Archive for September, 2014

Monday notes — about PFF, Shawn Oakman, Eric Striker & more

Monday, September 15th, 2014

Pro Football Focus received a lot of attention this summer when broadcaster Cris Collinsworth bought a stake in it. In many ways it further legitimised the product. We’re going to be hearing even more about PFF’s grades as a consequence. Bob Condotta at the Seattle Times dedicated a lengthy blog post to their breakdown of the defeat in San Diego.

I hope the extra attention and respect doesn’t stop people challenging some of their analysis. PFF’s system isn’t always water-tight, as the following tweet suggests:

Wilson’s two-touchdown, highly productive display against San Diego graded almost identically to Colin Kaepernick’s four-turnover meltdown against Chicago.

Here’s the issue as far as I can see it — PFF’s grades rely on one man’s opinion on a players responsibility during a given play and his ability to execute. As far as I’m aware they don’t use all-22 tape, it’s based on the broadcast output. They’re also judging based on their diagnosis of the scheme and play call. They’re grading a guard, for example, and saying he didn’t do his job because of X, Y or Z.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was criticised by some for the following remarks…

I look at the grades and I can’t tell you what a 0.7 is or anything like that, but I know that the people that are grading our games and our defenses and our offenses, they don’t know if the tackle gets beat inside, if we weren’t sliding out to the nickel or who our guys are supposed to cover. I guarantee they don’t know who is in our blitz package and what they are supposed to do. I would just ask everybody to take that with a grain of salt, including our fans.

… and yet instead of appearing dated or out of touch, Zimmer simply points at the elephant in the room. An analyst sat at home watching the game on his TV or computer is grading every player based on what he interprets his role to be. Sometimes they’ll be right, sometimes they’ll be wrong. To take those grades on face value is to take a leap of faith in the individuals ability to break down every play call and scheme.

I’m not doubting their ability to get it right most of the time. However, it would only take one misjudgement on one scheme to potentially eschew a grade dramatically. If a player isn’t doing what they think he should be repeatedly, he’ll get marked down — possibly unfairly if he’s doing the exact job he’s been set by the coaching staff.

It’s also my understanding they don’t take into account the opponent. So a player competing against J.J. Watt is graded in exactly the same way as a player facing Benson Mayowa. Neither does it take into account supporting cast. J.R. Sweezy was marked down during a stretch where he was the only healthy starter remaining on the offensive line. He was criticised, to some extent, because he played on a hopeless line featuring Paul McQuistan and rookie Michael Bowie at tackle against the likes of Watt, Robert Quinn and Calais Campbell.

In the case of Kaepernick, whoever graded the Bears game clearly decided the quarterback wasn’t responsible for the four turnovers. They decided that his display was on a par with one of the top QB performances over the weekend.

It just doesn’t seem right.

I first became sceptical of the PFF system when I noticed they’d graded Earl Thomas as one of the worst starting safety’s in the league during the 2012 season. Perhaps he wasn’t at his Defensive MVP best like we saw in 2013, but one of the worst?

There is some science involved in the way they grade. It’d be wrong to suggest this is all based on a take. Yet there is a lot of one man’s opinion involved. The Collinsworth-inspired attention has legitimised PFF in a way it never previously experienced. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, because it seems like people are accepting their analysis as gospel. It isn’t. Use it, quote it, debate it. But take it for what it is.

For what it’s worth I’m not one of those anti-analytics types. Football Outsiders is a fantastic website and a weekly must-visit.

Shawn Oakman tape vs Buffalo

He stands out on a handful of plays here — especially the sack. He moves so well despite a reported 6-9, 280lbs frame. For that reason I’m almost certain he’ll be a high pick. There just aren’t many human beings with this level of size and freedom of movement. If Ziggy Ansah can go in the top-five based purely on potential, Oakman could easily be a very high pick next year.

Like Ansah, however, there’s a lot to work on. He has a tendency to get blocked out of plays too easily given his size. He can play with a greater intensity and his technique overall needs some refinement. Yet if he was a really polished, dominating defensive end he’d be a lock to go first overall. Nobody should be surprised he needs a bit of fine tuning.

A coach or GM somewhere will fall in love with the idea of developing this guy. The top-10 doesn’t seem unlikely.

Weekend scouting notes:

I watched the Tennessee-Oklahoma game and focused mainly on nose tackle Jordan Phillips. He’s a talented player who moves well for his size. He had a sack in the first half — stunting around and bursting to the QB. He could develop into a first or second round pick — but he wasn’t the most impressive player on the field in this game.

Eric Striker (6-0, 221lbs) is used mainly as a pass rusher but he’s really an athletic, roaming linebacker who just makes plays. He’s a junior and had three sacks in the Sugar Bowl last season versus Alabama. In this game he was constantly involved and stood out a mile.

With smaller, athletic linebackers getting more attention (see: Ryan Shazier) — Striker could be a coveted prospect. His ability to rush from the outside, cover and fly around will be attractive to many teams. If you get a chance to watch the Sooners this year take a look at #19.

It was also another impressive day for senior Chuka Ndulue. He looks bigger than 6-3 and 289lbs and while he might not end up being a high pick — he’ll add quality depth to a defensive line rotation. He’s a NFL player playing college football right now and it shows — he dominated the true freshmen on Tennessee’s O-line.

If we’re debating athletic linebackers destined to be high draft picks, Washington’s Shaq Thompson deserves a mention. He had two defensive touchdowns against Illinois and will almost certainly be a first round pick. The Huskies are getting a lot of love right now, but I’m not convinced Danny Shelton or Marcus Peters will go anywhere near round one. Thompson is a different case altogether.

Shelton is a big, productive tackle but is he enough of an athlete to warrant a high grade? Is he not the prototypical mid-round DT? As for Peters — his recent team suspension is a concern and while he showed what he’s capable of against Stanford last year, his performances are quite inconsistent. With good coaching he could be special, but it’s probably a risk too high for the first frame.

I mentioned it on Saturday but Markus Golden continues to dominate for Missouri. He and team mate Shane Ray have already notched nine sacks between them. They could both go in the first two rounds next year.

Kevin White’s fast start continues. The West Virginia receiver is a fantastic prospect — he had a big game against Alabama in the season opener and he’s already up to 460 yards (2nd in the nation overall) and two touchdowns. He’s 6-3 and 210lbs, sudden in his movement and he high points the football. He has suffered with a lack of confidence in the past but he’s showing no signs of that as a senior. He’s another player to keep an eye on this season.

Congrats to Austin Davis

Three years ago I had a chance to interview Davis — a highly motivated and talented individual at the time playing quarterback for Southern Miss. He went undrafted in 2012 and landed with the St. Louis Rams — and this week had his first NFL start against Tampa Bay. He completed 22/29 for 235 yards in a 19-17 upset victory on the road.

If the Rams want someone to control their offense and make the most of a difficult situation, I’ve no doubt Davis is up to the task. And while he’s now playing for a NFC West rival — I wanted to take the time to congratulate him on his first victory as a pro.

Instant reaction: Seahawks beaten in San Diego, drop to 1-1

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

That’s one of Pete Carroll’s many motto’s. San Diego proved today that sometimes, a good start is the key.

Give credit to the Chargers. They dictated the game from the get-go. Seattle’s defense had no answer to Philip Rivers and the San Diego offense.

Carroll won’t be incorrect if he points to a poor finish. Seattle’s final drive and chance to win stalled after a failed jet sweep set them back to 2nd and 16 — a position they never recovered from. Bruce Irvin’s bonehead penalty was a back-breaker and they failed to recover several fumbles.

Yet the damage was mostly done in the first two quarters and let’s be honest — only one team deserved to win today as a consequence.

On a roasting afternoon in California touching 120 degrees on the field — ball control was key. Long offensive drives were the order of the day to keep the defense fresh. San Diego destroyed Seattle on time of possession in the first half and delivered the telling blow as a consequence.

Seattle’s defense was gassed. San Diego’s unit sat in the shade.

A half time score of 20-14 looked very Seahawky. Despite the battering on defense this was still a close game. But how was Seattle’s defense going to deal with an in-form Rivers after such an energy sapping first half? You could argue the Chargers only scored seven points after the break. Field position was just as important — and errors crept into the performance (see: Irvin). San Diego’s defense was much less fatigued on the final game-winning stop and it showed.

While the Chargers stuck to their identity, surprisingly Seattle strayed away from theirs. Perhaps encouraged by last weeks display against Green Bay and Percy Harvin’s electrifying score (that should’ve been called back), they tried some trickery and took their shots. These conditions called for the run. Pound it up the middle, wear out the defensive line. Set the tone for quarters three and four where the speedy playmakers can have some fun.

If nothing else — get some long drives going straight off the bat to preserve your own defense. San Diego carried an edge in the second half, facing a clearly fatiguing Seattle.

That’s not to say they didn’t have success. Wilson led three quick-fire scoring drives and had a very productive day. Harvin’s touchdown shouldn’t have stood but given that it did, you have to praise the execution. Had Seattle been a little more conservative no doubt the critics would’ve pointed to last week. Carroll doesn’t seem like the kind of coach to play to the conditions — and yet maybe that’s what it needed?

Earl Thomas, possibly the best athlete on the field not named Percy Harvin, had to leave the game with cramps. Kam Chancellor rushed into the locker room with the same problem. At the end of the third quarter Michael Bennett looked exhausted and Byron Maxwell had to go into the locker room too.

You could see how weary they’d become on Antonio Gates’ third and final score. Goodness knows how they got off the field to give the offense one last shot at the end. But even then — they allowed a couple of third down conversions, conceded field position and the Chargers tee’d off knowing they had 89 yards to play with.

The Seahawks drop to 1-1 and if they’d won today, it would’ve been a steal. San Diego are a very accomplished team with a fantastic quarterback. It was a bad performance, but they played worse last year (Rams on the road). This shouldn’t be seen as the first signs of a fading force.

If there is one concern it’ll be recovery. The game against Denver (2-0) sells itself and the defense will need to be fresh against Manning & Co. Dropping to 1-2 is unthinkable but not totally unrealistic. It’s a tough one to have next. And forget what happened in the Super Bowl, this is a new contest.

Other notes:

— A week after Seattle had a very clean night against the Packers, the sloppy penalties were back today. None were more painful than Bruce Irvin’s ridiculous roughing call as Philip Rivers jogged out of bounds. It turned a fourth down field goal attempt into an extended drive and eventually the deciding touchdown. This is Irvin’s third year in the NFL and he needs to start making an impact for the right reasons.

— Antonio Gates had a terrific game especially when you consider he was part of the injury report during the week. For all the success they had defending Jimmy Graham in two games last season, the Seahawks had no answer for Gates. Kam Chancellor had a really difficult day in coverage, as did Malcolm Smith.

— This was the first time in a long time where the defense appeared humbled. It was a really strange day. They made some good plays. And yet whenever the Chargers put themselves in a hole through avoidable penalties, they simply let Rivers carve them out of trouble. It never really felt like the big defensive play would come — and it didn’t. However, the Chargers put the ball on the turf three (maybe four?) times and on each occasion they recovered. On one fumble they even gained positive yardage on the play. The defense needed a break in these conditions and didn’t get one.

— Russell Wilson looked unstoppable and really he was the only reason this wasn’t a blow out. He moved the ball for two swift scoring drives. If there’s one big positive from this day, it’s Wilson’s continued development.

— Percy Harvin didn’t touch the ball until the final drive after his kick return fumble. He had two carries including a score then disappeared from the gameplan. The jet sweep on the first play of the final drive was predictable and ill-timed. They were already backed up needing a touchdown to score. 2nd and 16 halted the drive before it began. It was an ugly series against a revved up defense. Harvin’s absence was almost as confusing as Marshawn Lynch’s in the first half.

— Seattle lost it’s NFL record for consecutive games without a two-score defeat thanks to San Diego’s late field goal. They’ve also lost 33 straight games when conceding 27 points or more — also the longest run in the league.

College Football — week three open thread

Saturday, September 13th, 2014

I’ll have some thoughts later, I’m watching Oklahoma and will be focusing mostly on nose tackle Jordan Phillips. In the meantime feel free to use this as an open thread.

It’s worth noting that Missouri’s Markus Golden had yet another sack this week in a 38-10 victory over UCF. Team-mate Shane Ray also picked up a deuce. Tigers Coach Gary Pinkel said this about the pair earlier in the week:

“They were dominant players a year ago. I had some NFL scouts come in and say, ‘Those two guys are pretty good, but the two behind them, shoot, they might be better. Don’t tell Kony and Michael I said that… I’ll get a text or two tonight, probably…”

Kony Ealy and Michael Sam were second and seventh round picks respectively. It’s almost certain Golden and Ray will top that. Don’t be surprised if Golden goes in the first round in 2015.

Only one team can defeat the Seahawks — themselves

Friday, September 12th, 2014

Corey Liuget has developed into one of the top defensive linemen in the NFL

Very few teams are capable of limiting Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. Even fewer are capable of outscoring the Broncos, Saints and Packers 102-39.

The Seahawks smothered all three opponents, proving they’re currently the class of the league.

What about the 49ers you say? In the last four meetings Seattle leads the series 3-1. That includes a couple of comprehensive beat-downs, victory in the NFC Championship game and a narrow defeat on the road in a game San Francisco had to have.

It took ‘the tip’ to win the most recent contest — and yet if it wasn’t for some avoidable sloppiness from Seattle, it could’ve been another coast.

In the fourth quarter the Seahawks turned two turnovers (and fantastic field position) into just three points. A Colin Kaepernick fumble and interception should’ve put the game out of sight. Instead the home team kept it close, before prevailing anyway.

Seattle will give teams opportunities like that this season. It’s inevitable.

The Cardinals defeat at Century Link is another great example. Carson Palmer had four interceptions in the game and the Seahawks didn’t capitalise. More often than not if this team emphatically wins the turnover battle, it’ll win handsomely. Not on this day. The receivers didn’t make enough plays, the offensive line struggled and Steven Hauschka missed a chip-shot field goal.

Will anyone beat Seattle by being simply ‘better’?


Just look at what happened to Brees, Manning and Rodgers. Let’s concede the 49ers are the closest thing this Seahawks team has to an equal — and even they are taking various hits this year, whether it’s Aldon Smith’s suspension, numerous injuries on defense or the drama surrounding Jim Harbaugh’s future.

The Seahawks greatest opponent this year will be themselves. If they can limit the number of opportunities they present to opponents, they’ll have as good a chance as any team in recent memory to become repeat champions.

And while managing their own performance may be the toughest test they face this year — they’ll come up against several opponents more than capable of capitalising on sloppy play. San Diego and Denver being great examples.

Speaking of the Chargers, there are two key factors at play on Sunday — damage limitation in the passing game and keeping a lid on Corey Liuget.

Philip Rivers is a tremendous quarterback and he can prevail where other big name QB’s have struggled against this defense. He gets the ball out quickly, he’s accurate. He’s tough as nails. And he would’ve beaten the Cardinals if his receivers hadn’t dropped so many passes on Monday.

Nobody should expect Keenan Allen and Antonio Gates to play that badly again. In Danny Woodhead they face a tricky little opponent who had some success against Seattle in New England. He was quiet in week one but could have a bigger role here.

The Seahawks need to play classic Carroll defense. Play stout against the run and avoid explosive plays. Rivers will complete 20-30 passes in the game. The key is making sure that includes a lot of short conversions and drives that stall close in. If he records 180-220 yards instead of 350, the Seattle defense has done its job.

It’s not a particularly threatening Chargers defense. They’re weak at corner (Brandon Flowers is an injury doubt) and don’t have a top edge rusher. They have got one of the top interior rushers in the game. Liuget is legit. He too is carrying an injury but you have to expect he’ll feature. The Seahawks interior offensive line had a good outing against Green Bay, but it’ll be a much tougher test here.

He’s always had an explosive first step and ideal size, even dating back to his time at Illinois. For a while they tried to convert him to a 3-4 D-end but this current Chargers staff appear to want to utilise him inside. He is the biggest threat to Seattle’s run attack and he’s the most likely to force Russell Wilson out of his comfort zone too.

San Diego are still a tough team to work out under Mike McCoy. Last year they had some impressive wins — they won on the road at Philly, Denver and Kansas City. They also beat the Colts at home. And yet their heaviest defeat of the season was a 27-17 loss at struggling Oakland and they also dropped winnable games against Houston, Washington and Miami.

Not many teams will win in Arizona this year and yet the Chargers should’ve done it on Monday. 0-2 teams have only make the playoffs 12% of the time since 1990. They know they need this game. The Seahawks will win if they play something akin to their best. Anything less and the Chargers have a real chance.

Seahawks needs: status check 9th September

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Vic Beasley could be on Seattle’s radar this season

Throughout the year we’ll consider 2015 needs based on how the team’s performing. It’s still early days, but even now all signs point to a strong focus on the defensive line.

There are several key prospective free agents. Complicating matters is the inevitable +$100m contract set aside for Russell Wilson. He will get that deal, no doubt at all.

Top pass rusher Cliff Avril is a free agent, along with Byron Maxwell, K.J. Wright, James Carpenter, Malcolm Smith, Jermaine Kearse and O’Brien Schofield.

The cap is expected to increase again in 2015, freeing up extra room. The Seahawks will probably be able to do more than simply extend Wilson. Wright stands to be a priority. It might be difficult to get a deal done with Carpenter if he continues his recent form. Kearse may open to a Doug Baldwin-style contract, depending on how he plays in 2015. Maxwell will almost certainly get paid elsewhere due to a shortage of good cornerbacks.

Yet it’s the D-line that could be hit the hardest. Avril is 29 next April. This upcoming off-season will be his last opportunity to really cash in. He’ll probably look for some level of security — a 3-4 year deal for example. It seems inevitable he’ll hit the open market, just like Michael Bennett. And then it’s down to what teams are willing to offer. After a quiet 2013, several big name pass rushers (who are older and inferior to Avril) received handsome contracts. Seattle held on to Bennett — can they afford to pony up for Avril too?

O’Brien Schofield also hits the market. This year he was set to sign an $8m deal with the Giants but failed a medical. He had a sack against Green Bay and if he gets 8-10 for the year (or more) he’ll generate interest. Kevin Williams is also playing on a one-year contract, while Brandon Mebane, Bruce Irvin, Tony McDaniel and Greg Scruggs are only signed through the 2015 season.

Bennett, Cassius Marsh and Jordan Hill are the only players tied down beyond that.

Defensive line is the one area the John Schneider/Pete Carroll draft magic hasn’t worked so far. They’ve not uncovered any real gems (although that could change this season). They’ve relied on veteran acquisitions either in free agency or by trade.

If they lose Avril and Schofield there’s nothing to suggest they won’t simply go out and find another pair of quality veterans. Their ability to do so, however, may be hampered by the new Wilson contract and the desire to extend guys like Wright and others. They couldn’t convince Jared Allen to ‘play for a ring’ this year, or Henry Melton.

There aren’t too many other need areas. They have Brock Coyle and Kevin Pierre-Louis ready to replace Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan if necessary. Even if they lose Kearse, they drafted Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood this year. As for Maxwell — they’ve shown a willingness to develop their own cornerbacks taken in the later rounds. Would anyone be surprised if Tharold Simon started for Seattle in 2015 (health permitting)? Or even some random rookie taken in the middle rounds? And for all the hand-wringing over the offensive line, how many people are complaining right now about Tom Cable’s work with Carpenter, J.R. Sweezy and Justin Britt — or his ability to identify a raw talent?

The defensive line is a safe bet for some serious draft-love, especially LEO/DE. They’ve found ways to add size up the middle without spending big. The top interior pass rushers or nose tackles don’t last until the late first. The highest pick they’ve spent on a DT came in 2013 — a third rounder on Jordan Hill. Consider this — what will keep this defense at the top? Going big on the edge rush or finding guys to work the interior? The priority has to be the edge if they lose Avril and Schofield.

There are two players who stand out in the first couple of weeks of the new college season.

Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson) intrigues me purely because he’s fast as hell. His get off and initial burst looks great on tape. He’s not the biggest but he’s still able to disengage and fight with blockers. He has tremendous balance, he bends round the edge superbly. He’s like a heat-seeking missile and if he needs to run through traffic to get to the QB — he usually finds a way. He’s not a conventional D-end and he’ll give up some plays against the run. Big deal. You can scheme around this and any team willing to be creative will get an impact pass rusher.

Cliff Avril ran a 4.51 in 2008 at 253lbs with an impressive 1.50 split. Bruce Irvin was 245lbs in 2012 and ran a 4.50 with a 1.55 split. That tells you all you need to know about how explosive Avril is — and it also gives us an indicator on what they’re looking for (Irvin was previously dubbed the ‘ideal Leo’ by Carroll).

At 235lbs, Beasley has a chance to add some good upper-body weight and still get into that range. The thing is — how likely is he to be available in the late first round? Marcus Smith went in the first this year with a forty time of 4.68. He had a great 10-yard split, long arms and one year of solid production. Since 2012 Beasley’s recorded 23 sacks in 22 games. If he tests well, he could go much earlier than a lot of people think. Teams play much more nickel these days.

You’ll be sick of me continuously bringing up Markus Golden, but he’s the second player I’m talking about today. Here’s his tape from the weekend against Toledo:

In the NFL he would’ve been credited with three sacks in the game. At 0:10 his pressure forces the QB to fumble, while later in the third quarter he’s the first to the quarterback after he falls to the turf. Look at his get off at 2:18 — bursting into the backfield before the tackle is even out of his stance. He gets a sack at 3:24 by disengaging and flashing ideal long speed to force an 18-yard loss. Also check out 4:58 where he again shows an explosive get off to blow up a run play — he’s in the backfield as the ball is being handed off.

Golden is one of the more underrated players in college football so I’m going to keep talking about him. Nobody last year gave Tennessee’s first round tackle Ja’Wuan James anything to worry about — except this guy. James had a terrific year and it shouldn’t surprise anyone he went in round one. But Golden gave him fits:

It’ll be interesting to see how he tests at the combine. He shows some wheels here:

Golden’s had a great start to 2014 and could rise up the boards. He’s certainly a better player than Kony Ealy who went in round two. I’m intrigued to see more of his team mate Shane Ray too — currently ranked in Scouts Inc’s top-15.

I want to see Florida to check on Dante Fowler Jr — a potential top-10 pick who works the edge and can kick inside too. He’s a terrific player and should go early. Nebraska’s Randy Gregory looks more like a linebacker who can play some rush instead of an ideal edge guy — but maybe he’s the type of player the Seahawks would be willing to develop? He certainly has the length to play the edge (6-5, 245lbs) but he moves well enough in space to play backer and seems to be more effective as a blitzer.

I also want to see more of Shilique Calhoun (DE, Michigan State) — a player who looks the part physically but struggled to get off blocks in the Big-10 Championship game last season and kind of played a little soft against a tough Ohio State O-line.

Baylor’s game against Buffalo is on my schedule for Saturday — a first opportunity to get a live look at the massive Shawn Oakman. He had an easy game against over-matched SMU in week one and this might not be much of a test either. They’re next two games are Iowa State and Texas on the road, followed by a home game against TCU. That’ll be a better gauge of his talents. If he really is 6-9 and 280lbs, it won’t just be the Seahawks intrigued by that size.

Danny Shelton, Markus Golden & other notes

Monday, September 8th, 2014

— Danny Shelton (NT, Washington) is 6-2, 339lbs. He also has six sacks in two games, 7.5 TFL’s and 24 total tackles. He’s a classic nose tackle in every sense — short, stout, strong and wide. Watching him on tape, however, I think his stock will be limited. Teams are switching to nickel as their base. I’m not sure whether a player like this warrants a high grade in the modern NFL. Sure, you’d like to plug him in there for rushing downs. Yet to be effective overall he has to be a physical freak too. Louis Nix suffered badly last year because despite his size and production, he just wasn’t unique like Dontari Poe. Shelton is more Nix than Poe. He might be a nice pickup for someone, but probably not as an early pick unless he’s more athletic than he looks.

— One nose tackle who may be a little closer to Poe is Oklahoma’s brilliant Jordan Phillips. Against Tulsa on Saturday he rag-dolled an offensive lineman before scooping up a fumble and running it back 69-yards for a touchdown. The score was called back on a lousy ‘hit out of bounds’ call. He’s 6-6 and 339lbs — length, size and speed. He had some injury issues last year but he’s back to his best and is eligible for the 2015 draft. Keep an eye on this guy.

— We’ve been all over Markus Golden since last season. He’s an explosive, terrific pass rusher and could easily be a first rounder next year. A former JUCO transfer, he was buried behind Michael Sam and Kony Ealy last season. This year he’s already up to three sacks in just two outings and he looks the part. His sack against Toledo at the weekend showed off his long speed — disengaging from a block and accelerating to the QB. Combine that with ideal short-area quickness, great hand use and the grit to translate to the NFL and he has a shot. Don’t underestimate the ‘grit’ part either. So many college pass rushers win by exploiting average linemen with their speed. When they face top tier linemen in the NFL they need more — and they struggle. This is why hand use and attitude is key. You can’t expect to win on the edge every week in the NFL, you need to be able to engage a block and still win 1v1 battles.

— I mentioned on Saturday the impressive effort by Leonard Williams of USC. Despite spraining an ankle in the week and appearing to re-injure himself during warm-ups, Williams played a full game. I’m not sure he’s quite as good as all the top-five talk suggests, mainly due to his position. What is he? I doubt you draft him as a pure edge rusher because he has marginal edge speed. He’s more of a five technique who can play the three on third down. He has good size and length at 6-5 and around 290-300lbs. He had a big sack on the penultimate significant play of the game against Stanford and led the celebrations after. Given all the pre-season hype over his draft stock, he deserves credit for not playing it safe with an injury. The issue could hamper his ability to play at 100% for a few weeks.

— I’m not sure the Seahawks will be in the market for a player like Denzel Perryman (LB, Miami) but he’s just a really fun player to watch. He’s a tackle machine, an enforcer and he’s going to be a steal for someone in next years draft.

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College football week 2 open thread

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

It crashed shortly after the 2014 draft and sadly this week my computer finally gave in. Hopefully I’ll have a new one by Monday and can put down some thoughts on week 2 in college football. In the meantime, feel free to use this as an open thread.

Two quick thoughts for now after watching USC defeat Stanford…

— Leonard Williams (DL, USC) might be a five tech, he might be a three. He played in this game despite a bad ankle. For such a vaunted prospect to play with an injury, he deserves credit. Williams was clearly slowed but had a key sack with 50 seconds to go. He’s not a speed rusher off the edge but he has great size and power. He holds his own working inside and has good length. Whether he’s explosive enough to go in the top ten remains to be seen, but this was a great effort.

— David Shaw seems like an overrated coach. He’s often touted for the NFL but I just don’t see it. He followed Jim Harbaugh and inherited a deep pool of talent. He’s done fairly well. And yet his team always seems to make critical errors (penalties, usually), he’s an incredibly conservative play caller and they lose big games they should win. If I’m a NFL owner looking for the next great coach in the NCAA, I’m calling Kevin Sumlin.

Instant Reaction: Seahawks pound the Packers

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

Bobby Wagner recorded 14 total tackles

This was a rout. One of those games with a deceptive scoreline — even at 36-16.

The quick-tempo offense Green Bay installed played right into Seattle’s hands. Pete Carroll wants to avoid conceding explosive plays and force turnovers. Chipping away on short passes he’ll take every time. Bend but don’t break. The scheme helped convert a few 3rd and 5’s but they never truly tested the secondary.

Rodgers, one of the best deep throwers in the NFL, barely took a shot.

The most explosive play the Packers had all night was a 44-yard pass interference call against Bobby Wagner. The second most explosive was an avoidable Earl Thomas muffed punt.

They tried to establish the run but the Seahawks tackled well and plugged gaps. Eddie Lacy left the game with concussion symptoms after a 12-carry 34-yard evening. Rodgers didn’t fair much better with 189 yards a score and a pick.

Green Bay’s gameplan was predictable. To beat this team, particularly in Seattle, you need more. You need a quarterback like Colin Kaepernick who can do the unexpected and run around to make plays. You also need to avoid the seven interceptions Kaepernick has thrown against the Seahawks. It’s tough. But in a game that was essentially Rodgers vs Seattle, the Packers never took the training wheels off.

It wasn’t a flawless display by the home team and that has to be concerning for the rest of the NFC. This, if anything, was a classic loosener. There’s room for improvement and they still won by 20 points.

First let’s get into the stand-out positives after one viewing…

James Carpenter had a sensational performance. He always had talent. Big time talent. In fact given Mark Ingram’s issues in the NFL so far, you almost want to go back and give him an even higher grade. He jumped off the screen for Alabama and tonight he jumped off the screen against Green Bay.

On virtually every productive Seahawks run Carpenter had either a key block or just dominated his opponent. Seattle could run to the left side with ease picking up huge chunks of yardage. At one stage Lynch was averaging around 10 YPA. Carpenter destroyed every opponent he faced on an over-matched Packers D-line.

Tom Cable tipped him to become one of the best guards in the NFL along with J.R. Sweezy. On this evidence tonight, they’re already there. They’ll face tougher match-ups but Carpenter is almost certainly Seattle’s best offensive lineman right now. What a turn around and fingers crossed he stays healthy.

They fed Percy Harvin a lot — seven catches for 59 yards, four runs for 41. He could’ve had more but for a brilliantly executed flop by Clay Matthews drawing a flag and bringing back another big run. He also had a 31-yard return.

If you gave him 300 total yards tonight it wouldn’t tell the whole story. Stats will not define Harvin this year. His greatest characteristic is his mere presence on the field. Green Bay had to account for him every time. As a consequence every skill player on the field became more dangerous. Time and time again they ran Harvin on a fly sweep to one side of the field and he carried the defense with him. He’s so explosive over the first 5-10 yards he was eating up downs without breaking sweat.

When he did have the ball he was explosive. The only thing missing was a score. They’ll come in good time.

When has Seattle ever had a player as exciting as this?

If there is one criticism — on more than one occasion he stumbled and lost his footing. Given he was the only player with this issue, he probably needs to look at his footwear for the next home game.

Byron Maxwell got all the attention as Rodgers avoided Richard Sherman like the plague. The volume of targets he’ll receive plus the scheme means he’ll give up some plays in 1v1 coverage. Nobody should be surprised that Jordy Nelson made a few catches against Maxwell. Yet he maintains the ability to create turnovers. He had one interception tonight and a superb downfield pass break-up on Nelson. Don’t underestimate that play — he showed superb technique to avoid a flag and a huge penalty. On the next play Rodgers was sacked by Cliff Avril on 4th down, forcing a turnover.

The pass rush had a quiet first half but found it’s rhythm in the second. Avril, Michael Bennett and O’Brien Schofield all had sacks — no mean feat given the up-tempo nature of the Green Bay offense. There’s still work to do here but against such a prolific passing game this was a reassuring performance.

Zach Miller deserves a mention. He had an acrobatic red-line catch, several key edge-blocks, drew a holding call over the middle and defended a certain interception all in the first half. He ended the night with three catches for 42 yards.

Marshawn Lynch showed tonight why he’s still the key to the offense.

Now onto the not-so-great stuff…

What was Earl Thomas doing on his three first-half punt returns? The first should’ve been a fair catch, wasn’t and nearly led to a nasty hit/turnover. The second should’ve been a fair catch and did lead to a nasty hit/turnover. The third he allowed to bounce inside the 10-yard-line and again — should’ve been a fair catch. If he’s going to keep this role he has to make smarter decisions. The costly muffed punt turnover put seven points on the board for Green Bay. At half-time a one-sided affair was closer than it should’ve been at 17-10.

Stats can be deceiving. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was credited with a sack on a play where Russell Wilson ran for the sideline instead of throwing the ball away. He lost an inch or two on the ‘run’. How that is recorded as a sack I’ll never know. But no doubt there’s an analytic’s website somewhere willing to blame Breno Giacomini for that play.

Seattle was very creative on offense and it worked. But there were a few times where they went away from the run for no apparent reason. On the first drive after half time they drove up to midfield behind Lynch and Turbin and three passes later they were punting. I’m nitpicking here.

The Seahawks are going to take some stopping. Green Bay are far from a bad team and they were made to look very ordinary tonight.

Talking Seahawks on the BBC World Service

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

I was interviewed by the BBC World Service today, talking about the recent success of the Seahawks under Pete Carroll.

If you’re interested in a little pre-game listening, have a listen by clicking here and fast forwarding to 13:21.

Keys to the game: Seahawks vs Packers

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

San Francisco has a 4-0 record against Green Bay in the last two seasons. Two home victories, two road victories. In those four games they’ve averaged 33 points.

The Divisional round in 2012/13 was a major eye-opener. Green Bay’s archaic scheming was no match for Colin Kaepernick and the read option. They had no idea how to stop it, none at all. Aaron Rodgers kept them in a game that should’ve been a total blow out. Kaepernick ran for a quarterback record 181 rushing yards and two touchdowns. The Packers looked old-fashioned, outdated and conceded 45 points on a miserable night.

They spent an entire off-season trying to fix the problem. When they faced Seattle in week three of the 2013 pre-season, they were as intense as any team I’ve seen in a meaningless sporting event. They had the 49ers in week one of the regular season and were determined to make amends. This was a chance to face a similar opponent, to test out all of the summer’s work.

They lost to the Seahawks that night. They lost to the 49ers 34-28 in week one.

Anticipating a heavy focus on the read-option, Jim Harbaugh brilliantly put the game on Kaepernick’s arm. Never known as an accomplished passer, he carved open the Packers for 412 yards in the air and three scores. A career best.

He ran seven times. The Packers probably planned for 17.

It highlighted Green Bay’s inability to adjust to an element of surprise. For what it’s worth the following week Kaepernick had a miserable turnover-laden night in Seattle.

Dom Capers is a highly respectable NFL coach and the current defensive coordinator of the Packers. He’s come in for criticism over the last two years because his defense has looked flat out bad.

According to Football Outsiders, Green Bay had the #31 ranked defense in the NFL last year. Even with Aaron Rodgers missing a large portion of the season through injury, the offense still ranked in the top ten (#9).

If the Packers had even an average defense, imagine how frightening they’d be?

With Capers still clinging to his job, they’ve only made two significant off-season additions. They drafted safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round of the draft and signed free agent Julius Peppers, who turns 35 in January.

Peppers is a generational great with 118.5 career sacks. Yet he only had seven last year on a rotten Bears defense despite playing in all 16 games. Dix meanwhile has been battling for a starting spot with Micah Hyde and according to the teams depth chart — won’t start in Seattle.

The Packers were 28th on pass defense according to Football Outsiders, but 30th against the run. Losing B.J. Raji to a torn bicep won’t help the cause.

Peppers and Clay Matthews will still cause plenty of problems this year, possibly starting in week one. Russell Okung needed extra reps in the final pre-season game to get up to scratch and rookie Justin Britt starts at right tackle. The last two times Seattle started an OL rookie this early, it didn’t go so well on debut. J.R. Sweezy and Michael Bowie were both given a baptism of fire.

You do get the sense, however, you can be creative against this Packers unit and keep them off guard. San Francisco has shown that. The Seahawks will want to establish the run of course and they could have some early success there. But this is still a Caper’s defense that has had major issues adjusting in-game. It won’t be a surprise if Russell Wilson and Percy Harvin are the X-factors in week one, perhaps more so than Marshawn Lynch. They are the two players most capable of providing the unexpected.

Even if Seattle scores points, they’ll still need to keep a lid on the Packers offense. In the four recent defeats to San Francisco they still scored an average of 25 points. In week one last year they managed 28 points at Candlestick — the most San Francisco conceded at home in 2013 and the second most overall (one point short of Seattle’s tally vs the 49ers in week two).

The Niners conceded 48 points to the Packers in two games last season. Seattle might need to exploit possible weaknesses in Green Bay’s defense to win the game. It could be a high scoring contest, maybe even a shoot-out.

Eddie Lacy is a fantastic running back but the key is Rodgers. In Green Bay’s last visit to Seattle (2012) you could see the difference between a pressured Rodgers and a quarterback allowed to get into a rhythm. In the first half he was sacked eight times and scored zero points. In the second half Seattle couldn’t get near him as the Packers upped the tempo and found a way to slow down the pass rush.

Is it optimistic to think he can play four quarters at that level on Thursday? Perhaps, especially against a defense that has taken giant strides since 2012. But if there’s one QB who can do it, it’s probably this guy.

Seattle’s new defensive line couldn’t wish for a better test.

It is a new defensive line — even if many familiar names remain. It’ll be a little strange looking at an early down without Red Bryant’s massive presence or Chris Clemons working the edge. There’s no Clinton McDonald supplying a vital interior rush. The combinations are going to be different, the looks will change. Pete Carroll made reference to a kind of evolution in the immediate aftermath of Bryant’s departure. For us observers, there’s an element of mystery to this.

For starters they have to get to the QB. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are as good as any pass-rush tandem in the league, but against a likely up-tempo passing attack they’ll need to work the substitutions. Can O’Brien Schofield continue his pre-season form? Can Cassius Marsh and Jordan Hill have an impact?

There were times over the last month where the defense looked a little sluggish against both the run and pass. However, key players sat out (Bennett, Bobby Wagner) and they’ll always benefit from a home crowd in Seattle.

What could be key is the return of Bruce Irvin. He had a monster performance against the Packers in 2012 and could see more reps at the LOS especially in rush situations. He could be a surprise impact player on defense.

Something else that maybe works in Seattle’s favour is the Green Bay offensive line. Center Corey Linsley makes his first start following an injury to J.C. Tretter. They’ve also lost tackle Don Barclay to an ACL injury.

Their starting line is: LT David Bakhtiari, LG Josh Sitton, C Corey Linsley, RG T.J. Lang, RT Bryan Bulaga.

If there are questions about Seattle’s defensive line after an off-season of tweaks, there are certainly a few questions that need to be asked about Green Bay’s offensive line.

Nevertheless — as with a lot of up-tempo passing games, the need for an elite offensive line is somewhat diminished. Rodgers’ quick release, superb handling of the offense and ability to find a mismatch makes for a terrific attack. He’ll make plays, but can the defense make more?

One final point on Seattle — the performance of Russell Wilson and the offense during pre-season was a major plus-point. There’s no reason why that can’t continue into the regular season — especially if Harvin remains healthy.

It’s easy to forget that in 2012 he was the most outstanding skill-position player in the NFL for several weeks. The defense has to account for him wherever he lines up. The threat of a bubble screen can free up space over the middle. A faked end-around can drag defenders out of a congested LOS freeing up running room for Lynch. His ability to run deep will create 1-on-1 opportunities for Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse.

Seattle can improve on 2013. That’s the scary thing for the rest of the NFL. The offense has major growth potential with Harvin in the line-up.

Let’s see if they can take the next step — starting tomorrow.