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Instant reaction: Seahawks win, somehow, again

Monday, November 7th, 2016

The Seahawks constantly find ways to play really stupid, crazy, stupid, glorious games. More often than not, they somehow find a way to win them (apart from that one).

This looked so much like it was going to be a crushing loss. With a trip to New England next week, there was a genuine risk of falling to 4-4-1 and enduring a three-game losing streak.

And just as that thought was starting to manifest and become reality, the Seahawks won a football game in the fourth quarter again.

So now they’re 5-2-1, still in control of the NFC West and currently the #2 seed.

If the NFL has a ratings problem, they should put this team on primetime every week.

That said, this strange 31-25 victory highlighted some major problems that will almost certainly prevent the Seahawks from winning a Championship unless they are addressed.

Their identity for years has been defense and running the football. They did neither well tonight.

The defense struggled to get a stop on third down, the tackling was poor, they struggled to get off blocks and they regularly lost contain.

The running game was ugly from the start, was never established and played no part in Seattle’s offense other than to waste a down.

So it was up to the passing game to keep this one close. Fancy that — after years of doing the opposite of NFL’s pass-heavy trend, suddenly the Seahawks became Green Bay.

Like Dom Capers’ often befuddled Packers unit, a spate of trickery up front (different O-line combinations, looks) seemed to work all night.

Like Mike McCarthy’s current offense, Seattle had a non-existent running game. At least the Packers have the excuse of lining up a legitimate receiver at running back instead of a guy who made the conversion in college.

And like Green Bay — a creative quarterback was the only solace to make anything happen.

At least they found a way to adapt and win.

The third down conversions by Buffalo were incredible. They managed 12/17 (!!!!!) for 70% (!!!!!).

When they needed to make a one-yard run they could do it. They were often in manageable situations due to their balance — running, passing, mobile QB (sound familiar?). And when they needed the quarterback to make a play he often had the time (or just the one man to dodge in the backfield to extend the play) to find an open receiver.

Michael Bennett is always going to be a miss — he’s one of the best players in the league. I think we’ve seen in the last two weeks how vital he is. Bennett’s ability to impact snaps and disrupt even when he doesn’t record a stat or a splash is highly underrated.

It’s hard to say whether communication was an issue again in this game. It felt that way but is it just a lazy answer to turn to after the problems in the Atlanta game?

The tackling was a strange issue all night — so to was the inability of Seattle’s D-line and linebackers to get off a block. Buffalo executed their assignments well — but it didn’t feel like there were many 1v1 wins for the Seattle defense tonight. Kelcie McCray dodging Cody Glenn with about four and change to go to tackle LeSean McCoy was a rare moment (and a vital one as it turned out).

It’s incredible how one-dimensional Seattle’s offense is. This will be of most concern. At least the defense is capable of playing a great game (see: Arizona on the road). There’s very little excuse for the running game short of Thomas Rawls being injured.

Even with Russell Wilson looking a lot healthier, they got nothing on the ground. No balance. No production. Absolutely nothing. Christine Michael and C.J. Prosise combined for ten yards on eight carries.

That’s unheard of for this team since the 2010 rebuilding year. They are officially back at square one in trying to establish the core identity of their offense.

It would be easy to watch Wilson dealing, Graham and Baldwin catching passes and the Seahawks finding an explosive element and assert that the offense ‘was back’ or is ‘fine’. Not true. They want to run. Seattle’s offensive identity will never be right when they’re this poor running the ball.

Running the ball is as important to Pete Carroll’s philosophy as the defense.

They are not now a ‘passing team’.

They are a team that is struggling to run the ball.

And we saw in the second half why you don’t want to rely solely on the pass. When the easy completions weren’t there or the big plays — drives quickly stalled. A penalty or a sack can immediately kill a drive. You need to be able to run the ball.

What’s the issue? It’s really hard to say without a long, close look at the tape. It never felt like there was any running room. It equally never felt like either Christine Michael or C.J. Prosise were hitting the hole with any venom. It was hard to watch McCoy — dodgy hamstring and all — looking so much more vibrant, breaking ankles all night with some terrific cuts.

Is Rawls going to be the answer? A more pertinent question right now would be ‘can Thomas Rawls stay healthy?’

Unless things change dramatically there is no doubt at this stage what Seattle’s needs are going forward. Better run blocking up front and an playmaker in the backfield. I wrote another piece earlier about Utah offensive tackle Garett Bolles, check it out.

The good news is Wilson looked so much more like his old self today and is clearly getting healthier. I also don’t want to read any more about Jimmy Graham’s position on this roster. Imagine what they’d be without him right now?

It was also another really good day for Cliff Avril and Frank Clark. Add Bennett again in a few weeks and that should give the defense a real jolt for the run-in.

We’re half-way through the season now and barring another major upturn in performance, we have a grasp on what this team is.

It’s very similar to 2015 without a running game.

The defense is capable of really good football — but they’re also capable of giving up long, unforgiving drives at crucial moments.

The offense relies on Wilson and when healthy he’s as good as anyone in the league. But they are not bullies. So far they haven’t achieved that off-season goal.

The 2015 Seahawks were a weird animal because they finished 10-6 and blew several games and could’ve been 12-4 or 13-3 and yet they never felt ‘that’ good. The 2016 version has a nice 5-2-1 record but doesn’t quite feel like a great team yet (that could change as it did in the second half of 2014).

This was a stressful win but here’s a thought to finish. Imagine how stressful it was for the Cardinals and Rams fans to see it end in a Seahawks win, sensing a genuine opportunity to open up the division snatched away for at least another week.

Pre-Monday Night Football Garett Bolles post

Monday, November 7th, 2016

I spent a bit of time today ahead of MNF watching more Utah tape specifically to see left tackle Garett Bolles.

The Utah @ UCLA game is on Youtube (as is nearly every CFB game these days and some are even condensed into 30 minutes) and you can watch it above. I also found the Arizona game.

I didn’t realise initially how good he is getting to the second level — but Bolles vs UCLA repeatedly dominated here, stayed square on the linebacker or safety, had excellent hand placement on the inside shoulder and buried his guy. It led to two huge touchdown runs for Joe Williams and several other nice gains.

On one inside reach play he engaged with the DL with a ferocious initial punch, gained immediate leverage through his hand placement (again on the inside shoulder) and just turned the defender with a flick of the hips. He was in complete control of the block and just planted his legs in the turf and it was over. Along with a terrific block by the left guard it created a huge running touchdown. Power, technique, athleticism, control, balance — it was all on show. It’s so rare to see a tackle do all of this well. Usually you’ll see a guy win with power but struggle to flip his hips and turn the defender. Bolles does this — and looks completely natural in the process.

He’s a special, special talent. The type that college football is crying out for — and the NFL is in desperate need of. He just has the perfect compliment of athleticism and control in pass protection, the agility to pull and connect with blocks on the move, the nastiness and edge to finish, the ability to handle counter moves and stay on a block, the willingness to not only get to the second level but destroy opponents when he gets there.

He’ll press a guy and stun with an initial jolt of power and he has the natural ability to set and control the block to finish. When a DE tries to work-in a spin move after losing initial leverage or position, he just stays on the block and finishes. He always finishes.

He plays with such an edge, he plays to the whistle and sometimes beyond. He fits the style of a J.R. Sweezy, Justin Britt, Germain Ifedi or Breno Giacomini in terms of attitude. He’s a Tom Cable offensive lineman. He has to be.

Bolles plays with fantastic leg drive in the run game but he also has a smooth kick step (could still use a little refinement), he’s plenty agile and looks like a plus athlete who should impress at his combine.

I want to highlight two plays where he excels at the second level. I’m using highlight footage because it’s easier to locate vs the three hour tape above:

Play 1 (1:58 in the video)
Bolles pulls from the left tackle position (he’s #72) and just executes this block perfectly. He hits the hole and locates the safety at the second level, before dumping him on his ass to spring Joe Williams for the big touchdown run. Perfection. So many college tackles are willing to get to the second level but don’t execute. They’ll half block the guy or try to just get in the way. Bolles destroys his man here, buries him into the turf.

Play 2 (2:13 in the video)
Bolles pulls into the centre and connects with a linebacker two yards beyond the LOS. Joe Williams follows him and reaches the second level. Bolles drives the linebacker 13 yards downfield before sending him to the turf. Williams scores another long touchdown run.

Williams the running back was playing in his second game after reversing his decision to retire. He had 332 rushing yards in this game. People have asked in the comments section about him — and he’s quick, sharp and has nice suddenness. But he gets the insane yardage here because of his offensive line. Bolles in particular is integral.

He had a similar impact pulling from left tackle against Arizona (during Williams’ short retirement). He had three false starts but he dominated in the run game. Armand Shyne had a big touchdown running to the left with Bolles turning the end inside (similar technique as noted above vs UCLA) and the guard pulled to take out the linebacker springing the big hole.

There is absolutely no doubt that in this era of struggling college O-lines and NFL teams desperately seeking help in the trenches that Bolles is a first round talent. Everything about him screams ‘Seahawks’. They’ll be lucky if they’re in a position to draft him one day. If you missed it last week check out our piece touching on the way he battled adversity (grit = Seahawks).

If he turns pro and heads to the combine it’ll be interesting to see if he passes our TEF (Trench Explosion Formula) test. His play for Utah suggests he will conquer it easily and is destined for the top-32.

Will he turn pro? He can stay at Utah for another year if he wishes but he’s 25 next summer. The Seahawks drafted Bruce Irvin in round one when he was a similar age. Tony Pauline recently suggested Bolles will consider turning pro if he gets a first round grade.

Saturday notes: ‘Bama defense is too good

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

Florida @ Arkansas

Florida’s two stud linebackers Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone were both injured during the game — and the Gators usually physical, intimidating defense was pretty lightweight as a consequence. Arkansas, hammered by Auburn last week, ran all over them.

Safety Marcus Maye had a mixed day. With the front seven struggling to contain the run he was often a needed last line of defense, recording 11 tackles and making one really good form tackle after a strong catch-and-run by Devwah Whaley. He also had a couple of avoidable errors.

There weren’t many opportunities for Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson to impress at cornerback. Arkansas managed their offense nicely, worked play-action and the screen game and didn’t take many risks at the second level after an early pick-six.

One player who did have a good day was defensive tackle Caleb Brantley. He doesn’t get too much attention but he consistently finds a way to impact games. He had a really nice interior rush for a sack (he was only give half a sack on the stat sheet) and had a couple of hurries too. He could be a value pick in round two.

Alabama @ LSU

This game perfectly highlights the problem with college football that is translating to the NFL. The best athletes are playing defense and the offenses (in particular offensive lines) don’t stand a chance.

Both OL’s were miserable in this game. In particular, LSU provided zero resistance to the brilliant ‘Bama front seven. It was a massacre, a complete ass-kicking up front. The quarterback Danny Etling was hit every time he dropped back to pass and managed a paltry 92 yards passing from 24 throws.

They tried to establish the passing game and took shots downfield — probably in an attempt to open up running lanes. It never happened — and thus it was almost impossible for Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice.

There will be a temptation to point the finger at Fournette and use another bad day vs Alabama to bash him. He had 35 yards on 17 carries in an eerily similar game to last year. It would be so foolish to make that assertion. For example, virtually every time LSU handed the ball off one of two things happened:

1. Alabama’s D-line collapsed the LOS and had 2-3 players in the backfield almost immediately after Fournette received the ball.

2. LSU’s front did enough to contain the initial blast but nobody laid a finger on the linebackers. I don’t recall a single time seeing Reuben Foster covered up. Often he was free to explode into the backfield and join the party. It’s no surprise he ended the day as Alabama’s leading tackler with 11 in total.

If you want to box-score scout and criticise Fournette, feel free. I’m not convinced anyone could run productively with that environment. LSU are an absolute mess on offense — with no passing game or O-line to speak of. When you put that next to an elite defense — it’ll get ugly. Alabama had five sacks, nine TFL’s, three official hurries and what felt like about 20 hits of the QB.

Even if Fournette is drafted by the Cleveland Browns — he won’t come up against a similar situation to what he experienced in this game.

Foster was again exceptional with incredible burst and physicality — he will almost certainly go in the top-12 as an impact linebacker. Tim Williams got half a sack (looked like a full one to me) but was incredibly physical vs the run, setting the edge and dominating with power to compliment his quickness. He’s a top-10 talent. Jonathan Allen had another sack and continues to look every bit a high pick and Marlon Humphrey — short of one deep ball error early in the game, was exceptional in coverage showing savvy and technique to go with his incredible physical potential.

Ryan Anderson also continues to make waves. He had yet another sack, several big plays and just leaps off the screen every week. He will be one of the most fascinating players to watch at the combine. He’s only 6-2 and 253lbs and lacks overall length but how athletic is he? He just makes plays every week. He would be an ideal fit in the AFC North.

LSU’s defenders also stood out. Aside from one ‘Earl Thomas-esque’ missed tackle Jamal Adams had a fantastic game. Tre’Davious White was excellent in coverage all night and did a good job containing the QB run until the final quarter when asked to help at the LOS.

Yet the lasting thought is how bad these offenses were — especially the O-lines. College football has a serious mismatch problem up front and it’s translating to the NFL. That’s why teams like Seattle are being forced to look for George Fant-types.

Washington @ California

This was a one-sided blowout but Washington again looked really strong offensively. Jake Browning isn’t a physically brilliant passer but he’s so economical with enough arm strength to keep a defense honest. His poise, accuracy and production could help him get into the first round discussion next year.

John Ross is an explosive talent worthy of a first round grade. At times Cal put three defenders on him and whenever he got a 1v1 he nearly always won. His ability to get open, break tackles, run away from defenders and make touchdowns is unmatched in college football this year. There’s some Brandin Cooks to his game, some DeSean Jackson. Teams love this type of X-factor:

Dante Pettis is kind of similar to Jermaine Kearse. The big difference is consistency (Pettis is more consistent) but they both have a sneaky explosive edge and they make plays. He won’t be a high pick necessarily but like Kearse he has a shot to stick at the next level.

Defensively there is so much talent on this Huskies unit. The D-line again was superb. Greg Gaines is a great combination of massive bulk and athleticism. Vita Vea is a huge, athletic nose tackle and Elijah Qualls is maybe a notch below in terms of potential but he’s tough to move at the LOS. Depending on how they test, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Gaints and Vea in the second round mix.

Azeem Victor does a good job organising things at linebacker and they have playmakers in the secondary in Budda Baker and Sidney Jones. In this game Jones had two picks and will likely get a lot of hype this week. To me he looks a bit dinky and there were a couple of times where he gave up plays in coverage. There’s no doubting his playmaking ability, athleticism and coverage skills. I wonder at the next level whether he’s the type of guy who will make a collection of really nice highlight plays each season — but will also get bullied by bigger receivers and could be liable to give up plays too.

A team that wants to limit big plays and keep everything in front (eg Seattle) with longer, bigger corners probably isn’t going to covet Jones. He might be a good fit for someone like the Patriots who seem to value technique and execution — their corners have also always been a bit boom-or-bust.

Open thread Saturday

Saturday, November 5th, 2016

Who are you watching? Let us know and comment in the open thread.

I’ve just finished watching Florida @ Arkansas. The Gators were banged up on defense — losing both Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone to injury during the game. Arkansas dominated on the ground but Caleb Brantley (DT, Florida) still had a productive game.

Elsewhere, Carl Lawson (EDGE, Auburn) got another sack against Vanderbilt. That’s 8.5 for him now this year. Dawuane Smoot (EDGE, Illinois) also had a good day — getting his third sack of the season against Michigan State. He totalled 2.5 TFL’s in the game.

Jehu Chesson (WR, Michigan) had his best stat line of the year with 112 yards and a touchdown vs Maryland. If he lingers in the draft due to a lack of production — keep an eye on him. He’s a terrific athlete with major special teams value. He’s also a really good blocker in the run game.

Updated NFL mock draft: 4th November

Friday, November 4th, 2016

A quick updated first round mock draft for Friday. I watched some of UCLA vs Colorado last night and Takkarist McKinley was superb. He still needs some technique work but as a raw talent his ceiling is incredibly high. He’s like a lighter Ziggy Ansah during his BYU days. He has nine sacks this season and he’s in the top-12 this week.

Tomorrow I’ve got the following games on my schedule:

Florida @ Arkansas
Alabama @ LSU
Washington @ California

1. Browns 0-8 — Leonard Fournette (RB, LSU)
2. 49ers 1-6 — Myles Garrett (EDGE, Texas A&M)
3. Bears 2-6 — Jabrill Peppers (S, Michigan)
4. Jaguars 2-5 — Jonathan Allen (DE, Alabama)
5. Panthers 2-5 — Tim Williams (EDGE, Alabama)
6. Colts 3-5 — Malik Hooker (S, Ohio State)
7. Jets 3-5 — Marlon Humphrey (CB, Alabama)
8. Chargers 3-5 — Jamal Adams (S, LSU)
9. Ravens 3-4 — Dalvin Cook (RB, Florida State)
10. Titans via Rams 3-4 — Reuben Foster (LB, Alabama)
11. Buccaneers 3-4 — Takkarist McKinley (EDGE, UCLA)
12. Dolphins 3-4 — O.J. Howard (TE, Alabama)
13. Saints 3-4 — Cam Sutton (CB, Tennessee)
14. Cardinals 3-4-1 — Tre’Davious White (CB, LSU)
15. Bengals 3-4-1 — Demarcus Walker (DE, Florida State)
16. Titans 4-4 — Justin Evans (S, Texas A&M)
17. Lions 4-4 — Marshon Lattimore (CB, Ohio State)
18. Bills 4-4 — Malik McDowell (DE, Michigan State)
19. Redskins 4-3-1 — Dawuane Smoot (EDGE, Illinois)
20. Browns via Eagles 4-3 — Mitch Trubisky (QB, North Carolina)
21. Packers 4-3 — Jarrad Davis (LB, Florida)
22. Steelers 4-3 — Alex Anzalone (LB, Florida)
23. Giants 4-3 — Derek Barnett (DE, Tennessee)
24. Falcons 5-3 — John Ross (WR, Washington)
25. Texans 5-3 — Jalen Tabor (CB, Florida)
26. Seahawks 4-2-1 — Garett Bolles (T, Utah)
27. Eagles via Vikings 5-2 — Christian McCaffrey (RB, Stanford)
28. Chiefs 5-2 — Carl Lawson (EDGE, Auburn)
29. Broncos 6-2 — Budda Baker (S, Washington)
30. Raiders 6-2 — Quincy Wilson (CB, Florida)
31. Cowboys 6-1 — Solomon Thomas (DE, Stanford)
32. Patriots 7-1 — Marcus Maye (S, Florida)

Garett Bolles could be a first rounder, future Seahawk

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

Utah Garett Bolles could be destined for round one

It’s well advertised that this is a bad year for offensive tackles. At a time when NFL teams (not just the Seahawks) are desperate for quality linemen, supply has never been weaker.

Alabama’s Cam Robinson frequently is placed in round one but his technique in pass pro is sloppy, he’s not the greatest athlete and he has character flags that need to be investigated. Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey insists he won’t turn pro at the end of the season. Temple’s Dion Dawkins is a solid all-rounder but arguably lacks the freaky athleticism to warrant a first round mark.

Yet the idea of no first round offensive tackles is so foreign, it’s worth continuing to look for an emerging star.

It could be this guy.

Utah’s Garett Bolles looks the part physically and on tape. He has an interesting backstory and he plays with a nasty edge. He could be destined for the first round and could be a player the Seahawks show interest in.

Seattle will go into the off-season needing further improvements to the O-line. Bradley Sowell is unlikely to be a long term solution. George Fant has the high ceiling to possibly emerge as a starter but Garry Gilliam hasn’t taken a step forward and Rees Odhiambo isn’t pushing anyone as a rookie.

At the very least a new tackle would be challenging to start on the right side, if not the left.

GM John Schneider talked openly about ‘being the bully’ again this year. Selecting an enormous, edgy offensive lineman (Germain Ifedi) and a nasty, brutish defensive tackle (Jarran Reed) were a signal of intent. Even so, after seven games they are not the bully. It’s not really close so far.

Unless that changes, this is likely to be the focus again for 2017.

As I’ve been going through draft eligible prospects I’ve tried to find players that possess a mean streak. The Seahawks are always going to look for unique traits and twitchy athleticism — but I sense they also want ‘edge’ more than ever. Junkyard dogs. We saw that with Ifedi and Reed.

Garett Bolles matches this profile perfectly.

So who is he?

Bolles has a backstory similar to Bruce Irvin’s. According to this piece in the Salt Lake Tribune he had a troubled upbringing, got involved in drugs and was arrested for vandalism.

His dad kicked him out and he ended up living with another family. They laid out some strict ground rules and he took a job in garage repair. He turned his life around (now married and expecting his first child) and then turned his life to football.

Like Irvin, Bolles joined a JUCO college. He played for Snow College and received four and five star ratings for his performances.

According to Rivals he received interest from Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Oregon and USC. He originally committed to BYU before switching to Utah.

He’s starting at left tackle in year one in the PAC-12.

Bolles might not declare for the 2017 draft but he turns 25 in May. If he wants to max out his draft stock he might need to consider going pro immediately. Tony Pauline suggested over the weekend he will consider the NFL if he has a chance at cracking the first round.

So what about the fit in Seattle?

The Seahawks don’t appear to be overly concerned about age having drafted Irvin in his mid-20’s. They love players that have battled adversity and ‘lived’ — showing grit to accomplish success. As we’ve discussed, they’re likely to be looking for nasty, mean, physical types with great size (6-5, 300lbs) and athleticism.

Bolles ticks every box. The grit, the backstory, the physical profile, the mean streak.

Here’s the Utah vs USC game. Bolles is wearing #72.

Here’s what I see from him:

— Superb balance and ability to set in pass protection, lock on and finish

— Nasty edge as a blocker, will dump players onto the deck and play through the whistle

— Fantastic leg drive in the run game, capable of locking on and blowing defenders off the LOS to create running lanes

— Smooth kick step that could still use a little refinement but he’s plenty agile and looks like a plus athlete

— Defenders unable to shake him once contact initiated

— Has shown the ability to get to the second level, locate and connect with a linebacker

His age and physical maturity could be playing a part here. A 24-year-old will often dominate a 19-year-old so that has to be taken into account. Yet you see the full package here — strength, length, minimal body fat despite his size, aggressiveness, wants to finish blocks and play to the whistle, productivity in the run/pass game, a good kick step and mobility/balance.

He could genuinely work himself into the top-20 picks given the dearth of talent at LT. If the age factor and his previous run-ins with the law work against him — he could be the kind of physical tone-setter the Seahawks are looking for and a valuable option at left or right tackle.

When I do my next mock draft, Bolles will likely be paired with the Seahawks (although he could easily warrant a place in the top-20).

New podcast: Kenny & Rob get into it about running backs

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

This week we start talking about the Saints game and eventually move on to a debate about running backs — with a frank exchange of views. Don’t miss it…

The Leonard Fournette in Seattle piece

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

Leonard Fournette, with a beard that screams ‘I want to play with guys like Jarran Reed’

Here’s what we’re going to do. We’ll look at the possibility of a Leonard Fournette trade-up scenario, we’ll talk about why it might appeal to the Seahawks and then we’ll discuss why it likely won’t happen.

Of course it’s way too early to determine whether a move like this would be even remotely possible. I just think we could use a change of pace from dissecting what isn’t working with Seattle’s offense at the moment (groan).

Right now it could be argued they’re missing a bell-cow stud running back. The thing they relied on for years with Marshawn Lynch and the kind of player they’d ideally lean on with Russell Wilson still recovering from knee/ankle/peck injuries.

The 2017 draft class will have a few good running backs. There’s going to be depth at the position right into the middle rounds. Speed, explosive athleticism, grit, finesse — it’s all there with a mix of very different backs.

Nobody, absolutely nobody, compares to Fournette.

He is the one true tone-setter. A physical, punishing force with breakaway speed and home-run hitting ability. He’ll knock a defender on his backside, get the hard yards up the middle, wear down a defense and then run 70-yards for a touchdown.

He can do this:

This:

This:

This:

And this:

And yeah, he’s a great football player. He’s also a pretty good dude too:

Character, size, speed, unique athleticism, brutality. Leonard Fournette is the complete package.

It’s hard to compare him to anyone. We’ve often referred to him on this blog as the Julio Jones of running backs. That’ll do for now.

Unless the Seahawks’ running game picks up before the end of the year, they might feel like they need a spark at the position. Thomas Rawls could yet provide it — but he has to get healthy, stay healthy and rekindle his 2015 form.

That remains Seattle’s best bet — because Fournette isn’t likely to be unattainable next year.

He might be the #1 overall pick. Top-three is likely. Top-five seems certain.

If you want a tiny glimmer of hope that such a move could be possible, this is the only example I’ve got for you. The trade that took the aforementioned Julio Jones to Atlanta in 2011.

The Falcons traded with Cleveland to move from #26 to #6 to select Jones. It cost them the following:

#26 overall pick (round 1) in 2011
#59 overall pick (round 2) in 2011
#124 overall pick (round 4 in 2011
#22 overall pick (round 1) in 2012
#118 overall pick (round 4) in 2012

Two first rounders, a second rounder and two fourth rounders.

Quite a deal.

Such a move isn’t totally preposterous. It’s not three first rounders like the RGIII deal. At the time the Falcons received some criticism for making such a bold move — but with hindsight they were the big winners. Cleveland were left with a lot of picks but spent them unwisely.

Good players >>>> draft picks

The league and its fans are obsessed with draft picks. Having a lot of picks in the first three or four rounds is great. It’s exciting. In reality most of these picks don’t produce good players, let alone stars. Cleveland aren’t the only culprits. In that 2012 draft where they gained an extra first rounder (used on Brandon Weeden), the at-the-time red hot San Francisco 49ers used the #31 pick on A.J. Jenkins (remember him?).

Atlanta wanted a legit #1 receiver for Matt Ryan. Had they not moved up in the 2011 draft the options were:

Jonathan Baldwin (drafted with their original #26 pick, now out of the league)
Titus Young (a smaller receiver drafted at #44, now out of the league)
Torrey Smith (#55 pick, now with the 49ers)
Greg Little (#56 pick, now out of the league)
Randall Cobb (#64 pick enjoying a productive run with the Packers)

Cobb has enjoyed a nice career so far — but none of this group are Julio Jones. Not even close.

The Falcons did the right thing.

Jones had an ideal blend of athleticism, character and maturity. The investment was steep but the ceiling as high as can be. It felt like an expensive yet strangely safe move.

Cleveland wanted the picks. I bet they’d rather have Julio today.

I don’t know if teams — and the Seahawks specifically — will view Fournette in a similar light. I think there’s a pretty good chance they will. If so, spending a bevy of picks to acquire someone with the potential to be a star is worth it. Again, good players are better than lots of picks. Talent wins.

If Fournette falls into a similar range (#4-#8 overall) and presuming a team like the Seahawks own a pick from #25-32, the precedent is there to negotiate a deal.

Some teams would cringe at the idea of spending so much on a running back. The Seahawks aren’t like a lot of teams. During an era of passing game dominance they’ve thrived playing great defense and running the football with a point guard QB. Having a successful running game is part of Seattle’s DNA. Without it — well you can see the results at the moment.

If you could get 6-8 years out of Fournette (a modest estimate), would that be worth two first round picks and some change? Maybe. If it helps relieve some of the pressure on Russell Wilson to produce, if it helps you keep the defense off the field for longer, if it helps you be the team you want to be. Sure, it’d be worth it.

It’d also help create another huge mismatch problem for opponents. Game planning for Wilson, Fournette, Graham, Baldwin and Lockett wouldn’t be easy. Throw in Thomas Rawls as a 1-2 punch and you’re cooking on gas.

So that’s the argument for the deal. Now the brutal truth.

For starters, it takes two to tango. The Falcons found a willing trade partner in the Browns in 2011. It was an unusual deal. Teams don’t often trade down 20 spots in the first round. The 2017 draft class looks really good at the top. Trading away a shot at someone like Myles Garrett or Julius Peppers or Jonathan Allen is a hard sell. Fournette would probably need to fall a bit first and how likely is that?

The Seahawks have been aggressive in the past with trades but it’s always been with a full understanding of the situation. With Jimmy Graham and Percy Harvin they knew which pick they had in round one. They knew the players available in the draft. They assessed the value and decided Harvin and Graham were vastly superior to the prospects available. They weren’t making a blind choice. They knew what they were trading away.

If you deal multiple first round picks you don’t know what you’re missing out on in the future. Would the Seahawks be comfortable doing that?

For example — imagine if the Dallas Cowboys, fresh from a 12-win season in 2014, had traded their 2016 first rounder away to make a bold move. That pick would’ve been #4 overall. How were they to anticipate an incredible collapse?

It’s unlikely the Seahawks would sink in such a way but this is an unpredictable league. Right now Seattle’s backup quarterback is an UDFA rookie. If Wilson was injured sufficiently to actually miss multiple games or most of a season, how many wins do you get with Trevone Boykin?

Would Seattle’s front office deem such a big trade necessary? They’re probably more likely to back themselves to find an alternative runner on day three or in UDFA. That’s where they found Rawls after all. C.J. Prosise could also end up being a more important player than we realise in the coming weeks.

They would need absolute conviction that Fournette was going to be a star, the price would have to be something similar to Atlanta’s outlay for Jones and they’d need a trade partner. That’s a lot of stars needing to align.

It’s still a nice thought for a cold Tuesday evening just after a loss.

Thoughts on the Seahawks offense — future and present

Monday, October 31st, 2016

If only there was a way…

The Seahawks need to find some answers on offense. It’s not a situation likely to be solved by any big trade. That’s quite a lazy angle unless they’ve found a time machine and can go back and get 2010 Marshawn Lynch for a fourth rounder.

This is about making the most of the personnel they have. Getting Thomas Rawls back. Finding ways to feature C.J. Prosise (especially after he impressed in New Orleans). Making better use of their big-time red zone weapon (Jimmy Graham has one touchdown) and finding a way to get Russell Wilson back to his best as his health gradually improves.

For the long term (this is a draft blog after all) it’d be easy to assert this team needs another bell-cow at running back. A tone-setter. Even if Rawls gets healthy and stays healthy — it still feels like they need more from the position.

Rawls has been injured longer than he’s been healthy. He has the potential to be great. He’s a likeable player. Unlike Lynch, who rarely missed time, he hasn’t been available. After missing several weeks already they almost have to make an insurance move in the off-season. Someone of equal physicality with the ability to lead this running game if necessary.

That’s not a knock on Christine Michael either. It’s not his fault the team only ran the ball three times in the first half yesterday. It’s equally not his fault he hasn’t quite been able to be a tone-setter. That’s not what he is. He didn’t do that at Texas A&M either. He’s an explosive, athletic running back. He’s an ill-fit if you want him to slam it up the middle 20 times.

In the past Pete Carroll’s offense (and yes, it is his offense) has worked so well because of match-up nightmares. The trades for Percy Harvin and then Jimmy Graham seemingly part of an attempt to create a genuine three-headed monster:

— A physical, tone-setting running back
— A mobile, ‘point guard’ playmaker quarterback
— An X-factor receiver with a unique skill set.

Imagine being a defensive coordinator contending with this. Do you go all-out to stop Lynch knowing you’ll probably fail and leave yourself open to being beaten by Wilson? Do you try to contain Wilson and risk being stomped by Lynch? How do you cover Harvin or Graham when so much focus is required to stack the box vs the run or contain the QB?

So many questions and so many opportunities for the Seahawks to exploit weaknesses once they work out what poison you’ve chosen. So much ‘unique’ talent.

Right now all of this is shelved. The running game isn’t working so you don’t need to be overly concerned with that. Wilson is banged up and not mobile so there’s not much concern about his ability to break contain. You can focus a lot of your coverage on Graham.

This offense is easier to plan for, easier to extinguish and lacks the triple threat of previous years.

As noted earlier, they just have to work through this. They can still put together an explosive, balanced, productive offense. It just might not be as good as we’ve seen in the past.

That might not be such an issue. The Cardinals are even more banged up than Seattle. Today they lost their left tackle Jared Veldheer to injury. Tyrann Mathieu will miss the next 4-6 weeks. They just lost in pretty convincing fashion to the Panthers and they’re 3-4-1.

Winning the NFC West wasn’t the sole target for a lot of fans going into the season. Dreams of the #1 or #2 seed were not unrealistic. Right now the aim should be to win the west first and foremost and let the seeding situation work itself out.

If we’re looking ahead to the next draft and free agency — finding that tone-setter along with possible O-line improvements is arguably the biggest need as things stand.

Despite this looking like a good draft class for running backs — it’s hard to find the answer. Leonard Fournette is the ideal but he’s almost certainly a top-five pick and unattainable without an unlikely mega-trade.

Shame.

Nick Chubb clearly isn’t right. The way Georgia are using him and what he’s showing — it’s a real shame. I am not convinced he will perform at the combine like he did at the Nike Sparq combine. Not on the evidence we’re seeing right now.

Dalvin Cook is really good but he’s not a tone-setter. Royce Freeman isn’t a tone-setter. Christian McCaffrey isn’t a tone-setter. Samaje Perrine can’t stay healthy. Run through the list. There are very good backs. There are athletic backs. Fournette is the one true beast. And he’s going to be out of reach.

I can’t offer an obvious alternative at the moment unless Texas’ D’Onta Foreman is more athletic than he appears to be or Perrine can actually put a stretch of games together where he isn’t banged up.

On the O-line, there’s no sugar coating the situation. It’s a really bad class for offensive tackles. Seattle needs physicality and athleticism. It’s not out there at a round one level.

I watched Virginia Tech vs Pittsburgh before the weekend. Pitt left tackle Adam Bisnowaty isn’t a first round LT in terms of what he’s showing on tape. He is long, athletic, tough as nails and physically imposing. He’s a former wrestler and basketball player (Cable guy). You can work with him, possibly as a third rounder. And honestly — if you want some competition from the draft at LT next year, this might be your best bet. Sorry to paint this picture. It is what it is.

The Virginia Tech game was his best performance of the season. He moved people at the LOS and was really solid in pass pro. He’s a former four-star recruit and basketball player. He also kind of matches what they’ve looked for in terms of attitude, grit, the way he finishes plays and style. He looks like a Seahawks lineman — and sounds like one.

Admittedly he hasn’t jumped forward and put himself in the early round mix like he threatened to. However, there is just something about him. He might end up moving inside and he should be a pretty good guard — but the Virginia Tech tape reignited my interest in him as a LT.

Check out the block at 10:53, his red zone work at 14:12 (he is #69), the way they run to the left and he helps drive open the hole at 15:31 and he has a decent kick slide at 25:17:

He’s also had games this year and last year where he doesn’t look capable of playing LT. This was an encouraging display though.

Ideally they would find an early round solution to this problem if that tone-setting runner isn’t there — but you can only play the cards you’re dealt. Again, it isn’t a good class for OT’s.

Unfortunately the strength at the top of the draft isn’t going to be physical, pounding runners or offensive tackles. It’s looking like safety, cornerback and D-line.

Instant reaction: Seahawks lose, fall to 4-2-1

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

This was a stuttering, messy performance by an injury-ravaged Seahawks team.

The offense struggled for rhythm — a concerning fact against a poor New Orleans defense. They had blasts of success — the Tanner McEvoy trick play, the way they ran the ball to start the second half, the drive in the fourth quarter for a field goal — but never found any balance. This is an offense built on balance and it simply isn’t there.

New Orleans have one or two really good players on defense but there’s also a lot of dross. It’s hard to work out why they weren’t able to find a mismatch or two.

It felt like a day for Jimmy Graham — returning to the Saints. He had five targets for 34 yards. If New Orleans successfully took him out of the game, given their struggles, why weren’t other clear mismatches available?

The most problematic thing right now is they can’t find something to hang their hat on. They’re not trusting the run — whether that’s because of the O-line or the lack of Thomas Rawls or both. Russell Wilson’s lack of mobility isn’t helping. But the Seahawks’ mission this season was to be the bully again — and you can’t be the bully with this.

They still drove down the field with a chance to win the game — only to lead to a frustrating conclusion. A short dump off for a few yards cost critical time and turned 3-4 plays at the 17 with 20 seconds to go into one play from the 12. Wilson has to throw the ball away and move on, not check it down in-field on first down.

The final play with the game on the line was a fade to Kearse. That would’ve been a nice call for the first throw. Try out the 1v1 and it’s either a TD or you stop the clock. It’s not a terrible call here either because that was a matchup they liked all day. Yet the throw by Wilson has to be on it — and he asked too much of the receiver. It was nearly impossible to catch in bounds. Kearse nearly pulled it off to his credit. Game over.

Is it time to worry that Wilson hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in his last three games? His interception today was also uncharacteristically poor.

The offense managed just 13 points against a porous Saints defense.

I think we can clearly see after seven games that injuries are preventing this team from playing anything like its best football on offense. Losing Rawls is bad enough — but Wilson’s injuries and Tyler Lockett’s underrated issues have had a major effect. At times they’ve been without C.J. Prosise, Germain Ifedi, Bradley Sowell and Luke Willson too.

This isn’t anything like what we’ve seen from this team during the Wilson era. It’s surely not a coincidence.

The defense started strongly with the fumble/touchdown by Earl Thomas but after taking a commanding 14-3 lead they gave up scores on six consecutive drives — three FG’s and two TD’s. They weren’t helped by the T.O.P. numbers (again heavily weighted to the opponent) but the pass rush was virtually non-existent and Tim Hightower was able to get New Orleans into favourable second and third down situations.

The Saints were prolific on third down, converting 9/15. Shockingly — they felt like the more physical team. They were committed to the run. They were balanced.

Special teams wasn’t bad overall but the botched hold from Jon Ryan possibly cost Seattle a crucial three points before half-time.

Right, now onto the refs.

The Saints pulled off two blatant, uncalled OPI’s on pick plays. Sometimes these calls are borderline. The two by Willie Snead, bulldozing into Jeremy Lane on both occasions, were not borderline. They were so far over the line they were in Mexico.

If it was the intention of the refs to let things go in the game, that’s cool. So why did they call Deshawn Shead for the weakest possible holding penalty on a crucial third down?

Why did they call this ‘block in the back’ on Justin Britt?

Why did they call Richard Sherman for holding on a crucial third down when he was battling with Willie Snead about 30 yards from the ball?

If you’re letting them play — let them play. To call Shead and Britt especially on two big penalties and miss the Snead OPI’s? Incredible.

The penalty count finished like this:

Seahawks: 11-76
Saints: 2-15

I don’t believe in conspiracies. I don’t think the refs were out to get Seattle. I just think they had a really, really inconsistent game.

Yet ultimately, the Seahawks allowed it to matter.

The refs did not win the game for New Orleans.

Seattle has genuine problems on offense and need to find some kind of identity. Whether it’s Wilson in the passing game, getting Rawls back, getting healthy in general or properly committing to the run — they have to do something. They need a spark from somewhere.

They’ve had slumps like this before but were always able to rely on something. It was Rawls’ emergence last year and Wilson. It was Marshawn Lynch in previous years.

What is it now? I’m not sure I can answer that. Who can they lean on?

If we’re talking about possible draft needs (this is a draft blog, after all) — having an extra offensive player who can help set a physical tone and lift the team when other stars are hurt is probably #1.

One player immediately springs to mind — but he’s probably going to go in the top five.

Onto some positives:

— The Cardinals lost in Carolina and the Rams are on a bye. This wasn’t a great result in terms of the #1 or #2 seed — but it didn’t hurt in terms of the NFC West. Given all of the injuries on this team right now — winning the NFC West should be the realistic target. That will be disappointing to some — but that’s where we are. Just win the division.

— The pass rush wasn’t very good today but Cliff Avril and Frank Clark still found a way to get sacks. Their personal production has been incredible so far. Avril is pushing for the league lead (7.5 sacks) while Clark (5.5) is showing off his major potential.

— The Seahawks, despite playing a mostly bad game today, still had a chance to win with the last play of the game. You might not like days like this but this team always has a shot. In terms of character this team is unmatched. When the Cardinals lose it occasionally spirals out of control. That never happens to Seattle.

— They gave up one sack only and George Fant played pretty well. Protection wasn’t a problem for the Seahawks and it hasn’t been for most of the season.