Archive for September, 2013

The best day of my life

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

At 1:05am this morning, my wife gave birth to our first child — a son, named Henry.

21 hours later, the Seahawks do that in Houston.

I’m not going to write too much today. All I’m going to say is thank you to the players, the coaches, the staff — everyone associated with Seahawks football. You’ve given me a game I can tell my son about over and over again.

It’ll pass the time when we’re making those ten hour flights to Seattle.

The biggest gamble in Seahawks history?

Friday, September 27th, 2013

Fancy playing in Philly, Russell?

Can you imagine life without Russell Wilson?

Try and picture it.

Last year Matt Flynn would’ve been the starter. You’re probably looking for a more long term answer in the 2013 draft (aka the draft nobody seemed to want to take a quarterback) and a whole era of Seahawks football wouldn’t quite be the same.

I think they still have a winning record last year without Wilson. They probably don’t start quite as slowly as we saw in week one against Arizona. But they also probably don’t have the same emphatic finish.

Flynn, for me, equals more field goals and less touchdowns. You don’t get that game-winning throw against New England, those rushing touchdowns against the Bills, the sheer emphatic nature of Seattle’s victories at the end of the year.

And you definitely don’t get the comeback in Atlanta.

It wouldn’t be the same. You know. I know it.

Seattle needs Russell.

Flynn would’ve been another place-holder, Seattle’s third in three years under Pete Carroll. That had to stop.

And yet they were one team away from missing out on Russell Wilson. One moment away from being a pretty good team instead of a potentially great team.

Adam Schefter reported last week that Philadelphia had a deal in place to trade for Colin Kaepernick ahead of the 2012 draft. They backed out at the last minute, mainly because they were planning to draft Russell Wilson.

“One league source maintains that the Eagles backed out of the proposed deal when they decided they would be able to draft Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson, whom they geared their whole draft around, league sources said. But then, just before Philadelphia could draft Wilson, the Seattle Seahawks selected him, leaving the Eagles to take Nick Foles, another quarterback they rated highly, though not nearly as high as Wilson.”

So according to Schefter’s sources, the Eagles geared their entire draft around getting Russell Wilson.

This, for me, emphasises the gamble Seattle took. I’ve no doubt they too were also gearing their draft around Wilson. But they weren’t the only team and could’ve easily missed out.

In hindsight it was a masterstroke. Instead of drafting him in round two — which apparently they were prepared to do — they wait until the third round and get Bobby Wagner too.

The risk was incredibly high with at least one other team so determined to add Wilson to their roster. The Eagles had the #88 pick, the Seahawks took Wilson at #75.

What makes this gamble so incredible is the fact Philly also had a pick at the very end of round two and chose Marshall defensive end Vinny Curry instead of the guy they supposedly geared their draft around.

Is Curry a good enough player to risk missing out on the guy you’ve “geared” your draft around? If you believe Schefter, the Eagles could’ve taken Wilson at #59. And Seattle would’ve had to eat it.

It’s not something they need to worry about now. Wilson is a Hawk. But it goes to show the complex nature of these drafts and how fitting players into specific rounds can be a franchise defining gamble. You have to get your tactics right.

This time the Seahawks went all in and won.

Derek Carr (QB, Fresno State) vs Boise State

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

The quarterback picture for 2014 is still playing itself out. It’s unlikely to be resolved any time soon. Right now there’s really only one player you can say is a top-pick with some assurity (Teddy Bridgewater).

I’m not convinced there’s another prospect destined to even go in round one. After all, only one quarterback went in the first round last year. The new CBA doesn’t appear to be encouraging teams to take more risks at the position. At least not so far.

The talent expected to be available on the offensive and defensive line could dominate the early first round (again) in 2014 and that could force teams to consider drafting a quarterback in the second or third round range.

If that’s the case, keep an eye on Fresno State’s Derek Carr (brother of David). I’ve seen him have some ugly games (one in particular versus SMU), but he’s started well this term. In three games so far he has 1121 yards, 12 touchdowns and only one interception. Fresno are unbeaten, with victories against Rutgers and Boise State.

If the performance above is anything to go by, he’s made improvements. Stick with the tape. He starts off a little rusty but improves. This isn’t me saying Carr is going to suddenly fly up the board and be a top pick. But after Teddy Bridgewater, there’s a lot of murky water.

I’m not sold on Marcus Mariota being a top pick. I’m not convinced he or Brett Hundley even declares for the next draft. Who knows where Johnny Manziel is going to go? Carr might be among the next best options after Bridgewater alongside Tajh Boyd.

At least fans in Seattle don’t have to worry about this particular subject…

Dominique Easley suffers suspected torn ACL

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Easley has had a fantastic start to the 2013 season and had a chance to be a first or second round pick. As a senior he’ll enter the NFL regardless, but this significantly impacts his stock.

It’s seven months until the draft, so the chances are he won’t be able to do a full workout before hand. Regardless he now carries a significant injury-based red flag. He previously suffered an ACL injury in 2011.

Sad news.

Here’s his tape from last weekend against Tennessee:

Eric Ebron (TE, North Carolina) vs Georgia Tech

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

As noted yesterday, there are things I like about Eric Ebron. It looks like he’s got bigger this year without losing any speed or fluidity. Clearly he has a knack for making the spectacular catch — as evidenced by his one-handed touchdown catch. I’m not convinced he’ll be a dominating difference maker in the mould of Jimmy Graham, but certainly he’s a mobile tight end that will make plays in the passing game.

But there is one area that does concern me a little. He appears to play the game at his own pace. It’s hard to put into words, it’s almost a little like he’s going through the motions. The potential is there for all to see, but I think he could be even better.

Jimmy Graham ran a 4.56 at the combine at 6-6 and 260lbs. Jordan Cameron managed a 4.59 at 6-5 and 254lbs. Neither went in the first round, but that’s the way the league is going. That for me is the bench mark for any tight end you want to draft early in the modern NFL. You can find serviceable guys in round two. The league is looking for elite difference makers at the position and they’re few and far between. For Ebron to avoid being yet another second round tight end (at best) he’s probably going to have to run as well as Graham and Cameron.

Have a look at the tape above and let me know what you think.

Monday draft notes

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Vic Beasley continues to make an impression
You can see the tape of his performance against NC State above. What a performance it was too — three sacks, three tackles for a loss and two tipped passes. A couple of weeks ago we featured him on the blog and increasingly I feel the need to put him on Seattle’s radar. How do you ignore a pass rusher with this much speed that has 15 sacks in his last 10 games? He fits into the SAM/LEO hybrid role and while the Seahawks are pretty well stocked at the position for now, Beasley looks so much like a fit in Seattle we have to keep tabs on him.

Dominique Easley continues to rise
Florida’s Dominique Easley is another guy who just looks so much like a Seahawk. Let’s not forget that Michael Bennett is on a one-year contract. The way he’s playing so far, it’s going to be very difficult to keep him in Seattle for 2014 while also paying Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and K.J. Wright. If they’re looking for a cost effective replacement, Easley could be the guy. Hey — I’d extend Bennett’s deal tomorrow given the chance. But we’ve seen over the last few weeks that cap management is crucial to ‘win forever’ and choosing which guys to pay (and ultimately keep) will determine whether this is a short or long term window of Championship opportunity. Easley is a hybrid DE/DT who can line up anywhere. He lives in the backfield and had another big day against Tennessee on Saturday. If they do need to replace Bennett in the off-season, Easley could be the guy.

Brandon Coleman’s going the other way
Another one of the prospects we’re focusing on isn’t getting it done. Brandon Coleman (6-6, 220lbs) had just one catch for 25 yards against Arkansas on Saturday. Five other receivers had multiple catches in the game, and quarterback Gary Nova seemingly keyed in on Tyler Kroft and Leonte Carroo. After a nine-catch, 94-yard season opener (that wasn’t without error), Coleman has seen his production drop dramatically. In the three games since he has just four catches for 70 yards — with zero touchdowns (he had two in the opener). Nobody can question his upside, but he needed a big year after deciding to return to Rutgers. I’m going to try and watch the tape of the Arkansas game at the weekend to see what happened. But Coleman could be drifting towards a mid-round grade.

Eric Ebron is hit and miss
I had a chance to watch his tape against Georgia Tech over the weekend. The one-handed catches and ability to get downfield is impressive. I’ve not seen many tight ends run a sweep. He blocks well on the perimeter. But there’s also something a little laid back about his play. He plays the game at his own pace. There’s no denying his talent and there’s an opening for a top tight end to shoot up the board. But I just get the impression he could be even better. He’s one to monitor.

Anthony Barr is puzzling
At times last year Anthony Barr looked like the real deal. A converted full back, Barr had 13.5 sacks and could’ve declared for the 2013 draft. He decided to go back to UCLA and admitted he had work to do on his technique. He seems to have a good attitude and at 6-4 and 248lbs he has the length, speed and nose for the ball that the modern NFL is looking for in a pass rusher. However, I found his tape against Nebraska pretty vanilla. Other players on the UCLA defensive line impressed me more, he struggled to get much pressure and the big plays he had were a little incidental. I noticed he got his first sack of the season against New Mexico State on Saturday. After assuming he’d grow into a top-ten lock this year, I’m going to keep an eye on him over the next few weeks against Utah, Cal, Stanford and Oregon.

Cleveland Browns situation is fascinating
Peter King has a great angle in today’s MMQB. He discusses the constant regime change in Cleveland and how it is putting the team in an eternal state of rebuild. He also highlighted how important it is for a GM/front office staff to make good decisions early in a tenure. Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert are a poster child for how not to do things. Aside from a shambolic handling of the coaching situation (keeping Eric Mangini against the odds, then making an uninspiring appointment to replace him) they also got big decisions wrong in the draft. Trading down is often considered quite a trendy thing to do among fans. As King points out, 2011′s deal with Atlanta gave the Falcons Julio Jones while the Browns in return received Phil Taylor, Greg Little, Owen Marecic and Brandon Weeden. Cleveland’s new front office will have to do a better job of building a roster at the key positions. And frankly, it’s a bit rich for Holmgren to come out and criticise his replacement — as he did in the Seattle media last week.

What is Seattle’s biggest need?
It’s something we’ll consider after every game, although I suspect we won’t truly have an answer until we discover who will or won’t be retained by the team. After watching Sidney Rice score two touchdowns yesterday, my initial thought was there’s no receiver eligible for 2014 that I want to see replace him. But the reality is, that might have to happen to keep some of Seattle’s other talented young players on the roster. Despite my reluctance to keep going back to the offensive line well – the best place to make savings next year is going to be replacing free agents Breno Giacomini and Paul McQuistan. Unless they’re willing to sign terrible deals to stay in Seattle. Which they might. You never know what demand will be like on the open market. I like both Giacomini and McQuistan and I think they get a rough deal from a lot of fans. But again, it’s about determining who you can’t live without, and releasing the ones you can. Right now, I’m not sure you can live without Sidney Rice — even at $9.7m a year. He’s not an elite receiver who’s going to put up 1500 yards, but he’s the closest thing Seattle has to a true #1. Things could change if Michael Bowie and Alvin Bailey continue to develop and show they’re capable of starting in the NFL.

One quarterback in round one again?
It could happen. I watched Tajh Boyd’s tape versus NC State and he looks like a solid second rounder to me. Throw in Johnny Manziel’s character questions, the unlikelihood (in my opinion) of Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota declaring and the lack of alternatives — and we might only see Teddy Bridgewater go in the first round. A lot will depend on need, of course. But I also think there’s enough defensive talent in the 2014 class to feel like teams in major rebuilding mode won’t want to force anything. I can see one team convincing themselves they can turn likely free agent Josh Freeman into a productive starter. Plus, we could see Ryan Mallett and Nick Foles traded. So there are alternatives outside of the draft. For example, three years removed from missing on Christian Ponder (it’s safe to call that a miss) — are Minnesota really going to spend another high pick on a quarterback not named Teddy? Or do they look for alternatives?

Jadeveon Clowney still #1
This is going to be another year, I suspect, where we see a lot of offensive tackles go early. Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan, Cyrus Kouandijo and Zack Martin could be top-15 picks. Antonio Richardson and James Hurst could join them in round one. I still think Jadeveon Clowney is nailed on to go first overall. Yes, quarterback is a vital position. I’d just have a hard time passing on Clowney and his frightening upside. Watching the Jaguars on Sunday, if you put a rookie quarterback on that roster it makes no difference. They are devoid of talent. As much as I like Teddy Bridgewater, he’s not Andrew Luck. Jacksonville is another two drafts (maybe three) from being competitive. Just take the player who is most likely to be a superstar — and that’s Clowney. And yes — I’m assuming Jacksonville picks first overall.

Instant reaction: Seahawks waltz past Jaguars

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Marshawn Lynch didn't get much help up front

Before I comment on the Seahawks, how about the 49ers losing — no, collapsing — against the Colts?

Following Seattle’s demolition of San Francisco last week, I referred to Dallas’ week 2 defeat at Century Link last year. The Cowboys left Seattle a broken team — physically and mentally drained. They never recovered, and frequently talking about the impact of the game on their season.

I’m not about to write off the 49ers (that would be foolish). But they didn’t half look a lot like the 2012 Cowboys today.

Broken, soulless and beaten.

Colin Kaepernick hasn’t got anyone to throw to and continues to struggle to get beyond his first read. Patrick Willis left the game through injury. Reports suggest Aldon Smith cleared out his locker after the game (he’s heading to rehab, according to Peter King). They were already without Vernon Davis.

Next up is a trip to St. Louis to play a division rival who went 1-0-1 against the 49ers last year.

Tough times for Jim Harbaugh.

I suppose the fact we’re discussing San Francisco is in itself a review of the Jaguars game. We didn’t learn a great deal today.

All of the minor problems coming into week three pretty much still exist. The offense is still rusty. Russell Wilson — despite scoring four touchdowns — is still not playing at his absolute best. The run blocking was generally poor for Marshawn Lynch and the pass protection will get a lot of debate too.

Wilson had two turnovers on the day. The first was a fumble on a scramble after Jacksonville collapsed the pocket. I want to see him throw that away. It’s easy for me to say that from my sofa, but he’s holding on to the ball a lot in the first three weeks. Sometimes it’s better to punt.

On the pick, he again tried to do too much. It’s surprising given the way this team preaches to protect the ball. A punt out of the end zone is better than giving possession away on the one yard line.

I’m not sure he’s taking advantage of blitzes yet, which is one area I expected major improvement. We saw last week how he can use a blitz to his advantage (the Lynch touchdown) but today the Jaguars rushed their linebackers with a lot of success. Whether it’s play design or a learning situation, the Seahawks have to notice the blitz and have some calls that allow for quick hitters over the middle. The gaps will be there. Wilson has to call it and execute.

The offensive line didn’t have a great day. Lynch barely had any running room apart from a couple of big plays. It was surprising to see Jacksonville match up so well in short yardage situations. Max Unger has had a sloppy start to the year and that continued today (again, surprising).

On the Jason Babin sack, Breno Giacomini just got beat off the edge. Babin was stood in the neutral zone and should’ve been flagged. There was no flag. Even so, Wilson just hesitated enough to eat the sack. Maybe he expected more time with just a three man rush, but it kind of just encapsulated Seattle’s rustiness on offense. Wilson holding on to the ball to long, the offensive line getting caught.

On the plus side, Paul McQuistan didn’t appear to have too many problems at left tackle and the blowout nature of the game allowed Michael Bowie and Alvin Bailey to get some time on the field.

The next two weeks will be a big test for the offense. They have to sharpen up. Shutting down Houston and Indianapolis — both at 10am — won’t be easy. And the offense won’t be able to toil like it did in Carolina and still escape with a victory.

It wasn’t all bad, of course. It’s quite encouraging that even at 3-0 this team is still yet to peak.

The first team defense was superb (again). Michael Bennett already looks like a fantastic acquisition (how soon can we discuss an extension?). Clinton McDonald has been an underrated performer in the last two weeks. The secondary handled everything until the game was out of reach. Bobby Wagner had his best game of the year too.

It was a little disappointing, however, to see the backups allow Jacksonville to march up the field a couple of times. I kind of felt afterwards that this team shouldn’t be coughing up 17 points to the Jags — even if seven were a gift courtesy of the Wilson interception.

Walter Thurmond and Byron Maxwell both struggled to get a handle in coverage late on, but they weren’t helped by a middling pass rush. I still don’t see what all the fuss is about with John Lotulelei. On Jacksonville’s second touchdown he showed minimal athleticism to get off a block and it left a wide open lane for the running back to exploit.

Going back to the positives (it’s easy to nitpick), all the receivers played well and contributed. The chances are Seattle is going to lose a good receiver they would ideally keep in the next 18 months.

We had our first regular season glimpse of Christine Michael — and he again reminded us why he simply has to have a few touches every week. Luke Willson also took a major step forward and could be set for an increased role over the coming weeks.

And it was good to see Chris Clemons back on the field and looking sharp. It’ll be even better seeing Clemons, Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Bruce Irvin (after week 4) rushing the passer over the next few weeks.

At 3-0, the Seahawks have already accumulated a two-game lead over the rest of the NFC West. It was a miserable day for the NFC with defeats for San Francisco, Green Bay, Atlanta, Minnesota and Washington. The Seahawks were the only team from the 2012 NFC Playoffs to get a victory today. The combined record of the other five teams is 3-12.

The Seahawks need to use their good start as a platform. The next two weeks will be a real test.

And for your amusement, here’s the Tweet of the weekend:

Offensive lineman are not automatically ‘safe’ picks

Saturday, September 21st, 2013

Justin Houston should've been a higher pick in 2011

Never let anyone say that offensive line picks are ‘safe’. I’ve watched the top three offensive tackles from the 2013 draft closely so far. Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson are all struggling.

Why?

More and more of the superior athletes are playing defense.

The likes of Joeckel, Fisher and Johnson are not on the same level. Just like pretty much every tackle coming into the league.

Here’s a good example. Lane Johnson, considered a big-time athlete for an offensive tackle, was drafted #4 overall by Philadelphia. He ran a 4.72 at the combine with a 10-yard split of 1.68.

Dion Jordan, a defensive end drafted #3 overall by Miami, ran a 4.54 at the combine with a split of 1.61.

The difference between the two isn’t enormous. But it’s big enough. Jordan isn’t anything like the best athlete playing defensive end in the NFL.

The days of a lockdown blindside protector who excels in pass protection may be over until the next Walter Jones appears on the scene. We may be drifting into an era where scheming is king in pass protection. An era where quick throws, mobile quarterbacks and misdirection become the equaliser to elite speed off the edge.

Spending high draft picks on trendy offensive tackles doesn’t automatically improve your line play. We’re seeing that now.

As Pete Carroll said on KIRO this week when discussing Paul McQuistan starting in place of the injured Russell Okung: “They have to work in concert”.

Consistency, knowing the system, familiarity. All of these things are vital. More vital than throwing endless picks at the offensive line.

Yet the unit has a reputation for being ‘safe’ in the draft.

Here are the first round offensive lineman taken in the 2011 class:

Tyron Smith, Nate Solder, Anthony Castonzo, Danny Watkins, James Carpenter, Gabe Carimi, Derek Sherrod.

Smith was a good athlete with a lot of upside and worthy of a top-ten grade. The rest? For the most part decidedly unspectacular. Watkins and Carimi are no longer with the teams that drafted them.

On the other hand a guy like Justin Houston (another 2011 prospect who sank due to minor concerns that he took plays off) currently leads the NFL with 7.5 sacks in three games.

He was a third round pick. He looked like a first or second rounder at Georgia. He’s a great athlete playing defense. The offensive tackles in the NFL struggle to match-up to him.

I guess he wasn’t safe enough.

LSU’s Odell Beckham is intriguing

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

Although not exactly the type of receiver the Seahawks will necessarily be looking for, I’m adding LSU’s Odell Beckham to my watch-list for the year.

He’s around 6-0 and listed at just 187lbs, but I get the feeling he has a future in the NFL. Beckham’s got big hands for a guy lacking elite size, great acceleration and a tendency to make big plays. He’ll also provide instant value as a return man.

Take a look at the video above vs UAB and watch the first clip. It’s blatant showing off, but I’ve never seen anyone make a one handed catch on a kick off return before. Not that it makes any difference. But it’s a neat party trick.

He’s very sudden with his movements. He’ll cut and juke quickly with the ball in his hands. I like the way he runs his routes. Beckham appears to have good hands and sound body control.

His frame is also well proportioned and he’s competing for the ball on a couple of difficult catches in the UAB tape. That’s a positive sign. There’s some YAC potential on screens and quick hitters, while LSU has him running end-around’s.

Take a look at the video and let me know what you think.

And yeah — Zach Mettenberger really needs to dump his ‘celebration’.

Wednesday thoughts – Browns trade Richardson, Marqise Lee

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

Browns trade Richardson to Colts

You don’t often see in-season blockbuster trades. Today we got one. Trent Richardson, the third overall pick in the 2012 draft, has been traded to the Colts for a first round pick. It means Indianapolis now owns the #1 (Andrew Luck) and #3 (Richardson) picks in what was considered a top-heavy draft.

Browns fans seem a little shell shocked by the news. Richardson was a stud at Alabama but it just didn’t work out in Cleveland. It’s funny, just yesterday I was thinking about Richardson’s time in Cleveland. He’s talented, no doubt about it. But it’s a wretched fit playing under Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner. He’s a downfield runner and needs to play on a team that really values that pounding, physical style.

Originally when he was drafted by Cleveland, I think that’s what they were planning to do. And that style of running game has worked a treat in the AFC North for so long. But under the current regime, it seemed like a bad fit.

Credit the Browns for accepting the situation, taking a first round pick from Indy and just moving on. This may be one of those situations that works out best for all concerned. Cleveland, at 0-2, are in the process a major rebuild. Or at least they should be. They’re starting Brian Hoyer at quarterback this week after all.

In the 2014 draft they have to bring in a quarterback — and now they have options. If they need to move up, they have the stock to do so. If they don’t need to move up, they can launch their rebuild with two new first round picks.

The Colts meanwhile are looking to win now. They’ve just lost Vic Ballard to injury. They utilise a power running game. Now they have a potential superstar to help Andrew Luck and propel that offense.

It’s a hefty price — we’re seeing fewer and fewer running backs taken with first round picks. But Richardson is only a year removed from being the #3 overall pick.

For me, this looks like a good deal all round. The new regime in Cleveland has to pretty much start from scratch. The Holmgren era was a total failure. Harsh but true.

Richardson could make his debut against the 49ers this weekend. More importantly, he’ll likely face Seattle in week five.

Marqise Lee needs to be careful

USC look like a team waiting for the inevitable to happen. Lane Kiffin is unpopular. It’ll take more than a comprehensive win over Boston College to save his job.

On offense the quarterback situation just seems bizarre. Cody Kessler and Max Wittek started the year sharing snaps. Kessler got the bulk against BC. Neither has looked capable of replacing Matt Barkley long term.

The mess at quarterback has, predictably, had an impact on the receivers. In particular, it’s hampered the immensely talented Marqise Lee. Last years Biletnikoff winner is one of the most naturally gifted players — at any position — in college football. He’s not a physical freak with size and speed that’s off the charts. He’s just a tremendous football player.

And yet he’s been incredibly inconsistent to start the year.

I’ve posted his tape vs Hawaii at the top of this page, where you can see for yourself mistakes we don’t usually associate with Lee. The following week he had seven catches for 27 yards against Washington State. Then against Boston College — two grabs for 90 yards including an 80-yard score.

The quarterback situation isn’t helping, but Lee also seems to have lost some focus. Perhaps he’s frustrated? I would be in his shoes. But whatever — this is a crucial year. He’ll almost certainly declare at the end of the season and head for the pro’s. Without the eye-popping physical skills (he’s listed at 6-0 and 195lbs) he’s not going to max out his potential draft stock with a mediocre season on the CV.

It’ll be nice for teams picking in the final frame of round one if he does drop. Really, it shouldn’t come to that. He has an opportunity to make sure it doesn’t.

Funnily enough, following the Trent Richardson trade, it wouldn’t be a total shocker to see Teddy Bridgewater and Marqise Lee combining in Cleveland. That wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Browns.

Quiet time

My wife is due to give birth to our first son on the 28th. That means it could basically happen at any time. If I suddenly don’t post for a few days, you know why. I’ll be sure to check in asap.