Archive for January, 2014

Polar opposites, ‘Thank You’ Bill Belichick & a note on Sherman

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

PCJS have used a very different approach compared to John Elway

Long term development vs Short term investment in the Super Bowl

There’s a real contrast in how these two Super Bowl teams were created.

On the one hand you have a front office that has carefully rebuilt an entire franchise, given it an identity and used the draft to mould a winner over four years.

On the other, you’ve got a front office that essentially bought a contender in free agency.

There’s no right or wrong way to get to a Super Bowl.

But Seattle and Denver are polar opposites.

Pete Carroll and John Schneider get a lot of praise. Any coach and GM combo that builds a conference winner is going to get that, whether it’s deserved or not.

For years Bill Polian was lauded as a genius, as Indianapolis regularly contended for Championships.

In reality, he had the fortune to get the Colts GM job the year they drafted Peyton Manning with the first pick.

Not everything Polian did was lousy, but the way his team imploded minus an injured Peyton in 2011 put a lot of perspective on the situation. He was fired as a consequence.

His successor in Indianapolis — Ryan Grigson — was afforded the exact same luxury. He drafted Andrew Luck with the #1 pick to replace Manning and won executive of the year off the back of one of the easiest decisions he’ll ever make.

Carroll and Schneider weren’t gifted a top pick or a generational quarterback to build around.

And that’s why their praise is not only fully justified, it needs to be more specific.

What they’ve done is nothing short of outstanding.

A Hall of Fame, grand slam hitting rebuild if there ever was one.

They didn’t inherit an uber-talented roster needing a bit of organisation and a different voice (see: Kansas City and this years exec of the year — John Dorsey).

They inherited a shambles.

An ageing team with no cornerstone players to build around. There was no identity. Nothing.

Not even hope.

This wasn’t a case of putting a slumping team back on the right track. This was near enough an expansion franchise.

The countless roster moves created a lot of chatter about how the heck they’d keep any kind of consistency going.

And yet it was totally necessary. They had nothing.

And in four years they’ve built a team capable of making the Super Bowl.

In that time they’ve established an identity and philosophy which will no doubt be copied and borrowed by countless other rebuilding teams.

They’ve used the draft to maximum value — not relying on high draft picks, but finding players who fit their schemes and ideals in all rounds.

Crucially, the Seahawks have then worked to develop those players. Too often we look for finished articles in the draft, and I get the sense teams fall for that too. They’ll write guys off for a number of reasons, without imagining the potential.

The draft is nothing without development. You can’t expect to find franchise players just sitting their in rounds four or five. You’ve got to work damn hard to turn those prospects into established players.

How many other teams can boast a lockdown corner and #1 player at his position drafted in round five? How many teams have a franchise quarterback taken in round three? Richard Sherman, Russell Wilson, Kam Chancellor, K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner, Byron Maxwell, Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate.

The list goes on and on.

We’re talking about unprecedented success at turning water into wine.

And all because they know what they’re looking for and they’re willing to coach.

Add in the trade for Marshawn Lynch — an absolute steal from Buffalo — and the PFW should be ashamed that nobody in Seattle has won that Exec of the year award.

Now the team expertly built from scratch is one game away from a title.

And it took just four years to get there.

Denver went in a different direction entirely.

John Elway was appointed as some kind of ‘Czar’ in the front office after Josh McDaniels was fired.

(His official title is executive vice president of football operations)

No rebuilding was required.

Not after they got the cheque book out.

Denver won the Peyton Manning sweepstakes in 2012, fighting off Arizona and Tennessee as the main challengers for his signature. Elway was influential there, as a quarterback who could relate to a swansong and the experience of success at the end of a career.

It was ideal for both parties. Denver had enough parts left over from the Mike Shanahan/McDaniels eras to contend with Manning at quarterback.

He knew they were a better bet than the Titans or Cardinals — even if he took an age to finally commit to the Broncos.

The signing was also big enough to placate the growing army of ‘Team Tebow’ disciples.

Elway needed a way out after Tebow’s histrionics in getting Denver to the playoffs in 2011 and then beating Pittsburgh in the wildcard round.

He knew it wasn’t sustainable, but moving on from a popular winning quarterback is tough. Manning was probably the only option the Tebow fan boys would tolerate — and Elway knew it.

He had to get Peyton.

And now they’re in the Super Bowl.

That pretty much is Denver’s story.

Well, along with more spending.

They’ve barely needed two drafts to enhance what they have. A lot of the surrounding talent was brought in by old regimes. Derek Wolfe was a nice pick in round two (2012). Apart from that they’ve got precious little out of two classes under Elway.

Not much development has been required, other than perhaps the work defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has done with some of his players (eg Terrance Knighton).

Instead they’ve continued to use free agency to find quick fixes.

They pinched Wes Welker from the Patriots last off-season and made a big splash on San Diego guard Louis Vasquez.

Whenever you can improve your team and weaken two close rivals, it’s a chance worth taking.

It’s the ultimate short term approach and could pay major dividends if they win Super Bowl XLVIII.

But they will need to strike while the iron is hot — Manning and Welker won’t last forever. They may not last beyond the next couple of years.

This is a window ready to slam shut.

That’s the downside of a quick fix, but if you can hoist a trophy during a 2-3 year window nobody’s going to complain.

I’d argue the job Elway’s done is no less praiseworthy. Had he failed to land Manning, where would Denver be right now? Another also-ran?

The guy was tasked with winning football games, not winning column inches and awards.

And while his job as a glorified salesman has taken a different kind of skill set compared to the work undertaken by Carroll and Schneider, it still deserves a ton of respect.

It’ll be fascinating to see which of these two very different approaches provides a Champion this year.

Seahawks should thank Belichick

During the AFC Championship game on Sunday, Wes Welker took Aqib Talib out of the game with a very dubious looking pick play.

As Talib went to make a tackle, Welker — who almost certainly knew what he was doing — flattened the corner and took away another key defensive playmaker for the Patriots.

Bill Belichick was less than enthused.

“It was a deliberate play by the receiver to take out Aqib. No attempt to get open. I’ll let the league handle the discipline on that play, whatever they decide. It’s one of the worst plays I’ve seen. That’s all I’ll say about that.”

Belichick’s received a fair amount of criticism for those remarks. Some believe it’s sour grapes after a losing effort.

Welker left the Patriots under a cloud last year after Tom Brady had renegotiated his contract in order to create enough cap room to keep his favourite weapon.

Somehow communication broke down between the parties, almost certainly provoked by Belichick, and Welker ended up in Denver.

And now we get this.

I actually sympathise with Belichick here. It looked like a pick at the time, and it still looks like a deliberate pick today.

Don’t take my word for it — make your own mind up:

I doubt Welker meant to ‘take out’ Talib, but he certainly wanted to make sure he couldn’t make a tackle on that play. And he got away scot free. No flag was thrown.

By kicking up such a fuss on this issue to the media, Belichick has made it a big story. The league will no doubt have to respond.

And as a consequence it wouldn’t be a big shock if the Super Bowl ref’s were asked to keep an eye out for anything similar.

Denver has used a few of these moves during the season to try and create open situations for their receivers, exploiting the short passing game. Most of the time it just involves a defensive back being sent to the turf, not a game-ending injury as we saw with Talib.

It’s an effective move, especially with Manning relying on shorter passes these days and plenty of crossing routes.

It’s also the kind of move they’ll have to consider if they’re going to have success against Seattle’s terrific secondary.

After Belichick’s rant, the ref’s won’t need any excuse to throw a flag a week on Sunday.

So it might be time to send some flowers and a note to Foxborough.

“Thanks, Bill!”

Move on from the madness

Want to see an interesting picture?

That’s Richard Sherman hugging Erin Andrews, right after that interview.

Why are people still talking about this like it’s even barely relevant?

Sherman didn’t swear. He called out Michael Crabtree. Big deal.

Let’s all play a tiny violin.

Journalists everywhere complain when players do boring interviews.

This was a rare moment when actually, we got to hear what a player really thinks.

Sherman shouldn’t have to apologise through ESPN for taking attention away from his teammates.

ESPN, the NFL Network and the rest should apologise to the fans for not focusing on a brilliant NFC Championship game, a deserving NFC Champion and a play so good that no amount of loud words and bravado can diminish it.

And the suggestion that Sherman is some kind of ‘thug’ because of this is frankly offensive beyond belief.

Do some homework on the man, and then move on.

Senior Bowl update

I’m working on trying to get access to some of the drills. Right now it’s hard for me to pass comment without relying on second hand info.

Again, I would recommend Tony Pauline’s Draft Insider website for some of the best analysis.

I will say this though. The number of withdrawals this year have hammered the week.

The Senior Bowl is supposed to be a reward for the players who last the distance and graduate.

Yet it seems every year more and more are opting not to show in Mobile.

A.J. McCarron, Khalil Mack, Anthony Barr, Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan, Darqueze Dennard, Justin Gilbert, Jason Verrett, C.J. Mosley and Lamarcus Joyner all decided not to compete this week.

And yet Eric Ebron and Jadeveon Clowney are there simply watching the action and enjoying the atmosphere.

How damaging can a week of working out with pro-coaches be?

It didn’t do Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson any harm in 2012.

Early thoughts on the Super Bowl & Senior Bowl notes

Monday, January 20th, 2014

What's next?

I slept for two hours last night. Maybe two and a half.

It was gone 6:30am when I eventually crawled into bed. I woke up with a headache and a sore throat to the news Denver had been installed as Super Bowl favourites by Vegas.

It’s irrelevant to the outcome of the game, but I’m a little confused how they came to that conclusion unless they just believe Manning is destined to have a game for the ages.

Seattle’s tougher road to NY-NJ

The AFC West produced three playoff teams, but that’s more a review of the AFC in general.

Kansas City always looked like a paper tiger and were one-and-done in the playoffs. San Diego upset imploding Cincinnati before succumbing to Manning and co last week. The Raiders continue to flounder.

Using Football Outsiders’ week 17 DVOA rankings, Seattle had six games against top-10 opponents — Carolina (#3), New Orleans (#4), San Francisco x2 (#6) and Arizona x2 (#10).

Seattle’s record was 4-2 in those games and 9-1 in the rest (with the other defeat against #13 Indianapolis).

The Broncos had just three games against the top-10 — New England (#5) and Kansas City x2 (#7).

They went 2-1 here (both wins vs the Chiefs) and 11-2 in the others.

Denver’s divisional games were also much less intense. The two games against the Chiefs were relative shoot-outs. The two games against the Raiders were blow outs. San Diego provided real competition and split the series 1-1.

Seattle had to earn every yard against the 49ers, Cardinals and Rams.

There’s little doubt the NFC West is the toughest division in football. It’s certainly tougher than the AFC West.

Both teams ended the year at 13-3. I’m not convinced the Broncos would’ve matched that with Seattle’s schedule.

Denver’s also been given favourable match-ups in the playoffs. They got a 9-7 team in the divisional round at home and then a depleted New England in the AFC Championship.

Of course, you still have to win those games. They only have to look back to last year to see how tough it can be to win in the playoffs.

But nobody can compares Denver’s route to the Super Bowl to Seattle’s. Drew Brees and the Saints (#4 DVOA) followed by another meeting with fierce division rival San Francisco and the hottest team in the NFL.

That’s as tough as it gets in the post season, even at home.

Seattle’s defense vs Denver’s offense

It’s hard not to admire Peyton Manning.

He may look eternally unsatisfied, kind of like a single male Tyrannosaur Rex. Yet there’s definitely a ‘man’s man’ side to his personality, as evidenced by his penchant for a cold one after beating San Diego in the divisional round.

His record breaking season has been a triumph, no matter the opponent.

If Denver weren’t playing the Seahawks in the finale, I’d be rooting for Manning and his team.

The guy works his ass off. Every bit of success has been earned.

And as the tears poured as his departure from Indianapolis was confirmed — he instantly seemed human again amid an avalanche of endorsements and sidelines scowls.

If he’s given time in the pocket in the Super Bowl, he’ll dissect the Seahawks.

Heck, he’ll dissect anyone in that situation.

What’s more, he has without doubt the richest bevvy of targets to throw to. It’s a loaded passing attack, designed to suffocate and dominate.

But has he played a defense like Seattle’s yet?

Not even close.

Look at this graph courtesy of ESPN:

When it comes to yards and points per game, Seattle is on another level compared to the rest of the NFL.

Now if you look at the offensive version of that graph, it’s a similar story for the Denver offense. They’re a mile ahead of everyone else too.

Yet theoretically the two units should offset each other and produce a middle ground. It’s unrealistic to expect either to dominate and there’s probably a medium yards/points the Broncos can realistically attain.

It’ll be up to the Seahawks to exploit the advantage they’ll have on offense against the Broncos defense (according to DVOA it’s the #7 offense vs the #15 defense).

More on that later…

Denver will have a job on protecting Manning the way they’ve done the last two weeks against tepid pass rush units.

They’re missing left tackle Ryan Clady and while it hasn’t hurt them too much so far, this is a very different challenge.

Combine that with the depth Seattle has in the secondary and the Seahawks have a real chance. If Manning needs a little more time to fire those short passes, you’re going to see pressure.

He’s not going to evade sacks like Colin Kapernick. He won’t be able to miss defenders like Drew Brees either. Manning is the ultimate statue.

That’s not to say they have any chance of shutting down the Broncos. They won’t. They’re too good to not have some productive drives and score some points. And this will have to be very ‘bend but don’t break’ rather than total domination.

But the Broncos might need 25+ points to beat the #1 scoring defense in the NFL. Only one team managed that against the Seahawks this year — Indianapolis — and they needed a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown and some Andrew Luck magic (yes — as a scrambler) to get there.

What is going to be crucial here is how Seattle plays the run. At times they’ve looked very good. Ask Frank Gore about it last night. Or the Rams in week 17.

Frustratingly they’ve also been gashed by the run too — weeks 8 & 9 against St. Louis and Tampa Bay were particularly difficult. Likewise the surprise week 16 loss to Arizona.

If the Seahawks can shut down a pretty average pair of running backs (Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball) and force Manning to keep throwing — they can go a long way towards winning this game.

If the Broncos find a way to run on Seattle — and it’s proven to be possible — this will make life much easier for Manning. Balance is key and it’ll give Denver their best chance to put up the points they need to win.

Seattle’s offense vs Denver’s defense

Too many people are going to argue Seattle won’t win this game because they can’t keep up with Manning.

Frankly, that is a pathetic angle.

Nothing about this defense will scare the Seahawks. There’s no Von Miller. The secondary is full of holes. Robert Ayers and Terrance Knighton aren’t going to keep you up at night.

The Broncos have the #15 defense according to DVOA. This isn’t Arizona, San Francisco or St. Louis. This isn’t even the New York Giants’ unit (ranked #6 by DVOA).

In fact this is the worst defense Seattle has faced since Minnesota in week 11.

Really, the Seahawks shouldn’t have too much trouble establishing what they want to do — run the ball and use play action. Wilson can afford to take shots against this secondary and Percy Harvin’s return will add a few extra wrinkles.

The Seahawks had the #7 offense according to Football Outsiders despite playing some of the fiercest defenses in the league.

Only bad execution and mistakes will stop the offense having success on the day.

It’s as simple as that.

I just can’t see the Broncos finding a way to shut down Marshawn Lynch and make Wilson jumpy in the pocket. I could be wrong, but this looks like a strong match-up for the Seahawks.

If Seattle’s #1 defense and Denver’s #1 offense do cancel each other out, there’s a fantastic chance for the Seahawks to win their first Championship.

Ignoring the noise

This could be Seattle’s biggest obstacle.

Are they ready to deal with the pressure of such a huge stage?

Rest assured Manning’s veins will be as cold as that Bud Light he drank last week. He’s been here before. He knows what it’s about.

Seattle doesn’t have anyone like that. This will all be new.

And while so far they’ve consistently delivered in the big games, this is a whole different situation.

They’re going to have the media all over for them next week. The world will be watching.

Staying in the zone and remaining focused will be crucial.

The one big advantage Denver has is its experience.

Seattle’s players need to treat the biggest game of their lives like just another day.

Good luck with that.

Senior Bowl notes

Oh yeah, errrr… the Senior Bowl is happening too.

Who knew?

I’m going to dip into this as much I can without access to the practises. Last year the Draft Breakdown guys (I think?) put some of the drills on Youtube so let’s hope for the same again.

I’d recommend Tony Pauline’s coverage at Draftinsider.net and he’s in Mobile this week.

Here are a few short notes so far:

– Wisconsin receiver Jared Abbrederis, listed at 6-2 by Wisconsin, measured under 6-1.

– Jordan Matthews has big 10.5 inch hands but hasn’t had a great start according to Pauline:

Matthews was also listed under 6-3 (6-2 and 1/2). For me, he’s very much a second or third round pick and a pure #2 NFL receiver.

– Notre Dame’s talented left tackle Zack Martin only has 32 and 1/4 inch arms. It’s guard o’clock for him.

– Keep an eye on Fresno State tight end Marcel Jensen. Big hands, long reach and he flashed at times for the Bulldogs in 2013. Intriguing player.

– Reports suggest Will Sutton looked heavy at 6-0 and 315lbs. It’ll be interesting to see how he tests in the drills.

– Virginia’s Brent Urban is 6-6, 298lbs with nearly 34-inch arms. He’s one player every Seahawks fans should be monitoring.

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Instant reaction: Seahawks are going to the Super Bowl

Sunday, January 19th, 2014

'NFC Champs' sound pretty good to me...

Seattle is going to the Super Bowl.

And they managed it with a second half display that won’t get enough credit.

20-7

That’s your score in second half.

And that’s with the Seahawks scoring zero points in the red zone following the Cliff Avril strip sack.

The first half was a combination of mistakes and missed opportunities.

The second was a tour de force. A truly ‘super’ performance.

More on that in a moment, but let’s start with how this game began — in the most frustrating manner imaginable.

Russell Wilson’s fumble on the first offensive snap turned into a San Francisco field goal.

Richard Sherman’s ill-judged hold extended one drive that eventually led to a 49ers touchdown. Shortly after the penalty, a huge scramble by Colin Kaepernick could’ve been stopped but for several missed tackles.

Seattle failed to recover a muffed punt and couldn’t turn a big downfield pass to Doug Baldwin into seven points.

At the half it kind of felt like the 49ers were dominating.

But they weren’t.

Their entire offense was based around Kaepernick running. Frank Gore was shut down. They weren’t throwing the ball.

Seattle got no breaks and gave up some serious point swings.

San Francisco failed to convert a single third down in the first half.

It was 10-3, felt depressing and yet the opportunity was there to win quite comfortably.

The first thing they had to do was put a lid on Kaepernick’s runs.

Some of them were well designed, if not particularly complex. They’d line up with a runner and then have him motion to an empty backfield. It forced a Seattle linebacker wide to cover and took a body out of the middle.

That was just too easy for Kaepernick, who could afford to let the edge rush develop and then sprint straight ahead on the draw.

On other occasions they faked a bootleg and just had him keep it with no intention of throwing.

The problem is, you can’t keep doing that against a good defense and staff. They’ll find a way to take away a wrinkle. This isn’t the Green Bay defense on the road, happily being gashed against the read option without any answer. The Seahawks had plenty of time to counter and make the necessary adjustments.

In the second half they limited the running lanes, did a better job tackling and forced the Niners to open up the playbook.

San Francisco had to run the ball with Frank Gore (who ended with 14 yards and 1.3 YPA) and have the quarterback throw (two picks, one fumble).

As soon as that was the case, the Seahawks had the advantage.

I like Kaepernick. He’s a fantastic athlete — perhaps the best in the league. That snaking run to set up the first touchdown, the throw to Boldin for another score, the ability to avoid pressure and extend plays. How many other quarterbacks are capable of running for 130 yards against this defensive unit?

But he consistently gives you a chance.

In Green Bay he almost coughed up a pick six on the game winning drive. In Carolina, they had a handful of missed opportunities.

As the second half progressed, and as it became obvious he would have to attempt a few forward passes, it was a matter of waiting for the errors.

For all the hand-wringing about Russell Wilson over the last few weeks, he didn’t throw an interception and his only turnover was the fumble on the first offensive play of the game.

That was a significant difference between the teams.

This was always going to come down to forcing turnovers and making big plays.

The Seahawks won both battles.

Some other brief thoughts tonight…

– Lynch’s big touchdown run to start the second half was a momentum changer and electrified the crowd. On a night when Gore was a complete non-factor, Lynch found a way to have an impact.

– Russell Wilson was really good today. He converted third downs. He did his best to scramble around against a pass rush that flat out dominated at the line of scrimmage. He made the big plays that were lacking in previous weeks.

– If you’re looking for a MVP on offense, Doug Baldwin is your man. Six catches for 106 yards, a 69-yard kick return and clutch plays galore — Baldwin was the playmaker this team had to have at receiver in order to win.

– It kind of makes you wonder — who is more important to this team? Baldwin or Golden Tate? Because both guys will be free agents over the next 12 months. And I’m not sure you can pay both plus Percy Harvin. That’s a debate for another time.

– Avril and Michael Bennett both recorded sacks and once again proved their worth. If the Harvin trade has been a disappointment so far, the other two major off-season additions have been a roaring success.

– Kam Chancellor led the charge in the second half with some thunderous hitting and a key interception. What a night he had, his best for the Seahawks in my opinion.

– Malcolm Smith has three interceptions in his last four games. Talk about making a name for yourself.

– The run blocking gradually improved during the game, but pass protection was as bad as it’s been in many weeks. Aldon Smith had success against Russell Okung, the interior line struggled most of the night too. Wilson was constantly running for his life and deserves some leeway for the decisions he made on some of those scrambles. But we have to remember — the 49ers have an elite front seven.

– A lot of people are talking about the Richard Sherman post-game interview to Erin Andrews. I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.

– The injury to Navarro Bowman was sickening, especially given the truly horrific call by the refs to rule a fumble recovery by Seattle instead of an interception. Let’s hope he makes a full recovery.

So it’s onto New York for a meeting with the Broncos.

It’s strange that amid all the euphoria tonight, the reality is Seattle hasn’t really won anything yet.

This incredible story that began in 2010 and really took off when Russell Wilson became starting quarterback as a rookie will include a Super Bowl chapter.

The question is — will there be a happy ending?

The day before

Saturday, January 18th, 2014

My internet is down. It’s not such a bad thing. I don’t really have much to write about.

Not when it comes to the draft.

Not today.

This is all I’ve got. And I’m painstakingly doing this on my phone so you know I’m serious…

Tomorrow is an exciting challenge for this team.

A chance for the players, the staff and the fans to work together and get to a Super Bowl.

Yes the fans.

We can have a real influence here.

A defining impact.

Don’t leave anything to chance. Scream your guts out.

And make some noise for me too.

Go Hawks.

Percy Harvin will not play on Sunday

Friday, January 17th, 2014

Percy Harvin's second game in Seattle didn't go according to plan

Pete Carroll made a familiar announcement today.

Percy Harvin won’t be playing for the Seahawks this Sunday.

Talk about a frustrating year.

Fans who spent a summer dreaming about the deal have just two games to reflect on so far.

Actually, it’s more like two halves.

It’s a blow for the Seahawks ahead of the NFC Championship game. No doubt about it.

Yet Harvin playing wasn’t necessarily going to be a defining factor. It sure would’ve helped, but it’s hardly the end of the world.

They got this far without Percy, after all.

The passing game has stalled recently against some good defenses. Feeding the ball to Harvin and letting him go to work would’ve taken some of the pressure of Russell Wilson.

While San Francisco can call on three top-tier targets for their quarterback (Crabtree, Boldin and Davis), the Seahawks have to hope Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate, Jermaine Kearse and the two tight ends can be a little more productive than recently.

All have made plays this year. But they’ve also had quiet days too. Against the Cardinals this group struggled to do anything — despite coming up against a weakened Arizona secondary.

They have to be ready. And when Wilson takes his shots, they need to make it count.

It’s times like this that a healthy Sidney Rice would’ve come in handy. He might’ve lacked big time production with the Seahawks — but he can make key plays and has a little more size/speed than the remaining healthy receivers.

Still, there’s no point wondering what could’ve been.

Missing Rice and Harvin hasn’t stopped this team reaching a 14-3 record.

The passing game just has to find other ways to make enough plays to win this weekend.

Just as they’ve done time and time again this season, without Harvin.

Why Seahawks, 49ers fans should embrace victory & defeat

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

This article is sponsored by Fan Kave…

No doubt most of you will be coming together this Sunday in your living rooms to see if the Seahawks can punch their ticket to the team’s second Super Bowl appearance in history. Do you have everything you need for the biggest game of the year so far? Beer? Check! Pizza? Check! An ungodly amount of chips and pretzels? You bet!

Now what about a really cool way to cheer on the Seahawks and even talk a little smack to your friends who can’t make it to your pad this weekend? FanKave can help with that. The new iPad app is essentially an online hangout for Seahawks fans to come together and get fanatical either through text or crystal-clear audio while the showdown versus the 49ers takes place.

(There’s even a mute button in case that old college buddy you invited into your group, who now lives in the Bay Area, starts to get on your nerves with his incessant Kaepernicking jokes.)

There’s live play-by-play updates of the game, which is pretty cool if for some reason you can’t watch on TV but still want to follow the action. Another feature you might like is that you can update individuals plays from the play-by-play feed directly to your Facebook and Twitter account – perfect for bragging when Marshawn Lynch scores on the Niners defense.

Also, over on the right-hand side is a custom Twitter feed with constant updates about the game from the big-time NFL writers from around the country.

You can see a screenshot here.

You can download FanKave directly to your iPad by clicking here. They’ll also have NBA and college hoops in a few weeks, and the app will be available on iPhone and Android soon, so go check it out.

Doug Baldwin believes fans take the Seahawks/Niners rivalry a little too seriously...

Embrace this rivalry, it’s not a bad thing

This is one game both teams really want to win.

I get it.

But let’s take a moment to consider the bigger picture here.

ESPN’s Mike Sando wrote a Tweet today that perfectly sums up how a lot of fans feel:

Mike’s absolutely correct. The fear of losing consumes a lot of people right now. Both in Seattle and San Francisco.

I bet there’s been quite a few sleepless nights this week on the west coast.

The loser not only gets to sit and watch their biggest rival in the Super Bowl. They have to hear about it constantly for two weeks.

They have to watch the excitement, preparation and anticipation of the game — all the while knowing there’s a good seven months before they can do anything about it.

And god forbid Sunday’s winner actually wins the Super Bowl. That would be unbearable.

Avoiding defeat on Sunday is probably more important to a lot of fans than actually winning the game.

Should that be the case?

NO WAY.

In fact it’s time to look at this game with a completely different perspective.

Seahawks and 49ers fans should be grateful they’re part of the best current rivalry in the NFL.

A rivalry which isn’t going anywhere.

Next year, we could easily see a rematch for the NFC Championship. Or at least another post-season get together.

Seattle and San Francisco are the two best teams in the NFC. They have young rosters filled with talent. They have fantastic coaches, backed up by skilled executives in the front office.

Only three years ago the NFC West was won by a 7-9 team limping into the post season.

Now the division is loaded. And two fan bases that have pined for success for decades finally get the spotlight.

San Francisco had to wait eight years for a winning season prior to Jim Harbaugh’s arrival. Seattle suffered two miserable campaigns as the Mike Holmgren era ended and the Jim Mora era never got off the ground.

It’s twenty years since the 49ers won a Championship. The Seahawks are still waiting for their first elusive title.

And in 2014 one of these teams that so craves success is guaranteed to be back in the Super Bowl.

But this isn’t a one-and-done, win-it-or-bust situation.

Next season they’ll slug it out all over again.

Losing shouldn’t be dreaded. It should be embraced as a distinct possibility. There’s a 50% chance of it happening.

Sure it’s a long wait until next season, but so what? You go again. This isn’t a short window for either team.

The fact both teams are so competitive will drive the other on. There’s no doubt that helped Pittsburgh and Baltimore win titles. When your closest enemy is so good, you seem to work that little bit harder.

In that sense Seattle and San Francisco are good for each other.

It gets nasty at times. The way the fans talk on Twitter and online — you can feel the hatred.

Just look at Doug Baldwin’s comments today:

“It gets taken out of proportion by the fans. Don’t get me wrong, it is a great rivalry, but the reason it’s a great rivalry is because it’s two good football teams that are playing against each other. I see all the time on social media… the fans going at each other when the players don’t even go at each other like that.”

I suspect over time we’ll begin to see a mutual respect develop between the fans. The rivalry will be no less intense, but they’ll realise neither team is going to back down — there’s always going to be another game.

Another opportunity.

In a few years time when these teams have met on several occasions in the playoffs, people will begin to appreciate that there’s nothing negative about this rivalry.

The road to finding that mutual respect begins this weekend, because someone’s got to lose. And people will have to deal with it.

If it’s not your turn this time, c’est la via.

The next chapter of Seattle vs San Francisco is already being written.

Expect it to be published in September.

Updated mock draft: 15th January

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Give this man a big target

With Mike Zimmer being named Head Coach in Minnesota today, one vacancy remains.

The off-season is starting to take shape, with only the Browns yet to appoint a coach.

They’re waiting on Denver’s Adam Gase, although Josh McDaniels continues to be linked despite insisting he’s staying in New England.

Either way, they’re drafting a quarterback early.

With five of the top-10 switching coaches, it’s setting up to be an intriguing 2014 draft.

And it all begins with the decision made by Houston.

They’re faced with a really difficult choice. They’ll want to take a quarterback, but can they trust the three best options in this class?

Is Teddy Bridgewater ‘special’? He’ll need to convince teams he can be a dynamic leader as well as productive passer.

Johnny Manziel is the best playmaker in the draft, but has character issues that will put off some teams.

Blake Bortles looks the part physically, but is he another Blaine Gabbert?

The Texans know they can’t force this. They will have options at #33. There’s nothing wrong with playing the long game.

#1 Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina)
Unless you truly believe in one of these quarterbacks, you’re better off taking the player with the best chance to be great.
#2 Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson)
If they don’t believe in Sam Bradford, draft Johnny Manziel. If they do believe in him, give him Sammy Watkins here.
#3 Anthony Barr (DE, UCLA)
Gus Bradley could use a great edge rusher. I have my doubts about Barr, but physically he has a ton of upside.
#4 Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M)
It’s starting to feel inevitable. They might have to move up to get their man.
#5 Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville)
They can’t have another year of uncertainty at quarterback.
#6 Jake Matthews (T, Texas A&M)
The Falcons would probably rather get one of the top pass rushers, but tackle is their next biggest need.
#7 Greg Robinson (T, Auburn)
Fantastic prospect. Elite athletic qualities. Looks like a complete stud. He’s a better prospect than Matthews for me.
#8 Blake Bortles (QB, UCF)
If Mike Zimmer lands Norv Turner as offensive coordinator, Bortles is a great fit for that offense.
#9 Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M)
The more I watch Evans, the more convinced I am he’s a top ten pick and a true #1 receiver.
#10 Marqise Lee (WR, USC)
Just a really good, competitive football player. Would look great alongside Megatron.
#11 Cyrus Kouandjio (T, Alabama)
Kouandjio and Robinson are the top two tackles for me. If he lasts this long it’d be a steal.
#12 Khalil Mack (DE, Buffalo)
Might be set for a Bruce Irvin-style switch to linebacker. The Giants needs a spark on defense.
#13 Tyler Lewan (T, Michigan)
The depth at tackle allows them to go for a guy like Sammy Watkins if they stay at #2.
#14 Ra’Shede Hageman (DT, Minnesota)
He will dominate at the Senior Bowl and secure a place in the top-20 next May.
#15 Eric Ebron (TE, North Carolina)
Terrific athlete with the potential to be the next big time tight end.
#16 C.J. Mosley (LB, Alabama)
He’s the type of player the Ravens draft. They consistently make smart, solid picks.
#17 Louis Nix (DT, Notre Dame)
He’s not dominated in 2013 and it’s a concern. Has he added too much bad weight?
#18 Allen Robinson (WR, Penn State)
Great when it comes to YAC, he’s also an intelligent, grounded receiver with a big future.
#19 Antonio Richardson (T, Tennessee)
Massive tackle prospect who could easily land in the top-ten.
#20 Zack Martin (T, Notre Dame)
Everyone wants to convert him to guard. Why? He’s looked really good at tackle. Top-20 talent.
#21 Jace Amaro (TE, Texas Tech)
Green Bay’s defense stinks, but they know supporting Aaron Rodgers is the only way they’ll win another title.
#22 Brent Urban (DE, Virginia)
Chip Kelly likes defenders with length and speed. Underrated prospect.
#23 Calvin Pryor (S, Louisville)
They could use a partner for Eric Berry. I only looked at his tape this week, but it’s impressive.
#24 Darqueze Dennard (CB, Michigan State)
It’s not a great class for cornerbacks, but Dennard looks like the best available.
#25 Justin Gilbert (CB, Oklahoma State)
Had a productive season and turned a few heads in 2013.
#26 Odell Beckham Jr (WR, LSU)
Could provide a dynamic double threat with Josh Gordon.
#27 Xavier Su’a-Filo (G, UCLA)
Big upside prospect with his best years ahead. Can play tackle or guard.
#28 Kelvin Benjamin (WR, Florida State)
He’s the big bodied wide out Carolina currently lacks.
#29 Austin Seferian-Jenkins (TE, Washington)
Suddenly tight end is a need for the Patriots. That changed quickly. ASJ would be a great fit in this offense.
#30 Bradley Roby (CB, Ohio State)
I still believe in Roby, even after a rough season. He can play.
#31 Brandon Coleman (WR, Rutgers)
Seattle needs a big target for Russell Wilson. Coleman fits the bill perfectly.
#32 Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S, Alabama)
They’ve finally moved on from that play against Baltimore last season, but the Broncos still need a safety.

Further thoughts & tape on Brandon Coleman

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

Oh, for a 6-6 receiver this weekend.

The Seahawks #1 need right now is a big target for Russell Wilson.

Consistency, speed, competitiveness. He’s throwing to a solid group.

But he hasn’t got someone who can be a mismatch in the redzone and generally dominate with height and speed. A possession receiver-plus, so to speak.

I am convinced Brandon Coleman is a great option for the Seahawks with their first round pick this year.

Sometimes we have to look beyond the numbers or even the tape. What is a player capable of? What can he become?

Rutgers have barely had a functioning passing game for two years. Mediocre would be a compliment.

If Coleman played for Florida State I truly believe he’d be seen in a totally different light. Give him a Heisman winner at quarterback and a power house unbeaten supporting cast and he’d be flying.

I don’t think we realise how difficult it is to make technical improvements at receiver when the guy throwing you the ball just isn’t good enough.

He has to take some of the blame too, I appreciate that. Does he do a good enough job high pointing the football? No. Although in fairness a lot of the throws he gets aren’t catchable anyway.

It’s not like there’s tape of 10-15 throws you can say — he should’ve high pointed that. It’s more like 3-4 because they just don’t attempt all that many deep shots.

If he can learn this skill, the sky really is the limit for Coleman.

He has a size/speed combo that reminds me a ton of Josh Gordon. I’ve used that comparison before. Just look at Gordon after a year learning the ropes. He was the most productive wide out in the NFL playing in Cleveland. Cleveland.

It was reassuring to see Dan Pompei report last week that an unnamed National Scout viewed Coleman as a late first rounder.

That’s exactly how I see it.

Physically he’s a top ten pick. Yet because of the offensive struggles at Rutgers and the lack of development, he’s more of a late first rounder.

In that range you can’t expect to draft the complete package. If you want a great player, you have to take a shot.

Whoever you take in the late first is going to be somewhat flawed. And that’s why guys like Coleman and Kelvin Benjamin will go in the 20’s or 30’s and why Mike Evans and Sammy Watkins are top-15 locks.

The game against Notre Dame at the top of this page is a fantastic review of the situation.

Rutgers started the game by throwing away from Coleman — their best offensive weapon. Work that one out.

The below average Gary Nova had been replaced under center by the possibly even worse Chas Dodd (who completed 10/28 throwing and had three picks).

You have to wait six snaps into the video before Coleman gets his first target — a 51-yard downfield bomb. He’s beats the cornerback down the sideline with pure speed, creates separation and hauls in the catch.

That’s what I’m talking about. There aren’t many 6-6 receivers who can do that.

On his next snap he runs a perfect route to the corner of the end zone, beating a pair of defensive backs, and scoring the touchdown. The ball is thrown behind Coleman, but he adjusts to make the grab.

That’s the potential I’m talking about. That’s the positive side of his game. A reason to believe in him, even as a first round pick. You know he can do it.

And yet people turn off. Why? After those two catches, he didn’t register on the stat sheet again.

Draftnik types generally want to buy into production when it comes to receivers. They’ll overrate players with major stats. They’ll look beyond players who don’t have the right numbers.

The thing is, I come back to the offense and the quarterback situation again.

Look at the play at 1:58. Coleman isn’t even into his route before Dodd — without pressure — throws it his way. He’s not ready for that football, he’s still running the damn route. The quarterback deserves that pick. That throw was never on.

At 2:29 Coleman should’ve had another touchdown — but it’s yet another terrible throw. He beats the corner and has position. The ball is thrown just as Coleman reaches the end zone so if you throw that out in front of him it’s an easy six.

Dodd throws it behind the receiver, almost like a back shoulder throw, and nearly gets picked again.

That is insanely poor quarterback play.

At 3:21 they try a gimmick play and let the running back throw it. Can he do any worse? Yes, yes he can. He throws it behind Coleman (again) and it’s picked off. Just awful.

At 3:31 we see the big area for improvement. That’s a pass Coleman can high point and do a better job challenging for. It’s at a good height, and if he leaps up and reaches out he can make a difficult play. He doesn’t and it’s incomplete instead.

At 3:45 he beats the corner and is pulled back in a blatant pass interference call. Better to give up yards than a touchdown, but it’s another example of a 6-6 man looking more agile and athletic than a Notre Dame corner half his size.

It’s this kind of play that makes me say — OK — we need to work on the high pointing. He can do better there. But my god I have to get the chance to work with a player who has this size, movement, control and flat out deep speed.

Put his ability to get open in this video alongside the highlight reel plays we’ve seen him make — running away from defensive backs for 80-yard scores and looking potentially like one of the best playmakers to enter the NFL in recent memory.

There’s no doubt in my mind that he can be big time with a good quarterback and offense.

And I implore you to see past the lack of stats and buy into the upside. Because this guy has it in spades.

Percy Harvin, if healthy, can be the answer

Monday, January 13th, 2014

A couple of third down conversions.

Two connections on easy slants.

That’s the difference between a ‘world is falling’ diagnosis of Russell Wilson’s performance and the continued fawning of a blossoming talent.

He didn’t get close to turning the ball over during a rancid afternoon in Seattle. Wind, rain, cold. That wasn’t quarterback weather.

Seattle ran the ball well enough to win. The defense dominated while leaving just enough room to be even better next week.

Marshawn Lynch looked like a man on a mission.

You look at certain members of this team — Lynch, Richard Sherman, Red Bryant, Bobby Wagner, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor — and you get the impression they’d rather not wake up tomorrow if it meant losing this next game.

“Over my dead body”

And yet all people are doing is panicking about the quarterback.

Crisis, crisis, crisis.

It’s not just Wilson of course. We’re getting the usual, “Darrell Bevell sucks” garbage that always follows a less than inspiring offensive display. Bevell, like Wilson, is just one contributing factor in a large offensive power base.

You better believe Pete Carroll has a huge say in the game plan and in-game decision making. Tom Cable has input. The other ten players on the field have to execute too.

But no, better to complain about the quarterback who’s broken records in his first year as a starter — and the offensive coordinator who never gets any credit for his impossible growth (pardon the pun) in two brilliant seasons.

The Seahawks did what they needed to do on Saturday. They built up a strong lead (16-0), carried it into the fourth quarter and took the air out of the football.

Can Wilson play better? Absolutely.

Does he need to put up 350 yards, three touchdowns and be the entire offense next week?

Absolutely not.

The Seahawks, 49ers and Broncos scored 23, 23 and 24 points respectively over the weekend and won. Indianapolis scored 22 points and were blown away by New England because their quarterback had four interceptions.

Sometimes being conservative and not turning the ball over is enough.

The immediate reaction last night was to worry about Colin Kaepernick’s current form compared to Wilson’s.

In reality, it might be the quarterback who makes the least mistakes that gets the job done next week.

That’s not guaranteed. Either player might have the game of their lives for all we know. I doubt Wilson will get the chance, because the Seahawks are likely to lean on Lynch (and quite right too).

San Francisco might put the responsibility on a quarterback who is growing in confidence and looks sharp. Yet they tried to do that in their last two visits to Century Link and it backfired big time.

Wilson just needs to execute better, with a few different wrinkles incorporated into the game plan.

I don’t see a crisis.

It’s easy for us to sit here on the couch and say what those wrinkles should be. I want to see the tight ends used more, to chip and break and make up for the way teams are defending the bootleg right.

I’d like to see some of the old favourites from the last post-season dusted off. Use Michael Robinson in the red zone. He scored one touchdown against the Redskins, and was a nice decoy for a Wilson rushing score against the Falcons. Use Lynch as a checkdown option. Make Zach Miller the third down read.

Just because that’s what I think is best, doesn’t: a) make it correct or b) put me in a position where I’m qualified to suggest anything with any authority.

But there is one other aspect I do feel very confident about. Something that could lift the offense and make the passing game dangerous again.

Feed Percy Harvin.

Force the football to Percy.

First things first, we have to wait and see if he’s even eligible to play.

Doesn’t it just feel like groundhog day?

If he passes all the concussion tests this week and avoids having to sit out (the eight day break between these games should help) then it’s time to make him the focal point.

And it’s not even that difficult to achieve.

There isn’t another player like Harvin in the NFL, and it’s why Seattle paid so much money to bring him here. Unlike many other elite receivers, you’re not relying on height, physical domination or route running to force the production.

All you have to do is give him the football. Percy does the rest.

Whether it’s an end around, jet sweep, wide receiver screen, bubble screen or even a good old hand off or pitch — Harvin can make big plays.

He’s elusive, he’s dynamic and he has a little ‘beast mode’ after contact.

One play sticks in my mind from Saturday. Seattle set up to throw a screen to Harvin — and he had great blocking by two other receivers in front.

Wilson looked right at Harvin but for some reason didn’t throw it — instead tucking and running for a minimal loss (it went down as one of three ‘sacks’ on the day).

There was no obvious reason why he didn’t throw it. John Lynch on the call suggested it was a bad grip on a wet ball — a complete guess — and then praised Wilson for the decision (????).

We’ll never know why he didn’t throw it. There was a defender who read the play, but he didn’t seem in a position to stop it happening. The worst case scenario of making the pass was a first down. The best case was a massive touchdown run that would’ve seriously padded the passing stats and made everyone forget about any ‘crisis’.

I sense that the real reason Wilson didn’t throw it was he’d been told to play very conservatively and avoid turnovers. Any hint of a mistake and live to fight another down. That won’t be Bevell’s doing — that’ll be Carroll.

The presence of that defender just put a little doubt in his mind, so he bailed.

‘Better safe than sorry’ they might say.

I’d suggest a slightly different approach against the 49ers.

PC: “Russell, more of the same please. I want you to play safe, control the clock and avoid turnovers like your life depends on it. But by the way, feed the ball to Percy. Get it in his hands. If you’re going to take any small risks, do it throwing to our most dynamic player.”

Even if San Francisco does a first rate job defending Harvin when he has the ball, they’ll need to track him whenever he’s on the field. He’s a sensational decoy. The suggestion anyone actually can do a first rate job defending him seems fanciful.

It’s also harder to knock a guy out of a football game when he’s running straight at you with the football.

Throwing downfield leaves him defenseless. Throwing it to him in the backfield makes him dangerous.

Of course all this depends on Harvin making it to game day.

*Fingers crossed*

That’ll be an agonising wait in what already promises to be the longest week of the year.

Is he ready for a big workload? I think so. We saw enough flashes against New Orleans. And to quote Carroll, “If he’s playing, he’s playing.”

It just makes too much sense to feed him the ball if he does make it. If anything, it’s just another example of conservative football. You’re not even giving the defensive backs a chance to get their hands on it. You’re not giving the defensive linemen a chance to sack your quarterback. You’re taking the pressure off Wilson.

Straight from the snap you’re putting the ball in the hands of a guy who had nine catches for 89 yards last time he played the 49ers. He also had a nine yard rush and 74 return yards.

And his team won 24-13.

49ers coming to Seattle next week

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

Seattle vs San Francisco... who makes the Super Bowl?

It seemed inevitable.

Seattle meets San Francisco for a place in the Super Bowl.

The two best teams in the NFC get a chance to settle who is #1.

And the Seahawks get an opportunity to play the hottest team in the league.

Here’s what they’re coming up against…

Colin Kaepernick
Whatever struggles he had earlier in the season, he’s peaking at the right time. Kaepernick looks confident, comfortable and for the first time this year he’s playing with a smile. He’s running well, he’s making plays. Just as Russell Wilson is hitting his first genuine cold streak, Kaepernick looks very sharp.

Boldin, Crabtree & Davis
Without doubt the catalyst behind Kaepernick’s form is the return of Michael Crabtree and the consistent production of Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. That’s three reliable, big bodied receivers who are making plays in the post season. This is the one big difference between the two teams. Kaepernick doesn’t have to be overly precise with these guys. They are a mismatch nightmare and Seattle needs to get Wilson a big target next season.

Defensive line/linebackers are dominating
The 49ers don’t have a great secondary, but they’re able to flood coverage because their four and five man rush is one of the best in the league. Throw in the fact they have two brilliant inside linebackers and it’s a scary group.

Frank Gore
He’s getting old — and his impact in a 60-minute game is diminishing. Yet somehow, he seems to have at least one huge play every week. His +50 yard run beat the Seahawks at Candlestick. A similar effort today finished off the Panthers.

The way the 49ers handled Carolina today was very impressive. The Panthers took a 10-6 lead that probably should’ve been 14-6 after two failed goal line attempts. Even so, Cam Newton was rolling in the first half and had all the momentum.

It was pretty much one way traffic.

Then San Francisco ended the half with a long scoring drive out of nowhere, and started the second with a three-and-out on defense and another long scoring drive.

Game changed, game over.

This off the back of having to go and play a tough game in Green Bay last week.

But before we forfeit the game and doth our caps to the Niners, here’s what the Seahawks can feel happy about…

– Marshawn Lynch ran very well against the Saints and has consistently played well against the 49ers. He will be crucial next weekend, especially if Wilson can’t get out of his little funk.

– San Francisco were a hot team last time they visited Seattle. They’d just destroyed the Packers, with Kaepernick throwing it around to the tune of career best passing numbers. That streak lasted one week, because he was shut down at Century Link — throwing three interceptions in the process.

– As good as San Francisco’s front four is, the Seahawks still made enough plays last time with Paul McQuistan playing left tackle.

– In the recent meeting between the two teams, the 49ers won by two points playing their tails off. They might be able to replicate that intensity with a Super Bowl on the line, but it really took a titanic effort to win by such a small margin.

– Seattle’s defense is playing superbly. They gave up some yardage late on against the Saints, but for the most part did a great job limiting an elite quarterback (Drew Brees) and a collection of excellent receivers. The 49ers are a tougher and superior road opponent, but the defense will be up for this one.

– A big part of the conservative approach on offense yesterday was the 16-0 scoreline. Taking the air out of the ball made a lot of sense. They were a conversion or two from coasting along to a predictable victory and possibly shutting out the Saints. I’m not sure a week of panic is required.

Overall I’d break it down like this….

Passing game edge? San Francisco — Kaepernick is playing very well, Wilson is on a tough run.

Running game edge? Seattle — Lynch is looking sharp again but this one’s close.

Pass rush edge? Seattle can rush, but San Francisco’s front seven is scary.

Coverage edge? Seattle’s secondary is the best in the NFL.

Seattle needs to help Wilson find a rhythm.

Teams are taking away the bootleg right, they’ve got a week to combat that. Short slants over the middle didn’t work this week — in part due to drops, but also due to inaccurate throws.

I think they have to get the tight ends involved. They have to go back to taking some shots downfield — even if it didn’t go to plan against Arizona.

Patience is also required. The 49ers are so effective rushing with four or five, they HAVE to establish the run first. Even if it is frustrating at times. There’s no alternative. They need to try and commit more defenders into the box to attack the secondary.

If they can get Lynch going, they need to be prepared to take some shots, be creative, get the tight ends downfield.

It’s going to be a long week waiting for next Sunday.

I wouldn’t expect a repeat of the last two meetings in Seattle. It’ll be a war this time — there’s too much at stake for a blow out.

A big drive in the fourth quarter or a key pass by one of the young quarterbacks could be the difference. It’ll be fine margins.

The loser is going to face the longest off-season imaginable. The winner will spend two weeks on cloud nine with a shot at immortality.