Archive for November, 2013

Instant reaction: Seahawks head into bye at 10-1

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

Percy Harvin's first catch? A one handed grab on third down

This couldn’t have gone any better.

The Seahawks won with added style points. Nobody got seriously injured. And there were just enough minor quibbles to avoid complacency going into the bye.

There’s only one place to start tonight. Russell Wilson is a revelation.

The style and identity of Seattle’s offense will never give him the opportunity to have a 40-TD season. For that reason he’ll probably never be the NFL’s MVP.

To the Seahawks, he is paramount. He is exactly what they’ve been missing. Since forever.

Wilson is everything any team could ever want in a franchise quarterback. He’s a fantastic image for the team, he’s the perfect character off the field and he appears to command the respect of his team mates. On the field he’s mobile, accurate (deep throws, short throws), ruthless and productive with ample arm strength.

He’s the kind of guy that eternally keeps you in a game, whatever the deficit.

He can orchestrate the long, slow burning drives. He can put quick points on the board. He can hit the home run.

And he has the much less talked about quality of improvisation.

All the greats make plays that leave you speechless. They turn a negative down into a scoring down. They step out of the play call and make something happen.

Too many bog standard quarterbacks fail when things don’t go perfectly. They buckle. Wilson almost thrives in that environment.

The perfect example of this was the second passing touchdown — a little shovel pass to Lynch when everything else had been taken away. The perfect improvisation from the perfect improvisational quarterback.

You could hear all the sighs on the Minnesota sideline. All of them to a man were wishing any of their three quarterbacks were capable of doing that.

Seattle is lucky to have Russell Wilson. Enjoy it.

Elsewhere…

Marshawn Lynch had three touchdowns and made the best of what was available. The Vikings played well against the run. The only complaint? His ninth fumble since 11/11/12. It was recovered by Seattle — fortunately — and I appreciate a player like Lynch will fumble more due to his physical style. But nine in little over a year seems excessive.

Percy Harvin had five big plays right off the bat. On the first touchdown drive, his decoy slant inside took the safety away from Doug Baldwin — leading to a big sideline completion. Baldwin was left 1-on-1 with rookie Xavier Rhodes who’s struggled all year. It was no contest.

His second play drew a downfield pass interference — which negated a Seahawks penalty at the LOS and avoided a loss of yards. His first catch was a difficult one-handed grab on a third down conversion. Then we saw the kick off return to mid-field. And to begin the second half Minnesota gifted Seattle the ball on the 35 after kicking away from Harvin.

Perhaps the most satisfying thing was his ease of movement and speed. Even in limited snaps he had a big impact. It’ll be a long two weeks waiting to see what he can do against the Saints’ defense.

If this is Percy-lite, the full fat version will be loaded.

Doug Baldwin is a terrific player and not just a slot guy. He’s earned more attention in an explosive offense. The first touchdown pass was a prototypical Baldwin catch in the red zone. He’s more dynamic than people think, with all the skills you look for from a non-elite size/speed receiver — a competitive streak, hands and intelligence.

Funnily enough Seattle’s starting trio of receivers are 5-10 (Baldwin), 5-10 (Tate) and 5-11 (Harvin). All three players are 25-years-old and hitting their peaks. Who says you need a 6-3/6-4 guy?

Actually, watching the Broncos shows how a great ‘big’ receiver can really compliment an offense. See: Demaryius Thomas.

J.R. Sweezy and Breno Giacomini were beaten on an early down, which led to a Wilson sack. Twitter exploded with “replace Sweezy” comments. People love to complain when the offensive linemen make a mistake. What they don’t realise is — every down they aren’t complaining these guys are doing their jobs. And those plays far outweigh the errors.

For me, the entire line had a good day today. That was expected — for the first time in a long time every starter was out there in their intended positions. Seattle’s problem isn’t talent, it was depth with the two tackles out injured for such a long time.

Richard Sherman got beat twice early (PI and a TD). That’s obviously uncharacteristic for him. I suspect it could act as a positive though — it’ll weigh on his mind for the next two weeks before facing Drew Brees and the Saints.

A point on kick offs. Unless you have a great return man it appears the play has been eliminated from the game. So I don’t understand why Jermaine Kearse and Robert Turbin were again taking it out of the end zone and risking not getting back to the 20.

I know Kearse scored in pre-season. He also had a costly fumble against Tampa Bay.

Now Harvin — I get why he brings it out. He’s an explosive returner who makes things happen. For the other guys, I’d rather they just take a knee. Just my take.

There were too many penalties on third down today. On both sides of the ball. They can’t do that in the next two games (or any games, for that matter) and it’ll probably be a point of focus pre-Saints.

Christian Ponder is a terrible quarterback. It’s a shame it took until the fourth quarter to get an interception today. He made up for lost time by throwing a pick-six to Walter Thurmond shortly after Bobby Wagner’s interception. Wagner should’ve had a house-call before either.

Matt Cassell is also terrible. Poor Vikings.

Christine Michael — I have no idea how good or bad his pass protection is. But the guy is a better runner than Robert Turbin. So it must be pretty terrible. What other reason is there for keeping him on the sidelines? Let’s get him the ball a few more times.

For what it’s worth, Turbin is averaging 3.56 yards a carry this season from 48 carries.

Zach Miller led the team in receiving yards. Mr. Consistency quietly had another really good game.

The run defense pitched a shut out until Toby Gerhart — not Adrian Peterson — broke off a 32-yard run. Kudos for the way they’ve turned things around after a bad couple of outings against St. Louis and Tampa Bay.

Cliff Avril is quickly becoming Seattle’s best edge rusher. He now has 6.5 sacks for the year and was flying around the field today. While it might be difficult to keep Michael Bennett (who had his worst game of the season for me), Seahawks fans should count their blessings that Avril is signed up for another year based on the last few weeks.

Byron Maxwell did a very good job covering for Brandon Browner. He’s incredibly talented and will really benefit from time on the field.

Red Bryant also had a tremendous game today — frequently blowing up the offensive line and collapsing the pocket.

Seattle is on a bye next week before a testing and interesting final stretch of the regular season. New Orleans (8-2) and San Francisco (6-4) are up next, followed by a trip to the resurgent New York Giants (dangerous) and two home games within the division (also dangerous).

The Saints will be a huge test even at Century Link. Last year they came out flat in Miami after the bye. I doubt the players will get the full week off again.

But for the next couple of weeks Seahawks fans can sit back and enjoy the fact their team is #1 in the NFC.

The funny thing is, I think we almost take 10-1 for granted. Could you ever previously imagine a 10-1 Seahawks team? That’s the reality tonight.

Finally — PLEASE don’t forget this…

Saturday draft notes

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

Mel Kiper talked up Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson, and with good reason. Saturday’s game against Georgia was the first time I’d seen him — and he’s a big time talent. Like this class needed any more top tier tackles. Whether or not he declares as a redshirt sophomore remains to be seen, especially with Auburn’s stock trending upwards again. But if he’s assured of a top-ten grade, he’ll face a tough decision.

Robinson is the complete package. He was flawless in pass protection, was light on his feet for a big guy, he was opening up big holes in the running game. I want to see more, but his combination of skills, power and athleticism could put him top of the tackle class. Every now and again Kiper finds a real gem. He was the first guy to talk about Jason Pierre-Paul back in the day. Credit to him for putting Robinson’s name into the public domain.

Marqise Lee still looks like a superstar in the making. Sure, he’s not had the year he was hoping for. Yet against Stanford — while clearly not 100% — he put in a game-winning performance. Early on he made two incredible toe-tapping receptions on the right sideline — one to make a two point conversion. And despite having to constantly limp on and off the field, he dragged himself out there to make the crucial 4th down catch that led to USC’s winning field goal.

Tonight he showed he’s not just technically gifted — he’s also a warrior. And while we can linger on the fact he’s undersized and not an elite runner, whoever gets him next year is going to feel very satisfied. If you can find a receiver who loves the game, is technically sound and has a sparky, competitive personality — size doesn’t matter quite as much. He ended the night with six catches for 83 yards. For me Lee and Sammy Watkins remain the top two receivers eligible for 2014, with Odell Beckham Jr in third spot ahead of Mike Evans.

Lee and Watkins could still very easily be top 10-15 picks.

I came into the USC-Stanford game wondering what Trent Murphy is — and after another viewing kind of found the answer. A pretty basic athlete who doesn’t look like a top NFL prospect. Nice production, but it’s hard to imagine it transferring to the next level. As for Shayne Skov — I just don’t see a Seahawks linebacker there. He does well blitzing and he’s tough as nails. But Seattle’s penchant for speed and the fact they already have a talented middle linebacker limits the chances he ends up in the PNW.

David Yankey is growing on me though — I think he’s better than David DeCastro (who was overrated). He was moving people off the line without pulling, he opened up some nice lanes. On his last two performances I’m starting to warm to the idea he’s a possible first round talent. Stanford linemen still scare me, however.

Plays like this make me want to buy into Eric Ebron as a first round possibility. There aren’t many tight ends that can run a slant and take it up the middle for 58 yards while running away from defensive backs. That’s some athleticism there at 6-4, 245lbs. He did hurt his right shoulder in the game but returned after a moment on the sidelines. He ended with three catches for 73 yards in a 34-27 win for UNC over Pittsburgh.

Brandon Coleman’s stop-start season continued. A couple of weeks after failing to register a catch, he’s since got back into a groove. Rutgers were blown away by Cincinnati, but Coleman still made an impact — including this red zone touchdown. I’m not too concerned about stats because his upside is so high and his quarterback so poor. If only he’d just high point the football. That’s going to cost him. Shame. He recorded six catches for 77 yards and the score.

Two quarterbacks who might go earlier than people think next year — Logan Thomas (Virginia Tech) and Tom Savage (Pittsburgh). Thomas has mostly struggled for two years, but has actually put together some consistent form in the last couple of weeks. His size, arm strength and running ability will appeal to some teams. The bad tape will probably stop him going in the first round or two, but don’t be surprised if he lands in round three. Savage looked like a future pro when he started at Rutgers, and now with Pitt he’s put together a decent year. He’s worth stashing as a developmental prospect with upside.

Jace Amaro appeared to lose consciousness after a big hit in Texas Tech’s defeat to Baylor. He gets twelve days to recover before a big game against Texas. He managed two scores against the Bears and four catches for 55 yards.

Jadeveon Clowney’s foot injury flared up again in a victory over Florida. At one point he left the field in some pain. He’s going to need surgery in the off-season — which could jeopardise his ability to dominate at the combine. He has just two sacks this year. I still think he’ll be the number one pick, especially if he’s healthy for Indy. As much as I like Teddy Bridgewater — the hype has gone way over the top. Ditto Marcus Mariota. Neither is a franchise saviour for a team like Jacksonville. And there’s enough depth at the position to grab Clowney at #1 and go after a Derek Carr later on.

Saturday preview

Friday, November 15th, 2013

I have access to two games this weekend. This is what I’ll be keeping an eye on…

Georgia at Auburn

Mel Kiper has been giving Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson rave reviews. “He’s one of the elite left tackles, his star is rising, his arrow is up. He keeps moving up and up and up and he’ll have a decision to make at the end of the year. We’ll see what his decision is, but he’s a heck of a football player.” This is already a loaded tackle class, and that might impact Robinson’s decision to declare or not. But at a time when we’re looking at possible offensive linemen for Seattle, I’ll be checking out Robinson for the first time tomorrow.

Dee Ford has seven sacks for the year as an undersized pass rusher. He’s listed at 6-2 and 240lbs. Has he got the length to fit as a mid-round LEO? This’ll be my second chance to watch Ford and I’m interested to see how he performs in another big game. He had two sacks in a win against Texas A&M earlier this year and looked very sharp. He’s quick off the snap and has plenty of speed, but he’s also a little one-dimensional and relies on athleticism. He struggled a bit against the run in the A&M game — not surprising given his size.

Damian Swann entered the year as a cornerback I had a lot of interest in. He’s probably been one of the biggest disappointments so far. Having said that, Georgia’s defense has generally looked like a disorganised mess. We saw last year that he was a playmaker — and he’ll get a shot at the next level. But any hopes of going in the first round have long since disappeared.

Stanford vs USC

Marqise Lee says he’s 100% healthy after struggling with a knee problem. This hasn’t been the year he was hoping for. Apart from the injuries, an inconsistent quarterback situation and a coaching shambles — Lee hasn’t been quite as brilliant as previous seasons. He’s made out of character mistakes (drops) this year. But the fact is he’s still a terrific football player and a big time playmaker. Lee’s doesn’t have the size or speed of an ideal #1 receiver, but he’s good enough to be a stat-machine in the right offense and a true game-changer. Let’s see if he can repair his stock late in the year. If he falls into the late first, get ready.

I have some issues with Stanford linemen. They’re well coached. They’re technically very good. But more often than not they get extra tackle or tight end help. Players like David Yankey (left guard) constantly pull and move. David DeCastro was exactly the same. You won’t see a lot of that at the next level, not with the regularity we see at Stanford. And for that reason it’s hard to judge these guys. It’s pro-style in description, but it’s not really. How many NFL teams use 8-9 linemen in their formations with regularity? How many left guards pull on a high percentage of their snaps?

It doesn’t mean you write a player off, it just means you have to spend so much extra time working them out. Yankey earned rave reviews against Oregon and did, admittedly, look as good as I’ve seen him. So it’s time for another viewing.

Shayne Skov struggled last year after returning from injury. He looked like he was getting back to his best last week. Was it a one-off? Or is he back on the NFL map? I really want to see if he has the kind of athleticism to play for the Seahawks. Simply put, they don’t draft slow linebackers any more. And anyone who’s going to stick with this group better be able to move.

Trent Murphy kind of reaffirmed against Oregon that while he’s having a productive year (10 sacks), he’s perhaps a little limited in terms of next level talent. What is he exactly? A five technique in the 3-4? A power end?

One final note. During the draft last year I put up an advert in the sidebar selling Percy Harvin jerseys. It’s still there. Many of you bought items using the link (many thanks for that) — and in turn I received a percentage of each sale.

Yesterday I donated every penny I received from that advert to the Phillipines Aid effort. I’m not doing it for praise. I don’t want to see any in the comments section. I want to ask if you’d also consider donating using this link or this one.

Derek Carr is better than people think

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Is Derek Carr a first round pick? Maybe not.

Has he got a chance to make it in the NFL? I think so.

Every time I’ve watched him this year he’s impressed. I like his mobility in the pocket, his underrated arm strength, his accuracy and mechanics. Listen to him speak, and from a character stand point he ticks all the right boxes.

The improvement year-to-year at Fresno State is tangible. And if that continues at the next level, he has a shot.

His brother might be a former #1 overall flop, but he was tasked with the hardest job in football — leading an expansion franchise.

The younger Carr is a better quarterback than Andy Dalton as a senior at TCU. I think he’ll ultimately prove to be a better player than A.J. McCarron this year.

If I needed a quarterback and was sceptical of the options available at the top of round one, I’d make Carr my guy. And I think he deserves a lot more attention than he’s currently getting.

Take a look at his last performance against Wyoming and let me know what you think. Also check out his tight end Marcel Jensen (#89) — a 6-6, 260lbs monster who moves well. He’s also a senior. One to keep an eye on during the pre-draft work outs.

Ahead of Percy Harvin’s debut, a salute to the F.O.

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

The Percy Harvin trade still looks smart, despite his injury

They know what they’re doing in Seattle.

The front office, that is.

It doesn’t mean they’re perfect. They will make mistakes. But you can trust them with the big decisions.

You can’t say that about a lot of other teams.

As fans we love the idea of high picks. The more the better. It makes the build up to a draft more exciting. And sometimes — as we saw with Seattle in 2010 — it can really set your franchise up for years to come.

IF you hit on those picks.

The Seahawks thankfully did when they chose Russell Okung and Earl Thomas. Others haven’t been so fortunate.

It’s always celebrated when a team has more than one first rounder. The pundits usually give you an ‘A’ grade for sheer quality in numbers. In reality, it’s still a crap shoot.

We’ve seen a few high profile trades in recent years. None caused a stir quite like Percy Harvin’s move from Minnesota to Seattle.

Coincidentally, Harvin will make his Seahawks debut against the Vikings this Sunday. But how do we view that trade months later?

On the one hand, he’s yet to play any football after having hip surgery in pre-season. Fans have waited patiently to see Harvin feature for his new team. And the anticipation of his return couldn’t be greater this week.

But when he is back on the field, the Seahawks will know what they’re getting — one of the more dynamic playmakers in the NFL.

In return the Vikings got an extra first round selection in 2013, a seventh rounder plus a further pick next year.

I’m guessing the fans in Minnesota were pretty excited at the time. As good as he is, Harvin was on his way out — one way or another. Now they could spend a month or so plotting how to spend multiple first round picks on big name prospects.

I’m willing to bet that excitement grew when they were able to snag Sherrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes and then Cordarrelle Patterson in round one (they traded up to get another first rounder to take Patterson).

I was never a fan of Rhodes’ and he’s struggled whenever I’ve watched Minnesota this year. Patterson is the same player he was at Tennessee — an explosive return man but an inconsistent receiver. Floyd has a lot of upside and for a time was being touted as a top-five pick. In reality the tape didn’t match the hype.

Still, they were all big names. They all carried perceived value. And the fans would’ve celebrated those picks.

Yet in reality the team has regressed badly this year. They moved out a proven performer and brought in three unknowns. At 2-7, their season is virtually over — just a year removed from a playoff berth.

It’s not all on Harvin’s absence — of course not. But when you make a high profile trade and acquire three first round prospects — going from 10-6 to 2-7 is unacceptable.

The ‘winner’ of this trade won’t be decided this weekend or even this season. If Harvin can’t stay healthy, the Seahawks can’t claim victory. But at least they know what they’re getting if he does get on the field. The three Vikings rookies might go on to be franchise cornerstones — but the way their team has struggled could lead to the firing of the GM and coaching staff that drafted them.

And then what?

The Vikings have been a disorganised mess this year — and it starts at the top. They’ve made a complete hash of the quarterback situation and undermined their coaches.

They’ve also potentially undermined the other five first round picks they’ve spent in two years. They’ve put their own futures on the line. Imagine being the guy who comes in to a team that spent six first round picks since 2011? Tell me you don’t spend every day wondering how much better you’d have done.

Basically, it’s the kind of thing that would never happen in Seattle (and I’m not trying to be smug here — honest).

Even so, I’m guessing if you log onto Google, you’ll find plenty of articles praising Rick Spielman and co. for that Harvin trade. Why? Purely because they ended up with more picks.

I’ve always been sceptical of a ‘more picks is best’ approach. Quality wins football games. And there’s more quality in proven players and higher draft picks.

I’d argue most front offices in the NFL are simply incapable of making the best use of multiple high picks. In fact they’d almost be better off going after veterans or trying to trade up. They can’t be trusted.

Fill a team with bad first round picks and the rebuild can be even tougher.

Would Tim Ruskell have made best use of the two 2010 picks that he — quite skilfully — acquired for the Seahawks? If the Aaron Curry pick is anything to go by, probably not.

Pete Carroll and John Schneider on the other hand, nailed it.

Returning to present day, even with Harvin’s injury the move looks like another Seattle steal. Who was available at #25 you’d rather have right now? I can’t think of anyone as we prepare for the big debut.

While acknowledging a Harvin trade was almost inevitable, has the same front office that drafted Christian Ponder with a top-15 pick made best use of their subsequent bounty? A 2-7 record and painful-to-watch football team suggests not.

There are other similar examples.

In 2011 the Falcons made an expensive yet shrewd move to get Julio Jones. Cleveland — believing more picks would be better for a big rebuild — moved from #6 overall into the 20’s. And with the three first round picks they eventually owned in 2011-12, they selected Phil Taylor, Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden.

The Mike Holmgren era in Cleveland didn’t last another draft.

It works both ways though. The somewhat overrated front office in Indianapolis (led by reigning GM of the year for the tough decision of drafting Andrew Luck, Ryan Grigson) sent their 2014 first round pick to the Browns for Richardson — a move which so far looks like a bad move.

Perhaps there’s some hope for Cleveland fans? Their current front office might know what they’re doing. Once again they have a bounty of picks. Once again they’ll try to be more like Seattle and less like their predecessors.

Indianapolis, perhaps trying to mimic the Seahawks when they traded for Marshawn Lynch, could pay for their aggressive approach.

It goes to show there’s no right or wrong way of doing things.

You just need the right guys pulling the strings.

Seattle has the right guys.

Cyrus Kouandjio would be great in Seattle, yet unlikely

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

Throughout Seattle’s injury struggles on the offensive line I’ve spent some time looking at the tackle class for 2014.

It’s inevitable the Seahawks will have to use the next draft to improve O-line depth and possibly replace current starters. I’m a Breno Giacomini fan and I’d love to see him back beyond 2013. But re-signing Michael Bennett and Golden Tate — plus extending Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas — has to be the priority.

It doesn’t leave much room for the club’s starting right tackle.

That’s not to say re-signing Giacomini would be impossible. He’s not going to attract big offers in free agency. Just look at the difficulty Eric Winston had finding work when he left the Houston Texans.

NFL teams don’t ever go crazy trying to fill the right tackle position. Giacomini could easily end up back in Seattle if he tests the market, finds there’s not a great deal out there for him, and decides to remain with a competitive team where he’s a great scheme fit.

Yet the Seahawks are entering an era of selective paying. The veterans they keep and release will have to be managed carefully. The other spots and overall depth of the team will have to be filled via good drafting.

As much as Winston struggled to find a gig with his reputation, he’s still costing Arizona $2m against the cap this year.

So you have to know when to move on and rely on the draft.

It’s the only way to “Win Forever”. Putting a rookie at right tackle in place of Giacomini will almost certainly equal a cost saving. And that saving allows you to have a better shot at keeping the best players on the roster while also paying Russell Wilson.

The wild card is, of course, Michael Bowie. He’s played very well at times this year. Against the Cardinals, he struggled badly. He’s still learning and might be better for his eight games and seven starts.

Has he done enough to win the starting job in 2014? It’s a tough question.

He might end up with the job by default. Good offensive linemen don’t last long on draft day — to the point many get over-drafted. If the Seahawks end up picking in the 25-32 range next year they’ll find their options extremely limited unless they want to trade up.

When you get out of the first round, are you likely to find anyone better than a more experienced Bowie? Perhaps not.

Of the 2014 eligible tackles I’ve watched, Cyrus Kouandjio is the one I want. And it’s not that close.

He had a difficult start this season with a tough outing against Virginia Tech. For one or two weeks after he struggled to live up to the pre-season hype as a likely top-10 pick.

And the critics grew.

ESPN’s Scouts Inc recently dropped him down from a top ten slot to the #17 overall prospect.

I’ve watched last week’s Alabama-LSU game twice and I’ve seen Kouandjio five times this year. And I’d love the chance to draft the guy. For me, he’s the complete package. If teams drop him because of a sluggish start to this year — more fool them.

Right off the bat he’s a terrific run blocker — the kind that really appeals to Seattle. He’s tall (6-5) and moves well (310lbs). He’ll dominate with sheer power — and he’s not top heavy. There are few tackles coming out of college with his lower body power and balance. It’s impressive.

Against LSU he and brother Arie Kouandjio (‘Bama’s left guard and another player I’d love to see with the Seahawks) were just driving guys off the line creating huge running lanes. I don’t think either lost a single 1v1 battle in a traditionally tight contest at the LOS.

Kouandjio’s pass protection is solid too. He handles speed rushers well, forcing them to take deep angles with great footwork and he’s always quickly out of his stance. I think we’ll see at the combine how well he can mirror and side step. He seems to have the long arms that everybody looks for. And he flashes upper body power with a good jab to the pads plus underrated technique with his hands.

I also think he’s a better all-round athlete than people think — not Trent Williams, more Russell Okung.

But perhaps the thing I like the most is he plays with an edge and an attitude — just like Breno. He’s going to have the same steep learning curve all tackles get in the NFL, but playing with fire will help keep him on track during the growing pains. I’m not sure any of the top-10 guys last year had this.

Kouandjio could play left or right tackle at the next level. And as I mentioned, I’d love to see he and his brother reunited in Seattle (Arie looks more of a mid-round fit at guard).

Is it likely?

Almost certainly not.

Despite the knockers it’s hard — in November — to imagine him not cracking the top ten. He’s better than Taylor Lewan. He’s better than Anthony Richardson. For me he’s better than Jake Matthews.

If he does suffer an improbable fall I hope the Seahawks are ready. This guy is legit.

An early look at the tight end position

Monday, November 11th, 2013

It wasn’t too long ago that tight end was considered a possible need area for the Seahawks.

Right now, it doesn’t seem quite so vital.

Seattle had 69 offensive snaps against the Falcons yesterday. They used the fullback Michael Robinson (21) nearly as many times as Luke Willson (25). I suspect for most of snaps involving Robinson they didn’t use two TE’s.

They may well move away from the fullback if Robinson’s return is temporary. But we’ve seen how much Marshawn Lynch benefits from a trusted lead blocker.

Zach Miller is the perfect tight end for a run-centric offense. He blocks well. He makes enough plays in the passing game. He knows Tom Cable’s scheme inside out. And while he’s no Jimmy Graham — who is?

Miller’s cap hit goes from $11m to $7m in 2014. It drops to $6m in 2015. They might be able to do a deal to spread the cost out a little, perhaps with an extra year added to the end. Miller is only 27 after all (he turns 28 in December).

Willson has shown some promise in a limited role. He seems to get a target on every opening drive. I also wouldn’t rule out a return for Anthony McCoy. He’s been with Pete Carroll a long time, he’ll be cheap.

There’s also the chance another former USC prospect such as Fred Davis comes onto the radar. He’ll be a free agent next year. And he too wouldn’t cost the earth after a rough couple of seasons in Washington.

So is tight end a big need?

Not unless there’s an unmissable guy.

Offensive line and, depending on cuts, defensive line depth appears to be more of a pressing long term need.

I’m not sure there’s even any tight ends worthy of first round investment.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins entered the year as a viable first round option — but he’s had an underwhelming season. It started with a DUI and subsequent suspension, his role has decreased.

Does he warrant such a high pick?

Particularly when so many good college tight ends have drifted out of the first round in recent years.

And more than anything, has he played within his means at Washington? Has he ever truly delivered on his potential? If not, will we ever get to see it in the NFL?

I found Tony Pauline’s tight end rankings, published today, pretty interesting.

He listed Seferian-Jenkins as a third round prospect. “Can be an overwhelming force but shows a lot of inconsistency and does not play up to his level of ability.” That just about sums it up. That and the fact he’s unlikely to run the kind of combine time that’ll raise eyebrows.

Interestingly, Pauline has Jace Amaro as his only definite first round pick. “Dynamic tight end that’s quickly developing a complete game. Shows himself to be the go-to receiver that cannot be stopped.”

I need to spend a bit more time looking at Amaro. Recently he made it clear he wouldn’t declare for the 2014 draft, but this weekend he seemed to be giving it more thought…

On the year he has 1102 receiving yards in Texas Tech’s always productive offense. He only has four touchdowns though, so is he enough of a red zone threat?

Despite perhaps not needing to make tight end an ultimate priority, dynamic playmakers are hard to find. Especially 6-5, 260lbs pass-catchers who can get downfield. If he’s the real deal, can you ignore him? Especially if there’s an early rush on the offensive line?

Again, much could depend on just how much of an athlete he is. Tyler Eifert benefited from being the fastest runner at the 2013 combine — clocking a 4.65. Jimmy Graham had a 4.56 in 2010 while Jordan Cameron managed a 4.53. Teams are looking out for guys like that now.

Of the other names listed by Pauline, North Carolina’s Eric Ebron is intriguing yet frustrating. He’s capable of amazing plays and being a difference maker, but he’s also flashed inconsistent effort and hands. He plays at his own pace.

Iowa’s C.J. Fiedorowicz is a good blocker but might not be much of a receiver. After that, it’s not much of a class.

If Seattle finds a 4.5-4.6 guy who will take this offense to another level, then fair enough. Otherwise there may just be too many other priorities early on.

Instant reaction: Seahawks win in Atlanta

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

Beast Mode.

This was by far Seattle’s most complete performance of the season.

Offense, defense, special teams. It was hard to find any fault today. It was all positive.

Even if Atlanta played up to the soft reputation they’ve inherited over the years, there was plenty working against the Seahawks.

At half time both Curt Menefee and Jimmy Johnson referred to the Falcons as the injured team. Johnson even called Seattle “healthy”.

Red Bryant. Max Unger. Sidney Rice. Russell Okung. Breno Giacomini. Percy Harvin. All missing starters for the Seahawks.

During the game they also lost Brandon Browner (groin) and Tony McDaniel (hamstring).

How many teams in the NFL could survive that many absent starters and win as comfortably as Seattle did today?

It was yet another 10am start. They were facing an opponent who knew defeat today and they were done. The refs made a number of questionable calls (the Michael Bennett sack/roughing call was painful to observe).

The Falcons still have Matt Ryan — the main reason they’ve won a lot of games in the Mike Smith era.

Despite all of that, 33-10 flatters the Falcons. And I mean that with the greatest respect — I have a lot of time for the Atlanta fans who were classy last year after the playoff game. But they’ll probably admit this had a similar feel to the huge blowouts Seattle earned at the end of last season.

After the game all I could think about was free agency. This could be a difficult off-season financially.

Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas will get new deals, that much is a given.

But they have to — HAVE TO — find a way to keep Michael Bennett and Golden Tate.

They are just as much of a priority.

Bennett should’ve had two sacks today, the refs put paid to that. He came into the game ranked as the #4 edge rusher in the NFL according to Greg Bedard.

He has been a genuine sensation for the Seahawks this year, the definitive unsung hero.

He might be the most underrated player in the NFL.

While many have flocked to crown Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman as the teams defensive MVP, for me it’s Bennett. He has been the missing piece of the puzzle. The glue that brings all the pieces together and completes the defense.

How long has this team longed for a guy who can rush inside? Bennett doesn’t just do that, he lines up off the edge too. Today he started instead of Red Bryant at the five technique and the run defense improved.

Keeping Michael Bennett is more important than keeping Bryant and Brandon Mebane on the roster. I would rather go into the draft and free agency feeling like I had to replace those two instead of having to replace the new star of Seattle’s defense.

I haven’t studied the financial ramifications (I will) but I believe they can save around $5m in cap just by cutting Mebane.

I would give that $5m to Bennett right off the bat. And then some.

Likewise, if you have to cut currently-injured Sidney Rice to keep Tate I think it’s a tough decision you just have to make. He might not put up huge numbers every week, but he’s become an integral part of this team.

You can’t teach that one-handed touchdown grab today. But it’s not just that — for two years now this team has been able to rely on Tate to make crucial plays at key times. Players like that don’t come around too often. Finding his replacement would become an immediate priority and dare I say — a near impossible task even with guys like Odell Beckham Jr available.

They could back-load contracts. Percy Harvin’s cap hit in 2013 is just $4.9m but escalates to $13.4m next year. Whatever way they do it, they have to be creative to keep this duo in Seattle despite the need to re-sign Sherman and Thomas (plus Russell Wilson a year later).

Darrell Bevell receives plenty of criticism when things go wrong, so it’s only fair he gets some praise today. That was a perfect gameplan. He dialled up the flea flicker at the right time, he brought balance to the offense. And he did what the fans have been calling for — ran Marshawn Lynch in the redzone.

Russell Wilson was again close to flawless and showed just how dangerous he can be with time to throw.

Russell Okung, Breno Giacomini and Max Unger could return next week, but the patchwork offensive line had a terrific game. To a man they all played well — and it was good to see Alvin Bailey get further time on the field.

Jermaine Kearse is a legit NFL receiver and should become an even greater part of the game plan going forward.

Christine Michael got some carries and showed there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be more involved.

Defensively, it was great to see defensive tackle Mike Brooks have an impact after being activated last night. He was unlucky to get cut after a productive pre-season and looked the part today.

Anyone else wonder what annoyed Cliff Avril to the point he had to be pulled away from one of the coaches on the sideline?

The run defense was much improved. Matt Ryan was pressured enough. It would be nice to see a counter to the QB-running-up-the-middle conversion we’ve seen the last two weeks. Ryan and Mike Glennon aren’t exactly Colin Kaepernick, after all.

The linebackers needed to step up after a sloppy game in the first half last week. Mission accomplished.

It’ll be interesting to see who they start with Browner likely to miss a few weeks. Considering Browner is a pending free agent who will be tough to keep, this could be an early audition for his replacement. I’d like to see Byron Maxwell get a shot, but Jeremy Lane got the nod last year ahead of him. Walter Thurmond has acted mostly in the slot it seems, but could move outside.

Next week will be another test of the run defense against Adrian Peterson. Nobody is going to take Minnesota lightly after last weeks contest against Tampa Bay. But the Seahawks have a superb opportunity to go 10-1 ahead of titanic games against New Orleans and San Francisco.

Elsewhere, the Rams’ 38-8 demolition of Indianapolis showed just how good that win in St. Louis was a couple of weeks ago. The Seahawks would be 10-0 if it wasn’t for Andrew Luck.

And the 49ers’ lousy performance and losing at home to Carolina gives Seattle a 2.5 game lead in the NFC West. San Francisco goes to New Orleans next week.

Team of destiny? Seahawks face a big week

Saturday, November 9th, 2013

We might see a lot more of this tomorrow...

Despite sitting nicely atop the NFC with an 8-1 record, the Seahawks don’t necessarily feel like a team of destiny.

Not recently, anyway.

I’m not sure how many Super Bowl champions have looked the part in early November. This time last year the Baltimore Ravens were 7-2, but were two weeks removed from a crushing 43-13 beat-down in Houston.

They got hot at the right time — aka the post season. And then they became a team of destiny. The pieces fell into place and story lines emerged. Ray Lewis’ final dance, Joe Flacco’s ever growing contract demands.

The Seahawks could just as easily catch fire, especially if they secure home field advantage in the playoffs. Teams who don’t face many obstacles during the season usually drown in their own self satisfaction by January.

Those that are challenged usually see the benefit down the road.

Yet the Seahawks still face what seems like a particularly crucial week — starting in Atlanta tomorrow.

What actually looked like a very easy part of the schedule has turned into a war of attrition.

The game in St. Louis against Kellen Clemens and a home meeting against the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers was supposed to be a cake walk. It was the opposite. No cake. Just mountains and rain.

This ‘easy’ run was supposed to continue into the Falcons game and move into the pre-bye encounter with Minnesota.

10-1. Bring on the Saints and Niners.

Not so fast.

The horrible struggles that emerged in the last two games were a warning shot. Not a catastrophe or even a reality check like some have suggested. Just a little nudge.

If Seattle can keep rolling with the punches and get into their bye at 10-1, they’ll be well positioned to go for home field advantage and the NFC West title. They won’t necessarily have to rely on winning in San Francisco.

Atlanta hasn’t run the ball well this year. In fact, they rank #32. Yet St. Louis and Tampa Bay haven’t run the ball all that well either. The Rams and Buccs got a huge statistical boost against the Seahawks but are still only 23rd and 18th respectively when it comes to running the ball.

If the Falcons are looking for a kick start, this could be it.

The run defense needs to improve. Losing Red Bryant to a concussion won’t help matters — but it could be argued the main problem lies beyond the defensive line. The linebackers just haven’t done a good enough job filling the gaps. The defensive ends — undersized as they are — are never going to be great edge setters.

I genuinely wonder if we’ll see a more orthodox four man front on Sunday, with Michael Bennett playing mostly end. Pete Carroll suggested they’d worked on a formation to cover Bryant’s absence. Maybe the most creative defensive line in the NFL will go back to basics?

They need to do something, because while Atlanta has struggled to run this year — they ran all over the Hawks in the playoffs. With Michael Turner at running back. The same Michael Turner who is now out of the league. They managed 167 total yards.

Things don’t get any easier next week with Adrian Peterson in town — and he gashed the Seahawks last year for a half before Minnesota bizarrely took the ball out of his hands.

It’s only two weeks removed that Seattle were shutting down the run in Arizona superbly. More of that and you have a great chance to win the next two.

One other issue they face this weekend (not so much against the Vikings) is a good quarterback. However well Clemens and Mike Glennon played, they couldn’t finish the job. Matt Ryan will not go cold. He won’t need four downs to get into the end zone from a yard out. And he can be incredibly clinical.

It’s a little bizarre how badly Atlanta has folded this year, but most of their problems are on defense. They still have their franchise quarterback.

If there’s a week to bring the pressure and really bring it, this is it. Ryan cannot be allowed to pick apart this defense like he did at times last season. Of course, he’s also one of the more generous quarterbacks out there and can be good for at least one head scratching pick. He had three last week.

There’s no doubt this team will be far better after the bye. Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini will return. Hopefully Percy Harvin will be back too — and boy does that offense need a playmaker at receiver.

Right now they need to try and limp home, battered and bruised but still winning.

Max Unger’s absence will mean we get to see the same line that was abused by Houston in week four. Once again, only one of Seattle’s five offensive line starters will feature in his intended position (J.R. Sweezy).

The Falcons have the 21st best rush defense and the 21st best pass defense. They only have 18 sacks for the year.

Even with another patchwork line, there’s nothing to fear there. But can they get the job done?

More than anything it’d be nice to see a completely boring victory.

Every win apart from the walkover against Jacksonville has had it’s moments. Some games have been more stressful than others. The Arizona win is a great example of what was actually a pretty emphatic victory, but they still managed to turn a 14-0-with-the-ball waltz into a 17-13 battle to start the second half.

If it has to be stressful on Sunday, so be it.

If it can be dull, dull dull and 20-3 Seattle instead, I think we’d all appreciate the break.

But this is a big two weeks. The Seahawks are hurting and might just run out of luck after testing it several times in the last two weeks. If they are flying back from Seattle a home game away from 10-1 and then the bye — maybe this is a team of destiny after all?

Zack Martin (OT, Notre Dame) vs USC

Friday, November 8th, 2013

I like Martin more than a lot of people. For me he’s as good as the big name tackles that are being projected as early picks next year.

He’s a great technician and while he’s not overly physical, he’s got good footwork and hand use. I like the way he recovers if he initially loses a step. And he’s a player to keep an eye on if we’re talking about tackles who might be available in the late first round.

Let me know what you think.