Instant reaction: Seahawks defense dominates Eagles

November 24th, 2019 | Written by Rob Staton


The Seahawks under Pete Carroll have always attracted chaos. So many games are close (sometimes unnecessarily so). They’ll frequently raise their game for top opponents and play down to weaker teams.

It makes for exciting (albeit tense) viewing.

It’s also noticeable how different and unique their ‘weird’ games tend to be. This was another example.

With Jadeveon Clowney ruled out with a hip/core injury — this 100% felt like a day for Russell Wilson and the offense. The Seahawks played as if that was the case. Long-developing pass after long-developing pass was called. It felt like Seattle tried to score early in every drive.

Whether it was the wind, poor execution, Philly’s excellent defense or simply an off-day — it was a really poor performance from the offense.

In fact it was a mess.

Even without Clowney — and then eventually Jarran Reed who left with an ankle injury — the defense raised up and won the game for the Seahawks. Philadelphia was without Lane Johnson and most of their skill players. Losing Clowney and then Reed was no small deal for Seattle either.

The defense stood tall, built on the 49ers game and answered the call.

They had three sacks, six TFL’s, two interceptions, five forced fumbles, numerous pressures and played arguably their best game of the season. It’s in the running considering who they were missing up front.

Ziggy Ansah, Rasheem Green, Shaquem Griffin, Al Woods, Quinton Jefferson, Tre Flowers — all stepped forward to supplement the key defenders by making big plays. We’ve talked for weeks about how underrated Bradley McDougald is. He had an interception and no doubt improved his top-10 passer rating on targets per game. Quandre Diggs has slotted in seamlessly. The linebackers are starting to become a force again. Shaquille Griffin has had a great 2019.

It was all vital too. The offense had only 14 first downs, they were 5-14 on third down, there were 12 penalties and the run game took a complete back-seat to deep shots that mostly didn’t work.

Nothing sums up the situation better than this sequence:

— The defense forces a fumble (collected by Quinton Jefferson)
— The offense is penalised twice for a false start and a delay of game
— Joey Hunt is penalised for tripping
— On third and long, now well out of field goal range, Wilson throws a pick

The Seahawks defense made a huge play and the offense couldn’t capitalise, took points off the board and kept Philadelphia alive. It felt like it happened numerous times.

On another day this could’ve been a repeat of the 42-0 hammering from 2005.

Ultimately though, the Seahawks found a way again. The flea-flicker from Wilson to Malik Turner was perfectly executed. Rashaad Penny’s rumbling 58 yard score was clinical. Two explosive plays, combined with this defensive performance, was enough.

They’re now 6-0 on the road. They’re 9-2 overall and in contention for a playoff bye. This team has exceeded expectations, found a way to stack wins and they deserve immense credit for that.

There are still some lingering concerns. Metcalf needs to learn to track the ball and high-point to realise his massive potential. Chris Carson fumbled again — but recovered — and had the bizarre botched hand-off for a turnover on the next play. The injuries to Reed and Clowney are concerning. They need those two players in a big way.

Yet the defense has now put together back-to-back fantastic games. We know the offense can play better than this. If the defense continues to perform at this level then the Seahawks will be a dangerous opponent and yes — a contender.

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CFB week 13: Chase Young is great (but some perspective)

November 23rd, 2019 | Written by Rob Staton

Chase Young was getting major hype on Twitter after Ohio State defeated Penn State 28-17. That’s understandable. He had three sacks and four TFL’s in another terrific display. There’s no doubting he’ll be a high pick and he’s not suddenly emerged on the scene in 2019. We could all see how good he was last year too.

However, with Young constantly being presented as the clear #1 talent eligible for the 2020 draft — I think some perspective is needed.

Firstly, he was playing a turnstile at right tackle for Penn State. If Will Fries had been holding a matador’s muleta his performance would’ve made more sense.

Young consistently got to the point of contact before Fries had even dropped into his set. That’s to Young’s credit and speaks to his quickness. However, Fries just looked so lethargic on the kick-step. On the first sack he had ample opportunity to drop and get his hands up and he just leaned into Young, riding his coattail into the backfield.

On one TFL Young had a simple bench-press into Fries’ chest to jolt him off balance. On another TFL Fries squatted into position and showed feet of stone as Young simply cut back into the B-gap to fly to the running back.

One of Young’s sacks also came about because the quarterback dropped the snap and was scrambling backwards to retain possession.

I’m not for a second trying to suggest Young isn’t good or won’t be a top-five pick. I just think we need to remember the situation in this game. And let’s be right here — there are some minor issues he needs to address.

Young’s run defense and ability to contain his side of the field was an issue last year and I’m not sure Ohio State has played anyone yet to test that. They will receive that test — either in the playoffs or when they face Michigan. He’s such a good pass rusher that it’s not something that’s going to define his grade but it has to be noted if we’re talking about him as the next great defensive end.

Secondly, Young only ran a 4.94 at SPARQ despite only weighing 226lbs at the time. His vertical jump was 30 inches and his overall score a quite poor 92.31. This doesn’t mean he can’t or won’t massively improve on those numbers at the combine. Watching his short-area quickness it’d be shocking if he didn’t run a lot faster at the combine. Again though — it’s something to note. Everyone’s going to expect a great combine performance based on what they’re seeing on tape. He might not test as well as some imagine. We need to wait and see for that.

I also think the ‘Chase Young is the best player in the draft’ campaign also sheds light on the way we under-appreciate left tackle’s. Andrew Thomas is a phenomenal player. Possibly the cleanest left tackle prospect I’ve written about since starting this blog over a decade ago. Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about him being the best player in the class? Simply put — it’s because he doesn’t have the stats as a tackle or the big highlight plays to create a buzz on Twitter.

If a defender like Young has a bad snap — it never gets pulled up because you can point to all the sacks and TFL’s. If a left tackle has a bad snap, it’s seen as a problem. We hold tackle’s to a different standard and expect near perfection. For defensive ends — as long as they splash enough the negatives are often forgotten.

Young might be the best player in the draft. It might also be Andrew Thomas or Joe Burrow or a fully healthy Grant Delpit. I don’t think it’s a clear cut choice.

Looking at the other feature players — Yetur Gross-Matos had his most productive half of the season with two sacks and 3.5 TFL’s in the first two quarters. On one sack he rushed to the outside and controlled the contact against the left tackle with good hand-placement to the left shoulder-pad. He then worked back inside, rag-dolling the tackle out of the way to hammer the quarterback. YGM has always flashed excellent hand-use you just want to see more plays like this (because we know he’s capable). He left the game on a couple of occasions and had a club on his hand.

J.K. Dobbins again flashed a great ability to get to the outside with fluidity and ease. He also has the speed to break big runs and showed physicality to finish with his first touchdown, carrying defenders into the end zone. For his second score he received good blocks from the right guard and tackle and found the hole to finish for the score. Dobbins also had the ball ripped out on a fumble in the backfield at 21-7 to make a one-sided game interesting. It was a good play by the linebacker Micah Parsons (one to watch for the future as a former coveted 5-star recruit and 110.17 SPARQ athlete).

K.J. Hill received a perfectly placed touchdown pass. Hill has some inconsistent games but possesses high athletic upside and some potential. He could be a later round steal. He ran a nice route here, separated and showed good concentration to catch over his shoulder.

K.J. Hamler had a quiet game. He started off with a decent 26 yard kick-return but was restricted by Ohio State’s extremely talented cornerbacks. He finished with three catches for 45 yards. Shaun Wade almost picked off one of Hamler’s receptions and is one of the few college cornerback’s able to stick with him in coverage. Wade later made an incredible play on the ball while covering Hamler on 4th and 12. We’ve been talking him up all season and finally the national media are giving Wade some attention. He’s one of the most talented players eligible for 2020 and should be squarely in the top-25 conversation.

Elsewhere…

— Minnesota threw for 211 receiving yards in a 38-22 win against Northwestern and all but one eight-yard reception went to Tyler Johnson or Rashod Bateman. Johnson has been in our top-50 from the start and he finished with seven catches for 125 yards and a touchdown. Bateman, however, might be an even bigger talent (although he’s not eligible for 2020). He finished with seven catches for 78 yards and three touchdowns. Johnson’s touchdown was a beautifully tracked and high-pointed 18 yard reception to the right corner of the end zone. His body control and hands are on-point. Testing will be big for Johnson but he’s incredibly polished, competitive and consistent.

— Alabama rolled to a 66-3 win against Western Carolina. DeVonta Smith scored two touchdowns including a 57 yarder where he danced around half the defense to hit a home run. The opponents were clearly overmatched but it was a great example of Smith’s speed, quickness and ability to create. The second score was a quick hitter to the flat and he just beat the defender to the sideline for an easy TD. Smith is massively underrated and fully deserves to be talked about as a first round talent. Jerry Jeudy also had two catches for 66 yards, Henry Ruggs didn’t play and Xavier McKinney had two interceptions. The first was floated into coverage and he did well to track it with his back turned (though the pass was begging to be picked). He had to recover because initially he misread the play and was running up to the LOS. A better opponent would’ve capitalised on that. His second came on a tipped pass and led to a 78 yard return for a touchdown. Najee Harris had 14 carries for 66 yards and a score, plus a 12 yard touchdown reception.

— I recorded the Georgia game to watch later this weekend. The main area of focus will again be Isaiah Wilson, who I think is hugely underrated and possibly the second best draft eligible tackle behind team mate Andrew Thomas. D’Andre Swift ran for 103 yards on 19 carries and added 29 yard on four catches.

— Stanford tight end Colby Parkinson had four catches for 60 yards in a 24-20 loss to California. It’s really hard to judge Parkinson. Stanford put him at receiver a lot, ask him to try and block in acres of space on receiver screens and don’t do enough in-line blocking with him to properly judge him in that area. He can run to the seam but he’s often let down by poor quarterback play and a lousy offense.

— Today was my first proper opportunity to study Michigan center Cesar Ruiz. For a few weeks Tony Pauline has been reporting that some scouts view him as the top draftable center. Today’s performance in a hefty win against Indiana showed why. Ruiz fits 6-4 and 319lbs into quite a compact looking frame — ideal for a center. He very easily gains leverage and control off the snap. He’s not long-limbed and he’s sturdy. His footwork is very impressive and he does a good job switching blocks on stunts and working in small areas to handle rushers. There’s plenty of desire to get to the next level when possible. He’s powerful and strong. There’s a lot to like here. Along with Nick Harris and Tyler Biadasz there are some good center’s in this class. Josh Uche left the game with an injury in the second half but earned a sack/fumble with a power rush against an overmatched freshman left tackle. He also had a nice TFL on a blitz, plus a further TFL and two QB hurries. The announcers highlighted the issue with Uche though. In their words, he doesn’t have a position. They line him up in areas to make plays. He’s small and doesn’t have an EDGE frame. He looks like a linebacker who rushes in sub-packages. He’s good at what he does but his pro-upside is a question mark.

— Wisconsin ran for 403 yards in a 45-24 win against Purdue — with Jonathan Taylor adding another 222 on 28 carries to continue his strong season (with one touchdown). Taylor is so smooth on cuts and has good speed. He has virtually no wasted movement and we saw that today on a gliding 51 yard score. He also fumbled just before half-time. Testing will determine how high he goes in the draft. Tight end Jake Ferguson had two catches for 30 yards.

— Jalen Reagor has been hamstrung for most of the year due to poor quarterback play and that was the case again in a narrow 28-24 loss to Oklahoma. Reagor had one catch for nine yards and one run for 16 yards. On one snap Reagor blew by the cornerback on a deep route and created miles of separation and an opportunity for a big play. The quarterback delivered a terrible pass on a horrendous overthrow. He was also the victim of poor refereeing on an uncalled hold at the end. It was a weird game because Ceedee Lamb also had a quiet day for the Sooners (two catches, 16 yards, one score, one run for 21 yards).

— Oregon’s Justin Herbert hampered his stock with a two-interception performance in a loss to Arizona State. It was another strange game. On one long early drive the Ducks didn’t throw once, marched downfield and came away with no points. Why are they so hesitant to let their QB run the show? Herbert flashed the ability that will have some teams marking him in the top-10 — nailing an incredible downfield pass while scrambling to his left and throwing from an improbable angle. Yet the picks were equally eye-catching. One was lobbed straight to a defender on a throw that was never on (what was he seeing?). The other was just so careless as he moved to the right and threw straight to the corner. On both occasions he just locked onto his primary target. It was poor from Herbert and they were the kind of plays Joe Burrow would never make. With Tua’s injury, Jordan Love throwing picks galore, Jacob Eason struggling and now Herbert creating question marks — the QB class is in flux (aside from one player). Plus — the PAC-12 continues to be awful. It’s got even worse this year. That said, two Arizona State blog favourites played well. Eno Benjamin ran for tough yards and tricked a defender into the turf on a reception. Brandon Aiyuk scored the game clinching touchdown on a deep ball (poor coverage from Oregon). Both players are worth monitoring.

— Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a diamond. He looks like a mix of Michael Turner, Darren Sproles and Maurice Jones-Drew. He’s smaller and squatty but plays with great power, physicality, consistency and speed. His performances get better and better. In a 56-20 win against Arkansas he ran for an 89 yard touchdown — darting around and sprinting away from defenders. He had 188 yards and three touchdowns on only SIX carries. Six! He added 65 yards on seven catches. CEH is a great talent and it’ll be fun to see him at the next level. Joe Burrow again flashed poise, accuracy and surely he has the inside-track on being the top pick in 2020. He finished 23/28 for 327 yards and three touchdowns. He had four runs for 24 yards.

— Regular readers will know I’ve had doubts about Jacob Eason all season and his play isn’t getting any better. Yes — he will throw a dazzling pass or two per game to flash his amazing upside. He isn’t elevating Washington though. After their latest loss to drop to 6-5, he now has five interceptions in his last three games. He has no touch, he overthrows, he can’t improvise on the move. I’m not sure returning next year will improve his stock because he’s a poor fit for this offense. I’m also not sure how any team can spend a high pick on him based on what we’ve seen so far. He finished 21/34 for 206 yards a pick and a score. Laviska Shenault continued his return to form for Colorado with 100 receiving yards and a touchdown on seven catches, plus 17 rushing yards on three carries. Washington’s talented tight end Hunter Bryant had 82 yards on five catches. Bryant is explosive and has excellent short-area quickness. It’d be intriguing to see him in Seattle’s offense. Keep an eye on Nate Landman the Colorado linebacker he’s an underrated player.

— Curtis Weaver has dropped from 300lbs to play EDGE and has had a really productive career at Boise State. He had another sack against Utah State. It’ll be interesting to see how Weaver tests because he looks like a guy who has slimmed down. His 10-yard split and overall twitchiness is a question mark to be answered. Jordan Love finished 21/26 for 229 yards a pick and a score in the 56-21 win for Boise State. He now has 14 touchdowns and 15 interceptions on the season. Rather than turning pro he might be better off making a graduate transfer to Oklahoma.

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Tony Pauline’s latest mock draft

November 21st, 2019 | Written by Rob Staton

Tony Pauline — friend of the blog and undisputed #1 draft insider — has posted a new mock draft today.

It’s a brilliant piece of work, especially considering he has the Seahawks in possession of the #32 overall pick.

There are several points where Tony really hits the mark. Like me, he doesn’t see A.J. Epenesa as the sure-fire top-10 lock many others do. Epenesa isn’t included in the first round and I’ve not had him in any of my top-50’s.

Tony’s top-20 contains a lot of familiar names. There are also some differences. Tristan Wirfs is listed in the top-five. I’m not a huge fan of Wirfs but understand why he could go early due to his physical profile. Tony has frequently reported and noted that Wirfs currently is leaning to returning to Iowa next season. Jacob Eason is listed in round one and I can’t make that leap based on what we’ve seen so far (although, again, you can’t rule it out due to the physical skills Eason possesses).

There are also a lot of names I’ve suggested might go quite early that are available to Seattle at #32 in this mock. I want to spend some time running through those players today.

Players available to the Seahawks in Tony’s mock

Jalen Reagor (WR, TCU)
I think Reagor is a top-15 talent. He’s reportedly capable of running a 4.29. At SPARQ in High School he ran a 4.41 so that’s pretty much a worst case scenario. He mixes speed with incredible explosive traits (38.5 inch vertical and can squat 620lbs). He has the long speed to get deep and the leaping ability to high-point the football in the red zone to win contested-catches. Reagor has special qualities and if he’s available in the late first he’d be a fantastic value pick for the Seahawks.

Henry Ruggs (WR, Alabama)
Like Reagor, Ruggs has exceptional speed and has reportedly been timed in the 4.2’s. His catching technique is excellent — plucking the ball away from his body with extended arms. He has high football character and would have greater production if it wasn’t for the fact he’s among a loaded group of talented receivers at Alabama. Speed and suddenness is the order of the day in the NFL and if he runs a 4.2 forty — he won’t last deep into round one.

KJ Hamler (WR, Penn State)
The more I watch of KJ Hamler the more I liked. He’s incredibly shifty and dynamic. While Reagor and Ruggs have elite speed, I think Hamler has a quicker first-step and can create easy separation. Get him the ball in the open-field and he’s incredibly difficult to tackle. Penn State lacks weapons on offense and Hamler sticks out like a sore thumb as their best player.

Prince Tega Wanogho (T, Auburn)
This is Tony’s pick for the Seahawks at #32. If Germain Ifedi and George Fant both depart, they’ll need a solution at right tackle. I’m not convinced they’ll entertain a rookie starter and recently they’ve moved towards veteran replacements. However — they seem to favour ‘touchdown makers’, D-line and O-line in the early rounds and this will clearly be an option if they lose starters in the off-season. ‘The Prince’ as Tony calls him has great size and good athleticism, he’s very powerful and I think he’ll work into a top-20 grade come April.

DeVonta Smith (WR, Alabama)
Tony recently suggested Smith had top-50 potential and that’s the first validation of what we’ve been saying all season. Smith is incredibly sudden and electric and every bit as good as the other ‘bigger name’ receivers at Alabama. He dominated on slants with easy separation and he’s a threat to score every time he gets the ball in space. He competes superbly at the red line and has the speed to take the top off a defense. Smith is excellent and warrants a lot more media attention.

Shaun Wade (CB, Ohio State)
I like everything about Wade. He’s playing slot corner this year but you could easily imagine him lining up outside. He’s a former five-star recruit with height, length and incredible ball skills. His interception last week was stunning — tracking the ball in the air then grabbing it with one-hand off-balance. Wade is a potential stud and if he declares could be a major riser.

J.K. Dobbins (RB, Ohio State)
The next two players are running backs. I don’t expect the Seahawks to draft a running back early. Even if they trade Rashaad Penny in the off-season, there’s enough depth in this class to wait on the position. The only way it seems possible is if Chris Carson continues to fumble and loses trust. D’Andre Swift is the #23 pick in Tony’s mock. Dobbins was the SPARQ king in 2016 with an overall score of 146.76. He’s well sized, very fast and highly explosive.

Jonathan Taylor (RB, Wisconsin)
Taylor reportedly is capable of running very well in the 40 and that will likely determine how high he goes in the draft. On the field you see sharp cuts, home-runs, mass production and tough yards. He looks the part but we need the testing to validate his upside. It’s very easy to imagine him leading an offense at the next level.

Tee Higgins (WR, Clemson)
He’s having a strange year — a bit like Clemson’s offense in general. They’ve had some surprisingly average performances this year. Trevor Lawrence hasn’t been given a passing mention for the Heisman. Higgins has had several games where he’s barely registered. Yet he’s well sized, fast, consistent when targeted and like most Clemson receivers he’s well-coached, technically sound and knows his position.

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Tuesday notes: Thoughts on the receiver class & Tua

November 19th, 2019 | Written by Rob Staton

Every mock draft is a waste of time now

The Tua Tagovailoa injury is a crushing blow for the player and it feels necessary to highlight that before reflecting on the impact on the draft.

However, it’s also ruined every mock between now and April.

It’s impossible to project what happens. The injury is severe enough to question whether he’ll play or again or ever reach the level he showed previously. The injury itself is bad enough. How do you go back onto the field and take hits after this?

We’re going to enter a really tiresome and annoying period where countless people constantly go over what happens next. You’ll hear numerous reports claiming various things such as ‘he’s 100% healthy’ or ‘teams are worried’.

All the while nobody will really have the answer. Not for a long time anyway.

You can project a player’s stock based on tape, a combine, a pro-day, his athletic profile or scheme fit. It’s impossible to project how an unusual injury like this will impact Tagovailoa and the teams willing to consider drafting him.

As a consequence this affects all the other quarterbacks in the class. People mocking Justin Herbert in the #8-20 range now have to decide whether they move him into the top five. With Miami winning their way out of the #1 pick, you have to make a call on what they do with their selection assuming Tagovailoa isn’t in a healthy enough position to be considered in the top-five.

Of course it won’t stop people arguing on the internet. Miami fans seemed particularly invested in Tua as their great hope so expect many to argue aggressively for still taking him early — even when we have no idea if he’ll be able to play again.

It’s a mess of a situation which will, for the most part, zap a lot of the usual enjoyment out of the draft season. And as I said, none of this really matters because a player’s blossoming career has been jeopardised by a freak injury. I’m just reflecting on the impact it’ll have on draft coverage this year.

This receiver class is legit

For weeks we’ve been discussing the strength of the 2020 draft likely being the receivers. We also know the Seahawks have regularly tapped into a perceived strength of a class during the Carroll/Schneider era.

It’s still far too early to project with any certainty what they will or won’t do in the off-season. The Seahawks are in a promising position at 8-2. There are a lot of unknowns such as the long term futures of Jadeveon Clowney, Jarran Reed, Germain Ifedi and Justin Britt. Seattle also has a reasonable amount of cap space to spend in free agency to fill key needs.

Yet receiver feels like a position they could target. History suggests it’s very possible:

2010 — Selected Golden Tate in R2
2011 — Spent big money on Sidney Rice
2013 — Traded for Percy Harvin
2014 — Selected Paul Richardson with their first pick
2015 — Traded up for Tyler Lockett
2017 — Selected Amarah Darboh in R3
2019 — Traded up for D.K. Metcalf

Pete Carroll has always sought touchdown makers. Along with both lines, receiver is the position they’ve invested a lot of money and picks.

The sheer quality of options in the draft add further weight to the suggestion. I’m starting to wonder, however, whether some of the players are too good to last to the late first round.

The thing that could prevent Seattle taking a receiver with their first pick might be the top players being out of range.

Jerry Jeudy will go very early with some reports suggesting Dave Gettleman in New York views him as the perfect receiver for Daniel Jones and the Giants. Ceedee Lamb could be next off the board after his fantastic 2019 season. Those are the two players you’ll see projected early in most mocks.

However, I think the next crop are being highly underrated by the media.

The league loves speed, suddenness and the ability to create easy separation. Look how early John Ross landed after he ran a 4.2 at the combine. There are a number of players who will perform superbly at the combine next year.

Jalen Reagor ran a 4.41 at SPARQ in High School but reportedly is capable of a 4.29 now. He also jumped a 38.5 inch vertical and can squat 620lbs. When you watch his tape you see everything you want in a receiver. He’s competitive, he can get deep to make huge plays and yet he wins 1v1. I was shocked how natural Reagor was operating in the red zone. He high points the ball, dominates taller cornerbacks and has fantastic, explosive leaping ability.

Henry Ruggs is also touted to run in the 4.2’s at the combine and you see that speed on tape. His catching technique is the best I’ve seen in the draft. He extends his arms to catch away from his body, cupping his hands to the ball. Ruggs, like Reagor, is also better than expected on short-range and red zone throws. He can get deep for the big play and run away from defenders. He’s also competitive and if anything suffers from the vast array of options to throw to in the Alabama offense.

It’s incredible how little attention DeVonta Smith receives. Again, that might be because of the other big name players he’s lined up with. Smith is an absolute maestro on slants — with the quickness to create separation and the long speed to run away from defenders and make massive gains. He wins with speed at the red line, can provide a safety net on crossing routes and he’s been a consistent force all season. He broke Amari Cooper’s Alabama receiving records against Ole Miss.

K.J. Hamler is incredibly dynamic and I spent last night re-watching his tape. His ability to find soft spots in zone, juke his way around tacklers, run downfield to get deep and set-up receivers early in the route to enable him to exploit openings with his speed is top-notch. He’s a vital, crucial playmaker for Penn State and their offense would struggle mightily without his input.

All four players have the speed and suddenness to create easy separation and are very much the modern day receiver. The league isn’t really looking for the big possession receiver types as much these days. It’s all about speed, savvy, getting open and the ability to make plays at every level. The Antonio Brown type is favoured ahead of the Alshon Jeffery.

I’m not sure any of the four players above will necessarily make it to the Seahawks whenever they pick in round one. I think they’ll all have major appeal. Testing will be important of course. If Laviska Shenault shows up at the combine and puts on a clinic, it’ll impact all of the names above.

Yet a lack of first round options on the D-line in this class and the question marks surrounding the offensive linemen will likely mean receivers and cornerbacks going early and often.

There are still a lot of things to play out but don’t be surprised if the NFL loves this receiver class and we see a large number of good players going very early.

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CFB week 12: A weekend dominated by injuries

November 16th, 2019 | Written by Rob Staton

Tua Tagovailoa left the Mississippi State game with a hip injury

Alabama’s easy win at Mississippi State turned into a nightmare. Tua Tagovailoa left the game with a hip injury that left him down on the turf shouting in pain. It was difficult to watch.

According to Jim Nagy from the Senior Bowl it could be a serious hip fracture. David Chao believes it could be career threatening. It’s incredibly sad news and hopefully he will make a full recovery.

Massive defensive tackle Raekwon Davis was also carted off after being helped to the sideline. He wasn’t putting any weight on his left leg and apparently has a sprained ankle. Henry Ruggs also took a big hit and landed awkwardly. He left the game and didn’t return with a rib injury.

If Tua has suffered a hip fracture, that will have a big impact on the NFL and his potential pro-career. People are comparing it to the injury that ended Bo Jackson’s career.

The game finished 38-7 to Alabama with Jerry Jeudy excelling with seven catches for 114 yards. DeVonta Smith added six catches for 92 yards and Ruggs had three catches for 39 yards before the injury. Najee Harris had four total touchdowns while running for 88 yards and receiving a further 51 yards.

Harris has a particularly rounded skill set. Nothing really stands out. He’s not a top-level athlete, a punishing bell-cow or an electric speed runner. Yet he can do a bit of everything to a high level. His receiving score flashed a polished wheel route. His first and second rushing touchdowns required some physicality and a strong finish. His final score was all about patience and feeling the blocks in front.

DeVonta Smith ran a wonderful red-line route to the left sideline on his best play. In man coverage he just ran by the defender and beat him deep with speed. The angle of his route created a nice throwing window for Tua. Smith was gliding as he attacked the sideline and then made a great adjustment to catch the slightly under-thrown pass. It’s amazing how very few people in the draft media talk about Smith.

Elsewhere…

— K.J. Hamler left the game as Penn State beat Indiana 34-27. He was seemingly injured on a kick return. He had a great 44 yard reception and finished with two catches for 52 yards. The big catch was all about easy separation. For some reason Indiana left a safety to cover him from the slot. He just burned him off at the stem and created an enormous throwing window to the right sideline. He’s quickness and suddenness, like several other receivers in this class, is exceptional and will be appealing to the Seahawks. Pass rusher Yetur Gross-Matos had a sack, a TFL and a hurry in the game. He now has 6.5 sacks this season (4.5 of which came in two games against Purdue and a 79-7 win against Idaho).

— Again I want to discuss easy separation and this wide receiver class and Jalen Reagor showed a great example of that on a 55 yard touchdown against Texas Tech. He ran a post route and just ran away from the corner. It was an easy downfield throw for a big score. Reagor finished with three catches for 83 yards and the touchdown as TCU won 33-31. Pete Carroll spoke after the Niners game about how noticeable it was when Tyler Lockett wasn’t on the field. This is another reason why they may well target one of these dynamic, sudden receivers with an early pick. It’s not just insurance for Lockett but also a compliment.

— CeeDee Lamb did not play for Oklahoma against Baylor due to what was described as a vague ‘health issue’. There was nothing in the build up to the game that hinted at anything and ESPN ran a piece about him earlier in the day. He was compared to a magician in the feature. You wonder if this was a Tua influenced disappearing act with one eye on the pro’s? Without Lamb, Oklahoma came behind from a big deficit to end Baylor’s unbeaten run.

— Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor made an incredible one-handed catch against Nebraska but then fumbled the ball as he tried to turn up-field. As a runner he had 204 yards on 25 carries plus two touchdowns. One was well supplied by center Tyler Biadasz reaching the second level to connect with a linebacker. Both scores flashed Taylor’s finishing ability and he looked smooth and patient on the second run. Tight end Jake Ferguson’s production has regressed again as he finished with one catch for 14 yards in a 37-21 win.

— Florida’s Jonathan Greenard had two more sacks, an astonishing five TFL’s and a QB hurry in a 23-6 win at Missouri. Despite some recent injury issues, Greenard has been one of the more positive stories in college football this season. I plan to spend some time studying him over the coming weeks to get a better angle on him and see what his true potential could be.

— Clemson hammered Wake Forest 52-3 and it was a big day for receiver Tee Higgins. He had four catches for 63 yards but hauled in three touchdowns. Travis Etienne continued his streak of mass-production with 121 rushing yards on 16 carries plus a touchdown. He also added 37 yards on three catches.

— Ohio State rolled to another easy win, this time against Rutgers (52-14). J.K. Dobbins had 89 yards on 17 carries plus two touchdowns. Binjimen Victor also had two touchdowns along with 68 yards and five receptions. K.J. Hill managed 62 yards on four catches and a touchdown. Blog favourite Shaun Wade also had an incredible interception. The quarterback threw to the slot receiver and Wade stays tight in coverage. He tracks the ball superbly and somehow tips and controls the ball with one hand before bringing it in for the pick. It’s an unbelievable play and a great example of his top-20 potential. Jeff Okudah forced a fumble in the game.

— I haven’t spent any time studying Stanford tight end Colby Parkinson but I will do soon. He’s 6-7 and 251lbs. Against Washington State he had five catches for 80 yards. The Cougs won 49-22.

— Minnesota lost their unbeaten record today in a 23-19 loss to Iowa but Tyler Johnson had another huge day. He finished with nine catches for 170 yards and a touchdown. He did have a bad drop on a fourth down play that was somewhat costly. He ran an excellent route for his 28 yard score. He also made a really difficult catch over the middle — creating separation but the pass was floated and Johnson was hammered as he completed the catch (and somehow held on). He also climbed the ladder on a really good red-line route to the left hand sideline. Johnson’s been in our top-50 throughout. Team mate Reshod Bateman made another incredible high-pointed catch in the game. He’s a serious talent to keep an eye on for the future (he’s not draft eligible for 2020).

— Georgia’s offensive tackles are incredible. Jake Fromm threw a 51 yard touchdown thanks mainly due to the time he had in the pocket to let the route develop. Everyone knows about Andrew Thomas but Isaiah Wilson the enormous right tackle had to drop so deep in his set to seal off the outside rush and he handled it with ease. His mobility, athleticism and power is top-level and for me he’s a top-15 talent. Georgia defeated Auburn 21-14 but Derrick Brown had another strong performance to highlight his top-12 credentials. D’Andre Swift had 106 yards on 17 carries.

— Joe Burrow had another excellent performance against Ole Miss, albeit with a minor wobble late on. He threw two uncharacteristic interceptions — one a delayed, hesitant throw to the sideline and another a blind throw after an attempt to hold the safety in centerfield. He still threw for five touchdowns, looked mostly assured in the pocket and threw with his usual poise and accuracy. He just looks like a pro. He finished 32/42 passing for 489 yards and added another 26 as a runner. Clyde Edwards-Helaire also made another statement about his pro-prospects with 172 yards on 23 carries and a late score. His touchdown was a 49-yarder where he showed patience, a great cut and breakaway speed to finish. He’s a real talent and is emerging as a player who can have an impact at the next level. LSU’s defense was awful in this game though and they kept getting gashed by variations of the same quarterback run. John Rhys-Plumlee somehow ran for 212 yards and scored four touchdowns with pretty much a carbon copy of the same run over and over again. Grant Delpit had a nightmare game. He took bad angles, kept biting to lose contain and on Ole Miss’ final touchdown he whiffed on a tackle. He’s been hurt most of the year and looks nowhere near his best. Even so — games like this hurt his stock.

— Oregon’s Justin Herbert had a terrific performance as Oregon rolled Arizona 34-6. On a flea-flicker he fired an inch-perfect pass downfield for a 53 yard touchdown. The throw had everything and was a real ‘wow’ moment. He’s flown under the radar a bit this year — partly due to the emergence of Burrow and the media obsession for Tua. Some teams will love what Herbert brings to the table. It won’t be a surprise if he rises to the top of the QB charts, despite Burrow playing superbly this year. Herbert could land in Miami. With Tua’s injury and now uncertain future, he could be the second quarterback drafted at the very least.

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Friday notes: correcting Seahawks stats

November 15th, 2019 | Written by Rob Staton

On Tuesday I posted an article detailing a number of stats following Monday Night Football. It seems that although Pro Football Reference updated some statistics (eg sacks) they didn’t update others (pressures, hurries, passer rating). So I wanted to correct a few errors today.

Jadeveon Clowney’s exceptional performance has now promoted him to #9 in the league for pressures (27). That’s as many as Nick Bosa and Chandler Jones, it’s two more than Dante Fowler and three more than Myles Garrett.

He’s also tied fifth for QB hurries (14). That’s the same number as Joey Bosa, one more than Nick Bosa and six more than Myles Garrett.

The fact he only has three sacks is deceiving relative to his overall performance. You only have to look at the players ranked at the top for pressures and hurries to see how indicative both statistics are. Khalil Mack (22) and Aaron Donald (21) are first and second in the league for hurries. Mack (31) and Donald (33) are also in the top four for pressures along with T.J. Watt (35) and Joey Bosa (32).

What makes this all the more impressive is the way Clowney is creating his pressure. The 3-4 teams have a bit more room to be creative. T.J. Watt’s league-leading 35 pressures coincide with the fact he has blitzed 41 times in 2019. Khalil Mack has blitzed 36 times. Clowney has been used on a blitz just once all year.

He’s never been a sack specialist. Unlike Mack, Donald, the Bosa’s and Garrett — Clowney’s not a speed rusher. He’s the quintessential base end who can move along the formation and create mismatches. He’s a radioactive Michael Bennett.

He’s also a truly unique player — the type the Seahawks will never get a chance to draft while ever they’re a long way off the #1 overall pick. They cannot allow him to move on in the off-season. The D-line has to be built around Clowney. It’s impossible to imagine how they would replace him.

The question shouldn’t be, ‘will they pull out all the stops to extend his contract?’. It should be, ‘who are they going to sign to play on the opposite side?’.

Without wanting to go over old ground too much — the names cropping up near the top of the NFL for pressures, hurries and sacks are Everson Griffen and Dante Fowler. Unless an unexpected name emerges or a trade is made out of the blue, these are the two having the biggest impact this year who fit the bill. Griffen is older but has history with Pete Carroll at USC and would potentially hold the fort until younger options emerge in future drafts. Fowler is at a great age, runs a 1.59 10-yard split and would provide the speed needed to compliment Clowney.

It’s vital that the Seahawks add a partner in crime. Practically all of the players at the top of the rankings for pressures are part of a double-act:

T.J. Watt (#1) & Bud Dupree (#26)
Aaron Donald (#2) & Dante Fowler (#14)
Everson Griffen (#5) & Danielle Hunter (#19)
Josh Allen (#6) & Calais Campbell (#20)
Za’Darius Smith (#7) & Preston Smith (#12)
Cameron Jordan (#8) & Marcus Davenport (#22)
Nick Bosa (#10) & Arik Armstead (#33) & Dee Ford (43)

There are only four obvious cases of a top pass rusher performing mostly single-handedly…

— Joey Bosa is ranked #3 for pressures but the next best performer for the Chargers is Uchenna Nwosu (#41). Melvin Ingram is tied 65th.

— Khalil Mack is ranked #4 but the next best pressure rusher for the Bears is Roy Robertson-Harris at #48.

— Jadeveon Clowney is ranked #9 and Seattle’s next best for pressures is Quinton Jefferson at a tied #65.

— Chandler Jones is ranked at #11 and his next best placed team mate is Terrell Suggs at #63.

One way or another they have to find someone — interior or EDGE — to provide some consistent support. If they can do that, Seattle’s defense could be as fearsome in 2020 week-to-week as it was in San Francisco on Monday.

The stats update also impacted the defensive back and linebacker numbers I provided too. Marquise Blair didn’t feature against the Niners but his generous 126.6 passer rating when targeted is now the 15th instead of the 17th worst mark in the league (and likely a big reason why he’s no longer in the line-up).

Bradley McDougald’s number rose slightly after the Niners game — going from 38.6 to 42.8. That’s still an excellent mark — the eighth best defensive back in the league per passer rating.

Shaquill Griffin’s fantastic game means his passer rating improved from 80.0 to 73.9. Tre Flowers saw his number rise from 76.7 to 77.5.

McDougald’s yards per target numbers improved. He now only gives up four yards per target instead of 4.2. Earl Thomas gives up 4.8 per target. Shaquill Griffin is at 5.6. Seattle’s core defensive backs are not playing badly at all this year. With more pressure up front — as we saw on Monday — this defense can be highly productive.

Bobby Wagner is third in the league for tackles (97) behind only Blake Martinez (102) and Jordan Hicks (99). K.J. Wright is sixth on the list with 85. There’s something very important to consider here. Our perception is Seattle hasn’t tackled well. Their two linebackers are ranked in the top-10 for tackles in the NFL. Now look at their missed tackle percentage compared to the rest of the top-10:

Blake Martinez — 11.3%
Jordan Hicks — 11.6%
Bobby Wagner — 7.6%
Joe Schobert — 10.7%
Budda Baker — 7.6%
K.J. Wright — 5.7%
Rashaan Evans — 15.5%
Luke Kuechly — 8.9%
Jaylon Smith — 10%
Landon Collins — 13.2%

Only Budda Baker comes close to matching their consistency as high-volume tacklers.

Seattle has one glaring issue when it comes to missed tackles and that remains Mychal Kendricks. However, maybe things are improving. Last week he was the NFL leader in missed tackle percentage. Now he’s only ranked #7 with 24.6%.

Kendricks is the only Seattle player ranked in the top-100 for missed tackle percentage. The next highest are Shaquill Griffin and Quinton Jefferson (both #107) with 14.3% missed tackles. Tre Flowers and Bradley McDougald (14%) are just behind. In comparison, Aaron Donald has missed 13.9% of his tackles this year.

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Stats review & further reflections on the Niners win

November 12th, 2019 | Written by Rob Staton

Jadeveon Clowney dominated in San Francisco

Jadeveon Clowney shines

The Seahawks know who they need to build their D-line around. Regardless of the performance in the game, the pass rush needs major surgery in the off-season.

The use of Shaquem Griffin instead of Ziggy Ansah was a frank admission that the Ansah signing hasn’t worked. They need speed off the edge and Griffin at least provides that. The number one off-season priority will surely be to re-sign Clowney and pair him with a dynamic speed rusher. I’ll have more on that in a moment.

Clowney has always had game-wrecking potential and he showed it in this game. It helped that for the first time this season he was well supported. The rest of the D-line raised their game. The defense doesn’t need to be the LOB. It just needs to make some plays and not be a liability.

The big question is whether this was a flash in the pan or the early signs of a turn. The Seahawks have been sliced and diced by too many opponents to feel truly confident that this unit is ready to take a leap forward. It’s a start though.

We’ve seen what Clowney can do when he’s given some support. The Seahawks can’t afford to lose him in the off-season unless the price tag just becomes unbearable. Which, unfortunately, is possible if he keeps up this form in the second half of the season. If he continues to play this way he’d still be worth the investment. He only turns 27 in February. There aren’t many players like this on the planet. He was the #1 overall pick for a reason. They can’t lose him. They need to build with him.

What the stats say

Despite his great game on Monday, Clowney is only 35th in the league for pressures with 18. However, that is the same number as DeMarcus Lawrence and one more than Chris Jones.

He’s PFF’s third ranked defensive end (89.6), behind only T.J. Watt (91.0) and Nick Bosa (89.7).

Dante Fowler is 12th with 25 and Everson Griffen is sixth with a massive 31. T.J. Watt and Aaron Donald lead the league with 34. Joey Bosa is third with 32.

Clowney is 24th in the league with nine hurries. Dante Fowler is now fourth with 15 — behind only Khalil Mack, Aaron Donald and Cameron Jordan. Everson Griffen is sixth with 13 and Von Miller tenth with 11.

In terms of TFL’s, the numbers are surprising. It feels like Clowney has had more impact than his five so far which only ranks #71 in the league. Strangely that’s the same number as Von Miller and Khalil Mack. Frank Clark has six TFL’s (so essentially one more sack and one more TFL than Clowney). DeMarcus Lawrence has six TFL’s too and 4.5 sacks.

Aaron Donald leads the league with 13. Joey and Nick Bosa are second and third with 12 apiece. Dante Fowler is sixth with 10. Yannick Ngakoue has seven and ranks 24th.

If the Seahawks want to add a true impact rusher with speed to play across from Clowney, Dante Fowler stands out as a possibility. He signed a one-year deal in LA for $12m. His market was lukewarm a year ago, forcing him to sign a prove-it type deal. In terms of sacks, pressures and TFL’s he is performing at the level the Seahawks need. He doesn’t turn 26 until next August. He ran a 1.59 10-yard split at his combine (anything in the 1.5’s is considered ideal). We’ll need to see what his market is but that’s the guy I’d put a circle around.

Whatever happens, adding a speed element to the pass rusher is much needed.

Bradley McDougald is underrated

The stats at safety are very interesting and really highlight why they benched Marquise Blair and why they are so high on Bradley McDougald.

Marquise Blair was conceding a 126.6 passer rating when he was targeted — the 17th highest in the league. McDougald, in comparison, has the seventh lowest passer rating when targeted (38.6). That’s better than Richard Sherman (43.2) and Tre’Davious White (44.4).

McDougald also gives up 4.2 yards per target. That’s 13th best in the league and on a similar level to Harrison Smith (4.1). Earl Thomas gives up 4.8 yards per target.

Blair is conceding 7.5 yards per target.

A lot of people questioned Seattle’s decision to bench Blair for the Niners game, especially given PFF in their special PFF way graded him as Seattle’s best defender against Tampa Bay. This is an indication as to why the Seahawks made the move.

The fact that PFF graded him highly suggests he didn’t play badly in terms of the basics. Yet PFF don’t have intimate knowledge of Seattle’s scheme. It’s possible he’s not quite nailing the scheme and thus he’s conceding yards at a rate the Seahawks are uncomfortable with.

This is actually quite encouraging. It presents a scenario where Blair’s play has been decent and he just needs time and experience in the system. By trading for Quandre Diggs, they buy themselves some time. Diggs had an excellent start against San Francisco with two big hits and an interception. If he can quietly lock down a section of the field like the stats suggest McDougald is, the Seahawks will be in good shape.

Other stats of note

Tre Flowers’ passer rating against is 76.7. That’s actually better than Shaquille Griffin’s (80.0).

Mychal Kendricks no longer leads the league in missed tackles (that’s Denzel Ward). He’s now only seventh with 24.6% missed tackles. Yannick Ngakoue is a place above him with 25.8% missed tackles.

Re-sign Germain Ifedi?

Germain Ifedi received a 71.9 pass-blocking grade from PFF. People will hammer him for the surreal fumble for a touchdown. He actually caught Wilson’s fumble and found himself in an unusual position. In terms of blocking, he’s having a good year. He’s nowhere near the liability some fans and pundits suggest. As long as his price tag isn’t extortionate, the Seahawks should seek to avoid creating a problem at right tackle and try to retain him.

Is Jamar Taylor really a problem?

Nickel corner is an unforgiving position. You’re often isolated against a sudden, talented receiver trying to cover a lot of space. There aren’t many truly excellent nickel corner’s for a reason.

In terms of the stats, nothing really stands out with Jamar Taylor. He gives up 10.5 yards a completion which is about the same as Bradley McDougald (9.8) and it’s lower than Flowers (10.6) and Griffin (11.0). Akeem King is giving up 18.7 yards per completion.

Taylor’s 6.6 yards conceded per target is marginally worse than Griffin’s (6.0) and Flowers’ (6.3).

His completion percentage is 62.5%. Flowers is giving up 59.6% and Griffin 55.1%. The completion percentage vs Bobby Wagner is 87.1%.

Clearly Taylor gave up some catches against the Niners and will likely be a one-and-done player in Seattle. Yet he’s maybe not quite the liability some think. He’s not playing great but he’s not awful either. And let’s give him credit for the tipped pass he had late on to force a punt last night.

Should they go after Vernon Hargreaves?

Tampa Bay cut Vernon Hargreaves today. If you want to sign him be aware he’s given up the third most yards in coverage this season (578) behind only Isaiah Oliver (634) and Kyle Fuller (631).

Let’s compare Hargreaves with Jamar Taylor:

Yards conceded

Taylor: 210
Hargreaves: 578

Yards per completion

Taylor: 10.5
Hargreaves: 12.8

Yards per target

Taylor: 6.6
Hargreaves: 8.9

Passer rating

Taylor: 81.5
Hargreaves: 110.9

Completion percentage

Taylor: 62.5%
Hargreaves: 69.2%

Maybe Hargreaves would benefit from a fresh start? However, he is not performing better than Taylor in any category.

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Instant reaction: Seahawks win epic game in San Francisco

November 11th, 2019 | Written by Rob Staton

Jason Myers kicked the winning field goal after five quarters of agony

This was an incredible game. A complete mess, but incredible.

To the neutral it was probably the game of the season. To Seahawks and 49ers fans it was exhausting.

Both teams made a horrendous number of mistakes. The ref’s were appalling — for both teams. And yet somehow the game was overflowing with moments of brilliance and high drama (again, by both teams).

I can’t remember a game like it. The early dominance from San Francisco before the Seahawks scored 21 points on turnovers. A Jimmy Garoppolo pick and one that was called back by a flag. A fumble by Garoppolo returned for a touchdown. A fumble by Russell Wilson (shared by Germain Ifedi) returned for a touchdown. Two late dropped interceptions by K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner. One brilliantly caught interception by Dre Greenlaw to seemingly deny the Seahawks a win. A missed kick by Chase McLaughlin to keep them alive.

And a week after having possibly the worst game of his career against Tampa Bay, Jason Myers kicked the winning field goal.

It had practically everything. It was unpredictable, it was maddening, it was exciting and it tired you out.

Players on both teams left the field with injuries. The Seahawks are fortunate to have a bye week next. They’ll feel this one tomorrow.

It was physical, majestic, ridiculous and rubbish all in one go.

Both teams contributed. Both teams deserve credit. Both teams looked like contenders.

The Niners have looked that way for several weeks. For the first time, the Seahawks looked the part tonight. It’s all thanks to an improved defensive performance.

Wilson wasn’t at his best. The entire offense struggled against San Francisco’s punishing unit.

Yet a defense that hadn’t done anything all year suddenly burst into life, thanks to a career-best performance from Jadeveon Clowney.

All those years of promise at South Carolina and the gradual development at Houston came to a crescendo here. This was a player making a statement — for future earnings and for status.

Suddenly, when well supported by the rest of the unit, Clowney was an unstoppable force. He was no longer a one-man band. The Seahawks have found the player they need to build their D-line around for the long haul.

Garoppolo looked rattled. They limited the Niners to 87 rushing yards at 3.2 YPC. They had five sacks (and it could’ve been six had the awful refs not flagged Quinton Jefferson on one of several weak calls).

Clowney wasn’t alone. Shaquille Griffin had a remarkable third down PBU in overtime. The rest of the D-line stepped up to the plate and Quandre Diggs announced his arrival with two big hits and an interception.

Combine this type of defensive performance with Seattle’s quarterback and general offensive play and things are looking up.

There were some negatives to discuss in more detail at a later date. Ziggy Ansah was essentially benched for Shaquem Griffin — an acknowledgement that it isn’t working for Ansah and that they need more speed off the edge. D.K. Metcalf — as good as he is — can’t high-point a football and that needs to change with his size and talent. They also lost three more fumbles, taking their season total to 11 in 10 games.

Some context is also required in the sheer number of injuries San Francisco has. The Seahawks are working without Will Dissly and Justin Britt and lost Tyler Lockett in the game. The Niners were also without George Kittle, Emmanuel Sanders, Azeez Al-Shaair, D.J. Jones and Ronald Blair left the game, Ahkello Witherspoon didn’t play and Weston Richburg missed some time.

Nevertheless, this was one the Seahawks had to have. And they got it. In the most elongated, ridiculously dramatic fashion they’re 5-0 on the road. And rather than stew on one that got away for two weeks, Seahawks fans can instead dare to dream.

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Seahawks vs 49ers MNF preview

November 11th, 2019 | Written by Rob Staton

Seattle on defense

Kyle Shanahan’s offense is a problem for Seattle. Atlanta tore strips off the LOB, including in the 2016 playoff game. Even when the Niners lost 43-16 in Seattle last season, Nick Mullen had a 414 yard game.

Even if George Kittle doesn’t play as expected, Shanahan has a formula to dissect and manipulate Seattle’s unit. Considering how poorly they’ve played this year it’ll likely be an exercise in damage limitation.

The key question is whether they can steal a turnover or two on defense to create enough of a swing to support the offense? And failing that, can they find a way to concede three instead of seven? It’s been difficult to watch practically every team march up-and-down the field on Seattle’s defense. It’s a bit optimistic to think the unbeaten Niners are going to be any different.

We know they’re not going to harass Jimmy Garoppolo. They’ll probably give up some gains in the running game. Limiting San Francisco to field goals whenever possible and pinching a turnover or two is vital. Either that or it’s going to be on the offense to pull off another miracle.

Seattle on offense

A lot of people on Twitter will want ‘Russ to cook’ tonight but that’s not necessarily a recipe for success in this game. San Francisco’s defensive line is the best in the league and has the potential to be one of the best in recent memory. They can consistently rush with four, create relentless pressure and drop players in coverage.

The Seahawks will have to find a way to slow-down the rush. They will need to box-clever and try to force San Francisco to be a bit more aggressive. The best way to do this is to run the ball effectively.

Arizona had a big day running against San Francisco last week and they’ve now lost Kwon Alexander to IR. The Niners’ biggest strength on defense is their pass rush. The best way to take that threat away is to limit the opportunities they have to impact the game.

They’ll still need Wilson magic of course. They will in every game this season. They need to try and find a balance similar to the Rams win. There they ran for 167 yards and Wilson finished 17/23 passing for 268 yards and four touchdowns. He might need to throw more times in this game if it ends up being a shoot-out or if the Seahawks get behind. That’s probably the blueprint though.

Five years ago the Seahawks vs Niners games emulated the slug-fest Alabama vs LSU games. Two days after the college version played out a 46-41 encounter, we might be set to witness the NFL version this evening.

Special teams

A year ago the Seahawks lost a game they should’ve won in Santa Clara. They gave up cheap points on a kick return and Sebastian Janikowski missed an extra point. The game ended up going to overtime.

The Seahawks actually started very well with a scoring drive. The instant nature of San Francisco’s kick return score blew any momentum Seattle had.

It’s stating the obvious to say Jason Myers needs to be better. This hasn’t been an easy stadium to kick in. Robbie Gould has struggled this year. Hopefully Myers will be able to bounce back from last week’s horror show. This is a crucial game for him and he knows it. The Seahawks need a lot to go their way including a special teams edge.

Final thought

The Seahawks were battered by New Orleans and Baltimore — the two ‘proper’ teams they’ve faced this year. Let’s hope those were simply two bad days at the office and not the reality of what this team is.

I fear this is San Francisco’s answer to Seattle’s game against New Orleans in 2013. That was a Monday Night Football game. The Seahawks, at 10-1, were out to prove they were the real deal. They destroyed the Saints before finishing the season 2-2.

The Niners likely won’t finish 16-0 and will lose at some point. Whether it happens tonight in primetime with the spotlight on them, I’m not so sure.

Feel free to use this as an open thread for MNF.

Here’s one final plug for my interview with Dave Wyman, talking about the big moments in Seahawks history and looking ahead to the game. If you want something to get you in the mood for tonight — check it out:

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CFB week 11: LSU & Joe Burrow prove they’re #1

November 9th, 2019 | Written by Rob Staton

Joe Burrow led LSU to a victory in Alabama

Today confirmed two things — LSU are the best team in the country and Joe Burrow is the best player.

It’s unquestionable. It can’t be challenged. It’s been trending that way for a few weeks and all today did was confirm it.

Burrow is the best draft eligible quarterback for 2020. If you need a QB and you’re picking first overall, you take him.

That’s not an overreaction to one game either. For weeks now we’ve been projecting Burrow as the superior player. Today was merely confirmation and validation.

Clearly Tua Tagovailoa wasn’t 100% healthy in this game. He also played pretty well at times. Burrow was clearly the superior player, however.

Without him at quarterback this LSU team isn’t anything special. With him they’ve gone to Texas and won, they’ve gone to Florida and won and they defeated Auburn at home. All were top-10 teams at the time. Now they’ve gone into Alabama and ended their long unbeaten home record.

It’s all about Burrow.

There were no flaws in his game. He was a surgeon in terms of accuracy. His poise and awareness in the pocket is exceptional. He’s not a major athlete or running quarterback — yet his ability to dodge pressure, keep his eyes downfield and deliver a well-thrown ball is top-level. When he needs to make a gain with his legs he can do it and he had several crucial runs in the game. He’s also highly competitive and elevated his team to a huge 46-41 win.

His back-shoulder throw on his first touchdown was absolutely perfect. His throw to Thaddeus Moss working against Trevon Diggs — with almost no margin for error by the right pylon — was a thing of beauty.

He throws with touch and accuracy at every level and when he needs to get on his skates and extend plays he can do that too.

The only thing missing is a huge arm. Even then, he’s very much in the ‘good not great’ category. It isn’t a weakness. Isn’t a problem. Ever since week one he’s looked like an emerging talent. The Texas game gave us a flash of quality we didn’t see in 2018. Now, he’s shown he’s the real deal.

After today he’ll be at the top of most mock drafts and he’ll certainly be at the front of the line for the Heisman. Without Burrow none of this would be possible for LSU. They have good players but not on the same scale as Alabama. Their quarterback has taken them to a new level this season.

Every time Alabama scored, he had an answer. Every touchdown drive asked a question of Burrow. How are you going to respond? Can you deal with the pressure?

Each question was answered emphatically. His expression never changed throughout four bruising quarters. He was calm and collected and deadly in the pocket.

What about Tagovailoa?

He didn’t have a bad game. He had some significant errors that we’ll come on to. He also benefited from some huge gifts that padded out his stats.

He’s a quality prospect and one that warrants top-10 consideration in the draft. He will have an opportunity to have a good NFL career if he lands in the right setting with a team willing to play to his strengths.

That said, he was vaulted way above reality during the summer and the whole ‘Tank for Tua’ movement was premature at best. Miami Dolphins fans, without any hope in 2019, latched on to him as a potential saviour. He was the reason to keep going during a hopeless 2019 season.

The reality is he’s not a saviour. A few years ago everyone overanalysed Deshaun Watson because he stayed for his final year in Clemson. The reverse seems to be happening with Tua. For too long people overlooked the issues because he was winning and the stats were great.

Today we saw a regular issue rearing it’s ugly head.

LSU scored right before half-time, leaving a few seconds on the clock. Alabama really should’ve cut their losses and took a knee. Instead they came out throwing. Tagovailoa has a serious issue looking off safeties and too often he gets baited into turnovers. It happened against Georgia and Mississippi State and it happened again here. He locked on to his target right down the middle of the field, didn’t sense the safety lurking in the long grass and threw an easy interception.

Compare that to Burrow. He’s running through his progressions. You see him reading the defense, manipulating the safety. He didn’t come close to throwing a pick today. Tua has had three interceptions that are all identical this year. At the next level when things get quicker and he isn’t presented with an outstanding array of weapons and a strong O-line — is he going to be able to go through his reads and avoid turnovers?

He also has a tendency to throw high and behind. His injured ankle perhaps hampered his mechanics today but this isn’t the first time he’s looked a bit streaky. He’s quite robotic in his delivery.

After that avoidable pick, Burrow needed one play to turn it into a 33-13 game at the half. He ended with 31/39 passing for 393 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for 64 yards on 13 carries. His only turnover was a forced fumble on a blitz by Xavier McKinney. There was little he could do about it.

Tagovailoa finished 21/40 passing for 418 yards and four touchdowns plus the pick. He also had a bizarre fumble on a red zone run on Alabama’s first drive. Untouched and in open space he simply dropped the ball.

Tua’s numbers were boosted by some poor defensive decisions by the LSU coaches. Tagovailoa’s first touchdown was a gift. The sideline distracted talented cornerback Derek Stingley by trying to change the play at the last minute. As Stingley took his instruction with his head turned to the coaches, the ball was snapped. It allowed DeVonta Smith to sprint by Stingley for an easy 64 yard, wide-open touchdown.

Then in the fourth quarter with LSU possessing a two-score lead and Alabama needing a miracle, for some reason they opted to go man-for-man in coverage and not play prevent defense. Smith ran a go-route and beat Stingley for speed by the left sideline. Tagovailoa threw a hopeful heave downfield and Smith made a fantastic play for an 85 yard score. It was a ridiculous play-call by LSU and it could’ve cost them. That’s essentially two touchdowns and 149 yards gifted to Alabama on those two plays alone.

This was billed as a key game in the National Championship, Heisman and #1 pick race. The winners were LSU and Burrow in every facet.

Overall the game lived up to expectations with the long list of future NFL players taking their turn to shine.

DeVonta Smith ended with seven catches for 213 yards thanks to the two touchdown gifts. He did also have a vital fourth down conversion on a slant. He’s probably the most underrated player on Alabama’s team and as we’ve been saying for a while — he deserves a lot more attention.

Smith and Jerry Jeudy also had some drops today. Smith had a botched reception on a short throw in an attempt to set up a screen. Jeudy had two drops that eliminated potential touchdowns. One was a terrific deep throw by Tagovailoa, the other a shorter range throw in the red zone. Jeudy made up for the second one with a scoring catch on the next play. He finished with five catches for 71 yards and the score.

Henry Ruggs was mostly kept in check but he started the game with a terrific 26-yard reception. Ruggs has speed to burn but he’s also excellent at catching the ball away from his body. He plucked the ball out of the air to secure a difficult catch for a first down. He ended with three catches for 68 yards.

Alabama safety Xavier McKinney had a good day. He had a major impact as a blitzer attacking the LOS and collected two sacks and 2.5 TFL’s. He forced the Burrow fumble. He blocked an extra point. He also failed to tackle Clyde Edwards-Helaire on his way to a touchdown — with CEH delivering a brutal spin-move to get free. Open-field tackling has long been an issue for McKinney and while it was nice to see him work effectively as a blitzer — he’s not going to be doing that most downs in the NFL.

Speaking of Edwards-Helaire — he and Najee Harris both put on a show. Originally it was Harris running around and over defenders, cutting into gaps and scoring a fantastic receiving touchdown on a wheel route. Then CEH took over with his best Darren Sproles meets Maurice Jones-Drew impression. He’s a bundle of power and speed. He iced the game with a beast-mode run, carrying 5-6 defenders for a first down. Both players significantly boosted their stock today. Harris finished with 146 yards on 19 carries, three catches for 44 yards and two total touchdowns. CEH had 103 yards on 20 carries, nine receptions for 77 yards and four total touchdowns. He delivered an excellent post-game interview too — well spoken and playing with a chip on his shoulder.

The 2020 draft is going to be full of quality at the running back position.

Kristian Fulton had a better day than fellow corner Trevon Diggs. Fulton did a terrific job breaking up a throw to Ruggs. He stayed with his man and reached his arm out to separate ball from receiver. It was an excellent read, he showed patience not to make contact too early. It was a textbook piece of coverage and he avoided errors elsewhere.

It felt like Diggs was having a bad game early on but really it was just Burrow’s brilliance. Later on though he was guilty of a few botched tackles on CEH and he gave up a key first down and a touchdown by focusing on trying to rip the ball out rather than making the tackle.

With 4:50 left in the first half, pass rusher Terrell Lewis showed a great get-off on and delivered a superb punch to the right tackle to create a B-gap opening to force Burrow out of the pocket. From there, Raekwon Davis sprinted from the right hash to the sideline to force him out of bounds for a loss of yardage. Unfortunately there weren’t many other splash plays from the duo although Lewis caught the McKinney forced fumble. He was credited with only half a TFL but three QB hurries.

Safety Grant Delpit had a relatively quiet game but played through a bad ankle.

K’Lavon Chaisson did a nice job working in space. On one instance he read a wide receiver screen to bring DeVonta Smith down and force a punt. Chaisson ran a 4.69 at SPARQ. He only had two sacks coming into the game and 4.5 TFL’s but he had 3.5 TFL’s in this game alone. He might provide some value in the middle or later rounds.

Elsewhere…

— Minnesota beat Penn State 31-26 in an exciting BIG-10 game, with two receivers shining. Tyler Johnson has been in my top-50 throughout and he showed why today. He finished with seven catches for 104 yards and a touchdown. On the score, he ran a route down the right sideline in 1v1 coverage. Johnson tracked the ball superbly and despite having one arm pulled back by the defender, he made an improbable completion by pinning the ball to his helmet with his free arm. He then tip-toed the sideline and somehow stayed in bounds for a 38 yard touchdown. It was an incredible play. The other reception he had that stood out came with 8:32 left in the game. He ran a slant from the slot on 2nd and 8 and the ball was thrown behind. He simply adjusted on the move to make a difficult grab look easy for a completion and a first down.

Rashad Bateman, somehow, still outshone Johnson. The sophomore (who’s also a team captain) was simply unstoppable. He also had seven catches but for 203 yards and a touchdown. Every target he received in the game led to a first down or a touchdown. He was sudden, elusive, he got open with easy and he made difficult catches look easy. He’s definitely a player to monitor.

Cornerback Antoine Winfield Jr had two interceptions to take his season tally to seven. We all know his dad’s career in Minnesota (and he had a very brief spell in Seattle). He has a big decision to make about potentially turning pro. He’s a redshirt sophomore. He likely won’t have a season like this again and who knows where P.J. Fleck will be coaching next year? It might be best to bite the bullet. Could he be a solid slot corner at the next level?

For Penn State, Yetur Gross-Matos had one of his all-too frequent disappearing acts. K.J. Hamler was Penn State’s only consistent receiving threat. He consistently got open, finished with seven catches for 119 yards and had a nice kick-return called back. However, he was bullied in the red zone. Jalen Reagor and Henry Ruggs play above their size in the red zone and do an excellent job boxing out defenders or leaping to high-point the ball. Hamler doesn’t do this and it’s why he’s below both players on my board.

— I’ve been sceptical about Jacob Eason all year and that’s being validated recently. He’s getting worse, not better. He makes strange decisions, is starting to turn the ball over and he isn’t elevating Washington. He’s not played much college football at all and he certainly doesn’t look ready for the NFL. He has the physical tools but he’s nowhere near ready in terms of decision making, pocket awareness and anticipation. He threw another pick-six against Oregon State on a two-interception night. If Eason is regressing, tight end Hunter Bryant is looking better and better. He was a top SPARQ performer and he looks like the real deal as a move-TE with the potential to do some blocking too. He had a beastly 50 yard completion that should’ve been a score but was called back on a hold. He finished with five catches for 90 yards. He looks like a top-45 prospect.

— Another week, another hammering dished out by Ohio State. They destroyed Maryland 73-14 despite losing Chase Young to a likely four-game suspension. J.K. Dobbins had 12 carries for 90 yards and two touchdowns before getting a breather. He also had a catch for eight yards. Binjimen Victor had three catches for 36 yards and a score. K.J. Hill managed four catches for 56 yards and a touchdown. Victor and Hill could provide some later round value and both are very athletic. Dobbins should be a top-45 pick.

— Jalen Reagor was surprisingly quiet as TCU lost to Baylor 29-23 in overtime. He was limited to one catch for eight yards and two runs for four yards.

— Colorado and Laviska Shenault have had a tough year. Today they had a better day, defeating Stanford 16-13 with Shenault managing eight catches for 91 yards. He also had a run for five yards. Shenault left the game in the first half to head to the locker room. He does get banged up.

— Jonathan Taylor ran for 250 yards on 31 carries as Wisconsin defeated Iowa 24-22. He also had a catch for eight yards. Tight end Jake Ferguson managed two catches for 19 yards. A.J. Epenesa recorded a sack in the game.

— Michael Pittman Jr. had another big day for USC with 146 yards on 13 receptions. Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk had five catches for 51 yards and a score. Eno Benjamin was bottled up for 52 yards on 20 carries but also added 48 yards on seven catches. USC won the game 31-26.

— Clemson took apart NC State 55-10. Tee Higgins had four catches for 75 yards and a touchdown. Travis Etienne recorded 112 yards on 14 carries, three catches for 31 yards and had three total touchdowns.

— Ceedee Lamb had one of his trademark incredible YAC touchdowns as Oklahoma squeezed by Iowa State 42-41. Lamb increasingly looks like Cordarelle Patterson with actual receiving skills and he finished with 167 yards on eight catches and two scores.

— Julian Okwara suffered a fractured ankle as Notre Dame beat Duke 38-7. His season is clearly over but it remains to be seen how this will impact his draft stock. Will he be ready to work out before the draft?

— South Carolina beat Georgia a few weeks ago. This weekend they lost 20-15 at home to Appalachian State. Javon Kinlaw shared a sack and a TFL.

— Utah State quarterback Jordan Love has had such a poor year he might return to college next season (transfer to Oklahoma?). He had a bounce back game this weekend though in a 37-35 win at Fresno State. Love threw for 388 yards and had two touchdowns. He also had 30 rushing yards on six carries.

— You’ve got to love the Georgia O-line. Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson could both go in top fifteen or twenty. D’Andre Swift had 83 rushing yards on 12 carries as they beat Missouri 27-0. Lawrence Cager had 93 yards on six carries.

If you missed my interview with Dave Wyman yesterday you can check it out here…