troymaine Pope, the feel good story of the summer, was snagged by the Jets before Seattle could stash him away on their practice squad.  It's unfortunate, but we have a crowded backfield and precious little roster space as it were.

Seattle is now focused on their first match up of the new season.   The Dolphins have a new head coach in Adam Gase and high expectations for their young quarterback, Ryan Tannehill. The Seahawks will need to make certain that Tannehill has difficulty getting comfortable in the pocket, while preventing Arian Foster from building any momentum in their ground game.

The Seahawks cannot afford another slow start to the season.  Pressure is on the offense to be productive early in the season and that starts with being productive early in games.  Seattle has spent the vast majority of their salary cap on their vaunted defense.  This should allow them to win every close game, but it doesn't work as well if you're constantly playing from behind.  If Seattle can score early, it will give them the leeway to experience some of the growing pains you would expect from a brand new (and young) offensive line and sort out exactly how this crowded (and young) backfield is going to play out over this season.