Monday, November 27, 2017

Playing Down to the Competition-- Seahawks 24 @ 49ers 13

It's Monday morning and Seattle has a record of 7-4.  Respectable, but far from intimidating.  Playoff projections show the NFC South claiming both Wildcard spots with the Seahawks on the outside looking in.  Only 5 games remain, but a lot can happen in the final month of the regular season.

In their final 7 games of this season, Seattle will face 4 of the projected playoff teams.  They already lost to Atlanta and will next face the Eagles in Seattle, who possess the NFL's best record, on Sunday Night Football.

We now find ourselves 12 weeks into the season and it's pretty clear what team's identities, strengths and weaknesses are.  If you haven't figured yourself out by now, you're not going to this year.

 After yesterday's convincing-yet-somehow-challenging victory, here's what we know about our team as they prepare for this season's 4th quarter:

  • This team lives and dies with Russell Wilson.  Despite his apparent one-stupid-turnover per game quota of the past few games, Wilson is having another spectacular season. With Wilson, Seahawks are never out of any game, no matter the opponent.  However, Wilson isn't without his flaws.  Wilson will end up as either the MVP or the scapegoat for this team's failure to win the Super Bowl.  Fair or not, there is no in between.
  • Seattle cannot run the football.  Period, end of discussion.  The Seahawks knew coming out of last year that this was a problem and they took a gamble on the potential solution.  They opted to address the offensive line in free agency with Joeckel, Aboushi and Tobin.  They drafted Pocic  in the second round but didn't draft a running back until the seventh.  Before all of that, they signed Eddie Lacy and gave him the cap resources that might have better been served resigning Steven Hauschka.  The only bright spots in their run game were seemingly afterthoughts in solving their rushing inefficiencies-- McKissic, who just doesn't have the frame to be the workhorse, Carson, who went out for season with a bad leg injury and Mike Davis, who promptly hurt his groin after getting his shot.
  • We have a kicking problem.  Wouldn't it be great if Blair Walsh made the kick that sends this team to the Super Bowl?  That'd be a wonderful redemption story.  Unfortunately, what's more likely is that he misses the kick that ends our season.  We're blessed with a quarterback that will always keep us in games, but sometimes that means getting the team in position for a game winning/tying field goal.  If Walsh hits it-- he'll be a hero.  If he misses it, we'll be second guessing every personnel decision that is made this offseason, which could quite possibly lead to a breaking up of the band when it comes to the team's core group of players.

  • The defense can hang.  Look-- with Chancellor, Sherman, Griffin, Avril and so many other key personnel out or otherwise banged up-- you're not going to see the pure, shutdown defensive performances we've all been spoiled with the past few seasons. That should be expected.  But as we've seen the past two games, these backups are no slouches. We saw some of the young bucks like Branden Jackson and Marcus Smith get home for sacks against the 49ers.  We'll need more of the youngsters to step up down the stretch.  If history is any indicator, we should expect this to continue. Pete Carroll's teams have always sprinkled in youth early in seasons to prepare them for a more expansive role as the season progresses.  We've seen tremendous results in the past with this process.
  • If you're getting paid, earn your keep.  This is not an indictment of any of these guys, but December is where you need to earn your paycheck.  Wilson, Thomas, Graham, Brown, Britt, Baldwin, Wright, Wagner and Bennett need to play like the players we know they are. I would include Lacy in that list, but to paraphrase Denny Green-- he is who we think he is.

San Francisco certainly appears to be heading in the right direction.  Their rebuild will continue for another season or two, but I expect this rivalry to heat up like it used to be. Kyle Shanahan isn't nearly as annoying as Harbaugh, but it could still return to being a preeminent rivalry in the NFL.

Seattle will need to win, at minimum, three of these next five games if they have any hopes of a post season birth.  It's still entirely possible that they could win the NFC West by beating the Rams and closing the gap in their records. Either way, the path to the Super Bowl will more than likely be a road trip for the Seahawks.  They will need to start making their case for respect by taking care of the Eagles next week. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Finding Ways To Lose-- Seahawks 31 Falcons 34

The reigning NFC Champions came in to Seattle for a prime time Monday Night showdown with major playoff implications on the line. Seattle was banged up and without two of their best defensive players, but the 12s had their back.  This game had all of the trappings for a great match up-- and if you didn't have a dog in the fight, it was a great one.

For Seahawks fans, it was rough.

The Falcons began the game by marching right down the field for a touchdown.  On the subsequent drive, Russell threw an absurd interception to local kid, Desmond Trufant.  Before you knew it, the Falcons were up two scores and things looked awfully bleak.

Wilson kept his team in the game throughout by making remarkable plays with his arm as well as his feet. This team will never be out of a game with #3 at the helm.  Additionally, I think we can say with confidence that this team has three legit receivers in Baldwin, Lockett and Richardson. Jimmy Graham might be the least physically dominant player in the NFL, but he's an athletic, rangy receiver who has evolved into a fantastic weapon for this team.

It's been disappointing how little production we've seen from rookie Amara Darboh. There hasn't been any evidence of marked improvement from him this season.  Tanner McEvoy, outside of a few special teams plays, has largely faded into obscurity.  This season, perhaps more than any other, we'll need to see the Seahawks receivers step up to make plays and win games. A specialty of former Seahawk Jermaine Kearse, someone will have to replace his production in big spots.

I had been screaming for Mike Davis to get called up for weeks.  He was off to a tremendous start in his first game as a Seahawk, only to hurt his groin and exit the game.  Unless Seattle is confident he will be able to return Sunday, they need to bring in some free agent running backs this week. McKissic has been pretty good and fun to watch, but we can't keep running him into the wall.  Similarly, I've had just about as much as I can stomach from Eddie Lacey.

I love trick plays.  I will typically defend all matters of unconventional play calling. The Seahawks ran a fake field goal wherein Jon Ryan flipped the ball to Luke Willson coming across the line.  Willson was devoured, almost immediately, by the Falcon's nose guard.

It was a stupid, stupid call.  Not because we were in field goal range. Not because we happened to lose by 3 points.  It was stupid because the Seahawks were out of time outs, it was 4th down and there were only 7 seconds off the clock. I might have been more supportive of the call had McKissic been the ball carrier, or if any of the circumstances were different, but I don't think there was any universe in which Luke runs by everyone for the score.

Seattle was already down its two best defensive backs going into this game. Just moments into the game, they lost their other starting corner, rookie Shaq Griffin.  The Seahawks played almost the entire game with a cornerback that joined them just days ago, and a corner they tried to trade away not two weeks ago. I thought both played admirably and gave their best effort.

You can chalk this loss up to coaching.  You can blame injuries. You can lay it on special teams.  You can call for Blair Walsh's head.  All of those things factored in to the loss, but far and away the biggest contributing factor to the Seahawks coming up short was excruciating penalties.

Sure, Wilson threw a stupid pick early that resulted in points and took a strip sack that was taken in for a touchdown.  But he brought you back and put you in position to take the game to overtime.  Yeah, the defense was banged up, but they largely kept the reigning MVP in check and made an important stop that set you up for a potential game winning/tying drive.

The team and coaches made mistakes, but for the most part, they overcame those mistakes.  But you cannot give up 100 yards in penalties every game and expect to win.

So, now the Seahawks find themselves on the outside looking in on the playoff picture.  They have to all but win out in hopes of getting a 1 or 2 seed, and that seems daunting with match ups against the Rams, Eagles, Cowboys and Jaguars ahead. Even a Wildcard birth might not be enough with the way this team has struggled on the road.

What can the Seahawks do to get right down the stretch?  Well, I think it starts with the offensive side of the ball.  I would like to see some free agent running backs brought in this week, especially if Davis can't go.  I think you have to bench Germaine Ifedi.  Even if it doesn't make you better right away, its the only way he'll ever learn to stop making stupid penalties. 

I'd love to see the line on Sunday go Brown, Pocic, Britt, Glowinski, Joeckel.  Bench, or better yet, cut Lacey.  Start passing to set up the run.  Bevell's play-calling has been its best these past couple games. 

Defensively, you gotta hope Shead can come back soon.  If not, let's see someone else take over for Lane. Neiko Thorpe has earned an opportunity or bring in competition from the street.  Dion Jordan had been great the past two games, but he'll need to take on much more of a role down the stretch to help the depleted secondary.

Above all else, this team has to execute better.  Front office, coaching staff and all the way down.  You can afford to be aggressive and make a few mistakes when you're at your best. This team is far from it's best. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

Good Enough? -- Seahawks 22 @ Cardinals 16

I can't remember the last time I felt this bad in the aftermath of a Seahawks victory.

They were able to win a road game against a bothersome divisional opponent.  Blair Walsh evidently snapped out of the curse that plagued him the week before.  Jimmy Graham and Russell Wilson seemed to have overcome their redzone deficiencies.

Those were the positives.  Few and far between.

The worst news of the night didn't even wait for the game clock to expire before breaking.  Richard Sherman went down in pain with what was initially called a heel injury, however, sideline cameras were able to capture Sherman mouthing the words "I tore my Achilles" and in another intimate conversation with quarterback, Russell Wilson, it certainly looked like he said "I'm done for the year".

Make no mistake-- this is devastating news.

Richard Sherman is, without question, the best cornerback I've ever seen. I've seen the greats-- Deion Sanders, Darrell Green, Champ Bailey, Eric Allen, Darrell Revis, Ty Law, Rod Woodson, etc. I have seen some great cornerbacks in my nearly three decades of football fandom. None of them are nearly as complete as Sherman.

There have been a lot of playmaking corners in that time, but none of them could (or would) tackle like Sherm.  There have been great tackling, run-stopping corners-- none of them were flatly avoided by opposing QBs.  Richard Sherman has been a shutdown corner, a fierce tackler, a community leader and one of the guiding voices in the Seahawks locker room

And he hasn't missed a game in his career-- until next Monday when the Seahawks take on the Falcons.

It's a devastating blow to an already decimated Seahawks defense. It was strange and unsettling when, at one point late in the 4th quarter, the Seahawks were completely without the Legion of Boom.

But the defense is far from this team's greatest concern.

This offensive line is horrible.  But that's nothing new to the Pete Carroll-led Seahawks, right? What is different with this year's group is that they haven't shown a lick of progression from game to game this year.

Every game starts the same-- failed running plays, 3 and outs, Russell Wilson running for his dear life.  The defense is forced to shoulder the load and Wilson is forced to exhaust the defense and make miraculous plays that, more often than not, give the Seahawks an opportunity to win in the closing moments of a game.

Week in week out. Things change, but they never get better.

We've always given Tom Cable a pass, as I wrote last week.  He won us a Super Bowl with guys like Breno Giacomini and Paul McQuistan on the offensive line.  Slow starts were quickly forgiven because the offense always seemed to begin to gel about halfway into the season before gaining momentum heading into the playoffs.

However, since that Super Bowl run, the team has clearly made more resources available to Cable and his offensive line.  They went out and got free agents that Cable most assuredly had a hand in bringing here.  Luke Joeckel, Oday Aboushi, Duane Brown, Matt Tobin, Isaiah Battle on the offensive line and Eddie Lacy in the backfield. 

They've also used a number of their high draft selections on linemen. Germain Ifedi, Ethan Pocic and Justin Britt were all taken within the first 64 picks in their respective drafts. 

With all of that commitment to the offensive line and running game, the Seahawks find themselves somehow worse for the wear. You could make the argument that Seattle seemingly doesn't excel at identifying offensive talent, but you'd be wrong.

That argument is immediately dismantled when you see that the tenth best running back in the NFL right now is Seahawks castoff, Alex Collins. 

I don't think Collins registered a single, double-digit run in his tenure with the Seahawks.  He was clearly the odd man out in a seemingly crowded Seattle backfield. Yet, he gets scooped up by the Ravens, who themselves are struggling and riddled with injury, and has a career resurgence.

Did the Seahawks merely underestimate Collins' ability? Unlikely.   Every week, the Seahawks offensive line makes their opponent's defensive front look like world-beaters.  Even if that's not at all the case.

So, where is the disconnect?  It can't be entirely linked to the absence of Marshawn Lynch.  That excuse may have worked last season, but they have now had two complete off seasons to address Lynch's departure.  Somehow, their efficiency is even worse in the second year after Lynch.

Tom Cable isn't doing his job.  Period.

It's one thing to have a talent deficit. That happens sometimes.  Guys retire, salary caps force roster moves and sometimes you simply strike out in the draft. 

Sometimes you have your salary cap resources allocated to other areas of the roster that force your hand.  In those instances, you have to play the hand you've been dealt.

There are even times when a rash of injuries spoil your plans.  There's nothing you can really do about that. That's where the 'next man up' philosophy comes from.

Even in those extreme situations, your job as a coach is to get the best out of the group of guys you have. Coach them up and help them get better week to week.

Cable has not done that at all this season.

Darrell Bevel has made adjustments, in games and throughout the season, that have helped this team win games and stay competitive each week. That hasn't always been the case in previous seasons, but he's been outstanding this year when it comes to doing the best with what he has.

Even the penalties are different from previous seasons.  I could live with the nasty, personal foul penalties we'd see from Giacomini and James Carpenter, but these false starts and holding calls are killing this team.  The bottom line is that this team will not win a playoff game if they can't sustain drives with the run.

I don't know enough about coaching or offensive line play to discern whether these struggles can be attributed to the complexity of Tom Cable's system or not, but I've watched enough football this season alone to see that this is far from a league-wide problem.

Even the teams that go up against the Seahawks phenomenal defense seem to start strong, regardless of injuries or personnel.  The Seahawks line starts bad and finishes just as poorly.  Bevell adjusts the play calling, they abandon the run and leave it all on Russell Wilson to scramble wildly and make plays. Everyone else on the team makes adjustments and, more often than not, gets better as the game goes on.

Maybe I'm mistaken, but I don't know who else should be responsible for the embarrassing shortcomings of the offensive line if not the man whose job it is to manage that group.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Outplayed, Outcoached, Outclassed -- Seahawks 14 Washington 17

This was far and away Seattle's worst performance of the season.  It's arguably the most undisciplined and dysfunctional performance of the Pete Carroll era.  When you have a mediocre opponent like Washington that was as banged up as they were-- you must find a way to get the victory.

The Seahawks did exactly the opposite of that.  They went above and beyond to find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. With the lone exception of Niko Thorpe, the Seahawks special teams unit played like garbage. Jon Ryan didn't provide much in the field position battle and Blair Walsh choked on all three of his field goal attempts in the game. Add to that not one, but two missed 2-point conversion attempts and you have to wonder if Washington beat Seattle or did they simply beat themselves.

Russell Wilson had a bad game but not for lack of trying. He was just shy of 300 yards passing with a pair of touchdowns and 77 yards on the ground.

However, Wilson had two costly interceptions and the game-ending hailmary looked to me like it was picked off as well. Still, in spite of a lackluster performance, Russell Wilson is clearly not the problem with this offense.

It's high time we start laying more of the blame at the feet of this team's assistant head coach-- Tom Cable.

Coach Cable seems to evade criticism largely due to his reputation as a future head coach. To his credit, the run game has consistently ranked among the best in the league in his tenure here in Seattle, but has sharply declined since Marshawn Lynch left the team. He has seemed to coach up and make due with scrapheap guys-- but perhaps that was more to Lynch's credit than his own.

In today's game, Seattle came out with their newly aquired, All-Pro left tackle, Duane Brown.  Next to him at left guard was a second-round rookie, Ethan Pocic.  At center, we have another second-round draft pick and last year's Pro Bowl alternate, Justin Britt. The Seahawks signed free agent, Oday Aboushi, in the offseason and now he's your starting right guard. Starting at right tackle, you have second-year player and former first-round draft selection- Germain Ifedi.

That is a lot of  valuable resources provided to that group.  You can't begin to tell me that this team is neglecting it's offensive line.

Couple with that the fact that you came out publicly earlier in the week and expressed a profound commitment to feeding the ball to Eddie Lacy.  Lacy-- the same player you paid five and a half million dollars this offseason to take the lion's share of the touches for your offense.

You got your guys, you got home field advantage and you got an opponent that is without one of it's starting defensive ends. Take your quarterback out of the equation and your rushing offense only got you 71 yards today.

That is not acceptable if this team has any notions on predicating themselves as a running team.

So why haven't more fingers been pointed in Cable's direction when it comes to this team's offensive bouts of ineptitude? Darrell Bevell has taken a beating from the media and the fanbase-- and most certainly from me.  Still, Tom Cable is celebrated as an offensive mastermind.

I'll admit, I am guilty of overlooking Cable's shortcomings this season-- and maybe that is because of his past accomplishments. Now we have to get ready to play the Cardinals on a short week Thursday as we've given first place in the division to the Rams.  The Seahawks need to figure themselves out and do it quickly.

Cable definitely needs to be called out on 'Tell the Truth Monday', but he's definitely not the only one.  Since Chris Carson went down, Seattle only has one person on the team that hits the hole running full speed.  Sadly, he's not on the 53-man roster at present.  No, Mike Davis is still on the practice squad while every Sunday we act surprised to find CJ Prosise, once again, inactive.

Maybe it's time the Seahawks took a cue from the Colts and just admit that Prosise, like Andrew Luck, evidently needs the whole year to get his body right to play football.

McKissic is the most effective back on the team, but he can't take the full workload.  Meanwhile, Prosise occupies an extremely valuable roster spot that could be used by Davis to solidify our abysmal rushing attack.

Seattle is heading into a tough stretch of games in which they'll need to execute better in hopes of reclaiming the division lead.