Archive for September, 2018

What’s next?

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018

It’s already here. The talk of big change in the off-season.

The 0-2 start and the manner of the two losses made it inevitable.

Many people appreciate it’s a transition year. They just want to see reasons to be optimistic. I suspect a lot of fans are resigned to 6-10 or 7-9. Or worse. They simply want to go into the off-season believing the good times will be back soon.

Little about this start will evoke any optimism.

It’s not totally negative. The performance of the defense in Chicago, minus several stars, was encouraging. It highlighted Pete Carroll can still coach up a defense. Considering the lack of X-factor talent on the defensive line and the game of musical chairs across from Shaquill Griffin, last night has to be considered a job well done.

But then there’s the offense. And that’s the reason people are losing faith quickly.

Carroll’s interview after the game was bizarre.

Firstly, he revealed he told Brian Schottenheimer to take deep shots at the start of the second half. I get it. They had some momentum before half time and had an opportunity to snatch even more with a big play. Yet they had a spell where they didn’t run the ball for 14 consecutive snaps.

8:11 left in the second quarter until 14:15 left in the game. No runs.

Seattle spent an off-season saying they were going to fix and feature the run. This year they have 64 and 74 rushing yards in their two games. They have zero rushing touchdowns. They appear willing to abandon it in a flash.

Nobody wants them to run for the sake of it but this just seems so contradictory.

Secondly, the Chris Carson mystery (which is staggering and weird). He didn’t run the ball once in the second half. Not a single tote. Carroll said after the game he was tired due to a special teams commitment. Then it was revealed he had only two snaps on special teams. Today Carroll backtracked on 710 ESPN, suggesting he was mistaken. Carson was just tired and he made an assumption.

What’s going on?

Why is Carson tired, if indeed he truly was? Why is Carroll’s message — usually so on-point — now strikingly inconsistent?

People have started to assume, not unfairly, it’s merely an attempt to feature Rashaad Penny. The first round pick. Perhaps that’s true? But it doesn’t answer why Mike Davis got on the field before Carson to spell Penny.

Weren’t Carson & Penny supposed to be a two-headed monster?

What’s going on?

Then there’s the scheme and play-calling. Russell Wilson has never looked so unsure, so jittery, so compressed. He looks uncomfortable.

And even more concerning is their apparent inability to dictate to the defense in any way. They want to run the ball but either can’t or won’t. They see a seven-man blitz from Chicago and don’t have the answers to beat it.

This tweet from Brock Huard sums it up:

The offense was supposed to be the unit they could hang their hat on. This was supposed to be the year they got back to classic Carroll football. Instead, the opposite is happening. The offense hasn’t looked this stagnant in the Wilson era.

Things can change quickly in football. With two home games up next against inconsistent Dallas and Arizona (who look even worse than Seattle), they could easily be 2-2 in a fortnight. It might simply paper over the cracks but some of the doom and gloom would be lifted. Even if it’s just temporary.

They should beat Arizona. Should being the key word. But Dallas? If they lose next week the noise will grow. With a game against the Rams forthcoming, the reality is a 1-4 start heading to London.

That’s not unrealistic. And it’s why this Dallas game is undoubtedly the most important since Seattle was beaten in the playoffs by Atlanta in 2016. The fans need something to show this isn’t the ‘titanic’ after all. They need a reason to believe this team is a good off-season away from being ‘back’.

They’ve had two losses. They need some wins.

The offense has to be better. Carroll and Schottenheimer have to be better. So does Wilson — but he needs help. It has to start now.

Stand-out draft prospects so far

Nick Bosa (DE, Ohio State)
Clelin Ferrell (DE, Clemson)
Ed Oliver (DT, Houston)
Steven Montez (QB, Colorado)
Brian Burns (DE, Florida State)
Devin White (LB, LSU)
Dexter Lawrence (DT, Clemson)
Dre’Mont Jones (DT, Ohio State)
Raekwon Davis (DT, Alabama)
Christian Wilkins (DT, Clemson)
Austin Bryant (DE, Clemson)
D’Andre Walker (LB, Georgia)
David Edwards (T, Wisconsin)

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Instant reaction: Ugly Seahawks fall to 0-2

Monday, September 17th, 2018

Last weeks reaction post started with the words: ‘this could be a long season‘.

It is going to be a long season. Unfortunately.

This was supposed to be a year where the offense stepped up to the plate. They were going to carry the team with a younger defense in transition.

The O-line was supposed to be better. Russell Wilson was going to prove his quality once and for all. They were going to get back to running the ball.

In reality, the offense looks pitiful.

Where do you start?

The Bears showed zero respect to Wilson and the passing game. They regularly attacked with seven, swarming an overmatched offensive line. In that situation Wilson needed to get the ball out quickly. If anything it was an opportunity for the quarterback to attack. Exploit Chicago’s aggressive nature.

He couldn’t do it. Or he can’t. Time and time again he dwelled in the pocket, took a sack, tried to create. No dice. Drive after drive stalled. They had no answer. No solution.

Wilson has struggled badly in the first two weeks. He was jittery again, indecisive. Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers. Keep rushing seven against those guys and they’ll exploit it. Wilson, so far, is failing to show he can operate conventionally with the mass responsibility now on his shoulders.

A week after failing to establish the run, they decided to be more pro-active this week in that regard. The first drive was loaded with runs. But the incompetence of the passing game essentially ended any opportunity to stick with it. Every time they tried to mix in a pass, disaster struck.

Last week they had 64 rushing yards. This week they had 74 rushing yards.

Fix the run? This isn’t it.

Even so, the running game itself seems muddled. The committee approach currently is uninspiring. And this quote from Pete Carroll after the game was baffling:

Carson didn’t have a carry in the second half.

(EDIT — It’s since emerged Carson played two snaps on special teams. Why did Pete Carroll lie about that?)

The offense is a mess. It’s hard to imagine how they’re going to get out of this rut. The hope has to be that it’s just growing pains. This is a new staff, a tweaked unit with a lot of new personnel.

But this is where they’ve invested and placed their faith. Trading for Duane Brown and paying him, a first round pick on a running back, changing the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.

Rather than get better, in many ways things are worse. There’s very little cause for optimism.

It’s strange. Seahawks fans have enjoyed a terrific run in the Carroll era. It’s weird to see such a poor product now. So often in this league you don’t see the cliff-face coming. It looks like it might’ve arrived for Carroll’s team.

The Seahawks deserve to be 0-2. This isn’t 2015 where you felt they had the talent to come back. Already, the key to the season appears to be finding some pieces you can roll with beyond 2018. The performance of the defense — punching above its weight — might offer some hope there. Minus Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, the unit did its best against the Bears. The 24-17 scoreline flattered Seattle.

Yet there still isn’t that core group emerging like we saw in 2011. Carroll surely is hoping that season will be emulated. Rough start, finding their groove later on. Taking momentum forward.

This feels different. There’s no blossoming LOB or Marshawn Lynch. The players on offense they should be relying on are playing poorly.

It’s not good. And neither are the Seahawks.

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CFB week 3: Big name defenders continue to make plays

Sunday, September 16th, 2018

Ohio State duo stand out again

The Ohio State vs TCU game was highly entertaining and featured two big name draft prospects. Nick Bosa (clearly the early favourite to go #1 overall) had a sack fumble that was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown:

Bosa is a complete defender working the edge. Quickness, twitch, the balance to bend and flatten, power. He does it all. Bosa appears faster than his brother Joey and consistently looks like the best defender in college football. The downside? He left the game with a groin injury. Let’s hope it’s not too serious.

Dre’Mont Jones is making a statement at the start of the 2018 season. Against TCU he had a sack, two TFL’s and a pick six. The interception was a tremendous play. He undercut a shovel pass and ran it back for 28-yards:

At 6-3 and 295lbs he has top level speed and agility. It’ll be interesting to see his three-cone and short shuttle at the combine. Based on Ohio State’s first three games (I’ve seen them all) he has a real chance to go in round one.

Elsewhere…

— The Clemson defenders continue to dominate. Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant both collected two sacks against Georgia Southern. Ferrell has five sacks in three games so far. Both players, along with Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins, are highly likely to go in round one. Ferrell is a nailed-on top-10 pick and could easily go in the top five.

— Florida State are having a miserable start to the season. They look terrible. The only positive might be the performance of Brian Burns. A name on our pre-season watch-list, Burns had two sacks and three TFL’s against Syracuse. Burns looks like he still has some filling out to do but he’s long, lean and quick off the edge. He’s making a strong case for round one with the way he’s started the 2018 season.

— LSU’s Devin White is a beast. In a vital win against Auburn, he had a big-time play on fourth and short. White anticipated the snap, shot his game and exploded into the backfield for a TFL. He is a tone-setter, leader and appears to have the athletic make-up of a very high pick at linebacker.

— Greg Gaines got his first two sacks of the season in Washington’s win at Utah. I have the tape of this game but haven’t been able to watch it yet. It’s difficult to project where Gaines might go in the draft but all he’s done for three years is make plays. He’s really good.

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Seattle’s Deep Ball Issue and Why It Wasn’t Going to Leave with Darell Bevell

Thursday, September 13th, 2018

We’re several days now into the usual cycles of “why did this game go wrong” regarding the tough loss to the Broncos.

There’s a lot of reasons not to get too twisted around the axle over the loss, a loss though it be. It was Week 1, which is always weird. It was a non-conference opponent, which favors us in tiebreakers. We didn’t even lose that horribly, and possibly on just a missed field goal. We’re fielding a lot of rookies, some of which were always going to undergo growing pains (and some of which provided some tantalizing potential for the future, like Will Dissly and Michael Dickson).

And, of course, we’re under new coaching. That always creates growing pains as new systems are installed. That’s generally been accepted, particularly given many fans’ distaste for the departed Darell Bevell.

But could it be that the coaching is reason to expect not new things, but generally more of the same?

If you’ll entertain me, consider a pair of passing plays from Seahawks postseason lore (click-throughs required). Both are from the Pete Carroll era; both involve a particular reliance on the deep throw.

This, you might remember, was the first Bears TD in the 2010 divisional contest (the one following the Beastquake game), a 58-yard bomb from Jay Cutler to Greg Olsen.

The public stink of this play was that SS Lawyer Milloy, starting for Seattle that year while mentoring some rook named Kam Chancellor, had lost a step in coverage and needed put out to pasture. A crucial bit of context on this play, and one of the first-level details that armchair analysts usually miss (right up there with whether a defensive line is sending blitz or an offensive line is dialing up a heavy set) is that the play occurred on 3rd down and 2. Milloy was probably surprised by a deep seam route on 3rd and 2 and got caught flat-footed. Most defenders would. Such a low-percentage play call when the average NFL playbook offers dozens of better options for such situations is ridiculous. Or savvy dice-rolling.

The OC calling plays for the Bears that day? Mike Martz – a well-known riverboat gambler.

This second play was Doug Baldwin’s big 35-yard reception in the 2014 conference championship against Green Bay – on 3rd and 6. Again the target was much deeper than down and distance seemingly warranted, and again a defender was caught unaware precisely because he was expecting a shorter route.

The OC calling that play? Darell Bevell.

If you followed this blog during Matt Hasselbeck’s final years in Seattle, you probably got an eyeful of Rob discussing the effect of Hasselbeck’s diminishing arm strength on the offense as a whole. While his pass protection received the lion’s share of criticism, Matt’s lessening inability to strike downfield added to the problem by reducing defenses’ need to cover deep, leaving them with more resources to blitz and resulting in more pressure on the O-line – a snowball effect. It was an example of how numerous factors shape the success of the offense.

Play-calling is another such shaper. This isn’t even a category for some people; we’re in the habit of placing everything on the most visible element, the offensive line. But just as Mike Martz was one of those guys regularly got his quarterbacks sacked and was notorious for boom-or-bust offenses all over the league, a play-caller can free up (or hamstring) his offense through play-calling.

Sound familiar? I’ve long felt that Darell Bevell had some “Mad Mike” in him. Not everyone noticed how often Bevell would call redline shots in situations that seemingly didn’t warrant them. It’s one of those things that is forgiven when it works, but miss a receiver in that situation and the coordinator gets ridiculed for “getting cute” – wasting a 3rd-and-manageable with an unnecessarily tough play.

That was 2015. A lot of Bevell’s gambles that year swung the wrong way, leaving the offense unable to close out the game in the 4th quarter when just one more first down was needed. The defense, left hanging out on the field as a result, would eventually break.

Yet Seattle’s emphasis on the deep passing play has continued. Consider the following statistics from Seattle’s 2017 season (Bevell’s last with the Seahawks):

That’s a lot of deep work. Could this stat be explained by Seattle’s rushing problems and its resulting frequent encounters with 3rd-and-long, thus needing to throw deep? Partially, but not fully. We’re talking 20+ yards downfield. And Seattle has never shied away from give-up run plays in such situations.

Could it be explained by Seattle needing to play constantly from behind, like the Browns? Doubtful. For all its issues, Seattle has only been in a Cleveland-style hole twice in Wilson’s years. That’s part of his legacy.

Also these:

Now we need to talk about the side effects of this big-play philosophy.

Brutal. Russell Wilson was, once again, one of the league’s most pressured quarterbacks. That’s not surprising.

But consider that we are talking about a quarterback with lots of time to throw:

Could some of that eye-popping time-to-throw stat be coming from Wilson’s need to escape the pocket, in turn delaying his throw? Certainly. I don’t think anyone could accurately make the claim that Seattle’s offensive line has been stealthily All-Pro this entire time.

But let me let you in on a little secret.

No playbook anywhere in the league contains a play labeled “X 2 Fake Red Shallow Y Dagger Omaha Omaha Ugh Screw It Just Make the Line Protect for Seven Seconds and Throw to Whoever Gets Open.” That’s not how plays are drawn up in the NFL. Plays target a specific player or field region first, and very few route trees require more than 2.5 to 3 seconds to complete. Aaron Rodgers and his receivers train to begin their scramble drill after 2.8 seconds – the alarm bell at which the play is considered broken. All those times Tony Romo had enough time to grill a burger in the pocket before finding someone open, making you green with envy for a line like his? That wasn’t planned. It was improvisation, as surely as Wilson scrambling. Whatever his OC had in mind for those plays, it was defeated after 3 seconds, salvaged by Romo’s line giving him time to reach his third read and then keep waiting.

This little-known fact has the potential to revolutionize one’s viewing of the game. Not all of sacks and pressures on Wilson over the years have been insta-sacks. If you were to go back and observe his snaps with a stopwatch, you’d be amazed at how many of them were actually coverage pressures – Seattle’s line actually managing 2.5 to 3 seconds of protection (though rarely more) and the play simply doesn’t give Wilson anywhere to throw. Many are long-developing designs that are executed badly, guarded well, or un-exploited by an ultra-conservative quarterback. Of course, it takes a trained eye that can differentiate between two-second sacks and three-second sacks (or simply someone willing to DVR the play a second time instead of relying on their initial takes) to spot this phenomenon. But the point is, while the margin is quite narrow, Wilson is getting time to make the majority of throws in the NFL playbook. Even deep fades can be released relatively quickly thanks to the arc placed on the ball.

Now consider an outlier: Seattle’s categorical defeat of the eventual Super Bowl champion Eagles in Week 13 of last year.The offense went somewhere in this game, and the common sentiment was, “Well the offense did better, so our line must have randomly improved against a terrific front four before going back to mediocrity the next week”.

But watch the cut-up of pass plays below (courtesy of Ben Baldwin, formerly of Fieldgulls) after the third play or so, with an eye for Wilson’s time-to-throw:

This is a striking contrast to Seattle’s typical gameplan. Throughout the game, Wilson got the ball out quickly and decisively – under 2 seconds on average – aided by play designs that gave him options to do so. You did not see nearly as much of the usual Wilson dropping back five to seven steps, finding nothing, and getting pressured. Instead, the O-line’s ability to hold for more than 2 seconds was rarely even tested, by design (and on the few plays where it was, you get the sense that it might not have gone well). Seattle used their playbook to protect the QB.

The 2016 Patriots game was another instance. Again, generally speaking, Russell Wilson was given options to get the ball out; again the offensive line’s issues were, generally speaking, masked with a somewhat quicker passing game. The result was an offense that moved the chains – very Patriots-like, ironically:

The result? The Seahawks handed the eventual Super Bowl champions of that year a stunning loss on their own turf.

But both wins were followed in short order by letdown losses. I remember watching the Tampa Bay rout that came right after that improbable win in Foxborough. From the first drive, what did you see? Wilson holding onto the ball again. Deep shots sought from the first play. No quick throws, no attempt at a run game, but dropbacks from the first play.

And I remember thinking, “He lapsed. He couldn’t keep it up. He’s gone back to the big play again.”

Sack.

Punt.

Sack.

Punt.

Sack.

Punt.

A whopping five points in that contest, right after defeating New England in their own house. What could explain this bizarre but regular Jekyll-and-Hyde act with the Seahawks?

You might think that by “he lapsed”, I meant Darell Bevell.

But Bevell is gone now, and our gameplan against Denver looked notably familiar. Right down to the sideline fades and bubble screens.

You might be thinking that I meant Russell Wilson.

Wilson is getting a blast of criticism these days, to be sure. People are finally locking onto the fact that our beloved QB does hold onto the pigskin. He’s got some Romo in him. And if I watch him run into the opposing stands to avoid a sack one more time, I might well have a coronary.

But somehow I doubt that the core of the problem is Wilson.

Here’s why.

Explosive plays.

I submit a line of Rob’s from 2011:

“This is the Pete Carroll offense; this is the Pete Carroll show.”

Those words in context, at the time, were a refutation of the idea that Pete Carroll was likely to adopt a West Coasty offense after firing Jeremy Bates. It’s easy to see why. If you’ve missed how much Pete lusts after the big play, you haven’t been paying attention. It was all through the offseason media literature and all over the field product since day one of his tenure in Seattle. He loves the big, back-breaking, defense-discouraging play like I love Mountain Dew. And I’ve got a soda gut. Pete believes strongly in the psychological side of football and trying to get in his opponent’s head. The run game? Useful for wearing down opponents, but also code for play action. Again the big play.

Pete is in charge of this team. The coordinators execute his vision. Bates was fired, according to tweets from Seattle players at the time, because he didn’t focus enough on the run. Bevell and Schottenheimer are not independent, forceful, visionary minds of their own. They’re here to execute Pete’s philosophy.

We might not have complained this time a year ago when Pete’s philosophy, married with Wilson’s heroball tendencies, was still producing spectacular highlights.

But I’m here to say, not enough. Not anymore.

A big-play offense works far better, in general, with a standard offensive line and a threatening run game to divide defense’s attention. We have neither at the moment. You can blame anyone you want for that, but the fact remains that we don’t have the horses.

And it’s not a crippling sentence. Pete Carroll still has the choice of how to play-call around these deficiencies. They can call an offense that minimizes the line’s flaws. Or they can call an offense that throws a glaring spotlight on those flaws like a classic black-clothed thief caught against the brick wall in those old films. The Seahawks have tried both offenses since the 2015 bye. I hope I’ve painted an accurate picture of which has worked better in the post-Lynch era.

Now fast forward from all this to the Broncos game.

A lot of credit was given to Case Keenum’s offensive line and a lot of mud thrown at Seattle’s pass rush. There’s some kernel of truth in that. Pass rush is tough to produce on the road. But again, it went unobserved just how well Denver protected Keenum with their playbook. There was no shortage of that. They mixed in a lot of slants and short throws, giving our guys little time to reach Keenum and discouraging blitzing because extra pass rushers leave even more underneath options for Keenum to punish with. It was masterful execution by Denver, at least for the first half, even if Keenum nearly bungled it.

But what did we see from Seattle’s very first offensive play of 2018 – after all those promises of getting back to the run?

Right away we saw a deep pass play. Requiring longer protection. Against Denver’s pass rush. With Germain Ifedi lined up against one of professional football’s premiere pass rushers in Von Miller.

It’s difficult to decipher exactly what the gameplan was, because so much of what Seattle does is dependent on how things start – “flow”, “schedule”, etc. They lack Marshawn Lynch to immediately re-impose their will. There may have been some element of the deep gameplan that Seattle felt was appropriate for Denver. And it’s worth crediting Seattle for supplying Ifedi with two tight ends to protect on the right (though Ifedi managed to get beat anyway, accompanied by Nick Vannett flailing against a delayed blitz himself).

But generally, the gameplan did not particularly jump out as resembling some of Seattle’s better quick-pass days. To try and answer Von Miller on the road in Week 1 with a gameplan demanding lengthy pass protection from a row of known liabilities, when Wilson has proven he can handle a different playbook, should raise legitimate questions about the continuing wisdom of “Pete’s way”. It is bizarre. We have succeeded before by letting Wilson protect himself with quicker throws. It’s how Tom Brady and Peyton Manning assembled such lengthy careers without getting hurt. Case Keenum was doing it just across the way.

But, of course, if it’s just Pete being stubborn, we wouldn’t be surprised. He’s a strong believer in “our brand of football”. It’s not hard to imagine something in him absolutely hating having to play differently. Being uncomfortable and itching to get back to big plays. Hurry-up all the time? He’d likely say, “that’s not who we are”.

Well, Pete…what you are is 9-8 since the last time you were in the playoffs.

And this year, fairly or not, with proper deference to the Super Bowl win or not, the blame is likely, finally, going to start heading in Pete’s direction.

I’m not a huge proponent of that. But with all the other factors out of the way – Bevell, Cable, injuries, the line, the refs, folks’ dislike for the big-name defensive personalities that are now playing elsewhere (while I have you here, how did that go yesterday?), and yes, issues with mediocre drafts and free-agent signings – Carroll is less protected. None of that other stuff was really the dagger. We were a playoff team throughout, right up until a truly bad spate of signings (Eddie Lacy and Blair Walsh?) and some frustrating injury luck at RB sufficiently sabotaged a season. Those defensive stars were still top players at their positions; the stats proved it. Any other view is revisionist history.

But the offensive philosophy…different story. That’s tangible. That’s right there on the field. The influence of that can be dissected, quantified, falsified.

It doesn’t feel like Seattle’s offense is playing to its strengths. It’s plowing ahead with a narrow focus on “doing things our way”. This is not reactionary after Week 1; this has been going on for years. Even more astonishingly, Seattle’s offense has shown the ability to adapt, but they won’t stick with it.

In the fully dismissable opinion of this football blogger, you can lose in the first quarter. It’s a game of attrition. When we came back to beat the Packers on the way to XLIX, it was poor calls on the part of Mike McCarthy from all the way back in the first quarter that contributed to Seattle being in perfect position to force overtime.

That’s the issue, I’ve come to realize, with Pete’s philosophy. It leaves them riding a razor wire.Once, we won ugly often enough to put together a pair of championship runs. That lightning is unlikely to strike thrice, given the advancing age of cornerstones like Russell Wilson and Earl Thomas and the improvement of the division, without a total rebuild. Yet the offense continues to dither around for three quarters while we expect great things from the fourth…why? For what beneficial tradeoff?

This isn’t calling for Pete’s head. He’s the best coach we’ve ever had.

Neither is this asking for a rigid philosophy of always throwing short. That, too, would get predictable. Each philosophy has its upsides.

This is simply saying that Seattle has other proven tools at their disposal. The offensive issues were never going to depart with Darell Bevell, because he was never the problem (even as he wasn’t a scintillating solution, either). The problem lies, amongst other things, in an overreliance on the big play at the expense of moving the chains. It’s worth asking why the coaching staff aren’t adapting to the hand they’ve been dealt (a hand that now includes a declined defense), and it’s worth asking whether pride in philosophy is worth defining Russell Wilson’s prime with mediocrity.

 

Podcast appearance: Reviewing week one in Denver

Thursday, September 13th, 2018

This week I was invited onto the Pedestrian podcast to review the week one loss to Denver. We didn’t hold back. Check it out…

Why have the Seahawks failed to address problems?

Monday, September 10th, 2018

In the early Pete Carroll years, they were prolific in solving problems. Priority #1 was to fix the running game. They’d achieved it by mid-season 2011. They wanted more speed in the front seven. Come in Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvin. They found a young franchise quarterback in the draft and built the best secondary in the league.

They won a Super Bowl.

Recently though, they’ve struggled to address stated needs. Let’s take a look…

Inadequate depth at linebacker

Immediately after the 2016 season, Pete Carroll listed his off-season priorities. Key among them was to improve the depth at linebacker:

“We need some youth at the linebacker spot now. Bobby and K.J. played 1000’s of plays this year between the two of them and were extremely successful but we need to address that. We didn’t really get anybody that made a difference in the last couple of years that can really fight to take those guys job. Think if somebody could battle K.J. and Bobby for their starting jobs? That’s what we need to draft towards, so we’ll be looking there.”

The Seahawks didn’t draft a linebacker in 2017, despite using 11 picks. This year they drafted Shaquem Griffin to compete at the WILL. Regular readers will know I’m a big fan of Griffin’s. I felt before the draft — and still do — that he’s best served as a nickel linebacker and key special teamer rather than a potential starting WILL. At UCF he struggled to drop in zone and he couldn’t set the edge against the run.

Those weaknesses were exposed in the Denver game.

Never write Griffin off. But it’s fair to ask whether his selection in 2017 is enough to address a need Carroll identified nearly two years ago.

And as we’ve seen this year and last, the Seahawks struggle when Bobby Wagner or K.J. Wright miss games. Wright is a free agent at the end of the season. The depth at the position is weak.

It’s strange that Seattle identified proper depth behind Wagner and Wright as a priority, then did so little to address the matter.

Committing to the run

Yesterday we were talking about a familiar topic. The Seahawks keep saying they want to run the ball. Most of their off-season moves were geared towards fixing the run. And yet here we are. Week one — 18 passes compared to 6 runs in the first half. 33 passes compared to 16 runs by the end of the game.

Carroll tried to justify this in a conversation with Brock & Salk today but the argument was, with respect, lacking. He suggested a problem converting third downs (2/12) prevented them from calling more run plays.

I’m not sure this rings true. This was a close game. They didn’t have to chase a big deficit or score quickly. Why not at least try to establish the run as a first-half priority, even if it ultimately doesn’t work?

Mike Salk rightly asked why they started the day passing twice and noted a decision to throw later in the game on third and inches. Carroll countered by admitting they could’ve done but chose not to. They had a play they liked on the 3rd and inches call and should’ve executed. True enough. Wilson missed on the throw off play action. Yet here’s the thing. You want to be a running team. You want that to be your identity. So why aren’t you able to run for an inch or two to move the chains? And why aren’t you even giving yourself a chance to do so?

We’ve been having this conversation for too long. Even after the 2016 season we were talking about a lack of commitment to the run.

The Seahawks had the 25th best running attack in the NFL this year. In the previous four years they were comfortably in the top-five.

Part of the issue is Marshawn Lynch. There will never be another. Lynch was able to impact every game he played in — even on a 20-carry, 60-yard day. His physicality, the attention he commanded and the consistent eight-man boxes provided the Seahawks with an advantage they could only dream of in 2016.

It doesn’t mean they can’t run the ball successfully without Lynch — but it feels like they need to recommit to that aspect of their offense. Too often they started strongly and were then led down a different path. It happened in Atlanta where Thomas Rawls had 29 yards on six carries on the opening drive and five yards on five carries for the rest of the game.

The run game got even worse in 2017 and now here we are. Talking about the same thing — a need to properly commit to their stated identity.

A 64-yard rushing performance like yesterday has become the norm.

Baffling pass rush decisions

Seattle felt they needed an interior rusher so badly in 2017, they spent their first pick on Malik McDowell. It was a risky decision all considered, given his underwhelming college career and fall into round two (McDowell had previously been considered a possible top-10 pick). When McDowell hurt himself in an ATV accident, the Seahawks went out and spent another second round pick on Sheldon Richardson. Two second round picks used to address this need. That’s how much of a priority it was.

So what changed?

A year on and McDowell is practically retired and Richardson walked after a single season, essentially wasting the pick they used on him. Now they proceed without a serious pass rushing defensive tackle.

They went from super aggressive to almost nonchalant about the interior rush in the space of 12 months. Why?

The focus going forward

The pass rush has to be a priority in the off-season. Even if they re-sign Frank Clark. There’s still an opportunity for Dion Jordan and Rasheem Green to emerge as viable long term options. Let’s hope that happens. But next year is set up for a D-line focus.

For starters, nearly all of the big name college prospects have started the season strongly. Nick Bosa is a complete edge rusher and has to be the early favourite to go #1 overall. The Clemson quartet of Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant all look like the real deal. If anything they surpassed the hype against Texas A&M, putting on a memorable show on Saturday.

Ed Oliver is a man on a mission despite already announcing his intention to declare for next years draft. He isn’t taking any snaps off. His quickness is unique for his size, even if some questions remain about his best position at the next level. Florida State’s Brian Burns had an excellent display against Virginia Tech. D’Andre Walker and Devin White are off to terrific starts at linebacker and Alabama’s Raekwon Davis seems destined to go very early.

The Seahawks will have every opportunity to add to their front seven with their first pick. They need to — and possibly should’ve entered the Khalil Mack competition. It’s not often you get an opportunity to add one of the leagues best for the price of a first round pick and a swap of a first and second. What a bargain.

Nevertheless, there will be options in free agency. Jadeveon Clowney has had health issues in his career but there’s no doubting he’s a genuine game-wrecker. Re-watch his performance against the Seahawks last season. He’s playing out the final year of his contract in Houston and could be the best bet in free agency at a decent age (26).

They need something to hang their hat on defensively. The LOB is no more. Adding to the front seven could be a solution. It’s a shame to be speaking this way so early in the season — but what’s the point in delaying the conversation?

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Instant reaction: Seahawks lose opener in Denver

Sunday, September 9th, 2018

This could be a long season.

If this is a year where the offense has to pick up the slack, this type of performance isn’t going to get it done. This was a mess — and a missed opportunity to beat a poor Denver team.

Yes there were highlights. It’d be wrong not to acknowledge Will Dissly’s brilliant debut, the impact of Brandon Marshall, Tyler Lockett’s long touchdown or the flashes from Chris Carson.

Unfortunately, the negatives far outweigh the positives. Seattle needs the offense to step up during a year of defensive change. This was a concerning start.

Russell Wilson had one of those games. He was sacked six times and most were on him. That common complaint that he holds on to the ball too long reared its head again. On two occasions he tried to extend plays unnecessarily, only to run into the grateful arms of Von Miller. He threw a bad interception, looked jittery throughout and struggled — even on a day with three passing scores. He didn’t trust his reads or his protection.

The Seahawks were 2/12 on third down, managed only 13 first downs (compared to Denver’s 25) and recorded a 2017-esque 64 rushing yards.

That last stat is particularly worrying. The stated aim in the off-season was to fix the run. Yet here we are at the start of the new season and the same old problems persist. There’s simply no fluidity or rhythm to the running game. It all looks so unconvincing and familiar.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is their inability to establish the run. At the very least you’d expect a degree of commitment there. Instead they passed 18 times in the first half and ran six times. By the end of the game they settled on 33 passes and 16 runs. The Broncos had twice as many runs.

For a team that is so clear and direct in their desire to run the ball — why are they so incapable of following through with it?

First round running back, new offensive coordinator, new O-line coach, new tight ends. Same confusing and contradictory plan.

The final drive was fitting. Just over a minute to go. Plenty of time to get into field goal range — or at least attempt to. One completed pass, one mishandled snap, one penalty. Drive and game over.

A mess.

The offense can’t afford to play this way in 2018. They need to be better. They are the identity now. Everything needs to be better.

It’d be wrong to solely blame the offense though. Sebastian Janikowski had two tries to kick a manageable field goal before half time and missed both. The Seahawks lost by three. The defense kept the Seahawks alive at times but had stretches of weak play. Case Keenum’s game-winning touchdown drive was too easy, the pass rush was practically non-existent throughout (aside from one Frank Clark sack) and the tackling was off for the most part.

That’s somewhat understandable though. Look how different the defense is this year. This isn’t the LOB any more. They’re going to give up frustrating drives. They’ll make some plays too — probably because they’ll be challenged in a way the LOB wasn’t (thus, three generous interceptions from Keenum today).

The offense doesn’t have an excuse. Wilson will want to become the best paid player in the league in 12 months. It’s a unit full of experience and talent. They have clarity on what they want their identity to be.

So why was it such a struggle at times today against a Denver opponent that was eminently beatable?

The hope has to be it’s just some early-season growing pains. There was a lot of bad football across the league today. There often is in week one. This result doesn’t need to set the tone for a bad season.

They need to improve though — and fast. They set their stall out this year to avoid these days where they get nowhere near 100 rushing yards. This was more of the same from last year.

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Colorado’s Steven Montez is the one to watch

Saturday, September 8th, 2018

Originally I was watching the Alabama vs Arkansas State game. It got out of hand quickly, so I switched to Nebraska vs Colorado. It was the right decision.

Colorado had three star performers in a dramatic 33-28 road win:

Steve Montez (QB)
Nate Landman (LB)
Laviska Shenault Jr (WR)

Shenault Jr was a do-it-all playmaker. Colorado’s offensive gameplan was smart and effective. They isolated defenders against Shenault Jr and utilised the mismatch. When Nebraska stacked defenders to his side of the field, they exploited the space on the opposite side. He’s 6-2 and 220lbs and squats 475lbs. He’s explosive, quick for his size and just a terrific playmaker. He’s only a sophomore but this is a name to watch going forward. Shenault Jr has special qualities.

Landman equally had a ‘wow’ performance. On back-to-back drives he turned the ball over, blowing up a 4th and short with a great run stop before making an interception on the next series. He flew around making plays all day, organised the defense and set the tone. Like Shenault Jr he’s only a sophomore. We’ll have to wait a while to see how their draft stock develops. His quickness, instinct and nose for the ball was highly impressive. Landman looks like a future NFL starter.

Montez is the real deal. I’d watched him twice previously and liked what I saw. This win, on the road in Nebraska, took things to a new level. This is the quarterback we should be talking about in terms of the draft. He has it all. Mobility, a beautifully accurate deep ball, great size, poise, a terrific clean release. He’s a natural passer. He’s 6-5 and 235lbs but can make plays on the run. Forget all the other names — Herbert, Lock, Stidham. This is the guy. He was 33/50 for 352 yards and three touchdowns. He won the game with a perfect 40-yard throw to Shenault Jr deep into the fourth quarter:

That wasn’t even his best throw. This was:

One of the endzone cameras showed how difficult this throw was. There’s marginal separation by the receiver. Montez had a tiny window to throw this football and make it catchable. He absolute nailed it.

Every now and again you come across a player where you sit up and take notice. It’s early in the season. We’ll see how Montez fairs in a stretch of four games that includes UCLA (H), Arizona State (H), USC (A) and Washington (A). Make no mistake though — he has a major opportunity. I’m willing to talk about the first round. And in a year without big name college QB prospects, a top quarterback eligible for 2019 could go very early.

Steven Montez is the real deal. He’s an exciting talent. He’s one to watch.

Meanwhile, here’s a quick review of Clemson’s ‘big four’ defensive linemen against Texas A&M:

Dexter Lawrence — superb
Christian Wilkins — superb
Austin Bryant — superb
Clelin Ferrell — superb

They’re all going in the first round. If you need any evidence that these four are legit — watch the replay of this game. They took it in turns to make plays.

Another blog favourite, D’Andre Walker of Georgia, had a good day today against South Carolina, with a sack and two TFL’s:

Nick Bosa had a sack and three TFL’s in Ohio State’s 52-3 victory against Rutgers. Rashan Gary collected a sack for Michigan against Western Michigan.

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CFB week 2 open thread

Saturday, September 8th, 2018

On my schedule today I’ve got Mississippi State vs Kansas State, Arkansas State vs Alabama and Clemson vs Texas A&M. My focus will be on the defensive linemen. Whatever happens this year, the Seahawks stand to be in the market for D-line help in the off-season. They could even double dip (first round pick plus a free agent, such as Jadeveon Clowney who absolutely destroyed Seattle in 2017).

If you’re watching a game, tell us about it in the comments section. Especially if a future draft prospect stands out.

EDIT — The Alabama game was out of hand early, so I switched to Nebraska vs Colorado. Steven Montez, the Colorado quarterback, looks like the real deal. Very, very impressed. Keep an eye on this guy. Ditto middle linebacker Nate Landman.

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It’s time for Seattle’s former stars to shut up

Friday, September 7th, 2018

Here we go again.

Another year, another Seahawks hit piece. It’s part amusing, part depressing that 710 ESPN’s Mike Salk saw this coming earlier in the week.

Quite frankly, I’ve had enough.

I’ve read enough pissing and moaning from the former stars of this team. I’ve had my fill of all the complaints about how Russell Wilson was treated. I’m tired of the blame game over XLIX or the missed opportunity to win further titles.

Maybe I’m wrong, misguided and completely wide of the mark — but I don’t think the Seahawks blew a shot at a dynasty because they were too protective of the QB. I think they blew it because they were never able to get over XLIX. They let that become the catalyst for the end. They didn’t rally, come back stronger and write a glorious final chapter in the book of LOB. They chose to point the finger instead.

We all know Pete Carroll will never stop thinking about that interception at the end of XLIX. I suspect it’ll be the same for Wilson and Darrell Bevell.

One day I hope Richard Sherman and co will have the occasional sleepless night too. Nobody ever calls out their contribution to the end of a potential dynasty. They’re as much to blame.

Who cares if Wilson received special treatment? Get on with it. Shrug it off.

Invest less energy picking apart Carroll’s philosophy and the dynamic in practise. Invest more in glory. You might think you know better. You might be right. But so what? Get on with it anyway.

Another piece like this days before the start of Seattle’s season just seems petty. We’ve read all this before. I for one am ready to move on.

Sadly, I’ll probably never remember those former stars in the same way again. The stench of agenda, ego and assuming one knows best is too rich.

And you know what makes it worse? The fact nonsense like this overshadows the Super Bowl win against Denver. The game we never get a chance to focus on. Even when we’re days away from a rematch.

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