Archive for the ‘Front Page News’ Category

What is the future for Marshawn Lynch & the Seahawks?

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

It’s been a strange 12 months for Marshawn Lynch. A year ago Chris Mortensen was predicting his imminent departure from Seattle, reporting that the Seahawks had “grown tired of his ways”.

Lynch’s play down the stretch changed the dynamic completely. He became the focal point of the offense again as the Seahawks marched back to the Super Bowl. Life was bearable for team and player. He signed a handsome new contract and put off retirement.

Yet after an injury-ravaged 2015 season — and the emergence of Thomas Rawls — what happens now?

Davis Hsu’s Tweet above sums it up. You can save $6.5m by moving on from Lynch in 2016. That’s money that could, theoretically, be reinvested in the offensive line. It could go towards luring someone like Alex Mack if he voids his contract in Cleveland. It could go towards someone like Alex Boone. It could help you keep your best existing lineman in Russell Okung so that you don’t need to replace him in the draft (or hope Garry Gilliam is a better left tackle than right tackle).

On the other hand, are the Seahawks ready to lose such an important part of what they are? And how will it impact the locker room if Lynch is moved?

It’s a tough call for many reasons. And yet this is the big debate people in Seattle will be having until the off-season.

Replacing Lynch looked like the greatest pending challenge for Pete Carroll and John Schneider. For years they’ve been able to rely on Lynch’s punishing, physical style. It was as much about tone-setting and the identity of the team as it was production.

Without Lynch what were the Seahawks?

Watching Rawls has somewhat tempered concerns about life after Beast Mode. He’s not Marshawn Lynch — but even Carroll has dared to compare him loosely to Hall of Famer Earl Campbell.

In some cases he’s even offered a little bit more than Lynch. Does Marshawn run in the long touchdown against Cincinnati? Rawls has a second gear the 29-year-old Lynch currently lacks. When he gets to the second level he has the speed to break it into a big play. And while he might never be the grinding, wear you down over four quarters type — his ability to stretch a play out, find the edge and turn and explode at the second level is a real benefit against any defense that is already accounting for Russell Wilson and Jimmy Graham.

In an ideal world you’d combine the two running backs and share out the snaps. It’s strange, however, that they never really made this a two-headed monster even after Rawls’ 169-yard performance against the Bengals. The following week, when Lynch returned, Rawls had one carry against the Panthers. He had 12 total carries against the 49ers, Cowboys and Cardinals combined. It seems like if Lynch is playing — he’s getting the workload.

Maybe he feels he needs to get into a rhythm? Maybe it’s the way he wears down a defense? Whatever it is — a Lynch/Rawls double act seems unlikely based on the snaps this year. Rawls and another in 2016? That could be a more even split.

Lose Lynch and you lose more than just the on-field production. You lose an icon. A genuine Seahawks great who provided some of the best moments in franchise history. His career will be defined by one particular play against New Orleans.

The Pete Carroll story in Seattle has a whole chapter on Lynch. Maybe even two. Without Lynch — you never truly create the identity Carroll searched for. He’s been at the front and center of everything.

As a consequence he’s also become a powerful locker room presence. Was that a problem at times — as suggested by Mortensen in his report last year? Maybe. But not having Lynch around might be an even bigger problem. He and the likes of Kam Chancellor seem so closely aligned. Can this team remain tight with vital veteran leaders starting to move on?

It really comes down to what gives you the best chance to win. The Seahawks know this is their Championship window — and it’s a window that won’t necessarily extend for years. Key parts of the franchise — Lynch, Chancellor and even Carroll — aren’t going to be around another decade. They might not be here in another 3-4 years. Every decision — whether it’s trading a first rounder for Graham or making the decision to trust Tom Cable to build a cheap, functioning O-line — is made with a ‘win now’ mentality.

If this team can run the ball minus Lynch while improving the offensive line and pass protection — it has to be considered. There won’t be any room for sentimentality. It’s just whether they’re ready to move on if it’s their decision. Lynch could make it easier for them by retiring. What if he doesn’t though? What if he forces the Seahawks to make the decision?

It’d be a heck of a ruthless move by the Seahawks to just move on and save money. And yet it seems like they’ve been planning the future for some time. Mortensen’s report. The drafting of Christine Michael. If they wanted to move on and couldn’t before, will it be right in 2016? If so, you better believe they’ll be ruthless.

Perhaps there is still a chance for the storybook ending. Lynch returning in week 16 or 17 feels ambitious — but this is Marshawn Lynch. Nothing has been conventional to date with Beast Mode. The emotional pull of his last days in Seattle/the NFL could be a secret weapon for the Seahawks if they make the post season. They have to get there to see if there’s any benefit though.

In terms of the draft, it’s a nice class of running backs with some depth. The priority will probably be to go O-line early and then possibly look at a linebacker with Bruce Irvin a free agent. They should be able to find some value in rounds 3-7 (and after all, they found Rawls as a UDFA). Alex Collins (Arkansas), Paul Perkins (UCLA) and Jordan Howard (Indiana) are personal favourites.

Instant reaction: Seahawks coast by 49ers for 5-5

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015

Some of Seattle’s lingering issues remained during this game — but overall it was a routine 29-13 victory against an overmatched 49ers team.

Yet again an opponent exploited the Seahawks defensive coverage with a tight end. It’s a tough one and certainly not as simple as making a concerted effort to stop the TE. As soon as you blanket the coverage to stop a tight end, teams are going to be ready. They know there’s a weakness there with Seattle’s base defense.

They will counter.

It’s a pick-your-poison situation. If you spend next week focusing on 33-year-old Heath Miller — you’re going to get burned by Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant.

Also, the Seahawks have played this style of coverage since 2010. They aren’t going to make major changes — and neither should they. Better execution is the key and part of the reason Cary Williams was benched in this game. The secondary overall just doesn’t look as fearsome as it has in the past. Is it communication? Is it Williams? Whatever it is — it’s becoming as much of a problem as the O-line.

Jeremy Lane could easily start at outside corner against Pittsburgh if he’s healthy.

The offensive line actually had an excellent day running the ball. Thomas Rawls had plenty of lanes to exploit. When he found a crease and got to the second level — Rawls was fantastic. As powerful and exciting as Marshawn Lynch can be — Rawls’ extra burst and no lack of toughness adds a new dimension to the running attack. Whatever happens with Lynch’s status going forward — Rawls deserves a more generous split of the snaps after a +200-yard rushing performance.

In terms of pass protection and pre-snap penalties, however, it was more of the same from the O-line. Too often the Seahawks gave up early pressure when Russell Wilson dropped back to pass. And too often they hurt themselves with a bevvy of avoidable flags. Even with Rawls running as hard as he did — the offense still seems to lack that extra bit of bite it’s had in previous years. Making the O-line an absolute off-season priority and setting out to dominate up front has to be the key to getting back to former glories.

Wilson had a much better game. He protected the ball, made plays with his legs and scored three touchdowns. He didn’t turn the ball over and needed a game like this to settle some of the noise in the media about his lifestyle (an absurd dynamic).

Tyler Lockett also had a nice day. He’s still struggling to make plays on special teams — but he had two touchdowns in the passing game and probably should’ve had a third on a missed deep-ball by Wilson. We talked about Lockett as a return man pre-draft. He’s not a Cordarrelle Patterson type who creates big plays out of nothing. He’s an opportunist — if he gets good blocking and finds a crease he’ll exploit it. If the Seahawks want to get Lockett going on special teams — they have to block better.

Cliff Avril is having a fantastic season and added two more sacks today. He only has 6.5 for the season in total — but it almost feels like a career year for Avril. Is it being wasted because of the struggles in the secondary?

At 5-5 and with a lot of the NFC losing today, the Seahawks’ hopes of the post-season remain alive. They’re a game back from struggling Atlanta — who blew a home game to the Matt Hasselbeck-led Colts.

This is what the Falcons have coming up on their schedule:

Vikings (H)
Buccs (A)
Panthers (A)
Jags (A)
Panthers (H)
Saints (H)

The Vikings meanwhile, sitting in the other wildcard spot at 7-3, have the toughest remaining schedule in the NFL:

Falcons (A)
Seahawks (H)
Cardinals (A)
Bears (H)
Giants (H)
Packers (A)

The NFC is doing the Seahawks every favour to try and give them genuine hope for the playoffs. Even 9-7 might get you in. They have to oblige. Next weeks game against Pittsburgh is enormous. It’s the type of game they have to win at home.

And yet there’s still so many steps forward they can take. They can improve in the secondary. The O-line’s protection can improve. We’re so deep into the season now — you have to wonder if it’s ever going to click. A deep-ball, big-play passing offense with a tough defense and suspect secondary is a good challenge for this team at home next week. They have to go to Minnesota with hope at 6-5.

Thoughts on Ohio State’s loss to Michigan State

Saturday, November 21st, 2015

Jack Conklin performed well against Ohio State

With two potential top-20 offensive tackles in the game, this was interesting viewing for Seahawks fans. Michigan State’s Jack Conklin had the better day — as the Spartans won on the road to all but end Ohio State’s hopes of the playoffs (this was their first game against a ranked opponent in 2015 — and they lost).

The Buckeye’s game plan on offense was bizarre. Instead of running Ezekiel Elliott (12 carries, 33 yards) and mixing some downfield/sideline shots to Michael Thomas, Urban Meyer constantly asked J.T. Barrett to run the QB draw (15 carries, 44 yards). Michigan State adjusted and shut it down — limiting Ohio State to 132 total yards.

Taylor Decker had a really mixed night. On the Buckeye’s first scoring drive he did a very good job winning 1v1 in the run game, driving defenders off the line to open up a crease on the left. Yet as the game went on he started to struggle.

Shilique Calhoun — a big underachiever in college football — won most of his battles against Decker. With 6:45 remaining in the first half, Calhoun worked off the tackle using length and superior power on a stretch run. Decker was quickly off balance, lost leverage and was shoved into the backfield. Calhoun tackled Elliott for a loss.

Calhoun beat him again in the second half with a nice stunt inside in what could be the play of the game. Braxton Miller had gained separation downfield and was wide open for a long touchdown. Decker was wrong-footed by Calhoun’s move allowing inside pressure to force J.T. Barrett into a bad throw. He missed Miller and Ohio State didn’t have another explosive play in the game on offense.

Decker never had a problem squaring up to a defender and winning with power. He also did a good job getting to the second level. His footwork on a simple edge rush needs major work though. He dances — trying to mirror the defenders action when really he just needs a firm base and kick slide. He was getting beat by even the most simple double move. Calhoun gets a good rep in the media — but Decker will face much tougher opponents as a pro. He has everything to be a very competent left tackle in the NFL — size, power, underrated athleticism. But this, overall, wasn’t a good look for Decker.

Jack Conklin on the other hand only had one bad play in the game. Tyquan Lewis drove him into the backfield in the first half to tackle the running back for a loss. Apart from that he was comfortable in protection — sliding nicely and running the edge rush out of contention. Technique wise he looked very assured. On a few occasions he got nicely to the second level.

It helps he didn’t come up against Joey Bosa (who stuck to the right tackle). Michigan State did a good job pulling Conklin at times to get him matched up against Bosa with some success. Whether Conklin quite has the athleticism to be as assured at left tackle in the NFL remains to be seen. However, this was a good performance overall. He keeps defenders off his pads with what appears to be decent arm length. His footwork is good. This was a nice outing for Conklin.

Perhaps the best offensive line performance came from Michigan State center Jack Allen. Time and time again he turned the interior defensive linemen to open up holes in the run game. It’s a very subtle but underrated art — using the aggressiveness of the interior rush to twist the D-liner and open up a very simple gap.

Allen is short and squatty and drew a couple of offside flags from Bosa with a classic head-nod pre-snap. He also loved to get to the second level which was good to see. His lack of size and upside might limit his stock at the next level — but this was a good show.

Ohio State’s offensive game plan gave limited their key playmakers on offense (Elliott, Thomas) but the defenders spent a lot of time on the field. Adolphus Washington had a good start working to the outside and finding interior pressure — but he slowly drifted out of the game. Bosa has Robert Quinn-style quickness off the edge and was a threat all game — but Michigan State’s heavy dose of run took away much of his effectiveness. Eli Apple is a first round talent but he’s susceptible to frustrating performances like this. He had a torrid time against Aaron Burbridge — who collected four catches for 62 yards vs Apple. Michigan State only had 91 total passing yards.

Going back to the two tackles — there’s no doubt for me that both Decker and Conklin belong behind Auburn’s Shon Coleman and Ole Miss’ Laremy Tunsil. Whether it’s technique (Decker) or a lack of great athleticism (Conklin) — they have outstanding issues the other pair avoid. Coleman in particular is just the complete package — size, athleticism, grit, second level blocking, helps gets the hard yards and has excelled in pass-pro against the likes of Myles Garrett.

That said, with a premium on O-liners in the NFL there’s every chance all four — and Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley — go in the top-25 in 2016. There’s quite a substantial gap from Coleman and Tunsil to the rest, however.

It’s also not a surprise, incidentally, that MSU rallied to win without starting quarterback Connor Cook. He’s quite the overrated talent as a thrower — but he’s also said to be not the most popular member of the locker room. He has a quirky personality — emphasised by his slightly unnecessary finger-to-the-lips gesture at the Ohio State fans at the end of the game. Don’t expect him to go the first round.

After the game Ezekiel Elliott confirmed it was his last home game for Ohio State, confirming he’ll turn pro (he also called out the play calling). Cardale Jones, surprisingly, also announced on Twitter it was his last home game for the Buckeye’s. If he decides to turn pro, it’ll be a bad decision. He isn’t ready. He’s getting bad advice. Unless he’s transferring — which would also be a bad move — this isn’t going to end well for Jones.

Is Jimmy Graham responsible for Seattle’s missing identity?

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

Jimmy Graham’s production isn’t a problem. But is his role within Seattle’s scheme causing an issue for the Seahawks’ offense?

Trent Dilfer appeared on Brock and Salk this morning (see audio above). It’s an insightful, detailed and fascinating listen. And Dilfer doesn’t hold back on why he thinks the Seahawks are struggling on offense.

It’s Jimmy Graham.

At least, he thinks that’s the catalyst. He starts by criticising the offensive line:

“They’ve really struggled in pass protection. They’re what I call a box offensive line. They play best when it’s in a box. When it becomes a lateral game, when it becomes a movement game, a pass protection game, they really struggle. Because they’ve been less stubborn with the run this year, it’s been a little bit exposed as the year’s gone on.”

When asked why they’ve been less stubborn with the run game, this is Dilfer’s damning response:

“You can’t do it with Jimmy Graham on the field. I can’t think of a team in the NFL… that’s been a dominant run team without an in-line blocking tight end. It’s just a key in your run-blocking schemes to have an in-line tight end that can set an edge, that can work double teams, that can come down on ends so that you can run the gap scheme game, that can get to the second level in the zone game. And you don’t have to dominate you just have to be really physical, you have to have great effort and Jimmy just is not… he’s not a tight end.”

He goes on to add…

“(Darrell) Bevell does a decent job at times removing him from the formation. He’s doing everything he can. I mean, he wants to run the ball. They had a lot of success in the year detaching Jimmy Graham from the formation, put him at X or Z. Bring in another tight end as an in-line tight end so you aren’t in 12-personnel you’re in 13-personnel (3TE’s and 1RB) but now he’s playing wide receiver and you get the box you’re looking for and you’re able to run the ball, but it brings up the second issue that I think is one of the misroutes with Graham. He’s not really a separation guy. He has exceptional ball skills. He’s a speed-move route runner. But he does not create a ton of separation… So a lot of teams sit inside, adjust to the out-breaking route and sit on the in-breaking route… It’s the issue they’re going to have because of the trade they made.”

Dilfer discusses the system Seattle is asking Russell Wilson to operate. Essentially, because they aren’t able to commit as much to the run he’s being asked to throw too much. He says Wilson needs a structured offense that limits his throws to maximise his talent. Mike Salk questions whether Graham’s presence prevents them from running the offense they’d like to. This is Dilfer’s final response:

“The Jimmy Graham trade forced their hand to try and evolve into a system that is not best for the rest of their personnel. Not just Russell (Wilson) specifically but the rest of the personnel… If you’re going to have JAG’s (just another guy) running your offensive line — which is fine, a lot of teams are doing it and a lot of teams are having success doing it — if that’s the philosophy, then your system needs to protect those guys. So by making the Jimmy Graham trade, you’re in an identity crisis because now the other ten aren’t playing the type of specific system that they would thrive the most in.”

When Graham arrived in Seattle, it was easy to assume this was the missing piece of the offense. The Seahawks hadn’t really had a #1 target for Russell Wilson. This was supposed to be a trinity — Wilson, Graham and Marshawn Lynch. Three unstoppable weapons.

Instead, as Dilfer suggests, the offense feels different. Wilson has struggled at times. The run game doesn’t feel as effective. Are they obliged to force Graham into a role? Are they designing plays to feature him, instead of just playing their natural game or scheme?

Have they gone away from what worked?

Here are Seattle’s leading receivers (targets and receptions) from 2014:

Doug Baldwin — 98 targets, 66 receptions
Jermaine Kearse — 67 targets, 38 receptions
Marshawn Lynch — 48 targets, 37 receptions
Paul Richardson — 43 targets, 29 receptions

This year, Jimmy Graham is already on pace for 72 receptions and he’s been targeted 63 times in nine games. He’s set to smash Doug Baldwin’s 98 targets at this pace.

And yet his production is projected to reach 877 yards — only 52 more than Baldwin’s 2014 total.

Fitting him into the existing scheme has not been a smooth transition. Rather than provide a red-zone dynamo and touchdown machine, the Seahawks have spent nearly three months answering questions about the way they’re using him.

Instead of improving the red-zone offense, Seattle is ranked dead last in the league for scoring percentage. Think about that. A team with Wilson, Graham and Lynch is the worst in the league for scoring touchdowns in the red zone.

Complicating matters, however, is the way the offense is being graded overall. They’re tied fifth with Carolina for explosive plays. According to Football Outsiders, they’re the #11 offense and #5 team overall.

Is it just an aesthetic problem? A case of ironing out the kinks? Finding a rhythm? Or is the scheme permanently incapable of reaching it’s potential with Graham on the field?

Perhaps it’s just a case of improving the O-line and finding an in-line blocking tight end for 2016? If the protection is better and they have a capable run blocking TE, it maybe frees Graham up to be a classic joker tight end who just works the seam and finds a mismatch?

Or maybe the Seahawks were better without a #1 target? Someone they had to force-feed production. Were they better with a motley crew of undrafted receivers, Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, Zach Miller and Paul Richardson — all playing without the expectation of catching a certain amount of passes in a single game?

When there was no pressure to pass the ball to a certain player, could they focus on run-design and making Marshawn Lynch the focal point? Allowing Russell Wilson to do what he does best — be a point guard.

Can we still define Wilson as a point guard any more? Is his job to spread the ball around, protect the ball, find the open man and make things tick? Or is he being asked to do too much? Such as keep plays alive behind a sieve-like offensive line, make the most of Jimmy Graham and do everything else that was asked of him before 2015?

If they felt they really needed to add a big target to the offense, would they have been better investing the first round pick they used for Graham on a player like Dorial Green-Beckham — who would’ve carried a lot of upside but no serious expectations going into 2015?

It’s also hard not to look back on what could’ve been. Would there be any need to trade for Graham if they’d taken DeAndre Hopkins in 2013 instead of trading for Percy Harvin? It’s easy to use hindsight when reflecting on previous drafts — but here’s an article I wrote about Hopkins in January 2013 — and a pertinent quote:

“He’s a top-20 talent who may go later… and a smart team will be ready to capitalise…

…The way you make up for a lack of size is playing above your stature. Be physical. Master your routes. Understand the offense. Find advantages elsewhere. When you listen to Hopkins conduct an interview, he’ll talk about exploiting a cover-2 and appears to be a student of the game. Despite the arrival of highly-recruited Sammy Watkins he never complained about a reduced work-load in 2011.”

Graham, rather than provide a unique mismatch, has instead provided a constant distraction as we debate his targets, production and use. The scrutiny is never ending.

With seven games remaining, can they prove there is some light at the end of the tunnel? Otherwise the Seahawks will miss the playoffs and the inquisition begins. And as things stand, one of the questions that has to be asked is whether or not Jimmy Graham will ever be able to fit into this offense — and are they just better off without him?

Wednesday notes: Seahawks currently own the #12 pick

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

Ohio State’s Taylor Decker — a better athlete than people realise with a ton of upside

Nobody should be giving up on the 2015 season. The Seahawks have two home games and a chance to be 6-5 heading to Minnesota and Baltimore. The NFC is wide open and anything can happen — including a wild card team making a run.

The 49ers are next.

Even so, at 4-5 there isn’t anything wrong with indulging in a bit of early draft talk.

There’s been some confusion over the pick the Seahawks currently ‘own’. On Monday they were paired with the #19 selection by Mocking the Draft. has them with the #18 pick, while MTD now has Seattle at #12 after a strength of schedule update.

If it is #12 — and if they stay in that range — it’d certainly give them an opportunity to upgrade the offensive line via the draft.

It’s actually been quite a nice range to pick in recently. This year Ereck Flowers was the #9 pick, Todd Gurley went at #10, Danny Shelton at #12 and Andrus Peat at #13. Given Seattle’s current needs, it would’ve been an interesting quartet to consider.

In 2014 the Seahawks would’ve been in position to select Odell Beckham Jr (#12) or Aaron Donald (#13). In 2013 they would’ve had a shot at Sheldon Richardson (#13).

They owned the #12 pick in 2012 before moving down three spots to take Bruce Irvin — who’s been a regular starter ever since.

It’s still way too early to predict how the 2016 class will shake out — but having identified at least four draftable offensive tackles for the top-15 — at least one is likely to be sitting there within range.

We’ve been banging on about Shon Coleman (T, Auburn) being the best offensive tackle in college football for a while and there’s no reason to hold back now. A cancer survivor who fought his way back into football, Coleman has dominated difficult SEC opponents like Myles Garrett, Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins. His combination of size, power, mobility, attitude, willingness to get to the second level and chirpiness make him the definition of an elite prospect. He should go very early but nobody talks about him. We’ll see if his stock rises like Greg Robinson in 2014 or Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson in 2013. If not, he could be an ideal first round pick for the Seahawks.

Most people expect Laremy Tunsil (T, Ole Miss) to go in the top ten and that’s a safe bet. While I prefer Coleman, Tunsil has also performed well against the like of Texas A&M’s fantastic speed rusher Myles Garrett since returning from a NCAA imposed suspension. He has the length, kick slide, second level willingness and sufficient grit to warrant the attention he receives. With a premium placed on athletic offensive tackles — Tunsil is well placed to be off the board before Seattle picks barring an unlikely tanking the rest of the way.

Taylor Decker (T, Ohio State) is an underrated athlete who could easily force his way into the top ten. Teams love tall, athletic, blue-collar blockers. Decker ticks all the right boxes and has similar potential to Taylor Lewan. In 2014 Lewan was actually the third tackle off the board at #11 (Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews went before him). Out of the three, Lewan’s had the better career to date. Don’t be surprised if Decker goes a little later than someone like Tunsil but ends up being the better pro. Decker shouldn’t get out of the top-15 and he could be an option if the Seahawks pick as early as #12.

Jack Conklin (T, Michigan Tate) has had a middling 2015 season so far. In the game against Oregon he looked like a typical road-grader — driving defenders off the ball, protecting Connor Cook and looking every bit a physical and capable pro-prospect. In recent weeks he’s not looked quite as sharp — culminating in a slightly torrid outing against Maryland last weekend. Cook was injured in the game as the pass protection struggled. Can Conklin play left tackle? That’s the big question. Are you moving him to the right? If so, you’re probably putting him behind Coleman, Tunsil and Decker. Even so — he’s a bit of a self-made man (former walk-on at MSU) and he’s a good run blocker with the necessary size and temperament teams like. With such a growing need for good O-liners in the league, don’t expect Conklin to get out of the top-20 picks.

I’ve not included Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley. His play and effort is inconsistent, there’s a stiffness to his pass-pro set and there’s very little evidence of any second level blocking. LSU’s Jerald Hawkins has received some attention recently — although it’s unclear why. Some of his performances this year have barely warranted a draftable grade (particularly against Alabama).

It’s hard to look beyond the O-line for obvious reasons. Seattle’s group has struggled, seemingly impacting the overall identity of the offense and affecting the performance of Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch.

Russell Okung and J.R. Sweezy are free agents in the off-season. Even if both players re-sign — you likely have to consider upgrading the left guard, center and right tackle positions.

If things go wrong and they pick in the top-15, they’ll have ample opportunity to address their most pressing need.

Teams going O-line crazy in recent years

The Seahawks might be facing an O-line makeover in the off-season — but plenty of other teams have already been there and got the T-shirt. With mixed results.

The Arizona Cardinals spent first round picks on Jonathan Cooper (2013) and D.J. Humphries (2015) and yet both have disappointed so far. They also committed to the O-line in free agency, bringing in Jared Veldheer and Mike Iupati. The Cardinals, even with two underwhelming first round players, have the #8 ranked O-line in pass protection in the NFL (all rankings in this piece via Football Outsiders) and the third best run blocking unit.

Cincinnati has planned ahead, sensing the need to protect Andy Dalton as a priority. They drafted Cedric Ogbuehi (first round) and Jake Fisher (second round) this year to eventually replace their two incumbent offensive tackles. In 2012 they also spent a first round pick on guard Kevin Zeitler and in 2014 a fourth rounder on Russell Bodine. They have the seventh best unit for pass pro and a ranked at #2 in the run game and clearly intend to stay in that range.

The Cleveland Browns hit on two elite O-liners in 2007 (Joe Thomas) and 2009 (Alex Mack). Yet 2015 first rounder Cam Erving is off to a bad start (seemingly Mack’s successor). 2012 early second rounder Mitchell Schwartz has been hit and miss but 2014 second rounder Joel Bitonio has been a roaring success. Despite some heavy draft investment in the trenches, the Browns have given up three more sacks than even the Seahawks in 2015. Their line is ranked dead last in the running game and #26 in pass pro. It’s clear evidence that a good line and a bad supporting cast at the skill positions isn’t a good mix.

The Miami Dolphins have tried to rebuild their O-line recently by drafting Ja’Wuan James in the first round (2014), spending third rounders on Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas and a fourth rounder this year on Jamil Douglas. That follows the previous first round investment on Mike Pouncey (2011). They also signed Brandon Albert in free agency. The line is still in a state of flux despite serious dedication to try and improve. Miami’s line is currently at #25 in the passing game and #19 for the run.

The New York Giants have made recent moves to improve their line, probably to preserve Eli Manning’s career for a while longer. Ereck Flowers was taken with the #9 pick this year. Justin Pugh was drafted in the first round in 2013. They also spent a second rounder last year on center Weston Richburg. It’s certainly led to some improvement. New York currently has the 12th best pass protecting line and they’re #16 in the run game. They’ve only given up 15 sacks.

Pittsburgh are another team that recently decided they had to spend considerable resource up front to repair their offense. In 2012 they spent their first two picks on guard David DeCastro and tackle Mike Adams. They took Maurkice Pouncey in round one the previous year. They’ve gone from having a horrendous, sieve-like offensive line to a solid unit that boasts the #6 run game in 2015 and the #20 line in pass protection. Consider that they didn’t have Le’veon Bell for the first four games of the season due to suspension and have needed to start Michael Vick and Landry Jones at quarterback. Clearly the line is doing something right.

And then of course there’s Dallas. The most hyped up O-line in the league. Everyone considers the Cowboys’ unit as the best. Tony Romo has still missed games in 2014 and 2015 playing behind this O-line. While it’s certainly not a bad group by any stretch — the three first round picks spent on Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick (plus the recent addition of La’el Collins) have combined for the #23 ranked line for pass pro and at #8 in the running game. Not bad numbers — but certainly not elite given the major investment. Maybe Romo, Dez Bryant and DeMarcus Murray were the real stars last year?

So these are the teams that have gone big recently. The #1 ranked team in pass protection is Oakland surprisingly. Their line consists of free agent pickups Donald Penn, Rodney Hudson, a former 7th rounder J’Marcus Webb signed from Minnesota, undrafted Austin Howard who bounced around three teams before landing with the Raiders and 2014 third round pick Gabe Jackson.

You wouldn’t put that group together and expect greatness. It emphasises what scheming and a good blend of offensive skill players (Carr, Murray, Cooper & Crabtree) can do for an offense.

The Seahawks — who themselves have spent two first rounders, two second rounders and a third rounder on the O-line since 2009 — have shown they’re unable to scheme around a line that isn’t that talented. The solution is probably going to be expensive — be it picks or salary.

Will they go with a tackle first in 2016 (Coleman, Tunsil, Decker, Conklin) and someone like Adam Bisnowaty, Jason Spriggs or Joe Dahl in rounds 2-3? They also need to find an answer at center — and if they can afford it, might be able to coax Alex Mack to Seattle. Adding a cheaper, wily veteran at tackle or guard might also be attractive.

Ultimately they need tough football players who can pick up the technique quickly. Zack Martin was a rare case — athletic and technically adept while capable of playing any position on the line. A fantastic prospect. But players like Justin Pugh in New York, the Pouncey brothers, Joel Bitonio and others have shown you can find prospects who can make it work quickly with toughness, attitude and some athleticism.

They’ve tried the ultra-SPARQy, high ceiling approach and it hasn’t necessarily worked. They don’t need to completely abandon that plan — but it’s time to find some road graders to hold things together. The Seahawks need to be able to run the ball and provide average pass protection. They need to get back to the days where they ranked #1 in the running game and around the #20 mark for pass pro. That’s the identity of this team. Right now they’re at #9 for the run and #32 in pass pro. A jump of eight places is required in both categories — minimum — for this team to regain the offense it desires.

Possible 2016 O-line solution:

LT Shon Coleman or Taylor Decker
LG Veteran guard or Justin Britt
C Alex Mack
RG J.R. Sweezy
RT Adam Bisnowaty

(This assumes Russell Okung signs a big contract with a different team)

The Seahawks might also want to bring in another running back in the middle rounds. Indiana’s Jordan Howard showed what he’s capable of against Michigan with major yards after contact and a tough, physical running style. Alex Collins has had a very solid year for Arkansas with a blend of home-run hitting speed and a tough-to-bring-down style. UCLA’s Paul Perkins is more athletic and slight but is still tough to bring down with nice vision and a delicious cut-back ability.

Don’t forget to check out this weeks podcast:

The Seahawks are the Steelers, not the Patriots

Monday, November 16th, 2015

After winning 36 regular season games in three years, you’d be forgiven for wondering if the Seahawks were the next great dynasty. Similar to New England with Belichick and Brady.

After all, they went to back-to-back Super Bowls. The last team to do that was the Belichick and Brady-led Patriots.

The Seahawks aren’t the Pats though. Nobody is. Instead they’re more closely aligned to the Pittsburgh Steelers. And that’s why a relative down year — if that is what 2015 is going to be — shouldn’t invoke any sort of crisis.

1. As good as the New England Patriots are, they’ve enjoyed playing in the annually wretched AFC East for a long time. They’ve won the division every year bar one dating back to 2003. They’ve had double digit wins every single season in that period. The teams in the NFC West can only dream of facing the Bills, Dolphins and Jets twice every year. The opportunity to win 10-16 games consistently every year just doesn’t exist like it has done for the Pats.

2. The NFC West has developed into one of the toughest divisions in football — and that remains the case with Seattle, St. Louis and San Francisco currently all under .500. The Rams save their best football for the division, the 49ers were a legitimate and ferocious contender until this season and the Cardinals are blossoming into a genuine force under Bruce Arians. It’s become very similar to the AFC North — immensely competitive and somewhat unpredictable. It’s hard to imagine any team ever dominating in the division. Even the Seahawks at their 2013 best lost games to San Fran and Arizona — and they should’ve lost on the road to St. Louis that season. Three different teams have won the AFC North in the last three years. The NFC West could also keep changing hands over the next few seasons.

3. The Steelers started their current run with a young rookie quarterback, a physical running game and a tough defense. They won a Super Bowl in Ben Roethlisberger’s second season. They had a dominating defense led by an all-pro safety. The Seahawks are built in a very similar fashion and have enjoyed similar results. Russell Wilson won a title in his second season, they have the physical run game and the defense is schematically very different but similarly capable of brilliance and includes an all-pro safety. At their worst each team has shared some frustrating aspects too. Agonising close defeats, a defense not performing or a stuttering offense.

Let’s look at how the Steelers have faired since winning that initial Super Bowl with Roethlisberger at the end of the 2005 season:

2006 — 8-8 (missed playoffs)
2007 — 10-6 (lost wildcard vs Jacksonville)
2008 — 12-4 (won Super Bowl)
2009 — 9-7 (missed playoffs)
2010 — 12-4 (lost Super Bowl vs Green Bay)
2011 — 12-4 (lost wildcard vs Denver)
2012 — 8-8 (missed playoffs)
2013 — 8-8 (missed playoffs)
2014 — 11-5 (lost wildcard to Ravens)

As you can see, they’ve had great success to appear in two more Super Bowls (winning one) but they’ve also missed the playoffs four times and had frustrating and crushing defeats in the post season (at home to the bitter rival Ravens last year, vs Tim Tebow in 2011).

Just because the Seahawks are similar to the Steelers doesn’t mean they’re going to mimic this run — but it’s also an indicator that the occasional 8-8 or 9-7 season and missing the playoffs doesn’t mean the end of a Championship window. Pittsburgh are proof you can fight back from a season like the one Seattle is currently experiencing and get back into the 11-12 win range.

There’s nothing really stopping the Seahawks achieving this in the future. They have a loaded core. They have legit star talent. Things maybe just need a refresh as they did in Pittsburgh from time to time. Nothing drastic.

What about Roethlisberger? What does his career progression tell us?

In the 10-6 2007 season, he had 32 touchdowns and 11 picks. In 2008 when they improved to 12-4, those numbers went down to 17 touchdowns and 15 picks. In the 8-8 season after the Super Bowl win he had a ratio of 18:23. Roethlisberger has established himself as a production machine aged 33 — but his early career was statistically erratic. Again, this doesn’t mean anything in terms of Russell Wilson. But maybe, like Roethlisberger, he’s going to have a year like this every now and again?

The dynamic between the two teams and the AFC North/NFC West is very similar. The Pats enjoy a perfect storm — they are uniquely excellent while playing in a weak AFC East division. The Seahawks and Steelers just don’t have that luxury.

Ever since Pete Carroll arrived in Seattle it felt like he was building something similar to the Steelers. If Pittsburgh can endure the odd lost season or two over the years — there’s no reason to panic if that ends up being the case with the Seahawks.

It’s also still too early to write off this season. The 49ers are up next.

Instant reaction: Seahawks face 4-5 hole

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

I’ll put some more considered thoughts down in the week. This was a long game and I need some sleep. Obviously the playoffs will be tough now. The Seahawks started poorly and failed to finish, with some typical Seahawks magic sandwiched in the middle.

Give the Cardinals credit for answering in the fourth quarter. Just as the game was drifting away, they straightened their tie and made a big statement. A drive to take the lead. A drive to ice it. Seattle’s defense — so responsible for making it a game — couldn’t find one more big play.

The Seahawks’ start on offense coming out of the bye week was staggering. Just a disjointed, jumbled mess that helped cough up a 19-0 deficit in the first half. The defense is strangely inconsistent. It flits between brilliance and big plays to coughing up long fourth quarter drives. Giving up 39 points in Seattle? Wow.

The Seahawks are a 4-5 team. It’s not a false position. They’re battling for a wild card and it’s a long way off. Right in the middle of their Championship window, they’re staring at a wasted season.

And for those wondering (anyone?) Seattle would have the #19 overall pick if the season ended today.

College Football Saturday: Open thread

Saturday, November 14th, 2015

Another week, another tough opponent ticked off for Auburn’s Shon Coleman. Despite appearing to badly injure his knee on the opening drive, he played on and handled Georgia duo Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins.

The video above shows one particular block against Floyd. Coleman just drives him off the screen. He’s dealt with the best the SEC has to offer this season and excelled. What more does he have to do to warrant some deserved attention in the national draft media? Perhaps it’s best for the Seahawks if that doesn’t happen — even if it feels inevitable.

If you missed yesterday’s piece on Pittsburgh’s left tackle Adam Bisnowaty don’t forget to check it out. He needs to be on our radar too.

Indiana’s running back Jordan Howard had a fantastic game against Michigan. He ran for 238 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught a touchdown pass. He’s a junior who transferred from UAB when they closed their football program. Big time yards after contact, nice physical running style. One to watch for Seattle.

Here’s one of his scores:

He was also aided by left tackle Jason Spriggs. He’s a little stiff in pass pro but does a good job in the run game with some key blocks. He’s said to be a good athlete with ideal tackle size.

Meanwhile, Alex Collins did this against LSU…

Whatever game or prospect you’re watching today, let us know about it.

Pittsburgh’s Adam Bisnowaty — another O-liner to monitor

Friday, November 13th, 2015

Pittsburgh’s Adam Bisnowaty could be a good option for the Seahawks in 2016

The 2016 draft looks pretty healthy for offensive lineman. That’s good news for the Seahawks.

Not only is the O-line in need of some care and attention, three fifth’s of Sunday’s starting line against Arizona is out of contract in the off-season. Russell Okung and J.R. Sweezy are hitting the market. Patrick Lewis is a restricted free agent.

It seems unlikely both Okung and Sweezy will depart. The line has suffered enough thanks to a lack of cohesion and continuity. Three inexperienced new starters in 2016 looked like a recipe for disaster and so it has proved. The Seahawks are just hoping they can hold it together enough to avoid derailing a key season in the middle of the teams Championship window.

Even so, they could be facing at least three more changes in 2016. If Okung moves on, Gilliam could swap to the left tackle position. He’d need time to make that adjustment. That would create a hole at right tackle. It seems likely another face will be starting at center.

Adding more youth and inexperience isn’t an attractive proposition. More than ever young lineman are struggling to adapt to the NFL. Even the players drafted in the top ten are having a hard time making the transition. An apparent sure thing like Jake Matthews has been fairly ordinary. The insane upside of Greg Robinson hasn’t provided St. Louis with a fantastic left tackle yet.

The Seahawks would benefit from some choice veteran additions in free agency. Can they afford Alex Mack if he voids his contract? That would be a start. It’s unlikely to prevent at least one rookie starting next year. They don’t have a bottomless pit of cap space to fill the line with experienced vets.

Their ability to fill a hole in round one will be down to draft position more than anything. The later they pick, the harder it’ll be to get at the best group of tackles which for me includes Shon Coleman, Laremy Tunsil, Taylor Decker and Jack Conklin.

There will be options later on. Jason Spriggs is a largely unspectacular, solid blocker for Indiana with a shot to play right tackle at the next level. Joe Dahl is out with a foot injury for Washington State but has excelled in pass protection when healthy.

Time to throw another name into the mix.

Pittsburgh left tackle Adam Bisnowaty is extremely mobile with excellent, ideal tackle size (6-6, 300lbs). He ticks several boxes for the Seahawks. For starters, he’s a wrestler who was still competing as of 2011 (Tom Cable previously highlighted Justin Britt’s wrestling background). He’s a blue collar type who spent his youth fishing and hunting. He played basketball too — a testament to his athletic potential.

He was a former four-star recruit and one of the more heavily recruited prospects from Pennsylvania in recent memory.

He recently caught my eye watching the Pittsburgh vs North Carolina game. There’s no Bisnowaty tape on Draft Breakdown, but there’s plenty showing off Tyler Boyd. Including the UNC game:

Bisnowaty plays LT and wears #69.

So what stands out? He has a very fluid kick slide. Although he was never really challenged by speed in this game, he showed ample mobility and balance. He delivers a fantastic initial punch and showed off the ability to dominate and finish when squared up 1v1. It’d be very interesting to see how he’d adjust to guard where he can focus on downfield blocking where he should excel. I still think he has the mobility and range to play tackle.

There’s a willingness to get to the second level and he moves well laterally so he can pull and kick across easily enough. He passes off blockers and transitions with ease. There’s an awful lot to like here. Attitude, toughness, strength, size, mobility. A lot more to like than someone like Ronnie Stanley or Jerald Hawkins, that’s for sure. Stanley is a borderline first rounder for me, while LSU’s Hawkins has barely warranted a draftable grade (watch the Alabama game).

If the Seahawks wanted an upside prospect who could potentially man a tackle spot or move inside to guard, Bisnowaty is one to monitor. He’s a redshirt junior so should theoretically declare for the draft. He has a chance to rise. The skill set is there.

Updated first round mock draft — 10th November

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

For more on the Seahawks pick, the mock draft and general NFL/NFL Draft thoughts — check out this weeks podcast…

Picks 1-10

1 Detroit Lions — Joey Bosa (DE, Ohio State)
2 Cleveland Browns — Robert Nkemdiche (DE, Ole Miss)
3 Jacksonville Jaguars — Shon Coleman (T, Auburn)
4 Tennessee Titans — Corey Coleman (WR, Baylor)
5 San Diego Chargers — Laremy Tunsil (T, Ole Miss)
6 Baltimore Ravens — Tre’Davious White (CB, LSU)
7 Dallas Cowboys — Jaylon Smith (LB, Notre Dame)
8 Chicago Bears — Cameron Sutton (CB, Tennessee)
9 San Francisco 49ers — Paxton Lynch (QB, Memphis)
10 Tampa Bay Buccaneers — DeForest Buckner (DE, Oregon)

After watching Shon Coleman shut down Texas A&M’s brilliant Myles Garrett — there’s no reason not to make him the #1 offensive tackle prospect in this class. He’s the perfect compliment of attitude, athleticism and size. He loves to get to the second level and punish linebackers. He can mirror and kick slide well enough to play the blindside. People aren’t talking about him but don’t be surprised if he has a Greg Robinson, Lane Johnson, Eric Fisher, Ereck Flowers style rise.

Corey Coleman should be in the top ten of every mock draft you read. He probably should be leading the Heisman race. Incredible production is only part of the story. He will destroy the combine with eye-catching athleticism. He’ll take the ball away in contested situations, he’ll get downfield. He’s terrific in space. There’s no reason why he won’t be productive early in his pro-career. He could be the best offensive player in the class.

Paxton Lynch could’ve gone to the Browns at #2 but in this projection I have them waiting until the early second round for a quarterback. DeForest Buckner isn’t a fantastic, elite athlete but his play warrants an early first round grade.

Picks 11-20

11 Miami Dolphins — Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State)
12 Houston Texans — Jaylen Ramsey (CB/S, Florida State)
13 Washington — Laquon Treadwell (WR, Ole Miss)
14 Kansas City Chiefs — Taylor Decker (T, Ohio State)
15 New Orleans Saints — Michael Thomas (WR, Ohio State)
16 Philadelphia Eagles — Jack Conklin (T, Michigan State)
17 Oakland Raiders — A’Shawn Robinson (DT, Alabama)
18 St. Louis Rams — Kendall Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech)
19 Seattle Seahawks — Myles Jack (LB, UCLA)
20 Buffalo — Reggie Ragland (LB, Alabama)

Why are the Seahawks drafting a linebacker?

In this projection Shon Coleman, Laremy Tunsil, Taylor Decker and Jack Conklin are off the board. This represents the possible dilemma facing the Seahawks if they intend to go offensive line early in this draft. It’s still too early to determine who will or won’t be there if they pick even this late in round one (#19) — but there is such a crisis in the NFL with a dearth of good, young O-liners. The ones that are available will go quickly. The Seahawks, even in a scenario where they don’t make the playoffs, could be met with a situation where they either have to force a pick or look elsewhere.

Taking Ronnie Stanley or Germain Ifedi would be forcing the pick. Stanley’s play is too hit and miss. He looks assured and technically adept against USC and then sluggish and lazy against Temple. Unlike Coleman and Tunsil he doesn’t look to get to the second level. His footwork can be poor. You want to light a fire under him he’s so passive. He will likely go early because of the NFL’s need for linemen — but don’t be shocked if he drops into round two either. Ifedi meanwhile has not looked particularly great at right tackle this season. He has the size to move inside at the next level. That’s fine. But to me he looks like a James Carpenter type.

In the brilliant Real in the Field Gulls podcast last week with Danny O’Neil we heard about the possibility of Garry Gilliam moving to left tackle to replace Russell Okung. If you think about it, Gilliam has the athletic profile to make it work. And unlike some of these first round picks, he’ll have a year starting in the NFL under his belt. If you’re going to have to go through the growing pains with a rookie anyway — you can see the thought process here. Whether you believe Gilliam is good enough to make the transition — that’s a different story.

If Gilliam moves to the left you need a right tackle and possible a center (Justin Britt has actually improved considerably in recent games at left guard). If you’re not paying Okung can you lure Alex Mack to Seattle if he voids his contract? Can you add a veteran right tackle? These are all possibilities that theoretically enable some flexibility in the first round.

I went with Myles Jack because of the athleticism and versatility he’s shown at UCLA, the likelihood of Bruce Irvin departing and the opportunity provided due to Jack’s knee injury. He likely goes a little earlier without the injury. If the Seahawks do miss the playoffs and pick at #19 — they might see it as a bonus opportunity to get a genuine top-20 talent.

And now that I’ve spent the last few para’s trying to convince you they might not go O-line early next year… I still think it’s incredibly likely that’s exactly what they’ll do. But hey — it’s November and a bye week. We need something to discuss.

Picks 21-32

21 Indianapolis Colts — Ronnie Stanley (T, Notre Dame)
22 New York Giants — Darron Lee (LB, Ohio State)
23 Pittsburgh Steelers — Mackensie Alexander (CB, Clemson)
24 New York Jets — Germain Ifedi (T/G, Texas A&M)
25 Atlanta — Jonathan Bullard (DT/DE, Florida)
26 Green Bay — De’Runnya Wilson (WR, Mississippi State)
27 Arizona — Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State)
28 Minnesota — Adolphus Washington (DT/DE, Ohio State)
29 Denver — Jared Goff (QB, California)
30 Cincinnati — Tyler Boyd (WR, Pittsburgh)
31 Carolina — Shaq Lawson (DE, Clemson)

There’s every chance I’ll move Ronnie Stanley out of the first round again. For now he survives, just, due to the demand for OT’s in the NFL. Mackensie Alexander has impressed enough recently to warrant some attention in round one — adding to a talented cornerback class. De’Runnya Wilson is a poor man’s Kelvin Benjamin and could go in a similar range.