Instant reaction: Kam Chancellor saves Seattle’s season

October 5th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

With Seattle’s season on the line, Kam Chancellor came to the rescue.

Of all the people. Of all the possible storylines.

Chancellor, fresh from an elongated and controversial hold-out, kept the Seahawks alive tonight. It’s that simple. Blowing a ten point lead at home against a winless Detroit team before heading to in-form Cincinnati trying to avoid a 1-4 start?

It would’ve been mighty tempting to put a fork in these Seahawks.

Instead they hold serve — and it’s why the reaction to Chancellor’s incredible moment is more relief than jubilation.

It wasn’t just a season-saver. It’s one of the best defensive plays you’ll ever see in any game. Ever. Calvin Johnson is inches away from breaking the plain (see the video above). That’s how close the Seahawks came to 1-3. Chancellor’s timing and execution was perfect.

Much of the talk this week will center around Chancellor’s value to the team in light of the hold-out. The Seahawks will also be described as something of a paper-tiger and a long way off looking like a contender in the NFC. It’ll be a real disservice if the focus isn’t planted firmly on the greatness of Chancellor’s forced fumble.

It’s one for Century Link Field folklore.

Seattle wins 13-10.

It really shouldn’t have been that close.

The Seahawks were messy on offense and gave up six more sacks (now 18 for the season). They didn’t run the ball with any authority. They turned it over three times.

Somehow they were also coasting to an easy win at 13-3 in the fourth quarter.

Russell Wilson had for the most part a terrific game. He was under constant duress, flashed some of the usual Wilson magic and drew comparisons to a “Terminator” (hat-tip Jon Gruden).

He also had two ugly sack-fumbles and shares as much blame as anyone for his night on the run.

Seattle’s offensive line will be pummelled this week and let’s be right — they were awful. Drew Nowak false started twice and tossed an errant snap leading to a sack. Russell Okung had an off-night tussling with guys he should be dominating (such as ageing former Seahawk Darryl Tapp). Justin Britt struggled to set in pass protection all night and eliminated a nice Thomas Rawls gain with a holding penalty. Garry Gilliam so far isn’t securing the right tackle spot any more than the guy he replaced.

Only J.R. Sweezy came away with a modicum of respect from the game — delivering a nice cut-block to send Fred Jackson clear on a well choreographed screen-play.

It’s been a tough four games for the new-look Seahawks O-line but this felt like the worst performance so far against a Lions pass-rush no longer boasting Ndamukong Suh.

It’s not just an O-line problem, mind. The key play that made it a game came from a Wilson error. Nobody would describe blitz-pick-up as one of Wilson’s strong points. Yet when he called the blitz, didn’t seem to adjust and took a sack/fumble from a rushing safety (ran back for a touchdown) — suddenly it was game-on.

The full-backs and tight ends also offered very little protection on a miserable night for pass-pro across the board. Slate the O-line as much as you want — but it’s not the only problem here. Wilson has to do a better job sliding protection and the backs/TE’s need to step up to the plate too.

Nevertheless, the Seahawks already know their off-season priority — to rebuild the offensive line. It might take some seasoned stop-gap veterans to fill it out, plus some early draft stock. Just ploughing more rookies into the competition isn’t the answer. There’s a lack of experience, savviness and, unfortunately, talent. It’s a line built for upside. The early growing pains might lead to some success later in the year. However, lines need consistency. With Okung and Sweezy free agents next year, they might be back to square one in a few months. Okung and Sweezy are also the two more accomplished linemen.

Basing an offense on controlled chaos has led the Seahawks to two Super Bowls. They have an ideal quarterback to deal with the constant pressure. As a staunch defender of the line play in 2013 and 2014, it’s increasingly difficult to muster a defense in 2015. This line is just bad and needs major, major improvement as the absolute #1 off-season priority. They may regret not finding a way to add Evan Mathis before he joined the Broncos.

It’s not just the pass protection either. The Seahawks aren’t running the ball effectively. Thomas Rawls ended with 48 yards from 17 carries on a frustrating night. It’s hard to be overly critical of the running back though — on first viewing the line didn’t get much push at all.

It still seems like a waste trying to incorporate Jimmy Graham into Seattle’s offense, instead of featuring him without straying too far from their identity. Especially on a night without Marshawn Lynch and a struggling running game, it was strange not to see Graham utilised more. Even so, Wilson really needs to see his tight end on plays like this. Graham ended with four catches for just 29 yards.

Defensively there are issues too. The secondary suffocated the Lions pass-catchers until the final Detroit drive but the pass rush will need to be better next week. Was Matt Stafford touched apart from the near sack/fumble by Cliff Avril? Let’s not forget, the Lions also struggled mightily in pass-protection coming into the game.

As well as the DB’s played here (special note for Cary Williams’ display) — they’re still without a single interception in four games. If they keep forcing fumbles it won’t matter too much — but it’s strange to see this defense without a pick after a quarter of the season.

There are positives too. Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright excelled. Aside from Chancellor’s majestic fumble — he delivered a trademark bone-crunching hit to Calvin Johnson too. Tyler Lockett made some nice plays in the passing game (even if he did fumble a return). Jon Ryan and Steven Hauschka were both excellent. Wilson — fumbles aside — looked like the playmaker he can be at his best.

So onto to Cincinnati. In order to have any chance at all, they’ll need major improvements to the running game, pass protection and pass rush. This still doesn’t feel like the usual Seahawks offense that can grind you down, beat you up and win in the fourth quarter. That has to be a slight concern because when is it going to click?

I don’t know if Pete Carroll drinks at all — but he might indulge a stiff-one tonight. This game very nearly got away but for Kam Chancellor. John Schneider might want to share a glass too — because Seattle’s tone-setting strong safety just gained the biggest leverage play possible in any future contract dispute.


Interviews: Breno Giacomini & Geno Smith

October 4th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

Not Seahawks related, but I attended the Jets/Dolphins game in London yesterday and spoke to former Hawk Breno Giacomini and quarterback Geno Smith after the game.


College Football Saturday: Open thread

October 3rd, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

Watching a game? Watching a prospect? Anyone stand out? Or do you just want to talk about the PAC-12?

Whatever you want to discuss, here’s your thread.


Leonard Fournette vs Syracuse

October 1st, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

Leonard Fournette could be the #1 pick in 2017.

The breakaway speed at 230lbs. The ability to finish. The instinct to provide an option to the quarterback who was about to take a sack and make the big play after a juggling reception. The pass protection. The way he can pound the rock and find the edge.

There’s no reason to believe he isn’t the next big thing to enter the NFL. There are some doubters — but we’ll see how high he goes if he avoids injury. Trent Richardson was the #3 pick. Todd Gurley went at #10 with a serious knee injury. Fournette appears to be superior to both players.


3000 NFL mock draft: Episode #5

September 29th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

This week Kenneth and I were joined by Matt Brown from Sports on Earth. We dissect Dane Brugler’s latest mock draft at CBS Sportsline, discuss Leonard Fournette and end with a diatribe on Andrew Luck.


Instant reaction: Seahawks shut-out Bears

September 27th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

Despite the angst and booing at Century Link Field, it wasn’t a surprise to see a sluggish first half Seahawks performance and eventually a comprehensive 26-0 win.

Yes, this was an injury-ravaged Bears team missing several key players including their quarterback and #1 receiver. Chicago also has a veteran, respected (ultra-conservative) Head Coach in John Fox and two of the best coordinators in the NFL.

Vic Fangio was the driving force behind San Francisco’s excellent defense under Jim Harbaugh. Adam Gase is a talented game-planner who conjured up an offensive scheme that tested but didn’t really threaten Seattle’s unit.

Fox is well known for his love of the running game. It wasn’t a total shock to see Chicago run effectively to start the day without getting into range for even a long field goal.

After half-time Seattle pulled away with some key second half adjustments — out-gaining the Bears 162 yards to 24 in the third quarter — not including Tyler Lockett’s franchise record 105-yard kick return for a touchdown. The Bears crossed into Seattle territory once. The Seahawks ended a 194-game Chicago record for shut-outs. Every Bears possession ended in a punt. The impatient boo’s in the first half were not a good look for the 12th man.

Even so, it’s clear the Seahawks are still trying to find a rhythm on offense. And that’s fine. New England, Atlanta and one or two others have hit the ground running. The rest of the league are still working to find their true identity, Seattle included.

Darrell Bevell will continue to be scapegoated as the ‘face’ of the problems. In reality he didn’t drop a first-half pass (Thomas Rawls, Ricardo Lockette) that would’ve otherwise sprung big gains. He isn’t the one tasked with providing a functioning offensive line with his own hand-picked players (Tom Cable).

Bevell received criticism for calling a bubble screen to Jermaine Kearse and perhaps rightly so. He didn’t get any credit for the detailed, developing route Kearse executed before half-time for a significant gain. Such is the life of a play-caller.

There are several reasons why Seattle’s offense isn’t firing on all-cylinders at the moment. Marshawn Lynch’s latest mysterious disappearing act didn’t help to start the game (he eventually left for good with a hamstring issue). They clearly want to feature Jimmy Graham without shifting their focus too far from the original identity. Russell Wilson has not had a brilliant start to the new season either. Early in games he’s missed that spark — either as a scrambler or as a passer.

Does he trust the offensive line? Garry Gilliam was beat like a drum by Pernell McPhee. J.R. Sweezy had two ugly plays early on. Tom Cable was tasked with putting a functioning O-line on the field. Right now the line is a major weakness.

It’s also impacting Graham. Yes, it’s ugly to see him face McPhee off the edge. It’s also necessary to keep the tight end blocking if the O-line is struggling. At this early stage it seems clear Seattle’s priority in the draft next year is to find an offensive line starter/upgrade.

Somewhat concerning are the issues experienced on two key target areas this season — short yardage and red zone. The Seahawks still can’t punch home a 3rd and 1. They went 0-6 on third down in the first half. They had three plays in the red zone and settled for a field goal before the break. It’s shocking that a team with Lynch, Wilson and Graham can be this ineffective in the key downs.

Lockett’s 105-yard kick return touchdown ignited the second half. Seattle didn’t score enough cheap points last season or generate enough special teams yardage to flip field position. This is looking like a diamond of a draft pick for the Seahawks.

Graham had the kind of day that will extinguish any silliness about his role in the offense. He finished with 83-yards and a touchdown from seven catches. Of greater concern is the Lynch ‘not ready for the start’ report, the back-rub and the eventual withdrawal. It seemed like a repeat of the 2014 Kansas City game and subsequent rumblings about his unhappiness and attitude. Is it related to Kam Chancellor’s issues with the team? This is one to monitor.

Thomas Rawls had a really nice 104-yard game in relief of Lynch. It wasn’t a perfect display — the dropped pass and a missed cut on one run denying him further substantial yardage. He ran with a lot of purpose and on this (early) evidence appears to be an upgrade on previous backup Robert Turbin.

There are still improvements to be made but unlike the Ravens, Seattle isn’t facing a 0-3 hole. Unlike the Colts, they did find plenty of positives.


CFB weekend notes: Fournette #1 in 2017

September 27th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

– Leonard Fournette (RB, LSU) could be the #1 pick in the 2017 draft. Who cares if he’s a running back? We’re talking about a generational talent with zero flaws. He runs away from DB’s at 6-1 and 230lbs. He has brilliant vision, a second gear, the power to drive through and break tackles and the hands to be an effective force in the passing game. He’s 20-years-old and already looks like he’s pushing 30. Against Syracuse he was unstoppable — recording 244 yards and two touchdowns. He had another +80-yard scoring run called back on an illegal formation penalty. Physically there just hasn’t been a player entering the league with this amount of talent in over a decade. He’s on a different level to even Adrian Peterson. Whoever has the #1 pick in 2017 will need a good reason to pass on Fournette.

— Tre’Davious White (CB, LSU) is already the best corner in college football and was given the coveted #18 LSU jersey this year. Against Syracuse he showed he’s a special teams threat too with a 69-yard punt return for a score. The Tigers have quite the production line for CB’s. White is the next great one and should be a top-ten pick in 2016. Water-tight coverage, a good enough tackler in the open-field, fantastic athlete, incredibly respected by his team mates. NFL GM’s and coaches are going to want to work with this guy badly.

— Vernon Hargeaves III (CB, Florida) on the other hand is tremendously overrated. A highly touted prospect who started early, Hargreaves is living off reputation. In Saturday’s flukey win over Tennessee, Hargreaves missed several open-field tackles and became a liability. Florida is developing quite a reputation for over-hyped corner prospects (with Joe Haden the obvious exception). Hargreaves’ future is likely as a slot corner project and unless he impresses during interviews at the combine (and runs well) he might be fortunate to go on day one in a loaded class for corners.

— Robert Nkemdiche (DE, Ole Miss) has 0.5 sacks in four games so far — but he should still secure a place in the top-10 of next years draft. Teams will salivate over his athletic potential. If Ziggy Ansah is a top-five pick, it’s safe to place Nkemdiche in that bracket. He’s already scored a tight-end-esque catch-and-run for Ole Miss this year. On Saturday he added a rushing touchdown against Vanderbilt. A bit more production would confirm he’s place among 2016’s elite — but there aren’t many human beings with Nkemdiche’s size and athleticism.

— If Leonard Fournette is the best player in college football and a shoe-in to go very early in 2017 — Myles Garrett (DE, Texas A&M) will be right there with him. Also a true sophomore, Garrett had a crucial sack against Arkansas to force overtime before the Aggies eventually won. Last week he had 3.5 sacks against Nevada and he’s on 6.5 after just four games. He is lightning quick off the edge with ample size (6-5, 260lbs). It’s way too early, but Fournette and Garrett could go #1 and #2 in 2017.

— There were two injury scares this weekend. Darron Lee (LB, Ohio State) left the Buckeyes game against Western Michigan with a leg injury. At the time it looked serious but he did return. Jack Conklin (T, Michigan State) suffered a knee injury playing special teams and it could be serious. Mark Dantonio, a well known misery guts, refused as usual to discuss any injuries after the game. Hopefully it’s just a sprain. Both players are possible (probable?) first round picks in 2016.

— We discussed Jared Goff (QB, California) this week. If he’s going to propel himself beyond comparisons to Brock Osweiler (not unflattering by the way, Osweiler had many plus points) he has to win games against Washington and perform well in the process. Job done this weekend. His first touchdown pass was particularly impressive — off balance, thrown into a tight spot and perfect accuracy. If you want to throw your lot in with any QB eligible for 2016 — this is the guy.

— Tre’Davious White (CB, LSU) and Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State) could be the first two corners off the board in 2016 — but they’ll be well supported in round one. Will Redmond (CB, Mississippi State) showed good instincts to pick off Auburn’s freshman QB in a key SEC win. Cameron Sutton (CB, Tennessee) was tremendous against Florida and the Gators tried their best to avoid throwing his way. Kendall Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech) has the bloodlines and talent to also push himself into day one.

— After a frustrating day against Toledo, Alex Collins (RB, Arkansas) is showing why he could even usurp Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State) to be the top running back in 2016. He ran with purpose against Texas A&M for 151 yards and a score. He has good size and speed — but his best aspects are a physical running style and unmatched cut-back ability. You won’t find a better cut in college football. Given Seattle’s love for one-cut runners, he has to be on our radar as possible Seahawks targets.


College Football Saturday: Open thread

September 26th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

Watching a game? A certain prospect? Someone catch the eye?

Use this as an open thread to debate the day in college football.


Thoughts on Jared Goff & Carson Wentz

September 25th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

Even at this early stage it’s shaping up to be a draft where linemen dominate the early picks. The talent on the defensive and offensive lines is strong — and there’s a very real possibility there won’t be a quarterback drafted in the first round. Not unless a player emerges to fill that slot, much in the way Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert barged their way into 2011’s top ten.

I spent a bit of time today looking at Cal’s Jared Goff — and he’s probably the best bet for a first frame QB. He has a very natural throwing motion and plenty of arm talent. One of the first things to look for in a quarterback is how comfortable and natural they look throwing the ball. Does it come out nicely with a tight spiral and the necessary velocity? Can they vary the pace and throw with touch?

Seattle’s quarterback opponent on Sunday — Jimmy Clausen — was a classic example of a player with a funky motion who didn’t tick any of the necessary boxes. He had a slingy side-arm release point. Most of his throws were one paced — the downfield stuff was catchable but lacked any real punch. He benefitted a lot from Golden Tate’s ability to high point. Even so — most of Clausen’s throws were screens or extended hand-off’s to the receiver.

It doesn’t always have to be a conventional over-the-top release and the technique doesn’t have to be spot on — but you can usually see when a passer has a very natural throwing style. That’s really the first thing to look for. Then you go into things like the ability to go through progressions etc.

Ryan Tannehill is a good example of a player who threw very naturally but struggled in the next stage of the game — he made two many errors at the line of scrimmage — failing to identify the coverage, throwing blind, turning the ball over. He still makes the same mistakes today.

Goff is a very natural passer who can vary the throwing speed. He can fit it into a tight window in the short game but also has the touch and arm strength to get it deep. He looks comfortable and refined. He’s also surprisingly athletic at 6-4 and 215lbs — he’s elusive to avoid pressure but also a nifty runner in the open field. Goff isn’t Russell Wilson, but if there’s a chance to scramble into space and make a first down he’ll do it.

Is he accurate? Sure. He doesn’t force anything and avoids turnovers. He seems to understand the offense — he doesn’t bail on the call in the face of pressure and know how to be patient in the pocket. There’s a lot to like and very little to quibble about.

He reminded me a little bit of Brock Osweiler. It’s easy to sit here and assume Osweiler is a failure considering he hasn’t played any meaningful football in three-and-a-bit seasons. He was, after all, taken in round two ahead of Russell Wilson who’s been to two Super Bowls in the same period of time. However, Osweiler has been stuck behind Peyton Manning with zero chance of supplanting the incumbent starter.

He may get his chance next season (although he would require a new contract in Denver). John Elway liked him enough to draft him in the early second round as a project and he played pretty well in pre-season.

Like Goff he’s tall and thin with surprising mobility. Osweiler frequently avoided pressure and made gains with his legs. He threw with poise and accuracy in the face of pressure and made several ‘wow’ throws for Arizona State. We’re yet to see Goff deliver some of those same money throws — but there’s still time in 2015. Osweiler threw some of the prettiest passes you’ll see — right into tiny windows under pressure. It’s easy to forget three years on.

Both players also failed (so far in Goff’s case) to propel their team to a new level. Osweiler constantly flashed talent and then made costly mistakes in key games. It wasn’t always turnovers either — drives would stall unnecessarily. He wasn’t a room-tilter or a game-changer in college. He was simply a really talented individual with huge potential.

Goff’s Cal career has followed a similar path — although the supporting cast hasn’t been great. They’re currently 3-0 in a wide open PAC-12 and maybe he’ll be able to elevate his team and therefore his own draft stock in the process? Osweiler was a second-round pick in a year for quarterbacks that included Luck, RGIII, Tannehill, Weeden and Wilson. Goff won’t have that level of competition and could, even by default, find himself in the day-one mix with a good season. Right now a safe second-round grade seems appropriate, just like Osweiler, with a chance to rise.

Keep an eye on North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz. We highlighted him at the start of the season as one to watch. He’s a small school prospect who could really propel his stock (much in the way Joe Flacco did at Delaware or Jimmy Garoppolo at Eastern Illinois).

He’s 6-6 and 235lbs but runs the read-option. Like Goff he’s a surprisingly nimble runner and the QB-keeper is a regular feature in the NDS offense. There’s an awful lot to like about his throwing style — again it’s very natural. He has a good arm, throws with touch when necessary and makes a lot of plays.

There are some issues too. He doesn’t always scan the field like he should do — in the tape below there’s a play where he throws underneath with a wide open receiver streaking downfield for an easy touchdown. Wentz never even looks at him and just goes to his first read. This is the type of thing he’d need to work on at the next level — but it’s fixable.

In a down year for the position don’t be surprised if Wentz ends up being the top rated senior QB.


Kam Chancellor is ending his hold out

September 23rd, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

In last night’s podcast we discussed why it made sense for Chancellor to report this week (and it’d make our day if you were to check it out). He was losing money. The team was losing games. He wasn’t gaining anything from staying away because the Seahawks weren’t going to cave.

Seattle is at home for three of the next four games. All four are winnable. In fact there’s an opportunity to go on a reasonable winning streak. The Bengals road game on October 11th will be the toughest test. Dallas on November 1st is much less threatening if the Cowboys are without Dez Bryant and Tony Romo.

It’s not unrealistic to suggest the Seahawks can go unbeaten until December. Even if you have the Cincinnati game down as a loss — you could be looking at an 8-3 record going into the final month (which starts with road games in Minnesota and Baltimore). The Seahawks finished extremely well in 2012 and 2014 (and didn’t have to in 2013).

Chancellor wasn’t going to win any battle’s holding out any longer. He’d just lose more money. If the Seahawks do go on a winning streak starting on Sunday, he can use that as leverage in the off-season. ‘You were 0-2 without me, we started winning when I arrived.’

In reality they were going to start winning without him eventually, weakening his position.

This is the only way for both sides to ‘win’ this stand-off. The Seahawks can say they were strong and their stance should dissuade other players from holding out into the regular season. Chancellor also has a stronger case for getting more money pushed into his 2016 salary if he helps lead the team back to another Super Bowl from an 0-2 start.

For both parties the season really starts here. The Seahawks could be 1-1 or 2-0. They aren’t. But they have a healthy roster, all of their key players and a shot to start a long winning run against the hapless Bears this weekend.