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Instant reaction: Seahawks blow 17 point lead vs Bengals

Sunday, October 11th, 2015

The Seahawks led 24-7 going into the fourth quarter. For the fourth time in six games, the Seahawks failed to hold a fourth quarter lead.

It’s not just on the defense — although it played a big part again today. After a tepid start to the game, Seattle’s defensive counter worked to perfection. They were creative with blitzes and smothered the run game. Andy Dalton looked rattled.

Cincinnati found a way to counter themselves — and the Seahawks sadly had no answer this time. It’s hard to tell on the first viewing but it looked like the Bengals quickened things up, worked the middle and exploited the slot. Dalton’s two touchdown throws were identical with Kam Chancellor and/or Earl Thomas responsible for a similar blown coverage.

It was all too easy with the Bengals facing a desperate situation. They had to score quick and big. Big play after big play followed. There was little resistance as Cincy edged to a 24-24 tie as time expired and overtime.

The offense was equally responsible. Like the Super Bowl — they had an opportunity to help protect a two score lead. Even a modest drive with a couple of first downs would’ve aided the cause. Instead they were impotent and lifeless when it mattered. The Seahawks punted six times in a row to end the game, barely mustering a first down in the process.

And all this with the offensive line playing very well.

Two third and short plays stand out in regulation, with the Seahawks leading. The first provoked a low percentage fade down the right sideline to Jermaine Kearse. The second was a slow developing throw where Russell Wilson heard footsteps, tried to step into the pocket and was sacked.

The temptation is to ask why didn’t they run the ball on 3rd and 3/4 — I suspect Cincinnati expected the call and were prepared. Throwing the ball was probably the right thing to do. It’s the types of throw that are hard to fathom.

Some of the critique surrounding the Jimmy Graham trade has been asinine and poorly researched. He’s been Seattle’s most targeted receiver in the opening quarter of the season and this is a very different offense to New Orleans’ with Drew Brees.

Even so — this is surely the exact reason they brought Graham in at great expense? Two third and short calls with the game on the line. Maybe Graham was the initial primary target on both plays? Perhaps. But the fact is the Seahawks haven’t crafted the types of plays in those money situations to make their big investment worthwhile after five games.

Graham in Seattle wasn’t about 1500 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was about improving red zone and third down efficiency.

Surely they had a play to get a minimum of four yards from their new asset?

While the Bengals made adjustment on offense and featured their athletic tight end against a supposedly elite defense, the Seahawks had no answer. In six drives.

It cost them a vital game.

The next part of the schedule is favourable. None of the following are gimme’s, but there’s scope for a long winning run:

Carolina (H), San Francisco (A), Dallas (A), Arizona (H), San Francisco (H), Pittsburgh (H)

Heading into that with a 3-2 record intact sets the Seahawks up for a real tilt at the NFC West and possibly a first round bye. Instead, they drop a second heartbreaker on the road after a similar meltdown against the Rams.

On both occasions the defense couldn’t hold and the offense couldn’t counterpunch.

It’s still too early in the season to be too critical, but there are several big questions that have to be asked right now:

— What can this team hang its hat on offensively during a vital portion of a game? They have a lot of big name playmakers. But what are they?

— How much longer does the offensive staff need to create a series of plays to get the best out of Jimmy Graham? Especially on vital downs. Some would argue it’s already taking too long. It’s not about 35-yard gains or touchdowns. Can he at least convert a short third down or two?

— I don’t want a comments section filled with ‘Fire Bevell’ because it’s a lazy go-to reaction. Every team that lost today has a rabid fan base screaming at either a.) the quarterback b.) the Head Coach or c.) the offensive coordinator. Seahawks fans have established their target but let’s try and talk football. Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson are not blameless either. That said — Bevell must take a portion of responsibility for this defeat. The offense had no counter in the fourth quarter when they needed a couple of first downs to snatch back momentum. The six punts to end the game were as costly as the big plays given up on defense. At times like this — you want and need a counter.

— What is wrong with the defense and why are they so streaky? In the last two games they’ve dominated high-octane passing games and limited the run. Then when the game is on the line, they’ve given up big plays. Against the Lions Kam Chancellor bailed the unit out with a huge fumble. They weren’t as fortunate today.

— Why has this team, built on the foundation of ‘finishing’, suddenly become so incapable of ‘finishing’. They’ve been outscored 53-13 in the fourth quarter in 2015 and threw away leads in all of their three losses.

— Do the Seahawks know the best way to use their quarterback? They own the best mobile thrower in the league, with an exceptional arm. Yet Wilson’s play is rarely consistently focused. Is the constant switching from read-option to pocket passer to scrambler to whatever he’ll be next week eliminating any hopes of their QB finding a rhythm? And do they know what they want Wilson to do in key situations anymore? They’ve struggled with two overtime possessions this season, usually a plus point for this team.

— The defensive personnel is very similar to previous years and they’ve shown flashes. It feels like the key to this season is ultimately sorting out the offense. Around this time last season they turned to the run game and Marshawn Lynch and rediscovered what they are. It felt like today they similarly returned to the run. But will they allow themselves to keep doing this with a lingering storyline wearing #88 being given incredible scrutiny every week?

— On the positive side of things, the O-line played much better (run and pass). Thomas Rawls had a terrific game and showed the Seahawks can be competitive minus Marshawn Lynch. There’s little Lynch could’ve done today to prevent the six consecutive punts to end the game. Rawls ran with authority behind a well-organised O-line.

It’s very difficult to finish with 12-13 wins every season. The teams that have managed it consistently are those with the very elite quarterbacks playing in weak divisions — the Colts/Manning, Patriots/Brady and Rodgers/Packers. Teams in recent years have been able to win Super Bowls with the following records:

2012 Ravens (10-6)
2011 Giants (9-7)
2010 Packers (10-6)

Nobody will want to face the Seahawks in the playoffs. If they can get to the post-season they’ll be a threat (health permitting) with a shot to win it all. However, their margin for error to get to even 10-6 is running low after the tight defeats in St. Louis and Cincinnati.

Based on their last three road trips against difficult opponents, they’ll need to find a way to win these types of games if they do reach the post-season and have to travel.

Credit the Bengals for the comeback — but this one will sting all week.

College Football Saturday: Open thread

Saturday, October 10th, 2015

Watching a game? Watching a prospect? Anyone stand out? Or do you just want to talk about the PAC-12?

Whatever you want to discuss, here’s your thread.

And here’s another example for why I think Leonard Fournette will be the #1 pick in 2017…

Preview: Seahawks @ Bengals

Friday, October 9th, 2015

— It would be difficult to run the ball against Cincinnati even with Marshawn Lynch. Despite Seattle’s recent issues in pass protection, their run blocking is likely to suffer most against the Bengals. Cincy doesn’t have much speed at linebacker but they’re a physical, pounding trio that fill gaps and attack the line of scrimmage. The Bengals are likely to challenge Seattle to beat them in the air, selling out to stop the run. It worked for the Rams. The Seahawks are going to have to find a way to make it happen in the passing game. It could be a long day for Thomas Rawls and the RB’s.

— The Lions schemed a pass rush that was highly effective on Monday Night Football. Teryl Austin deserves an opportunity to be a Head Coach in 2016 on this evidence. Seattle’s inexperienced line were constantly kept guessing with a variety of stunts and blitzes. It was a masterclass by the Lions coordinator — and not necessarily a talent factor. Cincinnati has Geno Atkins and co but Seattle might actually match-up better against this unit if they go 1v1 — just as they did against the Packers on the road. Don’t be shocked if the Seahawks have some tough sledding in the run game but actually give Russell Wilson a bit more time this week. He’ll need it.

— Luke Willson could be a factor. The last time Seattle faced an opponent with linebackers like this (Arizona) he dominated the seam and made chunk plays. While Jimmy Graham has the potential to dominate with size and positioning, Willson is more nimble and might be a match-up the conservative Russell Wilson prefers. Having said that, with Lynch absent again the Seahawks are going to have to lean on other playmakers to pick up the slack. Wilson did his best job against Detroit — but he needs help. And that could mean featuring Graham a lot more this time as the kind of safety net they’ve struggled to establish so far.

— The Bengals have been terrific on offense so far. Their first two drives against Kansas City were like a hot knife through butter. Andy Dalton marched them down the field for two scores. On one bad snap he collected the ball, composed himself and threw a difficult fade downfield to A.J. Green. It was a fantastic play. Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard had some huge lanes to run into and the Chiefs did a bad job sealing the edge. Marcus Peters was run over by Hill on one score — and the linebackers were getting washed out too easily. The Seahawks are bigger and more experienced in the back seven and should do a better job here. Even so, this is an offense peaking early and looking very strong.

— The key to making Andy Dalton look like 2011-2014 Andy Dalton is pressure. So far the Cincy O-line has played very well and kept their QB clean. The Seahawks don’t have to sack Dalton — just get into his grill and impact plays. History shows that Dalton will make mistakes in that environment. If they can’t get pressure there’s no reason to believe he won’t continue his fine start to 2015. A.J. Green will make plays however good Seattle’s secondary is and Tyler Eifert is difficult to cover. Mo Sanu could also benefit. Cincy is pretty creative with its backs and gets them in position to make plays in the passing game. If they’re smart they’ll call L.O.B.-kryptonite (the TE wheel route) and some similar concepts for the RB’s.

— In terms of a prediction, I can see one of two things. Cincy comes out fast and establishes an early lead before Seattle drags themselves back into (as per). Either that or a tight, edgy contest before a big play or two breaks it open. However, I do think the Seahawks are going to have to come from behind if they’re to win.

— A final thought — the defense is probably going to have to shoulder most of the workload to have any chance to win this game. The Bengals defense is really tough but possibly a little overrated (especially in the secondary). The offense, however, is scary good in 2015 with X-factor players in key positions that’ll really test Seattle. Even if Wilson faces a lot of pressure and they struggle to run the ball — there will be points to be had in the passing game. At least enough to keep it a contest. The key is limiting the damage on the other side against a fearsome offense. In their two road games so far they’ve given up 34 and 27 points to the Rams and Packers. A similar tally wouldn’t be a surprise, even with Kam Chancellor back in the line-up. The 24 points given up in Kansas City last year is perhaps a fair estimate and wouldn’t be a bad effort against this offense. It’d be up to Wilson and the Seahawks to keep up.

Two new prospects to monitor — Lynch & Hill

Thursday, October 8th, 2015

Paxton Lynch (QB, Memphis)
A player who has really grown into a productive passer. Excelled in a recent televised game against Cincinnati. Lynch is listed at 6-7 but is nearer 6-5 and a sturdy 230-240lbs. He’s incredibly mobile despite his size and runs the read option. He’s making difficult throws all over the field and passing with touch and venom equally. He’s yet to turn the ball over in 2015 (although he’s had a couple of close calls). In a down year for quarterbacks teams are going to be looking at the options and working out who is the best projection. In 2013 the Bills decided it was E.J. Manuel. In 2014 the Jags plucked for Blake Bortles. Any team needing a quarterback is going to look at the collection and Lynch might be the guy who ends up going a lot earlier than people realise today. It could easily be between Lynch and Jared Goff. Connor Cook is distinctly average, Cardale Jones shouldn’t even be thinking about the NFL and Christian Hackenburg needs to go to a team where he can sit and develop. Lynch will also need time — but he’s a prospect teams will be excited by. He has incredible upside and very few limitations.

Demetrius Hill (DE, USF)
6-2, 270lbs end or tackle — Hill mysteriously disappeared from spring training and it’s still not clear what happened (he mentions a family issue). After a solid first season after transferring from the JUCO ranks — a pro-career seemed a million miles away. Thankfully he returned and while teams will do their homework on his mindset — Hill’s on-field performance has been impressive. He’s mobile enough to work the edge and win with athleticism but he’s also got the size to dip inside and work at tackle. He’s even been dropping into coverage and acting as a spy for mobile quarterbacks. He’s notching TFL’s and has a knack for collecting fumbles. Don’t expect him to reach the early rounds but there’s plenty to work with here and he’ll provide a nice rotational cog for a pro-team with the added versatility of being able to play multiple positions.

Wednesday notes: O-line woes & Duke, Myles update

Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

Justin Britt has struggled since switching to left guard

Seattle’s offensive line has been a hot-topic for several years. I suspect many critics will realise that, actually, the line wasn’t all that bad in 2013 (and to a lesser extent in 2014).

The NFL in general is struggling to find competent linemen. When Seattle started Okung, Carpenter, Unger, Sweezy and Giacomini — there were often calls for change. With hindsight we can see it was a functioning, grinding line that did enough in pass protection (not flawless, but good enough) and helped the Seahawks develop a productive run game.

To think Carpenter was probably the weak link speaks to the actual effectiveness of the group compared to the 2015 unit. His replacement, Justin Britt, is having a nightmare.

It’s hard to see how he survives in the line-up for much longer. Nathan Ernst (@NathanE11) posted three Vines from the Detroit game to emphasise how much he’s struggling:

I’m not sure what he’s trying to do in the final clip (take a knee?). If the Seahawks hoped the game would get easier for Britt moving inside, it simply isn’t happening. He was considered a late round pick in the 2014 draft and the Seahawks took him in the second round because they felt they had to. Without a third round pick (Percy Harvin trade) and diminishing options, they reached to get a guy they liked and could work with.

After 20 regular season starts, Britt isn’t developing as hoped.

It’s very easy to criticise a draft class and the decisions made by a team. We’re all experts without the pressure of being judged. Yet it’s fair to say the Seahawks got it wrong with their first two picks in 2014. If a tackle/guard was such a high priority to the extent they had to reach on Britt in round two — why didn’t they take one at #32? Or after a small trade down?

Joel Bitonio has excelled to such an extent it’s hard not to wonder how much better the line would be with Bitonio manning the left guard or right tackle spot. Clearly the Seahawks were enamoured with Paul Richardson and he was unfortunate to pick up a serious knee injury towards the end of last season. Even so — in a deep class for receivers would it not have made more sense to wait out the WR position and assess the options at the end of round two? Seattle took that approach for the offensive line and essentially put their faith in a player who clearly didn’t warrant a second round selection.

It is slightly galling to think Seattle could’ve taken Bitonio at #32 and would’ve only needed to jump from #64 to #62 to select Jarvis Landry. Again, you can create these ‘what if’ scenarios for every team. How many fans have second-guessed why their team didn’t select Russell Wilson instead of Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden or Brock Osweiler? Still, this is what the Seahawks could’ve had.

(Of course Landry isn’t a SPARQ demon — but he’s currently the entire Miami offense and makes a ton of plays. It goes to show that while difference making athleticism is well and good — the tape doesn’t lie. Landry looked great at LSU.)

It’s not just Britt who is struggling. Drew Nowak has bundles of upside but plays erratic. They might be able to live with the growing pains if the upshot is an accomplished center by mid-season. How long do you wait though? Lemuel Jeanpierre and Patrick Lewis lack Nowak’s athletic profile but both were barely noticeable playing in relief of Unger last season. Isn’t that what Seattle needs right now? A center that simply gets the job done?

Garry Gilliam is also having a rough ride at right tackle. Like Nowak he might end up developing into a top player. He has everything you want in a left tackle — let alone a right side blocker. He should, theoretically, be able to match up to the best speed rushers in the NFL. At least in terms of athleticism. Like Nowak, however, his play is too up-and-down. Unlike Nowak the Seahawks don’t really have an alternative here.

It’s not just a pass-protection problem either. The Seahawks would probably live with some pass-pro issues considering they have the most elusive quarterback in pro-football. But they’re not running the ball well either. And that’ll be a major headache.

We mentioned it after the Detroit game — but what would the Seahawks give today to have sealed the signature of Evan Mathis before he joined the Broncos?

That might be the way they have to go in the off-season — seasoned veterans. People are going to call for a heavy draft focus on the offensive line — but look at the way rookies are struggling to adapt to the pro-game. If the Seahawks lose Okung and/or Sweezy in free agency — do you really want to be adding even more inexperience?

It could be unavoidable at left tackle. If you want to adequately replace Okung you’ll probably have to spend an early pick. There aren’t many affordable veteran blind-side blockers hitting the market. At guard and center you might have a few more options.

It’d be a real shift in approach, going away from using Tom Cable to develop upside and simply bringing in grizzled veterans. The target would be an average, rental O-line with limited potential but one that might see you through a couple of seasons in the middle of Seattle’s Championship window.

And that’s the issue really, isn’t it? The Seahawks have shown they can win a Super Bowl without an elite offensive line. They really need to identify another Giacomini or two. Some will shudder at the thought — but average will be OK for this team. At the moment it’d be generous to call the line play ‘below average’. It could be costly in 2015 without major improvements. The Seahawks can’t afford any wasted years in this window.

For that reason they might return to Jeanpierre or Patrick Lewis at center and consider another chance for Alvin Bailey at left guard (or Mark Glowinski). It’s surprising Britt hasn’t already been benched ahead of a meeting with Geno Atkins and co. When the off-season comes repairing the O-line will surely be Seattle’s #1 priority. But that won’t necessarily mean spending the first three picks on linemen. More likely, it’ll be one early pick and the addition of a choice veteran free agent or two.

Possible draft targets? Don’t hold out hope for a Taylor Decker, Jack Conklin or Germain Ifedi unless the Seahawks pick in the top half of round one. Auburn’s Shon Coleman has the attitude, physical upside and second-level blocking to warrant serious consideration. Even if they re-sign Okung, Coleman would slot very nicely at guard. Washington State’s Joe Dahl is another possibility providing Seattle are picking late in each round.

Myles Jack turning pro, Jim Mora responds in a Jim Mora way

This isn’t a surprise and the most interesting part of the story involves Jim Mora.

Every year until he eventually leaves UCLA, Mora is going to be linked with a return to the NFL. He’s had relative success with the Bruins and with a limited pool of talented D/O-coordinators, NFL teams are increasingly looking to the college game for options.

If Mora ever does return to the pro’s, his press conference demeanour could be his downfall. Again.

Some coaches are adept at shielding their true feelings. Others are more outspoken but do it in a way that comes across charming, protective or charismatic. Mora is a foot-in-mouth specialist. He talks about Washington being his dream job on air, says Pete Carroll cheats, calls out Olindo Mare for missing kicks and tells everybody he wants dirtbags on the roster.

His rant against Mare in 2009 was a classic case of a coach unable to control his emotions in a public setting. We saw another example this week when Myles Jack made the decision to turn pro.

“I’ve been in 25 Draft rooms. I’ve never seen a guy taken off (two games of junior tape).”

“He’s taking his chips and he’s shoving them into the middle. We hope that he draws a good hand. At least I do.”

“I think it’s very risky to do this.”

To offer some background here, Jack recently injured knee ligaments and is out for the season. It makes sense for him to declare for the draft because in 2014 he took out an insurance policy worth $5m. If he isn’t selected in the first round, it’ll be paid out.

Financially it’s a win-win situation for Jack. Either he’s going in the first round — or he gets the cash.

Mora’s comments smack of a man only concerned with his own interests. He wants the best players available for UCLA and that’s fine — it’s Mora’s job to win games for the Bruins. Yet if he’s only going to consider his own personal interests in a situation like this — how can he criticise Myles Jack for doing exactly the same thing?

And let’s not forget — Mora’s already made his millions. When he was fired in Seattle he had around $12m outstanding on the three remaining years of his contract. The five wins he produced in 2009 came at a significant price for Paul Allen.

Myles Jack is in a position where he’s trying to earn his money — having seriously injured his knee playing for free in the NCAA. Who can really blame him for making this decision when the worst case scenario is he pockets the insurance money?

Mora isn’t the only one of course who conducted quite a bitter press conference after a player opted to turn pro. Pete Carroll didn’t cover himself in glory when Mark Sanchez made a similar decision. The difference is — I suspect Carroll knows with hindsight he spoke somewhat out of turn. Also, Sanchez wasn’t injured and didn’t have the security of an insurance pay out.

If Mora does ever return to the NFL — he’ll need to learn to bite his tongue.

Duke Williams dismissed by Auburn

A top draft prospect coming into the season, this is a real shame. Yet everyone at Auburn seems to be in agreement it had to happen.

Guz Malzahn (Head Coach) — “You give people chances, you give opportunities for people to prove themselves and the bottom line it didn’t (work out)… It’s not easy and it shouldn’t be easy for a coach, but you’ve got to do what’s best for your team.”

Jonathan Wallace (Senior WR) — “Personally, I love him to death… I’m sad to see this had to take place but it needed to be done so we can move forward and get better as a team.” reports the dismissal followed an “off-the-field incident at a local nightclub”. It seems he was already on strike three — and he went out swinging.

What does it mean for his draft stock? Marcus Peters showed a year ago it doesn’t have to be the end of the road. Peters fought back, re-gained respect at Washington and convinced teams he should be taken in round one. Williams has a tough road back to get anywhere near that range.

Sadly, it’s more likely he’ll follow the path of other previously highly rated wide-outs who flame out in college and end up trying to earn a shot in camp. He’s clearly talented with good size, speed and hands. He was clearly Auburn’s best receiver in 2014. His inability to focus solely on the football, however, will likely end up costing him a lot of money. He could easily go undrafted.

Instant reaction: Kam Chancellor saves Seattle’s season

Monday, October 5th, 2015

With Seattle’s season on the line, Kam Chancellor came to the rescue.

Of all the people. Of all the possible storylines.

Chancellor, fresh from an elongated and controversial hold-out, kept the Seahawks alive tonight. It’s that simple. Blowing a ten point lead at home against a winless Detroit team before heading to in-form Cincinnati trying to avoid a 1-4 start?

It would’ve been mighty tempting to put a fork in these Seahawks.

Instead they hold serve — and it’s why the reaction to Chancellor’s incredible moment is more relief than jubilation.

It wasn’t just a season-saver. It’s one of the best defensive plays you’ll ever see in any game. Ever. Calvin Johnson is inches away from breaking the plain (see the video above). That’s how close the Seahawks came to 1-3. Chancellor’s timing and execution was perfect.

Much of the talk this week will center around Chancellor’s value to the team in light of the hold-out. The Seahawks will also be described as something of a paper-tiger and a long way off looking like a contender in the NFC. It’ll be a real disservice if the focus isn’t planted firmly on the greatness of Chancellor’s forced fumble.

It’s one for Century Link Field folklore.

Seattle wins 13-10.

It really shouldn’t have been that close.

The Seahawks were messy on offense and gave up six more sacks (now 18 for the season). They didn’t run the ball with any authority. They turned it over three times.

Somehow they were also coasting to an easy win at 13-3 in the fourth quarter.

Russell Wilson had for the most part a terrific game. He was under constant duress, flashed some of the usual Wilson magic and drew comparisons to a “Terminator” (hat-tip Jon Gruden).

He also had two ugly sack-fumbles and shares as much blame as anyone for his night on the run.

Seattle’s offensive line will be pummelled this week and let’s be right — they were awful. Drew Nowak false started twice and tossed an errant snap leading to a sack. Russell Okung had an off-night tussling with guys he should be dominating (such as ageing former Seahawk Darryl Tapp). Justin Britt struggled to set in pass protection all night and eliminated a nice Thomas Rawls gain with a holding penalty. Garry Gilliam so far isn’t securing the right tackle spot any more than the guy he replaced.

Only J.R. Sweezy came away with a modicum of respect from the game — delivering a nice cut-block to send Fred Jackson clear on a well choreographed screen-play.

It’s been a tough four games for the new-look Seahawks O-line but this felt like the worst performance so far against a Lions pass-rush no longer boasting Ndamukong Suh.

It’s not just an O-line problem, mind. The key play that made it a game came from a Wilson error. Nobody would describe blitz-pick-up as one of Wilson’s strong points. Yet when he called the blitz, didn’t seem to adjust and took a sack/fumble from a rushing safety (ran back for a touchdown) — suddenly it was game-on.

The full-backs and tight ends also offered very little protection on a miserable night for pass-pro across the board. Slate the O-line as much as you want — but it’s not the only problem here. Wilson has to do a better job sliding protection and the backs/TE’s need to step up to the plate too.

Nevertheless, the Seahawks already know their off-season priority — to rebuild the offensive line. It might take some seasoned stop-gap veterans to fill it out, plus some early draft stock. Just ploughing more rookies into the competition isn’t the answer. There’s a lack of experience, savviness and, unfortunately, talent. It’s a line built for upside. The early growing pains might lead to some success later in the year. However, lines need consistency. With Okung and Sweezy free agents next year, they might be back to square one in a few months. Okung and Sweezy are also the two more accomplished linemen.

Basing an offense on controlled chaos has led the Seahawks to two Super Bowls. They have an ideal quarterback to deal with the constant pressure. As a staunch defender of the line play in 2013 and 2014, it’s increasingly difficult to muster a defense in 2015. This line is just bad and needs major, major improvement as the absolute #1 off-season priority. They may regret not finding a way to add Evan Mathis before he joined the Broncos.

It’s not just the pass protection either. The Seahawks aren’t running the ball effectively. Thomas Rawls ended with 48 yards from 17 carries on a frustrating night. It’s hard to be overly critical of the running back though — on first viewing the line didn’t get much push at all.

It still seems like a waste trying to incorporate Jimmy Graham into Seattle’s offense, instead of featuring him without straying too far from their identity. Especially on a night without Marshawn Lynch and a struggling running game, it was strange not to see Graham utilised more. Even so, Wilson really needs to see his tight end on plays like this. Graham ended with four catches for just 29 yards.

Defensively there are issues too. The secondary suffocated the Lions pass-catchers until the final Detroit drive but the pass rush will need to be better next week. Was Matt Stafford touched apart from the near sack/fumble by Cliff Avril? Let’s not forget, the Lions also struggled mightily in pass-protection coming into the game.

As well as the DB’s played here (special note for Cary Williams’ display) — they’re still without a single interception in four games. If they keep forcing fumbles it won’t matter too much — but it’s strange to see this defense without a pick after a quarter of the season.

There are positives too. Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright excelled. Aside from Chancellor’s majestic fumble — he delivered a trademark bone-crunching hit to Calvin Johnson too. Tyler Lockett made some nice plays in the passing game (even if he did fumble a return). Jon Ryan and Steven Hauschka were both excellent. Wilson — fumbles aside — looked like the playmaker he can be at his best.

So onto to Cincinnati. In order to have any chance at all, they’ll need major improvements to the running game, pass protection and pass rush. This still doesn’t feel like the usual Seahawks offense that can grind you down, beat you up and win in the fourth quarter. That has to be a slight concern because when is it going to click?

I don’t know if Pete Carroll drinks at all — but he might indulge a stiff-one tonight. This game very nearly got away but for Kam Chancellor. John Schneider might want to share a glass too — because Seattle’s tone-setting strong safety just gained the biggest leverage play possible in any future contract dispute.

College Football Saturday: Open thread

Saturday, October 3rd, 2015

Watching a game? Watching a prospect? Anyone stand out? Or do you just want to talk about the PAC-12?

Whatever you want to discuss, here’s your thread.

Leonard Fournette vs Syracuse

Thursday, October 1st, 2015

Leonard Fournette could be the #1 pick in 2017.

The breakaway speed at 230lbs. The ability to finish. The instinct to provide an option to the quarterback who was about to take a sack and make the big play after a juggling reception. The pass protection. The way he can pound the rock and find the edge.

There’s no reason to believe he isn’t the next big thing to enter the NFL. There are some doubters — but we’ll see how high he goes if he avoids injury. Trent Richardson was the #3 pick. Todd Gurley went at #10 with a serious knee injury. Fournette appears to be superior to both players.

Instant reaction: Seahawks shut-out Bears

Sunday, September 27th, 2015

Despite the angst and booing at Century Link Field, it wasn’t a surprise to see a sluggish first half Seahawks performance and eventually a comprehensive 26-0 win.

Yes, this was an injury-ravaged Bears team missing several key players including their quarterback and #1 receiver. Chicago also has a veteran, respected (ultra-conservative) Head Coach in John Fox and two of the best coordinators in the NFL.

Vic Fangio was the driving force behind San Francisco’s excellent defense under Jim Harbaugh. Adam Gase is a talented game-planner who conjured up an offensive scheme that tested but didn’t really threaten Seattle’s unit.

Fox is well known for his love of the running game. It wasn’t a total shock to see Chicago run effectively to start the day without getting into range for even a long field goal.

After half-time Seattle pulled away with some key second half adjustments — out-gaining the Bears 162 yards to 24 in the third quarter — not including Tyler Lockett’s franchise record 105-yard kick return for a touchdown. The Bears crossed into Seattle territory once. The Seahawks ended a 194-game Chicago record for shut-outs. Every Bears possession ended in a punt. The impatient boo’s in the first half were not a good look for the 12th man.

Even so, it’s clear the Seahawks are still trying to find a rhythm on offense. And that’s fine. New England, Atlanta and one or two others have hit the ground running. The rest of the league are still working to find their true identity, Seattle included.

Darrell Bevell will continue to be scapegoated as the ‘face’ of the problems. In reality he didn’t drop a first-half pass (Thomas Rawls, Ricardo Lockette) that would’ve otherwise sprung big gains. He isn’t the one tasked with providing a functioning offensive line with his own hand-picked players (Tom Cable).

Bevell received criticism for calling a bubble screen to Jermaine Kearse and perhaps rightly so. He didn’t get any credit for the detailed, developing route Kearse executed before half-time for a significant gain. Such is the life of a play-caller.

There are several reasons why Seattle’s offense isn’t firing on all-cylinders at the moment. Marshawn Lynch’s latest mysterious disappearing act didn’t help to start the game (he eventually left for good with a hamstring issue). They clearly want to feature Jimmy Graham without shifting their focus too far from the original identity. Russell Wilson has not had a brilliant start to the new season either. Early in games he’s missed that spark — either as a scrambler or as a passer.

Does he trust the offensive line? Garry Gilliam was beat like a drum by Pernell McPhee. J.R. Sweezy had two ugly plays early on. Tom Cable was tasked with putting a functioning O-line on the field. Right now the line is a major weakness.

It’s also impacting Graham. Yes, it’s ugly to see him face McPhee off the edge. It’s also necessary to keep the tight end blocking if the O-line is struggling. At this early stage it seems clear Seattle’s priority in the draft next year is to find an offensive line starter/upgrade.

Somewhat concerning are the issues experienced on two key target areas this season — short yardage and red zone. The Seahawks still can’t punch home a 3rd and 1. They went 0-6 on third down in the first half. They had three plays in the red zone and settled for a field goal before the break. It’s shocking that a team with Lynch, Wilson and Graham can be this ineffective in the key downs.

Lockett’s 105-yard kick return touchdown ignited the second half. Seattle didn’t score enough cheap points last season or generate enough special teams yardage to flip field position. This is looking like a diamond of a draft pick for the Seahawks.

Graham had the kind of day that will extinguish any silliness about his role in the offense. He finished with 83-yards and a touchdown from seven catches. Of greater concern is the Lynch ‘not ready for the start’ report, the back-rub and the eventual withdrawal. It seemed like a repeat of the 2014 Kansas City game and subsequent rumblings about his unhappiness and attitude. Is it related to Kam Chancellor’s issues with the team? This is one to monitor.

Thomas Rawls had a really nice 104-yard game in relief of Lynch. It wasn’t a perfect display — the dropped pass and a missed cut on one run denying him further substantial yardage. He ran with a lot of purpose and on this (early) evidence appears to be an upgrade on previous backup Robert Turbin.

There are still improvements to be made but unlike the Ravens, Seattle isn’t facing a 0-3 hole. Unlike the Colts, they did find plenty of positives.

CFB weekend notes: Fournette #1 in 2017

Sunday, September 27th, 2015

– Leonard Fournette (RB, LSU) could be the #1 pick in the 2017 draft. Who cares if he’s a running back? We’re talking about a generational talent with zero flaws. He runs away from DB’s at 6-1 and 230lbs. He has brilliant vision, a second gear, the power to drive through and break tackles and the hands to be an effective force in the passing game. He’s 20-years-old and already looks like he’s pushing 30. Against Syracuse he was unstoppable — recording 244 yards and two touchdowns. He had another +80-yard scoring run called back on an illegal formation penalty. Physically there just hasn’t been a player entering the league with this amount of talent in over a decade. He’s on a different level to even Adrian Peterson. Whoever has the #1 pick in 2017 will need a good reason to pass on Fournette.

— Tre’Davious White (CB, LSU) is already the best corner in college football and was given the coveted #18 LSU jersey this year. Against Syracuse he showed he’s a special teams threat too with a 69-yard punt return for a score. The Tigers have quite the production line for CB’s. White is the next great one and should be a top-ten pick in 2016. Water-tight coverage, a good enough tackler in the open-field, fantastic athlete, incredibly respected by his team mates. NFL GM’s and coaches are going to want to work with this guy badly.

— Vernon Hargeaves III (CB, Florida) on the other hand is tremendously overrated. A highly touted prospect who started early, Hargreaves is living off reputation. In Saturday’s flukey win over Tennessee, Hargreaves missed several open-field tackles and became a liability. Florida is developing quite a reputation for over-hyped corner prospects (with Joe Haden the obvious exception). Hargreaves’ future is likely as a slot corner project and unless he impresses during interviews at the combine (and runs well) he might be fortunate to go on day one in a loaded class for corners.

— Robert Nkemdiche (DE, Ole Miss) has 0.5 sacks in four games so far — but he should still secure a place in the top-10 of next years draft. Teams will salivate over his athletic potential. If Ziggy Ansah is a top-five pick, it’s safe to place Nkemdiche in that bracket. He’s already scored a tight-end-esque catch-and-run for Ole Miss this year. On Saturday he added a rushing touchdown against Vanderbilt. A bit more production would confirm he’s place among 2016’s elite — but there aren’t many human beings with Nkemdiche’s size and athleticism.

— If Leonard Fournette is the best player in college football and a shoe-in to go very early in 2017 — Myles Garrett (DE, Texas A&M) will be right there with him. Also a true sophomore, Garrett had a crucial sack against Arkansas to force overtime before the Aggies eventually won. Last week he had 3.5 sacks against Nevada and he’s on 6.5 after just four games. He is lightning quick off the edge with ample size (6-5, 260lbs). It’s way too early, but Fournette and Garrett could go #1 and #2 in 2017.

— There were two injury scares this weekend. Darron Lee (LB, Ohio State) left the Buckeyes game against Western Michigan with a leg injury. At the time it looked serious but he did return. Jack Conklin (T, Michigan State) suffered a knee injury playing special teams and it could be serious. Mark Dantonio, a well known misery guts, refused as usual to discuss any injuries after the game. Hopefully it’s just a sprain. Both players are possible (probable?) first round picks in 2016.

— We discussed Jared Goff (QB, California) this week. If he’s going to propel himself beyond comparisons to Brock Osweiler (not unflattering by the way, Osweiler had many plus points) he has to win games against Washington and perform well in the process. Job done this weekend. His first touchdown pass was particularly impressive — off balance, thrown into a tight spot and perfect accuracy. If you want to throw your lot in with any QB eligible for 2016 — this is the guy.

— Tre’Davious White (CB, LSU) and Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State) could be the first two corners off the board in 2016 — but they’ll be well supported in round one. Will Redmond (CB, Mississippi State) showed good instincts to pick off Auburn’s freshman QB in a key SEC win. Cameron Sutton (CB, Tennessee) was tremendous against Florida and the Gators tried their best to avoid throwing his way. Kendall Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech) has the bloodlines and talent to also push himself into day one.

— After a frustrating day against Toledo, Alex Collins (RB, Arkansas) is showing why he could even usurp Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State) to be the top running back in 2016. He ran with purpose against Texas A&M for 151 yards and a score. He has good size and speed — but his best aspects are a physical running style and unmatched cut-back ability. You won’t find a better cut in college football. Given Seattle’s love for one-cut runners, he has to be on our radar as possible Seahawks targets.