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Peter King picks against Seattle because ‘history’ tells him to

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Peter King shook this ball and it told him Seattle will not win the Super Bowl this season

Peter King says the Seahawks are the best team he’s seen during a 2014 camp tour.

Peter King says the Seahawks won’t win the Super Bowl.

The reason?

History.

“… of the 27 teams I witnessed in person this summer (at 22 camps, four games and one joint practice session), Seattle’s the best I saw. Stubbornness is a good reason why one of the other 31 teams will be my call, but the reality of repeating is that it’s become the toughest thing to do in sports. Think of it: For eight straight years, the defending champ has either not made the playoffs or hasn’t gotten past its first playoff game.”

It’s nothing to do with any issues the Seahawks might face, or the quality of their potential opponents. It’s nothing about the motivational challenge of doing it all again…

Pete Carroll hasn’t focused on the R word. “Teams not repeating—that’s not topical to us,” he told me. “I just asked them to have the best offseason of their lives and to come back ready. They have.”

Nope. This prediction is all about other non-related teams failing to repeat in the past. It’s about Joe Flacco winning a title in a key contract year and failing to play at the same level with a $120.6m deal safely secured. It’s about the New York Giants — a 9-7 team during the 2011 regular season — failing to be anything more than a hot playoff outfit. It’s about an Aaron Rodgers-reliant Green Bay coming up against a killer pass rush and having no Plan B.

Because those teams failed, Seattle will too.

That’s the theory.

It’s not exactly a stretch to suggest the Seahawks won’t win the Super Bowl this season. But if they don’t, it won’t be because history says it’s unlikely. The 2012 Baltimore Ravens, 2011 New York Giants and 2010 Green Bay Packers were not built for longevity. An ageing roster with a QB earning his pay day, a hot playoff team and a typically modern day QB-dependent franchise. The Seahawks are none of those things.

King knows this, he’s been at camp. He’d probably concede they’re different to the other recent Super Bowl winners.

He even knows there’s still room for improvement…

Hard for any team that won the Super Bowl by 35 points to look better the next year. But if Harvin plays every week—which is no lock, with his recent injury history—I could well be eating my prediction in five months. Which, as you know, will be nothing new.

It’s not just Percy Harvin either. Russell Wilson is only entering year three of his pro-career, after setting records in the first two. The entire defense is pretty much intact. They’ve tied up the key components of the roster. Carroll set out from the start to ‘Win Forever’. Forever’s a long time, but 3-4 years at the top isn’t unachievable.

History won’t beat the Seahawks but a loaded NFC might. Arizona beat Seattle at Century Link last year. Tampa Bay came close. So did San Francisco in the Championship game. The Seahawks are not unbeatable even at home and the NFC West is a war of attrition.

They can be beaten. They will be beaten at times in 2014.

Point to a resurgent Packers team, the rivalry with the 49ers, the Saints behind Drew Brees. Get on the Denver bandwagon or believe in Tom Brady. There are others too. There are teams capable of matching up with the best.

But history?

That’s the last thing that’s going to stop the Seahawks.

History says you can’t draft a 5-10 quarterback and start him as a rookie. History says college coaches don’t work in the NFL. History says a 5th rounder can’t turn into the best cornerback in the NFL.

King will pick somebody else to win the Super Bowl this week. Probably Denver, New England or Cincinnati. Maybe Green Bay or San Francisco. Who knows. But it won’t be Seattle.

And his reason for not picking the team he declares as the best will be because they are simply ‘Champions’.

Thoughts on the Bears game & Sam Bradford’s injury

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

Rusell Wilson had another terrific performance against Chicago

— The offense hasn’t ever looked this devastating under Carroll. In the last two weeks it’s hit new heights. Russell Wilson is playing at a new level. The running game is rolling. The offensive line is doing a fine job. And with a healthy Percy Harvin, the Seahawks genuinely have one of the most explosive players in the NFL. Yes it’s pre-season, but this is incredibly encouraging.

— Jermaine Kearse had a big game. He’s still the best deep ball and contested-catch receiver on the team. His reliability catching in traffic and ability to make tough grabs should make him a key third down target. He’s incredibly underrated only because he doesn’t play on a pass-happy offense. He did a great job getting open in the first quarter and the touchdown on the third drive capped off an excellent display. Nobody stands to benefit more from Golden Tate’s departure than Kearse.

— For all the concern about the offensive line, James Carpenter and J.R. Sweezy are ready. It’s taken a while for Carpenter — who had a superb career at tackle for Alabama. He’s in shape, he understands the scheme. Sweezy needed time. He was playing defense three years ago. Physically he’s ideally suited to the right guard spot. He had a solid 2013 and will only keep getting better. He’s ready to take another big step forward. The only concern at the moment on the O-line is Russell Okung’s ability to stay healthy and a rusty display here. He was easily beaten by Willie Young on a Wilson sack and had a false start in the red zone shortly after. Let’s hope this was just a loosener.

— If there’s any concern right now it’s probably the interior pass rush. We’re still not seeing any real game-plan from the defense and the Michael Bennett/Cliff Avril duo will be effective. Losing Clinton McDonald could be a problem though. McDonald was a consistent force in 2013. The Seahawks need some interior rush and nobody’s really stood out so far. An injury or two inside and the big-bodied depth also looks a little weak.

— O’Brien Schofield has been excellent. He had one big sack on Jay Cutler and nearly had another. The battle with Benson Mayowa is essentially over. Schofield will surely get the opportunity to replace Chris Clemons. Cassius Marsh had a sack against the Bears and has flashed at times — he looks good. But I fear we won’t see the best of him until 2015. He looks like a guy who needs a year.

— Byron Maxwell couldn’t get the better of Demaryius Thomas but since then he’s been lights out. The downfield coverage on Alshon Jeffrey in the first half here was exquisite. He looks assured and ready for a big (contract) year. Recovery speed is absolutely necessary to be a top corner and Maxwell has it in abundance. Technically he’s taken big strides from last season. Jeremy Lane also looked good in the slot against Chicago — getting one pick at the end of the first half and almost grabbing another. If there are a few question marks with the pass rush, there’s nothing to worry about in the secondary.

— The ref’s let the DB’s play. The so-called ‘Legion of Boom rule’ wasn’t a feature at all. This is interesting too:

— It seemed like they wanted to get Christine Michael involved and he ran the ball with authority and added a touchdown in the passing game. As much as Robert Turbin and Michael are competing, I suspect we’ll end up seeing both players spelling Lynch equally during the season — with Turbin remaining #2 on the depth chart for now.

— It seemed like Terrelle Pryor had a shot of making the roster as a #3 quarterback. That lousy interception late in the game (throwing one up for grabs) suggested otherwise. He’s an athletic freak but is there any real reason to keep a player out of contract in 2015 who’s capable of such poor decision making? The Seahawks preach ball protection and that was ugly. He’ll likely get significant playing time against the Raiders and he’ll need to make it count.

— Heath Farwell had a sack. For the last couple of seasons people have written him off, but he sticks on the roster because he’s a special teams dynamo and a fantastic leader. Brock Coyle’s performance in pre-season might spell the end for Farwell, but don’t count him out. They really appreciate his value and the cost saving on his salary isn’t quite as significant as some make out.

Meanwhile…

The Rams passed on Robert Griffin III in 2012 to collect draft picks and build around Sam Bradford.

That’s all well and good, but given the question marks surrounding Bradford’s play and health — why didn’t they draft an insurance policy?

He’ll miss the whole season with another torn ACL and this pretty much signals the end to his Rams career. Surely they won’t go through another year of this in 2015? Eventually enough is enough and you have to move on.

They face another season with an elite defensive front and a substandard quarterback under center. Shaun Hill is the next man up without some kind of trade. Maybe former SDB favourite Austin Davis will get a shot?

Either way it’s a big blow to the Rams… and they only have themselves to blame. OK, they passed on RGIII for a kings ransom. They backed Bradford. To avoid the position in the three drafts since is a head scratcher though.

Surely it was worth investing in a QB in this years draft before the 6th round (where they took Texas flop/transfer Garrett Gilbert)? What about last year, where a host of QB’s dropped in the draft presenting decent project value in the mid/late rounds? Surely it was worth entertaining the idea of bringing in someone to develop just in case?

It’s not like they’ve had a shortage of picks either. They drafted 18 players in 2013 and 2014.

They put all their eggs in the Bradford basket — and now what?

They enter a sellers market unless they truly want to run with Shaun Hill. Mike Glennon showed enough last year to warrant at least a call to Tampa Bay. He deserves a chance to start in this league — but he won’t be cheap.

What I’m looking out for tonight vs Chicago

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

Marshawn Lynch will take some carries against the Bears

1. How will the refs call the game?
The new rules on illegal contact are incredibly frustrating. Who ever thought the NFL needed more defensive flags? Let’s hope it’s just the ref’s proving a point in pre-season. The Tharold Simon flag last week, ruling out a +100-yard pick-six, was a classic example of poor refereeing. It shouldn’t have been called and the league office have since admitted as much. Week three is the key game in pre-season, with the starters getting significant time on the field. It could also be the best gauge on how the officials will call the new rules during the regular season. The Bears have a productive passing game and Jay Cutler will no doubt take a few shots. Will the ref’s let the play flow? Or are we about to see what many are referring to as the ‘Legion of Boom’ rule having a significant impact on Seattle’s defense.

2. Can the pass rush slow down Cutler and co?
Last week Seattle’s starters shut down Philip Rivers in an encouraging display. Can they do the same to the Bears? Cliff Avril had a productive game against the Chargers and Michael Bennett could return. The competition between O’Brien Schofield and Benson Mayowa continues, with Schofield carrying a significant edge. There’s not much more to be settled on defense — but after losing Chris Clemons they need a third pass rusher to emerge. Schofield has really stepped up to the plate, impacting plays and coming close to 2-3 extra sacks. Mayowa had a nice edge rush last week but hasn’t had the same consistent impact. He’s running out of time.

3. Will the offensive line have another good week?
The O-line played well last week after a difficult game in Denver. Russell Okung could return. With James Carpenter and J.R. Sweezy earning rave reviews during camp and Justin Britt looking particularly impressive against San Diego, a potential problem area is looking more positive. That has to continue though. Can they provide big running lanes like the one that sprung Robert Turbin last week? Can they keep Russell Wilson clean in the pocket? The Bears D-line is transitioning after several off-season moves but this will still be a good test.

4. Turbin vs Michael, part three
Last week belonged to Robert Turbin. He was superb. Yet Pete Carroll made a point this week of highlighting Christine Michael as the teams most improved player. They clearly want him to take the next step — it’s up to Turbin to stay ahead in this race. Both players will get plenty of snaps even if Marshawn Lynch gets a few early carries. Turbin can probably win the race with another big display, but there’s still time for Michael to catch up.

5. Is it too late for Korey Toomer?
He’s been touted as a potential impact player for a while now. He ticks pretty much every box for a Seattle linebacker. Injuries have had a major impact on his career — and that’s been the case again this off-season. Carroll admitted this week he’s running out of time with cuts upcoming. It’s harsh, but he pretty much has to stand out in his one and only pre-season game this summer to have any chance. Even then it might be too late. Mike Morgan has enjoyed a terrific pre-season, Brock Coyle has impressed and Kevin Pierre-Louis isn’t going anywhere. Don’t rule out Heath Farwell making it again either. He’s a key special teams leader and he’s been written off before.

Some thoughts on the possible 2015 draft class

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

Marcus Mariota appears destined to be the #1 pick next year

Marcus Mariota deserves to be considered the consensus top prospect going into the new college season. Despite the continued dependence on conventional wisdom by various talking heads — the game is adapting. Not in the way many people think, but it is adapting.

This isn’t about the read option and running quarterbacks. It’s about elusiveness, playmaking and extending plays.

Robert Griffin III is a classic case on how not to handle and athletic, skilled quarterback. His ability to run is an asset, but that still needs to be managed. It has to be an accent, used to extend plays and provide moments of inspiration. When Pete Carroll talks about his desire to be the best scrambling team in the league it’s with good reason. Mobile quarterbacks who make plays when seemingly bottled up are incredibly difficult to defend.

RGIII seemingly wasn’t used in such a way (aka a point guard). The read-option became a staple of the Washington offense and the quarterback was asked to do too much running — even when clearly injured. We all know the consequences of that. The injuries are one thing, the more serious issue could be Griffin’s continued preference to run after one or two quick reads. The Shanahan’s never truly tackled that.

Seattle rarely uses the read-option. It’s added to specific game-plans but only in the same way they might emphasise the tight end against a favourable match-up or offer a specific look on defense. Russell Wilson runs, scrambles and makes plays. But you never sense any real recklessness. It’s managed by the team and he knows how to protect himself. The same can easily be said for Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco and Cam Newton in Carolina.

Being able to scramble is a vital component in the NFL these days. As we’ve debated many times, the best high school and college athletes are playing defense. Fewer elite athletes are playing on the offensive line. It’s why the top offensive tackles in each draft get snapped up so quickly. It’s why teams in the NCAA and NFL are moving defensive linemen to the offense in an attempt to get better athletes on the OL. It’s becoming increasingly harder to contain all of the explosive athletes rushing the passer.

That’s not to say you can’t be an orthodox pocket passer these days, but fewer quarterbacks can survive like that. You need to buy time. You need to offer the threat to run. You need to be able to get out of the pocket, avoid the rush and extend plays.

Mariota will no doubt be criticised by the old-school brigade for being mobile, athletic and exciting and not a 245lbs statue with simply a cannon arm. In reality he’s perfectly suited to the modern NFL. He’s an accomplished passer who ticks every physical box but he’s also elusive and capable of making plays outside of the pocket.

There are other positives too — he isn’t a careless runner, he doesn’t turn the ball over and you only hear good things about his character. Yes the Oregon offense is wide open, designed to create enormous passing windows and overmatch opponents with all the speed the Ducks have at receiver/running back. He’ll need to adjust to a pro-offense at the next level, but in 2014 he’s playing in an environment that almost guarantees huge numbers.

Teams will fall over themselves to draft Mariota and make him the face of their franchise. It probably won’t even be a close run thing. I suspect he’ll be seen as a Kaepernick clone with the potential to be a better passer. He is destined to be the #1 pick next year unless a team with a newly drafted or established quarterback owns the pick, which seems unlikely in 2015.

A lot of people are talking up the running back class. I just can’t buy into running backs in round one. Not any more.

Trent Richardson looked sensational at Alabama. Big, strong, fast, decisive. He was the complete package. Nobody was criticising him leading into the draft, nobody was projecting the totally underwhelming career he’d have at the next level.

He’s been a titanic flop, costing two first round picks in the process. Here’s the top-ten running backs from 2013, along with their draft cost:

LeSean McCoy — 2nd rounder
Matt Forte — 2nd rounder
Jamaal Charles — 3rd rounder
Alfred Morris — 6th rounder
Adrian Peterson — 1st rounder
Marshawn Lynch — 1st rounder initially, but traded to Seattle for a late round package
Ryan Mathews — 1st rounder
Eddie Lacy — 2nd rounder
Frank Gore — 3rd rounder
DeMarco Murray — 3rd rounder

Of the group, only freak-of-nature Adrian Peterson and Ryan Mathews cost their current team a first round pick. Mathews, until 2013, had been a total bust.

It’s not just Trent Richardson that’ll be scaring off teams either. Doug Martin and David Wilson were both first rounders in 2012 too. Wilson has since retired from football due to injury and Martin missed the 2013 season with a torn labrum.

Remember Mark Ingram? Former Heisman winner and another fantastic Alabama running back. He’s been a total shocking bust too and another former first rounder who appeared destined for big things.

The risk factor is too high unless you truly believes you’re getting another Peterson. Equally, the value later on is too good to go digging for a running back in round one.

Melvin Gordon is fun to watch and one of my favourite players going into the new season. He has speed, he’s competitive and patient. He’s such a graceful runner and he makes excellent cuts. He’s well spoken. Yet he offers precious little in the passing game and he’ll need time to adjust in protection. His best asset is his ability to avoid contact and act as a home run hitter. That’s not quite as easy to do at the next level. A fine player, certainly worthy of a high second round grade at least. If anyone can make it in 2015 it’s probably this guy.

Todd Gurley is a beast at Georgia — 6-1 and 226lbs, he runs with authority and can be a playmaker. You just wonder though if he’ll be quite as fearsome at the next level. Has he got the speed, fight and power to really challenge teams? People compare him to Marshawn Lynch but that’s unfair. Lynch is a unique player, we’ll not see another running back like that possibly ever. Gurley is big but with Lynch it isn’t about size — it’s about Beast Mode. It’s about being tough to bring down. It’s the attitude, the skill, the patience, the cut back ability. Lynch is a marvel. Does Gurley deserve a better grade than Eddie Lacy, a second rounder? Perhaps not.

T.J. Yeldon looked terrific when he burst onto the scene at Alabama. Since then he’s suffered ball-security issues and he looks lean. I’m not convinced he’s a special athlete, so what are you really getting? Someone who won’t operate as a between the tackles threat, but can work to the sideline and cut. He can be effective in the passing game. I’m just not sure you can get behind the idea of drafting him in the first round — especially if he keeps fumbling. Ideally he comes in to work with a power guy as a change of pace player, before possibly earning a greater role.

This trio is ‘the big three’ in terms of name recognition. Will any go in the first round? You’d have to be a really good team to justify it. Hey, you don’t rule it out in August. But I think we need to temper some of the expectation. Running backs going in round one should be a dying breed.

Of the defensive players I’ve watched so far I’m most excited about Missouri’s Markus Golden, Florida’s Dante Fowler, Vic Beasley at Clemson and Washington’s Marcus Peters.

Golden will get a ton of opportunities this year given the defensive exodus on Mizzou’s D-line. He’s fast, athletic, strong and he makes plays. Watch out for this guy because he’s the real deal.

Fowler can line up at linebacker or end. He really flies to the ball and can take on a left tackle, initiate contact and release. If he gets a sniff of a gap he’ll shoot through it to blow up a play. He forces fumbles, he has such fluid mobility. He can also work through traffic and line up inside. He’s an exciting talent.

We all know about Beasley by know and while he is undersized, you just can’t match-up to his speed off the edge. It’s explosive — and he should test well at next years combine. He didn’t declare for the 2014 draft but let’s not knock him for that. Undersized, nickel pass-rushers are no longer a no-no in round one. He can work the edge and he’ll have a big year for Clemson.

Peters just looks like a Seahawks cornerback. He’ll take chances and some teams won’t like that — yet he plays with such physicality and attitude. He’s big and fast and playing on a loaded defense at Washington.

There are others too — Baylor’s intriguing (and massive) Shawn Oakman plus Peters’ team mates Hau’oli Kikaha and Shaq Thompson. A lot of people are talking up USC’s Leonard Williams and Nebraska’s Randy Gregory. I’d like to see more this year from both of those players.

There’s another crop of 4-5 good left tackle’s so expect another early rush — Cedric Ogbuehi, Brandon Scherff, La’el Collins and Cameron Erving could’ve been day one picks this year. Andrus Peat is highly rated but Stanford offensive linemen are just so difficult to grade for the NFL. It should be a better center class in 2015 with Oregon’s Hroniss Grasu and Auburn’s Reese Dismukes.

The receiver group appears underwhelming — a stark contract to 2014. Amari Cooper has natural talent but just made too many mental mistakes last season. He’s also undersized and that didn’t help Robert Woods or Marqise Lee. Nelson Agholor is a decent player but I just can’t see anything but a limited draft grade. Austin Hill is one to watch at Arizona but has durability issues. I’m not a big fan of Jalen Strong at Arizona State.

Dorial Green-Beckham is the big X-factor having transferred to Oklahoma. Will he play in 2014? Will he declare for the draft? What will teams make of his character background? In terms of talent and physical stature he’s a sure-fire first rounder, but there are so many question marks and potential red flags.

Keep an eye on Georgia’s Malcolm Mitchell and Tennessee’s Pig Howard for multi-dimensional playmakers.

And what about Jameis Winston? Wear contact lenses, keep your nose clean and hope teams can trust you. I’m not sure I could. He has the talent, but he’s a long way off being ready for the NFL.

Instant reaction: Seahawks stroll through San Diego

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

Robert Turbin had a big night vs San Diego

Russell Wilson put in possibly his best pre-season performance. The Chargers couldn’t stop him. He scrambled to extend plays, he rushed for first downs. More importantly he struck up an early connection with Percy Harvin and made use of the two starting tight ends.

It might only be pre-season but it goes to show — Wilson could and probably would be a touchdown machine on another team. He’s a natural playmaker. It’s only Seattle’s determination to make the run such a focal point (especially in the red zone) that prevents him from stacking up the points.

Harvin showed why he’s such a valuable commodity. Everywhere he lined up he drew attention. A late motion helped set up Robert Turbin’s 47-yard gain. When he moves around a defense has to react. If he’s healthy in 2014 the Seahawks offense has a chance to go to another level — even when he’s not catching or running with the ball.

As for Turbin — he surely has the edge over Christine Michael after an excellent showing here. He took advantage on the big run (kudos to Justin Britt for a superb block too) and ran with greater authority overall. Too often in the past he’s gone down after initial contact or struggled to find that second gear to make the big play. Against the Chargers he looked menacing and if he can recapture this form next week he’ll likely get the #2 job behind Marshawn Lynch.

Christine Michael didn’t have a bad game with 45 yards on eight carries. He did have a clumsy fumble for the second week in a row. This two-way battle is about fine margins and with Turbin ascending after this game, Michael needs a statement performance in week three.

The pass protection and run blocking across the board saw a big improvement. The return of James Carpenter helped. Wilson had a few broken plays where he had to scramble — but that’ll always happen. This was a reassuring performance for those concerned about the state of the O-line, especially with Russell Okung and Max Unger still to return.

It was a quiet night for the receivers. Paul Richardson didn’t have a catch and I think only had one target. Doug Baldwin just missed out on a touchdown thanks to a good defensive play and also drew a flag in the end zone. Phil Bates and Chris Matthews had one catch each. Bryan Walters impressed as a kick returner with some nice plays — even though he got away with a poor decision to field the ball at the end of the first half. It’s difficult to judge the position battle here, especially with Kevin Norwood’s expected return.

Terrelle Pryor had the most explosive play of the night — a 44-yard touchdown run. How many people with his size can make a play like that? Kaepernick? I think that’s it. He didn’t have much opportunity to flash as a passer (1/4 for 10 yards). When you see a guy with his build running so fluidly you can’t help but feel like you want to stick with him. He’s not ready to usurp Tarvaris Jackson (who didn’t play vs San Diego) but they might just find a spot on the roster to stash Pryor.

B.J. Daniels also looked sharp on a good night for Seattle quarterbacks. He also added a rushing touchdown (Seattle QB’s scored four on the night).

Defensively there were some improvements, even if certain areas need more work. Michael Bennett didn’t play but Cliff Avril gave D.J. Fluker a torrid time. O’Brien Schofield was busy, lining up in multiple looks and getting a late sack.

The second string defense still had a couple of issues. Against the Broncos they struggled against the stretch play and misdirection. Denver broke off big run after big run and San Diego had similar success early on. As Pete Carroll mentioned during the week — it’s just about getting off blocks. After a slow start they seemed to rectify the problem and shut down the run as the second half progressed.

The pass rush was hit and miss. Benson Mayowa and Mike Morgan split a sack, while Gregg Scruggs also got on the stat sheet. Kellen Clemens is more mobile than he looks and he managed to escape the rush a few times and find receivers downfield. The secondary looked a little exposed at times. Seattle is still missing some key starters at linebacker so some of the backups are acting as starters. This has to be playing a part, because the second string defense isn’t quite as smothering as it has been the last two years.

Tharold Simon had a busy night. He probably should’ve ended a drive with a pick in the end zone but he dropped the ball. Shortly after, a +100-yard pick-six was called back on an unfortunate penalty call. The drive ended in a Chargers touchdown, but I sense Simon will receive credit for his contribution. He was, at least, there to make the plays. You can see the potential, he just needs polish.

Mayowa did a great job bending around the edge for his half-sack, but I sense if it comes down to a straight shoot-out with Schofield the more experienced man will win. Schofield’s versatility and ability to impact a play stands out. Mayowa had an improved game here, but he’s still yet to match last year’s promise.

Cassius Marsh had a quiet night. That was probably to be expected after he suffered a slight knee sprain this week.

For the second week in a row, the opponent avoided Richard Sherman like the plague. Teams were willing to chance their arm against Sherman last year. He’s going to be pretty frustrated in 2014 if this continues. Byron Maxwell is going to get a ton of opportunities to make plays in a contract year.

What I’m looking out for tonight vs San Diego

Friday, August 15th, 2014

1. Can they get to the quarterback?
Philip Rivers is a pre-season dynamo. The Seahawks nearly always play San Diego in August and every time — Rivers shows up in mid-season form. This time the game is in Seattle and after a pretty mediocre performance against Denver the pass rush needs to turn up. I reference Rivers only because it’ll be encouraging to see the starting D-line looking threatening. The most important thing is the performance of the 2nd and 3rd stringers. Benson Mayowa was anonymous last week. Cassius Marsh had some splash plays but also a couple of missed opportunities and O’Brien Schofield was busy without making an impact. It’s not just the edge rushers either — the interior D-line needs a better showing. Mike Brooks was superb last pre-season but had a disappointing night last week. The Seahawks can’t just rely on the premier duo of Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. They need a rotation. Tonight’s a big night for some of the young players on this team.

2. Just play better on defense
Again, this is focused on the 2nd and 3rd stringers. It was surprising to see just how porous Seattle’s defense was in the second half last week. We’re used to seeing this team dominate in pre-season, to the point where people ask how the backups would perform as a separate team in the NFL. Denver ran all over the Seahawks defense and Brock Osweiler had a comfortable night too. San Diego don’t have Denver’s depth and they’re playing on the road, so a vast improvement is to be expected. If there was any complacency last week (Hey! We’re playing for the Super Bowl champs!) that should be long gone by now. Tackle better, get off blocks, shut down the run and let’s see some pressure.

3. How will Alvin Bailey perform at left tackle?
Most of the offensive line starters are back tonight, with Carpenter, Unger, Sweezy and Britt all expected to feature. There’s no Russell Okung though, which means Alvin Bailey gets the start at left tackle. He’s shown well in that position before but still didn’t gain sufficient confidence to usurp struggling Paul McQuistan last season. It’s not unfair to suggest Okung will probably miss some time in 2014. Can Bailey put himself in contention to be a trusted backup at such a crucial position? And how will the line fair overall against an aggressive San Diego defense that loves to blitz?

4. Turbin vs Michael, part two
Robert Turbin didn’t get great blocking against Denver but it kind of emphasised a point. He needs good blocking to be effective. Christine Michael did a little behind the same line but hardly put in a flawless performance (one touchdown, one fumble). This is still an open competition and I sense Pete Carroll continues to trust Turbin a little more despite Michael’s apparent improved maturity. Michael is much more explosive and a natural cut-and-run back, but he needs to put in a rounded performance tonight to edge ahead in this race. He also has a knack of losing balance at crucial moments. That didn’t show up at Texas A&M too often, but it’s shown in Seattle. I hope that’s something he can rectify.

5. Can Terrelle Pryor earn a roster spot?
It seems doubtful that Pryor will beat Tarvaris Jackson to the backup role. Jackson has too much respect in the locker room and too much familiarity with the offense to make such a gamble. Yet Carroll continues to praise Pryor and talk about him with a long term view. That doesn’t mean they’ll definitely stash a quarterback whose contract expires after this season, but I sense it’s not out of the question. If he shows enough promise they might just keep him as the number three with a view to taking over from Jackson as the backup next year. They’re not opposed to red shirting players (see: Benson Mayowa). At the same time, they’ve only kept two quarterbacks in the past and also discussed Josh Portis with a long term view before he was cut. If Pryor is going to get a non-playing spot on the roster, he’ll need to earn it.

6. Can Paul Richardson build on a solid start?
Richardson looked bigger and sturdier against Denver, but he also looked reliable and smooth. We didn’t get a taste of his downfield threat (maybe we see that tonight?) but it was a really encouraging start by the second round rookie. Seattle needs to fill the hole left by Golden Tate. That’s a difficult job for a first year player. Yet nobody in the club is playing down Richardson’s role and they seem to be challenging him to get up to speed quickly. If he is going to have a quick impact this year, he almost has to prove he can be more than just a deep threat. Tate had a knack for making key plays — competitive grabs, YAC, drive extending first downs, difficult touchdowns. Last week was really promising, let’s see if Richardson can take another big step forward against the Chargers.

Jaworski-style conventional wisdom will keep Seahawks on top

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Here are some select quotes from Ron Jaworksi’s appearance on ESPN 710’s ‘the Brock and Salk’ show this week…

“I’m more the old school prototypical guy, plays the game from the pocket. Big strong quarterback that does a good job with reading progressions, throws with accuracy and velocity. I’ll probably give a little bit of a nod to Nick Foles (over Russell Wilson).”

He goes on to add…

“If I see this new wave of quarterbacks having success, let it be the Cam Newton’s, a Russell Wilson, maybe a Johnny Manziel this year… who really knows. But if I see this game now moving towards more option quarterbacks, zone read quarterbacks, making plays by extending plays outside the pocket — you know I might say, ‘OK, Chip Kelly’s offense… this works. These types of unique schemes, they work. This style of unique quarterback, you can win a Championship with.’ If it plays out that way, I will certainly change my opinion.”

And then…

“I’ve been around this league for 40 years. I came in as a rookie in 1973. I actually played against Johnny Unitas and George Blanda… that’s some experience guys you know. Through my years of experience, this game’s about winning a Championship. It’s not about padding numbers and putting up stats. It’s about winning Championships. And I always thought the best way through the years was to have that prototypical NFL quarterback”

Why have I highlighted these three quotes? I’m glad you asked.

Just under a year ago, Jaworski said: “I truly believe Colin Kaepernick could be one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.” The story went viral, perhaps intentionally. It was somewhat of a surprise given Jaworski’s 2013 QB rankings only had Kaepernick at #11 below the likes of Matt Schaub.

If Jaworski is such a proponent of the “old school prototypical guy”, why such extreme praise for Kaepernick — one of the trailblazing new mobile-style quarterbacks he appears so hesitant to acknowledge?

Presumably he would also choose Nick Foles over the man he touted to be one of the best ever? Because while Kaepernick is big and strong and does throw with velocity — progressions and staying in the pocket aren’t exactly his forté. Is there much difference physically between Cam Newton and Kaepernick?

Jaws went on to say he’d be willing to change his stance on what he calls “unique” quarterbacks if Newton and Russell Wilson succeeded in the future. He’d also change his mind if Chip Kelly’s schemes work or if one of these ‘new-wave’ QB’s win a Championship.

*Ahem*

1. Cam Newton and Russell Wilson are awesome football players.

2. Chip Kelly’s schemes clearly work.

3. Russell Wilson won a Championship… this year.

What further evidence does he need?

The final quote references conventional wisdom within the NFL, putting such thinking on a pedestal as the unchallenged truth. The following sentence..

Through my years of experience, this game’s about winning a Championship. It’s not about padding numbers and putting up stats. It’s about winning Championships.”

…is perhaps the most confusing of the lot. The simple fact is Wilson won a Super Bowl. Newton was only beaten to the NFC Championship by Kaepernick’s 49ers.

The stat-padding, conventional quarterback in all of this has to be Peyton Manning. He didn’t win a Championship and yet put up record breaking numbers.

The top ten passers in terms of yardage last season included Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, Carson Palmer, Ben Roethlisberger and Ryan Tannehill. None made the playoffs. Cam Newton (15th), Russell Wilson (16th) and Colin Kaepernick (20th) were in the middle of the pack.

Nobody would ever accuse Wilson (or Newton/Kaepernick) of stat-padding. He’s not a 400-yard maestro or fantasy football dynamo. Yes, Seattle’s defense stole the show in the Super Bowl. Yet Wilson’s display shouldn’t be undermined — 72% completion rate, two touchdowns. This is what the Seahawks want. It’s probably what the Panthers and 49ers want too.

Playmaking inspiration and leadership, but not total dependence.

Wilson made the plays he needed to make. It was a classic performance. A performance that will never get the credit it deserves because he didn’t carry the team single-handed to glory with 50 passing attempts.

Seattle’s QB is the very definition of ‘stats don’t matter, Championships do’. If experience has led Jaws to that conclusion as he says, it might be time to put Wilson ahead of Nick Foles on the ranking list.

You may argue it’s unfair to single out Jaworski. Is it my position to criticise? Perhaps not. If you handed him a game tape and asked him to explain why something happened, he’d be in his element. He’s a brilliant football mind when it comes to breaking down a specific play or set of events. I thoroughly enjoy hearing his views, even if I disagree occasionally on matters like this.

Unfortunately he’s committed to conventional wisdom. He admits that. It too easily defines his opinion when scouting college players. It gets in the way. Breaking down X’s and O’s is one thing. Player assessment and team building is totally different.

He is married to the idea that what has worked in the past (in terms of size and skill set) will continue to work forever. He isn’t alone — and that’s the point I’m trying to make in this piece.

There are many people employed within the NFL who feel exactly the same way.

“You can only win in this league doing things the way they’ve always been done.”

It’s why people like Jaws, Greg Cosell and Merril Hoge get so much air time before the draft. Their views are respected and celebrated almost because they are so conventional. They refuse to budge — and it sounds great on air when they give someone like Johnny Manziel a fourth round grade because he isn’t 6-5 and 240lbs.

They’ll never change their minds and neither will many NFL employees.

Yet staring them in the face is the one team who constantly opposes conventional wisdom — almost goes out of its way to avoid it. They also happen to be the reigning Super Bowl Champions.

The NFL adapts all the time. Most sports do. There’s nothing wrong with maintaining core philosophies (Seattle focuses on the run game and good defense — classic traits). Aspects still change. Football’s fairly unrecognisable compared to 1973 when Jaws turned pro. Heck, it’s changed a fair bit between Seattle’s two visits to the Super Bowl in an eight year span.

The Seahawks have shown the benefits of keeping an open mind when it comes to player assessment. They’re leading the way and still there are those who refuse to follow. I have no doubt that includes people working in high profile positions within the NFL.

If I’m right, that’s really, really good news for Pete Carroll and co.

Just a slight sprain for Cassius Marsh

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Good news…

Cassius Marsh injures knee, set for MRI

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Fingers crossed this isn’t serious, but it’s certainly concerning. Reports at practise say the injury occurred following a clash of knees. Marsh left the field and returned in street clothes. Hopefully the MRI is just a precautionary measure.

Seattle lost depth on the defensive line when Clinton McDonald, Chris Clemons and Red Bryant departed. They’ve since lost Jesse Williams to injury, while it was a pretty mediocre start at Denver for the likes of Benson Mayowa.

The Seahawks will create pressure with Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. Kevin Williams will provide some interior rush, but they needed someone like Marsh to step in and add to the rotation.

Last year was really the first time the pass rush excelled in the Carroll era and they won’t want to take a step back. The NFC West is loaded on defense. It’ll be fine margins in a blossoming division.

They can live with him missing a few weeks and O’Brien Schofield has flashed in camp and at times against the Broncos. But it’s absolutely crucial this isn’t a serious problem. Marsh has shown a ton of upside so far and had a nice sack last Thursday. They need him out there.

Marsh stood out during our tape review of Seattle’s 2014 rookie class.

Thoughts on the Broncos game

Friday, August 8th, 2014

This penalty by Tharold Simon pretty much sums up a sloppy Seattle display in Denver

Losing this game might be a good thing.

The Seahawks were sloppy last night. That was Pete Carroll’s assessment and he’s right. The game was littered with penalties (more on that later), but that’s nothing new in pre-season. The most surprising thing was Seattle’ poor tackling and the ease in which Denver ran all over the backup defense.

The days of Seattle’s deep roster outclassing all and sundry in pre-season might be over. Last year we wondered if a team made up of the backups would be competitive in the NFL as a starting unit. Last night was an eye opener.

There needs to be some context — with so many players not even making the trip to Denver, many of the backups were acting as starters. On the offensive line J.R. Sweezy was the only established lineman to begin the game and he took a handful of snaps. None of the first choice linebackers started and neither did Marshawn Lynch.

Even so, this was uncharted territory for this roster. And as suggested in the first sentence — it might not be such a bad game to lose.

Seattle won the Super Bowl so comfortably it’d be easy to feel immortal. When the big contracts started getting dished out, that feeling was probably enhanced even more. This was only a pre-season game, it has no meaning. But a sluggish, ugly defeat to the same team pummelled in the Super Bowl might present a much needed sense of mortality.

This isn’t an unstoppable force capable of dominating due its mere presence on a football field. It’s no bad thing to remember that now before the real stuff begins.

Here are some other thoughts on last night:

— Brock Croyle started well against the run and was solid. He took a couple of poor angles — benefiting from one of the many dubious calls when Wes Welker was penalised for an illegal block in the back. That’ll improve with time on the field. He looks like a Seahawks LB — mobile with a nose for the ball. His tackling technique needs work however.

— Demaryius Thomas is set for a huge season. Peyton Manning went to his #1 target time and time again and Byron Maxwell couldn’t make a play. It’d be easy to criticise Maxwell, but he played the coverage well and there was no real game plan on defense. It’s clear though that teams are going to avoid Richard Sherman at all costs and this will give Maxwell multiple opportunities to sink or swim in a contract year.

— Denver came out like a team trying to make a statement. They converted some big third down plays and managed a long 14-play drive leading to a short rushing touchdown. Peyton Manning was largely untroubled by the pass rush, even on third and long. It was weird to see both Manning and Wilson stay out as long as they did in a week-one pre-season game. Two long winded, penalty inflated drives ensured that.

— Robert Turbin gives his all, but he’s just an average running back. He needs good blocking to make plays. And by plays, I mean even 6-7 yard gains. The run blocking was poor but when asked to stretch the play and bounce outside, Turbin couldn’t make an impact. He’s not a natural one-cut runner and appears laboured changing direction. Christine Michael didn’t have a flawless game by any means, but he offers so much more dynamism. If Michael with all that talent can’t displace Turbin as the premier backup this year, it’s time to start wondering if he’ll ever mature enough to be trusted. The talent differential is substantial.

— Paul Richardson looks in terrific shape. He’s added good weight and had a natural feel to his game. Just as we saw in college he eats up a cushion and gets open. They didn’t test him deep but we can all look forward to that. He also earned a ‘teaching moment’ from Kippy Brown when he dipped out of bounds one yard shy of a gettable first down. This was a promising start.

— Considering the starting offensive line was Bailey, Hauptmann, Jeanpierre, Sweezy and Britt — we should be grateful Russell Wilson ended the game without injury. The Broncos went after it on the pass rush and looked dangerous on every play. They put together a sound game plan to combat the run in the Super Bowl and were even more effective here. Wilson was jittery, which is kind of understandable. He didn’t put up major yards in pre-season last year and these types of situations aren’t designed for him. Every year Philip Rivers’ stat line looks great in pre-season because he throws 4-5 passes, completes the lot and runs off for a Gatorade. Wilson’s game as a mobile point guard isn’t suited to one accomplished pass-heavy drive and an energy drink.

— Tharold Simon had possibly the biggest bone-head penalty I’ve ever seen by a player trying to earn snaps. Striking a player on a dead-ball foul in pre-season is ludicrous and unacceptable. Kris Richard had a few words on the sideline — I suspect Pete Carroll had a few more after the game.

— The pass rush generally was weak. Seattle recorded only one sack on the night. Benson Mayowa was anonymous which is a concern, while the likes of Gregg Scruggs and O’Brien Schofield didn’t have much of an impact. It’s too early to be concerned about Mayowa, but he needs a good pre-season to live up to last years promise. Cassius Marsh was the most positive story here — recording that solitary sack. He did well to shed a block and explode into Brock Osweiler. He had a few good moments, but he also allowed the Broncos QB to escape his clutches for an 18-yard gain. Out of all the young pass rushers, he looks like the one most likely to get some decent snaps based on this evidence.

— Horace Miller and Jackson Jeffcoat weren’t impressive and it’s when they teamed up with Heath Farwell at linebacker that the run-D seemed to collapse. It was a difficult second half to watch on defense. Brock Croyle aside, not many of Seattle’s defensive hopefuls stepped up to the plate against a good offense.

— Terrelle Pryor was OK. He had a chance to lead a long scoring drive to win the game before a costly (and avoidable) interception. His mobility is an asset and he can make plays. It was surprising to see the difference in arm strength however between Pryor and Tarvaris Jackson. There was a noticeable difference in Jackson’s favour. I’m not sure there’s any way he steals the backup slot and it all comes down to whether Seattle can afford to carry three quarterbacks this year — something they’ve tended not to do in the Carroll era.

— I’m totally confused by what’s happening to pre-season. The ref’s threw a million flags in this game, calling pretty much anything to make a ‘point of emphasis’. And yet they visit the teams in training camp teaching, guess what? ‘Points of emphasis’. They charge people money to watch these games and they broadcast them on the TV. This isn’t an officials training session or seminar. It’s a football game. And it should be treated like a real football game. The refs made this intriguing contest unwatchable. Seattle gave up a first down on 1st and 35 because of a terrible pass interference call, but they can thank the refs for extending their first scoring drive (ending with a Christine Michael TD). It was a mess and if they’re going to go down this route — have teams visit each other in camp and play a scrimmage behind closed doors.