Podcast: Skipping Bowl games & Seahawks vs Cardinals

December 22nd, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

This week I give Kenny my views on where the Seahawks are at right now, the Sherman drama, some thoughts on possibly the most intriguing safety in the draft class and Leonard Fournette & Christian McCaffrey skipping their Bowl games.

 

Updated mock draft: 21st December

December 21st, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Notes below…

1. Browns — Myles Garrett (EDGE, Texas A&M)
2. 49ers — Mitch Trubisky (QB, North Carolina)
3. Jaguars — Leonard Fournette (RB, LSU)
4. Bears — Jonathan Allen (DE, Alabama)
5. Jets — Reuben Foster (LB, Alabama)
6. Titans (via Rams) — Jabrill Peppers (S, Michigan)
7. Browns (via Eagles) — Dalvin Cook (RB, Florida State)
8. Chargers — Jamal Adams (S, LSU)
9. Cardinals — Marlon Humphrey (CB, Alabama)
10. Bengals — Tim Williams (EDGE, Alabama)
11. Panthers — Takkarist McKinley (EDGE, UCLA)
12. Saints — Zach Cunningham (LB, Vanderbilt)
13. Bills — O.J. Howard (TE, Alabama)
14. Colts — Ryan Ramczyk (T, Wisconsin)
15. Eagles (via Vikings) — John Ross (WR, Washington)
16. Washington — Malik Hooker (S, Ohio State)
17. Titans — Sidney Jones (CB, Washington)
18. Ravens — Demarcus Walker (DE, Florida State)
19. Buccaneers — Adoree’ Jackson (CB, USC)
20. Packers — Quincy Wilson (CB, Florida)
21. Broncos — Garett Bolles (T, Utah)
22. Texans — Charles Harris (EDGE, Missouri)
23. Miami — Jalen Tabor (CB, Florida)
24. Giants — Solomon Thomas (DE, Stanford)
25. Lions — Taco Charlton (EDGE, Michigan)
26. Steelers — Deshaun Watson (QB, Clemson)
27. Falcons — Budda Baker (S, Washington)
28. Chiefs — Mike Williams (WR, Clemson)
29. **TRADE** Browns — Deshone Kizer (QB, Notre Dame)
30. Raiders — Christian McCaffrey (RB, Stanford)
31. Patriots — Obi Melifonwu (S, Connecticut)
32. Cowboys — Derek Barnett (DE, Tennessee)

Top-10 in round two

33. Seahawks — ??????
34. 49ers — JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR, USC)
35. Jaguars — Tre’Davious White (CB, LSU)
36. Bears — Jarrad Davis (LB, Florida)
37. Rams — Marshon Lattimore (CB, Ohio State)
38. Jets — Gareon Conley (CB, Ohio State)
39. Chargers — Cam Robinson (T, Alabama)
40. Eagles — Kevin King (CB, Washington)
41. Cardinals — Derrick Nnadi (DT, Florida State)
42. Panthers — Justin Evans (S, Texas A&M)

Three things…

1. I had the Seahawks trading out of the first round. They don’t own a fourth or fifth round pick, so such a scenario to acquire a day three selection is very possible.

2. You’ll notice I didn’t actually put the Seahawks with a prospect. There’s a reason for that, explained below.

3. I’m not entirely satisfied with the mock draft — but that’s testament to the quality of the players. I wanted to get the two Ohio State cornerbacks (Lattimore and Conley) into round one. I wanted to get Justin Evans into the first frame. I wanted to put Derek Barnett higher than #32. I couldn’t find a way this time — and that highlights how interesting this draft class is.

So why no pick for the Seahawks? I’m battling with the direction they could go and rather than offer an opinion, I want yours.

Let me offer some scenarios:

Repair the running game

Is the big need here to make sure the running game is back to normal (by the Seahawks standards) in 2017? It certainly feels like teams are treating the offense differently these days. Less eight-man boxes, less focus on stopping the run. More pass rush. More feeling that if you stop Russell Wilson you can give the Seahawks a major offensive headache.

Do they spend their first pick on a physical, tone-setting runner to compliment what they already have? Do they force teams to focus on the man in the backfield? Is that what’s missing? That Marshawn Lynch fear factor? That punishing inside runner?

Is someone like D’Onta Foreman the answer or is it about further additions to the O-line? Bolles and Ramcyzk are off the board in this mock. Cam Robinson, to quote Bob McGinn’s source, is “talented but he gets lazy.” Is that a Seahawks O-liner?

Is this a situation that can be addressed later on? Are you prepared to wait for a Chad Wheeler, Adam Bisnowaty type in the middle rounds and a running back like James Conner or Samaje Perine?

That might make sense in terms of value — but if it doesn’t have the desired effect and the offense looks the same in 2017, will you rue not making a bigger splash?

Find another defensive tackle or inside/out rusher

This mock assumes Vita Vea won’t declare. Elijah Qualls could be an option if he does turn pro. Derrick Nnadi, Chris Wormley, Caleb Brantley, Dalvin Tomlinson and others are still on the board.

The Seahawks certainly lack an interior impacter. Someone who makes life easier for the EDGE guys and can move or impact the QB without necessarily racking up 10 sacks. Someone equally capable of being stout vs the run and holding a double team.

For a while they’ve needed a classic three-technique but it might be difficult to find in this class. They’ve missed the 2013 and 2014 production of Clinton McDonald and Jordan Hill (6.5 sacks each). Filling that void would certainly help the defense get back to its best. Some will argue it’s Seattle’s biggest need.

It might also be tough to find a really good inside/out rusher with a lot of the better options off the board in this mock.

Yet the defense is still #2 in points conceded and they have a shot to be #1 in that category for an unprecedented fifth year in a row. If it wasn’t for the Green Bay meltdown they’d virtually have the title in the bag. And let’s not forget — that nightmare in Lambeau was inspired by a six-turnover performance on offense. Is the defense good enough to think much of the focus should be on the other side of the ball?

With cap room to spend in 2017 this could be an area they look at in free agency. The Seahawks have a better record for finding veteran D-liners than they do drafting them. And yet along with safety and cornerback — D-line is probably the strength of the 2017 draft class.

The addition of John Jenkins was an intriguing one, especially with Pete Carroll referencing the need to find more interior pass rush when he signed his contract. Are they looking for a massive big man who also provides some disruption? This class is rich in players like that. If they could get anywhere near Vita Vea they’d probably be all over it. They might settle for Qualls or Greg Gaines if they declare. There are plenty of alternatives too.

On a side note I think they’ll really like this Husky team. Pettis, Ross, Mathis, the trio of D-liners, Jones, Baker, Coleman. Plus Shalom Luani at Washington State (more on him in a moment). The local guys might stick around.

Take a safety

Obi Melifonwu is pretty unique. His size, range, athleticism and upside are ridiculous. There isn’t really anyone like him. That will appeal to a lot of teams including the Seahawks. He also might be a bit of a luxury that doesn’t really address the pressing issues on this team.

Justin Evans is a hard-hitting, fun to watch safety. He’s not close to being as rangy as Earl though. He’s still a really good player.

Budda Baker is the guy I think you can make the best case for in this scenario but he’s off the board. Earl Thomas’ threat to retire makes this a talking point. Assuming he comes back, taking a safety early seems a long shot. Especially with players like Shalom Luani possibly available later. And it’s worth noting — Kris Richard and Richard Sherman both stated in the last 24 hours they fully expect Thomas to continue playing.

Luani is a really intriguing player. There is a little bit of Troy Polamalu to his game. Depending on how he performs at the combine — don’t be surprised if he starts to fly up many boards. If he’s around in rounds 2-3 for the Seahawks, he could be someone they take a long look at. He might sneak into the top-40.

Make a big splash

Maybe it’s time for Seattle to trade up to add another star on a reasonable contract? Doesn’t it feel like they need a boost? Are they going to get that picking in the same areas as the last four drafts?

Jalen Ramsey, the #5 pick this year, has a cap hit of $7.4m in 2019. That’s the final year of his deal. If you move up for a top prospect you can get fantastic value. And maybe, just maybe, it’s time for this team to consider adding another impact player? Making another bold move?

Leonard Fournette? Jonathan Allen?

The risk is clear — if the player doesn’t work out, the investment is so rich it can set a franchise back considerably. Yet the Seahawks already have a good team. They survived the Percy Harvin bust. Even in this muddled, confusing 2016 season they’re on track to be the NFC’s #2 seed. They are seemingly better placed than most teams to make a splash. And if it worked — it could be the thing that puts them over the top again.

I’ve never thought the Seahawks trading up was remotely likely in previous drafts. It’s still unlikely and would require a team being willing to cut a deal. But for the first time since 2008 — I think it’s at least worth discussing as an option.

Yes it could be an expensive gamble. Yet an expected third round compensatory pick in 2017 would mean the Seahawks would still pick three times in the first three rounds if they trade up and spend their second round pick as well as a future first rounder plus change.

The price tag might just be too rich. And that means collecting talent in the way they’ve done in the previous two drafts. If they were able to get an interior disruptor on defense, some safety help such as Luani, another talented running back and a right tackle — they would feel good about their situation. Plus they have the money to go and make at least one significant move in free agency.

But just imagine having another stud like Fournette in that backfield, or someone like Allen rushing inside. Maybe it’s best not to think about how cool that would be.

So what do you think? Let me know in the comments section.

 

Earl Thomas update, Elijah Qualls & 2017 draft notes

December 20th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

It’s unnerving that two weeks on from his broken leg, Earl Thomas is still seemingly in a state of flux. Will he retire? It seems like that heat of the moment Tweet wasn’t so heat of the moment. He’s serious. And if he does come back, who knows how long for?

Faced with the thought of never playing with his team mates again, most of us will simply assume he’ll continue his career once recovered. Richard Sherman noted in his press conference today that he doesn’t think Thomas will retire. The front office though have to plan and prepare. Which isn’t easy to do. Free safety, and Thomas specifically, are so important to the Seahawks defensive scheme.

If he continues playing, it’s a non-issue. If he retires, this arguably becomes the #1 need on the team.

Ideally they’d know one way or another by the end of the season. But what if Earl isn’t ready to make a decision in March? Or April? Or May?

The good news is it’s a strong safety class. The defensive backs, plus defensive linemen, appear to be the strength of the 2017 draft.

People are excited about this safety group” — a league source revealed to Bob McGinn in a piece published yesterday.

The following players could all go in round one:

Jabrill Peppers (S, Michigan)
Jamal Adams (S, LSU)
Malik Hooker (S, Ohio State)
Budda Baker (S, Washington)
Obi Melifonwu (S, Connecticut)
Justin Evans (S, Texas A&M)

USC’s Adoree’ Jackson could move from cornerback to safety, ditto Iowa’s Desmond King. Florida’s Marcus Maye is another well rounded safety. One other name to monitor is Washington State’s Shalom Luani. Let’s not forget, nobody really knew about Deone Bucannon until the combine. Luani is physical, athletic, has the gritty background the Seahawks love, he’s rangy and versatile. If he performs well during the off-season, don’t be shocked if he goes a lot earlier than people are currently projecting.

The Seahawks would want someone with great range and playmaking skills. Of the group above Hooker, Baker, Jackson and Luani are most likely to fill that need. Don’t sleep on Melifonwu though — he’s a bigger safety but could be the star of the combine as we discussed in this piece a month ago.

The two other positions rich in depth in 2017 are cornerback and defensive line. The following could land in round one:

Marlon Humphrey (CB, Alabama)
Adoree’ Jackson (CB, USC)
Quincy Wilson (CB, Florida)
Jalen Tabor (CB, Florida)
Sidney Jones (CB, Washington)
Marshon Lattimore (CB, Ohio State)
Gareon Conley (CB, Ohio State)

Myles Garrett (EDGE, Texas A&M)
Jonathan Allen (DE, Alabama)
Takkarist McKinley (DE, UCLA)
Vita Vea (DT, Washington)
Charles Harris (EDGE, Missouri)
Derek Barnett (DE, Tennessee)
Taco Charlton (EDGE, Michigan)
Carl Lawson (EDGE, Auburn)
Malik McDowell (DE, Michigan State)
Demarcus Walker (DE, Florida State)
Solomon Thomas (DE, Stanford)
Derrick Nnadi (DT, Florida State)

These are just a few of the names too. The Seahawks, if they’re after a more disruptive presence in the middle, will have options beyond their first pick. Alabama’s Dalvin Tomlinson, Michigan’s Chris Wormley, Iowa’s Jaleel Johnson and Utah’s Lowell Loutlelei make this a good draft to try and address one of Seattle’s other needs.

One of the players they might show a lot of interest in is Washington’s Elijah Qualls. I spent some time yesterday watching Washington’s D-line. It’s obvious why teams are supposedly so high on Vita Vea (enough, according to Tony Pauline, to consider him in the top-half of round one). He’s 6-5 and 332lbs, mobile and athletic. He can play nose tackle but he’s not just a space-eater. If the Seahawks wanted a disruptive big man inside, Vea might be an ideal prospect for that role.

Yet watching the Huskies, I was still as equally impressed with Qualls and Greg Gaines. They don’t have the size and length of Vea (Qualls is 6-1 and 321lbs, Gaines is 6-2 and 318lbs) but they’re still very disruptive. They’ve combined for 13 TFL’s in 2016 and it’s easy to see why. Qualls, especially against Oregon, was a superior pass rushing threat than Vea. Gaines flashes rare burst for a man his size and has some nice hand technique to swim, explode and finish. His arm length might be an issue at the next level but his skill set and quickness won’t be.

Qualls’ attitude and background are also interesting. For example:

The big difference between Qualls and Vea is the upside and measurables. Qualls’ ceiling isn’t as high. Vea could be Haloti Ngata. Qualls doesn’t have that profile but he’s big and physical and disruptive and could be available in round two. Vea, if he turns pro, could go top-15.

This is a really talented Husky team playing in the Seahawks backyard. There’s a reason they’re #4 in the country with an opportunity to play Alabama. They are really, really good. It just feels destined that the local pro team is going to tap into the talent pool. You can imagine John Ross at receiver in Seattle or Budda Baker at safety. Joe Mathis playing the edge? Sounds good to me. Dante Pettis in the later rounds? You can imagine it.

But that D-line trio perfectly fit what the Seahawks need. The signing of John Jenkins was a nod to that. Size + disruption + TFL’s. It’s unlikely they’re going to get that ultra-quick three-technique this year. And while there will be alternatives (eg Derrick Nnadi) it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if they took a long look at someone like Qualls.

There are still other positions with interesting prospects too. Garett Bolles at Utah as a possible right tackle option, there’s a collection of running backs and some interesting linebackers like Zach Cunningham.

This is going to be a fun draft.

 

Seahawks pick later in the draft than any other team

December 19th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

The last guy the Seahawks drafted early in the draft

The Seahawks haven’t had an early pick since 2012, when they selected Bruce Irvin at #15. They’ve since consistently picked later in the draft than any other contender over the last five years.

Why is this is noteworthy? I’m glad you asked…

We’re currently experiencing the greatest example of parity in the NFL. The 2016 season is a jumbled mess of flawed teams. For the first time in a good few years there isn’t an elite three or four. Any team making the playoffs probably has a shot to make the Super Bowl.

The Seahawks themselves have suffered a regression. Having won the DVOA title four years in a row, they were 10th this season before the Rams game. They’re ranked #14 for explosive plays in 2016, down from #3 in 2015.

The defense ranked #1 vs the run in 2015. They’re down to #8 in 2016. Offensively they were #3 in the run game last year but they’re only #18 this season.

Seattle’s turnover differential is -1 this season. It was +6 in 2015 and +9 in 2014.

The defense also needs three interceptions in the last two games to match 2015’s total of 14.

They’re virtually down across the board apart from sacks and points conceded. They have 36 sacks this year and should be able to surpass 2015’s 37 in the next two games. The Seahawks have the #2 scoring defense, having given up just two more points than #1 New England.

Staying at the top is difficult and most teams, even the regular contenders, fall back into the pack. Seattle’s consistent run of winning since 2012 — especially within a very competitive division up until this season — is only matched by two teams (the Patriots and Broncos).

The silver lining of a down year or two is the ability to pick earlier in the draft and add a core player to your group. An injection of pure talent. The Giants, having been competitive for several years and winning two Super Bowls, fell back in 2013 and that allowed them to select Odell Beckham Jr.

Other teams that have contended over the last five seasons are peaking now after several years of picking early. Carolina selected Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly and Star Lotulelei in consecutive years before having their charge to the Super Bowl. Atlanta reloaded with three picks in the top-17 over the last three years. They currently have as many wins as the Seahawks this season.

Seattle’s consistency in terms of winning has somewhat hurt them in the talent acquisition stakes. They’ve not had a top-20 pick to get things going again. Most teams only give out 10-20 first round grades in a given draft. The Seahawks haven’t been able to get near those players.

While they have in the past found gems in the middle or later rounds — that’s a very difficult thing to maintain over multiple years.

They’ve somewhat tried to compensate for this by making big trades for star players like Jimmy Graham and Percy Harvin, with mixed results.

Nothing, however, can replace the cheap quality you get if you nail an early pick. And that’s something the Seahawks haven’t been able to do — and it’s perhaps one of the reasons why they’ve not been able to continue just loading up on talent after a historically great run of recruitment between 2010-2012.

Eleven teams have competed in a NFC or AFC Championship game in the last five years. Here is the average draft position of each teams first pick since 2011:

New York Giants — 16.8
Arizona Cardinals — 17.5
Carolina Panthers — 17.8
San Francisco 49ers — 18.1
Atlanta Falcons — 19.0
Baltimore Ravens — 23.8
Denver Broncos — 24.3
Indianapolis Colts — 25.5
Green Bay Packers — 27.3
New England Patriots — 35.1
Seattle Seahawks — 40.1

So over the last few years, on average the Seahawks are making their first pick nearly 25 spots lower than division rivals Arizona, 21 picks lower than the Falcons and even 13 places lower than Green Bay.

This is arguably one of the reasons why they’ve struggled to match the 2010-12 draft success in 2013-16. The later round gems have dried up, possibly because other teams are now looking to mimic Seattle’s approach and are taking ‘Seahawky’ players earlier. Overall they’re picking much later than any other team not named New England.

That’s also possibly why they’ve been creative. It’s probably why they’ve made trades, it’s probably why they’re looking for deliberate traits and specific physical profiles. If you’re picking later and want to try and find great players — getting upside and trying to develop it is probably your best shot. Otherwise you’re just not getting close enough to the genuine talent in the top-15 or so picks.

If the Seahawks can get back to their best over the next couple of years without picking in the top-20, it’ll be a triumph and arguably an unprecedented achievement in a league determined to achieve parity. That’s what the record tells us. It’s how a team as well run as Baltimore goes from winning a Super Bowl and consistently picking in the 20’s or 30’s to suddenly being at #17 and taking C.J. Mosley or #6 and Ronnie Stanley.

It might also suggest the Seahawks will continue to be creative to get around this. More trades? Maybe, if the cap space allows for it. Would they trade up the board, ala Atlanta in 2011 for Julio Jones? Another possibility. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility they’ll think they need the spark of a top prospect to reinvigorate things.

Failing that, continuing to look for unique traits with the upside to develop into greatness seems likely. And it might be that way while ever they’re unable to pick the best fruit at the top of the tree.

I’d recommend checking out this piece by Bob McGinn at the Journal Sentinel. Every year he publishes some of the best sourced info on the draft. He has some interesting insider tidbits on some of the prospects eligible for 2017. Have a read.

 

Two possible profiles for Seattle D-line targets

December 16th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

1. The Seahawks might want more DL size
Speaking to Brock and Salk this morning, Pete Carroll made reference to Seattle’s D-line: “We’re not very big, we’re just fast and really really athletic and it showed up last night.”

It’s pretty obvious, given the personnel moves the Seahawks have made over the years, that they love twitchy, fast pass rushers. It’d be wrong to think they’re suddenly going to deviate from that.

However, the recent addition of 359lbs John Jenkins was maybe a sign that they do want some extra bulk in the middle. Interestingly, when Jenkins was signed Carroll talked about boosting the interior rush.

When it comes to the off-season, it’s at least worth considering players with a big frame that are also disruptive. That could mean the Seahawks show interest in the Washington D-liners if they enter the draft:

Vita Vea: 6-5, 332lbs, 5.5 TFL’s, 4 sacks
Elijah Qualls: 6-1, 321lbs, 5 TFL’s, 3 sacks
Greg Gaines: 6-2, 318lbs, 8 TFL’s, 3.5 sacks

The Seahawks don’t need a 10-sack monster inside. They really just need to replace the 6.5 sacks collected by Clinton McDonald in 2013 and Jordan Hill in 2014. If not in terms of pure numbers — at least in terms of pressures.

It’s worth noting Tony Pauline’s report this week. He suggested Qualls will turn pro but Vea will not (he didn’t mention Gaines).

It’s why it might also be worth repeating that Dontari Poe is a pending free agent and Kansas City are in a bit of a difficult cap situation in 2017. With only around $4m to spend at the moment they’ll need to create room to re-sign Eric Berry. It could mean Poe hits the market. He’d provide a nice compliment of size and athleticism. At his combine in 2012 he ran a 4.98 at 346lbs.

2. The Seahawks would love a 4.6 runner at three technique
At the end of the same piece on ESPN 710, Carroll noted Aaron Donald’s speed and made reference to Henry Melton. The Seahawks reportedly tried to sign Melton a couple of years ago, although his value (and subsequent performance) diminished after a serious knee injury.

Melton was initially a running back at Texas before converting to defensive tackle. At the Longhorns pro-day in 2009 he ran a 4.64 at 6-3 and 269lbs with a 34.5 inch vertical and a 10-1 broad jump. It was an incredible performance.

At the 2014 combine, Aaron Donald posted a 4.68 forty at 6-1 and 285lbs. He had a 32 inch vertical and a 9-8 in the broad jump. His 10-yard split was a 1.59.

Both players are rare — but by the sound of Carroll’s enthusiasm and the specific reference to Melton when discussing Donald — it’s worth keeping an eye on any players (early round, late round or UDFA) that post a 4.6 forty in that 270-285lbs range.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many out there.

In 2016 only three defensive lineman ran under 4.7 at the combine — Charles Tapper, Emmanuel Ogbah and Kamalei Correa. Two managed it in 2015 — Danielle Hunter and Owamagbe Odighizuwa. None of these players are interior rushers.

In 2014 four D-liners ran under 4.7 but only two possible interior rushers — Jadeveon Clowney (the #1 overall pick) and Aaron Donald.

There’s probably some flexibility here. For example, given the opportunity to draft someone with Cameron Jordan’s physical profile (6-4, 287lbs, 35 inch arms, 4.74 forty, 1.64 split, 31 inch vertical, 9-9 broad) they’d probably seriously consider it.

There’s a nice collection of defensive linemen in this upcoming draft. It’ll be interesting to see if any fit this kind of physical profile. Length, probably a 4.6 or 4.7, 275-290lbs and preferably good results in the explosion tests and 10-yard split. Quickness might be the key though.

Michigan’s Taco Charlton is listed at 6-5 and 277lbs. He has some nice length. He could be someone to watch at the combine. UCLA’s Takk McKinley would be another — but he appears destined for the top-15.

At the 2013 Nike SPARQ combine Stanford’s Solomon Thomas actually had a good workout overall. Yet he posted a 4.95 forty at 261lbs. He’s now listed at 273lbs. Some aspects of his game are appealing — but he might not be quick enough.

 

Instant reaction: Seahawks win NFC West

December 15th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Considering Seattle’s struggles against the Rams over the years, a comprehensive 24-3 victory shouldn’t be taken for granted.

That said, this was a typically sloppy Thursday night game. And the Seahawks still don’t really look like the Seahawks.

After a five-interception performance against the Packers, a conservative game plan was expected against a Rams team with an interim Head Coach and starting a rookie QB. Yet the Seahawks, again, didn’t seem overly interested in establishing the run. Their bread and butter for years.

Nothing summed it up better than a 1st and goal at the one yard line. I-Formation. And the Seahawks run a play action pass to a covered Jimmy Graham which was incredibly close to being picked off.

That’s how little trust they have for their running game it seems.

In the first half they managed 15 yards from 11 carries. Two of those carries were Wilson scrambles and one was a Jimmy Graham screen. Thomas Rawls tried eight runs — one being a throwaway draw play on 3rd and 15.

That’s not trying to set the tone and impose yourself.

They finished with 97 yards, 33 coming on the fake punt by Jon Ryan. Rawls managed only 49 yards from 21 carries.

Maybe they weren’t confident running right at LA’s strength (interior D-line)? Yet Seattle’s strength used to be a physical, pounding running game. And increasingly they’re going away from that.

This was another night when the offense — and pretty much the entire team — was going where Russell Wilson could take them.

It’s such a delicate situation. Pass protection is not a strength. If Wilson is impacted and pressured and if the offense faces adversity — what can they turn to?

This type of game is manageable in the safer climes of Century Link field. On the road with crowd noise in a hostile environment? Isn’t this why Seattle is 0-4-1 at NFC opponents this year? Scoring 8.5 points a game.

It comes back to the glass cannon argument. This team is potentially so potent, so explosive. But even a modest setback creates a crack. There’s always a real danger it’ll shatter.

After the Green Bay game it felt like the biggest future need was interior pass rush. Tonight makes you realise they equally still need to fix the run. They need a consistent running game.

Some other notes:

— What on earth was the end of the game all about? A fake punt, leading to a concussion for Jon Ryan. Throwing on 3rd and 20 and forcing an interception? A meaningless drive, risking injury, shaking the cage and trying to embarrass the Rams. All it achieved was an injured punter and an interception. Madness.

— How healthy is Rawls? Is that a factor at all? And how concerned are the Seahawks about their depth? Alex Collins didn’t get a single carry.

— Russell Wilson finished with an impressive stat-line. He still didn’t look anywhere close to his best. He was a Jimmy Graham big toe away from a vital red-zone interception. He had another possible pick dropped in the end zone in the first half. The late pick was as ill-advised as any of the Green Bay turnovers. His eleven interceptions is a career high. Is he taking more risks? And if so, why?

— The pass rush was better tonight. LA’s bad O-line was overmatched and the EDGE rushers feasted. This is their type of game. They had five sacks. Surprisingly they didn’t force a turnover despite a couple of near misses for LA.

— Mike Morgan had a really nice day, getting off blocks to make two big TFL’s. It’s not easy to tackle Todd Gurley in space, he did it on both occasions. All of the linebackers played well again.

— It’s a good job the Seahawks don’t play for 10 days. With Michael Bennett and Jon Ryan leaving the field with concussions — they’ll need as much time as possible to make it back for the Arizona game. Ryan isn’t just the punter — he’s the holder on field goals.

— The Seahawks are NFC West Champions again. A few weeks ago, with Wilson hobbled, that felt like it would’ve been a big achievement. It still is — and should be celebrated. If Seattle wins out they have a very good chance to be the #2 seed. They have time to find form before the post-season — but they’ve got a lot to work on.

 

How can the Seahawks become road warriors again?

December 14th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

The Seahawks are 0-4-1 on the road vs the NFC. In the past they’ve been veritable road warriors during the Russell Wilson era.

Not in 2016.

A physical running game and a stingy defense travels well. The Seahawks, this year, are like a lot of other teams. They’re relying on their passing game. On the road in a tough, noisy environment — it doesn’t take much to knock a passing game out of sync. Then you’re chasing the game. Then you’re at a disadvantage.

There’s a reason why in the five road games vs NFC opponents, Seattle is averaging 8.5 points a game. That includes the Earl Thomas pick-six vs New Orleans and the two-point safety in Tampa Bay.

Getting back to the brand of football that travels well and served this team until the back end of 2015 could be a focus in the off-season. That means getting a tone-setter at running back and finding a way to replenish the defense.

Here’s a scenario that will divide opinion. And let me stress — this is a talking point. I’m not arguing the Seahawks should, will or could do this. I’m trying to take our minds off the Green Bay meltdown.

In Todd McShay’s first 2017 mock draft today he had Leonard Fournette going #7 overall to Carolina. Fournette is exactly the type of running back you need to set the tone on the road. A 6-1, 235lbs monster. He seeks contact, runs over defenders, pounds it up the gut and is still capable of hitting a home run.

Even though McShay has him falling to #7, he still had this to say:

“Fournette hasn’t budged from the No. 1 spot in my prospect rankings all season. He is a rare talent for the position, the best college running back I’ve evaluated since Adrian Peterson in 2007.”

Fournette and Myles Garrett will be competing to be #1 on most draft boards. The Seahawks reportedly ranked Todd Gurley as the best player in the 2015 draft. Fournette is better and isn’t recovering from a torn ACL.

It is going to be impossible to find another Marshawn Lynch. Fournette is a very different body type to Lynch, but in terms of attitude and physical presence he might be as close as you’ll ever come.

McShay has the Jets picking at #6. They might be open to trading with a NFC team. New York has had a miserable season and they’re in need of a major rebuild. They need young talent to replace the ageing core they have (Brandon Marshall, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Darrelle Revis etc).

In 2011 the Atlanta Falcons moved from #26 overall to #6, making a deal with another AFC team, Cleveland, looking to acquire multiple picks during a rebuild. They moved up to get Julio Jones.

The trade cost Atlanta the #26 overall pick, their second round pick (#59) and their fourth round pick (#124). The Falcons also traded their 2012 first round pick and another fourth rounder.

The Seahawks would need to give up something similar to move up for Fournette using McShay’s mock as an example. Could they justify such a move?

Seattle’s roster is pretty much set. It’s arguably the most talented roster in the NFL. What it’s lacking is a consistency. It’s missing elements that were vital to the core philosophy of the team in 2013 and 2014 (physical running game).

Sacrificing two first round picks for one player is always a risk. That said, it’s not like the Seahawks have had a great deal of success picking early over the years:

2011 — James Carpenter, John Moffitt
2012 — Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner
2013 — Percy Harvin (trade), Christine Michael
2014 — Paul Richardson, Justin Britt
2015 — Jimmy Graham (trade), Frank Clark
2016 — Germain Ifedi, Jarran Reed

By trading for Fournette you might be missing out on another quality player like Wagner. You also might only be giving up the chance to select three players similar to James Carpenter, Christine Michael and Paul Richardson.

The Seahawks are expected to receive a third round compensatory pick again this year. That would limit the 2017 damage to the teams draft stock. They don’t own a fourth rounder (traded to New England for Quinton Jefferson a year ago) but from next year teams are allowed to deal compensatory picks for the first time. So while they would be surrendering a first, second and compensatory third rounder in 2017 — they would still pick twice in the first two days of the draft.

Such a deal would make it difficult to address both the key defensive need and add further competition to the O-line. It would likely be dependant on a free agent splash for an interior defensive lineman. As discussed yesterday — there could be some options. The Seahawks will have around $38-40m to spend with the cap potentially increasing to as much as $170m overall.

Kawann Short, Calais Campbell and Dontari Poe stand out as possible free agents. Carolina and Arizona both have significant cap room to retain Short and Campbell but Kansas City, at the moment, are scheduled to be just $4m in the black for 2017. With a big contract extension for Eric Berry expected to be their priority — there’s a strong possibility Poe hits the open market.

There will likely be alternative options too.

Campbell might be more likely to be available if the Cardinals decide to get younger and reshape their roster after a down year. They do also have to pay Chandler Jones.

In terms of offensive tackles, they might be able to target someone like USC’s Chad Wheeler at the back of day two or during day three.

The plan would be to acquire a veteran interior defensive lineman in free agency, trade up Fournette and still come away with an O-liner you can work with (Wheeler?) and potentially leave yourself with the draft capital to target someone like Shalom Luani.

It’s fanciful. It’s unrealistic. It’s crazy, zany and unlikely. It probably won’t happen. Just like the trades for Jimmy Graham and Percy Harvin…

This would be an extremely aggressive off-season for the Seahawks — but they are right in the middle of a Championship window. Isn’t this the time to be aggressive?

Some will love this idea. Others would prefer the Seahawks keep their picks and maybe target other running backs to address this need. Maybe a D’Onta Foreman or a Samaje Perine for example.

That’s a very sound, logical stance to take. But Fournette has the potential to be special. He can be that generational, unique talent. Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch. Fournette is made from the same material.

Looking at McShay’s mock
If you have an ESPN Insider account you can see it in full here. I’m going to post my own mock below and then compare it to McShay’s to see which players are available to the Seahawks that weren’t in mine.

Rob’s mock…

1. Browns — Myles Garrett (EDGE, Texas A&M)
2. 49ers — Mitch Trubisky (QB, North Carolina)
3. Jaguars — Leonard Fournette (RB, LSU)
4. Bears — Jonathan Allen (DE, Alabama)
5. Jets — Jabrill Peppers (S, Michigan)
6. Titans (via Rams) — Reuben Foster (LB, Alabama)
7. Panthers — Jamal Adams (S, LSU)
8. Saints — Tim Williams (EDGE, Alabama)
9. Browns (via Eagles) — Dalvin Cook (RB, Florida State)
10. Chargers — Malik Hooker (S, Ohio State)
11. Cardinals — Marlon Humphrey (CB, Alabama)
12. Bengals — Takkarist McKinley (EDGE, UCLA)
13. Colts — Garett Bolles (T, Utah)
14. Bills — O.J. Howard (TE, Alabama)
15. Titans — Sidney Jones (CB, Washington)
16. Ravens — Demarcus Walker (DE, Florida State)
17. Eagles (via Vikings) — John Ross (WR, Washington)
18. Packers — Quincy Wilson (CB, Florida)
19. Washington — Zach Cunningham (LB, Vanderbilt)
20. Dolphins — Jalen Tabor (CB, Florida)
21. Texans — Justin Evans (S, Texas A&M)
22. Buccaneers — Adoree’ Jackson (CB, USC)
23. Broncos — Malik McDowell (DE, Michigan State)
24. Falcons — Budda Baker (S, Washington)
25. Steelers — Deshaun Watson (QB, Clemson)
26. Seahawks — ????

Players available to Seattle in McShay’s mock that weren’t in mine

Mitch Trubisky (QB, North Carolina)
Malik Hooker (S, Ohio State)
Garett Bolles (T, Utah)
Sidney Jones (CB, Washington)
Demarcus Walker (DE, Florida State)
Zach Cunningham (LB, Vanderbilt)
Justin Evans (S, Texas A&M)
Adoree’ Jackson (CB, USC)
Budda Baker (S, Washington)
Deshaun Watson (QB, Clemson)

Players available in both mocks

Obi Melifonwu (S, Connecticut)
Tre’Davious White (CB, LSU)
Deshone Kizer (QB, Notre Dame)
Christian McCaffrey (RB, Stanford)
Solomon Thomas (DE, Stanford)
Derrick Nnadi (DT, Florida State)
Jake Butt (TE, Michigan)
Cam Sutton (CB, Tennessee)
Marcus Maye (S, Florida)
Dorian Johnson (G, Pittsburgh)
Alex Anzalone (LB, Florida)
Evan Engram (TE, Ole Miss)
Dan Feeney (G, Indiana)
Ryan Anderson (LB, Alabama)
Lowell Lotulelei (DT, Utah)
Bucky Hodges (TE, Virginia Tech)
Chris Wormley (DT, Michigan)
Samaje Perine (RB, Oklahoma)
Dawuane Smoot (EDGE, Illinois)
Elijah Qualls (DT, Washington)
Josey Jewell (LB, Iowa)
Dalvin Tomlinson (DT, Alabama)
Haason Reddick (LB, Temple)

Obviously the name that stands out is Garett Bolles. McShay doesn’t include him in the first round, possibly because he hasn’t declared yet. If he turns pro he should find a home in the top-20.

Demarcus Walker is another player available in McShay’s mock. His versatility, size, repertoire, technique and production would be very intriguing. He is listed at 280lbs so could play inside/out. That might be a little generous.

The likes of Derrick Nnadi are there, plus big names and likely top-25 picks Zach Cunningham, Sidney Jones, Justin Evans and Adoree’ Jackson.

So if the Seahawks don’t pull off any bold trades — these two mocks show there will be plenty of options for Seattle. The question is — is now the time to make a splash? Is this team at a point where a bold move can be justified?

McShay’s pick for Seattle is Notre Dame left tackle Mike McGlinchey:

McGlinchey has held firm that he’s likely to return to school, but for now he’s eligible. While he’d benefit from one more year of physical development and technique work, an OT-needy team such as the Seahawks would give McGlinchey a long look because of his length and upside if he decided to leave early.

It’ll be interesting to see if Deshone Kizer’s decision to turn pro influences McGlinchey to make a similar decision.

 

Salary cap to rise more than expected in 2017

December 13th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Initial projections had the cap rising to around $164m in 2017. Spotrac assumed that amount when compiling their data. It means the Seahawks will have between $2-6m extra cap space than we initially thought in the off-season.

So what is the new magic number? Anywhere between $38-42m in cap space.

Significant.

They will have to do some work in-house. It’s safe to assume they will try to re-sign Steven Hauschka. DeShawn Shead is a restricted free agent but they might try to sign him to a longer term deal. Michael Bennett and Kam Chancellor are also likely to receive a pay rise and extension. They should still have ample cap room to be active in free agency.

It’s worth noting the spending explosion that occurred last year. A year ago we were discussing Olivier Vernon as a possible cost-effective target. He ended up signing a deal worth $17m a year with $52.5m in guarantees. As the cap rises, so will salaries.

Seattle’s greatest need at the moment is arguably interior pass rush. In 2013 and 2014 they had a defensive tackle with 6.5 sacks. In 2015 and 2016, that production has disappeared.

They have quick-twitch, skillful EDGE rushers on this roster. They don’t have a big, disruptive defensive tackle collapsing the pocket and recording TFL’s.

There will be options in the draft — we’ve discussed Derrick Nnadi, Chris Wormley, Dalvin Tomlinson, Caleb Brantley, Jaleel Johnson and others. But this is a team that has had most of its success on the D-line in the veteran market (Clemons, Avril, Bennett, McDonald, Rubin) and they might be able to bring in a veteran with their free cap space.

The Kansas City Chiefs are really tight on their 2017 cap and might not be able to retain Dontari Poe. Could he be an option? What about Calais Campbell at Arizona?

Is Kawann Short totally out of reach in Carolina? Probably.

The chances are Poe and Short might be out of range financially — but Campbell (now 30) might be the kind of veteran presence this team needs working the interior. He might not be so keen to join a division rival — but his personality and style of play would presumably fit Seattle perfectly.

Their two other key needs — offensive tackle and running back — can also be addressed. There will be options in the draft at RB in particular. For example, Tony Pauline is ranking D’Onta Foreman and Samaje Perine in round three, with Elijah Hood in round four. With the Seahawks likely picking late in the second and third and possibly getting a third round compensatory pick for Bruce Irvin, they will have an opportunity to add another back to their stable.

At tackle, Garett Bolles might end up out of reach and in the top-20 — but Adam Bisnowaty could still be an option. We’ll have to see how he tests. Pauline grades him in round three and reported this today:

People I’ve spoken with are comparing Pittsburgh tackle Adam Bisnowaty to Ricky Wagner of the Baltimore Ravens. Most expect Bisnowaty to be selected earlier than Wagner, who was a fifth round selection in 2013, but feel Bisnowaty doesn’t wow anyone on film and won’t test off the charts athletically. Subsequently he will be under-drafted much in the same manner Wagner was.

I continue to hear nothing but good things on Bisnowaty’s teammate Dorian Johnson. Most feel Johnson, who grades as our top offensive guard, is NFL ready and will quickly break in with the starting unit on Sunday.

Keep an eye on Johnson. If the Seahawks were willing to consider moving Germain Ifedi to tackle, Johnson could be a nice interior target as early as round two. He’s had a really nice season for Pittsburgh. I’ve seen it suggested he has the athleticism to try out at tackle.

Another option could be USC’s Chad Wheeler. It’s been noted by those who report these kind of things that the Seahawks have sent scouts to watch the Trojans several times this year. I’ve just watched Wheeler’s tape vs Washington. He’s clearly athletic with the length you like for the next level. On the negative side he’s a bit of a reacher and lunger and his hand placement is frequently high and wide. That’s an issue and combined with his height (6-6) he often struggles to gain leverage.

That said, he fits the zone-blocking style and should be a good tester. You see a mean-streak. In the Husky game he was playing beyond the whistle. I can imagine the Seahawks liking him and he’s likely to be available at the end of day two or during day three.

Pauline also has Dion Dawkins and Taylor Moton graded in rounds 3-4. There are going to be options at tackle if Bolles isn’t there early. We’ll have a clearer picture on who they likely will/won’t be interested in after the combine.

NOTE: This next bit is looking way ahead but hey — why not? Would you rather spend more time talking about the Green Bay game instead???

If they felt comfortable waiting on the tackle and running back and if they can find a veteran presence to help the interior D-line — what does that mean for the draft?

A lot of people are suggesting players and positions for the first round that aren’t what you’d call ‘primary needs’. In the fantasy scenario we’re discussing where the key needs are addressed without using the first round pick — this is where they might be able to be a bit creative. Go for a player who just fits what this team is about. The profile, the character, the upside, the grit.

SAM linebacker is not a major need. Mike Morgan played only 29% of the snaps against Carolina and Green Bay. Seattle is comfortable playing an extra rusher or corner and just leaving Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright on the field.

If they were ever going to consider spending a high pick on a SAM — that player would need to be good enough to stay on the field in any situation. They’d need to be adept at covering or rushing — or both.

Last week I spent time watching Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham. I intended to publish a piece on him yesterday but the Packers game happened so…

The Seahawks love length and an explosive athletic profile. Cunningham ticks both boxes. He’s 6-4 and 230lbs and a former four-star recruit with long arms. He’s from Alabama and was drawing interest from ‘Bama and Auburn. ESPN’s Chris Low highlights how he ended up at Vanderbilt:

Alabama and Nick Saban were interested, but the Crimson Tide wanted Cunningham to grayshirt — waiting a semester to enroll — and take that time to bulk up and get stronger. Auburn offered initially, but in the transition from Gene Chizik to Gus Malzahn, Glover said the Tigers informed him late that they were pulling the scholarship offer because they only had one left at linebacker and were saving it for Reuben Foster.

I’d highly recommend reading that ESPN article. It details a lot of the things that make Cunningham such an interesting prospect. Here are some select quotes:

“He’s in love with the game of football, and you see that every day in the way he prepares”

“Go back and watch that last play against Georgia, and you don’t even see Zach in the picture… All of a sudden, you see a blur and a snatch. You look up and you’re like, ‘Where did he come from?’ You don’t coach that.”

“It was Zach and Gurley one-on-one. It wasn’t Zach and somebody else and Gurley, just Zach, and he made the play all three times. Guys in the NFL don’t tackle Gurley in that situation and it made me realize how special this young man can be. He sees things before they happen and has so many dimensions to him as a player, but what separates him is his ability to close and finish.”

He also plays the guitar. You can already semi-picture him with Pete Carroll working a little guitar/piano duet.

Cunningham hasn’t recorded a single sack in 2016 (he had 4.5 last year) but he does have 16.5 TFL’s. If he can add a little more weight and with his length — he could develop into more of a pass-rushing threat.

Chad Reuter recently compared him to Karlos Dansby. He plays at around 250lbs and has 41 career sacks. You might be able to justify taking him early if you believe he can emulate Dansby and get into the 4-6 sack range regularly.

Tony Pauline ranks him as a late first or early second round prospect. He has an opportunity to move well into the first round after the combine.

So what does the tape show?

He’s really good in coverage, sitting in underneath zone. When he needs to read, react and explode to the ball carrier he’ll do it. He has a knack of making the key, jarring tackle just before the sticks.

Cunningham has the athleticism to go sideline-to-sideline, plays with a lot of intensity and knows how to use his length to avoid blocks and stay clean.

He has enough about him to work against tight ends at the second level (this has been less of an issue for Seattle in 2016) and the athleticism to work against some receivers. He has six forced fumbles in the last two seasons and an innate ability to get a hand in there to strip the ball free.

His personality is all business but he comes across well in interviews. He looks like a fit in that regard for the Seahawks. The only real question is how athletic is he? Will he perform so well at the combine that he moves firmly into the top-25? And if not, will he perform well enough to be special enough for the Seahawks? They love unique, SPARQy traits in round one — not ‘decent’ traits.

The Seahawks are usually so tuned in to filling their biggest needs it’s hard to imagine they’d do anything else early in the draft. If they were able to add a proven veteran to help the interior pass rush, a suggestion like Zach Cunningham carries more weight.

It’s pretty clear Seattle needs more on that D-line though. More pressure from the inside. Pressure + size to compliment the twitchy EDGE rushers on the defense. That will seemingly be a big priority, along with fixing elements of the offense.

 

Monday notes & podcast: What is Seattle’s identity?

December 12th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

You’ll find this weeks podcast above. Kenny and I pick through the bones of the Green Bay game and Joe McAtee joins us to talk about Jeff Fisher’s exit in LA.

Meanwhile here are some further thoughts following last night’s game…

1. What has happened to Seattle’s identity?

It looks like it’s evolved to the point where Russell Wilson is the glue that sticks everything together. If the passing game isn’t working, the running game is washed away or abandoned. If the offense doesn’t function, it puts pressure on the defense to compensate.

The defense has generally answered the call. In the road defeats to Los Angeles, New Orleans and Tampa Bay, plus the tie in Arizona, the Seahawks conceded an average of 13.5 points.

The problem is, Seattle’s offense produced an average of just 8.5 points in those games. That’s incredible for this team.

Sunday’s game was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The defense didn’t have an answer for all of the turnovers. They gave up 38 points. A day like this, with an offense like this, had probably been coming.

The five road games in LA, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Arizona and Green Bay all had one thing in common — bad passing performances. Injuries were a major factor in the first three games, but not so against the Bucs or Packers.

Wilson has one touchdown in these five games compared to eight interceptions. He’s completing 60% of his passes with a QB rating of 65. Compare that to the win in New England — three touchdowns, zero turnovers, 68% completions and a QB rating of 124.6.

Whether this was intended or not — the Seahawks appear to be like most other teams in the league — tied to the performance of their quarterback. When he’s hot they’re capable of being the Patriots in their own backyard. When he’s cold — this team cannot function as intended.

2. So why can’t they just go back to running the ball?

Last night I was involved in a group discussion with Kip Earlywine, former blogger for this website. He made an assertion that struck a chord.

Kip suggested that Marshawn Lynch was capable of having a 20-carry, 60-yard performance and you still felt he’d impacted the game. His 60-yard effort helped set a tone, commanded respect and attention, wore down a defense and gave the Seahawks an edge in terms of mental and physical toughness.

Is this sorely missing from the post-Marshawn Seahawks?

When we discussed running backs in this podcast, we talked about the difference between a game-impacting running back and a stat-collector.

Christine Michael was on pace for a 1000-yard season in Seattle. Any running back that averages 65-yards a game will get that. Statistics are often used to diminish the role of a running back (eg the argument that you can find a back anywhere in the draft). For teams that use the run as a mere compliment to a high-octane passing game, that is fine. If you want the run to be your core identity, if you want to send a message and make it an integral part of your team — you arguably need someone who does more.

Leonard Fournette, for example, has the size, physical profile, aggressive tone-setting running ability and extreme talent to demand constant attention during the weekly game plan by an opponent. They will spend several days working out a scheme to limit him. And on game day they might restrict his performance to 60-yards, but as Marshawn Lynch would say, “I’m gon’ get mine more than I get got“.

The impact of a runner like that does more than just put yards on the board. You’re able to send a message. By the fourth quarter, the defense is tired.

Game, impacted.

Thomas Rawls might be able to develop into this type of back. He’s a bundle of tenacity. He is physical. He is explosive and aggressive and exciting. He’s likeable and easy to root for. It’d be fantastic if he can become a star for this team.

But so far, he’s never been healthy enough to truly establish himself.

Kip suggested he was more playmaker than tone setter — and for now, I agree. He gets yards. He makes really good plays. But is he enabling the Seahawks to impose their will on an opponent? Are teams truly fearful of him — or are they prepared to tolerate a 100-yard performance from Rawls knowing if they just impact Russell Wilson, you can seriously limit the Seahawks?

This is a very different offense with Wilson, Rawls, Jimmy Graham, Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett at the heart of it all. There was a dependancy and a reliability with Lynch. You knew he’d be out there and even on the tougher days for yardage — he’d be impacting a game.

When the current core are rolling — this is possibly the most explosive, exciting offense in the league. But it doesn’t take too much to knock them out of rhythm. Kip called it a ‘glass cannon’ — “amazing when everything goes right, but a disaster in the face of even nominal adversity.”

He might be right.

3. How does this team get back to greatness?

I’m not sure it’s achievable this year. They will bounce back from the Green Bay loss, I’m convinced about that. It’s quite possible they win out, gain the #2 seed and will need to win one home game and one road game to reach another Super Bowl. It’s not beyond a team that beat the Patriots in New England just a few weeks ago.

There might not be a more talented team in terms of individuals in the NFL. The key is forming the group into a consistent, balanced force before the playoffs.

It’s also worth noting that previous Super Bowl winners have faced adversity late in the season. The 2008 Steelers were beaten 31-14 by the Titans in week 16. The 2009 Saints lost their final three regular season games before winning it all. The 2011 Giants finished 9-7, had a four game losing streak at one point and lost at home to Washington 23-10 in week 15.

Whatever happens it feels like this is a particularly crucial off-season in 2017. The Seahawks need to fill three key needs if possible:

1. An upgrade at tackle
— This can be a left or right tackle. Someone capable of growing with this young group and competing immediately. It could be another rookie or a veteran addition.

We’ve long discussed Utah’s Garett Bolles — an ideal option with the kind of physical profile and mean-streak the Seahawks require. Tony Pauline today reported Bolles is seriously considering turning pro and is expected to make that decision. Pauline also believes he’s a future top-20 pick. So that could be the end of that (the Seahawks will not pick lower than #21 overall if they reach the playoffs).

2. Interior pass rush
— There could be some options in free agency (Calais Campbell?). However, it’s also a draft class where there could be some nice alternatives.

Pete Carroll referenced the lack of pass rush in Green Bay and it’s been a problem for three weeks now. Cliff Avril and Frank Clark have had productive seasons — but the rush is inconsistent and lacks an inside push. In 2013 and 2014 the Seahawks had a player (Clinton McDonald and then Jordan Hill) that recorded 6.5 sacks. That production has disappeared in 2015 and 2016. It is absolutely crucial — arguably the #1 need — that they’re able to fill that void with someone who can create pressure from the interior. It could be an impact DT or an inside-out rusher.

3. Running back
— This is a good looking draft class at running back. Not every RB will suit Seattle’s needs, but there will be options.

This is difficult to write about — because clearly Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise are excellent football players with a high ceiling. Neither has been able to stay healthy though. Combined with arguably the need to acquire someone who can provide a tone-setting compliment, this still looks like a target area. The Titans are the #3 rushing team in the league with DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry leading the way. Do the Seahawks need to channel ‘exotic smash-mouth’ and find a bigger back to help them get some tough yards? Maybe.

There are, of course, other needs people will mention. The three above seem like the most crucial to get this team playing consistent, productive football in 2017.

 

Instant reaction: Seahawks don’t look like Champions

December 11th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Tonight, it’s hard to find reasons to believe this is a Super Bowl season.

I don’t say that lightly. We don’t overreact here. I like to think we’ve offered a healthy dose of perspective over the years. This has been a consistently good football team for a long time. This is a golden age of Seahawks football.

Yet watching this — Seattle’s first decimation in over five years — there’s really only one cause for optimism. The wide open nature of the NFC.

The Seahawks still have a relatively straight forward route to the #2 seed. Home games against the Rams and Cards, then a trip to San Francisco. Win out and there’s every chance they get a first round bye and a home playoff game.

Aside from that, it’s hard to make a case for this team beyond reputation.

The quarterback is playing as poorly as he ever has.

The running game is being washed away.

The defense is struggling to create pressure with a four-man rush and jumps between fierce and formidable to passive and ineffective.

What is the identity of this team?

What can they hang their hat on at the moment? When they go into a game, what can they rely on? What is going to be good week-in, week-out? Which player? Which unit?

This was an embarrassing, uncharacteristic 38-10 beating.

They’re now 0-4-1 on the road against the NFC. Their last two games against Tampa Bay and Green Bay were hideously ugly. The LA and New Orleans losses were only a notch behind.

For a team capable of beating New England in their own backyard, they’ve been surprisingly poor in every NFC road game. In five of their seven trips they’ve scored 13 points or less. That is a problem.

Russell Wilson has thrown eight picks in his last three games. He’s 13-10. The injuries have no doubt impacted a year that started with so much optimism and talk of a MVP campaign — but that excuse is wearing thin.

Tonight he was fairly abysmal. Bad decisions, overthrows, inaccuracy. Awful.

The run game is being impacted by the fluctuating fortunes of the passing game. One week it looks great because the Seahawks are flowing and in the game. Then you get a day like this and they almost have to abandon it.

Despite the big sack numbers for Cliff Avril and Frank Clark — Seattle’s four-man rush struggled badly and has for three weeks. Aaron Rodgers had all day to find the mismatch, the open guy or the soft-spot in the zone. He extended plays with ease. At one point the camera’s caught him yawning. It really was that easy.

Can they cause consistent pressure without bringing extra rushers? And are they willing to take that risk now with Earl Thomas out?

It’s worth noting that this is a Green Bay team without two starting linebackers, their best pass rusher plus their starting center. Rodgers was limited with a hamstring issue, Clay Matthews is hurt and the right guard is not 100% either.

Could you tell?

John Schneider told ESPN 710 in the off-season they wanted to be the bullies again this year. They haven’t achieved that. At one point today the Green Bay D-line were chirping away at Seattle’s O-line. They pushed them around, had their way.

The Seahawks are not a bad team. Let’s get that straight. Most teams have a loss like this every now and again. But this is so out of character — that’s the concerning bit. It’s hard to work out whether it’s a sign of a gradual decline or just another off-day in a weird old season.

There are holes on the roster and some of them are more obvious than perhaps we thought at the start of the year. Arguably, there are also too many players simply not doing enough. Not pushing. Garry Gilliam has gone from starter to inactive. Alex Collins has allowed himself to become an afterthought despite the injuries at running back. They’ve already cut J’Marcus Webb and Christine Michael. Paul Richardson has drifted into the background.

Is the overall competition at the level you’d expect from this team? Are they carrying people?

Tampa Bay, Green Bay, Dallas. These are the teams hitting form in December like the Seahawks have in previous years.

Seattle will probably be in the playoffs — but they have to get better, right now. Because this doesn’t feel like a Championship team at the moment.