Archive for December, 2017

What are the Seahawks and where are they going?

Monday, December 11th, 2017

We’ve learnt too much about Pete Carroll’s Seahawks to give up with games to play. However underwhelming this season has been so far, it’d be unwise to tune out before the last pass, run or kick of Seattle’s season.

After all, this is a year where Case Keenum’s Minnesota Vikings might get the #1 seed. Jared Goff might be the NFC’s representative at quarterback in the Super Bowl. Keenum or Goff could be facing off against Nick Foles in the NFC Championship.

It’s not just possible it’s actually very realistic.

If you want a cause for optimism, there it is. The Seahawks had one of three quarterbacks being talked about as a MVP candidate last week. Tom Brady’s in the AFC, Carson Wentz has an ACL injury and that leaves Russell Wilson in the NFC.

If he’s in form, the Seahawks can beat anyone in the conference.

This is important to note before going into a critique of where the Seahawks are. The season isn’t a write-off. Not yet. It might be in a week, or two weeks. But not yet.

Now having acknowledged that it’s time to look at this with some honesty.

I don’t know when you started to have serious doubts about this season but for me it was during the Tennessee Titans game. Something didn’t feel right. The Seahawks, three games in, were starting games ice-cold on offense. They were giving up unusual plays on defense. They couldn’t run the ball at all.

It was easy to square it away as just a typical stodgy Seahawks start to the season. Something we’ve come to experience over the years, 2013 aside.

Yet as the weeks went on these issues were never truly rectified. Instead of finding solutions, the Seahawks changed tact and became aggressive. A big trade was made to get a left tackle, the offense shifted to Russell Wilson in a way it hadn’t previously.

An off-season spent talking about lost runs, getting the running game going again, becoming what they once were. Now they were changing their shoes mid-marathon. Pass-centric, Wilson-centric.

And then the injuries started. And continued. And thoughts turned to the future and whether players would ever return.

It unravelled, re-set, unravelled and now they’re facing the prospect of potentially needing to win all three remaining games to make the playoffs.

Has it ever truly felt like a Super Bowl year? Last season didn’t after Wilson’s injury and then Earl Thomas’ broken leg. There was still hope, sure. But when things finally concluded miserably in Atlanta it felt inevitable.

Unfortunately, it feels like that is the destiny for this team now. We know they’re capable of beating anyone. Philadelphia toiled to get 10 points in Seattle last week. They put 43 on the Rams yesterday. Yet we’ve also seen too many games like the one in Jacksonville. Mistakes, penalties, a bad offensive start, more injuries.

It should be noted it’s unusual for an 8-5 team to be faced with potentially needing to win out just to get a wildcard berth. In the AFC currently, the 7-6 Baltimore Ravens look like a fairly decent bet to make it. If not, the LA Chargers (who started 0-4) could make it in as either a wildcard or the AFC West Champs.

The NFC is unusually strong considering the lack of reliance on quarterbacks. Ten wins got Seattle comfortably into the playoffs in 2015 and 2016. Ten wins might not be enough this year.

We’ve spent two years talking about identity and the Seahawks still seem to be seeking to reclaim theirs.

In 2013 and 2014 there was no hiding what Seattle was, what they did well, who they could count on. Now it’s a lot more blurry.

And it’s hard to work out where they’ll go when this slightly stressful, difficult season eventually ends (assuming it isn’t the Super Bowl).

Do they go all-in on becoming Russell Wilson’s Seahawks? Does that mean more investment in the O-line, keeping Jimmy Graham (Russell’s BFF) and Paul Richardson? Does it mean difficult decisions on defense to bankroll making the offense the strength and the passing game more of the identity?

Do they use their first round pick on a weapon — a running back, a receiver?

Do they persevere with the long-established Pete Carroll plan and just seek for better fortune next year (with injuries, with running backs)?

Were the aggressive and bold trades for Sheldon Richardson and Duane Brown indicative of a team that feels this had to be the year for this group? Are they facing a major turnover of talent in the off-season? Is it now time to go through the kind of change Pittsburgh went through a few years ago, moving away from an ageing formerly great defense to put more focus on Big Ben and the offense?

For a team that so often has refused to stand still and just ‘hope for the best’ — is minimal cap room and just one pick in the first three rounds of the draft enough to initiate the kind of recharge needed for 2018? Especially if they can’t afford to keep Graham, the Richardson’s and Joeckel? Do they need to make some tough decisions to recoup cap and picks and maybe mix things up?

Or do they let this group have one more crack at it?

It feels like there are more question marks with every passing season. Last year was a big off-season. That was acknowledged with the moves they made and the risks they took to try and get back to the top.

This upcoming off-season could be even bigger.

Maybe it’s time to trim some of the fat? The Seahawks have a loaded, big name roster. Do they need to be selective now, hand-picking the guys who can be the core for another 3-4 years and try to get younger everywhere else? Is it now about the likes of Wilson, Wagner and Earl rather than the great big long lists of star names?

After all, look at the Patriots. Consistently there every year. They may well win another Championship this year. They have Belichick and Brady and the rest is a near constant churn. Do the Seahawks need a bit more of that? Is keeping things fresh, the message on point — is that more important than retaining a big, established roster?

Are they a bit too long in the tooth, too established and world weary? Is there enough brash fearlessness about this group? Isn’t that what made this team great in the first place? The cocky attitude, the swagger, the ambition, the drive.

Have the Seahawks become the team opponents love to prove themselves against, rather than the side looking to do the proving?

Is it even possible to get back to that now?

There are a lot of questions that are hard to answer. You can probably think of even more.

It’s been a long time since we’ve had this lack of clarity about the direction of the team and what comes next. Rather than being able to focus on a draft need, a tweak, an improvement here or there — this off-season feels bigger, more significant.

Hopefully there’s still life in the 2017 season and the seeming inevitability that this will end in a somewhat similar fashion to the previous two years will prove to be inaccurate.

Meanwhile in draft news, Florida’s Taven Bryan officially declared for the draft today:

For more on Bryan here’s a post I wrote from early October.

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Instant reaction: Seahawks rely on Eagles after Jags loss

Sunday, December 10th, 2017

Let’s just cut to the chase before getting into what happened in the game. The Eagles might’ve saved Seattle’s season. Despite losing quarterback Carson Wentz to a suspected bad knee injury, Philadelphia came from behind to beat the Rams 43-35 in the fourth quarter. Nick Foles, against his old team, did enough.

Had the Rams won that game the Seahawks’ playoff hopes would be hanging by a thread. They would’ve needed at least one of these scenarios to come off:

— Seattle to win all three remaining games and hope LA also loses to one of San Francisco or Tennessee in the last two weeks.

— Win at least one more game than Atlanta to claim a wildcard playoff place. The Falcons play the Buccs (A), Saints (A) and Panthers (H).

— Hope to win at least one more game than the Panthers and earn the tiebreaker. Carolina plays the Packers (H), Buccs (H) and Falcons (A).

This doesn’t even factor in a late possible surge by Dallas or Green Bay, who can both finish 10-6. They both won today too.

The Seahawks were so close to a calamitous week 14. So, so close.

Now, at least next weeks game is for first place in the NFC West. Thanks to the Eagles.

Onto today.

This was a preposterous game. In typical Seahawks fashion, they found a way to make it competitive when they really had no right to. This was not a good performance, littered with big mistakes from every facet of the team.

Russell Wilson threw three picks and the offense had a scoreless first half (more on that in a moment). The defense gave up a 75-yard touchdown immediately after pulling to 10-10, failed to pressure Blake Bortles and couldn’t restrict Jacksonville’s run game at crucial moments.

Special teams had a big turnover but also gave up a huge kick return to set up a Leonard Fournette touchdown and Blair Walsh missed another straight-forward field goal.

Yet despite all of this, the Seahawks turned a 27-10 deficit into an improbable six point game with possession of the football. They had their shot. Their chance to go ahead and escape, somehow, with a solitary win that would’ve carried the power of two.

No sooner had fans started to believe the impossible was going to happen — Jimmy Graham dropped a pass, Doug Baldwin unwittingly stepped out of bounds instead of getting the first down, Russell Wilson was sacked and fourth down fell incomplete.

For today at least, it was a fitting finale.

In many ways it was similar to the Titans road contest. A tight first quarter with the Seahawks struggling for offense, eventually falling behind before a dramatic comeback attempt fell short.

A week after achieving their first ‘clean’ performance of the season, they reverted to type today.

Seattle’s first six offensive drives were riddled with mistakes:

Drive one — Seattle moved the ball effectively until Russell Wilson overthrew an open Nick Vannett. The drive stalled soon after.

Drive two — Germain Ifedi was flagged for ‘taunting an official’, turning a 2nd and 8 into a 2nd and 23. Two runs and a punt followed.

Drive three — A big screen pass to Mike Davis was called back for an ineligible man downfield, eliminating a 35-yard gain. It moved the Seahawks back to their own 16-yard line instead of having first down at Jacksonville’s 45.

Drive four — Seattle resorted to chasing the big play to get some momentum, something that was worked for and against them this season (worked vs Houston, not vs Washington). A deep throw to Paul Richardson wasn’t close. Wilson’s second deep shot to Doug Baldwin lacked conviction, the receiver tripped up and it was an easy interception for Jalen Ramsey. It was a duck.

Drive five — after a heavy dose of Mike Davis got Seattle moving, the two-minute warning suddenly led to a strangely subdued, less up-tempo offense that seemed to focus on draining clock more than really attacking the Jaguars. They settled for a 38-yard field goal. Blair Walsh, unforgivably, missed.

Drive six — after taking an intentional grounding penalty, Wilson threw an ill-advised pass to Jimmy Graham that was picked off. Graham was then flagged for a personal foul for shoving A.J. Buoye out of bounds. Moments later Jacksonville scored a touchdown to lead 10-0.

It was another perfect illustration of how dependant Seattle is on Russell Wilson. As he struggled early, so did the team. When he launched the late comeback, suddenly anything seemed possible.

As good as he is it might be too much to ask of him to play with the efficiency and quality he did last week on a consistent basis. He needs help — and the Seahawks are just too banged up and without a proper running game to handle their significantly smaller margin for error.

This wasn’t completely on Wilson though. Far from it. When they finally got things moving (a field goal, special teams turnover and quickfire touchdown to tie it at 10-10) they astonishingly found themselves down 24-10 just moments later.

Now it was the turn of the defense and special teams to make mistakes. A huge blown coverage, a big kick return. 14 quick points. Momentum lost in a flash.

At 10-10 there was an opportunity to establish control. It wasn’t taken — just as it wasn’t with the scoreless first half.

Adding to the frustration of the day were injuries to Bobby Wagner (hamstring) and K.J. Wright. Simply put, this team can’t afford to lose anyone else.

This is the type of year where anything can happen. Case Keenum could win a Super Bowl. The Eagles, at 11-2, might’ve lost their quarterback for the rest of the season. A Head Coach who is younger than I am might win a Championship during his rookie year in charge.

For that reason, there’s still cause for fans to retain some modicum of hope. This is a crazy, weird, slightly off-putting NFL season. On their day, Seattle is capable of beating anyone, anywhere.

The problem is, there’s just been too many days like this to really believe they’re proper contenders. Would you be surprised if the Seahawks made a big statement next week against the Rams, only to toil against the suddenly resurgent Cowboys (who’ll be welcoming back Zeke Elliott) on Christmas Eve?

The 2017 season appears set to be defined as the year the Seahawks couldn’t get out of their own way. There’s still time to change that — but it’s getting late and the last bus is coming down the road.

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First 2018 mock draft (top-25 projection)

Friday, December 8th, 2017

Firstly, apologies for the lack of posts this week. Disney didn’t have Wifi. Who knew!?

With the college football regular season complete, here’s a top-25 mock draft. The order is taken from the brilliantly named ‘Tankathon’ website. Let me know what you think in the comments section.

Note — I didn’t include Sam Darnold. There’s enough talk about him staying at USC to believe that is likely.

Second note — this is a (very early) projection not a breakdown of where I think every player should go.

#1 Cleveland — Josh Rosen (QB, UCLA)
With accuracy, a great release, the ability to make a range of throws and ideal size — Rosen has every chance to become a very good NFL quarterback.

#2 New York Giants — Josh Allen (QB, Wyoming)
Allen’s 2017 season doesn’t warrant a pick this high. Yet his physical tools will likely entice teams during the post-season workouts. There’s every chance someone will take him this early based on upside even if he has a lot to work on at the next level.

#3 San Francisco — Saquon Barkley (RB, Penn State)
The best player eligible for the 2018 draft with a perfect blend of explosive physical traits, size, playmaking ability and character. A star in the making.

#4 Denver — Baker Mayfield (QB, Oklahoma)
Mayfield is sparky, competitive and completely warrants a selection this early. He’s elusive and improvises superbly when necessary but also makes plays in the pocket. The Broncos need some excitement on offense.

#5 Indianapolis — Vita Vea (DT, Washington)
You have to watch Vea live to really appreciate just how good he is. There aren’t many human’s on the planet who get around the field like he does at a listed 6-5 and 340lbs. The next Haloti Ngata.

#6 Chicago — Bradley Chubb (DE, NC State)
Bradley is Nick Chubb’s cousin. Nick had one of the best SPARQ workouts imaginable in 2013 at the Nike combine. Bradley is a 6-4, 275lbs version of Nick.

#7 Cleveland — (via Houston) — Minkah Fitzpatrick (S, Alabama)
The Browns should take inspiration from the Jaguars. Throw money on stud D-liners in free agency and bring in a young star for the secondary.

#8 Tampa Bay — Christian Wilkins (DT, Clemson)
Wilkins plays a bit like Sheldon Richardson. He might not be quite the same disrupter when rushing the passer but he’s incredibly active playing across the line and his motor never stops.

#9 Arizona — Quenton Nelson (G, Notre Dame)
Possibly the second best player in the draft behind Saquon Barkley. Nelson could go earlier than this depending on how he works out. Terrific prospect. Everything you want from a guard — physical, gets to the second level, plays with an edge.

#10 New York Jets — Connor Williams (T, Texas)
In a league with an increasing left tackle problem, Williams will likely go quite early. He’s highly athletic and should test well. His 2017 season was impacted by a knee injury.

#11 Washington — Roquan Smith (LB, Georgia)
Showed in the SEC Championship game what an impressive player he is. Might not make a ton of splash plays but flies around the field, sets the tone and rarely puts a foot wrong.

#12 Miami — Billy Price (C, Ohio State)
Quenton Nelson is really good but Billy Price isn’t a million miles behind him. Plays with the same edge and tenacity. Urban Meyer raves about him. He coached both Pouncey brothers.

#13 Cincinnati — Clelin Ferrell (DE, Clemson)
Plays bigger than his listed 6-5 and 260lbs. Helps set the edge against the run and does the little things right. Has 8.5 sacks in 2017 but 3.5 came in one game against Syracuse. Consistent performer.

#14 LA Chargers — Mike McGlinchey (T, Notre Dame)
Dominated Harold Landry when Notre Dame met Boston College. Might not be the most athletic but he appears to be relatively sound in his technique and footwork and worked well with Quenton Nelson.

#15 Dallas — Tim Settle (DT, Virginia Tech)
I wanted to put Settle higher than this — and probably will do if he declares. He is an incredible prospect. At times he looks like Warren Sapp rushing the passer. Incredible mobility for his size. Fantastic talent.

#16 Oakland — Derwin James (S, Florida State)
A big name player and a big hitter too. He is what he is though — a strong safety. And that can be a valuable thing as we know in Seattle. I just wonder if his stock is more Eric Reid than Eric Berry.

#17 Detroit — Taven Bryan (DT, Florida)
Really good prospect who might be a bit underrated after Florida’s horrible season. Strong at the POA and can dominate with the bull rush — but has enough quick twitch ability to be an effective pass rusher.

#18 Buffalo — Maurice Hurst (DT, Michigan)
Another player who probably suffers because Michigan had a middling season. He looked really good in the first few weeks of the season, constantly providing the kind of interior pass rush teams crave.

#19 Green Bay — Anthony Miller (WR, Memphis)
When I started this mock I wanted to put both Miller and Tim Settle in the top-15 but couldn’t make it work. Miller will be one of the grittiest players in the draft — but he’s also a big time playmaker. There’s a little OBJ to his game.

#20 Atlanta — Courtland Sutton (WR, SMU)
Sutton recently made the kind of one-handed, improbable grab that makes you think he could still get into the top-15. He won’t be the best tester but he has Dez Bryant’s frame and a knack for the big play.

#21 Buffalo (via Kansas City) — Kerryon Johnson (RB, Auburn)
The Bills could use their two first round picks to move up for a quarterback. Is Lamar Jackson too similar to Tyrod Taylor, who they seem determined to move on from? Kerryon is completely worth a first round grade and could replace LeSean McCoy as the lead back in Buffalo.

#22 Baltimore — Calvin Ridley (WR, Alabama)
The Ravens love ‘Bama. Ridley is really solid but isn’t the most explosive or exciting receiver to watch. He finds ways to get open and will provide a reliable if mostly unspectacular option at the next level.

#23 Seattle — Damien Harris (RB, Alabama)
Harris is an explosive athlete, fits Seattle’s size-profile at RB, averaged 8.2 YPC in 2017, blocks ferociously in pass protection and is a much bigger playmaker than people perhaps realise.

#24 Carolina — Ronnie Harrison (S, Alabama)
Harrison flies around the field and makes big, jarring hits. His sledgehammer blow to Kerryon Johnson basically cost Auburn a chance to compete with Georgia in the SEC Championship.

#25 Jacksonville — Lamar Jackson (QB, Louisville)
I really like Jackson and think he could easily go much earlier than this. He’s underrated — a better passer than people give him credit for, with similar athletic creativity to Michael Vick. He’d be a great fit in Jacksonville to go with that defense.

Honourable mention:

Nick Chubb (RB, Georgia)
I wanted to fit him in the top-25 and would’ve had him in the first round if this was a full projection. If the health of his knee checks out and he has the kind of workout we know he’s capable of, he’ll go in round one.

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Instant reaction: Seahawks win, move to 8-4

Sunday, December 3rd, 2017

Home underdogs for the first time since 2011, experiencing a two-game losing streak at Century Link Field and needing a win to energise the season, not just keep pace with the playoff contenders.

This was a huge (and comprehensive) victory for the Seahawks.

In front of a national audience, Russell Wilson made a case to be a MVP candidate. If the Seahawks keep winning, he’ll be up there.

The defense, banged up and missing key players, limited the Eagles to ten points. Coming into the game they were averaging 32 points per game.

And more than anything this win will get people believing again. It will bring a drifting season back to life. Defeat would’ve had Seattle out of the wildcard spots and two games behind the Rams in the NFC West battle. They could’ve been toast.

Now they’ve beaten a team that were fancied by six points to win in Seattle according to Vegas. Maybe that put the chip back on one or two shoulders?

Nobody was doing the ‘electric slide’ tonight.

This will be a shorter review of the game because it’s 4:40am and in a few hours I’ll be driving to France. Here are some quick notes:

— The defense is missing key defenders but what we saw today is there’s still enough talent to make life difficult for a top opponent. That said, the Eagles started with a very conservative approach. If the two teams meet again down the line, that won’t happen for a second time.

— Jimmy Graham continued his incredible red zone scoring streak. He is a vital part of this team.

— Bradley McDougald had a terrific performance, making several important plays. Based on what he’s shown so far, he might be a priority re-sign.

— Mike Davis might not be a long term answer or the type of player who will get you +100 yards. For now though, he is just what they need to get ‘enough’ out of the running game. He played well again today.

— Wilson is just in majestic form. MVP? Why not? He doesn’t benefit from a fantastic running game like Tom Brady and Carson Wentz.

— Speaking of MVP’s — Bobby Wagner and Calais Campbell have to be at the front of the race for the defensive player of the year.

— Seattle started strongly and played clean football with only a handful of penalties. That is a major positive.

— The Seahawks are 8-4. It’s hard not to think about those two home losses to Atlanta and Washington and wonder what could’ve been.

— Today is also a reminder that as well as Philly, Minnesota and New Orleans have played — they’re not the 2013 Seahawks and are not unbeatable in the post-season.

— This result might focus a few minds in Philadelphia. Good. Their next game is in LA against the Rams.

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Podcast: Seahawks so far, Eagles, running backs & no dancing

Friday, December 1st, 2017

I was invited on to the Field Gulls podcast this week to talk through a few different topics. Why are the Seahawks on a two game losing streak at home? Russell Wilson in December. Running backs in the draft. And most importantly — making sure the Eagles aren’t dancing at Century Link on Sunday.