Archive for November, 2015

Monday thoughts: Gilliam, cornerbacks & receivers

Monday, November 30th, 2015

I’ve included the Tweet above not because I have any faith in PFF (here’s one reason why). After all, how could anyone receive a higher than Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin yesterday? Even so, it’s perhaps a sign that at least to some people, Garry Gilliam is showing signs of improvement.

That’s big for the Seahawks in 2015 and beyond.

They clearly have a lot of time for Gilliam. It’d be wrong to expect the finished article this year. He’s a converted tight end thrust into a starting role after the first week of pre-season because Justin Britt was struggling badly at right tackle.

It was a baptism of fire and he had a few iffy weeks. Is the game starting to slow down? Maybe. Russell Wilson’s mobility and nature to improvise requires good protection on the right side. He often scrambles that way when he’s looking downfield and trying to extend the play. It’s what he does. Gilliam has been a liability in that regard for much of the year. Is he turning the corner?

Better play from the tackle equals better performances from the quarterback. And that’s partly responsible for Wilson’s current tear.

For the future? It could mean you don’t need to replace Gilliam at right tackle. They might believe he can replace Russell Okung on the left (a topic we discussed earlier in the season). Either way — if Gilliam establishes himself as a long term fixture — the maximum tackles you need to sign or draft in the off-season is one. If you re-sign Okung it’s zero. That offers genuine draft flexibility. It’s up to Gilliam to prove he warrants the trust.

If, as Jason La Canfora suggested yesterday, Marshawn Lynch and his salary move on — it creates some extra free cash. With the cap set to rise again too it might be possible to re-sign Okung and J.R. Sweezy and maintain some consistency there.

Adding a veteran center feels inevitable with no Pouncey-esque prospect in this draft class. If they keep Okung and Sweezy, is there enough free cap to go after Alex Mack if his contract voids? Possibly.

It’d still be worthwhile adding some further competition and depth. That’s why a prospect like Pittsburgh’s Adam Bisnowaty — with similar size and characteristics to Evan Mathis — could be a nice option in the round 2-3 range. If he doesn’t start immediately at guard — he’s a swing tackle option.

If you’re going into the draft with Okung, Sweezy and Mack signed up (and yes, it’s a big IF) — it frees up the possibility to look at different needs in round one.

With a distinctly average looking class for defensive linemen — linebacker (replacing Bruce Irvin) and cornerback (an increasing need) could come into play. In particular at corner — Tre’Davious White (LSU), Eli Apple (Ohio State), Cameron Sutton (Tennessee) and Mackensie Alexander (Clemson) could be appealing.

This will be especially true if the top offensive linemen leave the board quickly (Coleman, Tunsil, Decker, Conklin, Stanley).

I wouldn’t expect the Seahawks to be in range to draft LSU’s White. An exceptional athlete with ideal size, he’s highly respected and was awarded the coveted Tigers’ #18 jersey for this season. He’s going to go early — possibly top ten. He’s not a freak of nature like Patrick Peterson but he could be LSU’s best defensive back prospect since Arizona’s all-pro.

Apple plays like a Seahawks corner — keeps the receiver in front, doesn’t get beat downfield but will at times concede position in the shorter-to-medium range. He gave up some catches facing off against Michigan State’s Aaron Burbridge — but even then, it was only a 62-yard display. Bright guy — like White. Suspect he’ll need a bit of time to pick up a new scheme and then watch him excel. The potential is there to be a big-time player at the next level.

Cameron Sutton might be the most toolsy of the quartet. Again, like White and Apple, he’s an impressive talker and student of the game. Like White and Apple, he’ll wow GM’s and scouts during meetings. He’s a shade under 6-0 but appears to have a long frame and incredible athleticism/upside. He’ll work to pick up the scheme and excel.

Mackensie Alexander is, as you’ve probably guessed, another thoughtful talker who understands the importance of preparation and technical execution. He’s very physical and sparky too — emphasised by a bout of jawing at the South Carolina bench at the weekend. He’s been a gradual riser this year and he’ll have a chance to perform in the playoffs presuming Clemson defeats North Carolina to win the ACC title.

Four good options there and food for thought. I’d have no issue grading each of these corners in the top-15/20. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way. DeAndre Hopkins and Joel Bitonio looked like top-20 talents and they lasted. Ditto Jimmy Smith in 2011.

(A reminder that I don’t believe Florida’s overrated Vernon Hargreaves will be a first round pick, while Virginia Tech’s Kendall Fuller and Mississippi State’s Will Redmond are battling serious leg injuries. Iowa’s Desmond King is intriguing, while Oklahoma’s Zack Sanchez has turned his season around in the last few weeks).

As for receivers — perhaps the Seahawks can learn something from the Steelers?

After spending first round picks on Percy Harvin and Jimmy Graham — and having to live with the expectation of production to justify the moves — the Steelers’ way of doing things might be more suitable for this franchise.

The Seahawks were basically very similar to begin with. They set out to find sudden, explosive receivers. Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin emerged, as did Jermaine Kearse eventually. They got what they needed out of all three. Adding Harvin and now Graham came with the pressure to get them ‘touches’ — to satisfy a media thirst for production, to justify the outlay and cost.

That same pressure simply doesn’t exist with Tyler Lockett — who cost a third round pick. It still isn’t there for undrafted free agents Baldwin and Kearse. It won’t be there for Paul Richardson, Kevin Smith or Kasen Williams.

For whatever reason this Seahawks offense operates just fine without the big name. Without the star player. That’s not to say it wasn’t starting to really function with Graham (who had a fine game before his injury). Now it’s forced to turn to Baldwin, Kearse, Lockett, Luke Willson and hopefully Richardson — who’d bet against it continuing to function? Even without Marshawn Lynch.

Pittsburgh lined up the most explosive trio of receivers in the NFL yesterday. Speed, tenacity and game-changing ability. Markus Wheaton was drafted in round three. Martavis Bryant was drafted in round four. Antonio Brown? A sixth rounder.

Wheaton and Bryant were not unknowns. They just provided value and explosive plays. Brown is a genuine success story — and credit the Steelers for developing and trusting him when the world and his dog was calling for them to pay Mike Wallace or Emmanuel Sanders instead.

The fact they had Wallace (a third rounder) and Sanders (a third rounder) too merely adds to the point. They know what they want and where to get it in the draft. The Seahawks have shown they can have similar success — emphasised by the emergence of Lockett and their history with Tate, Baldwin and Kearse. Hopefully Richardson can stay healthy for a stretch in his Seahawks career to have a consistent impact.

Instead of chasing the big name — it’s time to start using their early draft stock on needs and re-commit to finding receivers later on, to continue re-stocking their group with explosive receivers who don’t necessarily have the ideal size but make up for it with suddenness, a crisp release and downfield skill.

Not every pick will hit. Not every pick is going to be a Wheaton or Bryant. They’ll be incredibly fortunate to land another Brown — but it’s worth a try. It feels like the right way forward for the Seahawks. And they might have to continue adding at wide out with Kearse a free agent in the off-season and Baldwin a free agent after 2016.

Instant reaction: Seahawks win epic, begin new era?

Sunday, November 29th, 2015

An all time classic — and just in the nick of time.

The Seahawks gave up a franchise record 456 passing yards to Ben Roethlisberger. The defense played poorly and had issues — but this was a masterclass by Big Ben and Todd Haley.

Not enough credit is given to Haley for the way he’s transformed Pittsburgh’s offense. They protected the quarterback, Roethlisberger was getting the ball out very quickly and they exploited the speed and dynamism of their top three receivers.

We’ll spend a week contemplating Seattle’s defensive issues and they must improve — particularly against high octane passing attacks. The tackling was poor again. Earl Thomas doesn’t look right. The four man pass rush isn’t getting home. They’re getting beat too often in the soft spot behind the linebackers and deep safety. They did have four interceptions today though and Richard Sherman did a masterful job covering Antonio Brown (51-yards).

But that’s for another day (and lets not ignore what was an excellent Pittsburgh offensive game plan, executed superbly).

Tonight we reflect on a truly exceptional performance by Russell Wilson and the passing offense. Wilson quietly threw for 345 yards and five touchdowns. Doug Baldwin had three touchdowns including a superb low grab on a crucial third down — before sprinting 80-yards for Seattle’s most explosive play of the season.

Jermaine Kearse added two scores. Kevin Smith and Tyler Lockett also contributed. The only negative? A horrible torn patella tendon injury to Jimmy Graham was the only disappointment. It’s the same injury currently dogging Victor Cruz’s career.

Credit too for the much maligned and often criticised Darrell Bevell. His play design today — he controls the passing game — was exceptional. They found a way to create mismatches for the receivers and get guys open.

The offense had to go toe-to-toe with an elite Ben Roethlisberger performance to save their season. And they did it. 39-30. The game of the NFL season so far.

Perhaps this was also a nod to the future? Jason La Canfora reported today that the Seahawks are likely to part ways with Marshawn Lynch at the end of the season. Russell Wilson, big contract and all, is probably going to be relied on many more times in the future. Today, for the first time this season, he showed he’s up to the task.

On a day when Thomas Rawls struggled for running room — Wilson had to step up. And if the defense is never be restored to its 2013 or 2014 level — he’ll need to fight like this again.

Are we witnessing the slow transition from a Beast Mode identity to the Russell Wilson-led era? Maybe it’s too early to say. If it does happen, today was very encouraging.

The Seahawks are now 6-5 and occupy the #6 seed and final Wild Card spot after Atlanta’s loss earlier. It sets up a vital road trip to Minnesota next week. It’ll be a very different challenge against Adrian Peterson and a complimentary, conservative passing game. Teddy Bridgewater has eight touchdowns and seven interceptions for the season. Wilson has eight touchdowns in his last two games.

First rounder Shon Coleman dominates vs Texas A&M (tape)

Friday, November 27th, 2015

At last.

Shon Coleman has some tape on Draft Breakdown. It’s a good one too — his matchup against Texas A&M and Myles Garrett.

For those not familiar with Garrett, he will likely be a top-five pick in 2017. He and LSU running back Leonard Fournette are the two outstanding 2017 eligible prospects in college football.

Watch the video for yourself (Garrett wears #15). Number of times Garrett beats Coleman? Zero.

I’ve listed some of the highlights below. It’s also worth paying attention to how often Auburn ran to Coleman’s side and gained positive yardage. They recorded 311 (!!!) rushing yards in the game and won 26-10.

This is a masterful performance by a prospect who deserves to be ranked with the elite players eligible for the 2016 draft. There’s only one tackle that comes even close to his level of talent and that’s Ole Miss’ Laremy Tunsil.

If Shon Coleman isn’t a first round prospect then I’m an Australian.

Adding to everything is the tremendous strength of character he’s shown to beat cancer and pursue his dream to play football.

0:54 — Look at the combination of an effective kick slide, gaining early position and a powerful jolt to the D-end. The pass rusher doesn’t know what to do here. Coleman has the leverage and the end just accepts he’s beaten and stops trying to get to the QB.

1:11 — Garrett fakes the inside move by dropping the shoulder before attempting to dart on the outside. Coleman again is in position so quickly. His drop and set is exceptional. Look at that for a kick slide. Text book. He doesn’t bite on Garrett’s double move and just absorbs him, giving the QB enough time to fire for a first down.

1:51 — This is a really fantastic play that shows he can be just as effective in the run game as pass protection. Coleman dips inside to slam the defensive tackle off balance before locking on to a linebacker at the second level to spring the running back for a huge gain. Coleman’s second level block on the LB gets the back an extra 35-yards. If he doesn’t make that block it might not even be a first down conversion. Just brilliant.

3:41 — Coleman engages the defensive tackle, drives him backwards eight yards and then dumps him on his ass. Enough said. I shouted at the TV when I saw this live.

4:55 — Auburn tries an end-around. Coleman engages at the LOS and then pulls to his left to act as an open-field blocker. He decleats a defensive back who tries to make a play by the sideline. Just buries him. Extra yardage gained.

5:39 — Coleman blocks Garrett inside and drives him out of the play to open up a huge running lane.

6:18 — Second level blocking again. Locates the linebacker, drives him well out of the play. Big run for Auburn.

6:30 — Count how many seconds Garrett engages Coleman and cannot get off the block. Ok I’ll tell you anyway — it’s five seconds. After five seconds Coleman lets go because the running back is well clear of the first down marker. Dominating run blocking. Again.

7:55 — Coleman drives #40 six yards beyond the LOS as Auburn convert the first down running to his side. Power, technique, finish.

Shon Coleman looks like a NFL ready, complete left tackle with ideal size, length, athleticism, power in the run game and foot-speed to kick-slide and set. There isn’t a range in round one I’d feel uncomfortable taking him.

Need more convincing?

Here he is giving Georgia’s Leonard Floyd a tour of the car park:

An early look at positional targets (rounds 1-3)

Thursday, November 26th, 2015

Could UCLA’s Paul Perkins be a target for the Seahawks?

Here’s what I’d consider a good looking Seahawks projection for the end of November:

R1 – Shon Coleman (T, Auburn)
R2 – Eric Striker (LB, Oklahoma)
R3 – Adam Bisnowaty (T, Pittsburgh)
R3 comp – Paul Perkins (RB, UCLA)

First round
The safe money is on an offensive line pick. With Russell Okung and J.R. Sweezy both free agents, they might struggle to keep their two most experienced linemen. Even if they find a way to re-sign both — further investment in a struggling line seems inevitable.

They could look to free agency to add a center (Alex Mack would be the most intriguing option if he voids his contract in Cleveland). Adding a college left tackle here makes sense — with the option you could play them at guard or tackle. If they pick early they’ll have a shot at the bigger names. Even in the late first they’ll have options.

The best fit would be Auburn’s Shon Coleman — a complete tackle with ideal size and technique. We keep expecting to hear his name mentioned by the media among the elite prospects in this class and it never happens. Will he fly under the radar like Joel Bitonio or Ju’Wuan James? It’s possible. James was taken with the #19 pick. Bitonio went in the early second round. For more on Coleman click here.

Alternatively they could look to replace Bruce Irvin if he departs in free agency. There will be nice options in the first round — including UCLA’s Myles Jack (whose stock could take a hit due to a knee injury) and Ohio State’s Darron Lee. Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith should be a top ten pick as one of the elite prospects in this class. It’s also a good year for cornerbacks — with Tre’Davious White (LSU), Cameron Sutton (Tennessee), Eli Apple (Ohio State) and Mackensie Alexander (Clemson) names to monitor. Joe McAtee recommended Iowa’s Desmond King on this weeks podcast (check it out). King has eight interceptions this season for the Hawkeyes.

Second round
If they go O-line in the first, this could be a nice range to target one of the more underrated players in the 2016 class. Oklahoma’s Eric Striker would be a nice replacement for Bruce Irvin if he moves on. For some time Striker has been an impact player for the Sooners. He’s constantly around the ball. He’s capable of dropping in coverage, playing sideline-to-sideline. Yet like Irvin he’s at his best lining up to make key plays as a pass rusher. He has 7.5 sacks in 2015 and this season set a new career Sooners record for sacks by a linebacker. He’s a passionate, sometimes outspoken player with a determined attitude and he could live in Seattle’s defense. For a couple of years I’ve wanted to see Striker at the combine to see how he tests. Don’t rule out a rise into the first round if he has a great work out.

Striker has also campaigned for racial equality in college. For more information check out this ESPN feature by Edward Aschoff and Adam Rittenberg.

Third round
It’s hard not to consider the O-line again here until we know exactly what happens with Okung and Sweezy. It kind of makes sense to make two picks either way. There’s nothing wrong with a highly competitive O-line group going into next years camp. If Justin Britt is competing for a start at guard, if a rookie is competing with Gilliam to start at tackle — so be it. Such is the depth in this draft it could be a good year to stockpile and address this need for the foreseeable future. Of course if Okung and Sweezy walk — you’re having to fill two extra holes right off the bat anyway.

The more I watch Pittsburgh tackle Adam Bisnowaty the more I want the Seahawks to draft him. In fact he could end up being a big riser who finds a way to go in the first two rounds. A former basketball player and wrestler, he was also a highly recruited four-star player in high school. The athletic potential, size and performance all match up to a very interesting prospect overall.

For me he has Evan Mathis potential. Seriously. The two players are almost identical in terms of frame (Bisnowaty is listed at 6-6 and 300lbs, Mathis at 6-5 and 301lbs). Just to look at them they appear similar in terms of body shape. Mathis is a former third round pick who became one of the leagues best guards. I think Bisnowaty fits best kicking inside to guard — but he could still play tackle if required. I’d have no issue drafting him in the first round to be fair. Incredible upside and potential. I wrote about him in more detail here. He’s a combine away from taking off.

Moving on from Marshawn Lynch would be tough if it happens — but it’ll be easier to stomach if the money saved produces an offensive line that reads Okung-Bisnowaty-Mack-Sweezy-Coleman.

Third round (comp pick)
If Lynch does indeed depart, the Seahawks will need to add a partner for Thomas Rawls. It’s hard to judge where the backs will go in this class. Arkansas’ Alex Collins is talented enough to go in round two but would you be surprised if he lasted until round 3? Jordan Howard at Indiana might be a later round prospect but he has a physical, punishing style and a lot of toughness between the tackles.

I think the ideal compliment for Rawls would be another quick-twitch back who could be a nice option in the passing game and doesn’t lack any toughness despite his modest size. Step forward UCLA’s Paul Perkins. Like Collins he could go earlier than this — but stock at this position is unpredictable. Perkins, like Rawls, is adept at maximising running lanes and exploding into the second level. He’s tough to bring down with insane cut-back ability. He’s certainly not a bell-cow but he wouldn’t need to be next to Rawls. Perkins has the potential to develop into a nice third-down back who provides a legit passing game option. There might not be a more fun running back to watch in college football (well, apart from Leonard Fournette).

I’m not going to get too deep into day three targets (it’s way too early). At the moment you would imagine they’d take their usual cornerback pick (probably round five again) while looking to add depth to the D-line. You’d imagine one way or another they’ll need to address cornerback — with Cary Williams likely to be on the chopping block and Jeremy Lane a free agent.

What is the future for Marshawn Lynch & the Seahawks?

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

It’s been a strange 12 months for Marshawn Lynch. A year ago Chris Mortensen was predicting his imminent departure from Seattle, reporting that the Seahawks had “grown tired of his ways”.

Lynch’s play down the stretch changed the dynamic completely. He became the focal point of the offense again as the Seahawks marched back to the Super Bowl. Life was bearable for team and player. He signed a handsome new contract and put off retirement.

Yet after an injury-ravaged 2015 season — and the emergence of Thomas Rawls — what happens now?

Davis Hsu’s Tweet above sums it up. You can save $6.5m by moving on from Lynch in 2016. That’s money that could, theoretically, be reinvested in the offensive line. It could go towards luring someone like Alex Mack if he voids his contract in Cleveland. It could go towards someone like Alex Boone. It could help you keep your best existing lineman in Russell Okung so that you don’t need to replace him in the draft (or hope Garry Gilliam is a better left tackle than right tackle).

On the other hand, are the Seahawks ready to lose such an important part of what they are? And how will it impact the locker room if Lynch is moved?

It’s a tough call for many reasons. And yet this is the big debate people in Seattle will be having until the off-season.

Replacing Lynch looked like the greatest pending challenge for Pete Carroll and John Schneider. For years they’ve been able to rely on Lynch’s punishing, physical style. It was as much about tone-setting and the identity of the team as it was production.

Without Lynch what were the Seahawks?

Watching Rawls has somewhat tempered concerns about life after Beast Mode. He’s not Marshawn Lynch — but even Carroll has dared to compare him loosely to Hall of Famer Earl Campbell.

In some cases he’s even offered a little bit more than Lynch. Does Marshawn run in the long touchdown against Cincinnati? Rawls has a second gear the 29-year-old Lynch currently lacks. When he gets to the second level he has the speed to break it into a big play. And while he might never be the grinding, wear you down over four quarters type — his ability to stretch a play out, find the edge and turn and explode at the second level is a real benefit against any defense that is already accounting for Russell Wilson and Jimmy Graham.

In an ideal world you’d combine the two running backs and share out the snaps. It’s strange, however, that they never really made this a two-headed monster even after Rawls’ 169-yard performance against the Bengals. The following week, when Lynch returned, Rawls had one carry against the Panthers. He had 12 total carries against the 49ers, Cowboys and Cardinals combined. It seems like if Lynch is playing — he’s getting the workload.

Maybe he feels he needs to get into a rhythm? Maybe it’s the way he wears down a defense? Whatever it is — a Lynch/Rawls double act seems unlikely based on the snaps this year. Rawls and another in 2016? That could be a more even split.

Lose Lynch and you lose more than just the on-field production. You lose an icon. A genuine Seahawks great who provided some of the best moments in franchise history. His career will be defined by one particular play against New Orleans.

The Pete Carroll story in Seattle has a whole chapter on Lynch. Maybe even two. Without Lynch — you never truly create the identity Carroll searched for. He’s been at the front and center of everything.

As a consequence he’s also become a powerful locker room presence. Was that a problem at times — as suggested by Mortensen in his report last year? Maybe. But not having Lynch around might be an even bigger problem. He and the likes of Kam Chancellor seem so closely aligned. Can this team remain tight with vital veteran leaders starting to move on?

It really comes down to what gives you the best chance to win. The Seahawks know this is their Championship window — and it’s a window that won’t necessarily extend for years. Key parts of the franchise — Lynch, Chancellor and even Carroll — aren’t going to be around another decade. They might not be here in another 3-4 years. Every decision — whether it’s trading a first rounder for Graham or making the decision to trust Tom Cable to build a cheap, functioning O-line — is made with a ‘win now’ mentality.

If this team can run the ball minus Lynch while improving the offensive line and pass protection — it has to be considered. There won’t be any room for sentimentality. It’s just whether they’re ready to move on if it’s their decision. Lynch could make it easier for them by retiring. What if he doesn’t though? What if he forces the Seahawks to make the decision?

It’d be a heck of a ruthless move by the Seahawks to just move on and save money. And yet it seems like they’ve been planning the future for some time. Mortensen’s report. The drafting of Christine Michael. If they wanted to move on and couldn’t before, will it be right in 2016? If so, you better believe they’ll be ruthless.

Perhaps there is still a chance for the storybook ending. Lynch returning in week 16 or 17 feels ambitious — but this is Marshawn Lynch. Nothing has been conventional to date with Beast Mode. The emotional pull of his last days in Seattle/the NFL could be a secret weapon for the Seahawks if they make the post season. They have to get there to see if there’s any benefit though.

In terms of the draft, it’s a nice class of running backs with some depth. The priority will probably be to go O-line early and then possibly look at a linebacker with Bruce Irvin a free agent. They should be able to find some value in rounds 3-7 (and after all, they found Rawls as a UDFA). Alex Collins (Arkansas), Paul Perkins (UCLA) and Jordan Howard (Indiana) are personal favourites.

3000 NFL mock draft: Episode #13

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

This week we’re joined by Joe McAtee from Turf Show Times to talk about LSU’s collection of pro-prospects (and the Rams). We discuss the emergence of Thomas Rawls and what it might mean for the Seahawks. We also get into the Michigan State/Ohio State contest and how Taylor Decker & Jack Conklin fared.

Instant reaction: Seahawks coast by 49ers for 5-5

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015

Some of Seattle’s lingering issues remained during this game — but overall it was a routine 29-13 victory against an overmatched 49ers team.

Yet again an opponent exploited the Seahawks defensive coverage with a tight end. It’s a tough one and certainly not as simple as making a concerted effort to stop the TE. As soon as you blanket the coverage to stop a tight end, teams are going to be ready. They know there’s a weakness there with Seattle’s base defense.

They will counter.

It’s a pick-your-poison situation. If you spend next week focusing on 33-year-old Heath Miller — you’re going to get burned by Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant.

Also, the Seahawks have played this style of coverage since 2010. They aren’t going to make major changes — and neither should they. Better execution is the key and part of the reason Cary Williams was benched in this game. The secondary overall just doesn’t look as fearsome as it has in the past. Is it communication? Is it Williams? Whatever it is — it’s becoming as much of a problem as the O-line.

Jeremy Lane could easily start at outside corner against Pittsburgh if he’s healthy.

The offensive line actually had an excellent day running the ball. Thomas Rawls had plenty of lanes to exploit. When he found a crease and got to the second level — Rawls was fantastic. As powerful and exciting as Marshawn Lynch can be — Rawls’ extra burst and no lack of toughness adds a new dimension to the running attack. Whatever happens with Lynch’s status going forward — Rawls deserves a more generous split of the snaps after a +200-yard rushing performance.

In terms of pass protection and pre-snap penalties, however, it was more of the same from the O-line. Too often the Seahawks gave up early pressure when Russell Wilson dropped back to pass. And too often they hurt themselves with a bevvy of avoidable flags. Even with Rawls running as hard as he did — the offense still seems to lack that extra bit of bite it’s had in previous years. Making the O-line an absolute off-season priority and setting out to dominate up front has to be the key to getting back to former glories.

Wilson had a much better game. He protected the ball, made plays with his legs and scored three touchdowns. He didn’t turn the ball over and needed a game like this to settle some of the noise in the media about his lifestyle (an absurd dynamic).

Tyler Lockett also had a nice day. He’s still struggling to make plays on special teams — but he had two touchdowns in the passing game and probably should’ve had a third on a missed deep-ball by Wilson. We talked about Lockett as a return man pre-draft. He’s not a Cordarrelle Patterson type who creates big plays out of nothing. He’s an opportunist — if he gets good blocking and finds a crease he’ll exploit it. If the Seahawks want to get Lockett going on special teams — they have to block better.

Cliff Avril is having a fantastic season and added two more sacks today. He only has 6.5 for the season in total — but it almost feels like a career year for Avril. Is it being wasted because of the struggles in the secondary?

At 5-5 and with a lot of the NFC losing today, the Seahawks’ hopes of the post-season remain alive. They’re a game back from struggling Atlanta — who blew a home game to the Matt Hasselbeck-led Colts.

This is what the Falcons have coming up on their schedule:

Vikings (H)
Buccs (A)
Panthers (A)
Jags (A)
Panthers (H)
Saints (H)

The Vikings meanwhile, sitting in the other wildcard spot at 7-3, have the toughest remaining schedule in the NFL:

Falcons (A)
Seahawks (H)
Cardinals (A)
Bears (H)
Giants (H)
Packers (A)

The NFC is doing the Seahawks every favour to try and give them genuine hope for the playoffs. Even 9-7 might get you in. They have to oblige. Next weeks game against Pittsburgh is enormous. It’s the type of game they have to win at home.

And yet there’s still so many steps forward they can take. They can improve in the secondary. The O-line’s protection can improve. We’re so deep into the season now — you have to wonder if it’s ever going to click. A deep-ball, big-play passing offense with a tough defense and suspect secondary is a good challenge for this team at home next week. They have to go to Minnesota with hope at 6-5.

Thoughts on Ohio State’s loss to Michigan State

Saturday, November 21st, 2015

Jack Conklin performed well against Ohio State

With two potential top-20 offensive tackles in the game, this was interesting viewing for Seahawks fans. Michigan State’s Jack Conklin had the better day — as the Spartans won on the road to all but end Ohio State’s hopes of the playoffs (this was their first game against a ranked opponent in 2015 — and they lost).

The Buckeye’s game plan on offense was bizarre. Instead of running Ezekiel Elliott (12 carries, 33 yards) and mixing some downfield/sideline shots to Michael Thomas, Urban Meyer constantly asked J.T. Barrett to run the QB draw (15 carries, 44 yards). Michigan State adjusted and shut it down — limiting Ohio State to 132 total yards.

Taylor Decker had a really mixed night. On the Buckeye’s first scoring drive he did a very good job winning 1v1 in the run game, driving defenders off the line to open up a crease on the left. Yet as the game went on he started to struggle.

Shilique Calhoun — a big underachiever in college football — won most of his battles against Decker. With 6:45 remaining in the first half, Calhoun worked off the tackle using length and superior power on a stretch run. Decker was quickly off balance, lost leverage and was shoved into the backfield. Calhoun tackled Elliott for a loss.

Calhoun beat him again in the second half with a nice stunt inside in what could be the play of the game. Braxton Miller had gained separation downfield and was wide open for a long touchdown. Decker was wrong-footed by Calhoun’s move allowing inside pressure to force J.T. Barrett into a bad throw. He missed Miller and Ohio State didn’t have another explosive play in the game on offense.

Decker never had a problem squaring up to a defender and winning with power. He also did a good job getting to the second level. His footwork on a simple edge rush needs major work though. He dances — trying to mirror the defenders action when really he just needs a firm base and kick slide. He was getting beat by even the most simple double move. Calhoun gets a good rep in the media — but Decker will face much tougher opponents as a pro. He has everything to be a very competent left tackle in the NFL — size, power, underrated athleticism. But this, overall, wasn’t a good look for Decker.

Jack Conklin on the other hand only had one bad play in the game. Tyquan Lewis drove him into the backfield in the first half to tackle the running back for a loss. Apart from that he was comfortable in protection — sliding nicely and running the edge rush out of contention. Technique wise he looked very assured. On a few occasions he got nicely to the second level.

It helps he didn’t come up against Joey Bosa (who stuck to the right tackle). Michigan State did a good job pulling Conklin at times to get him matched up against Bosa with some success. Whether Conklin quite has the athleticism to be as assured at left tackle in the NFL remains to be seen. However, this was a good performance overall. He keeps defenders off his pads with what appears to be decent arm length. His footwork is good. This was a nice outing for Conklin.

Perhaps the best offensive line performance came from Michigan State center Jack Allen. Time and time again he turned the interior defensive linemen to open up holes in the run game. It’s a very subtle but underrated art — using the aggressiveness of the interior rush to twist the D-liner and open up a very simple gap.

Allen is short and squatty and drew a couple of offside flags from Bosa with a classic head-nod pre-snap. He also loved to get to the second level which was good to see. His lack of size and upside might limit his stock at the next level — but this was a good show.

Ohio State’s offensive game plan gave limited their key playmakers on offense (Elliott, Thomas) but the defenders spent a lot of time on the field. Adolphus Washington had a good start working to the outside and finding interior pressure — but he slowly drifted out of the game. Bosa has Robert Quinn-style quickness off the edge and was a threat all game — but Michigan State’s heavy dose of run took away much of his effectiveness. Eli Apple is a first round talent but he’s susceptible to frustrating performances like this. He had a torrid time against Aaron Burbridge — who collected four catches for 62 yards vs Apple. Michigan State only had 91 total passing yards.

Going back to the two tackles — there’s no doubt for me that both Decker and Conklin belong behind Auburn’s Shon Coleman and Ole Miss’ Laremy Tunsil. Whether it’s technique (Decker) or a lack of great athleticism (Conklin) — they have outstanding issues the other pair avoid. Coleman in particular is just the complete package — size, athleticism, grit, second level blocking, helps gets the hard yards and has excelled in pass-pro against the likes of Myles Garrett.

That said, with a premium on O-liners in the NFL there’s every chance all four — and Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley — go in the top-25 in 2016. There’s quite a substantial gap from Coleman and Tunsil to the rest, however.

It’s also not a surprise, incidentally, that MSU rallied to win without starting quarterback Connor Cook. He’s quite the overrated talent as a thrower — but he’s also said to be not the most popular member of the locker room. He has a quirky personality — emphasised by his slightly unnecessary finger-to-the-lips gesture at the Ohio State fans at the end of the game. Don’t expect him to go the first round.

After the game Ezekiel Elliott confirmed it was his last home game for Ohio State, confirming he’ll turn pro (he also called out the play calling). Cardale Jones, surprisingly, also announced on Twitter it was his last home game for the Buckeye’s. If he decides to turn pro, it’ll be a bad decision. He isn’t ready. He’s getting bad advice. Unless he’s transferring — which would also be a bad move — this isn’t going to end well for Jones.

Is Jimmy Graham responsible for Seattle’s missing identity?

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

Jimmy Graham’s production isn’t a problem. But is his role within Seattle’s scheme causing an issue for the Seahawks’ offense?

Trent Dilfer appeared on Brock and Salk this morning (see audio above). It’s an insightful, detailed and fascinating listen. And Dilfer doesn’t hold back on why he thinks the Seahawks are struggling on offense.

It’s Jimmy Graham.

At least, he thinks that’s the catalyst. He starts by criticising the offensive line:

“They’ve really struggled in pass protection. They’re what I call a box offensive line. They play best when it’s in a box. When it becomes a lateral game, when it becomes a movement game, a pass protection game, they really struggle. Because they’ve been less stubborn with the run this year, it’s been a little bit exposed as the year’s gone on.”

When asked why they’ve been less stubborn with the run game, this is Dilfer’s damning response:

“You can’t do it with Jimmy Graham on the field. I can’t think of a team in the NFL… that’s been a dominant run team without an in-line blocking tight end. It’s just a key in your run-blocking schemes to have an in-line tight end that can set an edge, that can work double teams, that can come down on ends so that you can run the gap scheme game, that can get to the second level in the zone game. And you don’t have to dominate you just have to be really physical, you have to have great effort and Jimmy just is not… he’s not a tight end.”

He goes on to add…

“(Darrell) Bevell does a decent job at times removing him from the formation. He’s doing everything he can. I mean, he wants to run the ball. They had a lot of success in the year detaching Jimmy Graham from the formation, put him at X or Z. Bring in another tight end as an in-line tight end so you aren’t in 12-personnel you’re in 13-personnel (3TE’s and 1RB) but now he’s playing wide receiver and you get the box you’re looking for and you’re able to run the ball, but it brings up the second issue that I think is one of the misroutes with Graham. He’s not really a separation guy. He has exceptional ball skills. He’s a speed-move route runner. But he does not create a ton of separation… So a lot of teams sit inside, adjust to the out-breaking route and sit on the in-breaking route… It’s the issue they’re going to have because of the trade they made.”

Dilfer discusses the system Seattle is asking Russell Wilson to operate. Essentially, because they aren’t able to commit as much to the run he’s being asked to throw too much. He says Wilson needs a structured offense that limits his throws to maximise his talent. Mike Salk questions whether Graham’s presence prevents them from running the offense they’d like to. This is Dilfer’s final response:

“The Jimmy Graham trade forced their hand to try and evolve into a system that is not best for the rest of their personnel. Not just Russell (Wilson) specifically but the rest of the personnel… If you’re going to have JAG’s (just another guy) running your offensive line — which is fine, a lot of teams are doing it and a lot of teams are having success doing it — if that’s the philosophy, then your system needs to protect those guys. So by making the Jimmy Graham trade, you’re in an identity crisis because now the other ten aren’t playing the type of specific system that they would thrive the most in.”

When Graham arrived in Seattle, it was easy to assume this was the missing piece of the offense. The Seahawks hadn’t really had a #1 target for Russell Wilson. This was supposed to be a trinity — Wilson, Graham and Marshawn Lynch. Three unstoppable weapons.

Instead, as Dilfer suggests, the offense feels different. Wilson has struggled at times. The run game doesn’t feel as effective. Are they obliged to force Graham into a role? Are they designing plays to feature him, instead of just playing their natural game or scheme?

Have they gone away from what worked?

Here are Seattle’s leading receivers (targets and receptions) from 2014:

Doug Baldwin — 98 targets, 66 receptions
Jermaine Kearse — 67 targets, 38 receptions
Marshawn Lynch — 48 targets, 37 receptions
Paul Richardson — 43 targets, 29 receptions

This year, Jimmy Graham is already on pace for 72 receptions and he’s been targeted 63 times in nine games. He’s set to smash Doug Baldwin’s 98 targets at this pace.

And yet his production is projected to reach 877 yards — only 52 more than Baldwin’s 2014 total.

Fitting him into the existing scheme has not been a smooth transition. Rather than provide a red-zone dynamo and touchdown machine, the Seahawks have spent nearly three months answering questions about the way they’re using him.

Instead of improving the red-zone offense, Seattle is ranked dead last in the league for scoring percentage. Think about that. A team with Wilson, Graham and Lynch is the worst in the league for scoring touchdowns in the red zone.

Complicating matters, however, is the way the offense is being graded overall. They’re tied fifth with Carolina for explosive plays. According to Football Outsiders, they’re the #11 offense and #5 team overall.

Is it just an aesthetic problem? A case of ironing out the kinks? Finding a rhythm? Or is the scheme permanently incapable of reaching it’s potential with Graham on the field?

Perhaps it’s just a case of improving the O-line and finding an in-line blocking tight end for 2016? If the protection is better and they have a capable run blocking TE, it maybe frees Graham up to be a classic joker tight end who just works the seam and finds a mismatch?

Or maybe the Seahawks were better without a #1 target? Someone they had to force-feed production. Were they better with a motley crew of undrafted receivers, Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, Zach Miller and Paul Richardson — all playing without the expectation of catching a certain amount of passes in a single game?

When there was no pressure to pass the ball to a certain player, could they focus on run-design and making Marshawn Lynch the focal point? Allowing Russell Wilson to do what he does best — be a point guard.

Can we still define Wilson as a point guard any more? Is his job to spread the ball around, protect the ball, find the open man and make things tick? Or is he being asked to do too much? Such as keep plays alive behind a sieve-like offensive line, make the most of Jimmy Graham and do everything else that was asked of him before 2015?

If they felt they really needed to add a big target to the offense, would they have been better investing the first round pick they used for Graham on a player like Dorial Green-Beckham — who would’ve carried a lot of upside but no serious expectations going into 2015?

It’s also hard not to look back on what could’ve been. Would there be any need to trade for Graham if they’d taken DeAndre Hopkins in 2013 instead of trading for Percy Harvin? It’s easy to use hindsight when reflecting on previous drafts — but here’s an article I wrote about Hopkins in January 2013 — and a pertinent quote:

“He’s a top-20 talent who may go later… and a smart team will be ready to capitalise…

…The way you make up for a lack of size is playing above your stature. Be physical. Master your routes. Understand the offense. Find advantages elsewhere. When you listen to Hopkins conduct an interview, he’ll talk about exploiting a cover-2 and appears to be a student of the game. Despite the arrival of highly-recruited Sammy Watkins he never complained about a reduced work-load in 2011.”

Graham, rather than provide a unique mismatch, has instead provided a constant distraction as we debate his targets, production and use. The scrutiny is never ending.

With seven games remaining, can they prove there is some light at the end of the tunnel? Otherwise the Seahawks will miss the playoffs and the inquisition begins. And as things stand, one of the questions that has to be asked is whether or not Jimmy Graham will ever be able to fit into this offense — and are they just better off without him?

Wednesday notes: Seahawks currently own the #12 pick

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

Ohio State’s Taylor Decker — a better athlete than people realise with a ton of upside

Nobody should be giving up on the 2015 season. The Seahawks have two home games and a chance to be 6-5 heading to Minnesota and Baltimore. The NFC is wide open and anything can happen — including a wild card team making a run.

The 49ers are next.

Even so, at 4-5 there isn’t anything wrong with indulging in a bit of early draft talk.

There’s been some confusion over the pick the Seahawks currently ‘own’. On Monday they were paired with the #19 selection by Mocking the Draft. has them with the #18 pick, while MTD now has Seattle at #12 after a strength of schedule update.

If it is #12 — and if they stay in that range — it’d certainly give them an opportunity to upgrade the offensive line via the draft.

It’s actually been quite a nice range to pick in recently. This year Ereck Flowers was the #9 pick, Todd Gurley went at #10, Danny Shelton at #12 and Andrus Peat at #13. Given Seattle’s current needs, it would’ve been an interesting quartet to consider.

In 2014 the Seahawks would’ve been in position to select Odell Beckham Jr (#12) or Aaron Donald (#13). In 2013 they would’ve had a shot at Sheldon Richardson (#13).

They owned the #12 pick in 2012 before moving down three spots to take Bruce Irvin — who’s been a regular starter ever since.

It’s still way too early to predict how the 2016 class will shake out — but having identified at least four draftable offensive tackles for the top-15 — at least one is likely to be sitting there within range.

We’ve been banging on about Shon Coleman (T, Auburn) being the best offensive tackle in college football for a while and there’s no reason to hold back now. A cancer survivor who fought his way back into football, Coleman has dominated difficult SEC opponents like Myles Garrett, Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins. His combination of size, power, mobility, attitude, willingness to get to the second level and chirpiness make him the definition of an elite prospect. He should go very early but nobody talks about him. We’ll see if his stock rises like Greg Robinson in 2014 or Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson in 2013. If not, he could be an ideal first round pick for the Seahawks.

Most people expect Laremy Tunsil (T, Ole Miss) to go in the top ten and that’s a safe bet. While I prefer Coleman, Tunsil has also performed well against the like of Texas A&M’s fantastic speed rusher Myles Garrett since returning from a NCAA imposed suspension. He has the length, kick slide, second level willingness and sufficient grit to warrant the attention he receives. With a premium placed on athletic offensive tackles — Tunsil is well placed to be off the board before Seattle picks barring an unlikely tanking the rest of the way.

Taylor Decker (T, Ohio State) is an underrated athlete who could easily force his way into the top ten. Teams love tall, athletic, blue-collar blockers. Decker ticks all the right boxes and has similar potential to Taylor Lewan. In 2014 Lewan was actually the third tackle off the board at #11 (Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews went before him). Out of the three, Lewan’s had the better career to date. Don’t be surprised if Decker goes a little later than someone like Tunsil but ends up being the better pro. Decker shouldn’t get out of the top-15 and he could be an option if the Seahawks pick as early as #12.

Jack Conklin (T, Michigan Tate) has had a middling 2015 season so far. In the game against Oregon he looked like a typical road-grader — driving defenders off the ball, protecting Connor Cook and looking every bit a physical and capable pro-prospect. In recent weeks he’s not looked quite as sharp — culminating in a slightly torrid outing against Maryland last weekend. Cook was injured in the game as the pass protection struggled. Can Conklin play left tackle? That’s the big question. Are you moving him to the right? If so, you’re probably putting him behind Coleman, Tunsil and Decker. Even so — he’s a bit of a self-made man (former walk-on at MSU) and he’s a good run blocker with the necessary size and temperament teams like. With such a growing need for good O-liners in the league, don’t expect Conklin to get out of the top-20 picks.

I’ve not included Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley. His play and effort is inconsistent, there’s a stiffness to his pass-pro set and there’s very little evidence of any second level blocking. LSU’s Jerald Hawkins has received some attention recently — although it’s unclear why. Some of his performances this year have barely warranted a draftable grade (particularly against Alabama).

It’s hard to look beyond the O-line for obvious reasons. Seattle’s group has struggled, seemingly impacting the overall identity of the offense and affecting the performance of Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch.

Russell Okung and J.R. Sweezy are free agents in the off-season. Even if both players re-sign — you likely have to consider upgrading the left guard, center and right tackle positions.

If things go wrong and they pick in the top-15, they’ll have ample opportunity to address their most pressing need.

Teams going O-line crazy in recent years

The Seahawks might be facing an O-line makeover in the off-season — but plenty of other teams have already been there and got the T-shirt. With mixed results.

The Arizona Cardinals spent first round picks on Jonathan Cooper (2013) and D.J. Humphries (2015) and yet both have disappointed so far. They also committed to the O-line in free agency, bringing in Jared Veldheer and Mike Iupati. The Cardinals, even with two underwhelming first round players, have the #8 ranked O-line in pass protection in the NFL (all rankings in this piece via Football Outsiders) and the third best run blocking unit.

Cincinnati has planned ahead, sensing the need to protect Andy Dalton as a priority. They drafted Cedric Ogbuehi (first round) and Jake Fisher (second round) this year to eventually replace their two incumbent offensive tackles. In 2012 they also spent a first round pick on guard Kevin Zeitler and in 2014 a fourth rounder on Russell Bodine. They have the seventh best unit for pass pro and a ranked at #2 in the run game and clearly intend to stay in that range.

The Cleveland Browns hit on two elite O-liners in 2007 (Joe Thomas) and 2009 (Alex Mack). Yet 2015 first rounder Cam Erving is off to a bad start (seemingly Mack’s successor). 2012 early second rounder Mitchell Schwartz has been hit and miss but 2014 second rounder Joel Bitonio has been a roaring success. Despite some heavy draft investment in the trenches, the Browns have given up three more sacks than even the Seahawks in 2015. Their line is ranked dead last in the running game and #26 in pass pro. It’s clear evidence that a good line and a bad supporting cast at the skill positions isn’t a good mix.

The Miami Dolphins have tried to rebuild their O-line recently by drafting Ja’Wuan James in the first round (2014), spending third rounders on Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas and a fourth rounder this year on Jamil Douglas. That follows the previous first round investment on Mike Pouncey (2011). They also signed Brandon Albert in free agency. The line is still in a state of flux despite serious dedication to try and improve. Miami’s line is currently at #25 in the passing game and #19 for the run.

The New York Giants have made recent moves to improve their line, probably to preserve Eli Manning’s career for a while longer. Ereck Flowers was taken with the #9 pick this year. Justin Pugh was drafted in the first round in 2013. They also spent a second rounder last year on center Weston Richburg. It’s certainly led to some improvement. New York currently has the 12th best pass protecting line and they’re #16 in the run game. They’ve only given up 15 sacks.

Pittsburgh are another team that recently decided they had to spend considerable resource up front to repair their offense. In 2012 they spent their first two picks on guard David DeCastro and tackle Mike Adams. They took Maurkice Pouncey in round one the previous year. They’ve gone from having a horrendous, sieve-like offensive line to a solid unit that boasts the #6 run game in 2015 and the #20 line in pass protection. Consider that they didn’t have Le’veon Bell for the first four games of the season due to suspension and have needed to start Michael Vick and Landry Jones at quarterback. Clearly the line is doing something right.

And then of course there’s Dallas. The most hyped up O-line in the league. Everyone considers the Cowboys’ unit as the best. Tony Romo has still missed games in 2014 and 2015 playing behind this O-line. While it’s certainly not a bad group by any stretch — the three first round picks spent on Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick (plus the recent addition of La’el Collins) have combined for the #23 ranked line for pass pro and at #8 in the running game. Not bad numbers — but certainly not elite given the major investment. Maybe Romo, Dez Bryant and DeMarcus Murray were the real stars last year?

So these are the teams that have gone big recently. The #1 ranked team in pass protection is Oakland surprisingly. Their line consists of free agent pickups Donald Penn, Rodney Hudson, a former 7th rounder J’Marcus Webb signed from Minnesota, undrafted Austin Howard who bounced around three teams before landing with the Raiders and 2014 third round pick Gabe Jackson.

You wouldn’t put that group together and expect greatness. It emphasises what scheming and a good blend of offensive skill players (Carr, Murray, Cooper & Crabtree) can do for an offense.

The Seahawks — who themselves have spent two first rounders, two second rounders and a third rounder on the O-line since 2009 — have shown they’re unable to scheme around a line that isn’t that talented. The solution is probably going to be expensive — be it picks or salary.

Will they go with a tackle first in 2016 (Coleman, Tunsil, Decker, Conklin) and someone like Adam Bisnowaty, Jason Spriggs or Joe Dahl in rounds 2-3? They also need to find an answer at center — and if they can afford it, might be able to coax Alex Mack to Seattle. Adding a cheaper, wily veteran at tackle or guard might also be attractive.

Ultimately they need tough football players who can pick up the technique quickly. Zack Martin was a rare case — athletic and technically adept while capable of playing any position on the line. A fantastic prospect. But players like Justin Pugh in New York, the Pouncey brothers, Joel Bitonio and others have shown you can find prospects who can make it work quickly with toughness, attitude and some athleticism.

They’ve tried the ultra-SPARQy, high ceiling approach and it hasn’t necessarily worked. They don’t need to completely abandon that plan — but it’s time to find some road graders to hold things together. The Seahawks need to be able to run the ball and provide average pass protection. They need to get back to the days where they ranked #1 in the running game and around the #20 mark for pass pro. That’s the identity of this team. Right now they’re at #9 for the run and #32 in pass pro. A jump of eight places is required in both categories — minimum — for this team to regain the offense it desires.

Possible 2016 O-line solution:

LT Shon Coleman or Taylor Decker
LG Veteran guard or Justin Britt
C Alex Mack
RG J.R. Sweezy
RT Adam Bisnowaty

(This assumes Russell Okung signs a big contract with a different team)

The Seahawks might also want to bring in another running back in the middle rounds. Indiana’s Jordan Howard showed what he’s capable of against Michigan with major yards after contact and a tough, physical running style. Alex Collins has had a very solid year for Arkansas with a blend of home-run hitting speed and a tough-to-bring-down style. UCLA’s Paul Perkins is more athletic and slight but is still tough to bring down with nice vision and a delicious cut-back ability.

Don’t forget to check out this weeks podcast: