Overrated & underrated prospects so far

October 21st, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Overrated

Cedric Ogbuehi (T, Texas A&M)
Unlike Jake Matthews, Ogbuehi hasn’t made an easy transition from right to left tackle. Last season he did a manful job watching speed rushers off the edge — controlling Dee Ford and others in an impressive debut season as a starter. This year Ogbuehi hasn’t been a turnstile, but he’s getting there. He’s closing in on double digit sacks conceded for the season against a modest group of SEC pass rushers. So what are the issues? Ogbuehi has a tendency to get too wide in his stance, leaving him open to an inside move. He also gets too high at times and his hand placement needs to be better to ward off blockers. Yes these are fixable technical issues, but this is the only tape teams have of Ogbuehi at left tackle. People are already anointing him as a sure-fire top-five pick. He might be the third or fourth left tackle off the board at this rate.

Leonard Williams (DE, USC)
I’m not sure how Williams has earned such a brilliant reputation. Don’t get me wrong, he’s certainly intriguing. He’s 6-5 and 300lbs and moves well for the size. I’ll happily eat my words if he explodes at the combine and shows himself to be a big-time athlete with huge upside potential. On tape, however, it’s still a real mystery what his best position is. When he lines up inside he can be a liability against the run. Against Fresno State he was pushed around on two red zone TD runs. He’s not a great interior rusher either. As a defensive end he’s certainly got that J.J. Watt act of swatting the ball down to a tee. And yet he’s not a great speed-to-power rusher. He doesn’t live in the backfield. He’s busy rather than relentless. He looks like he might be a 5-technique in the 3-4. Based on his athletic qualities, I’m positive someone will take him in round one. Yet I’m not totally convinced the tape warrants such lofty reviews (eg being touted as a potential #1 overall pick).

Leonard Floyd (DE, Georgia)
Not every tall, skinny pass rusher is going to turn into Aaron Maybin. Floyd, however, reminds me so much of the former Penn State flop. Barkevious Mingo competed with ferocity and just had a knack of making plays. In terms of undersized pure edge rushers, Mingo is the best to enter the NFL in recent memory. Even he has struggled to make an impact. Floyd is skinnier than Mingo and looks about 225lbs on tape. ESPN currently lists him at 6-3 and 226lbs. When he has to take on a block it’s over. He has no anchor against college OT’s and no way of countering when he gets blocked. Essentially he either wins with the first step, lean and speed or he doesn’t have an impact. He’s a very active player and he puts himself about — but he just doesn’t look ready for the NFL. He’d be best served returning for a junior season and working on getting stronger (upper and lower body), developing some counters and learning to use his hands.

Honorable mentions:

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (CB, Oregon)
Not having a great season. Might be best suited working in the slot.

Brett Hundley (QB, UCLA)
Erratic, poor decision maker who shouldn’t be taken early. Best served as a developmental prospect in the middle rounds.

Connor Cook (QB, Michigan State)
Why do people think he’s going to be an early pick?

Ameer Abdullah (RB, Nebraska)
He’s made some nice plays this year but he won’t be a regular feature for a NFL running attack and will do well to go in the middle rounds.

Nelson Agholor (WR, USC)
He’s made some clutch plays for the Trojans over the years but it’s hard to judge him as anything more than a limited pro prospect.

Underrated

Rob Crisp (T, NC State)
I’ve not watched an offensive tackle as polished as Crisp this year. Technically he’s quite accomplished and always looks in control. Combine that with ideal size (6-7, 295lbs) and he looks the part. I’ve no doubt at all that with the right coaching he has a future in the league. You can count the number of tackles who performed well against Clemson’s Vic Beasley over the years on one hand. Crisp had a sensational game against Beasley — who only managed his sack/fumble/TD when lined up, unwisely, against a tight end 1v1. Given how much praise other big name left tackles are getting, Crisp receives almost no attention in comparison. Keep an eye on this guy.

La’el Collins (T/G, LSU)
Out of all the big name college offensive linemen, Collins has shown the most progress this year. He plays with a cool authority — he’s all business. In terms of run blocking he shows the power to drive people off the ball and technical know-how to turn a defensive lineman and create big running lanes. His kick-slide could still use some work and he might not be the best athlete — but he holds his own in pass protection. He could’ve been a first round pick last year but the strides he’s taken in 2014 completely justify the decision to return to LSU. If you draft Collins early the worst case scenario is you’ll end up with a very good guard. In fact, teams might consider drafting him in the top-15 as a pure guard anyway. Don’t rule him out as a top tackle prospect though — he’s shown this year he’s up to the task.

Chuka Ndulue (DT, Oklahoma)
He won’t be an early pick, but Ndulue is already a NFL prospect handling over-matched college players. It was tough to watch him abuse Tennessee’s freshman riddled O-line. He’s a grown man — an absolute beast up front who can make plays from various positions. Put him at end in a three man front, sit him in the middle as an interior rusher. He has supreme strength and will add a great deal to a NFL rotation. He’s helped by a very talented Oklahoma front line that also includes freaky nose tackle Jordan Phillips. But this is the type of player you rely on for those key divisional games. He’s going to get out there ready for war. Great character, great leader. You could see him playing for the Ravens or Steelers.

Kevin White (WR, West Virginia)
We’ve talked about White all year and he’s finally starting to get some attention. You could argue he’s no longer underrated, but I wanted to include him on the list because he deserves all the plaudits he’s getting. There’s no other receiver in college currently playing with his attitude, grit and playmaking quality. You can’t cover the guy. Throw it up — he’ll make the play. He has the lot — size, body control, hands catcher, ability to high point the football. He’s flashed the ability to make yards after the catch. He’s an intense competitor and the heartbeat of his team. White is probably the most fun player to watch in college football this season and if he continues to perform he will win the Biletnikoff and he will be a first round pick.

Markus Golden (DE, Missouri)
Team mate Shane Ray gets a lot of attention, but Golden might be a better pro-prospect. He’s a brilliant athlete — powerful, fast off the edge. He’s capable of using his hands and fighting his way to the quarterback. Like Kevin White he’s a JUCO transfer with all the physical qualities you look for at the next level. He was slowed this year by a hamstring strain but still found a way to make plays. Ray and Golden could both land in the first round, but only Ray seems to be getting the focus right now. Ja’Wuan James absolutely deserved to go in round one this year despite a lot of surprise when Miami picked him. Only one player unsettled James throughout the entire 2013 season. Markus Golden. Do not sleep on him as an early pick.

Honorable mentions:

Jordan Phillips (DT, Oklahoma)
Could be tempted to declare after missing last year through injury. Really moves for a nose tackle. Exciting talent.

Benardrick McKinney (LB, Mississippi State)
Just a tackling machine and a significant piece of the current #1 team in college football.

Shaq Thompson (LB, Washington)
Could go in the top ten or fifteen — and I include him here for that reason.

Denzel Perryman (LB, Miami)
Really controls the middle of the field and has an impact every week.

 

Why the Seahawks still need a big target, could go after VJ

October 20th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Good luck overthrowing Vincent Jackson

We spent a lot of time before the last draft debating Seattle’s need for a taller, bigger target — either at tight end or receiver. There weren’t countless options in the draft, but there were enough. Seattle went against the grain — as they often do — to draft 6-0, 183lbs Paul Richardson in round two after trading down. And when I write 183lbs, that’s now. He was lighter in college.

We all cursed our mistake after the draft. Of course! This is a Seattle type of player. He’s fast, explosive. Comparisons were made to DeSean Jackson. They were looking for speed and difference making athleticism. They had Percy Harvin and that was the future.

In the aftermath of the Harvin trade, I think it’s pretty obvious what the team is now thinking. They need that bigger target after all.

According to various reports they tried to trade Harvin to Cleveland, Denver and Indianapolis for Jordan Cameron, Julius Thomas and Coby Fleener respectively. That’s two of the most dynamic taller pass-catchers in the NFL, and Coby Fleener.

The Seahawks have converted 30 of 75 third down attempts (40%) this year — good for 20th in the NFL. They’re 58% in the red zone — right in the middle of the pack. There’s an improvement to be had in both areas. With teams game-planning to contain Russell Wilson in the pocket, he needs an easier outlet. Imagine if he had a fade option to a 6-4/6-5 receiver matched up against a smaller defensive back? Imagine if he had a target capable of winning over the middle against a linebacker? Imagine if he had a situation where he doesn’t have to be brilliantly accurate — he can even deliberately overthrow a receiver and let them go up and get it?

Think back to the Pro Bowl after Wilson’s rookie year. He was throwing darts to Larry Fitzgerald and Vincent Jackson. And boy did it look good.

This is no disrespect to Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse. Seattle started the year with Harvin and Sidney Rice and both are gone. It’s a sheer numbers game if nothing else.

Admittedly it isn’t Seattle’s greatest need at the moment. Yesterday’s productive second half possibly changed a few minds in the front office. They’re struggling for depth on the defensive line and at cornerback. But it’s very unlikely the Seahawks are going to be able to work a deal for a dynamic pass rusher before the trade deadline. Some positions are just easier to fix mid-season.

So can they work a deal?

According to reports over the weekend Tampa Bay are at least willing to discuss a move for Vincent Jackson. This is exactly the type of player Seattle needs. In terms of taller, dynamic receivers — Jackson has been a true #1 for several years. The Seahawks showed some interest when he was a possible trade option in San Diego. Could they take another look?

The issue here is age and cost. Jackson is slated to earn $12m in 2014, 2015 and 2016. He’s also 32 in January. It’s quite a commitment to a player who might be past his peak as early as next season. Seattle has extra cap room following Harvin’s departure, but this would be a sure-fire way to make life more difficult to retain multiple players in the off-season beyond Wilson and Bobby Wagner.

There’d surely have to be a compromise in terms of compensation — and Tampa Bay would have to concede some ground to save some cash. They drafted Mike Evans in the top ten this year — a similar player physically who comes at a much cheaper price. They’d be well within their rights to ask for a third rounder for an impact player who can contribute quickly. I’m not convinced Seattle could stomach giving up yet another mid-round pick, especially given the financial investment they’d have to make on a player in his thirties.

And yet, as mentioned, he’d be ideal for this offense. He’d be the red zone target this team has lacked for a long time — he’d be a huge boost on third downs. He can also make big plays downfield.

How about this angle — could he be Seattle’s answer to Anquan Boldin? A solid, veteran presence who is consistent and makes key plays. For the last season and a half Boldin has been a terrific addition for the 49ers. You can pretty much guarantee he’s Colin Kaepernick’s first (and sometimes only) read on third down. In the red zone he shares attention with Vernon Davis. Boldin is 34 and still playing at a very high level.

Seattle could get Jackson until the age of 34. He could end up being just as significant for the Seahawks. But he’d cost approximately twice as much per year on his current Tampa Bay contract. San Francisco spent a sixth round pick to acquire Boldin. It’ll cost more to get Jackson.

It might be that the stars simply won’t align for this deal. Seattle’s front office will be aware that they can’t keep plundering good draft stock on veteran receivers without getting a return. Have they got one more gamble in them?

Or is it a case of going with what they have after a much more productive second half performance in St. Louis? The Seahawks need a good 2015 draft where they hit on several players. Having as many picks as possible gives them the best possible opportunity to do that.

Alternatively, maybe acquiring Vincent Jackson gives them the best possible opportunity to move on from the Harvin fiasco and get back to the playoffs? And isn’t that the more pressing need? This is Seattle’s window, after all.

If it isn’t Jackson, it could be someone else. After all, they seem active — as the interest in Cameron, Thomas and Fleener indicates.

The NFL trade deadline is October 28th.

 

Instant reaction: Rams fool Seahawks, Seattle drops to 3-3

October 19th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

If Percy Harvin still played for the Seahawks, he would do this

After a quick scan of Twitter, people are reacting one of two ways tonight. And neither quite hits the right note for me.

The sky isn’t falling after back-to-back defeats and a 3-3 record. That much is true. But neither is this a defeat to ignore and put down to raw bad luck. The Seahawks can bounce back — but there are issues that need to be addressed if this team is to have any chance of returning to the playoffs.

There’s a tendency at times to try too hard not to overreact. Let’s not paper over the cracks here, even though the NFC West certainly wasn’t lost today.

This was an ugly, avoidable defeat against a bad 1-4 team slumping towards another top ten pick. The game was played in a mostly empty stadium. The Rams, built around their pass rush, had only one sack in their previous five games.

Seattle shouldn’t have needed a second half rally to make this a close game. The big problem with the ‘it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish’ mantra is it’s open to interpretation. Seattle didn’t ‘finish’ the game particularly well and had a chance to win. Yet when you spell a team a 15-point first-half head start — how can you pin the entire defeat on a trick-play fake punt at the end?

The Seahawks looked like a sloppy and somewhat broken team in the first half. The offense jumped into life after half time thanks to the playmaking qualities of Russell Wilson. It’s tempting to look at Wilson’s virtuoso performance and take solace. He was sensational. He was also a rare bright spot, alongside the efforts of Doug Baldwin and Cooper Helfet.

The defense is struggling. Yes, injuries hurt. And yet there’s Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, K.J. Wright, Michael Bennett, Brandon Mebane and Cliff Avril. Healthy starters who would feature for nearly every team in the league. Austin Davis dinked and dunked his way to a winning performance. He was barely troubled, barely pressured. And while Wilson did his Atlanta-playoffs act on offense, the defense never looked threatening.

Did they do their job at the end, to give the team one last opportunity to win the game before the fake punt? Kind of. A missed sack by Malcolm Smith possibly set up the fake given it was a short yardage play instead of fourth-and-Montana. In the previous drive the defense coughed up an 80-yard romp for a touchdown.

Seattle spent three years under Pete Carroll trying to find a consistent pass rush that didn’t rely on Chris Clemons. They got there last year. This season? Back to the drawing board. Clemons is gone and the Avril and Bennett combo isn’t getting it done. They need help from the interior — but without Clinton McDonald’s impact inside they aren’t getting any. Not pressing elusive quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo is one thing. Peyton Manning is too quick-minded to trouble. But Kirk Cousins and Austin Davis had two easy games against this defense.

If you want to question why the Seahawks aren’t forcing turnovers — here’s your problem. If you aren’t unsettling an opposing quarterback, they’re not going to make mistakes. Last week San Francisco dominated the St. Louis offensive line and Davis struggled to complete a pass in the second half. Eventually he threw a pick-six. Here he had the most comfortable game of his short career.

Despite all the spluttering on defense, it was special teams that had the biggest contributing factor on the defeat. It started with bad tackling on Benny Cunningham’s big return that eventually led to St. Louis’ opening touchdown. What followed was simply astonishing — and somewhat embarrassing.

How can you fail to track the football on a punt, get fooled by a redundant returner and allow a huge touchdown return? When does this ever happen? Everyone on the coverage unit ran to Tavon Austin, who flopped to the floor grinning like a Cheshire cat. On the other side of the field Steadman Bailey sauntered, untouched, almost the length of the field for a touchdown.

If Cunningham’s run was the starter, Bailey’s touchdown was a pretty filling main course. There was still enough room for a big creamy desert.

If you’re like me, you didn’t celebrate Richard Sherman’s crucial third down stop at the end of the game. You were telling yourself “let’s see the punt first.” Having already fooled Seattle once in this game and in a previous meeting two years ago — surely it wouldn’t happen again? Sure enough there it was. A fake punt. The type of fake a 1-4 team can attempt. What is there to lose? Punting the ball to Wilson was suicide given his second half form. A fake made total sense.

Let’s give the Rams credit for a brilliant play design, executed perfectly. It was hardly unplayable though. A short pass into the flat behind the line of scrimmage by the punter. Mugged again by Jeff Fisher. The play to win the game.

At 3-3 the Seahawks are not out of the NFC West race. Far from it. But they’re trending one way at the moment. Again, this is not a good Rams team. When they played a good team last week (Dallas) it was pretty ugly, even at home. The injuries are stacking up and questions remain over the lingering impact of Percy Harvin’s presence and eventual trade. They’re on the road to inconsistent Carolina next week. 3-4 is as realistic as 4-3. Flip a coin.

Contrary to popular belief, Seattle didn’t win a Super Bowl last year because they ran Marshawn Lynch into the ground and didn’t use a lot of short passes. They won a Super Bowl playing fundamentally good football in all three phases. Two out of the three phases played very poorly today. Two out of three phases played poorly last week. Are the Seahawks capable right now of playing well across the board? And can they find an edge on defense, plus some pass rush?

The next two or three weeks are going to be very interesting.

They need to show they can play through adversity. The 49ers dealt with story-lines about their Head Coach and a spate of injuries by winning three in a row. Seattle heads to Carolina next week trying to avoid losing three in a row.

 

Thoughts on the Seahawks trading Percy Harvin to the Jets

October 18th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Percy Harvin on the day he joined the Seahawks

1. Seattle is clearly cutting its losses
Albert Breer says Percy Harvin has anger management issues. Mike Freeman quotes a Seahawks source suggesting Harvin “didn’t want” to be in Seattle. Lance Zierlein reckons Harvin could’ve brought down team chemistry “single handed” and that Seattle had concern for Russell Wilson after he challenged the receivers attitude. Jason Cole suggests Seattle’s locker room has been “oddly tense” since March. Bob Condotta reports Harvin didn’t travel to the final pre-season game in Oakland after an altercation with Doug Baldwin. Jay Glazer, who broke the story, says it was simply time to move on.

Forget ‘no smoke without fire’ — there’s flames everywhere. Reporters are lining up with information on a bad locker room dynamic with Harvin at the heart of it all. There’s probably a little team PR involved. Why not? This trade is even more shocking, even more headline grabbing than the deal that took Harvin to Seattle in the first place.

To give up on a player who cost first, third and seventh round picks after just eight games is unheard of. Reports are suggesting the Seahawks will receive a conditional 2015 pick in the rounds 2-4 range. Nothing more needs to be said. Seattle clearly saw Harvin as a cancer in that locker room and they’re moving on.

2. The trade was a disaster
Not only did Seattle give up costly first and third round picks, they also coughed up a huge salary on a new contract. Money that technically could’ve gone to Golden Tate or Breno Giacomini or keeping Red Bryant and/or Chris Clemons. It’s not hard to imagine a fractured locker room after losing integral veteran personalities this year at the expense of what appears to be a great big pain in the ass — an outsider earning the most corn. It’s a recipe for disaster.

There’s nothing to say the Seahawks would’ve ponied up for Tate or kept Bryant and Clemons. But they would’ve had the option.

Making matters worse is the sheer background knowledge Seattle had on Harvin. Pete Carroll recruited him. Darrell Bevell worked with him in Minnesota. Sidney Rice and Tarvaris Jackson played with him. They had as much information as anyone. Everyone knew about “Percy World”, the nagging injuries, the attitude. Seattle were drawn in by a decidedly poor draft class and took a punt on a spectacular athlete. They aren’t the first franchise to make a deal that flopped and they’ll be praised for acting decisively and not compounding the issue. But it’s only fair to note this one as a gigantic bust and question whether they should’ve known better given the depth of their background with Harvin.

3. What does it mean for the future?
In the immediate, Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood will get more snaps. The Seahawks could acquire another receiver — but dealing for another hot-head like Mike Williams seems like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

The offense could take a hit. They clearly worked hard to implement Harvin and he had a significant impact in all three of Seattle’s wins. Now the Seahawks don’t have any unique size at receiver and they don’t have an explosive athlete who doubles as a major production machine and kick return specialist. Yes, it’s still a Super Bowl winning offense. They’ll have to play like one over the next few weeks.

Crucially the main question is — does this repair the locker room? With all these reports claiming Harvin was clashing with other receivers and the quarterback and struggling with anger issues — he’s still received support tonight on Twitter from people like Marshawn Lynch. Are their divides? Is their any ill-feeling? Can they go back to the band-of-brothers style mentality that helped this team win a Championship?

The wide-ranging value of the deal (conditional R2-4) suggests it’s probably unlikely they’ll see a second rounder. Who knows. Maybe it requires the Jets to make the post season or something else ridiculous (they’re 1-6). It brings receiver back into the debate moving forward. Jermaine Kearse is a free agent in 2015 and there’s no guarantee Kevin Norwood has the kind of impact their hoping for (or Paul Richardson for that matter). We’ve talked about him a lot but keep an eye on West Virginia’s Kevin White. He’s in the 6-2/6-3 range, he’s extremely competitive on the field and he’s having a Biletnikoff season for the Mountaineers.

This might have a lasting impact on the number of high profile trades within the NFL, which is a shame. Both big deals ahead of the 2013 draft (Harvin to Seattle, Darrelle Revis to Tampa Bay) backfired. Neither player lasted more than a season and a half before being moved on.

The Seahawks now have a lot more cap room for 2015. That’ll help them tie up long term deals for the likes of Wilson, Wagner and Wright. They will have the money to retain Cliff Avril if they want to. They could make a splash in free agency — with the likes of Ndamukong Suh hitting the market.

4. What could’ve been?
The 2013 draft class provided better value outside of the first round than it did in the first frame. It was understandable at the time why Seattle took a chance on Harvin and hey — he’ll always have that kick return for a touchdown in the Super Bowl. If it was his only meaningful contribution, it’s a lasting one.

People can point to Cordarrelle Patterson and say he was a cheaper alternative with the #25 pick Seattle dealt to Minnesota. Patterson is a complete enigma. Yes he’s explosive and physically excellent. He also can’t run a proper route, shows inconsistent effort and cannot be trusted to have a wide ranging role in the Vikings offense. It’s no fluke he’s disappeared since a productive opening week performance against St. Louis.

The Seahawks could’ve drafted DeAndre Hopkins (who landed in Houston) — a player now famous for a poor attempt at a fumble recovery against the Colts. It’s worth remembering Hopkins was ultra competitive in college and looked like a fit on this team. But again, you can see why they made the deal. There’s not an obvious alternative who went in that 25-32 range at the end of round one. I guess they could’ve tried to move up the board using the third and seventh they spent on Harvin. I’m not convinced that would’ve been enough to get up to the #13-14 range where Sheldon Richardson and Star Lotulelei were taken. The Seahawks need an interior pass rusher.

The ‘what could’ve been’ scenario lends itself more to maintaining the existing group together as discussed earlier. Right now it’d be good to have Golden Tate back in the roster, that’s for sure. Let’s be brutally honest here. After Seattle moved for Harvin, San Francisco traded for Anquan Boldin. Seahawks fans scoffed at that move. The 49ers now have probably the most clutch receiver in football, Seattle has a conditional mid round pick.

5. What now?
Winning will make people forget about this story. The onus is now on the remaining offense to step up, starting in St. Louis on Sunday. And they’ll need to step up with so many injuries on defense (Jordan Hill and Cassius Marsh the latest setbacks) If they muddle through the season then there’s no getting away from it — the whole Harvin situation will be discussed and debated and people will ask about the long term impact. If this trade repairs some of the reported internal damage and helps get things back on track — everyone will move on.

Yet there’s no getting away from it. Forget Charlie Whitehurst. Forget Matt Flynn. This trade will go down as the biggest flop of the Pete Carroll/John Schneider era.

 

BREAKING: Glazer reporting Seahawks trade Harvin to Jets

October 17th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

 

A gentle reminder that nothing is won in October

October 15th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Of course Dallas are now destined for the Super Bowl. Or perhaps not…

Despite all the hype, praise and adulation afforded certain teams this week — it’s worth remembering that a Super Bowl title isn’t won in mid-October.

Just ask the Houston Texans.

On this day in 2012, the Texans were 5-1 (sound familiar?). They were about to win six straight games. At the start of December they were a trendy Super Bowl pick. A legit contender. A powerhouse.

For weeks Houston looked so good. They went to Foxborough full of confidence, ready to prove a point on a national stage. They were doing everything well — running with authority, playing great defense and they had a veteran quarterback with an elite receiver to throw to.

And then they ran into the New England Patriots. Tom Brady and the Pats blew them away 42-14 and would beat them again a few weeks later in the playoffs.

Season over.

It didn’t matter how good they looked in October. Any winning runs earlier in the season meant absolutely nothing. They peaked too early and after being found out by the Patriots never recovered.

Who knows whether that’ll happen to Dallas this season? Or San Diego. Or Arizona. Or any of the other trendy Super Bowl picks in 2014. The only thing we can say with any certainty is — nothing has been decided on October 15th.

Seattle’s season will not be determined by Sunday’s embarrassing defeat to Dallas. It also won’t be over if they emerge from a difficult two game road trip (vs St. Louis & Carolina) with an average and unexpected 4-3 record.

Yes — the 2013 Seahawks led from the front and never really looked like losing homefield advantage. A 13-3 record secured it comfortably and the rest is history. If you look back at previous seasons, however, the path to a Championship has been very different.

The 2012 Baltimore Ravens finished with a 10-6 record, only topping the 10-6 Cincinnati Bengals thanks to a better AFC North tally. They had to win four games in the playoffs, including trips to New England and Denver. Eight teams had a better regular season record in the NFL.

The 2011 Championship winning New York Giants had a 9-7 record and squeezed into the playoffs in a wildly competitive NFC East. They were 6-6 heading into December before finishing strongly. Three of their final four games were in the division (just like Seattle in 2014). They were hot in the post season by playing well in all three phases. Nine teams had a better regular season record, including the 15-1 Packers (New York defeated Green Bay in the divisional round on their way to the Super Bowl).

Speaking of Green Bay, at this stage in the 2010 season the Packers were 3-3 having just lost at home to the 7-9 Miami Dolphins. They eventually ended 10-6, coming second in the AFC North to the Chicago Bears. Seven teams had a better regular season record. The Packers won the Super Bowl by being the best team in the post season.

The 2009 New Orleans Saints won a title in the same manner as the 2013 Seahawks. They finished the season at 13-3, earned homefield advantage and defeated Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl.

So in the last five years, two teams have dominated for the most part and won a Championship. Three teams had winning seasons, but were not among the NFL’s elite in terms of wins and losses.

Seattle has faced the toughest schedule in the NFL so far and over the next few weeks might return to form. They still have to go to Carolina, Arizona, Philadelphia and San Francisco however and might lose 5-7 games this season. For some that would be considered a disappointment. And yet it doesn’t really matter as long as they make it to the post season.

This years Cowboys could be the next 2012 Texans — peaking too soon, looking great in the first few weeks before fading. As well as they’ve played recently, that scenario still appears more likely than a Super Bowl romp.

Equally the Seahawks aren’t guaranteed to be the next Ravens, Packers or Giants if they scrape into the post season with the seventh or eighth best record in the NFL. But they’ll be a team nobody wants to face. They will have a shot.

So even if Seattle continues to stutter over the next couple of weeks, maybe going 1-1 against the Rams and Panthers — history has shown they can still have the type of season they’re hoping for.

 

Brock Huard on Seattle’s use of Percy Harvin & the bubble screen

October 14th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Like everyone else, I spent Sunday’s game questioning the use of the screen game and the lack of Marshawn Lynch. This video, however, delivers some perspective. When you have 3 vs 2 on one side — and your extra guy is Percy Harvin — of course you use Harvin on the bubble screen there. It’s all about execution. The play call is fair and understandable. If it gets blocked up properly you could be looking at a touchdown.

A lot of people want to talk about Darrell Bevell. When you get these defensive looks, it’s totally understandable why he called what he did. Seattle just has to play better.

Combine this with all the close calls — the dropped passes, the missed sack on 3rd and 20. Seattle came this close (pinches fingers) to winning a big game. Returning to form isn’t so much about re-establishing the run (which will probably happen anyway) as it is finishing plays.

 

Instant reaction: Seahawks beaten by Dallas, drop to 3-2

October 12th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Marshawn Lynch had just ten carries in Sunday’s defeat to the Cowboys

Perspective and constructive criticism is the order of the day.

In truth this was a pummelling by a better Dallas team who are playing some excellent football right now. And yet the perspective tells you Seattle had two drives at the end to a.) win the game and b.) tie the game.

Last year’s Super Bowl run included four games that felt like a loss pretty much from the start: Houston (A), St. Louis (A), Tampa Bay (H), Arizona (H). Seattle won three of those, somehow.

After five weeks the Seahawks have already had two similar games. They’re 0-2 this time against San Diego (A) and Dallas (H).

It’s difficult to read too much into that at this early stage. Seattle’s three wins have all been relatively accomplished. Had they sneaked a win against the Cowboys the performance would be easily forgotten. The Seahawks would be complimented for their ability to win ugly, just like last season.

Is an 0-2 record in sloppy games an indicator of a lost edge? A decrease in quality or depth? A lack of fortune? Injuries taking their toll? Or is it just one of those things?

Are the Seahawks destined for a 9, 10 or 11 win season this year — still no mean feat and something no other recent defending Champion has managed?

I suspect we’ll learn quite a lot about the 2014 Seahawks over the next two weeks. A double road trip to St. Louis and Carolina will be tough. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if they return home to face Oakland at 3-4. Come out of those games with a winning record (by splitting the games or winning both) and they’ll have an opportunity, with five NFC West games remaining, to win the division. And that has to be the ultimate goal every year, as much as everyone wants home field advantage.

This is an unpredictable NFL season. Who expected Dallas to not only play as well as they did today, but share the leagues best record after week six? There were no unbeaten teams remaining after week five. I suspect Dallas, San Diego and Philadelphia will lose games going forward. The home field advantage total this year might rest at 12 wins. It’s a very competitive NFC.

Sometimes you have to take a step back to move forward. Look at the Patriots and the way they responded after being destroyed by Kansas City. Today might help the Seahawks in the long run.

And with that we’ve got the perspective out of the way, now onto the constructive criticism.

Seattle is losing its identity on offense

Marshawn Lynch carried the ball twice in the first half, an unacceptable number even with Dallas dominating time of possession. Lynch started the game with a solid 4-5 yard gain and was immediately withdrawn. This was a game to challenge Dallas. They were going to run the ball and play ball-control against the masters on their own patch. Seattle needed to show them how it’s done. Instead, the Cowboys were the only ones teaching any lessons.

Russell Wilson is a terrific quarterback. Percy Harvin is a dynamic playmaker. Yet neither player is more critical to this team than Lynch. To leave a close game having given him just 10 carries is inexcusable.

Perhaps it’s an attempt to stay ahead of the curve? With teams around the league striving to emulate the Seahawks, Seattle has started to be too imaginative. It’s a strange way of putting it, but ultimately the cap fits. Jet sweeps, triple option, receivers at running back. If there was one play that summed up the offense today it was a broken pitch to Bryan Walters. Not only did the entire offense look confused trying to execute the play — why on earth were they pitching it to Walters anyway?

Dallas was so concerned about containing Wilson, Lynch made some key gains running out of the read option. That had to be the staple, particularly in the second half. And yet still we saw that bizarre pitch play, Percy Harvin in the backfield and what seemed like endless empty backfields.

Dallas entered week six with the NFL’s worst run defense. #32. And Seattle chose not to exploit it.

Pete Carroll walked into Seattle saying they were going to run the ball. Pete Carroll won a Super Bowl running the ball and using play action.

It’s time to recommit to the run at the expense of all the trickery.

Why can’t they get a stop?

Dallas converted on 3rd and 5-10 yards three times. They also converted on 3rd and 14 with a checkdown by Tony Romo and had the back-breaking 3rd and 20 conversion late on — the play of the game. Earl Thomas made reference afterwards that if they want to be the defense they talk about — that has to improve.

So what’s going on?

It’s no excuse, but injuries have to take some responsibility here. Kam Chancellor looked like an injured player today. He’s carrying hip and ankle injuries and it shows. Seattle’s corner depth has been obliterated. A strong looking group lost Jeremy Lane and Tharold Simon. Now Byron Maxwell is out indefinitely.

Seattle lined up Marcus Burley at starting corner and Steven Tyrell in the slot. In other words, a player who spent an entire training camp and pre-season with the Colts and a safety taken off the practise squad only yesterday. This is more legion of doomed than legion of boom.

Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas are perennial All-Pro talents, but they aren’t miracle workers. They’re not going to be able to compensate for an injured Chancellor and a dearth of talent at corner. The situation is becoming so desperate you almost wonder how resistant the Seahawks are to calling Bill Belichick and enquiring about Brandon Browner’s availability.

There are issues up front too. Seattle found a diamond last year in Clinton McDonald. His ability to rush from the inside even on early downs made life easier for the edge rushers. Seattle’s interior pressure appears to have travelled to Tampa Bay with him.

Several times today Romo didn’t even have to move to make his reads. The Seahawks aren’t collapsing the pocket. It’s forcing the DE’s to make plays off the edge against a quarterback who can see the whole field. Edge pressure works best when the QB is moving and trying to make a decision on his feet. More often than not they’ll scramble into trouble.

Even without the brilliant Chris Clemons, the Seahawks should have enough edge pressure with Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin. Without someone collapsing the pocket from the inside, however, you can’t help but feel they’re fighting a losing battle.

Seattle force-feeding Harvin

When the Seahawks traded for Percy Harvin, they acquired the most explosive slot receiver in the NFL. Yes he was multi-faceted. Yes he found numerous ways to make big gains. Yet the Seahawks don’t use him as a slot receiver.

Against Dallas he had six touches for -1 yards. Every touch was a run, a sweep, a WR screen or a bubble. They have to find ways to get Harvin the ball because he is such an explosive talent. The point being lost though is that Harvin, fundamentally, is a fantastic receiver.

On one third down play they had Ricardo Lockette lined up in the slot for a short gain on a Wilson quick-hitter. On another third down one of the two tight ends appeared in the slot as Wilson tried to jam a redzone pass into double coverage to Doug Baldwin. Not for the first time this season it seemed like the Lockette, Willson and Walters collection were trusted in the money downs more than Harvin.

He can be Welker. He can be Sanders. He can be Maclin. Harvin is superior to all three of those players and yet while he’s only getting carries in the backfield, it just feels like a total waste.

Harvin has 133 receiving yards from 22 catches after five games. They need to get more out of him. They absolutely must.

Teams have found a way to contain the trick plays. With the Seahawks hopefully re-committing to the run going forward, this will present an opportunity to use Harvin as a more orthodox weapon in the slot and downfield. They have to take that opportunity.

 

NC State left tackle Rob Crisp one to monitor

October 10th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

I’m heading to Vancouver tonight and will be travelling across the border for the Cowboys game on Sunday. I intend to be writing during the trip but here’s a heads up if things are a little quiet over the next 24-48 hours. In the meantime I wanted to quickly raise awareness to an underrated prospect who deserves some attention.

NC State’s senior left tackle Rob Crip is a good technician with length (6-7) and ideal size (around 295lbs). He’s flying under the radar a little bit but he’s one to monitor. I noticed his performance against Florida State recently and even in a blow out he did a reasonable job against Clemson controlling explosive pass rusher Vic Beasley. He’s one to keep an eye on the rest of the way and over the next few weeks I’ll go in to more detail on his pro-potential. NC State host Boston College this weekend.

 

Todd Gurley suspended indefinitely by Georgia

October 9th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Todd Gurley NCAA investigation centersaround alleged memorabilia and likeness issues

— Joe Schad(@schadjoe) October 9, 2014

I wouldn’t expect this to impact Gurley’s draft stock too much. You’re either willing to draft a running back early or you aren’t. Gurley is an incredible talent. Robert Quinn was also a big-time college talent who missed a whole year due to suspension. It didn’t significantly impact his stock. If you were prepared to draft Gurley in the top-20 before, you probably still are.

The bigger impact will be felt by Georgia, who Gurley is carrying right now, and any hopes of a legitimate Heisman Trophy campaign appear to be over.

There are very few players with Gurley’s size/speed combo, balance, ability to explode through a hole and break off big runs. He’s unique as a big back who’s also a home run hitter. People make the mistake of comparing him to Marshawn Lynch but they are very different players. Lynch is smaller and tougher, but he’s not a threat to take it to the house like TG. I suspect Gurley won’t quite be a tackle-breaking machine in the more physical environment of the NFL. Nor will he be a mega-carry work horse. He’s best served as an explosive compliment to a dynamic passing game.

Staying in-state with Atlanta would be a really good fit. He’d give the Falcons something they currently lack (a threatening running back) but he wouldn’t be depended on for endless carries within the Matt Ryan offense. He’d be a weapon — a nice compliment. That’s what he needs to be at the next level. Not someone you run into the ground. He’s miscast as that type of power runner. He’s a playmaker.