Instant reaction: Seahawks stroll through San Diego

August 16th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

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

August 15th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

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

August 14th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

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

August 14th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Good news…

 

Cassius Marsh injures knee, set for MRI

August 13th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

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

August 8th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

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.

 

What I’m looking out for tonight vs Denver

August 7th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

1. Just how will Denver play this?
Last year the Broncos treated their pre-season game in Seattle very seriously — and still lost 40-10. Peyton Manning played more snaps than he usually would in week two and sported a classic bitter-beer face when things started to unravel. They went after it, big time — apparently seeing it as an opportunity to make some kind of statement. It’s unusual to see a team put that level of stock into what is, essentially, a warm-up game. Considering this is their first action since a humiliating 43-8 pounding by the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, it’ll be intriguing to see how they approach this. Will there be a slightly unnecessary edge? How much time will Manning spend on the field?

2. Can Mayowa, Marsh and co have an impact?
Benson Mayowa was one of the stars of the 2013 summer, yet he was red shirted for most of the regular season. He’s added weight and received decent reports from training camp. Can he have a similar impact this year? Can he force himself into the pass-rush rotation? It’ll also be interesting to see if Cassius Marsh can hit the ground running. The Seahawks lost Chris Clemons and Clinton McDonald and will want at least one or two of their younger players to step up.

3. Can a new ‘pedestrian’ receiver emerge?
With Golden Tate in Detroit and Sidney Rice retired, there are spots to be earned here. The situation would’ve been even more intriguing if Kevin Norwood’s injury was more serious than a bone spur. Even so, Norwood won’t play against Denver and might not feature at all in pre-season. Phil Bates has been touted as the next Jermaine Kearse. He’ll be battling with Chris Matthews to make plays (and an impression) over the next few weeks.

4. How does the offensive line perform?
This is perhaps the biggest question mark right now. We’ll see a make-shift line against a Broncos defense determined to prove it’s mettle following the Super Bowl. Russell Okung, James Carpenter and Max Unger won’t play. We’ll get a first look at Eric Winston at some point. It might be wise to limit Russell Wilson’s work to a series. There are spots to be earned at left guard and right tackle.

5. Who gets ahead in Turbin vs Michael
Robert Turbin was the official backup last year but Christine Michael has been complimented and praised by Pete Carroll several times since. They clearly want such a talented player to take the next step and mature. Every snap taken by this pair will be critical in what stands to be a more even contest. Michael lit up pre-season in 2013 and if he repeats that success, he could be first in line to spell Marshawn Lynch.

6. Does Terrelle Pryor have any kind of future in Seattle or the NFL?
This will be decided over the next 2-3 weeks, if not tonight. He’ll get time and he needs to make it count. I’m not sure anyone expects him to beat out Tarvaris Jackson as Seattle’s backup and he might be a long shot to make the roster even now. The only way to change that is to perform on the field. Over to you, T.P. He’ll at least have some background info on the Broncos, having competed in the AFC West with Oakland.

7. Is Brock Coyle as good as advertised?
He’s getting rave reviews in camp and the UDFA will probably get significant playing time tonight due to the number of injuries at linebacker. I personally felt John Lotulelei was overrated last year. He made the final roster but was eventually cut and picked up by Jacksonville — where he lasted less than a year. There aren’t many spots available for impressive UDFA’s this season. Coyle has perhaps the best chance of 2014′s crop.

 

The pressure’s on Tom as Cable aims to get Seattle’s line rolling

August 6th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Seahawks O-line coach Tom Cable has a big job on his hands this year

I don’t like the cliché that football games are ‘won in the trenches’. You only have to look at some of the more recent Super Bowl winners. Elite quarterbacks win Championships behind porous lines.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat… or win at football. And so it is for the Seahawks.

Russell Wilson will still avoid trouble. Seattle will still run the ball with authority. The defense will make plays.

And yet there’s this nagging little itch you just can’t scratch.

The offensive line was an area for improvement especially after Breno Giacomini’s departure. So why is there justified concern that it could be even worse in 2014?

Snake-bitten Russell Okung is recovering from surgery again while rookie Justin Britt has also been nursing a sore shoulder.

Aside from Giacomini’s crucial and somewhat underrated departure to New York, they’ve also lost veteran guard/tackle Paul McQuistan and Michael Bowie is now in Cleveland.

That’s some change given the two starters at right tackle have moved on, as well as a backup (if not ideal) left tackle who started multiple games. With Bowie struggling and then leaving, in came the previously unemployed Eric Winston plus Wade Smith and Cory Brandon.

With Okung and James Carpenter not 100% (although Carpenter will dress against the Broncos) the starting offensive line tomorrow could be: Bailey, Smith, Unger, Sweezy, Winston. It’s unlikely, but it’s certainly not beyond the realms of possibility that will be the starting line against the Packers.

That’s going to put some pressure on Tom Cable to get the best out of this unit.

(And for all the talk of Cable going after ‘his’ guys, a line of Bailey, Smith, Unger, Sweezy and Winston would only include two he’d developed from the start. Swap Okung for Bailey and it’s down to just one.)

It’s a serious investment of trust in Cable. Not misplaced trust, I’d add. But they’re relying on possibly the most high-profile line-coach in the NFL delivering an improvement without major new additions.

At times last year the line nearly cost Seattle some key games. Rams on the road, Cards on the road. It did contribute to the Seahawks losing their undefeated record at Century Link against Arizona.

All of those games came in the NFC West — the battleground where playoff destiny will be decided this year.

The Cardinals (signed Jared Veldheer, regained Jonathan Cooper) and Rams (drafted Greg Robinson, regained Jake Long) reinforced their protection. They needed to — this division isn’t going to get any easier. All four teams sport elite defenses — with the Rams adding another first round pick (Aaron Donald) to their front four.

It’s possible, as we saw, for the Seahawks to play badly on the offensive line and still win tough road games. History could repeat itself.

To some extent there’s not a great deal they could’ve done. Clearly they weren’t going to spend big on a guard or tackle in free agency — they couldn’t. They passed on Joel Bitonio in the draft but added Justin Britt in round two. None of the alternatives were especially alluring.

In terms of last minute veteran signings, Winston isn’t a bad one. He’s scheme familiar and although he struggled in Arizona for the most part, he played on an inexperienced O-line really lacking in quality.

(Some of you will draw comparisons I’m sure, but Seattle’s line won’t be that bad in 2014… I think).

Picking at #32 doesn’t offer much opportunity to go after a top offensive lineman — guard or tackle. The good ones go early — three in the top four in 2013, three in the top-12 this year.

When Cable, Carroll and Schneider took Britt at #64 they took the best remaining tackle on their board knowing they needed one. Unless they’re going to take Bitonio at #32 I’m not sure sleepless nights are necessary after missing out on Jack Mewhort.

Yet the pressure is there for Cable to make this a unit capable of dealing with adversity better. Bailey showed promise as a left tackle in pre-season last year and should be a superior stop-gap compared to McQuistan. J.R. Sweezy can continue to develop and Max Unger should bounce back from an inconsistent 2013.

It is though, sadly, the only unit with a big question mark. And it could be the difference between merely the playoffs and another shot at home-field advantage.

If Cable can get this group rolling, it’ll be a major shot in the arm to any ambitions he may have of becoming a Head Coach next year.

 

Seahawks waive Michael Bowie, Browns claim him

August 3rd, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Michael Bowie has a shoulder injury — serious enough it seems to end his 2014 season.

The Seahawks put him on the waived/injured list. The unwritten rule in the NFL is this usually allows you to stash the player on injured reserve when he goes unclaimed. Teams back off and don’t go cherry picking.

Not any more it seems. Last week the Patriots claimed running back Tyler Gaffney after Carolina put him on the waived/injured list. Technically they didn’t do anything wrong. A few eyebrows were raised, but there was plenty of, “that’s why they’re winners” sentiment. Belichick’s ruthless streak was applauded by some.

Now Cleveland has taken Bowie off waivers despite the fact he may not feature in 2014 and requires serious shoulder surgery (trying saying that quickly).

Right now the Seahawks are fashionable. Any young player drafted, developed and trained by this team is hot property. It was a chance the Browns couldn’t pass up.

It’s been quite a change in fortune for the 2013 7th round pick.

Last season Bowie showed some promise as a deputy right tackle and was praised by the coaching staff. Personally I felt he struggled badly at times too — he looked out of his depth in the Cardinals and Rams road games. But he was a 7th round rookie facing two elite defenses. It wasn’t a surprise.

As the year went on he grew into his role, before the inevitable return of Breno Giacomini saw a return to the bench.

In a shock move at the time he replaced James Carpenter at guard for the New Orleans playoff game, only to be displaced the following week against the Niners.

Despite the promise, clearly the Seahawks weren’t totally convinced he was the long term answer at right tackle. Why else would they spend a second round pick on Justin Britt? Mere depth?

Local media observers reported team displeasure with Bowie’s physical condition. Perhaps that played a part in the decision to take Britt — and perhaps by the summer the writing was on the wall, we just didn’t know it.

It does create an interesting dynamic going into 2014. Is Eric Winston a good enough stop gap if Justin Britt isn’t ready to start as a rookie? Winston struggled for the most part in Arizona, albeit on a shocking offensive line. If your two guards and your left tackle aren’t good enough — it’s pretty hard for the right tackle to work effectively.

But Winston has bounced around since a productive spell in Houston. Is scheme familiarity enough to make this work? Or is this the early signs of a problem position for the Seahawks?

Britt is an unknown commodity at this stage. Winston is only 31 but was unemployed until last week — and there are plenty of teams out there with O-line issues who could’ve used a serviceable tackle.

It’s a muddled situation it has to be said — although the news on Bowie was out of their hands. They couldn’t by rule put him straight on IR until the first round of cuts because of his status as a second year pro. They also used the same move (waived/injured) on Anthony McCoy and Jesse Williams. Both players went unclaimed.

Losing Bowie is just one of those things. The wider issue could be the line’s performance in general and whether they put enough focus on what was an injury-hit (and at times struggling) group in 2013.

The Seahawks can ill-afford the O-line to regress in a defensively stacked NFC West. And it’s within the NFC West that their playoff destiny could easily be decided. Bad offensive line play almost cost Seattle games in St. Louis and Arizona. Losing those games would’ve meant losing home field advantage last year — and potentially a safe passage to the Super Bowl.

 

Camp update: Marshawn arrives, McCoy to IR

July 31st, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Marshawn Lynch is back. He’s ended his holdout but does so without a new deal. As Adam Schefter reports, Seattle maintained a firm stance with Lynch — they rewarded him two years ago with a new deal, and they were (quite rightly) wary of setting a bad precedent going forward.

If you pay Lynch this year after a holdout, do you do the same with Earl Thomas or Richard Sherman in a couple of years? They had to stick to their guns.

Lynch is paid handsomely in running back terms. He knew the team had a strong leverage position unlike the Chiefs with Jamaal Charles. Now it’s about calming the storm. Reports suggest the Seahawks won’t enforce the financial penalties Lynch accrued during his short holdout, plus they’ll escalate his pay for 2014. But there’s no true pay rise — just a re-working of the contract leading to a small top up.

If the options were play on or retire, thankfully for Seattle — Lynch has chosen not to call it a day just yet.

And yet I can’t help but feel it’s about time he showed up. As Dan Pompei puts it, “The team already makes a lot of exceptions for Lynch and has done a lot to accommodate his idiosyncrasies, many of which are becoming more pronounced as he becomes more successful.”

This isn’t me bad mouthing Lynch. He just appears to be treated differently to some other players. Whether it’s not turning up to OTA’s, appearing to give the finger to the sideline during the Cardinals road game last year or any of the other things that come with the Beast Mode package — sometimes you just need to accept when you’re onto a winner.

The Seahawks have been good to Marshawn Lynch, just as he has to them. Hopefully this fruitless holdout has led to an epiphany there.

This merely confirms what was feared yesterday. Surgery is likely and Williams’ NFL career may be over before it ever truly began. It’s a real shame for the player and the team. Yet this is why he was available in the 5th round last year.

Teams knew he had knee issues. He was at worst a second rounder without these complications. The Seahawks took a chance and had it paid off, they’d look great. But he fell because of the risk element involved.

Sadly, Williams’ knees wouldn’t afford him a shot in the pro’s.

The recent addition of Kevin Williams looks wiser and wiser with every passing week. Aside from the obvious experience/talent benefit — that extra depth looks crucial today.

It’s terrible news on McCoy as we touched on earlier in the week. It’s also a big blow for the Seahawks, who clearly had visions of big targets roaming the middle of the field in multi-TE sets.

People have asked about Jermichael Finley, a player they showed interest in during free agency. I’d say it’s unlikely. He’s due a sizeable insurance payout (approximately $10m) if he doesn’t play football again. Not only is he risking his long term health if he takes the field this year, he’s also taking a huge financial gamble.

Seattle won a Super Bowl without three assured tight ends and will be able to adapt to this. It’s still disappointing we won’t get to see what they were planning with McCoy, Luke Willson and Zach Miller.

Steve Maneri has been brought in on what appears to be a trial basis. They may look at other TE’s down the line. Maneri runs in the 4.8′s at 6-7 and 270lbs.