Instant reaction: Seahawks defense shines in huge win

October 8th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

This was a crucial win. Think about the sliding doors effect.

If the Seahawks lose this game you’re looking at two weeks of teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing. The game in New York against the Giants would be labelled a ‘win or bust’. They’d be 2.5 games behind the Rams, ceding all momentum in the NFC West in the process.

People would be questioning Seattle’s ability to make the playoffs — and you’d hear a lot about the Championship window closing.

The Rams? They’d be crowned in the media.

Instead, the Seahawks are in first place in the NFC West and showed they’re still the team to beat in this division.

The game in New York has a totally different feel now. After a week of rest, it’s a big opportunity to continue building momentum.

People will ask questions about how good the Rams truly are.

The Seahawks have a crucial tie-breaker against their strongest opponent in the division. Arizona look a shell of their former selves.

The Giants are hurting. Eli Manning reportedly has a neck injury. Odell Beckham Jr broke his leg. Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard both picked up ankle injuries. Dwayne Harris fractured his foot early in the second half. Big opportunity in a fortnight.

This was such an important victory.

The season feels like it’s starting to come to life.

Seattle’s offense clearly still has a ways to go. The Rams gave the Seahawks numerous opportunities to close the game out. The defense forced five turnovers and the offense didn’t really capitalise.

The running game in particular continues to toil and struggle. The Rams had the 30th ranked run defense coming into the game and yet Seattle mustered only 62 yards on 25 attempts. 16 of those yards came from Russell Wilson as did five of the runs. To only run 20 times in a game like this was a little peculiar against such a poorly performing opponent.

Even so, this is the Rams — the opponent that regularly devours Seattle’s offense. And while it’d be tempting to over-analyse and pontificate about the struggles running the ball — this should be a day to celebrate the Seahawks defense instead.

Five turnovers, limiting Todd Gurley to just 43 yards on 14 carries and some huge game-changing plays is the story of the game.

Earl Thomas’ incredible forced fumble in the first quarter took seven points off the board. It’s the second time he’s done it against the Rams — and confirms again why he is one of the true defensive greats of his generation.

Frank Clark dominated his side of the line versus the run throughout. The Rams, time and time again, ran to his side on first down only to be met with a negative consequence. On one play he rode Andrew Whitworth into the backfield before dumping Todd Gurley. Clark also had the vital sack/fumble and ended with two TFL’s (it felt like more). He is truly developing into a big time playmaker.

Sheldon Richardson joins Naz Jones in collecting a big-man interception. He might not be having the kind of impact everyone hoped for as a pass rusher — but his work against the run and his two big plays today (the pick and the fumble recovery) meant he had a significant impact on a game for the first time in Seattle.

He wasn’t the only defensive tackle having a big day. Jarran Reed is really emerging into a terrific player. Did you see him bench press an interior lineman into Jared Goff on the Thomas interception?

After a couple years where the turnover numbers for this defense regressed, this has been a really promising start to the 2017 season.

There were a few sloppy moments along the way — Tavon Austin’s sauntering touchdown, the third and long problems continue and Los Angeles nearly stole a win with a relatively easy last gasp drive.

Overall though the defense dealt a reality check to the Rams and asserted their authority on the division. The team with the hyper-productive offense, the magical young Head Coach, the dynamic running back and the developing young quarterback had a 10-point day.

That’s not to dismiss Los Angeles completely as an overrated upstart. They have talent and will surely only get better with time.

Yet Goff looked a lot like the player we saw last year as a rookie. Despite facing very little pressure he was often jumpy and inaccurate. The Earl Thomas interception followed several other throws that could’ve been picked.

He wasn’t facing the 49ers, Colts or Cowboys defense today.

This was a big stage for Goff and LA’s offense. A chance to make a statement that the hype was justified.

Seattle’s defense ended up making the statement. They’re still here, they’re still the team to beat in the NFC West and they’re starting to look dangerous again.

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Friday draft notes: McGlinchey, Chubb, Falk & more

October 6th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

Mike McGlinchey makes his case

I watched Notre Dame’s win against Boston College this week, specifically to check out edge rusher Harold Landry vs left tackle Mike McGlinchey. Consider this one a victory for the O-liner.

Landry spent most of the game facing off against the right tackle and had some success. You can see why he’s highly rated. He has a really nice get off and some suddenness to his rush. He’s light and nimble and he’ll be expected to test well at the combine.

However, whenever he did switch over to the other side — he was manhandled by McGlinchey. Time and time again the left tackle just got his hands on him and it was over. At 6-3 and about 250lbs Landry was giving up a big size difference and he didn’t have the counter to win against McGlinchey. He’d dart for the outside and get run out of the play. When he engaged he was shut down. All in all he looked pretty one-dimensional coming up against a tackle with an NFL future. On this evidence he’s better off playing in space as a 3-4 OLB. He’ll need to improve his strength, hand technique and repertoire to play DE.

McGlinchey on the other hand looked in complete control. His set was very fluid, he knew what he wanted to do and against a player touted by many as a first round prospect he excelled. He looked the part here and with such a need for good tackle prospects in the NFL a performance like this could propel him into the top-20.

Needless to say Quenton Nelson the left guard at Notre Dame also stood out. Check out this double team here on Landry:

McGlinchey makes the initial contact then Nelson comes in to clean out Landry before delivering a ‘stay down’ at the end.

He’s just a terrific player — great pulling in space, combative at the LOS and plays with a great edge. Nelson could/should be a very early pick. If you’re looking for a ‘favourite 2018 prospect’ here’s your guy.

Bradley Chubb continues to impress

Chubb has been a blog favourite since the Hurricane game last year between Notre Dame and NC State. In horrible conditions akin to running through quicksand, Chubb just looked better than everyone else. He finished the year strongly and could’ve been a first round pick had he declared.

He returned to NC State and is putting forth a strong case to go very early in round one in 2018. So far he has 6.5 sacks in six games, collecting another against Louisville last night. Not many people can chase down Lamar Jackson from behind on a scramble drill — Chubb managed it.

He carries 6-4 and 275lbs perfectly, plays with fantastic athleticism and quickness and looks a little bit like Derrick Morgan during his Georgia Tech days. You always knew Morgan was going to find a way to impact a game in college — Chubb has that similar knack for big plays.

He’s the cousin of Georgia running back Nick Chubb — one of the best athletes to test at the Nike SPARQ combines in recent years. Bradley looks like a bigger version of Nick — with the freaky athleticism to match.

What will Lamar Jackson be thinking?

He didn’t have a terrible game in last nights loss to NC State. On an off-night for the whole team he dragged them back into it and his late interception was during a potential game-tying drive with a couple of minutes to go.

Even so, he wasn’t at his best. He was generally inaccurate and didn’t show some of the progress we saw as a passer in the first handful of games to start the season. He was much more effective as a runner.

Louisville are 4-2 currently and while Jackson is putting up the big numbers, it feels like he’s chasing the likes of Saquon Barkley in the Heisman race. NFL teams will also likely analyse his two toughest games in 2017 — Clemson and NC State — and see two middling performances to go with two defeats.

Jackson is a fantastic playmaker and a better passer than some will have you believe. He’s also still developing. And like Sam Darnold you wonder if he’ll benefit from another year in college next season.

Christian Wilkins looks tremendous (again)

He isn’t an Aaron Donald pocket-destroyer who creates relentless pressure and takes over games. Wilkins is, however, so incredibly athletic for a man his size.

In the win against Virginia Tech last Saturday he was doing a bit of everything. He had more success rushing from DE than inside — but Clemson were also asking him to drop into coverage at 6-4 and 300lbs. He did it well. He chased down the sideline. His motor never stopped. He’s just a ball of energy, constantly active and needing to be accounted for.

Clemson are looking increasingly like a National Championship contender again and it’s mainly due to a fantastic defense. Wilkins could be a top-10 pick. Dexter Lawrence will be a high pick in 2019. Dorian O’Daniel finds ways to make a big play pretty much every week (2.5 sacks and two pick sixes from linebacker already this season). Austin Bryant is really intriguing as a 6-4, 265lbs DE with five sacks and an interception. Clelin Ferrell looks like another Shaq Lawson.

This front seven is loaded with NFL talent. It’s fun to watch.

Luke Falk’s character will interest teams

After watching Falk’s performance against USC I did some studying this week. I don’t live in Washington so I’m not privy to some of the exposure the two teams receive in the state. I’m starting to realise why some people think Falk could go a lot earlier than he’s being projected.

It’s also pretty clear why the Seahawks might be showing interest in him.

I watched some interviews with Falk, read a couple of long articles and listened to Mike Leach on 710 ESPN yesterday. Here’s the rub — Falk is a former walk-on who took his opportunity when it was presented to him, studies relentlessly and just seems to have this calm demeanour that screams franchise quarterback. There’s an inner-confidence and grittiness you notice when he speaks.

Is he the most physically gifted player? No and nobody would ever accuse him of having a Patrick Mahomes rocket arm (although his arm strength looks noticeably better this year).

Character matters though and Falk is an A+ in that department. Some teams will give up a little bit in terms of arm strength to get an accurate passer with ideal size and the right approach.

If Falk continues to play at a high level and help extend Washington State’s unbeaten run, don’t be surprised if he’s one of the biggest draft risers this season.

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Some perspective on Seattle’s slow first half performances

October 5th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

Seattle’s four games have all had one thing in common — slow and unproductive first halves in terms of scoring.

Here are the half time and full time scores of each game so far:

HT — Seattle 3-0 Green Bay
FT — Seattle 9-17 Green Bay

HT — San Francisco 6-6 Seattle
FT — San Francisco 9-12 Seattle

HT — Seattle 7-9 Tennessee
FT — Seattle 27-33 Tennessee

HT — Indianapolis 15-10 Seattle
FT — Indianapolis 18-46

Average first half points per game: 6.5

There’s been a lot of talk about how much of a problem this is. How the issue could derail a season full of hope and promise.

But is it really any different than previous seasons?

The answer is ‘no’.

2012 season

Week 1 — Seattle 3-10 Arizona
Week 2 — Dallas 7-13 Seattle
Week 3 — Green Bay 0-7 Seattle
Week 4 — Seattle 7-13 St. Louis

In the first four weeks of the 2012 season, Seattle averaged 7.5 points in the first half.

It didn’t get much better over the next three weeks either. Seattle scored six points in week five against Carolina, ten against New England in week six and six points against the Niners in week seven.

None of this was too shocking given Wilson was a rookie starter — but the Seahawks did have peak Marshawn Lynch to pick up the slack.

2013 season

Week 1 HT — Seattle 3-7 Carolina
Week 2 HT — San Francisco 0-5 Seattle
Week 3 HT — Jacksonville 0-24 Seattle
Week 4 HT — Seattle 3-20 Houston

In the first four weeks of the 2013 season, Seattle averaged 8.75 points in the first half.

Even in the Championship year, the Seahawks struggled to score points early in games at the start of the season. The turnover-riddled Jaguars, breaking in new coach Gus Bradley and starting a major rebuild, helped the cause.

In the three games against Carolina, San Francisco and Houston the Seahawks averaged 3.6 points per first half. Against the Niners, a game fondly remembered by Seahawks fans, Russell Wilson struggled to complete a pass in the first two quarters. The game in Houston was a real struggle until the late rally, inspired by Wilson.

2014 season

Week 1 HT — Green Bay 10-17 Seattle
Week 2 HT — Seattle 14-20 San Diego
Week 3 HT — Denver 3-17 Seattle
Week 4 HT — Seattle 17-7 Washington

In the first four weeks of the 2014 season, Seattle averaged 16.25 points in the first half.

Admittedly this was a much better start, even if the San Diego score flattered the Seahawks in week two. However, they hit a slump over the next three games.

In week five the Seahawks were losing 17-10 against Dallas at half time. They trailed St. Louis 21-6 the following week and scored three first half points against Carolina in week seven — an average of 6.3 points per first half.

2015 season

Week 1 HT — Seattle 10-10 St. Louis
Week 2 HT — Seattle 3-13 Green Bay
Week 3 HT — Chicago 0-6 Seattle
Week 4 HT — Detroit 3-10 Seattle

In the first four weeks of the 2015 season, Seattle averaged 7.25 points in the first half.

In weeks five and six, the Seahawks scored 10 points in the first half against Cincinnati and Carolina respectively.

This means that in a year when Seattle’s offense set franchise records and ranked #2 in the league per DVOA, they scored 8.1 points per first half in the first six weeks of the season.

2016 season

Week 1 HT — Miami 3-6 Seattle
Week 2 HT — Seattle 3-6 Los Angeles
Week 3 HT — San Francisco 3-24 Seattle
Week 4 HT — Seattle 14-10 New York Jets

This run of four games comes with an obvious asterisk. Russell Wilson injured his ankle in week one and then suffered a knee injury against the 49ers in week three. It seriously impacted the offense, especially in the first two games.

They averaged 11.75 points per half in this stretch. The San Francisco game is a big bonus here. The Seahawks had a first half similar to the second half they had against the Colts on Sunday.

In the other three games, they averaged 7.6 points per first half.

Average first half scoring (first four weeks)

2012 — 7.5
2013 — 8.75
2014 — 16.25
2015 — 7.25
2016 — 11.75
2017 — 6.5

As you can see, it’s not uncommon for the Seahawks to start a season scoring 6-8 points in a first half. In 2014, easily their best start in terms of scoring, they averaged 6.25 points in games 5-7. In 2016, the 49ers game boosted what would’ve been a 7.6 point average.

None of this justifies Seattle’s current issues. That’s not the point of the article. They need to get into a rhythm quicker, they can’t afford to wait for adversity to inspire better play and they need to find successful ways to attack opponents early in games.

That said, the perspective comes from acknowledging this is nothing new. What has possibly changed is the way we view the slow starts on offense. In 2013, for example, the big difference is they found a way to grind out the road game in Carolina and they had a miraculous comeback against Houston. This year, in two similar scenarios, they lost to Green Bay and Tennessee.

The Jacksonville game ended with a similar scoreline to the Colts game this year. The Niners win came against a heated rival and fellow contender. Had Seattle beaten Atlanta in week two instead, would you feel better about their situation right now?

There’s still a lot of football to be played this year. Previous years show that a slow start in terms of scoring can be rectified and the team can start to function at full capacity.

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Tuesday notes: Thoughts on the Rams game, Luke Falk

October 3rd, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

Why it won’t be the end of the world even if Seattle loses this week

A quick look back at 2014 should be reassuring (it’s not often we say that as Seahawks fans).

The Super Bowl was contested between New England and Seattle. The Patriots started the season 2-2 and in week four they were trounced by the Chiefs 41-14. After the game there was talk about the end of Tom Brady’s career and whether Jimmy Garoppolo should start. Bill Belichick coined his ‘on to Cincinnati’ catchphrase.

The hammering in Kansas City acted as a turning point. New England beat the Bengals 43-17 the following week to launch a seven game winning streak. They finished the year 12-4 and won a Championship.

Before that game in Kansas City, the Patriots lost handsomely to the Dolphins in week one (33-20) and slipped by the 3-13 Oakland Raiders (16-9) at home.

Brady had four touchdowns and two picks after four weeks, leading to the ill-judged ‘quarterback controversy’ talk.

Also in 2014, the Seahawks had a mixed start. A comprehensive week one win against Green Bay preceded a comprehensive week two loss against San Diego. They beat the Broncos but nearly blew it at the end. Seattle sauntered past Washington on Monday Night Football before losing badly to the Cowboys (I was there, it was horrible) and the 6-10 Rams.

3-3 after six weeks only told some of the story.

This run included the Percy Harvin fall out and trade, a lot of talk and rumour about Marshawn Lynch threatening not to board the bus to St. Louis and a report from Mike Freeman where he declared:

“My feeling on this — and it’s backed up by several interviews with Seahawks players — is that some of the black players think (Russell) Wilson isn’t black enough.”

It was borderline chaotic.

By the time they lost to Kansas City to drop to 6-4, things felt pretty bleak. Suddenly, something changed. The old Seahawks returned. Physicality, explosive plays, great defense. A six game winning streak to steal the NFC West and #1 seed away from Arizona. Another Super Bowl. Nearly another Super Bowl Championship.

Both teams faced adversity early in the season.

In comparison, the Houston Texans got off to a good start. In week five they were an overtime possession away against Dallas from going 4-1. They ended the season 9-7 and missed the playoffs.

Arizona had a 9-1 start to the season before losing four of their last six. They surrendered the #1 seed, the NFC West and were dumped out of the playoffs against 7-8-1 Carolina in the wildcard round.

Sadly none of this guarantees the Seahawks and Patriots will go on an imminent tear and meet in a glorious Super Bowl rematch at the end of the season. It does offer some perspective though on the disappointing starts both teams have endured.

And even if Seattle drops to 2-3 this week, falling 2.5 games behind the Rams in the division, there’s plenty of time left for a fight back.

The offense has to take the rhythm it found late in the Indianapolis win and run with it. Everything fit together late in that game. The offense was moving the ball and scoring points with explosive plays. The defense had a lead to defend and the opponent had to force the issue.

I watched Los Angeles’ week two loss to Washington and there are flaws to exploit. LA’s defense is not playing well, even with Aaron Donald’s return. The run defense is struggling mightily.

Look at how they rank compared to the rest of the league:

Alternatively in that Washington game, the Rams offense benefitted from some huge whiffs, such as a blown coverage on the tight end who ran nearly the length of the field to set up a touchdown.

Taking Jared Goff out of his comfort zone is vital. If he has to play from behind and attack Seattle’s defense, advantage Seahawks. Todd Gurley is going to get his yards/plays. He’s too good. If they have to play from behind, however, they might not be able to lean on the running game.

If the Seahawks lose and drop to 2-3, a fortnight of hand-wringing and debate will likely ensue. Remember, though, that the Seahawks still have six home games to come and an appealing schedule after the bye.

This is a big game on Sunday but it won’t decide Seattle’s season.

Thoughts on Luke Falk vs USC

It was particularly interesting to hear Pete Carroll reference how often they’ve watched Washington State recently. He made a similar comment last season before the Apple Cup, stating they’ve watched Wazzu a ton. It’d be interesting to know why. Is it a player or players? Is it to study offensive schemes and see how they can incorporate some spread concepts?

After all, Mike Leach has been able to consistently produce big time offensive production without big time recruits. He nearly took Texas Tech to a National Championship and he’s turned around Washington State’s fortunes. There might be something they can use.

I remember the last time I really watched Luke Falk was against Colorado last season. His passes fluttered, he lacked the big physical tools and despite a decent stat line, it was a disappointing game overall for Wazzu. I can’t remember if this was around the time that he was injured or playing hurt — that might’ve had an impact.

Against USC I thought he looked a lot better. You see the usual barrel load of passes into the flat and bubble screens. These extreme spread offenses that rely on a high number of players, widening the field and tempo are often difficult to judge. It was encouraging to see Falk throwing with accuracy and zip over the middle and down the seam. On one play he stood tall in the pocket, knew he was going to take a monster hit and still delivered an accurate pass over the middle for a third down conversion.

His arm strength looks better than I recall. He was able to throw downfield, including a nice 61-yard completion on a blown coverage.

On a scramble to the right hand side, under pressure, Falk delivered a brilliant pass to the back corner of the end zone. The receiver dropped it under no pressure and it should’ve been a touchdown. You clearly see Falk scanning the field, correctly feeling the pressure and extending the play. His throw, made just as he was about to be sacked, is inch perfect.

His interception was just a good play by the defender, batting down one of his passes at the LOS and having the athleticism (even as a defensive end) to catch the ball and turn it into a pick.

There are things to like. You see evidence of him going through progressions. You see accuracy and the occasional flash of mobility. He is elevating his team and winning big games.

Overall this was an impressive showing. I can see why there’s a feeling Falk is destined for the NFL and on this evidence he deserves a shot at the next level. He seems to have a balanced character and you can imagine him leading a team. His college résumé is impressive.

He’ll get a chance. It might not be as an especially high pick but Kirk Cousins was a fourth rounder, Russell Wilson a third rounder. That might be his range too. The Seahawks haven’t had a solid backup quarterback option since Tarvaris Jackson left. Investing in a player like Falk could be a possibility if he lasts into range.

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Monday notes: Meet Florida’s rising star Taven Bryan

October 2nd, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

Florida’s Taven Bryan is enjoying a great start to the 2017 season

The 2018 draft could be rich in defensive line talent. NC State’s Bradley Chubb is making a strong case to go in the top-15 with a stunning start to the season, Christian Wilkins and Clelin Ferrell continue to impress at Clemson and Vita Vea is the type of athletic nose tackle that generally goes early in round one.

Florida’s Taven Bryan could be another name to add to the list.

He’s 6-4, 291lbs and the son of a former Navy Seal. “I’ve been blessed genetically” he says, a statement that is highly accurate to be fair.

Of the players I’ve watched for the first time in 2017, Bryan is on a par with Notre Dame’s brilliant guard Quenton Nelson.

This guy is arguably the best athlete on our football team” says Florida coach Jim McElwain. “I’m sure many of the players would tell you the same thing.”

Temple head coach Geoff Collins, the former Florida defensive coordinator, goes a step further:

“I always thought he had J.J. Watt-ish ability… He’s a physical freak, and he’s gotten better every single day. He’s an NFL player now with room to get better. It’s a scary thought.”

So what does he show on the field? Brute strength for a start:

He’s number #93 in the video above. Look how he drives the Iowa center into the backfield and essentially takes out the running back with his own team mate.

Is he quick?

Look at his get off here and the immediate panic on the right side of Iowa’s O-line. He’s all over the right guard. It’s an absolute demolition of the line, moving the quarterback off the spot despite the shotgun snap. He has to scramble, he forces the throw and it’s a turnover.

Against Tennessee he was constantly in the backfield and he took things to another level against Kentucky. You can see for yourself in the full game video below:

If you’re looking for a player who could really promote himself into the first round conversation this season, keep an eye on Taven Bryan.

Elsewhere…

There’s some talk today about Sam Darnold not declaring for the draft next year:

It wouldn’t be a major shock. This is his first full year as a starting quarterback in college. There’s enough evidence to argue playing time at QB is necessary to sufficiently prepare for the next level.

Darnold has shown a great deal of playmaking quality and talent this year, despite turning the ball over eight times compared to nine touchdown passes. If he does turn pro he’ll be a possible #1 overall pick. There will be some risk if he returns to USC in 2018 and doesn’t progress.

Still, it’s hard to argue with his decision if he’s already leaning towards staying in college. There can’t be many NFL quarterbacks who had only one full season as a starter in college.

It could open the door for Josh Rosen as a potential top pick. He too has turned the ball over a little too regularly but his poise, accuracy, willingness to stand tall in the pocket and throw a wide assortment of passes is impressive. He’s shining on a struggling UCLA team and looked good again against Colorado:

Rosen isn’t a sure thing at the next level or anything — but who is? He’ll be worth a shot with a high pick next year if he turns pro.

A couple of Washington State fans were asking on Saturday why there was no mention of Luke Falk’s performance against USC. I watched the game in condensed mode and focused on Darnold. I promise to review the game and watch Falk, with notes to follow.

A quick final point — it’s time to at least give Seattle’s offensive line at least a little bit of praise. This much maligned group has already lost its starting left tackle (and now appears set to lose the backup to injury too). According to PFF, on 33 dropbacks yesterday the offensive line only allowed six pressures.

I’ve not studied the tape from the last two weeks, however the initial viewing seemed to suggest progress from Luke Joeckel and Germain Ifedi. Oday Aboushi had a rough period against the Colts with a series of penalties and errors but it was only his second start. Justin Britt has simply continued his 2016 form.

If Joeckel and Ifedi can continue to move forward, they might be able to write in pen three positions on this line. That would be a major step forward from last year when there were question marks at four positions.

Next week is a big test against Aaron Donald and co.

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Instant reaction: Second half turnaround leads to big win

October 1st, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

At half time you could be forgiven for questioning whether the Seahawks were a spent force.

By the end of the game you could be forgiven for thinking this is the start of Seattle’s march back into contention.

And just as a sense of satisfaction was settling in (at last, four weeks in) Chris Carson suffered a serious looking leg injury to take the gloss off the moment.

There’s no hiding the fact that this is the fourth game continuing a worrying trend. Seattle’s offense, for some reason, requires adversity to kick into action.

This time adversity equated to a 15-10 deficit against a struggling Colts team fielding a recently acquired backup quarterback and a third string center.

The response? A 36-3 second half, with Indianapolis’ three measly points coming after a Russell Wilson interception.

Suddenly Wilson was turning back the clock to 2012. The offense was explosive, balanced and exciting. The offensive line delivered a half of punishing competency and everything seemed right with the world until Carson’s setback.

The defense also took a step forward. A frustrating first two quarters was followed up by a second half where Indianapolis managed only three first downs and 32 total yards.

If a kick up the arse was delivered at half time — it might be an idea to take aim before the Rams game even starts next week.

That second half has to be the launch pad going forward — and we’ll learn a lot about this team in the next two games. Can they take that performance on the road against two very different opponents? One that is emerging and blossoming, another that is desperate?

They’ll seemingly have to do it without Carson, which is a mighty blow. Although he was very much part of a committee again in this game, there was no doubting who Seattle’s key running back is. A trio of disappointments so far — Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise — need to step up to the plate in the way J.D. McKissic did this evening. We could also see Mike Davis called up from the practise squad.

McKissic showed why Pete Carroll and the team appear to be so enamoured with him (and why they kept him on the roster). He clearly needs some fine tuning still — but this was an explosive example of what he can do. His rushing touchdown defined ‘sudden’ and his spectacular receiving score emphasised his playmaking quality. It’ll be interesting to see if they can develop him into a regular feature on the offense. It felt like the inside run they had him do towards the end was a set-up to let future opponents know they’re willing to do it.

Carroll will no doubt love that McKissic, Marcus Smith and Justin Coleman had crucial plays in the game — three unexpected stars. Smith managed 1.5 sacks including a sack/fumble that led to Marshawn Bobby Wagner’s touchdown. Coleman had the pick-six early in the game — Seattle’s first for nearly three years.

There’s still plenty to work on of course but at least there will be some cause for optimism going into the Rams game. Imagine what this week would’ve been like without that second half turnaround?

Los Angeles are the perfect opponents next for the simple reason that it’s a great gauge on whether the way this game ended was the start of something or a red herring against an inferior opponent.

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College football Saturday notes

September 30th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

Just a few thoughts as the day goes on, feel free to use this as an open thread too.

— Bradley Chubb (DE, NC State) recorded two sacks and 3.5 TFL’s against Syracuse today, a week after collecting two sacks, a forced fumble and a QB hit in a win against Florida State (before strangely spitting on the FSU logo at the end of the game). He has 5.5 sacks in four games so far. A lot of other defensive players are getting attention but Chubb warrants serious chatter as a potential top-15 pick. He’s big (6-4, 275lbs) with great quickness and athleticism. He needs to work on his rhythmic gymnastics though:

— Sam Darnold (QB, USC) didn’t have a particularly good performance against Washington State. He wasn’t helped by his O-line but that doesn’t excuse some poor throws, including a really bad interception and some other near misses. In previous games he’s looked excellent despite turning the ball over. Against Wazzu, his overall game was off. He has nine touchdowns and eight picks so far and that’s a problem. This is his first full season as a starter so we’ll see if he can limit the turnovers in future weeks. His creativity, mobility, improvisational skills and ability to be a playmaker will still intrigue teams highly. The turnovers? That’s something to work on.

— Saquon Barkley (RB, Penn State) looks every bit a top-five pick. He’s just so incredibly dynamic — a genuine freak of nature player. He’s not just a running back. He’s a threat to score as a runner, receiver and returner. Here’s today’s opening kick off against Indiana:

Here he is making a play in the passing game:

And he even threw for a touchdown:

We’re talking about a player with true superstar potential if he lands in the right offense. He really didn’t deserve to be called Saquon Broccoli after the game by Chris Simms…

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Wilson’s drops impacting O-line & Richardson’s role

September 26th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

— It’s become apparent recently that Russell Wilson’s drop-backs are extremely deep. I’m not sure if he’s always done this or if it’s a recent thing. It might just be more noticeable at the moment, I haven’t had time to check. Look at this example though:

In the video above it’s a 3rd and 7 from Seattle’s 14 yard line. Wilson is in the shotgun but still takes a five-step drop. He settles on his own four-yard line. This all means he has to throw at least a 17-yard completion to get a first down. The three receivers all run beyond the 21-yard line so Wilson is actually needing to throw a +20-yard pass to convert a routine third down.

That’s a strange circumstance to begin with — but let’s take it a step further.

Wilson’s deep drop from a shotgun formation actually gives the defensive end a better angle to the quarterback. Instead of needing to get around the edge to beat the tackle, it’s pretty much a diagonal line to the QB. If Wilson sits in the pocket the tackle can play inside-out and guide the rusher out of the play if he isn’t able to stone him at the point.

Instead, you’re creating a much bigger area of space for the tackle to try and defend. Look at the pressure Germain Ifedi gives up in the video above. You can clearly see Ifedi is wary of the large amount of space he has to try and cover. He engages the defender and lets him run outside. Usually this would be fine, he’s playing inside-out. Yet Wilson is still moving and nearly scrambles directly into the path of the pass rusher.

Ifedi doesn’t even engage until he’s dropped back to the five yard line. Seattle is basically shifting the pocket backwards by a good 9-10 yards. Even then the quarterback isn’t settling. In the video Wilson seems to have a good 3-4 seconds after completing his drop to assess the field and make a decision — and still scrambles. It’s harder for the O-line to defend their quarterback and it’s harder for Wilson to make a completion because he has to launch the ball downfield.

Focusing strictly on the O-line — with the QB dropping back so deep you’re asking a tackle to mirror a player who is 40-50lbs lighter and likely one of the best athletes in the NFL (as most DE’s are) while giving said player a better angle and much more space to work with.

No wonder they’re trying to develop freaky athletic ex-basketball players to play tackle. This is no job for a 320lbs behemoth who specialises in run blocking.

We’ve always talked about how difficult Wilson is to block for. His scrambling nature and ability to improvise often means a linemen has to take a best guess on where he’s going to be. It’s much harder to create a basic pocket if Wilson is moving around and he has a tendency to sack himself on occasions. Wilson holds onto the ball for a long time too — so sustaining blocks is much more important than it would be for a pure pocket passer.

His height also creates a dilemma because he needs passing lanes. Cut-blocks are one way to achieve this. There’s been a lot of talk this week about a Shaun O’Hara tweet criticising Seattle’s O-line for a perceived ‘quintuple whiff’ when attempting a collective cut block:

It seems pretty clear what Seattle is trying to do here. Get the D-line on the ground or off-balance to allow Wilson a quick-pass opportunity. The fumbled snap never gives Wilson the chance to get his pass away but this was likely designed to be a quick throw, not one of his long developing throws. If you actually look at the point where he collects the football — he has huge throwing lanes and a big chunk of space at the second level. This was chided as a huge gaffe by the O-line but really, the big mistake was probably the fumbled snap.

Execution and small details like a fumbled snap might be why Seattle’s offense appears so discombobulated at the moment. They’ve always been a ‘controlled chaos’ unit in the Wilson era. It suited them — with Marshawn Lynch getting yards in a way only he can and Wilson doing his Fran Tarkenton act.

Without Lynch and with Wilson being quite streaky to start the year, it’s not a big surprise that Seattle’s offensive form has fluctuated.

The encouraging thing is we’ve seen them right the ship before and the defense is playing well enough to think this team can get back on track.

— Is there a way for Seattle to beter utilise their D-line? At the moment Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Sheldon Richardson are absorbing a lot of snaps. Against the Titans, Bennett played 88% of the defensive snaps, Avril 73% and Richardson 70%.

Only six players had more defensive snaps (Sherman, Chancellor, Wagner, Wright, Thomas and Lane).

The trio are also seemingly playing a lot of early downs and needing to provide the kind of aggressive run defense Seattle craves.

It’d be nice to see these three in particular given an opportunity to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback. They clearly get that opportunity in certain scenarios — but it’s usually after some hard graft in the trenches vs the run.

Richardson, for example, might be Seattle’s best interior run defender. Which is great and incredibly useful. Yet he was brought here to try and be that vital missing interior rusher.

It seems, from the outside, that Seattle isn’t entirely trusting of Jarran Reed, Naz Jones and Garrison Smith to handle the run-D duties. If true that’s a shame because it’d be great to see Sheldon Richardson used predominantly as an attack dog on passing downs, finding ways to crash the pocket and be a playmaker.

Richardson might just be too important as a run defender at the moment. Unfortunately, you have to wonder if it’s impacting his ability to be the explosive pass rusher we know he can be.

— Here’s your daily reminder that the Seahawks aren’t the only team with O-line issues:

“We only have seven guys out there, so they’re the only ones that can play,” Arians said.

Arians said Carson Palmer was finding open receivers but getting hit before he could get the ball to them.

“We had guys open at times and just didn’t get them because we couldn’t throw the ball,” Arians said.

Palmer was sacked six times, and Cardinals right tackle Jared Veldheer particularly struggled to block Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, who had three of those sacks. If the Cardinals don’t block better, it’s going to be a long season for Palmer.

— The 2018 quarterback class is going to be as good as advertised. This week I only watched Josh Rosen and Josh Allen. Rosen is a fantastic passer with great potential and looks like a top-five pick. His poise, accuracy, ability to adjust throwing speeds and consistency are extremely appealing. He looks really good this season playing without a particularly good supporting cast at UCLA. Allen has a lot of kinks to iron out and had some ugly throws against Hawaii (including a wasted pick six opportunity). His throw to win the game in overtime, however, flashed his physical potential. It was a difficult throw to make but his placement and velocity were spot on.

Allen probably shouldn’t go before Sam Darnold and Rosen (and maybe Lamar Jackson too) but someone will take him in round one to work with and develop. The top-10 could be loaded with quarterbacks in 2018 if they all declare.

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Instant reaction: Seahawks lose, drop to 1-2

September 24th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

Seattle flitted between painfully poor and typically ‘Seahawks’ — but this defeat continued some worrying trends.

The offense, stagnant and unwatchable in the first half suddenly came to life in the second. They ended the game threatening to pull off one of their famous comebacks. Yet it took ‘desperation mode’ to get into a rhythm. Another game, another week where they were unable to establish anything in the first half to get a foothold in the game offensively.

The Seahawks are 1-2 and don’t deserve to be any better off. Considering last weeks toil against the Niners, they can be grateful to have one win on the board.

That doesn’t mean the season isn’t salvageable. They’ve had bad September road defeats in the past. A miserable start in 2014 led to a 3-3 and 6-4 record before the Super Bowl tear.

Having watched Red Zone before the game, it appears there aren’t any definitively ‘elite’ teams this year. Parity is rife and it wouldn’t be a surprise if a version of the 2011 Giants (9-7) or the 2012 Ravens (10-6) won the Super Bowl. Or it could just be the Pats again.

The talent is there to turn things around in Seattle.

But my word do they have some work to do.

There’s perhaps nothing more symbolic from this game than the sight of the overwhelmingly bigger Taylor Lewan getting right in Richard Sherman’s face following the late hit on Marcus Mariota.

That fracas inspired Tennessee and in particular the Titans O-line. A team that used to be the bully suddenly looked like the slender cornerback looking up at the 6-7, 304lbs left tackle.

John Schneider talked about wanting to be the bully again before the 2016 season. We’re three games into 2017 and they’re still not there. Not close.

There used to be a time when a 100-yard team rushing performance would be taken for granted. Even if Marshawn Lynch was held in check, Wilson would make up the difference. The Seahawks had 69 rushing yards today (26 from Wilson) compared to Tennessee’s 195. In 2016 and 2017, too frequently Seattle’s run production hasn’t been good enough.

Many will argue they don’t run the ball enough early in games. Perhaps so. For me the greater problem is Seattle’s complete inability to do anything well. Part of being balanced and effective on offense is not getting bounced off the field consistently after a three-and-out. Sometimes you need that initial first down to get things moving.

There’s nothing wrong with passing on first and/or second down to get there. Yet if you constantly don’t execute and you’re punting away after three plays — it’s impossible to establish anything. Pass or run. You’re constantly looking for something, anything, to get you going.

Thus, Jon Ryan is getting plenty of practise.

This is the third game in a row where the Seahawks have not done a thing well on offense early in a game. And while the numbers look great in the second half today — you can’t rely on desperation and a cautious opponent in the first two quarters.

The defense fought manfully in the first half right up until the ‘prevent’ version gave up a powder puff field goal before the break. Yet they’re also not blameless:

With Bennett, Avril, Clark and Richardson — aka ‘Death Row’ — the Seahawks barely muddied Marcus Mariota’s jersey. The temperature and time on the field undoubtedly played a role and partly excuses the big plays conceded and all those energy-sapping runs. They still gave up 33 points and didn’t have much of an answer when Tennessee got on a roll.

This is a very expensive defense, full of big names. There were no sacks or takeaways. They need help from the offense but this was still a rough outing.

It’s not unfair to make comparisons to the San Diego game in 2014. On that occasion the heat was intense, the offense struggled before a late rally and the Chargers kind of did what they want. That’s the hope you cling to today as a Seahawks fan.

That game was one chapter of a Super Bowl story.

However, the level of improvement required this year is substantial. In 2014 they were able, eventually, to lean on Marshawn Lynch and grind through their troubles. We’ll see if this offense can find itself.

The evidence so far is not encouraging.

What is this team? It’s a question we’ll be asking all week.

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Quenton Nelson is tremendous & a very early 2018 pick

September 21st, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson is an absolute stud

A number of guard prospects (or tackles projected to move inside) have gone in the first half of round one in recent years. Brandon Scherff was the #5 pick in 2015, Zack Martin was the #16 pick in 2014 and two players (Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack) were top-10 picks in 2013.

Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson is destined to follow suit.

I sat down yesterday to watch him for the first time and was incredibly impressed. He has the size (6-5, 330lbs) and subsequent power to work inside but he does the little things so well.

Nelson is incredibly subtle at turning defensive linemen to open up gaps. So often in big games against the likes of Stanford, he was able to cajole the defender out of the play. Hand placement, balance — it was all on show. The D-liner is consistently turned, they can’t square up to make a play against the RB and big running lanes are created.

He also does a good job throwing his hands and extending, creating leverage and from that position it’s incredibly difficult for a defender to recover. He seems to have better than usual length for an interior guy and the way he locks out and keeps opponents away from his frame generally eliminates counters and allows him to finish.

After watching three games there wasn’t a single occasion where I saw Nelson flustered and beaten by quickness off the snap or an effective swim move. He was in complete control. Even on the occasions where he was shoved back (Malik McDowell had one really good bull rush against him for Michigan State) he was able to stay with his man and contain — avoiding being sent to the turf, giving his quarterback enough time to realise the danger and adjust or throw the ball.

The pièce de résistance is the edge he plays with. He’s not Garret Bolles but he’s one notch down. Nelson plays to the whistle, frequently finishes blocks and there are several plays where he dumps the defensive lineman on his backside and makes sure he knows about it. On one play he pulled to the right and absolutely hammered a defensive back playing up at the LOS — and he enjoyed it.

So how is he athletically? It’s sometimes hard to tell with guards, considering they play inside. This GIF, however, is a big positive for two reasons. Firstly, it’s a great blitz pick-up. Secondly, look at the diagnosis, the quick reactions and the footwork and athleticism to actually get across and make the save. This is a ‘wow’ play:

Now look at him on this pull block, driving #14 downfield (he’s #56):

He’s pretty brilliant at pull blocking and getting to the second level:

In this era of struggling O-lines and everyone wanting to find a solution, Quenton Nelson is going to go very early in next years draft. The top ten isn’t improbable — in fact it might be likely.

It’s fairly well established the likes of Derwin James, Saquon Barkley, Christian Wilkins and the quarterbacks (Darnold, Jackson, Rosen, Allen, Fitzgerald) will go early. Quenton Nelson absolutely needs to be added to this list. He’s a stone cold stunner ready to answer the NFL’s call for linemen.

While we’re here, this is an early list of players who could land top-15/20 grades:

1. Sam Darnold (QB, USC)
2. Saquon Barkley (RB, Penn State)
3. Derwin James (S, Florida State)
4. Quenton Nelson (G, Notre Dame)
5. Christian Wilkins (DT, Clemson)
6. Lamar Jackson (QB, Louisville)
7. Josh Rosen (QB, UCLA)
8. Vita Vea (DT, Washington)
9. Trey Adams (T, Washington)
10. Bradley Chubb (DE, NC State)
11. Josh Allen (QB, Wyoming)
12. Nick Fitzgerald (QB, Mississippi State)
13. Connor Williams (T, Texas)
14. Derrius Guice (RB, LSU)
15. Clelin Ferrell (DE, Clemson)

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