Seahawks @ 49ers: Thanksgiving thoughts

November 26th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

— San Francisco’s remaining schedule after this game includes: Oakland (A), Seattle (A), San Diego (H), Arizona (H). Even if they split with the Seahawks, they have a decent shot at 11-5. Seattle’s run includes: Philadelphia (A), San Francisco (H), Arizona (A), St. Louis (H). It’s going to be tough to catch the 49ers — let alone the Cardinals — without a win on Thursday. In fact I’d go as far as saying the 49ers would be in a better position to cope with a home defeat than Seattle would a road loss. San Francisco gets a rematch in Seattle, two home games to finish and the only other road game is against the 1-10 Raiders. If the Seahawks lose tomorrow, they might have to beat the Eagles and Cardinals on the road to make the post-season. Those two teams are 12-0 combined at home this year.

— The Seahawks are having to live without Max Unger and Brandon Mebane but injuries might be hampering San Francisco more at the moment. They’re without their starting center (rookie Marcus Martin currently features) and Jonathan Martin is the right tackle in place of Anthony Davis. On defense they’re fielding two impressive stand-in middle linebackers — but how can you not experience a drop off when you lose Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman? What’s more Aldon Smith has only just re-entered the fray and Glenn Dorsey remains out too. In comparison, Seattle’s as healthy as it’s been in a long time.

— San Francisco has done a fantastic job containing Russell Wilson in every game since 2012. Here are his rushing totals in every meeting with the Niners: 2013 NFCCG (0 yards), 2013 road (2 yards), 2013 home (33 yards), 2012 road (10 yards), 2012 home (29 yards). No team has done a better job keeping him isolated in the pocket, taking away the read option looks and preventing him finding space on the bootleg to extend plays. There are rare instances where he’s succeeded (eg — the evasive scramble before a downfield bomb to Doug Baldwin in the NFCCCG) but at Candlestick they’ve particularly done an exceptional job keeping him in the pocket. The Niners seem to struggle against a perimeter attack and Seattle can work throws to the outside and use their tight ends over the middle with Bowman and Willis both absent (both excellent in coverage). But it’ll be a job well done if Wilson continues his terrific year running the ball on Thanksgiving.

— The red zone’s been an issue all year for Seattle. The Seahawks lost in San Francisco a year ago because of this problem. With the game evenly poised, Golden Tate ran back a long punt return deep into 49er territory. Seattle went conservative on the play call — two Lynch runs up the middle and a soft Wilson bootleg to the left with Kearse running to the corner of the endzone (a play that might as well be called ‘Spider-2-Y-throw it away’). They kicked a field goal offering San Francisco the chance to drive for the game winning kick themselves. A touchdown would’ve made life interesting. Even in the NFC Championship game — Seattle’s failure in the red zone prevented a fourth quarter waltz (although ‘the tip’ was more entertaining). The Niners average 21.7 PPG this year. In their last two home games they scored 17 and 10 points against Washington and St. Louis respectively. In four defeats Seattle averages 22.5 PPG. In seven wins they average 27 PPG. It could be as simple as this — high 20’s wins it, low 20’s doesn’t. That was the case in KC — even with the Chiefs destroying the Seahawks with the run.

— Pete Carroll came out fighting this week. He didn’t pull any punches when referring to the number of flags his team has received recently — even making further reference to how penalized USC were after their first National Championship under his leadership. Last year penalties significantly hurt the Seahawks in San Francisco. Richard Sherman suffered a ticky-tacky call to convert a big third down. Michael Robinson’s phantom ‘hands to the face’ penalty turned a big run for a first down by Marshawn Lynch into a 2nd and 25. Jeremy Lane was also bizarrely flagged on a special teams play for a good block. The Seahawks are averaging eight penalties a game — good for 4th most in the league. The Niners aren’t far behind with seven flags per game. Penalties could be a big factor again tomorrow.

— Colin Kaepernick loves to throw to the perimeter. They basically ran the same concept against Washington last weekend and it cropped up in the Seattle game last year. Anquan Boldin runs a very simple 6-7 hitch and Kaepernick does a good job delivering the ball on time. It’s harder to defend than you’d imagine — the timing between QB and receiver is excellent. When the 49ers keep it simple like this, Kaepernick thrives. He has terrific arm strength and he’s not inaccurate. Throw in some running plays and his ability to avoid pressure and he really is “Great with a capital G”. The Niners did a good job at Candlestick keeping things in control. The games in Seattle were different — Kaepernick faced pressure and was unable to go to his first or second read. He runs with the ball loosely until he decides to tuck and run. We’ve seen him fumble way too many times trying to avoid pressure. He also makes careless decisions under duress. With or without pressure — the stats speak for themselves. At Century Link he has a 2/6 TD/INT ratio. The Seahawks must rush the passer as well as they did against Arizona.

— Is there any type of revenge factor at play? This is the first meeting since the NFC Championship game. It’s also the first meeting since Richard Sherman’s infamous post-game interview, the choking sign he made to Kaepernick and all the fuss that followed. It’d be tempting to go after Sherman. It could also be reckless. The first battle with Michael Crabtree will be interesting.

— Let’s hope Aldon Smith doesn’t line up too often against Justin Britt. Nobody’s talking about it within the team, but Britt has struggled all year in pass pro. He misses Zach Miller’s support as a blocker. He regularly whiffs on assignments, makes the wrong decision or just gets beat. Smith is a phenom — a generational talent. Without all the off-field stuff he’d be well on his way to setting every pass-rushing record in the league. He is incredible. His get-off is so good half the time he looks like he’s off-side. You watch in slow motion and you realise how great he is. Add in his length, ability to disengage blocks and the speed he has to finish. He’s one of the greats. And he’ll eat Britt for lunch if they’re not careful.

 

Monday draft thoughts: Mizzou’s D-line impressive & it’s not just Ray/Golden

November 24th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Missouri is a production line for defensive talent. A couple of years ago they gave the NFL Sheldon Richardson. Last year it was Michael Sam and Kony Ealy (wasn’t a fan of either, but still). Now it’s Shane Ray and Markus Golden. But it doesn’t stop there.

Senior defensive tackle Lucas Vincent had a big day against Tennessee on Saturday — and so did redshirt sophomore Harold Brantley. Vincent is listed at 305lbs but looks a little bigger and played the nose. He was consistently breaking into the backfield, playing stout against the run and stood out just as much as the big name edge rushers. It’s worth noting the youth and experience of Tennessee’s O-line, but this was still an impressive performance. If the Seahawks are looking for depth on the D-line, Vincent is one to monitor.

I’m not convinced Brantley will declare (it’s unlikely) — but he has a ton of momentum and could easily be a rapid riser. He’s got 4.5 sacks in his last seven games working inside. Brantley had a slow start to the year but it’s not a major surprise — he dropped to 275lbs during the off-season after suffering an illness. He’s back at the 290lbs range and he’s a fantastic interior pass rush prospect and a natural three-technique. He’s a little fleshy and could stand to tone up (and add core strength in the process) — but he’s young and has time. He took over the Tennessee game and acted as a real tone setter and compliment to Golden/Ray. Selfishly I hope he turns pro (wouldn’t be the first RS Soph to do so) because the potential here is through the roof.

I still think Golden will ultimately be a better pro than Ray — but it’s close. After suffering with a hamstring issue earlier in the year, he’s back to 100% and back to his best. This was a relentless performance flashing everything you want to see from a prospective NFL pass rusher. He has the speed and athleticism to round the edge, he can disengage a block and fight to the QB. He has the strength to develop a bull rush over time and he’s comfortable stunting inside. He’s not a one-dimensional speed rusher and he just looks the part.

In this game he had two sacks, a fumble recovery and six total tackles. He’s a monster — it’s staggering he doesn’t get more national attention. I’m going to keep bringing this up because it’s the best endorsement you can give the guy. I watched six Tennessee games last year to look at first round offensive tackle Ju’Wuan James. He had a brilliant 2013 season and deserved to go in the top-32 for sure. Only one player gave him a hard time. One player — and this is an offensive tackle playing in the loaded SEC. Markus Golden is that man. Remember this during the 2015 draft process. Golden is a top, top player.

You’ve also got to love his business like approach:

Ray has better production (13.5 sacks for the year) and gets a better press. The broadcast crew during this game were touting him as a top-five pick. There’s every chance he’ll perform well enough at the combine to go early and any team needing a pass rusher will get a good one if they select Shane Ray. I think he’s a little more reliant on get-off and speed — although he stunts inside just as well as Golden and he’s shown he can mix it up with his hands to get off a block. He doesn’t have the same natural length or size — he might be more of a liability against the run at the next level. Ray is a more explosive pass rusher, Golden is perhaps a more complete overall defensive talent. Both should go in the first round.

If you get a chance to watch Mizzou’s D-line performance against the Vols — take it. This is a unit filled with talent. The Seahawks could do a lot worse than tap into the production line as they strive for greater defensive depth moving forward. Whether they attack a loaded draft for pass rushers will depend on their ability to spend in free agency. With players like Jabaal Sheard possibly hitting the market — not to mention a cluster of other big names — it might be a need they can address with a couple of veteran additions. If not — they’ll have options in April. If you get time check out Kentucky’s Bud Dupree — another good fit for Seattle and a player we’ve talked about a few times this year.

Tony Pauline on Jaelen Strong

One of the more overrated 2015 prospects could be Arizona State receiver Jaelen Strong. I’ve never been a big fan — he played soft last year and didn’t look like a dominating size/speed combo. Many reports complimented his improved performances this year — but having watched ASU three times now he just looks like the same player. I’ve never felt compelled to put him in the first round discussion — so it’s reassuring to see this from Tony Pauline today:

Arizona State receiver Jaelen Strong receives a lot of attention on the outside as the junior is in the midst of a career campaign. Speak to scouts and you’ll get a different point of view. Many are concerned with his lack of speed, quickness and the struggle he’ll have separating at the next level. Several area scouts have stamped Strong as a third rounder based off the film and many grade Dres Anderson of Utah as a better receiver prospect for the next level.

Sadly, there’s just not a lot to get excited about with this group of receivers. 2014 produced an incredible crop — from early picks like Mike Evans and Odell Beckham Jr all the way to the end of the second round with Jarvis Landry and even in the fourth with Martavis Bryant. Next year players might get overdrafted, because the depth and quality just isn’t there. At a time when Seattle is crying out for a difference maker at WR or TE — the draft might not provide a solution.

I’ve mixed thoughts on Louisville’s Devante Parker. He gives off a bit of a diva vibe during interviews — but has no off-field red flags to speak of. He’s only 6-2/6-3 and 207lbs — he plays bigger than he actually is. He has a tendency to lose focus and make mistakes. He’s had some drops. And yet he’s had big games against good teams (and more importantly, good cornerbacks). ESPN’s Scouts Inc currently rates him as the #9 overall prospect. Maybe the best thing working in his favor is a competitive streak all good receivers need to have. He doesn’t suffer through a lack of belief. He’ll get after opponents. Nice guys generally can’t play receiver — not unless they’re built like Larry Fitzgerald. Parker has a shot — but at what point? Early first? Late first? Second round?

Amari Cooper should be the first receiver taken for his natural catching ability, surprising speed and playmaking potential. This is what he’s capable of:

After that, we could easily see Devin Funchess over-drafted purely based on his size/speed. He’s the closest thing to Seattle’s need for an athletic big man (6-5, 235lbs) — but there’s something so underwhelming about his play on the field. As fluid as he is running over the middle and exploiting a mismatch with a linebacker in coverage, he just doesn’t make that many great plays. He drops too many passes. He looks more like the next Jermaine Gresham than the next Jimmy Graham. The counterpoint to this is Michigan’s passing game has been horrendous for years.

And that leaves Kevin White as the remaining likely first round wide out at this early stage. He’s in the 6-2 range and 211lbs so he’s not huge. He’s had a terrific year even if the production has tailed off in recent weeks. He’s competitive, he high points the ball tremendously. He’s been something of an emotional leader for West Virginia this year. I like him. He could be a Sidney Rice type player for this offense. But you just can’t help but think there will be better value at other positions in round one. 2015 doesn’t look like the draft to go after a receiver unless someone like Cooper falls into your lap or you truly believe in a White/Parker/Funchess. There are just too many good pass rushers, offensive linemen and yes — running backs — to go down this route (particularly if we really are witnessing the final few weeks of the Marshawn Lynch era).

Favorite 16 players watched so far this year

1. Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon)
2. La’el Collins (G, LSU)
3. Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia)
4. Bud Dupree (DE, Kentucky)
5. T.J. Cummings (T, Pittsburgh)
6. Randy Gregory (DE, Nebraska)
7. Shaq Thompson (LB, Washington)
8. Markus Golden (DE, Missouri)
9. Shane Ray (DE, Missouri)
10. Tevin Coleman (RB, Indiana)
11. Andrus Peat (T, Stanford)
12. Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin)
13. Amari Cooper (WR, Alabama)
14. Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson)
15. Dante Fowler Jr (DE, Florida)
16. Kevin White (WR, West Virginia)

Five big names that have underwhelmed

1. Leonard Williams (DE, USC)
2. Cedric Ogbuehi (T, Texas A&M)
3. Brandon Scherff (T, Iowa)
4. Leonard Floyd (DE, Georgia)
5. Connor Cook (QB, Michigan State)

 

Instant reaction: Seahawks hand Cardinals second loss, go to 7-4

November 23rd, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

This was a thoroughly comprehensive 19-3 victory that feels closer than it was.

Both teams left points on the board, but Seattle emphatically so. They dominated the field position battle in the first half and kept settling for three points. The red zone troubles reared up once more. But it didn’t matter. Everything else clicked.

The Seahawks played a 9-1 team today fielding an exceptional run defense and an athletic, playmaking secondary. This was a fantastic win.

— Russell Wilson was superb today. You don’t need to put up 400 yards to be praised as a quarterback. He was efficient. He never came close to conceding a turnover — an underrated key to the win. He was intelligent with the ball (the eye manipulation on the Ricardo Lockette bomb was exceptional) and made enough plays to win a game his team had to have.

— The defense played at a 2013 level. Drew Stanton isn’t a good quarterback and Bruce Arians deserves a medal for getting this team to nine wins with the injuries they’ve endured. Yet this is still a Cardinals team that has been making big plays all year. Not today. Their biggest play was a pass interference call on Byron Maxwell. They had one drive at the end of the first half where they chipped away and got their only points on a field goal. The Cardinals had 204 total offensive yards and went 3/12 on third down. This was a complete shut down — no running room, no big plays. Seattle football.

— If the pass rush plays with this intensity and productivity the rest of the way, the Seahawks can take on a rock hard schedule. Stanton was constantly under pressure and did well to avoid a few sacks. Cliff Avril had possibly his best game this season. Bruce Irvin and Michael Bennett also got involved. Seattle came into the day ranked 29th for sacks. They need this level of play to finish the year.

— There was too much focus on Brandon Mebane’s absence last week at Kansas City. He was a key loss. But the bigger issue was the absence of Mebane AND Bobby Wagner. They didn’t clog up the middle of the defensive line or absorb many blocks. But too often K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith made a bad read or didn’t wrap up filling the gaps. Arizona hasn’t run the ball particularly well recently, but Wagner’s return helped limit them to 64 total running yards.

— Kam Chancellor and Byron Maxwell appear to be healthy. Throw in Wagner’s return and it’s no surprise that for the first time in a long time, the defense is back to its best.

— Last year the Seahawks were beaten at home by Arizona. They took shots on offense and tried to beat the blitz by exploiting 1v1 coverage. Today they went away from that — and it was a solid gameplan. Early throws behind the LOS opened up the middle for the tight ends. They made safe throws and never allowed a big-play defense to do anything at the second level. Yes — there were frustrating moments in the red zone. No — I’m not saying it was a flawless performance. They left points on the field. But think about this — with a cleaner red zone effort this could’ve been a blow out. The offensive plan worked and they learnt lessons from the last meeting between the teams.

— That said, the Seahawks still need to find an answer in the red zone with the personnel they have. Today they went 1/5. It’s been a constant thorn in the offense all season. Today it didn’t cost them a victory. Last week it did. In the three remaining road games (San Francisco, Philadelphia, Arizona) they will need to make every point count.

— What play did you enjoy more? Cooper Helfet’s touchdown leap, or the body slam after the blocked punt to start the second half? And is this a sign of things to come for the offense (this year and beyond)? Helfet, Tony Moeaki and Luke Willson had more attention than the receivers. You have to wonder if they’d have done more of this earlier with a healthy Zach Miller and Anthony McCoy?

— Seattle gave up seven sacks but let’s have some perspective. Firstly, that was a heck of a defensive line they came up against today. Secondly, some of the sacks were scheme issues or receivers just not getting open. The fourth sack by Calais Campbell came as Seattle tried to set up a long winded screen to Marshawn Lynch. You can’t do that against this defense. The fifth sack, on the very next play, saw Wilson in a clean pocket taking a coverage sack. The offensive line didn’t have a brilliant game — they were unusually ineffective in the run game. But neither is this performance worthy of three days talking about drafting for the OL in round one. They missed Max Unger at center.

— Marshawn Lynch was in and out of the game today. Let’s hope this isn’t a big issue. He’ll be needed.

— My draft takeaway today is — do we have to focus so much on SPARQ? Having watched Jarvis Landry for Miami today — there is still room for good old eye scouting. He looked sensational at LSU. He is sensational. Ultra competitive, a fantastic technician and exactly the kind of player Seattle needed to replace Golden Tate.

Here’s the lasting image from today — a tired Calais Campbell on the sidelines with three minutes to go. He’s out of the game. He and his team resigned to defeat. Meanwhile Drew Stanton is getting looked at for an ankle injury and Logan Thomas is warming up. Last year teams came to Seattle to get beaten up. They nearly always lost their next game as a consequence. This, as they say, ‘was more like it’.

Onto San Francisco. Both teams are 7-4. Arizona goes to Atlanta next week. Game on.

 

Tevin Coleman is a stud plus college football open thread

November 22nd, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Tevin Coleman is 6-1 and 201lbs. We’ve talked him up for a while now, but there’s no doubt in my mind he’s right up there with Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley (who tore his ACL last week).

The run in the GIF above is a 90-yard sprint against Ohio State. Look how he sticks his foot in the ground and explodes. In a losing effort (Indiana ran the Buckeye’s close today) he recorded 228 rushing yards on 27 carries and scored three touchdowns. That’s not playing with a brilliant offensive line like Gordon. That’s not playing against an over-matched opponent (again, like Gordon vs Nebraska). Coleman can flat out play. He’s a stud. He’s making things happen on a weekly basis for the Hoosiers.

For the year he has 1908 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. He also put up 132 against Michigan State, 219 against Iowa and 307 against Rutgers. He’s put up massive numbers in some tough contests this year. He has the size, the breakaway speed. He can play tough and run up the gut, but he’s also a playmaker in space. I suspect someone is going to draft this guy in the top two rounds.

He has a pretty interesting backstory too. He was born three months premature and given a 20% chance of surviving. He comes from a close family and seems like a level headed guy. There’s no ego here. He’s a former three-star recruit. Coleman’s one to monitor with or without all the Marshawn Lynch speculation.

Feel free to use this as an open thread for any observations you want to make watching college football this weekend. I’m watching Mizzou @ Tennessee, USC/UCLA is on record.

 

Receivers key on Sunday? Plus Duron Carter & more Marshawn

November 21st, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

The Arizona Cardinals recorded one of the big shocks of the 2013 season when they won in Seattle in week 16. It caused a lot of panic at the time.

The Seahawks were supposedly unbeatable at home. At least the 2013 version of the Seahawks. They’d come through a couple of toughies (most notably against 0-7 Tampa Bay) and destroyed contenders like San Francisco and New Orleans. Then the Cardinals rocked up and gave Seattle a bloody nose. They made the Seahawks look average.

They harassed Russell Wilson with creative blitzing. They survived four interceptions by Carson Palmer. They had a little luck (well, a lot of luck actually). But they earned it. They deserved the win. You could easily say it was the catalyst for their current success as a 9-1 runaway leader of the NFC West. That win at Century Link was the moment Bruce Arians’ Cardinals made a statement. They were the real deal.

My lasting takeaway from that game is the point I want to linger on today. The receivers. Despite all the blitzing and controlled chaos up front, Seattle had opportunities. And they’ll get them again on Sunday. The Cardinals want to attack you and keep you guessing. They’ll gamble to bring extra pressure because they back their secondary to work 1v1. They have two top-tier cornerbacks, competitive roaming safety’s and a new hybrid safety/linebacker from Washington State. They’ll give you the looks you want. And they’ll dare you to execute.

In week 16 last year Seattle’s receivers had a nightmare. They dropped passes. They couldn’t get up open in man coverage. They constantly got a hand to the ball, only to fail to bring it in. The usual shots that came off during the regular season were missing. They were as rattled as Wilson trying to deal with the blitz. If the Seahawks make 2-3 extra plays on offense in that game, they probably squeeze by. They didn’t.

A growing criticism this year is the performance of the wide receivers. Good enough last year, the group suddenly looks a little more “pedestrian” without Percy Harvin, Golden Tate and Zach Miller. Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse are good players. But neither provides a mismatch in single coverage, wherever they line up. Neither are they adept at just finding a way to get open. With Seattle’s passing game being naturally conservative, Wilson has always played with an element of caution. He doesn’t throw into too many tight windows — and I suspect he’s told not to. On Sunday he’s not only going to have to take some chances after a quick, decisive read — the receivers are going to have to make plays.

(I also think this isn’t a game for Wilson to get cute calling audibles. It’s still an area of his game he can improve. This is all about working your protections and finding the soft spot where you can make a quick throw. If he thinks too much he’s going to get hammered — and it won’t be the offensive line’s fault. If you bring six or seven rushers against five linemen… you do the math).

It’s actually a great opportunity for Baldwin and co. to do what they do best — prove people wrong. At a time when we’re all saying this team needs a big target or better talent at receiver/tight end — what a chance to go and prove it’s not quite the critical need. Let’s hope they get it done. Seattle needs a win and this is the time to deliver. I’m not sure it’ll change too much in terms of the off-season, but this is about now.

Obviously they were banking on Harvin being an X-Factor and there’s little point re-hashing the impact of that calamitous trade. This is what they’re left with. If the Seahawks want to keep their season alive and beat Arizona on Sunday, the receivers have to do better against this scheme. They have to make plays.

I watched the Cardinals beat Detroit last weekend and it’s a classic example why this could come down to the passing game. Matt Stafford had very little time to think, but when he did take shots down the field even the great Calvin Johnson wasn’t winning many battles with Patrick Peterson. Megatron had five catches for 59 yards. Golden Tate had two catches for 41 yards. Stafford completed just 18/30 passing for 183 yards. Arizona strangled the big plays downfield, made Stafford uncomfortable with the blitz and demanded he made take chances into tight man coverage. The receivers struggled to compete.

As much as Arians deserves endless praise for a sensational coaching effort (not to mention dealing with a series of injuries — particularly at quarterback), Todd Bowles’ defensive scheme is a winner. He should be the hot candidate for Head Coaching jobs in the off-season. And yet you kind of expect him to stay put — new contract in hand. He’s got a good thing going here. He could probably even replace Arians down the line. His scheme is terrific and matches perfectly with the talent at his disposal. They blitz perfectly and they’ve got the talent in the back end to challenge 1v1. It’s brilliant. Simply brilliant.

As well as Seattle’s defense played at times in 2013 — this Cardinals unit might be even better. The Seahawks brought in big name pass rushers to take the final push to a Championship. This Arizona defense has been crafted meticulously and appears to rely less on individuals. They’d be an easy team to root for if they weren’t in your division. Any fan watching the playoffs from the outside will probably rally behind the Cards. And they’re doing it all without several key defensive players — including their best pass rusher last year (John Abraham).

They’ve developed into the team to beat in the NFC West, overtaking the rival Seahawks and 49ers. For Seattle to match up to this scheme — they have to be more dangerous at receiver. They need to make Arizona think twice about blitzing. Do you think they’ll have any hesitation to throw the house at the Seahawks on Sunday? Sadly not. They aren’t going to worry about getting burned by this group of receivers in man coverage.

Unfortunately, despite all the attention paid over the last two years, the Seahawks are going to have to zone in on receivers again (in the draft or free agency). Kevin Norwood may well develop into a player to combat the Cards’ physical scheme. But right not he’s on the periphery as a 25-year-old fourth round rookie. And while a softly-softly approach is fine for any first-time receiver, it’s worth noting he’ll be nearer 30 than 20 during the 2015 season. He’s already at the age where you’d expect him to hit his peak.

If there was ever a time to test Paul Richardson’s deep speed, this might be it. It’s harder to use press-man coverage if you’ve got a guy who can fly. If he can mix it up at the line and get deep this could end up being a coming out party for Richardson. It’s a big if, but it is about time Seattle’s top rookie joined the other receivers making a splash this season.

When it comes to the time to add that needed receiver (or receivers) in the off-season, the options aren’t unlimited. As we discussed earlier in the week, nobody should expect Dez Bryant or Demaryius Thomas to make the market. It’s more likely a top tight end like Julius Thomas or Jordan Cameron gets free — but Thomas has only had two productive years with the ultimate passing offense and Cameron has major concussion issues. Cleveland’s incredible cap situation would allow them to franchise Cameron on a prove-it one year deal and still do whatever else they want in free agency.

The draft has a few options but the depth isn’t anywhere near last year. Are the Seahawks prepared to take a receiver with their first in the draft for the third straight year (counting Harvin)? Especially with so much pass rush talent available — not to mention the possible need to replace Marshawn Lynch (more on that later)?

I’ve not studied Duron Carter (see video at the top of the piece) that much because the access to full CFL game tape is non-existent. Jason La Canfora says Seattle are showing interest, but so is most of the league. It strange to say this about a troubled CFL project, but he might be their best bet. He has the size and the potential. He’s available. He has the bloodlines. And with limited options elsewhere he could be provide some much needed help.

If La Canfora’s report is accurate, the Colts are favorites to land Carter. It could take an All-Pro recruiting job by Carroll to change that — one we know he’s capable of. On the one hand you get to go and play for a prolific Indianapolis passing offense and one of the best pure-passing quarterbacks. You’ll get stats and opportunities. Or you can play for a run-heavy offense, maybe get 2-3 targets a game and by the way, your Dad had a very public war of words with potential team mate Doug Baldwin.

It’s not looking promising is it?

Still, perhaps Seattle would provide a quicker route to a starting role. Indianapolis may re-sign Reggie Wayne. They have T.Y. Hilton and two productive tight ends. They brought in Donte Moncrief to develop. They have other options too. The Seahawks can at least offer Carter the chance to compete to be an immediate impact player. It’d be down to him to prove he’s ready to make the most of his potential, after a torrid college career (something La Canfora touches on).

Carter can officially start working out for teams next month, but he’s not permitted to sign any contract until February.

Finally there’s another Marshawn Lynch update today. Carroll was finally asked about the situation by the local beat writers and gave a mixed response:

On first glance it all looks positive. Carroll “wants” him to stay as long as he can play. Then you look a little closer. “We’ll do everything we can to get that done.” What needs to be done? He’s under contract. They can afford his salary in the aftermath of the Harvin trade.

It hints at perhaps a concession on Lynch’s behalf, possibly in terms of not asking for more money again. At the very least it shows something needs to happen to get it done. It’s no foregone conclusion that he returns, unlike other key players under contract for next season. That’s a little different than simply denying the story and saying he’ll be in Seattle. It’s an admittance that something, whatever it may be, needs to happen for it to come off.

The answer offers hope and takes it away in equal measure. The door is left open for a return — and yet reports saying he’s done in Seattle weren’t totally ruled out. At a time when the Seahawks are facing up to possible repair work to the defensive line and receiver, it’s still hard to work out how they can move on from their very best offensive player. A player so crucial to the identity of this team. A player some would argue they cannot afford to lose.

 

Duke’s Issac Blakeney a big target to monitor

November 19th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Isaac Blakeney is 6-6 and could be an option for a team needing a big target

The Seahawks know they need to acquire a big receiver. That’s why they reportedly contemplated a trade for Vincent Jackson. It’s why they also supposedly contacted Denver, Cleveland and Indianapolis to ask about Julius Thomas, Jordan Cameron and Coby Fleener respectively.

Whether it’s a tight end or a big bodied wide out, they need to give Russell Wilson a player who can create a mismatch. Whether that’s over the middle running the seam or winning at the red line. It’s an absolute must for 2015.

Nobody should expect Dez Bryant or Demaryius Thomas to hit the open market. It’s also unlikely Julius Thomas and Jordan Camerson reach free agency (the franchise tag at TE is favorable, Cleveland also has millions in free cap space). It could leave the Seahawks in a bit of a situation. Either make another trade or turn to the draft.

There aren’t many 2015 eligible receivers with size. Amari Cooper is 6-1. Kevin White is listed at 6-3 but on tape looks like a solid 6-2. Devante Parker is 6-2, Rashad Greene 5-11 and Jaelen Strong looks 6-2 as well. The Seahawks don’t need 6-2. They need bigger.

Devin Funchess is 6-4/6-5 and about 235lbs. He’s played tight end and receiver. He could be an option based on pure physical potential. He’s inconsistent on the field, however. So was Eric Ebron and he ended up in the top ten. There’s every chance Funchess will go earlier than people expect if he tests well at the combine. Dorial Green-Beckham (6-5, 225lbs) could turn pro without playing a snap at Oklahoma — but you have to wonder how much interest he’d generate in the modern NFL given his background at Missouri (including domestic abuse).

As you can see the options aren’t great. I don’t necessarily expect the Seahawks to spend their highest pick on a receiver for the third year in a row (Harvin ’13, Richardson ’14). If they do wait until later, Duke’s Issac Blakeney could be one to monitor.

He’s 6-6 and 220lbs and has room to add more muscle without suffering any consequences in terms of speed. He’s very raw technically — he doesn’t high point the football and has a tendency to body catch. He doesn’t set up his routes particularly well and gets himself into awkward positions, creating difficult catching angles. He’s not a plug in and play receiver — which is kind of what Seattle needs. But they can’t force the situation and if it means playing the slow game with a guy like Blakeney — what choice do they have?

It’s no real surprise he’s raw. Duke spent years trying to work out his best position. He started at defensive end before spending time at safety. He then moved to offense and played tight end and slot receiver. It took four years — his entire time in college — to work out he’s best as an outside receiver. That’s a lot of wasted snaps and development.

The plus side is he’s incredibly difficult to cover. Look at the touchdown in the second video vs Syracuse and fast forward to 2:37. The quarterback loops one up for grabs in a 1v1 situation. The cornerback does a good job in coverage — he’s water tight on the receiver. And still Blakeney goes up and gets the football, destroying the corner and walking in for a touchdown. Seattle needs a guy who can make a play like that.

He appears to have long arms and he’s lean — he’ll have a fantastic catching radius. He looks like he could run in the late 4.5’s and if not — he’s a solid 4.6. He has enough speed to get downfield (see 1:46 in the Troy video). He’s not going to be a high pick but he’s a decent project. He’s also a well-spoken, intelligent player. Devante Parker and Devin Funchess are awkward during interviews, particularly Parker. There’s a temptation to read too much into stuff like this, but the Seahawks favor sparky, competitive players. They don’t mind outspoken. There are very few shy and retiring members of Seattle’s roster. Blakeney could be an option for the Seahawks.

You can watch Blakeney & Duke vs North Carolina on Thursday night.

 

Melvin Gordon tape vs Nebraska & more on Marshawn’s future

November 17th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

This could be the future of Seattle’s offense. Or maybe not. It depends what you want to believe.

The whole ‘Marshawn Lynch could be released’ dynamic still confuses me. Chris Mortensen and Ian Rapoport aren’t just random journalists trying to make a name here. The chances are there’s a fire at the heart of all this billowing smoke. Nobody’s reported the opposite have they? Nobody’s denying anything.

Pete Carroll spoke about his relationship with Lynch on Brock and Salk this morning. He was candid. He essentially admitted there was an issue relating to his contract and the hold out this year. Take a listen yourself:

It was a rare moment where Carroll let his media guard down. Not in a bad way. He’s adept at the ‘saying a lot without really saying anything’ approach all good coaches master. This was the real deal. As close to an admittance of some tension as you were going to get. And even then he made a point to add they’ll do their best to work through it this year.

But what about next year? That’s the key. There was certainly no denial here. No insistence that Lynch isn’t going anywhere. And considering he’s under contract for 2015 and still a fantastic and productive feature for the offense — it was an easy thing to say. “He isn’t going anywhere”. That reassurance never came.

So we go on wondering what the future holds. The reality is you better savor every one of those two yards runs that end up going for six or seven. You better enjoy those formal handshakes with the offensive line in the end zone. You better live through these six games because after that Beast Mode might be “all about that action” elsewhere.

It’s still unthinkable right now, especially with the way he’s playing. You hope there’s a way to make this work. Surely there has to be? Why would you cut your best offensive player, creating an extra hole that’d need to be filled? Yet we’re forced to dwell on this possibility every week because it keeps racing back into our lives — usually in the form of a national media report hours before the latest game.

As we’ve said on more than one occasion now (and I appreciate it’s stating the obvious) — replacing him won’t be easy. You’re making up for more than just the loss of a top, elite running back. You either need to put another really effective back in his place, or you need to bolster that passing game and bring in 2-3 players to compensate.

Hey — they might need 2-3 players anyway. It’d be foolish to expect Russell Wilson to perform miracles with a new contract worth around $20m a year. He’s lost Golden Tate, Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice this year. Throw the loss of Zach Miller into the equation too. He needs more at the receiver and tight end position. The Seahawks need to get back to winning the red line and challenging their receivers to make plays. For that they need the bigger bodies, they need a vertical threat too. They have to hope Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood develop — they also have to find more options in the draft or free agency.

Even after some surgery to the passing game, you’d be left needing to restore the balance and maintain your running identity. And that’s why Melvin Gordon remains a distinct possibility for the Seahawks in round one. At USC Carroll used a committee approach filled with 5-star recruits at running back. In Seattle, you get the sense they’ll only ever be as good as their top running back on offense.

I think this probably becomes a one-horse race in that regard. Todd Gurley is a fantastic player but an ACL injury this late in the season will almost certainly mean no combine or sufficient work out pre-draft. He could sneak into the back end of round one but it’d be a good team taking a gamble. After a couple of so-so drafts and the botched Harvin trade, I’m not sure the Seahawks can afford to start taking first round risks on an injured running back.

I pondered Gordon’s stock last night and still feel, even despite Gurley’s injury, a grade in the 16-32 range is fair. It’s a deep class and teams won’t feel totally pressured to go big at the position early (unless they’re trying to replace Marshawn Lynch, of course). It’s not beyond the realms of possibility Seattle ends up picking in the late teens — even if we hope it’s much later. That would put them in a good position to target Gordon.

The video above shows his record breaking 408-yard performance against Nebraska. As you can see, he’s a very different back to Lynch. He’s a lot closer to Jamaal Charles in style. There’s no dragging a defender an extra yard or two or a punishing stiff arm to extend a run. That has been Seattle’s staple for four seasons. Gordon will not replicate that wherever he lands in the NFL.

However, find him a lane and he’ll explode through it. Seattle has gone out of its way to draft run blocking offensive linemen. They’re good at it too. You can imagine Gordon playing for the Seahawks and having a lot of runs in the 0-2 yard range before breaking off a 40-yarder. He’d be a home run hitter and a chunk play specialist. He wouldn’t be a punishing inside runner. It would be a very different offense. But different doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.

It’s still early and this topic doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. Have a look at Gordon vs Nebraska for yourself and let me know what you think in the comments section.

 

Instant reaction: 6-4 Seahawks face a struggle after defeat in KC

November 16th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Russell Wilson and the offense couldn’t finish on a day Seattle’s defense struggled

This was a typical Seattle loss. A couple of units didn’t play great (defense, special teams). It felt like a long day after Kansas City’s long opening drive for a score. And yet at the end of the fourth quarter there they are with a chance to win the game.

They’ve lost four times this year all by single digits, three on the road. Three of those teams have winning records. The team that doesn’t, St. Louis, beat Denver today. It’s a tough break, but the Seahawks are 6-4 after this latest heart-breaker.

So often since 2012 they’ve found a way to win in these situations. Now they’re in a hole. The margin for error is almost non existent the rest of the way. What’s left: Arizona (H), San Francisco (A), Philadelphia (A), San Francisco (H), Arizona (A), St. Louis (H).

Look at that schedule. If they want to make the post-season, they’re probably going to have to win at least one — maybe two — of those road games. They’d also need a clean sweep at home.

The NFC West might be gone already unless the Cardinals suffer some sort of unlikely collapse. The 49ers won’t go away either. They’re up to 6-4 with two key road wins in New Orleans and New York.

It’s going to take a heck of a rally to make the playoffs with that run in. The Seahawks couldn’t defend the run today and every single one of those remaining opponents run the ball particularly well.

Right now 9-7 doesn’t seem unlikely — and it’s unlikely to be enough. It also wouldn’t be overly surprising. This isn’t a bad team, but it’s a team that’s had to deal with avoidable drama (Percy Harvin), injuries to key personnel and a drop in defensive talent. None of these are ingredients for a Super Bowl run. The good news is they’re good enough to bounce back. The bad news is — it might take an off-season to re-load.

Thoughts on the game

You could look at this two ways. On the one hand, even an average defensive performance could’ve won the day for Seattle. The Seahawks moved the ball efficiently, but Kansas City were like a hot knife through butter attacking a weak defensive front.

And yet on offense they get a 1st and goal with a chance to go ahead. The result? Zero points. They get the ball back at midfield and fail to convert on 4th and 1 to extend what could’ve been a game-winning drive. Again, zero points.

So while the defense and special teams will concern people the most after today — the offense missed two great opportunities late on to finish.

The most frustrating thing is how one-dimensional Kansas City were. Alex Smith was a passenger in this game. He was akin to a postal worker delivering a ball-shaped package to Jamaal Charles. It’s rare to see a team fall back on one element so prolifically against Seattle. Smith went 11/16 for a mere 108 yards. He was never pressured, never broke sweat apart from a slightly nervy possession on the Chiefs one-yard line. He wasn’t sacked and he didn’t take a single QB hit. Charles on the other hand ran against a defense that knew what was coming — and still put up 159 yards on 20 carries.

He’s an exceptional talent, no doubt. But the Seahawks had no answer. Most of his best runs included missed tackles. It seemed like the Chiefs had an easy seven yards on every first down. They were barely ever in third and long. The Seahawks never forced Smith, Charles or anyone on the Chiefs offense into a truly uncomfortable position.

The defense also forced two key turnovers and had two more key stops to give the offense a late chance. So it wasn’t all bad. But when it mattered, Seattle couldn’t make that game winning play — whether it was having an answer on defense after going up 20-17 or finishing one of their fourth quarter drives to re-take the lead.

Adding to a frustrating day was this tweet before the game:

Ian Rapoport continues to insist Seattle will move on from Marshawn Lynch in the off-season. Today was another day where you just have to ask, “Why?”

How can they not make this work for at least another year? Lynch was terrific again today. Even on a bounce-back day for Russell Wilson, he remains the key weapon on offense. His departure will create a huge avoidable hole that’ll need to be filled. Rapoport also continues to hint at big interest in Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon. Spending a first round pick to replace your best offensive player when you have other big needs just seems, well, backwards.

Are the Seahawks even going to be in range for Gordon?

With Gurley out with an ACL, we can only guess where he’s going to go in the draft. Gordon’s stock might be on the rise after a record-breaking display yesterday (running for 408 yards) and Gurley’s agonizing injury.

More than anything Seattle has issues up front on defense. They lack depth and quality. They also badly need a big target for Russell Wilson. And yet there’s this idea that replacing Marshawn Lynch is actually going to be a thing.

Again, why?

Although it’s curious that Lynch didn’t head into the locker room at half time, choosing instead to stay outside in the cold. Pete Carroll was asked about it afterwards. Lynch, apparently, felt it was better to stay outside. Are we speculating too much to ponder whether there’s more to this?

There’s no way a team’s run defense should collapse in such a dramatic fashion minus one player. That happened today. Brandon Mebane is great — but his loss is emphasized by the lack of talent around him. Kevin Williams and Tony McDaniel, after a bright start to the season, just look decidedly average. Jordan Hill has never really got going in the pro’s. And beyond that…?

Kansas City didn’t have to work for their points today. It was Nebraska-esque (see: Gordon’s record breaking day yesterday).

A big part of it was a lack of quality and depth up front. It was also down to bad tackling and botched assignments. The linebackers struggled to read the Chiefs all day — Malcolm Smith appeared lost on several plays and ultimately out of position. K.J. Wright didn’t look comfortable after moving inside to replace the injured Brock Coyle (replacing the injured Bobby Wagner). Bruce Irvin didn’t have his usual ‘big play’ and also had a couple of key missed tackles.

Yet it’s much harder for a group of linebackers to make even basic plays when the defensive line is getting pushed around to the extent we saw today.

It was costly on a day Seattle’s offense moved the ball.

You couldn’t call it a flawless offensive performance, however. We touched on their inability to “finish”. At 24-20 in the red zone Seattle ran Lynch twice but also had two throws to Doug Baldwin including a fade on fourth down. It’s easy to say in hindsight, but a fade to a 5-10 receiver? It just didn’t play to the strengths of this team. It’s a low percentage play given the personnel on Seattle’s roster. And yet the big run up the middle on 4th and 1 moments later had ultimately the same result.

There were two big red zone plays that impacted the game. Jermaine Kearse also dropped a touchdown pass that would’ve given the Seahawks a 17-13 lead at half time. Seattle missed out on eleven points.

Justin Britt is struggling at right tackle. On one play today he failed to even lay a finger on Tamba Hali, who duly sacked Wilson on a 3rd and 8. The rest of the offensive line played well overall. You can forgive a few rookie errors, but Britt needs help on his side. Max Unger left the game with an ankle injury and could be done for the year. That would be a titanic blow.

Almost every week we hear about the impressive rookie class of wide receivers and the impact they’re having this season. Is it unfair to question why Seattle’s top pick in the 2014 draft — a receiver — is struggling to have an impact? They had to yank Paul Richardson off kick-returns early in this game. He isn’t providing a needed deep threat. Is he offering any different dynamic to the group?

It’s too early to write him off but after watching Jarvis Landry, Davante Adams, Martavis Bryant, Donte Moncrief and John Brown — all players drafted after Richardson — is it time to wonder if Seattle either a.) made a mistake or b.) just doesn’t know how to make the most of his skill set? The fact he’s even on kick-off’s looks a little bit like a team trying to force a role on a young player.

Receivers usually need time to settle into a new offense (see: Golden Tate). But the fact is — those other rookies are having an impact. Seattle’s not so loaded at the position that there’s any reason to hold him back.

Let’s not forget, they traded down twice all while targeting Richardson. Jordan Matthews went between 40-45 (after Seattle’s second trade down) and he too has managed to make an impact. Richardson has 72 yards and zero touchdowns with six games to play. It’s not the offense either. In comparison, Doug Baldwin had 788 yards as a rookie and four touchdowns.

The Seahawks look like a team that needs another receiver. And that’s frustrating after spending a second round pick this year, plus a first and third pick on the Harvin trade. It’s right up there with the needs on the defensive line. Why are they considering moving Marshawn Lynch again…?

 

Melvin Gordon runs for new FBS record

November 15th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Melvin Gordon ran for 408 yards against Nebraska

Stand by for some serious media love for Melvin Gordon this week. The Wisconsin running back ran for a ridiculous 408 yards today against Nebraska — breaking LaDainian Tomlinson’s 1999 record for most in a single game. He also added four touchdowns.

It’d be wrong not to acknowledge the achievement. Gordon was typically graceful racing away from defenders. He had success on the Jet Sweep and standard running plays to both sides of the field. This was a career day in every sense. An exclamation point on his pro-potential and candidacy for the Heisman.

Here’s some perspective though — this was a truly horrendous display by Nebraska. I’m not sure I’ve seen a worse defensive effort. Gordon topped 250 yards by half time and still there was no answer. If he’d played the full game he would’ve gone beyond 500 — no doubt at all. He was barely touched all day.

Gordon Melvin would’ve had a crafty 150 yards today. Melvin Gordon probably could’ve moonwalked through some of those running lanes and still won the game for his team. Wisconsin lined up, blocked efficiently and time and time again Gordon had massive holes to exploit. And Nebraska sat and watched it happen. No counter. No attempt to address the glaring problem. They tackled poorly, they watched him find the edge time and time again. He topped 400 yards on just 25 carries with 16.3 yards per run. If you’re going to do that, you need a bit of help from the defense.

If this game is the catalyst for Gordon to win the Heisman (and it probably shouldn’t be given Wisconsin’s powder-puff schedule), he might as well invite the Huskers D-line to help write his acceptance speech.

Putting all that aside, there is an awful lot to like about his potential. He’s such a fluid runner and a fantastic running back. Get him into the second level and he’ll turn on the jets and explode. He’s adept at finding the edge and turning the corner. He anticipates well, he has a terrific burst. He’s a true home run hitter. He surely has a more significant role in the passing game to look forward to at the next level.

He’s added muscle over the last year and looks capable of working into a pro-lifestyle. There are some slight concerns about his ability to run through tackles. In this game he had a sloppy fumble on a basic inside run. He’s not a pound it up the middle type who makes yards after contact. He’s a little bit like C.J. Spiller in that regard — a gazelle-like sprinter who’s at his best working in space (he appears to be more durable than Spiller). That’s not to say it’s a perfect comparison — he’s not a 4.2 runner but he’s perhaps a more rounded overall prospect.

In terms of his draft stock — Spiller went in the top ten in 2010. You could easily see Gordon going earlier than people think — it only takes one team. And yet a decent running back class and possible doubts about his between-the-tackles running could lead to a consensus grade in the pick 16-32 range.

Seattle has a very good run-blocking line. Some of the holes they created against New York last week would be a dream for Gordon. But it’d be some transition to go from Marshawn Lynch to Gordon. Pete Carroll complimented Jamaal Charles going into the Kansas City game but admitted he was at the other end of the spectrum to Lynch.

It’d be a sea-change for the Seahawks if they drafted Melvin Gordon to replace Beast Mode.

He’s an exciting talent though — the type you could imagine John Schneider falling for.

Staying with running backs — Ameer Abdullah had another tough day in this game. He’s still not 100% but a lack of size is really showing. Neither is he an electric speed demon — he’s a patient runner who needs time. He fumbled twice in this game (one was overturned with some degree of fortune). For me he’s a limited pro-prospect and more of a complimentary piece.

The best 2015 eligible running back after Gordon and Todd Gurley could be Indiana’s Tevin Coleman. He also had a big day today — recording 307 rushing yards in a loss to Rutgers. Keep an eye on this guy. Speed, size and patience. He’s a great competitor. He has a future at the next level.

Gurley also made his return from suspension today for Georgia against Auburn.

 

Seahawks face crucial weekend in Kansas City

November 14th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Russell Wilson won the starting job for Seattle during his last visit to Kansas City

If you care about your teams perception in the media, this is a vital game for the Seahawks.

There’s no point denying you care. Most people do. Including players. Dare I say including some coaches. Everyone wants respect. Fans in Seattle craved it for years and received it after the Super Bowl. They also saw what it leads to — the drama surrounding Percy Harvin, Marshawn Lynch and the bizarre links to Russell Wilson are great examples of unwanted attention.

It’s fair to say the current three-game winning streak hasn’t captured the nations imagination. Scraping past the winless Raiders at home, running all over a fading Giants team and pinching a victory from the slumping Panthers hasn’t got people excited about the Seahawks again.

At the start of the season people were tweeting “game over” when Seattle scored their first points. It was a little cringe-inducing, especially during the Oakland pre-season game and the San Diego loss in week two. The Seahawks weren’t invincible last year and they certainly aren’t this year. The Super Bowl beat-down of Denver raised expectations in the media. Expectations that were never going to be met.

Beat Kansas City on the road and people will sit up and take notice. And I think a lot of fans are ready for Seattle to be ‘noticed’ and ‘respected’ again. The Chiefs are a funny team — capable of destroying the Patriots and losing at home to the Titans. The perception is, however, that they’re a good solid team. They run the ball well, they rush the passer. They have a high-profile coach and they’ve won games since Andy Reid arrived in KC. If you want your Seahawks to get some respect, they need to win this game and make a statement.

Of course all of that is trivial in the ultimate goal. Winning is of great importance in an intriguing NFC West title race. With Arizona travelling to Seattle in week 12 — the Seahawks could actually share first place with a win in that game. It’s possible. The Cardinals, minus Carson Palmer, face a romping Detroit team this weekend. A Seahawks/Lions double sets up a battle for top spot at Century Link.

The 49ers also linger in the background after a dramatic victory in New Orleans last week. They go to the Giants in a game that could go pretty much either way considering how each team has played this year. If the Niners win and the Seahawks lose in Kansas City, Seattle drops back into third place in the division.

Every win counts.

The Seahawks are playing catch-up after the sloppy defeats to Dallas and St. Louis. In a wildly competitive division and conference they need to keep winning.

The Chiefs are a decidedly efficient football team. They excel in the red zone and on third down. They’re organised and don’t concede too many penalties. They have a good special teams unit. They lack explosive plays in the passing game — but when they get into a rhythm they’re tough to stop. Seattle had good and bad days against quarterback Alex Smith during his years in San Francisco. Rocky Bernard’s flattening of Smith lingers long in the memory bank. And yet he also did enough to beat a blossoming 2011 Seahawks team at Century Link. The 2012 encounter at Candlestick — the last meeting between Smith and Seattle — ended in a ‘death by dump off’ second half that felt like Chinese water torture to observe.

We might see more of this on Sunday. Smith hasn’t thrown a single touchdown pass to any of his receivers this year. He’s also without Anthony Fasano and Donnie Avery — meaning Travis Kelce is his best target (an inconsistent yet threatening mobile TE). Without a doubt KC’s best weapon is Jamaal Charles. In that 2012 Seattle/San Francisco game, Smith used the running back and full back on underneath/shorter throws to chip away with some success. Philip Rivers followed a similar path in week two.

If he gets into a rhythm it could be a long day. Smith has always been a frustrating player to watch. If he’s on-song against your team you get that ‘slow death’ feeling as he dinks and dunks his way to victory. Take that away and make him play from behind and he’ll frustrate his own fans in equal measure. He’s underrated as a mobile and elusive QB — but he’s never been a big play artist who can drag a team back into a contest with downfield throws.

Kansas City has a terrific pass rushing defensive line and should do a better job containing Russell Wilson than the shambolic New York Giants. What will they do? Feign the rush to keep him breaking the edge? Rush to make him uncomfortable? Washington and New York have shown this year what’ll happen if you refuse to respect his ability to get into space on the outside.

Make no mistake this is a legit opponent. Their three defeats were somewhat agonizing — a head scratching opening day loss at home to the struggling Titans. They were then narrowly edged out on the road in Denver and San Francisco. They started the year 0-2 but have since won five out of six — including impressive wins in Miami (34-15), San Diego (23-20) and Buffalo (17-13). They thumped New England (41-14) and St. Louis (34-7) at home.

The three defeats all carry a theme — poor stats for Smith. Here’s the numbers: 61/107 passing (57%), two touchdowns, four interceptions and an average of 205 YPG. As good as they’ve been with third down’s this year — they completed 1/12 against the Titans. In all three games the Chiefs trailed in the fourth quarter — putting more pressure on Smith to move the offense.

Aside from managing a fierce pass rush, ensuring Marshawn Lynch gets his carries and doing a better job protecting the football — Seattle needs to test Smith’s ability to lead a comeback. If they let the Chiefs play ball control it’ll be a long, frustrating afternoon of Jamaal Charles running it and Alex Smith throwing dump offs to the tune of 250 yards. If they get a lead and can put Smith on the spot — it’s probably their best chance to win. That will not be easy.

Last time Seattle traveled to Kansas City (pre-season, 2012), Wilson won the starting quarterback job with a virtuoso display. He might not need such an emphatic showing on Sunday — but he’ll need to make some plays. The Chiefs haven’t given up a single rushing touchdown all year. It’s no fluke. And while a heavy dose of ‘Beast Mode’ will be on the agenda, Wilson is going to need to rejuvenate his season after two rough outings.