Reflecting on the Denver game, CFB week four thoughts

September 24th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Are the Seahawks weaker than last year?

That was the question debated on ‘First Take’ this week. The answer, resoundingly, is ‘no’.

Pete Carroll made quite a bold statement on the Brock & Salk show on Monday. He claimed the Seahawks had done a better job against Denver’s offense compared to the Super Bowl rout back in February. The 43-8 and 26-20 scorelines suggest otherwise.

Having watched Sunday’s game for a second time today, the score doesn’t matter.

He’s right.

The Super Bowl was an avalanche. Seattle got momentum early with the safety, forced a couple of big turnovers (including a pick six) and scored on a kick return to start the second half. It was a very opportunistic performance. They took their chances.

Denver still put up stats — Demaryius Thomas had a Super Bowl record for receptions. Peyton Manning threatened a couple of times before Seattle took the ball away. On the night everything that could go wrong for Denver did go wrong. They were helpless.

On Sunday, Seattle completely shut down the Broncos. They didn’t rely on huge momentum-changing turnovers. They didn’t need a kick return for a touchdown. They simply did to Manning and his record-breaking offense what they’ve done to so many lesser teams in the last couple of seasons.

They made them look bad.

The run game was totally ineffective. Denver tried desperately to establish it early and were forced to become one-dimensional. The screen game — so integral to their system — was never allowed to prosper. They didn’t attempt any downfield throws and kept everything short. Emmanuel Sanders had some success because hey — you can’t cover everyone brilliantly and he’s the only one on that offense with the speed to compete with Seattle’s defense. He played well. Nobody else did. Not Demaryius Thomas. Not Julius Thomas. Not Wes Welker. Not Montee Ball.

As the game headed to the fourth quarter, this was a beat-down. Another one. A more comprehensive destruction of Denver’s much vaunted offense. They had no answer. Manning sat sweating on the sideline with a look on his face that screamed, “this team has our number”. On another day Seattle would’ve added a couple more scores and romped to the kind of home win they had in week one.

They were totally responsible for what happened in the fourth quarter — turning a coast into a near crumble. The missed a field goal, conceded an avoidable safety and gave up a careless interception. Then to cap things off — an 80-yard, 40-odd second, eight-point drive where the Broncos used the same concept multiple times.

Kudos to Denver — this time they were the opportunistic team. Manning still had to make those throws. The two-point conversion was a brilliant piece of scheming and execution. The shovel pass for the first touchdown was equally good. Aqib Talib breaking off his route to deflect Russell Wilson’s pass was another excellent play.

All of this was avoidable though. Seattle almost gave the game away — before finally snatching it back.

None of this should diminish the performance of Seattle’s defense for three quarters of smothering, dominant football. This was possibly their most accomplished performance in the Carroll-era.

A 2-1 record might look only ‘Okay-ish’ for a team carrying so many expectations. In reality they played incredibly well against Manning and the Broncos, handled Aaron Rodgers and the Packers and were beaten, just, in 120-degree heat in San Diego at the hands of Philip Rivers at his very best.

Seattle lost three games last year. In none of those defeats did they face an opponent like Rivers playing at such a high level. They almost lost other games too — including against a Kellen Clemens led St. Louis and against hopeless Tampa Bay fielding a rookie QB.

In the video above it’s pointed out that Seattle has conceded a lot more points in their first three games this year compared to 2013. This year they’ve faced Rodgers, Rivers and Manning in weeks 1-3. Last year they faced Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick and Chad Henne.

That information wasn’t disclosed in the take-making process.

Week four college football notes

— I posted the video earlier in the week, but I was very impressed with Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson) against Florida State and left tackle Cameron Erving. Seattle has the smallest roster in the NFL but they’ve got a ton of speed. Beasley plays in the 235lbs range but he has fantastic get off, terrific balance to lean round the edge and explode to the quarterback. He’s prepared to use his hands (vital) and will mix it up. Yes — he will get blocked out of plays. Yes — he will struggle in run defense. As a pure pass rusher though he is exceptional. He’s a fighter. He plays with the required attitude. In his last 23 games he has 25 sacks. I’m convinced he’ll go a lot earlier than people think next year, especially if he tests well at the combine.

— Markus Golden didn’t feature in Missouri’s costly defeat to Indiana. He reportedly has a hamstring issue — but it’s not clear how long he’ll be absent. The Tigers clearly need him alongside prolific team-mate Shane Ray.

— We highlighted Kevin White (WR, West Virginia) in week one after he put up gaudy numbers against Alabama. This guy is legit and worth monitoring. He’s tall (6-2/6-3) with deep speed and excellent control. He high points the football well and he’s competitive. In the past he suffered with confidence issues but there’s no sign of that in 2014. Against Oklahoma he posted a 10-catch stat-line for 173 yards and a touchdown. He looks a bit like Bruce Irvin with the WVU jersey, dreads and #11. Only Amari Cooper has more yards in the NCAA after week four.

— Landon Collins (S, Alabama) had his best game in college against Florida on Saturday. At times he’s looked a bit pedestrian — perhaps more suited as an undersized linebacker without the range at safety. Yet against the Gators he was all over the field — breaking up plays, making tackles at the LOS and grabbing a nice interception. On this performance he has the skills to be effective at the next level. He’s got to keep it up though. It looks like another weak group of safety’s this year.

— Amari Cooper (WR, Alabama) already has more touchdowns than last season and it won’t be long before he has more yards too. Cooper was sensational as a true freshman — flashing natural catching ability, route running skills and the ability to get open. Arguably he was the best receiver in the SEC in 2012. Last year was a step back. I’ve seen arguments to suggest he wasn’t 100% — but he still made to many mental errors. Alabama are throwing a ton right now and Cooper is putting in a Biletnikoff winning year. He had ten catches against Florida for 201 yards and three touchdowns — you can see the tape below. He’ll need stats and technical quality to make up for a lack of elite size/speed.

— Austin Hill (WR, Arizona) has injury issues but is incredibly talented. On Saturday he had his first big performance in a while — helping the Wildcats beat California with 127 yards and two scores, including the game-winner. A serious injury history will hold him back, but he can make it in the NFL.

 

Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson ) vs Cameron Erving (LT, FSU)

September 22nd, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Here’s Tony Pauline’s take:

A year ago when Florida State annihilated Clemson, Beasley’s performance ran parallel to the beating his team received as he tallied one solo tackle and was handled all game by Seminoles left tackle Cameron Erving. And while Clemson lost a close game in overtime this weekend, Beasley’s performance was brilliant compared to a year ago. The senior terrorized Florida State all night posting 2 sacks and 2 tackles for loss. It was obvious Florida State focused on Beasley as two blockers were assigned to him most of the night. The end result was Beasley breaking through blocks to make plays or the creation of opportunities for teammates. Most impressive was his ability rushing the passer out of a three point stance as well as standing up over tackle. This time around Erving looked intimidated and confused through much of the game.

 

Instant reaction: Seahawks beat Broncos (just), move to 2-1

September 21st, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Marshawn Lynch won the game for Seattle in overtime

The Seahawks had two opportunities to finish this game. They wasted the first, but grabbed the second to defeat the Broncos 26-20 in overtime.

A missed Steven Hauschka field goal, an avoidable safety and unnecessary Russell Wilson interception gave the Broncos a chance to steal a game they appeared destined to lose at 17-3. Russell Wilson’s brilliant overtime drive made sure Seattle kept the victory — just.

It’s not often you play as badly as Seattle did in the fourth quarter and still beat Peyton Manning. The Seahawks got away with an uncharacteristically sloppy final quarter to escape with the win.

At one point the game threatened to turn into another one-sided Super Bowl-esque beat-down. The Broncos were struggling to sustain drives and suffered with a conservative approach in the first half (two draw plays on 3rd and long proving fruitless). Seattle established a big lead thanks to touchdown passes from Wilson to Ricardo Lockette and Marshawn Lynch. Even without scoring, they remained in control in the third quarter.

Then they threw it away.

The game-tying 80-yard drive with a minute to go was inexplicable. The Seahawks rushed three and played prevent defense — no shocks there. Manning hit Emmanuel Sanders on a blown coverage by Byron Maxwell for 42-yards just moments after surviving a big scare on the exact same play call. Moments later he found Jacob Tamme on another poor coverage and a similar wheel route exploiting K.J. Wright. 80-yards in just over 40-seconds with no time-outs. In Seattle.

Give credit to the Broncos for finding the hole in the defense — give them more credit for a brilliantly executed two-point conversion. Yet for such a good defense to get beat like it did — this was a shocker.

Until that point Seattle’s unit had appeared every bit as dominant as in the Super Bowl.

Having coughed up one chance to finish the game it was left to Wilson to get the job done — and he did so with a brilliant game-winning drive of identical length to Manning’s surge. 80-yards of hurry up, keeper’s, nicely designed plays to the perimeter and eventually a strong run up the middle ended an entertaining contest. The type Super Bowl Champions are supposed to win at home.

Other notes:

— Seeing Walters, Lockette and Richardson line up on 3rd and 9 at 17-12 was, well, strange. Seattle failed to convert on a throw aimed at Walters. That’s no disrespect to the three receivers on the field, but surely you’d expect to see Harvin, Kearse and Baldwin in that situation — at a critical point in the game?

— Ricardo Lockette had a big day — catching a nice deep ball on Aqib Talib for a score (high pointed the football too), excelling as a gunner (again) and even breaking up a sure-fire pick-six with a tactical offensive P.I.

— Justin Britt might not face a tougher non-NFC West opponent this year. DeMarcus Ware gave him fits at times. Ware and Von Miller did a great job containing Wilson in regulation. Denver also had Seattle’s number defending the run — the Seahawks appeared to have most success when using Harvin as a decoy, before handing off to Lynch. It’s a nice wrinkle to have, especially if standard formations are struggling to penetrate.

— Prior to Kam Chancellor’s late pick, Peyton Manning hadn’t thrown an interception in the month of September in any of his previous 380 snaps.

— Russell Okung couldn’t afford another serious injury. He looked in serious pain at the end of the first half due to a shoulder problem. To his credit he returned after half time — and he needed to.

— Marshawn Lynch is so vital to this team, it’s going to be virtually impossible to replace him whenever that day comes.

— San Francisco lost to Drew Stanton’s Arizona to drop to 1-2. I dipped in and out of the game and from what I saw they appeared ill-disciplined, rattled and nothing like the 49ers of recent memory. They face 3-0 Philadelphia next week. Meanwhile Arizona leads the NFC West at 3-0. Bruce Arians is a fantastic coach — they haven’t missed a beat despite a series of key injuries. After the bye the face Denver (A), Washington (H), Oakland (A) and Philadelphia (H). They face Seattle for the first time on November 23rd. The 10-6 record last year was no fluke.

 

College football week four open thread

September 20th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Thoughts to come after the weekend, in the meantime feel free to use this thread to debate today’s games.

Comedy moment of the weekend goes to Florida State, who suspended quarterback Jameis Winston for the whole of today’s game against Clemson. Winston still dressed in full pads, but was sent back to the locker room by Jimbo Fisher to change. The look on his face is priceless…

As PFT’s Michael David Smith writes, I’m not sure Winston “gets it”:

Florida State announced late last night that Winston will not play at all in today’s game against Clemson. He had initially been suspended for the first half of the game for screaming an obscene phrase in the student union; the suspension for the second half reportedly comes because Florida State discovered that Winston lied to school authorities about some of the circumstances surrounding that incident.

Winston, of course, has had many prior off-field incidents that will make NFL teams question whether his immense talent is worth the headaches. By far the most serious is the accusation from a female Florida State student that he raped her. Winston was not charged, and the Tallahassee Police Department botched that investigation so thoroughly that we’ll never know what really happened.

Winston’s other incidents were far less serious than a sexual assault, but the sum total of them is to question whether he cares at all about the potential consequences of his actions: He was arrested for shoplifting crab legs. He was involved in a BB gun battle that damaged his apartment complex, and hours later Florida State police stopped him and handcuffed him for carrying a pellet gun near campus (he said he was using it to shoot at squirrels). Before last season’s national championship game, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher kicked Winston out of practice and explained later that he wanted Winston to understand that “it’s not about you.”

For me it’s quite clear, Jameis Winston isn’t ready to be a professional football player and has no place declaring for the 2015 draft. Whether he does or not remains to be seen. But he isn’t ready.

 

Thoughts on Shaq Thompson & tape vs Illinois

September 18th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

The Huskies have several prospective NFL players. Only one, in my opinion, is likely to go in the first round next year. It’s too early to say that with any certainty, but Thompson is the one who ticks pretty much every box as a likely high pick.

He’s athletic, having moved from the defensive backfield to linebacker. He has ideal size to act as a roaming linebacker — not too heavy, but certainly not as light as Ryan Shazier (who went in the mid-first in 2014). He’s a good tackler, he’s a potential playmaker. He’s a former 5-star recruit. You sense his best football is yet to come.

Speaking of Shazier, personally I don’t think the two are overly similar. While Thompson is an excellent athlete, Shazier is a freak of nature. He was the heart and soul of a competitive Ohio State defense. He was a big time character guy and leader. Without a doubt he was one of the top players in the 2014 draft and one of the best defensive prospects to enter the league over the last few years. Shazier was totally underrated.

Thompson will struggle to live up to that standard. It doesn’t mean he can’t go as early, but there’ll be no shame if he’s not quite as good. He’s perhaps more likely to go in the 20-32 range if he does go in the first frame. That’s still no mean feat.

It’ll be interesting to see if any teams consider moving him back to safety and asking him to drop a few pounds. You can’t rule it out. He could easily revert to strong safety.

He’s a terrific player with a lot of potential. Speed is an increasingly valuable commodity on defense as the Seahawks are showing. Thompson is entering the league at an ideal time to max out his draft potential.

 

Wednesday draft notes — Marcus Mariota & Jameis Winston

September 17th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Marcus Mariota isn’t a big talker. Who cares?

Greg Bedard at MMQB.si.com has written a feature on Marcus Mariota’s pro-prospects. The headline for the piece is ‘Everything’s There But the Fire‘.

Here’s how the story begins…

“He scrambles like Kaepernick, sheds tacklers like Roethlisberger and throws with preternatural precision. It all points to Oregon’s Marcus Mariota as the No. 1 pick next year and sure-fire NFL franchise QB.”

Bedard goes on to further compliment Mariota…

“Mariota looks as if he’s been designed by a franchise-quarterback computer program.”

“He also has a bulletproof work ethic and a desire to be great. Raised in Honolulu, he’s kind and humble and soft-spoken and has never been linked to any sort of off-the-field trouble.”

“Mariota throws the ball with a quick, smooth and quiet over-the-top motion… he doesn’t take a long stride when stepping into his throws, which is the foundation of a quick release.”

“Then there’s Mariota’s speed. Even after Michael Vick, Vince Young, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, Mariota may project as the best dual-threat quarterback ever to come out of college.”

All of these points come with a counter. A negative to temper the extreme positives, albeit only slightly.

“Does he play it too cool?”

Bedard later adds…

“Outwardly, the concern is understandable. Before Michigan State, the biggest nonconference game in Autzen Stadium history, it wasn’t Mariota who stoked the flames by screaming encouragement at the team; it was senior cornerback Dior Mathis. And as the Spartans scored 20 straight points to take a 27–18 lead, Mariota was seen on the sideline only quietly clapping or giving players fist bumps.”

Five NFL execs were asked about this for the piece and one replied he didn’t think it was a fair question. I sort of agree.

Mariota is a fantastic player, as Bedard acknowledges. In the modern NFL he might be pretty much the ideal QB prospect. He has the physical strength to make the downfield throws and the accuracy for any team looking to play with a quicker tempo. He can be a read-option threat, he can run for positive yardage and he’ll extend plays against a productive pass rush. He is Kaepernick-plus and he’s capable of being effective in both conventional and creative schemes.

Who cares if he’s not an alpha male?

Some of Seattle’s success in player recruitment is down to constantly asking what a player can do, while avoiding lingering too much on what he can’t.

Any team doubting Mariota’s skills because of a supposed issue like this deserves to lose games and be in position to draft him with the top pick. Nobody — nobody — comes close to his level of potential heading into next year’s draft. It might be an issue if he was moody, aloof and unresponsive. Every report you read about Mariota suggests he’s the ideal team player with a great work ethic. He just isn’t a big talker.

You could even argue his ability to keep his emotions in check is a major positive trait. So what if he wasn’t shouting at his team mates during a tough stretch in the Michigan State game? His ability to take each play at a time, remain composed and ultimately lead an emphatic comeback is surely only a good thing?

A quarterback doesn’t have to be the most outspoken, vocal leader on the team. Russell Wilson is a very determined, hard working individual. He leads by example. I sense — with some confidence — he’s not a chest beating, emotive speech-maker. Seattle’s players probably turn to Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas or Richard Sherman for that kind of motivation — and previously Red Bryant. In fairness Bedard himself name-checks several Super Bowl winners, including Eli Manning and Joe Flacco, who have similar personalities to Mariota.

We as draft enthusiasts shouldn’t waste any time worrying about this — and more importantly, neither should NFL teams.

Mariota will be a terrific player at the next level, giving a team an instant identity, a playmaker and a cause for optimism.

Jameis Winston to miss one half against Clemson this weekend

A good example of someone who is viewed as a vocal leader in his dressing room — and very much an alpha male — is Florida State’s Jameis Winston…

Winston won the Heisman last year and led Florida State to a national title. However, the character concerns he presents are much more serious. This latest act doesn’t touch the seriousness of some of the previous issues he’s had — it’s just another sign of immaturity.

Nobody expects college players to be saintly in their approach. Who can say they were perfect, upstanding citizens aged 18-21? Yet Winston has a lot to lose and needed to keep his head down this season. He also has a lot to work on technically — especially a long-winding release that must be addressed to avoid growing comparisons to Byron Leftwich. He’s not as accurate as Mariota and he’s not the same kind of runner. It was strange watching him squint at the sideline last season and refuse to wear contact lenses. And now this.

Michael David Smith at PFT sums it up pretty well:

Winston’s latest offense is that he stood up in a crowded area of the Florida State campus and screamed, “F–k her right in the pu–y.” He apparently thought that was funny because that phrase has been spoken on some viral videos, and some pranksters have managed to say it on live television.

If this were Winston’s first offense, it might be written off as a sophomoric joke. But it’s far from the first offense for Winston, who was accused of raping a fellow Florida State student in a case that led to no criminal charges but a subsequent investigation into whether the school and the local police botched their handling of the matter. Winston was also previously suspended from the school’s baseball team for shoplifting. There’s a widespread belief that Winston just doesn’t get how a high-profile athlete is supposed to conduct himself.

For me, he’s not ready to be a NFL pro. Some people need longer to mature. Remember, this is only Winston’s second season as a starting college quarterback. He’s a redshirt sophomore.

By January he could be a double National Champion with nothing else left to prove. For the sake of his NFL career, he might be best served going for the hat-trick. Even then — the FSU staff clearly aren’t getting through to him, which is probably why they’ve taken this latest measure to suspend him for such a key game.

Either way, it’s hard to imagine any franchise spending a first round pick on Winston in 2015 — however successful he is.

 

Monday notes — about PFF, Shawn Oakman, Eric Striker & more

September 15th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Pro Football Focus received a lot of attention this summer when broadcaster Cris Collinsworth bought a stake in it. In many ways it further legitimised the product. We’re going to be hearing even more about PFF’s grades as a consequence. Bob Condotta at the Seattle Times dedicated a lengthy blog post to their breakdown of the defeat in San Diego.

I hope the extra attention and respect doesn’t stop people challenging some of their analysis. PFF’s system isn’t always water-tight, as the following tweet suggests:

Wilson’s two-touchdown, highly productive display against San Diego graded almost identically to Colin Kaepernick’s four-turnover meltdown against Chicago.

Here’s the issue as far as I can see it — PFF’s grades rely on one man’s opinion on a players responsibility during a given play and his ability to execute. As far as I’m aware they don’t use all-22 tape, it’s based on the broadcast output. They’re also judging based on their diagnosis of the scheme and play call. They’re grading a guard, for example, and saying he didn’t do his job because of X, Y or Z.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was criticised by some for the following remarks…

I look at the grades and I can’t tell you what a 0.7 is or anything like that, but I know that the people that are grading our games and our defenses and our offenses, they don’t know if the tackle gets beat inside, if we weren’t sliding out to the nickel or who our guys are supposed to cover. I guarantee they don’t know who is in our blitz package and what they are supposed to do. I would just ask everybody to take that with a grain of salt, including our fans.

… and yet instead of appearing dated or out of touch, Zimmer simply points at the elephant in the room. An analyst sat at home watching the game on his TV or computer is grading every player based on what he interprets his role to be. Sometimes they’ll be right, sometimes they’ll be wrong. To take those grades on face value is to take a leap of faith in the individuals ability to break down every play call and scheme.

I’m not doubting their ability to get it right most of the time. However, it would only take one misjudgement on one scheme to potentially eschew a grade dramatically. If a player isn’t doing what they think he should be repeatedly, he’ll get marked down — possibly unfairly if he’s doing the exact job he’s been set by the coaching staff.

It’s also my understanding they don’t take into account the opponent. So a player competing against J.J. Watt is graded in exactly the same way as a player facing Benson Mayowa. Neither does it take into account supporting cast. J.R. Sweezy was marked down during a stretch where he was the only healthy starter remaining on the offensive line. He was criticised, to some extent, because he played on a hopeless line featuring Paul McQuistan and rookie Michael Bowie at tackle against the likes of Watt, Robert Quinn and Calais Campbell.

In the case of Kaepernick, whoever graded the Bears game clearly decided the quarterback wasn’t responsible for the four turnovers. They decided that his display was on a par with one of the top QB performances over the weekend.

It just doesn’t seem right.

I first became sceptical of the PFF system when I noticed they’d graded Earl Thomas as one of the worst starting safety’s in the league during the 2012 season. Perhaps he wasn’t at his Defensive MVP best like we saw in 2013, but one of the worst?

There is some science involved in the way they grade. It’d be wrong to suggest this is all based on a take. Yet there is a lot of one man’s opinion involved. The Collinsworth-inspired attention has legitimised PFF in a way it never previously experienced. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, because it seems like people are accepting their analysis as gospel. It isn’t. Use it, quote it, debate it. But take it for what it is.

For what it’s worth I’m not one of those anti-analytics types. Football Outsiders is a fantastic website and a weekly must-visit.

Shawn Oakman tape vs Buffalo

He stands out on a handful of plays here — especially the sack. He moves so well despite a reported 6-9, 280lbs frame. For that reason I’m almost certain he’ll be a high pick. There just aren’t many human beings with this level of size and freedom of movement. If Ziggy Ansah can go in the top-five based purely on potential, Oakman could easily be a very high pick next year.

Like Ansah, however, there’s a lot to work on. He has a tendency to get blocked out of plays too easily given his size. He can play with a greater intensity and his technique overall needs some refinement. Yet if he was a really polished, dominating defensive end he’d be a lock to go first overall. Nobody should be surprised he needs a bit of fine tuning.

A coach or GM somewhere will fall in love with the idea of developing this guy. The top-10 doesn’t seem unlikely.

Weekend scouting notes:

I watched the Tennessee-Oklahoma game and focused mainly on nose tackle Jordan Phillips. He’s a talented player who moves well for his size. He had a sack in the first half — stunting around and bursting to the QB. He could develop into a first or second round pick — but he wasn’t the most impressive player on the field in this game.

Eric Striker (6-0, 221lbs) is used mainly as a pass rusher but he’s really an athletic, roaming linebacker who just makes plays. He’s a junior and had three sacks in the Sugar Bowl last season versus Alabama. In this game he was constantly involved and stood out a mile.

With smaller, athletic linebackers getting more attention (see: Ryan Shazier) — Striker could be a coveted prospect. His ability to rush from the outside, cover and fly around will be attractive to many teams. If you get a chance to watch the Sooners this year take a look at #19.

It was also another impressive day for senior Chuka Ndulue. He looks bigger than 6-3 and 289lbs and while he might not end up being a high pick — he’ll add quality depth to a defensive line rotation. He’s a NFL player playing college football right now and it shows — he dominated the true freshmen on Tennessee’s O-line.

If we’re debating athletic linebackers destined to be high draft picks, Washington’s Shaq Thompson deserves a mention. He had two defensive touchdowns against Illinois and will almost certainly be a first round pick. The Huskies are getting a lot of love right now, but I’m not convinced Danny Shelton or Marcus Peters will go anywhere near round one. Thompson is a different case altogether.

Shelton is a big, productive tackle but is he enough of an athlete to warrant a high grade? Is he not the prototypical mid-round DT? As for Peters — his recent team suspension is a concern and while he showed what he’s capable of against Stanford last year, his performances are quite inconsistent. With good coaching he could be special, but it’s probably a risk too high for the first frame.

I mentioned it on Saturday but Markus Golden continues to dominate for Missouri. He and team mate Shane Ray have already notched nine sacks between them. They could both go in the first two rounds next year.

Kevin White’s fast start continues. The West Virginia receiver is a fantastic prospect — he had a big game against Alabama in the season opener and he’s already up to 460 yards (2nd in the nation overall) and two touchdowns. He’s 6-3 and 210lbs, sudden in his movement and he high points the football. He has suffered with a lack of confidence in the past but he’s showing no signs of that as a senior. He’s another player to keep an eye on this season.

Congrats to Austin Davis

Three years ago I had a chance to interview Davis — a highly motivated and talented individual at the time playing quarterback for Southern Miss. He went undrafted in 2012 and landed with the St. Louis Rams — and this week had his first NFL start against Tampa Bay. He completed 22/29 for 235 yards in a 19-17 upset victory on the road.

If the Rams want someone to control their offense and make the most of a difficult situation, I’ve no doubt Davis is up to the task. And while he’s now playing for a NFC West rival — I wanted to take the time to congratulate him on his first victory as a pro.

 

Instant reaction: Seahawks beaten in San Diego, drop to 1-1

September 14th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

That’s one of Pete Carroll’s many motto’s. San Diego proved today that sometimes, a good start is the key.

Give credit to the Chargers. They dictated the game from the get-go. Seattle’s defense had no answer to Philip Rivers and the San Diego offense.

Carroll won’t be incorrect if he points to a poor finish. Seattle’s final drive and chance to win stalled after a failed jet sweep set them back to 2nd and 16 — a position they never recovered from. Bruce Irvin’s bonehead penalty was a back-breaker and they failed to recover several fumbles.

Yet the damage was mostly done in the first two quarters and let’s be honest — only one team deserved to win today as a consequence.

On a roasting afternoon in California touching 120 degrees on the field — ball control was key. Long offensive drives were the order of the day to keep the defense fresh. San Diego destroyed Seattle on time of possession in the first half and delivered the telling blow as a consequence.

Seattle’s defense was gassed. San Diego’s unit sat in the shade.

A half time score of 20-14 looked very Seahawky. Despite the battering on defense this was still a close game. But how was Seattle’s defense going to deal with an in-form Rivers after such an energy sapping first half? You could argue the Chargers only scored seven points after the break. Field position was just as important — and errors crept into the performance (see: Irvin). San Diego’s defense was much less fatigued on the final game-winning stop and it showed.

While the Chargers stuck to their identity, surprisingly Seattle strayed away from theirs. Perhaps encouraged by last weeks display against Green Bay and Percy Harvin’s electrifying score (that should’ve been called back), they tried some trickery and took their shots. These conditions called for the run. Pound it up the middle, wear out the defensive line. Set the tone for quarters three and four where the speedy playmakers can have some fun.

If nothing else — get some long drives going straight off the bat to preserve your own defense. San Diego carried an edge in the second half, facing a clearly fatiguing Seattle.

That’s not to say they didn’t have success. Wilson led three quick-fire scoring drives and had a very productive day. Harvin’s touchdown shouldn’t have stood but given that it did, you have to praise the execution. Had Seattle been a little more conservative no doubt the critics would’ve pointed to last week. Carroll doesn’t seem like the kind of coach to play to the conditions — and yet maybe that’s what it needed?

Earl Thomas, possibly the best athlete on the field not named Percy Harvin, had to leave the game with cramps. Kam Chancellor rushed into the locker room with the same problem. At the end of the third quarter Michael Bennett looked exhausted and Byron Maxwell had to go into the locker room too.

You could see how weary they’d become on Antonio Gates’ third and final score. Goodness knows how they got off the field to give the offense one last shot at the end. But even then — they allowed a couple of third down conversions, conceded field position and the Chargers tee’d off knowing they had 89 yards to play with.

The Seahawks drop to 1-1 and if they’d won today, it would’ve been a steal. San Diego are a very accomplished team with a fantastic quarterback. It was a bad performance, but they played worse last year (Rams on the road). This shouldn’t be seen as the first signs of a fading force.

If there is one concern it’ll be recovery. The game against Denver (2-0) sells itself and the defense will need to be fresh against Manning & Co. Dropping to 1-2 is unthinkable but not totally unrealistic. It’s a tough one to have next. And forget what happened in the Super Bowl, this is a new contest.

Other notes:

— A week after Seattle had a very clean night against the Packers, the sloppy penalties were back today. None were more painful than Bruce Irvin’s ridiculous roughing call as Philip Rivers jogged out of bounds. It turned a fourth down field goal attempt into an extended drive and eventually the deciding touchdown. This is Irvin’s third year in the NFL and he needs to start making an impact for the right reasons.

— Antonio Gates had a terrific game especially when you consider he was part of the injury report during the week. For all the success they had defending Jimmy Graham in two games last season, the Seahawks had no answer for Gates. Kam Chancellor had a really difficult day in coverage, as did Malcolm Smith.

— This was the first time in a long time where the defense appeared humbled. It was a really strange day. They made some good plays. And yet whenever the Chargers put themselves in a hole through avoidable penalties, they simply let Rivers carve them out of trouble. It never really felt like the big defensive play would come — and it didn’t. However, the Chargers put the ball on the turf three (maybe four?) times and on each occasion they recovered. On one fumble they even gained positive yardage on the play. The defense needed a break in these conditions and didn’t get one.

— Russell Wilson looked unstoppable and really he was the only reason this wasn’t a blow out. He moved the ball for two swift scoring drives. If there’s one big positive from this day, it’s Wilson’s continued development.

— Percy Harvin didn’t touch the ball until the final drive after his kick return fumble. He had two carries including a score then disappeared from the gameplan. The jet sweep on the first play of the final drive was predictable and ill-timed. They were already backed up needing a touchdown to score. 2nd and 16 halted the drive before it began. It was an ugly series against a revved up defense. Harvin’s absence was almost as confusing as Marshawn Lynch’s in the first half.

— Seattle lost it’s NFL record for consecutive games without a two-score defeat thanks to San Diego’s late field goal. They’ve also lost 33 straight games when conceding 27 points or more — also the longest run in the league.

 

College Football — week three open thread

September 13th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

I’ll have some thoughts later, I’m watching Oklahoma and will be focusing mostly on nose tackle Jordan Phillips. In the meantime feel free to use this as an open thread.

It’s worth noting that Missouri’s Markus Golden had yet another sack this week in a 38-10 victory over UCF. Team-mate Shane Ray also picked up a deuce. Tigers Coach Gary Pinkel said this about the pair earlier in the week:

“They were dominant players a year ago. I had some NFL scouts come in and say, ‘Those two guys are pretty good, but the two behind them, shoot, they might be better. Don’t tell Kony and Michael I said that… I’ll get a text or two tonight, probably…”

Kony Ealy and Michael Sam were second and seventh round picks respectively. It’s almost certain Golden and Ray will top that. Don’t be surprised if Golden goes in the first round in 2015.

 

Only one team can defeat the Seahawks — themselves

September 12th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Corey Liuget has developed into one of the top defensive linemen in the NFL

Very few teams are capable of limiting Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. Even fewer are capable of outscoring the Broncos, Saints and Packers 102-39.

The Seahawks smothered all three opponents, proving they’re currently the class of the league.

What about the 49ers you say? In the last four meetings Seattle leads the series 3-1. That includes a couple of comprehensive beat-downs, victory in the NFC Championship game and a narrow defeat on the road in a game San Francisco had to have.

It took ‘the tip’ to win the most recent contest — and yet if it wasn’t for some avoidable sloppiness from Seattle, it could’ve been another coast.

In the fourth quarter the Seahawks turned two turnovers (and fantastic field position) into just three points. A Colin Kaepernick fumble and interception should’ve put the game out of sight. Instead the home team kept it close, before prevailing anyway.

Seattle will give teams opportunities like that this season. It’s inevitable.

The Cardinals defeat at Century Link is another great example. Carson Palmer had four interceptions in the game and the Seahawks didn’t capitalise. More often than not if this team emphatically wins the turnover battle, it’ll win handsomely. Not on this day. The receivers didn’t make enough plays, the offensive line struggled and Steven Hauschka missed a chip-shot field goal.

Will anyone beat Seattle by being simply ‘better’?

Unlikely.

Just look at what happened to Brees, Manning and Rodgers. Let’s concede the 49ers are the closest thing this Seahawks team has to an equal — and even they are taking various hits this year, whether it’s Aldon Smith’s suspension, numerous injuries on defense or the drama surrounding Jim Harbaugh’s future.

The Seahawks greatest opponent this year will be themselves. If they can limit the number of opportunities they present to opponents, they’ll have as good a chance as any team in recent memory to become repeat champions.

And while managing their own performance may be the toughest test they face this year — they’ll come up against several opponents more than capable of capitalising on sloppy play. San Diego and Denver being great examples.

Speaking of the Chargers, there are two key factors at play on Sunday — damage limitation in the passing game and keeping a lid on Corey Liuget.

Philip Rivers is a tremendous quarterback and he can prevail where other big name QB’s have struggled against this defense. He gets the ball out quickly, he’s accurate. He’s tough as nails. And he would’ve beaten the Cardinals if his receivers hadn’t dropped so many passes on Monday.

Nobody should expect Keenan Allen and Antonio Gates to play that badly again. In Danny Woodhead they face a tricky little opponent who had some success against Seattle in New England. He was quiet in week one but could have a bigger role here.

The Seahawks need to play classic Carroll defense. Play stout against the run and avoid explosive plays. Rivers will complete 20-30 passes in the game. The key is making sure that includes a lot of short conversions and drives that stall close in. If he records 180-220 yards instead of 350, the Seattle defense has done its job.

It’s not a particularly threatening Chargers defense. They’re weak at corner (Brandon Flowers is an injury doubt) and don’t have a top edge rusher. They have got one of the top interior rushers in the game. Liuget is legit. He too is carrying an injury but you have to expect he’ll feature. The Seahawks interior offensive line had a good outing against Green Bay, but it’ll be a much tougher test here.

He’s always had an explosive first step and ideal size, even dating back to his time at Illinois. For a while they tried to convert him to a 3-4 D-end but this current Chargers staff appear to want to utilise him inside. He is the biggest threat to Seattle’s run attack and he’s the most likely to force Russell Wilson out of his comfort zone too.

San Diego are still a tough team to work out under Mike McCoy. Last year they had some impressive wins — they won on the road at Philly, Denver and Kansas City. They also beat the Colts at home. And yet their heaviest defeat of the season was a 27-17 loss at struggling Oakland and they also dropped winnable games against Houston, Washington and Miami.

Not many teams will win in Arizona this year and yet the Chargers should’ve done it on Monday. 0-2 teams have only make the playoffs 12% of the time since 1990. They know they need this game. The Seahawks will win if they play something akin to their best. Anything less and the Chargers have a real chance.