Instant reaction: Seahawks well beaten, drop to 7-3-1

November 27th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Blame it on the injuries, blame it on the offensive line. Blame the putrid offense or the crucial turnovers. Whatever your choice, this was bad.

It’s not unexpected that the defense would lose a step missing Earl Thomas, Deshawn Shead and Michael Bennett. That said, the ‘plan’ to handle Mike Evans at the start of the game was puzzling.

Pete Carroll’s mantra of winning games in the fourth quarter has aided this team so many times over the years. Their inability to defend Evans at all cost them 14 early points and put them in an immediate hole from which they never recovered.

Even so, the defense bounced back and made some plays. Frank Clark forced a safety, K.J. Wright’s stunning hit ended the half, they forced two turnovers and the Buccs ended the game without adding another point.

They gave the Seahawks a chance to claw their way back into it. They failed because the offense had arguably it’s roughest day in the Russell Wilson era.

The two competing games in terms of ineptitude are probably the 2013 Rams road game and the draw in Arizona this year. Against St. Louis, Wilson also had no time to do anything but still managed a couple of big plays (and two touchdowns) to secure a close win. Against the Cardinals, Wilson found some rhythm in overtime and moved the ball with relative ease.

Here — there was nothing. George Fant looked more like George Costanza trying to block Noah Spence. Bradley Sowell replaced Garry Gilliam almost immediately (why not just start Sowell?) and Joey Hunt matched up against Gerald McCoy for his NFL debut.

The results were not pretty.

— 1/11 on third downs
— 118 net passing yards
— Six sacks conceded

Wilson knew this line couldn’t block and it appeared to engulf him. He was antsy in a way we haven’t seen in a while. On a third down throw needing five yards he fired way above Tyler Lockett’s head and was nearly picked. He forced a throw to Paul Richardson and was intercepted. He doubled clutched several times and held onto the ball almost in vain hope that he’d get longer than a couple of seconds to find an open man.

His yardage at half time was a career low 20 yards — beating the 28 he had last time these two teams met.

Wilson didn’t play well — but an O-line featuring three rookies played just as poorly if not worse.

The offense consistently floundered. Even when they were given the opportunity to put points on the board — they turned it over. Wilson’s pick potentially took three points off the board before half time. Jimmy Graham’s fourth quarter fumble prevented them making it a one-score game. Wilson’s second interception ended it with a minute to go.

In a sloppy game they were in range to kick the nine points they required and turned it over on each occasion. They lost 14-5 with the offense scoring three points — just as they did in Los Angeles in week two.

Could they have done anything differently? Maybe some deeper drops from play action — but with no running game it’s not like the Buccs were going to bite on that. RB Screens? That’s often the go-to complaint from fans. The thing is, a good screen relies on the blockers not being tied up with a defender or on their backside. A badly performing O-line can actually be a major issue on screens because you’re dumping the ball off, hoping for YAC and downfield blocking.

Simply put — they had to find a way to block better and never achieved it.

Any hopes of a half-time adjustment were blown away with an immediate chop-block penalty on Hunt. 1st and 22. Three-and-out. Punt. Rinse and repeat.

They tried some WR screens and extended hand-off’s. It just didn’t feel like Seattle’s day. They didn’t deserve the win — and this time couldn’t find a way to get it done.

It ends more than just a three-game winning streak. Momentum was building. The talk of another fearsome late run was growing. This was a bit of a reality check in the sense that while key players will return soon — this team still has some flaws.

The loss almost certainly leaves the Cowboys with a free run to the #1 seed. With Arizona and Los Angeles both losing there was no damage suffered in the NFC West race. The key now is whether they can regroup, get healthy and get back on form against Carolina next week.

Is it a bad time to mention how resurgent the Panthers suddenly look?

On the plus side, K.J. Wright was sensational. His big hit to end the first half, his blowing up of an early screen pass and his TFL on Doug Martin at the start of the second offered hope. One of the more underrated players in the league was a rare positive today.

Frank Clark also had a handful of nice pressures on top of the safety.

It’s worth celebrating the defense in general. They battled and scrapped after the two early drives and at least kept Seattle in the game. If only the offense could’ve managed even an average day instead of an abominable one.

 

Apple Cup & college football open thread

November 25th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

For any thoughts or notes on the Apple Cup, head into the comments section. I haven’t got access to the game but will be watching Arkansas @ Missouri, Baylor @ Texas Tech and they’re replaying NC State @ North Carolina later tonight.

 

Thanksgiving podcast: Apple Cup, college football & more

November 24th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. In this latest podcast Kenny and I discuss our recent trips to Denver and Seattle, the Apple Cup, Russell Wilson and many other topics.

Check it out:

 

UConn’s Obi Melifonwu is a name to monitor

November 23rd, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Obi Melifonwu — great tackling form, fantastic range, big frame

First of all, thanks to contributor ‘McGruff’ for the heads up on this guy. He was recently name-checked in one of Daniel Jeremiah’s ‘Ask 5’ articles on NFL.com. In this particular piece, Jeremiah asked five different executives to name the college prospect they believed had the most upside. He was looking for a lesser known player.

One executive suggested Obi Melifonwu, a safety from Connecticut:

“The UConn safety is really intriguing. He’s freaky athletic and he’s going to put up big-time testing numbers. He’ll run low 4.4s (in the 40-yard dash) and jump over 40 inches. He can play in the slot as well. Huge upside.”

I hadn’t come across Melifonwu unlike the other names mentioned (Bucky Hodges, Seth Russell, Daeshon Hall, Travis Dural). Having seen the other four — none really jump off the screen. There’s certainly some potential with Hall’s frame and pass-rushing ability and Hodges is another big-bodied TE (a jump-ball 1v1 specialist rather than a separation guy).

Melifonwu was intriguing though. A 6-3, 220lbs safety that runs a 4.4 and jumps 40 inches?

At the 2015 combine, UConn safety Byron Jones broke a 46-year-old broad jump world record (12-3). He also had a 44.5 inch vertical and at his pro-day, reportedly ran in the 4.36-4.39 range.

Jones was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys with the #27 overall pick.

So how do the two players compare? Here’s the UConn Head Coach Bob Diaco:

“Obi’s the best safety in America”

That’s possibly hyperbolic considering Jabrill Peppers is going to be on the final list of Heisman candidates and the depth at safety across the board has arguably never been stronger. We could see five or six safety’s drafted in the first round in 2017 — and that’s no exaggeration.

That said, none of the group look anything like Melifonwu. There aren’t many humans in the world capable of running a 4.40 forty and jumping +40 inches at 6-3 and 220lbs. If his work out is even remotely close to Jones (listed at 6-1 and 199lbs at his combine) — then there’s a chance he could be one of the big risers over the coming months.

Diaco is clearly very positive about Melifonwu. Only last week he offered another gushing assessment — stopping himself at one point from comparing him to a big name currently in the NFL:

As we’re all aware, there’s only one really fantastic safety in the league listed at around 6-3 and 220lbs.

If Diaco was referring to Kam Chancellor in the video above — it’s important to add one disclaimer. Chancellor’s success isn’t just down to his combination of size and athleticism. It’s a mental thing too. His attitude, his ability to lead, his personality. He’s a person people naturally gravitate towards. That’s not something you can teach. It’s either in you or it isn’t. It’s a stretch to think Melifonwu can provide those same benefits because in all honesty, Kam’s probably one of a very small group capable of achieving it.

Volume 12 mentioned in the comments section recently that Kam is Seattle’s Ray Lewis. He’s right. It’s that level of intensity, personality and leadership. Those types of players are extremely rare. They’re generational.

Not only that, Kam has also mastered Seattle’s defense and seems to be the one orchestrating the checks, lining everyone up and taking control of the situation. Again, that’s not always a role left to the strong safety. There’s a reason why the Seahawks turn to Kam. He’s a student of the game at the next level — and while many college players reference a similar work ethic, it’s easier said than done when you start facing the complexities of a pro-offense.

So let’s just accept from the top — Melifonwu is unlikely to be the second coming of Kam. Who is ever going to achieve that? What he can offer a team — including the Seahawks — is still extremely useful.

I watched the 2016 Virginia vs UConn game (see below) to see what he offers. Usually I wouldn’t pass judgement until after watching three games — but I’m not anticipating a ton of UConn tape hitting the internet any time soon.

Melifonwu lines up in several very intriguing looks. He’s the deep safety on some snaps, he lines up in the slot covering wide receivers, he’ll blitz off the edge on occasions and he’ll sit at the second level in a ‘deathbacker’ style position.

The thing that leaps off the tape is his range, closing speed and wrap-up tackling ability. On one play (5:40) he is the single high safety and breaks up a deep ball to the right sideline with a jarring hit. His ability to read the play, make up ground and force an incompletion (with a bit of physicality thrown in) is Earl Thomas-esque.

He did a great job in coverage on one throw over the middle (1:49). The play was flagged but it looked like a textbook piece of coverage. He was working against the slot option (looked like a big WR but could’ve been a TE) and was flagged for PI — but it looked like a bad call.

As noted his tackling form was solid throughout — he generally wrapped up and completed every tackle he was required to make. One of his assets is the ability to sift through traffic and deliver a big hit. Look at the way he moves through a crowd to hammer the running back at 4:19. He’s lined up at safety and sprints 15-yards to hit the ball carrier for no gain. This is a fantastic play — thoroughly showing off his read/react qualities, his range and speed plus his ability to form-tackle.

On this evidence he has the versatility to play free or strong safety, line up vs TE’s in the slot, possibly play some outside corner and provide an option at deathbacker or SAM.

He has four interceptions this season, 94 tackles and two TFL’s.

This is a really impressive safety class overall — but Melifonwu is without doubt a name to monitor. Byron Jones’ workout for the ages only helped him become the #27 overall pick — so even if Melifonwu has a similar combine performance, he won’t necessarily leap into the top-20.

The 2017 draft class is really starting to look very interesting. Players like Takk McKinley, Garett Bolles and Obi Melifonwu are providing genuine freaky athleticism to a big-name group of prospects. Exciting times.

 

Not so instant reaction: Seahawks beat Eagles

November 20th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

This one was a 2016 collectors item — a routine win.

Philadelphia’s late rally masks the comfortable nature of this victory. At one point it looked like the Seahawks might’ve won by a 34-7 type scoreline. 26-15 looks closer than it actually was.

Yet it was still a game decided ultimately by two major swings:

1. Russell Wilson’s ability to improvise, keep a broken play alive and find Jimmy Graham — a miraculous play by both quarterback and tight end leading to an unlikely touchdown.

2. An avoidable illegal formation penalty on Nelson Agholor — nullifying a long touchdown for Zach Ertz. The Eagles bench were screaming at Agholor pre-snap. Instead of an immediate reaction to Seattle’s score through Graham — the Eagles were forced to punt and never really recovered.

In terms of big plays this was basically a checklist, ideal performance for the Seahawks. Cliff Avril got his 10th sack of the season, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor both had interceptions, C.J. Prosise had a big touchdown run, there was the Wilson-to-Graham score, a trick-play TD and explosive plays in the passing game.

The only big negative is all the injuries. Prosise could be out for the rest of the regular season at least with a big shoulder injury. Earl Thomas picked up a hamstring problem (so did Deshawn Shead). George Fant battled a shoulder issue. These are just the highlights.

The Seahawks can ill-afford to lose Thomas for obvious reasons. Losing Prosise is more disappointing than back-breaking — especially after his 72-yard score today. He’s clearly a dynamic weapon — but worryingly he’s been totally injury prone as a rookie.

At least Wilson is starting to look back to his normal self (evident on his touchdown catch) while Rawls ran hard and Michael Bennett is expected back in a fortnight. The Seahawks have battled adversity on the injury-front from week one and they’re still 7-2-1.

On a personal note it was good to end my two-game losing streak watching the Seahawks live. I’m writing this having just shared a bar with Phil Simms (he’s staying in the same hotel tonight). Century Link is a special, unique venue and it was a pleasure to enjoy being there once again this weekend. I look forward to my next trip.

Seattle’s sitting pretty in the playoff race with Arizona and Los Angeles both losing again today. The Seahawks hold a three-game lead in the NFC West and play both the Cardinals and Rams at home in December. The quest now is at the very least to secure the #2 seed and possibly find a way to overtake Dallas at #1.

 

Thoughts on Washington vs Arizona State

November 20th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

— Budda Baker is tougher than I thought. His range is superb and it was great to see it live here. Safety’s aren’t always easy to judge on TV tape so this was a rare treat. His ability to go from 0-60 and close on the ball-carrier is special. He had a couple of delayed blitz’s early in the game where he had to take on a blocker in the backfield and finish. He had 1.5 sacks in the game. Baker isn’t the biggest at 5-10 and 195lbs but he’s not just a coverage guy. You’re not going to use him stacking the box at his size — but those delayed blitz’s were really well executed.

— The Husky D-line is missing a key pass rusher but they’re really tough up front. I was interested to see Kallen Ballage run the ball and he got nine yards on six career. As a team, ASU managed just 33 yards. Aside from Alabama, there might not be a better trio vs the run than Qualls, Vea and Gaines. Of the three, Vea stood out the most here. He shared a sack and showed well as a pass rusher. Gaines definitely has that side to his game but he was quieter in this one. Both guys are +320lbs and could easily land in round two whenever they turn pro.

— ASU avoided Sidney Jones all day apart from one late shot down the middle of the field. Jones broke it up easily. In terms of technique and athleticism, Jones is so smooth. There might be some concern about his size/length but in terms of talent he looks like a nailed on top-40 pick. Kevin King meanwhile had a sensational one-handed interception.

— I had the chance to meet up with Mike Bar from Field Gulls at half time and he made an interesting point about Jake Browning. Is he hurt? Despite another major stat line his accuracy was off most of the night even on the routine throws. His deep ball didn’t look as good as it did earlier in the season. The Huskies will need more from Browning against Wazzu next week — and especially so if they face USC again in the PAC-12 Championship game.

— This wasn’t an insane day for John Ross and he didn’t have a big explosive play — but he did the little things right here. Good routes, nice snap out of his breaks, keeping hold of the football on one tough grab in traffic (and taking a big hit). He could easily surprise a few people and go in the top-25. Dante Pettis won’t be a high pick but he could provide a team with a Jermaine Kearse-type contributor.

 

College football Saturday open thread

November 19th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

I’m heading to Husky Stadium shortly for the Washington vs Arizona State game. I’ll post some thoughts when I get back to the hotel. In the meantime if you’re watching a game today tell us about it in the comments section.

 

Meet up and quick thoughts on Chris Wormley

November 17th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Flight done and I’m here in Seattle to attend the Washington vs Arizona State game on Saturday and the Seahawks/Eagles game on Sunday.

A few people have talked about meeting up.There are a few things we can do. On Friday I might have some time in the afternoon or possibly the evening. If people wanted to go grab a coffee/beer or something and talk some football I’ll see if we can get something sorted. Alternatively a meet-up before the Huskies game could also be possible — however I’m planning to get to the stadium relatively early so it might have to be around midday.

I’m open to suggestions. I’m based at the Fairmont hotel in downtown. If we can get something arranged I’ll leave final details on here later today or early on Friday.

Secondly, I spent a bit of time watching Michigan defensive lineman Chris Wormley. He’s a player I’ve only previously had half an eye on. Today I watched three sets of Draft Breakdown tape. I’m keen to see more.

I suspect the Seahawks would ideally like to add another inside/out rusher. It was interesting that after signing John Jenkins, Pete Carroll made reference to improving the interior pass rush. They’ve seen Jordan Hill get injured and then released, Quinton Jefferson is on I.R. And with Michael Bennett currently out — there isn’t really a pass-rush threat working the inside.

They have some bulk — Athyba Rubin is under contract, Jarran Reed should only get better with time and Tony McDaniel has slotted back into a productive role. What they really need is a change-up.

I’ve seen Wormley listed at 6-4 and 295lbs and 6-6 and 302lbs. ESPN’s Scouts Inc. projects a forty time of 4.85. If those numbers are accurate, Wormley is worth considering as a possible option.

For starters his gap discipline is excellent and that’s pretty much one of the most important things if you’re going to play D-line for the Seahawks. They put a high priority on players who can execute their jobs, control the situation and work against the run. Wormley is very good here with plus strength and the ability to handle 1v1 blocks consistently well if he lines up inside or out. He plays with heavy hands in the run-game.

He’s nearly always on the field for Michigan (doesn’t get subbed very often) but he’s still willing to string plays out and work in pursuit. He plays with an edge and he’s tough.

As a pass rusher nobody would say he’s twitchy but he does have a decent get-off. He had 6.5 sacks last season and 14.5 TFL’s. This year he already has 7.5 sacks and 7.5 TFL’s. You can’t argue with his production. He’s savvy with the push-pull move and he has enough power to drive blockers into the backfield to impact snaps even when he doesn’t get on the stat sheet.

We’ll need to see how he performs at the combine to determine whether he’s a realistic option for the Seahawks. If they want to keep adding big, tough, bullying defenders with versatility, Wormley could be someone they’re looking at. It’s a nice deep class for defensive linemen though so there will be plenty of alternatives.

 

New podcast: Pats game, Michael release & more

November 16th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

I’m flying to Seattle in the next few hours so I’m not sure how active I’ll be on here over the next couple of days. In the meantime here’s a podcast where Kenny and I get stuck into the New England game, Christine Michael’s release, a crazy weekend of college football and a handful of quick-fire NFL topics. It’s a good one so check it out.

 

Kam Chancellor is still the man in Seattle

November 15th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas combine to deliver a big hit on Rob Gronkowski

“They (Patriots) think Michael Bennett is their best defensive player. I tend to think Kam Chancellor is the difference maker on that defense.”

Matt Hasselbeck on ESPN 710 this morning (listen here)

After a great win in New England, I didn’t really expect to be discussing Kam Chancellor’s future in the comments section. That’s what happened though — and it’s a topic that comes up an awful lot.

I’m not here to tell people they’re wrong or shouldn’t be discussing certain subjects — this is a free blog and a place to talk about anything.

I’m also not calling the person out for having the opinion. I respect their views and don’t want to deter them from contributing in the future.

Yet it does feel like we spend an awful lot of time discussing who ‘needs to go’ in Seattle. One week it’ll be Darrell Bevell, then it’s Tom Cable. Jimmy Graham will have a quiet game so he needs to be cut or traded. And the other name that frequently comes up is Kam Chancellor.

Really there’s no need for any of this. Seattle’s offense has ranked in the top ten in DVOA for the last four years — so the offense must be doing something right. Jimmy Graham is on pace for a 1000-yard season and ranks among the top three TE’s in the league statistically despite missing most of the first two games.

And then there’s Chancellor — rapidly becoming so terribly under-appreciated by certain elements of Seattle’s fan base.

There’s a reason why people like Matt Hasselbeck view him as the defensive MVP on the team. His ability to organise, be a tone-setter, be an intimidating force over the middle and contribute vs the run is unmatched in the NFL. There is only one player like Kam Chancellor. There’s unlikely to be another any time soon — he is a thoroughly unique individual.

He’s also a highly underrated playmaker. Just think of the many vital, critical plays he’s made in the last two years alone:

— Punching the ball out at the one-yard line vs Detroit in 2015, turning a probable loss into a win in a split second

— Forcing Adrian Peterson to fumble in the 2015 playoff game vs Minnesota — the subsequent drive led to a touchdown and a lead Seattle never surrendered

— Defending Rob Gronkowski on the final play on Sunday night, matching up 1v1 in coverage against one of the best in the league and defending the pass

— Forcing Julian Edelman to fumble the ball at midfield and giving Seattle’s offense a chance to claim a winning seven point advantage on the next possession

— The pick-six against Carolina in the 2014 playoffs, sealing a vital victory in a game also known for Chancellor leaping over the LOS to try and block a field goal

This doesn’t account for all the other plays he made earlier in his career, such as the unforgettable hits of Vernon Davis or his inspired Super Bowl performance against Denver.

It has been suggested by some that Chancellor isn’t the same player any more — and yet he continues to make such vital plays for the Seahawks in their most recent game.

Mike Bar broke down his performance vs New England for Field Gulls today. He notes:

“Kam was unbelievable on Sunday night. It was reminiscent of 2014, when he missed several games with an injury and then returned in peak form, wrecking offenses all throughout the trek to the Super Bowl.”

He concludes his piece with the following assertion:

“Plays are to be had on Chancellor. Brady completed a few balls on him, although nothing was seriously damaging. Like I said, he’s not the best safety in the league.

“He is, though, hands down the most dominant player at his position in the league and every facet of his game wrecked the Patriots’ chances of victory throughout the 60 minutes of play on Sunday. He came through time and time again, taking points off of the board for New England and preserving Seattle’s chances at victory. Nobody in the league at the safety position can have as obvious or pronounced an impact as Chancellor.

“We are watching peak Kamtrak right now and Bam Bam’s boom train doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.”

Elliot Harrison also summed it up in his power rankings piece for NFL.com this week:

“While many were breathlessly marveling over the improved play of a healthier Russell Wilson in Sunday’s win at New England, I couldn’t help but think about what an elite player Kam Chancellor is. During a time where we debate whether this quarterback or that quarterback is “elite,” a guy like Chancellor deserves way more attention. Forget the non-call (the right call) on the fourth-and-goal throw to Gronk — the hustle play Chancellor made down the line to grab LeGarrette Blount’s feet as the Pats RB tried to dive over the pile won the game. Seriously: It won the damn game. It reminded me of the effort play Chancellor made against the Lions last year on “Monday Night Football,” peeling off his man to belt Calvin Johnson at the goal line, force a fumble and essentially win that game. Chancellor is talented, football smart and, most emphatically, all heart.”

It’s that heart which is also so important to the Seahawks. I posted this video on Sunday night after the game — but it’s worth another look:

Every player on this team gravitates to Kam. The Seahawks had other players like that — Red Bryant for example or Michael Robinson — but Kam is on a different level. When he’s speaking, people listen. When he tells you to do something, you do it. Offense, defense. He’s the man people turn to.

Yes — he’s had injuries. Some perspective is required though. Chancellor missed two games last season due to the holdout and three due to injury. Between 2010 and 2014 he missed three games in total.

Michael Bennett missed three games due to injury in that same timeframe. Bobby Wagner missed eight games between 2013 and 2015. K.J. Wright missed four games in 2012 and 2013 combined and Cliff Avril began his NFL career in Detroit playing 15, 13 and 13 games in his first three years.

Chancellor isn’t the only player to miss time and his injuries are not chronic knee or back problems. You get banged up in this league, especially when you play an overly physical brand of football. C’est la vie.

If he only plays 12 games a year for the rest of his career, that’ll still be better than the 16 you’ll play without him if you move him on.

Finally onto the finances. What incentive is there to make a move there either?

According to Spotrac, the Seahawks are set for $24m in free cap space in 2017. They have no core free agents unless you want to include Steven Hauschka, Kelcie McCray or Luke Willson.

If they cut J’Marcus Webb they’ll gain a further $2.5m in cap space — pushing the overall number to around $26.5m.

They legitimately have enough money to give Chancellor, Bennett and Avril a pay rise and still make one or two moves in the market if they wish to.

Chancellor’s 2017 cap hit of $8.125m isn’t small — but he’ll be the seventh highest paid player on the roster next year as things stand. That’s not unreasonable given his overall importance to the team — even if he misses games.

Perhaps there is some lingering ill-feeling after the poorly advised holdout a year ago? I can understand that. Yet the Seahawks appear to have moved on and there’s no sign in that video above that Chancellor is mailing anything in.

Maybe this is a minority view among fans? Possibly. I could be overstating the clamour to move on from Kam. He is as vital as anyone else on the defense though — and if this piece is nothing more than an opportunity to reinforce that, I think it’s worth putting out there.

EDIT — Regular contributor Volume 12 just noted in the comments section that Chancellor is, in many ways, Seattle’s answer to Ray Lewis. I think that is the ideal comparison.

As for this…

The Seahawks have gone above and beyond to give Christine Michael an opportunity to deliver on his massive potential. He’s not taken those opportunities — and he might not get another one.

It’s sad to think Michael will look back in 10 years at this major missed opportunity in the NFL. He’s had a fair crack though, he can have no complaints there.