Archive for September, 2012

Instant reaction: Seahawks lose, need a passing game

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

Anyone remember what you felt like after the opening drive?

I’m struggling to think of a recent Seahawks performance quite as messy as this. There were games in the Mora era where the Seahawks just flat out bailed after going behind early, and there were some heavy defeats in the early Carroll days. This is much more frustrating. The team should be beyond the kind of basic errors we saw today. The Rams didn’t score an offensive touchdown, relied on long-range field goals and surrendered a big touchdown drive to start the game. And they still won comfortably.

This is a defensive unit that consistently flirts with elite status. Man for man, it’s a group that matches up to any in the league. So why can’t they defend third and long? Time and time again, drives against the Cowboys and Rams have been extended after the opponent reached 3rd and 10 or greater. It’s a complete head scratcher. Without going through each play today or against Dallas, it’s hard to work out what the problem is. It’s not an issue defending the screen, something we saw regularly in 201 to extend drives on third and long. It isn’t a draw play or underneath throw that is gashing the team. It appears to be pretty basic – Bradford/Romo dropped back and found open receivers in man-to-man coverage. Are the Seahawks using extra guys in the secondary? You presume so. What’s happening here? If the defense is going to live up to rising expectations, they have to get it done on third and long.

Penalties are killing the Seahawks. The coaches’ stress discipline so much, so why is this continuing to happen? Breno Giacomini is a walking 15-yard penalty. It seems like certain players are taking risks pretty much on every drive, chipping after the whistle or making unnecessary moves towards an opponent. The false start issues didn’t re-appear today but they were replaced by a few other costly flags. The message isn’t getting through here. Some are blaming the coaches, but they preach it so much. Eventually the players are just going to have to engage their brains or take a seat on the sidelines. It’s far too costly and Seattle remains one of the most penalised teams in the NFL.

I’m not going to blame Russell Wilson too much for this defeat. There is a ‘but…’ however. Of the three interceptions he had, one pass should’ve been caught by a receiver and a tight end tripped up leading to another. The other pick came on a cornerback blitz that he really should’ve done a better job handling. Janoris Jenkins moved inside and left a receiver open to the left, but Wilson checked to two options on the right, was hit by Jenkins and the ball was picked. React, get the ball to the left quickly and take what’s on offer. The concern I have with Wilson is a pretty big one. In four starts so far he has really struggled to sit in the pocket and make plays. On the penultimate drive he had pretty good protection on third down, but still panicked too quickly and left the pocket. He was sacked scrambling around trying to find space to throw.

Time and time again he’s leaving the pocket too quickly. If Wilson is ever going to make it as a long term starter, he has to be able to sit in the pocket and make reads. Right now he simply isn’t doing that. I’m not sure whether replacing him is the answer because you might end up switching one issue for another. For every play Wilson gets panicky and leaves the pocket, there’s a play where his superior mobility is a factor. It’s harsh to judge a rookie too early but I think we’re moving into the territory now where we don’t assume Wilson is the answer. For me, the Seahawks have made their bed and need to keep rolling with the guy and hope he improves. But for the first time this season the thought of going back to scouting quarterbacks crossed my mind.

Play calling is still a frustrating issue. Seattle ran the ball well all day and with the score at 16-13 were in the red zone at 3rd and 2. They called a QB draw. If you’re going to run, then run with Marshawn Lynch. If you’re going to throw, then throw the ball. Calling a QB draw was beyond getting cute. It reminded me of the option play on Monday against Green Bay (also on third down). Why get so intricate like that? It’s not a trick play, it’s not just solid football and let them stop you. I don’t understand either call.

On the whole the Seahawks are playing a brand of football that basically compensates for a total lack of a passing game. When the defense, special teams and run game click – they look like a very good team. Yet if one area doesn’t quite have a great day, another unit has to compensate to make up for it. The passing game cannot do that yet. What’s more, they don’t score cheap points. Getting a touchdown seems like a chore for this team – the red zone a place of dread. The passing game needs a complete overhaul and review in the off-season – it cannot be a complimentary piece. By all means create a dominating ground game – but it cannot be your entire identity. Balance must be found.

In 2010, Matt Hasselbeck had only 12 touchdowns and ranked way down the list for QB rating. He had 17 turnovers. Taravaris Jackson had just 14 touchdowns, 13 picks and again was way down the list for QB rating. Russell Wilson appears set to make it an unwelcome hat-trick of bad production for the position.

The Seahawks are a fortunate 2-2 but look more like the 1-3 team they probably should be. This could be a frustrating year overall, with some annoying defeats like this one and some equally tense victories down the road. But it still looks like a team that is going to be around eight wins. Maybe they go 7-9 again, maybe they edge to a winning record at 9-7? Everyone can see that the team is improving in certain areas, but if it’s going to break from mediocrity and become a contender the Seattle Seahawks need a passing game. The front office has to make it as much of a priority as the running game, offensive line, pass rush and secondary – all areas that have improved since the Pete Carroll era began.

List of priorities for the off season:

1. Passing game

End.

Anyone see a defense? Week five review

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

This guy is playing pretty well right now...

Two games kind of stand out this weekend. Firstly, Baylor’s defense did a great job boosting Geno Smith’s Heisman campaign. Then Georgia and Tennessee, perhaps inspired by the efforts of WVU and BU, decided they’d give the defense a weekend off too.

Geno Smith gaining momentum

No prizes for guessing who’s the Heisman front-runner at this stage. Geno Smith scored eight passing touchdowns against Baylor, recorded 656 yards, completed 45 passes and even added 31 yards rushing. After four games he has 21 total touchdowns and zero turnovers. Tougher games are on the horizon and he’s going to have to avoid the occasional off-day he experienced last year (see: Syracuse) but there’s no doubting he’s a talented quarterback with pro-potential. His deep accuracy has always been pretty good and he’s above average in most of the key areas – arm strength, athleticism, accuracy and field IQ. He does everything pretty well and when you look at him physically, you wonder if he’s only scratching the surface of his potential. Realistically he could improve his upper body strength without getting too big to improve his throwing velocity even further.

In terms of the draft, perhaps the most important thing isn’t so much how well Smith is playing – but the way other quarterbacks aren’t. Matt Barkley hasn’t been at his best in the last two weeks. Tyler Wilson’s season is imploding at Arkansas. Logan Thomas lost again today and won’t declare. Aaron Murray looks sharp but lacks the physical tools to make him a top pick. Right now Smith is the only guy with any momentum. Teams will realise he’s playing in a prolific scheme, but it’s the same scheme that pushed soon-to-be 29-year-old quarterback Brandon Weeden into the first round. If he can keep winning and keep up the production, Smith will be in contention to be the first quarterback off the board.

Of course, it helps having a pair of talented wide outs. Tavon Austin again looked spectacular – recording 14 catches and 215 yards plus a couple of scores. In the last two games he has 27 catches, five touchdowns and 394 yards. Austin could be Smith’s answer to Kendall Wright and certainly the RGIII-to-Wright connection helped both players in the 2012 draft. For all Austin’s lack of size, he’s an electric playmaker. Don’t sleep on the other WVU wide-out Stedman Bailey. He also lacks size at around 5-10, but it’s hard to ignore a 13-catch, 303 yard performance including five touchdowns. Crazy numbers.

And while we’re talking about receivers, let’s also touch on Terrance Williams at Baylor. We highlighted him over the summer and he’s started the year well – culminating in an even better yardage display than Bailey this afternoon. He had 17 catches against WVU, 314 yards and two touchdowns. He has 667 yards and six touchdowns in four games. There might not be a Julio Jones or A.J. Green among the 2013 receiving class, but there’s a fair amount of depth.

Georgia’s defense struggles, apart from one player

Alec Ogletree has missed games at Georgia for a variety of reasons. He missed a game in 2010 through suspension after being arrested and charged with misdemeanor theft stemming from an incident involving a stolen scooter helmet (OK….). He missed six games in 2011 with a broken foot. Georgia suspended him again this year for four games after he failed a drugs test. This is a guy with baggage. This is also a guy who can play the linebacker position very, very well.

On a night where defense was an afterthought, Ogletree stood out. More so than superstar pass rusher Jarvis Jones who was a non-factor, or the massive interior presence of Jonathan Jenkins. He led the team in tackles on the night and played a solid game without error. He also flashed great athleticism, charging from sideline-to-sideline and tipping a pass at full stretch into the hands of safety Damian Swann. The off-field concerns are a major red flag, especially for a guy who will likely be expected to make a lot of defensive calls at linebacker. Even so, it’s hard to ignore him when he plays like this. Put the guy in a good locker room and he’s going to be a great pro.

Jarvis Jones struggled to have an impact and it’ll raise concerns that others have voiced in the past. He’s had dominating games in his career, but rarely on the big occasions. When his team needed plays on defense he couldn’t avoid double teams or find a way to get involved. Tennessee has one of the best overall offensive lines in college football with legit pro-talent, but Jones still needs to flash in a game like this. He’ll have plenty of other opportunities in 2012 to prove this was just an off-night.

On the other side of the ball, Aaron Murray continues to impress. He had an interception on a tipped pass, but he looked assured apart from that. I particularly liked his decision making and execution shown in tough spots – at one stage he wanted to throw deep down the right but rejected it, moved inside and threw a dart into a tight window. The receiver didn’t get the pass but it was a perfect throw and decision. He’s not a bad athlete but he’s more mobile than athletic. He hasn’t got ideal physical attributes but he has plenty of zip when required, but he’s probably maxed out in that sense. Can he be effective at the next level? It’s something I’m still trying to work out, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

It was an odd night for Tennessee’s offense, lurching between elite and nightmarish equally. They ended the game with three Tyler Bray turnovers. Bray is a natural passer who looks really impressive at times, throwing bombs around the field. He’s got a bit of Brock Osweiler to his game with an awkward throwing motion and he’s tall and thin. He’s much more erratic than Osweiler, who actually had a good college career until the wheels came off at Arizona State. The best way to describe it is – he has the Jay Cutler disease. Natural passer, looks great on form – but he has moments in a game where he falls apart and he can’t get it back. Cutler, technically, has always been on a different level because Bray is slingy with his release, he gets into difficult throwing positions due to bad footwork and he too often steps backwards before throwing off-balance. He won’t get away with that when scouts watch the tape.

Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson showed the best and worst of his game on the night. In the first half he had a horrendous drop on a deep pass, beating his man and needing only to catch the ball for a long touchdown. The concentration dipped, he dropped the football and it was a huge error. Last week he practically disappeared from the Akron game after a mistake led to a pick-six, and the same almost happened again tonight. He had just two catches – both in the dying embers of the game – for 31 yards in safe coverage. And just when you’re ready to write the guy off as a possible high pick, he runs a reverse to the house for a 46 yard touchdown. He’s an extreme playmaker with the ball in his hands, physically he’s superior to any other 2013 eligible receiver. And yet you still feel he’s a long way away from being an effective pro. He’s not a mature guy and maybe that has an impact on the little mental mistakes? Even so, he has incredible potential. He’s just a risky project.

It wasn’t a good night for Justin Hunter, who was ignored for most of the game. He ended with three catches for 46 yards. Tonight’s showing won’t convince anyone he’s back to 100% after recovering from a serious knee injury.

Elsewhere…

We highlighted Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson this week – and he was at it again today. He had nine tackles, forced a fumble and recorded a sack against Central Florida. He’s a classic three technique prospect and will be rising up a lot of draft boards. One to definitely watch for the Seahawks.

Logan Thomas struggled again and almost certainly won’t declare for 2013. The Virginia Tech quarterback had two picks, two total touchdowns and 242 passing yards completing 17/30. But most importantly, he couldn’t lead a talented VT team past Cincinnati and it’s now two recent defeats to opponents he should be beating. One of the big disappointments of 2012 so far.

Clemson receiver DeAndre Hopkins did his best to keep up with some of the crazy numbers today. He caught 11 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown as the Tigers won 45-31 at Boston College. Running back Andre Ellington had 25 carries for 131 yards and a score.

Keenan Allen is still suffering with middling quarterback play at California. He had a big 44 yard pass play in defeat to Arizona State, but he ended with just four catches for 79 yards and a touchdown. The combine will determine his draft fate.

Tyler Wilson won’t be sending a Christmas card to Bobby Petrino this year. Arkansas is a complete shambles – the latest example a 58-10 defeat to Texas A&M. Wilson threw two bad picks and finished with 29/59 passing, 373 yards and a score. On the plus side, Knile Davis looked sharp on the touchdown pass, sprinting through tackles and looking somewhere back to his best. Unfortunately he also fumbled twice. Receiver Cobi Hamilton kept up his good form with 11 catches for 162 yards. Aggies defensive end Damontre Moore looked superb – he was a terror off the edge in the parts of the game I saw, forcing a fumble that was returned for a touchdown and getting a sack. I want to see more of this guy because he has first round potential.

North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams had another sack in a blow-out victory over Idaho. He now has 4.5 sacks in five games. He’s an older guy due to his JUCO roots, but he’s still one to watch. Underrated.

I’ll be watching Ole Miss vs Alabama on Sunday, prior to Seattle’s game at St. Louis.

Week 5 CFB open thread

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

If you’re watching a game or a prospect this weekend… let us know about it.

Week 5 preview & Georgia prospect tape

Friday, September 28th, 2012

Aaron Murray is probably Russell Wilson's biggest fan this year

I’m going to start creating an open thread each Saturday so if you’re watching a game or a prospect and want to throw some thoughts down – please do. I’ll be watching two games this week:

Tennessee at Georgia

The Bulldogs are intense this year and determined to have an impact in the SEC. They feel it’s their time. The defense is filled with NFL talent and Aaron Murray is putting together a solid Heisman campaign. It’s another opportunity for Jarvis Jones (DE, LB) to show what he can do as a pass rusher and playmaker – Jones could be the top 2013 eligible player at any position and the #1 pick next year. Jonathan Jenkins has tremendous potential as a nose tackle and he’s well supported by the underrated Abry Jones on the defensive line. Linebacker Alec Ogletree hasn’t received much hype after missing the start of the season, but he’s also a NFL talent. Defensive backs Shawn Williams and Baccari Rambo are also worth watching.

Aaron Murray is really hoping Russell Wilson blossoms as a starter this year. At around 6-1 Murray is taller than Wilson but will suffer from the same level of scepticism. At times he looks like a fine prospect, dissecting a defense like a surgeon while also showing enough athletic ability to make plays outside of the pocket. Then there are other games where he struggles – badly. So far he’s had a very good 2012, but to get around a lack of ideal physical attributes he’s going to need guys like Wilson to step up. If he does, and if Murray continues to perform, he could be a first or second round pick. It’s still a big ‘if’ at this stage. Wilson isn’t just playing to prove critics wrong in Seattle, he’s playing to change the way people think about quarterbacks.

Tennessee’s best prospects are on offense and the passing game, so it’ll be good to see how they match up against the talented Georgia unit. Tyler Bray is a gun-slinger without ideal mechanics or footwork. Reports also say he’s not the most natural leader – and it’s hard to forget his first bowl game as a freshman, which included tears after mistakes and a bizarre throat-slitting celebration every time he scored a touchdown. He is a natural passer though and can only boost his stock by winning games like this. He can’t complain about the options he has at receiver. Despite losing Da’Rick Rogers (who is doing pretty well at Tennessee Tech, as it happens), he’s inherited Cordarrelle Patterson. Last week was a down week for Patterson, who did a bad job on a route leading to a pick six against Akron and his quarterback didn’t let him forget it. He’s too much of a talent to ignore in this one though, so expect Patterson to get a lot of looks. He’s big, fast, strong and a playmaker. He’ll play opposite Justin Hunter who is still looking pretty consistent after returning from a serious knee injury. He’s also perhaps the most complete receiver eligible for 2013.

Ole Miss at Alabama

This is probably going to be a very easy victory for the Crimson Tide – Ole Miss’ best draft prospect might be punter Tyler Campbell. Alabama has no such concerns. A.J. McCarron is an underrated quarterback who benefits from a dominating ground game anchored by brilliant guard prospect Chance Warmack and versatile center Barrett Jones. I don’t expect to learn much from this game, rather than sit back and simply enjoy watching the best college team dominate. Aside from the names mentioned, ‘Bama also has the best 2013 eligible cornerback in Dee Milliner, a solid defensive tackle in Jesse Williams and an athletic linebacker in C.J. Mosley. Watch the game, have a look at a handful of players who will be significant pro’s at the next level.

Seahawks scouting

According to Chris Steuber, the Seahawks will have representatives at this weekend’s Baylor vs West Virginia game. Could they be keeping tabs on Tavon Austin? He had 13 catches for WVU last weekend and three touchdowns. Steuber also reports Seattle will have guys at the Marshall vs Purdue game (Marshall – Aaron Dobson WR, Purdue – Kawann Short DT) and Oregon vs Washington State (Oregon – Dion Jordan DE, Washington State – Travis Long DE, Marquess Wilson WR).

Georgia tape

We’ve talked about some of the Georgia prospects above and I wanted to include some of the tape in this post. Below you’ll find Jarvis Jones and Aaron Murray vs Vanderbilt from last week. Thanks again to JMPasq for supplying the footage.

Why we cannot judge Seattle’s needs on offense

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

This is what a Seahawks receiver looks like after catching a football

Some interesting numbers from Advanced NFL Stats

- Sidney Rice, earning $8.2m in 2012, has been targeted 15 times in three games. That’s good enough for 58th in NFL receivers, behind Andrew Hawkins, Michael Jenkins and Dexter McCluster. Rice has caught eight of those passes, 40% of which are considered downfield attempts.

- Golden Tate is 7oth on the list with 11 targets but missed the opening game against Arizona. 55% of his targets have been downfield throws, second highest in the NFL.

- Braylon Edwards has nine targets with five catches. Not a single one of those targets was considered a downfield throw.

- Only two tight ends have seen less targets than Zach Miller and Anthony McCoy (both thrown at eight times). In comparison, Jeff Cumberland of the New York Jets has 15 targets.

- Russell Wilson has attempted 75 passes, less than every active quarterback in the NFL not named Kevin Kolb or John Skelton. The two Arizona quarterbacks combined have thrown nine more passes than Wilson.

- Only one running back has rushed more times than Marshawn Lynch – Houston Adrian Foster. Lynch (72 carries) and Foster (79 carries) are well clear of the chasing pack. Third most active running back – Doug Martin – has 63 carries. Maurice Jones-Drew is fourth with 59 carries.

Conclusion: How can we judge if this quarterback and group of receivers are good enough if the passing game is taking such an exaggerated back seat to the running game?

I ask this question only because people are either a.) saying Seattle’s greatest need is at receiver and b.) that it’s time for Matt Flynn to start at quarterback. I’ve made the point about receivers myself, but I’m starting to question it. How can we come to that conclusion on such little evidence? Likewise, I’m not sure what you expect to see from Flynn in such an unbalanced offense?

Let’s start with the receivers.

In 2009 Sidney Rice was 4th in the NFL for receiving yards and yards per game. Only Andre Johnson, Wes Welker and Miles Austin were ranked higher. Sure, the Vikings had the good version of Brett Favre that year. But Rice, when healthy, showed he can be a truly effective NFL receiver. He was a big-play threat too, with only Vincent Jackson and Robert Meachem earning a higher yards per target average. Nobody has ever questioned Rice’s quality, just his ability to stay healthy. Considering he’ll earn $9.7m in both 2013 and 2014, the team will need to feel he’s having a big enough impact to justify that salary. When he signed the deal, Pete Carroll and/or John Schneider clearly felt he could be a defining piece of the offense.

Zach Miller’s cap hit in 2012 is $7m and it’ll rise to a humongous $11m in 2013. By the end of the 2012 season Miller will have cost the Seahawks $10m. Another way of looking at it is $1m per three catches and zero touchdowns. He’s played 18 games, most of which he’s acted as a third offensive tackle. Before he moved to Seattle, he was Oakland’s top receiver by some distance in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Again, when he signed the deal, Pete Carroll and/or John Schneider clearly felt he could be a defining piece of the offense.

Golden Tate has cost Seattle just $2.06m in salary to date, with the final year of his rookie contract worth $880k in 2013. He also cost the Seahawks an important second round pick in the 2010 draft – Carroll and Schneider’s first with the team. Interesting fact – had the Seahawks not traded for Charlie Whitehurst, they would’ve had the opportunity to draft Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham or Aaron Hernandez. Even with the Whitehurst trade, they had a shot at Graham and Hernandez. Tate has so far produced five career touchdowns for the Seahawks, 13 less than Graham and Hernandez combined for in 2011 alone. Not that anyone expected Tate to produce similar numbers, but people perhaps expected more than they’ve seen so far. After all, he won the Biletnikoff Award at Notre Dame as the nations top college receiver and accumulated 25 receiving touchdowns in 2008 & 2009. The team lacked playmakers in 2010 and Seattle’s front office clearly believed Tate could change that.

The point I’m getting at here is, these guys have proven production. In the case of Rice and Miller, it’s proven NFL production. Throw in the promise of Doug Baldwin and Anthony McCoy and this should be a group that you feel comfortable with. Sure, there isn’t the superstar high draft pick who legitimises a unit by reputation alone. Yet there should be enough talent to at least form the basis of a decent passing offense. This isn’t the Cleveland Browns where finding legitimate receivers is beyond a crucial need. It’s just in Seattle, these guys aren’t getting a chance to really show what they can do.

I would argue it’s the same situation at quarterback. Robert Griffin III (+14), Ryan Tannehill (+27), Brandon Weeden (+40) and Andrew Luck (+47) all have more passing attempts than fellow rookie Russell Wilson. Pete Carroll has admitted he’s trying to limit turnovers at the moment and I believe him when he says it’d be the same situation for Matt Flynn. It’s not an individual issue at the quarterback position – it’s a scheme decision. It’s worth noting that Seattle has a better record than Griffin’s Redskins, Tannehill’s Dolphins, Weeden’s Browns and Luck’s Colts. Tannehill, Weeden and Luck have combined for 14 interceptions in three games. Griffin III and Wilson – the two quarterbacks with much less passing attempts – have combined for just two interceptions. Coincidence? Or smart coaching?

The team wants to run the ball and limit turnovers – there’s no secret there. They are very happy right now to play field position, great defense and hope for one or two big plays to compliment the run game. If the defense can hold a powerhouse offense like Green Bay to twelve points and a decent Cowboys outfit to seven, it might not be the worst plan in the world at home. Yet when Wilson has been challenged he’s looked very sharp. For all the little errors we’ve seen (to be expected from a rookie) we’ve also seen three glorious looking touchdown passes to Rice (Arizona), McCoy (Dallas) and Tate (Green Bay – and not THAT touchdown pass).

We look at the list of eligible 2013 receivers and wonder whether a guy like Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson or Keenan Allen could become a #1 target for Wilson – but what’s the point in making that investment if the team is throwing 15 passes at a guy earning $8.2m this year? We look at guys like Robert Woods and Tavon Austin and wonder if they could be the teams answer to Wes Welker or Percy Harvin, but are they going to have an impact if you’re not going to put the ball in their hands?

Perhaps a time will come in the future when they feel confident to allow Wilson to let it rip? Maybe that day will come soon, but this is a regime that has consistently delivered bad numbers at the quarterback position. In 2010 Matt Hasselbeck was 21st for passing yards but delivered an ugly looking 12-17 touchdown-to-interception ratio. His QB rating was only higher than the bad version of Brett Favre, Derek Anderson and Jimmy Clausen. In 2011 Tarvaris Jackson had just 14 touchdowns – as many as Colt McCoy and twelve less than Mark Sanchez. He had a QB rating worse than Kevin Kolb. Ryan Fitzpatrick had over 700 more passing yards than Jackson and more touchdowns, but he also turned it over many more times. More than anything, they wanted Jackson to secure the football – something Hasselbeck struggled to do in 2010.

Now Russell Wilson is near the bottom of the same lists. There are some positives because he’s not turning it over, but he’s also showing numbers that belittle all the pre-season hype that built up around the NFL – not just in Seattle. With good reason too – he was superb. It’s a bit like leaving a great car in the garage and then patting yourself on the back because it looks brand new. On the one hand, you have a perfectly unblemished motor vehicle. That’s cool. You’re not lying when you boast about it. But nobody ever sees you driving the thing, so people wonder ‘what’s the point’?

The whole situation is being masked by a 2-1 record right now and rightly fans should be satisfied with that. Maybe the Seahawks go into St. Louis and Carolina and out fight their opponents before returning to Seattle with a fantastic 4-1 record? Who the heck is going to complain then if Russell Wilson throws barely over 100 yards in each game?

Then there’s the other side of the coin. What if the Seahawks face a situation like the Arizona game? A closely fought contest on the road ending in defeat because when the game was on the line, they couldn’t throw the ball into the end zone? This could become more of an issue very quickly. In fact, had Seattle not been awarded a favorable decision on Monday, it would probably be the big talking point in the local media this week and not ‘that catch’.

An unbalanced offense is easy to accept while the team is winning. If that continues, nobody will question anything. Go ‘Hawks! But a risk-free strategy still carries an element of risk. I think back to Rice in 2009, or Tate at Notre Dame, or Wilson in pre-season and wonder… can we turn this on like a tap when needed? Are we making the most of some talented skill players? And can we properly judge them in this current form of a Seahawks offense? Right now I’m not sure how we can judge this quarterback or group of receivers. They’re still in the original packaging.

Sheldon Richardson (DT, Missouri) vs South Carolina

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

2013 could end up being ‘year of the defensive tackle’. Jonathan Jenkins (Georgia), Star Lotulelei (Utah), Sylvester Williams (North Carolina), Jonathan Hankins (Ohio State) and Kawann Short (Purdue) all look good enough to carry first round grades. Jesse Williams (Alabama) and Bennie Logan (LSU) could also get into the mix. And as the tape proves below, it’s time to put Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson on the list.

He’s smaller than some of the guys listed above. Jenkins is a pure nose tackle with superb athleticism for his size, while Williams and Hankins are both capable of playing the nose or acting as a pass rusher. Short and Lotulelei are more orthodox three-techniques and Richardson – at 6-2 and 290lbs – falls into that category. He’s got a bit of the Nick Fairley’s about him in terms of size/athleticism and he’s just as capable as a pass rusher. Perhaps the best example of what an athlete he is are the number of snaps he takes in coverage. Not many defensive tackles drop back, even to monitor screens and underneath routes.

There are some concerns – he’s a JUCO transfer with some reported baggage. He missed spring training this year through injury and teams will need to check out his shoulder as a consequence. He does have a quicker first step than any of the names above and perhaps his most impressive feature is his ability to finish. He’ll gain the advantage with initial burst, but he shifts up the gears to create pressure and execute. He’s very active and doesn’t give up on plays where he’s not directly involved. Richardson appears to do a decent job against the run although he’s more effective rushing the passer. Overall he has an impressive skill set for the three technique position.

The Seahawks could still use further interior help particularly in the form of a legit pass rusher alongside Brandon Mebane. However, as we’ve seen in the three games so far the teams greatest needs are on offense. Even so this is an area to keep an eye on with so many potential first round picks next April.

Corey Lemonier (DE, Auburn) vs LSU

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Instant reaction: Seahawks need to find balance on offense

Monday, September 24th, 2012

NFL fans should be embarrassed by what happened tonight. Sure, the Seahawks will take the win. Seattle is now 2-1 against the odds and with a bit of extra luck against a red-hot Arizona team they’d be unbeaten. The fact still remains – nobody can watch that replay and say the final play of the game tonight was anything but an interception. The league is a laughing stock this evening. That’s not taking anything away from the Seahawks who have endured a fair share of misfortune over the years, but they caught a break tonight.

It wasn’t just the final play either. The Packers’ touchdown drive was extended by a farcical pass interference call against the Seahawks. Likewise, Seattle’s penultimate drive benefited from an equally stupid flag. An ugly, messy, difficult game got the ending it deserved.

This is a Seahawks blog though and not an officiating blog, so let’s look at the team. The ending kind of masks a big issue facing the Seahawks. They clearly possess one of the league’s best defenses – it could even be #1 in the NFL. But they also possess one of the worst offenses and that has to be a big concern. It’s not about individuals either, it’s about a severe lack of balance.

The Green Bay Packers failed to score a point in the first half as Seattle sacked Aaron Rodgers eight times and shut down both the pass and the run. It was a massacre, like a home game against the Rams over the last few years. Completely one sided. Most other weeks it’d be the precursor to a comfortable and maybe even emphatic victory. But the Seahawks offense wasn’t playing ball.

At half time the Packers planned to slow down the pass rush by running the ball up the gut. Once they’d established the run, it afforded Rodgers more time and he got things moving. Throw in two no-huddle drives and momentum had shifted. The Seahawks needed to respond. It became a game where the Seahawks needed to keep up. They didn’t just fail, they failed in a big way.

I’m still trying to work out the play calling. Even with a bigger lead than 7-0, you can’t expect to beat the Packers by being ultra conservative. We know the Seahawks want to run the ball and make that the identity of the team. That’s fine, but you still need balance. Russell Wilson barely threw double digit passes going into the final quarter. You can’t do that against the Green Bay Packers with a slender lead. You can’t do that against most teams. Not unless your running back is on the path to a 200-yard game which he wasn’t. The Seahawks are essentially playing without a passing game at the moment. At best it’s a token gesture.

Do they not trust Russell Wilson as a rookie quarterback? Is it merely a misguided game plan? Whatever it is, they need to take a long look at what they’re doing on offense and try to establish a passing game of some form. Next time there won’t be a favorable refereeing decision to bail the team out. The game plan in the second half was almost as difficult to stomach as the replacement officials.

We try to look at needs on this blog because the people who visit want to talk about the draft and the future of the team. Seattle’s greatest need right now is to review the offense. By all means keep the run game at the heart of what you want to do – Marshawn Lynch had another great game today. But you have to be prepared to mix it up a bit, get creative, trust Russell Wilson and the playmakers on the team. How can we criticise the quarterback when he isn’t throwing the ball? How can we criticise the receivers when they aren’t involved? Why bother paying Sidney Rice and Zach Miller $13m this year if you’re not going to use them? Or Golden Tate… or Anthony McCoy…

And let’s not kid ourselves this isn’t a rare one off stumble. The offense stuttered mightily against Arizona and was poor in the first half against Dallas. The Cowboys were beaten into submission in the second half last week and they duly waved the white flag – but that won’t happen every week especially against the top teams. This is one of the most unbalanced offenses in the NFL, too heavily weighted towards the run. Time to take the training wheels off the passing game and use it.

This game will always be remembered for the referee’s. The most important thing Seattle will get out of it other than a notch in the win column, is to have a serious look at the offense before next Sunday. They need to if they’re going to max out their potential this season.

And Roger Goodell and the NFL owners need to sort their own mess out long before Sunday.

Note: For what it’s worth, this is the first argument I’ve seen made for justifying why the referee’s called it how they did.

A.J. McCarron deserves credit, stock up/down & T. Wilson tape

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron has enjoyed a strong start to 2012

Time to give McCarron his props

This is the time of year where several unbeaten college teams get vaulted into ‘national title’ contenders. Suddenly a few pundits wonder whether Notre Dame ‘are for real’ (they have no quarterback). Are Florida State good enough to mount a challenge? Every year these teams emerge, only to fall away. The question I always ask is – can these teams realistically take on Alabama? And the answer is usually no. In fact there’s probably only two teams I think are capable of that – SEC rival LSU and Oregon in the PAC-12. Even then Oregon might be a stretch given their inexperience at certain key positions, but they have enough speed and talent to make up for that.

So why are Alabama so consistently great? After all, they’ve seen big-time NFL stars come and go. This is the first year in a long time they haven’t featured a pending first round player at the skill positions. They lost a host of top-end defensive talent to the draft last April. Yet every year they come back for more.

The simple answer is they are the best coached team in college football. Nick Saban – love him or hate him – is the best in the business. They are organised, disciplined, committed and playing for each other. Saban constantly churns out elite defensive backs and a brilliant running game. He recruits in such a way that players are desperate to come and play for him. Winning helps, too.

This year they have a fine offensive line filled with experienced talent such as Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack. They have enough defensive line quality to create pressure and dominate up front. There’s also one other reason they’re doing so well and it’s about time this guy got some credit.

Quarterback A.J. McCarron isn’t going to be a top draft choice. Saban has found production from a string of solid, hard working quarterbacks who act as game managers and facilitate the run. John Parker Wilson and Greg McElroy weren’t very exciting to watch and lacked the physical tools to become a NFL starter, but it’s no surprise both have stuck in the league as backups. McCarron is a little bit different, a little better physically and a lot more dynamic. He’s still cut from the same cloth – he’s more facilitator than playmaker, but for me he has much more of a chance at playing time at the next level. Even if that isn’t the case – it’s about time he received some credit. He won a national title in his first year as a starter and so far in 2012 he has ten touchdowns and zero interceptions, 63% completions and a couple of blowout wins against Michigan and Arkansas.

He’s a junior and eligible for the 2013 draft, but he’s more likely to last the distance at Alabama and potentially record three national title’s. His supporting cast is good enough to do that. I’m not sure why he isn’t getting the credit he deserves – is it the personality, which is certainly more expressive than McElroy or Wilson? He’s still a ‘by the book’ type of guy and certainly on an intangible level teams will grade him highly. On a technical level he has average arm strength, but he goes through his progressions and makes very few mistakes. He’s economical, takes what he’s given and on a good team that can run the ball he’s going to offer some value. I’m not here to argue he’s a future first round pick but it’s time he got a bit more credit. He’s the glue holding Alabama’s excellent offense together and a key reason why the Crimson Tide make teams like Florida State bit-part players for the big game. Keep an eye on this guy.

Week four stock up

Tavon Autin (WR, West Virginia)

Explosive playmaker who recorded 13 catches, three touchdowns and 179 yards against Maryland on Saturday. If missing on Russell Wilson has taught me anything, it’s not to presume anything when a guy doesn’t have prototypical size. Austin is only 5-9 and 174lbs and that limits his stock – he’s not going to win many jump balls, he’ll face a lot more physicality at the next level and he won’t be able to out-run people in the same way. Even so, he’s a big-time playmaker. There’s no reason why teams won’t see a little DeSean Jackson in this guy and a team that needs a spark on offense might consider taking a shot. After all – Wes Welker is only 5-9 and 185lbs. Austin theoretically has more of an X-Factor and can be used in many different ways at the next level. At worst he’s a round two pick.

Corey Lemonier (DE, Auburn)

Lemonier has been nothing short of sensational so far this year. Like Austin, he’s not exactly a prototype at 6-4 and 246lbs. However, he has extreme speed off the edge and a knack of just making plays. He’s edgy and intense and the heart of the Tigers defense. He saved his best game so far for LSU and ended up with two sacks and numerous other splash plays. He has five total sacks for the year and appears set to give Jarvis Jones a run for his money as the SEC’s top pass rusher. Lemonier isn’t going to fit every scheme and 3-4 teams will have to weigh up whether he fits at OLB. He looks like a good fit at the LEO if the Seahawks wanted to make back-to-back first round picks at defensive end. The best thing is you feel he can get even better.

Justin Hunter (WR, Tennessee)

He was on the sliders list last week, but this weekend could end up being a defining moment for Hunter. Cordarrelle Patterson was partly responsible for a pick-six in the first quarter against Akron, and Tyler Bray seemed to avoid him for the rest of the half. Step forward Justin Hunter, who at times has played second fiddle to Patterson in the Vols passing game in 2012. He looked sharp in an eight-catch 115 yard performance that included a touchdown. If Bray is going to zone in on Hunter the rest of the way – and if both players can stay healthy – this can only be good for the receivers’ stock. He has the potential to be the top wide-out taken next April.

Week four stock down

Montee Ball (RB, Wisconsin)

It was a big surprise to see Ball return to Wisconsin this year, undoubtedly with the view of making up for last year’s gut-wrenching Rose Bowl defeat. The thing is – he’s a running back with tread on the tires. The chances of the Badgers surviving the departure of Russell Wilson were slim and they’re in the middle of a down-year. Ball had 33 rushing touchdowns last year but in 2012 has just three in four games. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry in 2010 and 2011, but has started this season averaging 3.9 yards per carry. As of today he has 661 college carries, which is already over 100 more than Trent Richardson had at Alabama. And to make matters worse, he picked up a head injury on Saturday and lost his first career fumble. I like Ball, but returning for a fourth year at Wisconsin is hurting his stock.

Matt Barkley (QB, USC)

Barkley ended the 2011 season with real momentum and the critics should go back and watch his performance vs Oregon before jumping on the negativity bandwagon. However, he hasn’t started this season particularly well. Against Syracuse he looked off the pace despite scoring six touchdowns and things got worse against Stanford and California. He has five interceptions already compared to seven for the entire season last year. Losing Matt Kalil to the draft and Khaled Holmes to injury hasn’t helped, but Barkley needs to prove he can excel without an ideal environment. If he’s drafted early next April, he cannot expect to immediately play in a fluid offense with a great offensive line. And while he’s undoubtedly talented, I just wonder if he’s destined to be a top-20 pick instead of the #1 pick.

Barkevious Mingo (DE, LSU)

At a generously listed 6-5 and 240lbs, Mingo relies on speed off the edge. He came into the year touted as a possible top-ten pick despite his size, but so far in 2012 he has zero sacks. That’s not the be-all and end-all, but he’s not really had much impact either. Consider that LSU has so far come up against the ‘might’ of North Texas, an over-matched Washington and struggling Auburn. Teams are zoning in on Mingo and he’s being taken out of games. This is helping Sam Montgomery, who is looking a lot sharper with less attention after a slow start to the year himself. If Mingo is going to live up to expectations he needs to start having more of an impact. Time is on his side.

Tyler Wilson game tape vs Rutgers

Arkansas’ struggles continued at the weekend and Wilson’s ‘quitters’ speech from last week failed to spark a response. He ended the day with three touchdowns, but also two interceptions. He didn’t get much help in this one from his receivers. Keep an eye on Cobi Hamilton, who had over 300 yards receiving and could be a second or third round pick.

Week four thoughts: Austin, Te’o and Lemonier impress

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

Credit where it’s due to E.J. Manuel. He put in probably the best performance of his career to inspire Florida State to a big win over Clemson and the Seminoles are now in pole position to win the ACC. However, I still have no confidence in Manuel as a pro prospect. He has all the physical tools you want and certainly he looks the part. In this game he abused a sluggish Clemson defense with some clinical passes – but against a tougher defense the athleticism and arm strength won’t be enough. In the NFL he’s going to need to make quick decisions at the line, he’s going to need to diagnose confusing coverage situations and he’s going to need to progress through reads. He does none of this at the moment and when challenged, often makes poor decisions. He faced no pressure against Clemson and it afforded him the chance to make plays. There will be tougher tests to come for Manuel and he’ll show why, unfortunately, he’s always going to be more of an athlete than a quarterback.

For Clemson, DeAndre Hopkins had a fast start – catching a 60 yard bomb from Tajh Boyd on the opening possession. He got deep, did well to locate the football and win it competing against the defensive back. Hopkins ended with five catches for 88 yards. Andre Ellington will have a role in the NFL too – he only had 55 yards from 14 carries but he added a spectacular touchdown reception from a double pass – breaking off a 52-yard run. He had 4 total catches for 87 yards. Bjoern Werner didn’t have much of an impact as a pass rusher for Florida State but he did make one key open field tackle and he also recorded a pass deflection. This is the first time in 2012 Werner hasn’t recorded a sack. Clemson’s up-tempo quick-hitting offense didn’t really allow much of a pass rush.

We published tape of Manti Te’o vs Michigan State yesterday, but the Notre Dame linebacker was even better against Michigan yesterday. He had two interceptions and a forced fumble in a 13-6 victory. Luke Kuechly was the 9th overall pick this year because of athleticism, intangibles and the way he churned out 100’s of tackles in his college career. Kuechly was never a big playmaker though, rarely impacting games for his team. Te’o isn’t the same kind of athlete, but he has more of an X-factor. For me he’s the superior player.

Georgia’s Jarvis Jones didn’t play against Florida Atlantic last week, but he returned in a 48-3 victory over Vanderbilt and recorded yet another sack. In three games he has 4.5 in total and could easily be the first player drafted next April depending on need. Quarterback Aaron Murray continued his possible Heisman charge with 18/24 passing for 250 yards. He had three total touchdowns and zero turnovers. Murray is only around 6-0/6-1 in height and he can be very streaky, but he’s started well this year. If quarterbacks like Tyler Wilson, Tyler Bray and Landry Jones continue to struggle, he could easily develop into a first or second round pick.

Whatever Logan Thomas is doing right now, it isn’t working. Virginia Tech rebounded after a bad loss to Pittsburgh last week, beating Bowling Green 37-0. However, Thomas completed just 11/26 passing for 144 yards. He had an interception too – but on a positive note had three total touchdowns and 65 rushing yards. Even so, this appears to be another mixed performance. It’ll be an upset if he declares for 2013 in this form.

It was a better day for Geno Smith at West Virginia. This was the Mountaineers toughest game so far and they squeezed through 31-21 against Maryland. Smith ended with 30/43 passing for 338 yards and three touchdowns. However the big star of the day was Tavon Austin – 13 catches, 179 yards and three touchdowns. Austin is a potential first round pick as an explosive playmaker. We’ll take a closer look at him over the next few days but he has a little DeSean Jackson and Percy Harvin to his game. You can see Smith’s tape from the game at the top of this article. Obviously this also includes Austin’s 13 catches. Take a look, because as discussed we’ll come back to this guy later in the week.

The honeymoon period is over for Jim Mora – and to some extent for talented running back Jonathan Franklin. After exploding into the new season, he managed just 45 yards from 12 carries against Oregon State as UCLA lost 27-20. Tight end Joseph Fauria had two catches for 20 yards. I’ll watch the tape of this one later in the week.

Marcus Lattimore had his most productive day since returning from injury. The South Carolina running back had 85 yards from 21 carries with two touchdowns against Missouri – but he also added 60 yards from seven receptions. If he can keep building momentum on an unbeaten team, his stock will rise. The Gamecocks won comfortably 31-10.

Somehow, Washington State lost 35-34 to Colorado. Marquess Wilson had another big night, registering five catches for 99 yards and two touchdowns. It’ll be no consolation for Mike Leach. Colorado were 17 down with 7:22 to play and winless until this week.

Underrated UNC defensive tackle Sylvester Williams had another sack as the Tar Heels defeated East Carolina 27-6. Williams has 3.5 sacks in four games. He’s a strong interior presence against the run but he can penetrate and rush the passer. He’s scheme diverse and should be an early pick next April.

Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson maybe came down to earth a bit this weekend. He had only two receptions for 20 yards and two rushes for 12 yards in a 47-26 win over Akron. He was also partly responsible for a pick six early in the game – losing position and not being physical enough to shield the ball. That could be the reason he failed to record any stats in the first half, with Bray zoning in on other targets. Patterson is still raw and needs to rebound in the next game. It was a better day for Justin Hunter with eight catches for 115 yards and a touchdown. Tyler Bray finished with 27/43 passing, 401 yards and four touchdowns. It’ll be interesting to see if Bray favours Hunter over Patterson going forward. The reverse was true in previous weeks.

Arkansas is a mess. A complete shambles. Poorly coached, the Bobby Petrino scandal has hit them harder than anyone could expect. They were beaten again yesterday 35-26 by a superior Rutgers team. Tyler Wilson’s stock is sinking. He completed 20/39 passing for 419 yards and three scores, but he also had two interceptions. But perhaps most damaging is the way his team failed to respond to the ‘quitters’ speech last week. If you’re going to call out your teammates, it has to have an impact. On a more positive note, Cobi Hamilton had 10 catches for an incredible 303 receiving yards and three touchdowns. It was another long day for Knile Davis however, who had just 17 yards from ten carries.

Matt Barkley is going through a poorly timed slump. Against California he was OK, but had another two interceptions to go along with two scores, 192 yards and 22/34 passing. USC’s usually functioning offense is a bit off-cue at the moment, largely due to issues on the offensive line. Here’s the thing though – Barkley has to be able to adapt to that. Teams picking early next year will need to feel confident that he can operate in not-ideal circumstances. He’s too technically talented to drop too far, but it’s this kind of scenario that makes him a top-10 pick rather than the top-1 pick. He doesn’t have the physical tools to carry a team that isn’t performing. And this is what we’ve always said about Barkley’s stock – some teams will love his poise, accuracy and field intelligence. Others will wonder whether he’s physically gifted enough to warrant a very high pick. Robert Woods only had 5 catches for the day for 30 yards.

Landry Jones is still playing like Landry Jones. Oklahoma lost at home to Kansas State yesterday 24-19, with Jones going 28/43 for 298 yards, one touchdown and one interception. However, we’re seeing the same old issues with pressure, the same inability to react when the play breaks down, zero inspiration and awareness. At one point Jones rolled out of the pocket and locked onto a receiver downfield, took an age and was sacked – forcing a fumble which was returned for a short touchdown. Its plays like that he should be avoiding at this stage in his career. He started last season as a mid-round talent and 12 months on, things aren’t getting any better.

I’m going to watch the LSU/Auburn tape later this week, but I did notice that through four weeks Barkevious Mingo is sackless. That has to be some concern for a speed pass-rush specialist whose only opposition so far has been North Texas (blowout), Washington (blowout), Idaho (blowout) and Auburn (close victory). Sam Montgomery, in comparison, has two sacks. Corey Lemonier on the other hand is going from strength to strength. I did watch a bit of the Auburn game last night and he was flying around making plays. He had two sacks on the night – now five for the season against tough opponents like LSU, Clemson and Mississippi State. His stock is flying up the boards. He might be the best pure pass rusher eligible for 2013 after Jarvis Jones. He’s not a big defensive end and will either transition to a 3-4 OLB or need to play in a system that favours speed vs prototypical size (eg Seattle). Yet Lemonier is one of the fastest risers in college football and is creating a big impression.