Month: September 2023 (Page 1 of 2)

The Seahawks’ cap problems and questionable safety splurge

Quandre Diggs is not playing well enough

After three weeks of the NFL season, there are 85 qualifying safeties graded by PFF. Quandre Diggs is currently graded 85th and last.

This is a problem for the Seahawks.

Diggs has to play a lot better than this. He has the second highest cap hit on the team this year at $12m. It’s even more concerning, though, when you consider next year.

The team re-worked Diggs’ deal before the start of the 2023 season to create extra cap space. It now means his cap hit for 2024 is an eye-watering $21.2m. By pushing 2023 money into 2024, they’ve also made it far more challenging to cut him.

If his performance doesn’t drastically improve in the coming weeks, the team will have little choice but to consider their options. However, the re-worked deal now means they’d take on $10.2m in dead money to part ways, while saving $11m in 2024. Per Over the Cap, there’s no financial difference if they designate Diggs as a post-June 1st cut or cut him outright.

Unfortunately it’s another example of the Seahawks not managing their cap well.

Among the other moves made recently to create space, they also re-worked Jamal Adams’ contract. He is now due a cap-hit of $26.9m in 2024.

Unbelievably, Diggs and Adams and currently on the books for a combined $48.1m next season. That’s staggering.

Like Diggs, they’ve also made it harder to cut Adams if things don’t go well as he prepares to return from injury to play against the Giants. It would cost the Seahawks $20m in dead money to cut him outright next year. A post-June 1st designation would spread this out over two years — but you would still be paying Adams a hefty sum to not be part of your roster.

Even Julian Love is expensive next year. He has an $8m cap hit with $2.4m in dead money attached.

There are a couple of key things to discuss here.

Firstly, the investment at safety. Why?

How is it that the Seahawks have got themselves into a situation where so much is invested in this position? Especially at a time when some teams have decided, much like the running back position, it’s a fungible part of the roster.

The Eagles allowed their safeties to walk in free agency this year and are currently starting Reed Blankenship ($871,667) and Justin Evans ($1.5m). They’re mixing in a third round rookie (Sydney Brown) and Terrell Edmunds ($1.9m). Their total cost on the position is $5.2m for four players.

The 49ers have Tashaun Gipson ($2.1m) playing next to Talanoa Hufanga ($1m). The backups are a third round rookie and Ambry Thomas ($1.3m). The total positional spend is $5.4m.

The Cowboys are starting Malik Hooker ($4.5m) and Donovan Wilson ($3.3m) with Jayron Kearse ($6.6m) and Juanyeh Thomas ($750,000) as backups. Combined, that’s a shade over $15m.

The Chiefs splashed out on Justin Reid ($12.7m) but they pair him with Bryan Cook ($1.3m). Their backups are a fourth round rookie and Mike Edwards ($2.8m).

The Bengals allowed Jessie Bates — a consistently high performer — to depart in free agency, having chosen to invest in their defensive line (Troy Hendrickson, D.J. Reader, Sam Hubbard) instead. They drafted Dax Hill a year in advance to replace him and he starts next to Nick Scott. They drafted Jordan Battle in round three this year. Their total spend on the position is $6.7m.

The Bills are one of the bigger spenders at the position, with Micah Hyde ($10.5m) and Jordan Poyer ($4.8m) listed as starters. Taylor Rapp ($1.7m) and Damar Hamlin ($980,000) are the backups for a total spend of $17.9m.

Here’s the spending comparison at safety in list form:

Seahawks — $28.3m
Eagles — $5.2m
49ers — $5.4m
Cowboys — $15m
Chiefs — $17m
Bengals — $6.7m
Bills — $17.9m

Not every team has to be built the same way and I’m not arguing that these teams are necessarily right and the Seahawks are wrong. Yet it’s difficult to work out why the Seahawks have lurched to such an extreme where Diggs, Adams and Love are all set to account for $56.2m in 2024 — more than ten times what the Eagles and 49ers are spending at safety in 2023. They’re set to take up nearly a quarter (22%) of Seattle’s entire cap next year.

This is a remarkable level of investment and what are they getting in return? As mentioned, Diggs’ 33.4 PFF grade is the lowest in the NFL at his position. Love’s 51.0 grade ranks him 75th out of 85 qualifying players. Adams is yet to play a down of football and is returning from a serious injury.

Even if all three were playing at a high level, you could still question the money being spent. The safety position is going through a market correction. Players are not re-setting the market any more. Jessie Bates — PFF’s second highest graded safety so far — became only the fourth highest paid safety when he joined the Falcons. His average salary is smaller than Adams’ despite being two years removed from that contract being penned.

Elsewhere, it seems teams are increasingly prepared to plug in cheaper role players or rookies — saving money for other positions.

Why have the Seahawks invested so much at safety? Why have they essentially doubled-down on that investment by pushing money into 2024? Why are the players they’ve spent money on performing so poorly?

The second issue to discuss is dead money.

This season, $18.7m of Seattle’s cap-space has been spent on players to play somewhere else. The Russell Wilson trade meant the Seahawks took on a large dead-cap hit. This was the first year they could get away from that and yet it’s still an issue because of poor decision making with other players.

Why did they sign or re-sign players a year ago with so much dead money attached? Was there really such a strong, competitive market to need to commit so much to Quinton Jefferson, for example, that he now has to cost $2m to not be part of the team? They re-worked Shelby Harris’ deal, only to cut him months later and waste $4.2m. They did the same with Gabe Jackson, who is costing them $4.7m. Carlos Dunlap, who they re-signed at a hefty price before deciding he wasn’t a fit after all, is still costing them $4.2m this year.

Imagine what an extra $18.7m could’ve done in free agency this year?

They face the same problems next year. They have less than a million dollars to spend in real cap space. They can roll-over whatever they have left this year — but that will diminish with any signings they make between now and the new year (eg if Jason Peters was signed to the full roster). Currently, they’ll roll over enough to have about $10m to spend in effective cap space.

Here’s a list of players who are out of contract in 2024 who would need to be re-signed or replaced:

Bobby Wagner
Damien Lewis
Noah Fant
Jordyn Brooks
Drew Lock
Phil Haynes
Devin Bush
Evan Brown
Mario Edwards Jr
Colby Parkinson
Deejay Dallas
Michael Jackson

Meanwhile, the likes of Darrell Taylor will be restricted free agents. There are a bunch of depth players reaching free agency too, you can see the full list here.

This is a long list of starters and contributors. They only have $10m and a draft class to make up the numbers.

Basically, cutting players and re-working contracts is inevitable.

I appreciate it’s part of football and all teams have to do a bit of this every year. However, the Seahawks are going to again have to take on dead money and lend on the credit card just to be able to put a roster together. That in turn will mean more wasted money for players to play elsewhere while making it harder to cut players in the future if you restructure contracts.

This is why I think it’s inevitable they will draft a quarterback in the first three rounds next year. They’ll be so strapped for cash, they’ll need their backup to be cheaper than a $4m Drew Lock. The reality is other players (starters) are going to need to be replaced by rookies too.

Cutting Bryan Mone will save $5.9m. This is an easy lever to pull and the Seahawks will only take on $500,000 in dead cap. Apart from that though, here’s the dead money attached to every player who can even be remotely considered a cost-saving, viable cut:

Quandre Diggs — $10.2m ($11m saving)
Jamal Adams — $20.1m ($6m saving)
Geno Smith — $17.4m ($13.8m saving)
Will Dissly — $3.1m ($7m saving)
Julian Love — $2.4m ($5.6m saving)
Nick Bellore — $1.15m ($2.85m saving)

All of these dead hits bar Quandre Diggs can be divided over two years by designating a post-June 1st cut — but you can only do that twice per year.

As you can see, there’s not really much to go at. It says it all that if they want to move on from Nick Bellore next year (he turns 35 in May) it will cost them over a million dollars in dead money. How? Why? How do you explain a contract structured that way? With the greatest respect to Bellore, was he seriously not going to re-sign without that level of commitment for 2024?

Biting the bullet at safety is going to cost the team a fortune. Given the current performance, it’s unavoidable without a serious and dramatic improvement. It begs the question why they didn’t get the pain out of the way this year? Just get cheaper at the position and then feel the benefit in the future?

For example, Ryan Neal is only costing Tampa Bay $1m. Imagine how much freedom they would’ve had for next year if they were committing to players like that, rather than splurging on Diggs and co.

Diggs, Adams and Love really have to step up to the plate now and deliver at a high level. The team has gone all-in at safety. Results are required. The Seahawks, at least according to the financial data, have banked on the safety position elevating this defense.

If Diggs and Love can’t improve dramatically and if Adams can’t stay healthy and/or return to his best, this will be a huge financial blunder by the Seahawks and it will threaten their ability to improve the roster in the future.

It also calls into question their approach to contracts, dead money, positional priorities and cap management.

It might be inconvenient to have this discussion now when many will prefer to focus on the next game. The future success of this team, however, is being jeopardised by decisions made on the cap.

Managing your cap is as important as drafting well and executing on the field. It’s not something talked about enough beyond the various Seahawks blogs and really, that has to change. The decisions being made need to be challenged.

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Scouting notes 26/09 — things are getting interesting

Spencer Rattler was incredible vs Mississippi State

Ohio State’s Tyleik Williams stands out

Michael Hall Jr and J.T. Tuimoloau get a lot of the attention on Ohio State’s defensive line but keep Williams in mind moving forward. Against Notre Dame I thought he was Ohio State’s best player on defense.

While the rest of the line was rotated in and out, Williams was given the majority of the snaps and seemed to be a mainstay on the field. At 6-2 and 290lbs (he looks bigger) he was mobile, active, showed a great swim move and was just a consistent disruptive threat. At one point he even dropped into coverage and almost had an interception.

He also comes with plenty of power in his frame and hands. At one point he shrugged off likely top-15 pick Joe Alt to make a TFL vs the run. On another play he worked around the edge and was clearly held by Alt (it was uncalled).

Williams was pretty much the focal point of a strong Ohio State defensive performance. He’s a junior so he’s eligible for the 2024 draft. For me he has legit second day potential and he’s a name few talk about who warrants more attention.

The Seahawks should draft a QB in 2024

It’s coming. There are just too many attractive options in this class. It doesn’t have to be a first rounder either, adding to my increasing belief it’ll happen.

The fact is the Seahawks are relying on rolling money into 2024 to have any cap space next year. If they don’t spend another penny this year they’ll have $10m to use in 2024. That’s virtually nothing. The truth is they’re going to have to make a saving somewhere.

The only big lever they have to save money is Geno Smith’s contract — so one of two things will happen, in my opinion. Smith will either play his way out of the deal or they’ll retain him and be forced to add a cheaper backup.

I know people keep saying they’re developing Drew Lock in the background but Lock is on a $4m contract and he’s a free agent next year. He also turns 27 in November. If Smith remains the uncontested starter in 2024, Lock might want to go somewhere else with at least a little hope to start. Replacing Lock with someone on a rookie contract would also make financial sense.

A case in point — Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s average salary on his rookie deal is $3.6m. His cap-hit only tops Lock’s $4m in the final year of his contract. Smith-Njigba was a top-20 pick. If the Seahawks were to draft a quarterback on day two, the cost would be significantly cheaper even still.

I think it’s likely therefore that if Smith keeps his job and is seen as the starter for at least the 2024 season, Lock will likely move on due to the financial ramifications and the state of his own career. This might only change if he finds a lukewarm free agent market and resigns himself to the kind of dirt-cheap deal Smith used to sign before he had a career renaissance.

I also think it’s important for this team to start planning ahead. I suspect John Schneider will have that thought too, especially with the options in this class.

Geno Smith might physically be a different player to Kirk Cousins but he’s essentially Seattle’s version. As we saw in Detroit, he can be a very accomplished starter on his day. Yet as we’ve also seen for most of week one and the first half against Carolina, he also can play quite poorly.

In 2022, Smith and Cousins shared identical PFF grades. This year, Smith’s grade is a 75.5 after three weeks — good for 12th among QB’s. Cousins is eighth with a 77.6 despite playing on an 0-3 team.

This isn’t a negative thing for the Seahawks. They have an experienced, capable starter. I don’t think Smith is ever going to lead this team to a Super Bowl though, just as Cousins likely won’t in Minnesota. If they use Smith as a bridge to what’s next, this can work perfectly. Draft and develop a QB without the pressure to start him immediately. Make Geno your Alex Smith. Neglecting the position and hoping he can take you to the promise land, as the Vikings have done with Cousins, could be an error.

Spencer Rattler could be the man

This is a long run-up to get into my QB scouting notes for this week — but the words above are motivated by another captivating weekend of quarterback play.

Let’s start with Spencer Rattler. He was flawless against Mississippi State. He didn’t have an incompletion until the fourth quarter. He was sensational in a shoot-out win for South Carolina and is truly an exciting prospect.

When he burst onto the scene at Oklahoma and was prematurely being talked about as a potential top-five pick, people were comparing him to Patrick Mahomes. They have very similar body types. They both have easy arm strength. They’re both creative and shifty. They even kind of look alike.

The problem was, Rattler played like the obnoxious High Schooler he’d shown to be in a Netflix series covering his High School career. I think it went to his head and I don’t blame him. I can’t say I’d be any different if Netflix were following me around as a teenager.

His play at Oklahoma was arrogant. He’d throw carelessly into double or triple coverage, trusting his physical talent to make plays that weren’t there. He carried himself with a cocky demeanour and played as if he could do no wrong. He wasn’t reading a defense, taking what was available or doing anything on a detailed level. He was just going out there and throwing it recklessly around the park. The attention, from the documentary and the online draft chatter, seemed to make him think he didn’t need to work at it.

We know what happened next. He was unceremoniously benched for Caleb Williams. He transferred to South Carolina. He was humbled.

That wake-up call is the best thing that ever happened to him. He is now playing like a first round pick. All of the physical talent remains but now he’s measured, playing within structure and he’s excelling. He carries himself so differently. His body language has completely changed. He’s not throwing recklessly any more — there’s a purpose with his decision making and because he’s so incredibly gifted, the maturity mixed with the talent is making him one of the best quarterback prospects in college football.

Based on the way he’s playing currently, I’d have no issue endorsing him as a first round talent. He isn’t getting enough attention because I think people have just given up on him. That is a mistake. He is playing brilliant football.

I get the sense Schneider — a self-confessed Mahomes fan from the 2017 draft — will like what he sees. I think the Seahawks will also like the journey Rattler has been on, not to mention the grit and determination he’s shown to rebuild a career that virtually felt over not that long ago.

Yes, they’ll need to check that the ‘new’ Rattler is here to stay. However, I can’t think of a better prospect for the Seahawks. He could provide value if he lasts into day two. He can learn from Geno Smith, with the pair having some shared experiences. He has the talent and upside to be great, not just good.

He might be the ideal selection, provided he carries on playing the way he is. It’s truly exciting to watch what he’s doing at South Carolina.

A quick word for team-mate Xavier Legette too — he looks every bit a top-45 pick at receiver. Size, speed, X-factor talent and a multi-faceted threat — Legette is legit.

Will Howard is also underrated

I spoke last week about the Kansas State quarterback and how impressive he was. I’m pleased to say that he followed it up with another strong showing — playing through an injury — against UCF.

Don’t get me wrong, he had some misses in the game. His deep-ball throwing needs work and he was ‘off’ on a couple of throws he should’ve made for big gains. He also had an interception where he more or less threw blind expecting his receiver to be there for an easy completion. He didn’t notice the DB had gained position and it was a pick that looked ugly, even if the scheme/system played a part.

Even so, I just can’t get over how many NFL-level throws he makes. Unlike when you watch these extreme spread systems (eg, Washington, Ohio State) — Kansas State’s offense looks translatable. You see pressure for a start. You see a quarterback having to think quickly in the pocket. You see big-time throws into tight windows over the middle. It just looks different with Howard.

Look at the first throw he makes in the video below (37 seconds in):

Howard has a blitzing player right in his face as he throws the ball. Despite this, he delivers a perfect strike over the middle — thrown with anticipation, timing and accuracy. That is a NFL throw.

Fast forward to 3:48. He fakes the hand-off, moves well in the pocket and again throws over the middle with perfect timing in between a group of four defenders. These are tight-window throws where he’s facing a muddy pocket. You just don’t see many college QB’s playing in this environment.

Howard’s also a very good athlete — capable of breaking off big runs and extending plays when needed. He has everything you look for physically.

Again, I’m not saying his tape is perfect or doesn’t have flawed moments. Yet there’s not enough people talking about him. For me he’s very much a day-two pick at least, with the potential to go higher than people expect.

It’s also worth noting from this game that Kansas State guard Cooper Beebe continues to perform to a high standard and running back D.J. Giddens, if you haven’t seen him play, is a box-office attraction. Speed, power, electric cuts, running through contact. Giddens plays like the running backs in the old NCAA game and it’s exciting to watch. He’s eligible for the 2024 draft.

Quick-hitting notes

— It feels like former five-star recruit Xavier Thomas has been at Clemson forever. However, he’s starting to deliver on his talent. He doesn’t have orthodox size for an edge rusher but he’s excelling this year. Against Florida State he was a force — at one point beating two blocks to force a sack. He’s always had incredible physical talent and he’s now finally delivering.

— I’m a huge fan of Texas A&M’s defensive tackle McKinley Jackson. A heart-and-soul defender, he had another impressive outing against Auburn. He’s toughness personified — physical, mean, plays with a distinct edge and he leads his defense. He can be stout against the run, create pressure with quickness or power and you just need players like this up front. He could and should be on Seattle’s radar next year and I’m giving him a second round mark at this point. Likewise for Texas’ impressive Byron Murphy — a different player in that he’s a dynamic, twitchy athlete but equally impactful.

— Florida State linebacker Tatum Bethune hits like a truck. I want to see more. Meanwhile the playmaking qualities of Texas linebacker Jaylen Ford have me intrigued. Every time I watch him play he seems to make a big play or a turnover. The most impressive linebacker in college football over the last two seasons, though, is Jeremiah Trotter at Clemson. He’s a stud and for me a no-brainer R1 pick.

— I’m giving Washington receiver Rome Odunze a first round mark too. He has everything — elite ball-tracking, body control, pure speed and first-class character and maturity. He had a special punt return against Califorina at the weekend and showed a lot of toughness on his second score. He can do it all and for me he’s a potential top-20 pick.

— I think Michael Penix Jr needs to calm down a bit. We all know he has an amazing arm but he just seems to be forcing things a little. We’ve seen overthrows deep, making his receivers work hard to complete catches, occasional recklessness and he had a horrible interception against Cal. He already had one against Tulsa and he should’ve had one against Michigan State too. It speaks to a concern about Penix. His arm talent is astonishing but he needs to prove that at the next level, where he won’t have the advantages he has at Washington, he can play the percentages and not just be a walking cannon-arm. Not every play has to be a 50-yard TD or a highlight reel throw to the sideline. He’s never sacked, he’s playing with top-tier college receivers and his offensive scheme is prolific. Teams are going to love his arm but I fear he’s becoming a bit gung-ho at times — like a wrestler going to his finishing move 45 seconds into a bout. Let the arm be the finisher, not the whole fight.

— Washington State quarterback Cam Ward is playing so well. He’s creative, mobile, has shown he can throw with anticipation and he has poise on the move. He loves a back-shoulder throw (a bit more variety at times would be nice) but he’s flying under the radar as a possible mid-round pick with plus ability to come in and be developed. Meanwhile receiver Josh Kelly had two of the best one-handed catches you’ll ever see at the weekend against Oregon State. His entire performance was excellent. I’m intrigued to see more.

— It’s worth stressing again just how much depth is available at quarterback. Again, I think USC’s Caleb Williams is the only sure-fire top-five pick I’ve seen so far. However, Riley Leonard, Spencer Rattler, Michael Penix Jr, Shedeur Sanders and Drake Maye could easily find a home in round one. Will Howard and Tyler Van Dyke are really impressing to start the year while Quinn Ewers is much improved from last season. Jordan Travis, Cam Ward and Bo Nix will have supporters for day two. I’m not as high on JJ McCarthy but plenty of others are. This is why I think 2024 will be the year the Seahawks do finally invest in the position. It’s such a rich class.

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Thoughts on the Panthers win

I’ve now had a chance to watch the game. Well, most of it. DAZN, who supply GamePass in Europe these days, have taken a chainsaw to the ‘game in 40’ function. Instead of a nicely condensed quick-fire view of every snap in 40 minutes, now you get 48 minutes with several plays missing (yet numerous bits of colour commentary and certain graphics are strangely left in).

If I’ve missed anything, I apologise. The state of broadcasting for football fans in this country has taken a step back this year, especially since (as I keep mentioning) there’s no access to college football games on TV any more.

I’d put this game in the ‘a win’s a win’ category. The Seahawks were banged up (especially on the O-line) and didn’t play well in certain areas. Yet they still won and held serve when they needed to. It would’ve been fairly catastrophic to blow a home game against this Panthers team. Just getting through it is a positive — although it equally wasn’t a performance that’ll likely have anyone dreaming about what could be in the new year.

The thing I enjoyed most was Zach Charbonnet’s intensity as a runner. A blog favourite for the last two years, he just has ‘it’. He’s shifty to be creative but he’s also got a real power and nastiness to his running style. The way he levelled that defender towards the end was a ‘chef’s kiss’ moment for anyone who enjoys the physicality of football (and I unapologetically do).

I’d really like to see him get more opportunities but that equally means less Ken Walker, who also played very well here. They have the potential to be a really nice complementary duo. Walker is more dynamic in the open-field (as shown by his incredible juke in the first half, leading to a massive gain). Charbonent is a sledgehammer. Both are excellent athletes with good size. They’re an exciting pair and it was nice to see both excel here. The Seahawks are loaded with weapons — now we just need to see them find a way to get Jaxon Smith-Njigba more involved.

Jarran Reed showed again how important he is to the Seahawks this year. He might be the most critical player on defense. There was a mixed reception to his return during the off-season but I always thought he was a savvy addition. For whatever reason, he plays his best ball in Seattle. He’s disruptive enough as a pass-rusher (1.5 sacks, three QB hits) but plays stout and can anchor. My favourite play of his, though, was a moment of pure effort. Myles Sanders shook off a poor attempted tackle from Jordyn Brooks and broke into the second level. Reed chased Sanders down from the LOS. He got there before anyone else. That’s brilliant and speaks to his commitment. You need players like Reed on your roster and for me he’s the most vital defender on the roster. They need him.

I’m not as encouraged by the defensive performance overall as some have been. The Panthers seemed to have a bit of a jumbled game-plan that put too much pressure on Andy Dalton to throw it around the park. Yes, the run-defense numbers are good but Carolina basically made it an afterthought despite this being a close game until the end. Frank Reich admitted afterwards that having Dalton throw 58 times was no formula to win. Their running backs only carried the ball 10 times.

The Seahawks still seem easy to play against if you’re a QB willing to take what’s on offer in zone. This will be one of the worst offense’s they play this year and it would’ve been nice to see a smothering, dominant performance. The pass-rush still seems to be lightweight and they aren’t creative enough to create pressure. I don’t think they’re making enough of their edge rushers (perhaps in an attempt to play conservatively in the run game but I haven’t studied this). They could do more to bring free runners into the equation in key moments or just release the shackles a bit from the edges.

On top of that, they have this knack of giving up big explosive passing plays that don’t really seem well earned. Take the long D.J. Chark touchdown. Given the investment in the secondary, how are Quandre Diggs and Julian Love allowing that play to happen? And what was Diggs’ non-effort to make a tackle at the end all about? If you’re going to be a conservative ‘do your job’ type defense — you can’t have meltdown moments where receivers are wide open downfield. The least you expect is ‘take away the big play’.

I think Seattle’s own passing game was a bit frustrating at times too. Geno Smith had a couple of near-turnovers before throwing a horrendous pick (three defenders vs JSN, still forced it). He didn’t play well in the first half.

Everything seemed to click in the end which I suppose is all that matters given the result. Yet it was a two-point game against a mediocre opponent at home at the start of the fourth quarter. The offense toiled to complete drives, settling for field goals. There just seemed to be a general lack of comfort despite the opponent offering very little. It would’ve been nice to see the offense get going a bit earlier.

Nevertheless, this is one to chalk off and move on with a win. Next week feels critical. The Giants have had a poor start to the season and are missing their best offensive weapon. You’re on the road in primetime and the 49ers just easily handled this opponent. Can you go over there and get the job done to go into the bye a very healthy 3-1? Or is this team going to be 2-2 and feeling like this is pretty much what they are?

It’s an opportunity to make a bit of a statement and get the excitement levels growing. Or, it could be a game that proves the Seahawks are kind of a .500 (or just above) team.

Curtis Allen’s week three watch notes (vs Panthers)

Challenges come in all different shapes and sizes during an NFL season. Sometimes, it is purely a very tough opponent. Others – like this week – the challenge comes from circumstance.

NFL-watchers across the nation do not see much juice in this matchup. Most talking heads and the betting community at large are predicting a comfortable win for the Seahawks.

The close-quarter fans of the Seahawks know different though. The 0-2 Panthers are a loss dressed in a win’s clothing. Circumstance is playing a heavy hand in this game.

At this point, Bryce Young’s ankle injury is a blessing for the Panthers, as he had not looked comfortable in the offense and had been unable to throw the ball past the sticks effectively at all.

Andy Dalton is no world-beater. But as a backup and a fill-in starter for this game, he is a stabilizing presence that can keep the offense afloat, and perhaps cook up some magic with Adam Thielen.

And then there is last year’s Week Fourteen matchup, where Carolina clearly demonstrated they should not be taken lightly. The 4-8 Panthers came into Seattle and manhandled the playoff-bound Seahawks by dominating the trenches, rushing for 223 yards and only allowing 46 on the ground to complete one of the NFL’s most dubious feats of the year – an NFC South division sweep of the Seahawks. Pete Carroll and the Seahawks have not forgotten this.

On the other side, Seattle is a very beat up team right now. They are still without their top two Offensive Tackles, and an impressive performance against the Lions last week should not lull anyone into thinking they can just move forward, business as usual. Brian Burns and Justin Houston will make sure to present a real test for Stone Forsythe and Jake Curhan.

The defense has arguably their three most important players – Jarran Reed, Riq Woolen and Quandre Diggs – dealing with injuries and as a unit are once again dragging hard to open the season.

After two games they are:

-31st in total yards allowed
-30th in passing yards allowed
-30th in sacks and 25th in pressures
-Tied for 30th in first downs conceded
-29th in scoring defense

Yes, it is only a two-game sample. Yes, the run defense has improved. But this is a tune we have heard so many times we know it by heart. A sluggish defensive start could lead to losing games they should comfortably win, and cause them some heartburn come December, when they are scraping for a playoff spot.

This is a thorny matchup that might not show up on the NFL radar as a key game, but this one will be a real test of the Seahawks’ mettle. After an embarrassment at home against the Rams to open the season, and an inspiring bounce back win against a tough Lions team on the road, this is a game where we get some insight into where this team is headed in 2023.

Let’s dig into our watch points for this week.

Keep the Panther Rushing Game in Check

This is obvious. Last year, every time the Panthers needed a play against Seattle, they simply ran the ball and the Seahawks were powerless to stop them.

After two games, the Panthers are ninth in the NFL in yards per game, rushing for 127 yards. The Seahawks are thirteenth in run defense, conceding 97 per game. After a 223-yard rushing day last year, it is tempting to ask for ‘just an average day’ for the defense, and truth be told, that should help propel them to victory. Sam Darnold quarterbacked them to a win on only 12 of 24 throwing for 120 yards and one touchdown without any turnovers. Hardly the stuff of legend.

Miles Sanders and Chuba Hubbard are the latest Panther running backs, and they both are able to run effectively between the tackles. With the pass protection problems Carolina has (more on that in a minute) and the fact they are currently not employing a dynamic passing attack, success in the run game is essential for them to take home a victory.

The Seahawk rushing defense is putting up vastly better numbers than last year. But there is still much work to be done. A healthy day containing their ground game would go a long, long way towards earning them a victory.

Do Not Let Andy Dalton Play His Game

It is being widely reported that Dalton has a career 3-1 record against the Seahawks. While that is true, a little context is in order.

Last year, he contributed only sixteen caught passes for 187 yards to a win for New Orleans. 111 of those yards came after the catch. The Saints won by rushing for 235 yards. His other three games against the Seahawks came 4 years ago, 8 years ago, and 11 years ago. That is just too big a gap to put any credence into his record against them. It is not as if he has some kind of consistent iron grip on the current Seahawks.

What does he do well?

He specializes in the kind of play that has given the Seahawks fits in recent years – papercutting the defense to death by plodding down the field with short, safe passes that get the ball out his hands quickly.

It is a big reason why the Seahawks have struggled so much against backup quarterbacks. Coaches rein the game plan in and give long-tenured veteran passers an easier game plan to work with, and it minimizes chances for turnovers and rewards patience and ball control.

When combined with a lack of pass rush pressure, it is a successful formula for opposing teams.

So that is where we start with beating Andy Dalton: pressure him and press the receivers. This is a golden opportunity for the Seahawks to disrupt the Panthers’ entire game with pressure.

The Seahawks have invested heavily in players who can cause problems for the quarterback and the Panthers’ offensive line has been extremely poor in pass protection so far this season. In just two games, they have conceded six sacks, a whopping 31% pressure rate and Bryce Young has fumbled twice (and unofficially was strip sacked a third time, but the defense was flagged for a penalty on the play). Generating pressure without constant blitzing should be a reasonable expectation for this defense.

The coverage team has an equally important job to fit this together and keep their offense from functioning well. They need to disrupt receivers’ routes or otherwise provide tight coverage to make Dalton hold onto the ball.

Last year for the Saints, Dalton had one of the quickest triggers in the NFL, spending only 2.3 seconds in the pocket on average. His entire body of output was predicated on getting the ball out of his hands to playmakers like Alvin Kamara and Chris Olave and letting them be the offense. Look at this stunning gap in effectiveness when Dalton was forced to hold onto the ball:

His completion percentage and quarterback rating drop from “Nearly NFL Elite” to “Use Him As An Emergency QB Only.” His sack rate quadruples. His touchdown and interception throws are equal.

It all starts with covering and disrupting those quick throws. And that is also where Seattle’s weakness has lied.

Matt Stafford and Jared Goff have mercilessly picked on defenders in the middle of the field with quick, short passes.
The results are ugly:

Julian Love is Seattle’s most-targeted defender so far this season with 19 targets, and he is allowing a 74% completion rate. Jordyn Brooks and Coby Bryant are tied for the third-most targeted with 10 each and have conceded 9 catches for an awful 90% rate. Bobby Wagner is conceding 100% on four targets. And what’s worse? Those four already have 12 missed tackles, including 3 from Wagner, who only had 2 missed tackles in 17 games last year. As a team the Seahawks are one of the NFL’s worst with 23 missed tackles so far.

Coverage is a problem. Tackling is also a problem. Those are basically the only two things defenders behind the line of scrimmage need to do. This game is a fantastic opportunity to shore things up and give the offense a chance to really dominate.

Run On This Defense. A Lot.

I cannot begin to tell you how much the Seahawks would benefit themselves if they decide to commit to the run game against the Panthers.

First off, it would be a nice bit of revenge for last year’s game. The Seahawk running backs were plagued by injury, and they were only able to roll out Travis Homer and Tony Jones in the backfield. The 46 yards they gained on the ground were painful to watch.

More importantly though, the matchup is excellent here. The Panthers are conceding an average of 132 yards per game this year – good for twenty-fifth in the NFL – but that is just a small part of the story.

In only two games they have conceded thirteen runs of eight or more yards. Thirteen! The runs have come both up the middle and around the edges. Teams are gashing the Panthers at a time where their own offense is struggling and cannot make up the difference, and the Seahawks have a runner who already proven explosive in the NFL in Kenneth Walker, and another who is just waiting to break out in Zach Charbonnet.

The Seahawks must take advantage of this opportunity. They have only run the ball with their running backs 39 times in two games so far. Yes, part of that is the fact they had a dismal second half against the Rams, but there is every reason to feature the running game against Carolina.

It gives the defense rest and allows them to go all out. It does all sort of wonders for the passing game, especially proving that play-action will be effective.

Perhaps most important, though, is that it protects the offensive line in a time where they are vulnerable. Brian Burns, Justin Houston and Frankie Luvu have already made their mark this year as excellent pass rushers. They can come from the edges or inside. But when a team is not defending the run very well, they can keep those pass rushers in check by running the ball on the ground and not even giving them a chance to get in gear.

Saturday scouting notes — 2024 O-liners

I’m going to try and watch through a few games tonight and tomorrow (depending on availability in this wonderfully limiting British broadcasting landscape in 2023). However, I wanted to share a few quick notes today on the offensive lineman I’ve been watching.

Offensive tackle isn’t a position you’d necessarily expect the Seahawks to be attacking early in 2024 but there are some nice options eligible for 2024. I sat down to properly study Joe Alt from Notre Dame this week and he has, as many mocks are projecting, legit first round potential. Alt’s size stands out, he’s in control of his blocks, his footwork is good enough to seal-off edges and he has ample power. He looks like a very polished, capable player with a next level future.

Duke’s Graham Barton lacks Alt’s enormous size but shares his consistency, fundamental qualities and ability to excel in pass-pro plus in the run game. Barton plays with an edge — he’s very active, moves with plus agility and he likes to get after opponents. He can shoot his hands inside and finish. I’ve watched three Riley Leonard games and re-watched all of them to focus on Barton and he’s one of my favourites so far for the 2024 class. A very viable first round option.

Penn State’s Olumuyiwa Fashanu gets a lot of media love but I still see some of the same technical issues from last year. Fashanu clearly has great athletic qualities and upside but he lacks the control and structure of Alt and Barton. His upside might be higher but there are times where he fails to lock-on to blocks and when he has to move his feet get tied up. He passes the eye test in terms of physical tools but he might require a bit more technique work than the other two tackles mentioned so far.

I really like Wisconsin’s Jack Nelson. People are talking about him switching to right tackle in the NFL but I think his tape is great on the left side. He gets the job done. He can drop and set to wall-off against speed. He has a strong grip and locks-on to blockers when engaging. As a run blocker he can drive off the ball and gain push. I didn’t see anything to make me think, that’s a serious limitation. He’s underrated.

Alabama’s JC Latham is a former elite 5-star recruit and you can see why. He’s a great athlete for his size. He plays right tackle for Alabama and I half expected to see some challenges against speed given his blocky frame but he actually coped mostly well. He engages and finishes. He can get push vs the run. I think he might be dominant kicking inside to guard (and more tackles should be open to that possibility — there’s money to be made here) but he’s the type of high-upside talent that is often taken early.

I think all five of these players should be discussed as potential top-45 prospects.

At center, blog favourite from a year ago Sedrick Van Pran will turn pro in 2024. However, I’ve also been impressed with LSU’s Charles Turner. He has good size and length for a center. His frame is stocky yet his mobility is good, giving him the ability to latch-on and stun at the POA — plus when he needs to re-set his feet and adjust he can do it. The length also helps here to keep his frame clean. He has the athleticism to progress to the second level and play in attack mode. Turner plays with an edge and I sense that he’s someone with a lot of potential who might play his best football at the next level.

Arizona’s Jordan Morgan is getting a lot of love online and it’s fair to an extent. He’s athletic, talented and if it wasn’t for injury a year ago he could’ve been a high-ish pick this year. I think he’ll kick inside to guard rather than remain at tackle, which will limit his stock. He’s getting first-round love in plenty of places but I think he’s more of a solid day-two projection.

Cooper Beebe is a stud. He would’ve been a high pick this year but he opted not to declare. He does everything well at guard and will be a plug-in player at the next level. He possesses a ‘heart and soul’ attitude for the K-State O-line. He man-handles people at the POA, frequently creates running lanes and he’s a very able pass-protector. He’s a legit top-45 talent.

I’ve also been impressed with TCU’s Brandon Coleman, Jacob Monk at Duke, Troy Fautanu at Washington and Christian Haynes at Connecticut. From watching tape of last year, Yale’s Kiran Amegadjie also possesses a lot of high-upside potential.

This is shaping up to be a good, strong offensive line group.

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A plea to Seahawks fans on Jalen Carter & 2024 draft notes

My first viewing of Will Howard had me intrigued

A thought dawned on me as I was putting this piece together on Sunday. The 2024 draft appears to have a top-10 pick problem.

This could be the second year in a row where teams aren’t getting value for money at the top of the draft. I’ve watched a fair few of the players being tipped to go very early in mock drafts and I have to say, there’s not been a lot to get excited about.

Caleb Williams will almost certainly be the #1 pick and Marvin Harrison Jr will be a worthy #2. After that though, it’s slim pickings. Just as it was this year with a limited pool of blue-chip players. I think we might see teams forced to consider profile, suitability and fit rather than simply running to the podium to draft the next ‘can’t miss’ talent. I suspect that’s what the Seahawks did this year but we’re already seeing people second-guessing the pick.

We’re only two weeks into the season and the online discussion is filled with Devon Witherspoon vs Jalen Carter chatter. This is my plea to the media and to Seahawks fans everywhere. Let’s not do this.

I’ve not seen Carter play for Philadelphia yet but I’ve no doubt he’s doing well. Talent was never an issue here. When he flashed at Georgia, he showed he can be a fantastic defensive lineman. He was the most naturally gifted player in the draft.

Yet he lasted until #9 for a reason and according to ESPN, even the Eagles were making a last-day decision on whether to consider him.

It will be revisionist history bordering on ignorance to brush off the extreme character flags surrounding Carter. These were not minor issues. We are talking about serious and multi-faceted concerns.

The Seahawks weren’t the only team that said no to Carter. The Eagles nearly did themselves. Philly were in a unique position within the league. They had a number of his former team mates on their roster and they were a Super Bowl team with a top-10 pick courtesy of an ill-advised New Orleans Saints trade. The GM Howie Roseman had money in the bank and could afford to roll the dice in a way other GM’s couldn’t.

Philadelphia was the best place for Carter. If he has great success with the Eagles, it doesn’t mean the same thing would’ve happened in Houston, Seattle, Detroit, Las Vegas, Atlanta or any of the other team who didn’t (or wouldn’t) have drafted him.

Let’s just embrace that and move on. The Seahawks weren’t staring at two cards on draft day, weighing up Witherspoon or Carter and making a call that would link the players forever. The truth is, Carter might not have even been on their draft board. My guess is he wasn’t on their board. We’ll probably never know for sure — but I think that is more likely than people realise.

It might annoy Seahawks fans who don’t have the information teams and league sources do on Carter — yet it was a totally justified position for the team to take. It’s why I spent three months getting dogs abuse for insisting Seattle wouldn’t take him. It was never going to happen, so there’s no point making this into a Witherspoon vs Carter comparison.

You might as well start comparing Witherspoon to Bijan Robinson, Lukas Van Ness or Will McDonald — all were probably more likely to land in Seattle after a trade down than Carter ever was.

Onto my draft notes from this week…

Early thoughts on the draft eligible defensive tackles

The best defensive tackle I’ve watched so far this year is McKinley Jackson at Texas A&M. He’s a shade under 6-2 and weighs 320lbs with great length (just under 34-inch arms). On tape he’s very capable of stacking and holding the POA to shut-down the interior run. His motor is relentless and he’ll often pursue away from the LOS to work down the line. Against Miami he showed he’s able to penetrate with quickness and explode into the backfield to create pressure.

Jackson looks like a beast on the field and Jim Nagy from the Senior Bowl noted after week two, “A&M coaches say nobody messes with Jackson & NFL scouts will love how he’s wired.” This is what the Seahawks are lacking a bit up front currently. Someone other than Jarran Reed with more beef who can still get around a football field and play with a mean streak. He’s someone to keep an eye on.

I’ve also been impressed with Texas’ T’Vondre Sweat. Supposedly he was a player not really making the most of his talent at Texas but now the light’s switched on and you see what he’s capable of. He’s huge (listed at 362lbs by the team) and he carries some sloppy weight which could/should come down. You also see inconsistent effort at times. However, so far he’s been unusually active for a man his size — creating pressure, disrupting, bursting into the backfield and being a force as much against the pass as he is against the run. His athletic talent could be harnessed even more by slimming down. He’s an impact player at the moment for the Longhorns.

His team-mate Byron Murphy has also stood out. I thought he was sensational against Alabama. He is smaller than Sweat (6-1, 308lbs) but he was often anchoring the line. Murphy consistently shoved blockers backwards and made splash plays to impact the quarterback. Alabama resorted to sticking two blockers on him and he was just so scrappy and combative throughout the game. Ranked at #18 on Bruce Feldman’s freaks list — Murphy has the major physical upside to back-up the tape. He showed that off by scoring a touchdown pass in the redzone against Wyoming on Saturday.

I have McKinley, Murphy and Ohio State’s Michael Hall Jr. currently down for very solid day-two grades. I think they’ve been the most active and intriguing of the players I’ve watched so far. I’ve been left wanting a bit more from Kris Jenkins at Michigan. He is getting early first round love but I haven’t seen anything to back that up so far.

Jer’Zhan Newton is active and look athletic for his size yet it’s hard to get a great read on him because Illinois use him a lot at defensive end. His flashes are good but I’d like to see him used in a more orthodox role. Mekhi Wingo at LSU plays with good effort, he’ll take any opportunity given to him to shoot a gap and his lack of size works well for leverage. I’m not sure he’s a high-upside type worthy of an early draft grade though. Team mate Maason Smith made his long awaited return to LSU at the weekend and he tipped a pass that was picked off and showed a useful swim move. There were also quite a few mediocre snaps too as he feels his way back into things. It’s a difficult game to judge because Mississippi State looked like a bunch of High Schoolers playing LSU — small and overmatched. The scoreline was no fluke.

This is certainly a deeper defensive tackle group than previous years. I’m not sure it’s necessarily loaded with first round talent, though. It might be a position where you can get good options in the round 2-4 range, without necessarily being a target area in round one. It’s still early, though.

Quarterback notes

Will Howard vs Missouri

This was my first proper look at Howard and I have to say, I was very impressed. He’s not a flawless player destined for the top-five but there’s plenty to work with here. I need to watch more but as a first viewing, this was a ‘sit up in my chair’ moment and I only typically have a handful of those every year.

The thing that stood out most to me is the way he was able to surgically thread passes into tight coverage over the middle. Missouri has a good defense and they cover well at the second level. He faced a lot of coverage situations that felt NFL-esque and the way he sneaked passes into very small areas with accuracy and velocity was extremely impressive — certainly enough to outweigh the bad moments in this game.

Howard also gets the ball out quickly, he can side-step and shift away from pressure to extend plays in the pocket while retaining a strong base and keeping his eyes downfield, he generally hits receivers in stride with good ball placement and he sees the field. He’s also a good athlete and a strong runner (he scored the opening touchdown on a read option, bouncing it to the outside, and had another TD run called back on a penalty).

It wasn’t all good of course. He threw an ugly interception on 3rd and 10 in the first quarter, throwing off his back-foot with pressure in his face. It’s a bad, avoidable mistake. He needs to learn in that situation you can’t throw essentially blind when someone is in your grill — or you need to realise the blitz pre-snap and check-down.
He almost had a second pick on an attempted bubble-screen that was never on. One of his touchdown passes also came on a lucky tip into the air.

Nevertheless, Howard is a toolsy quarterback who is well sized and already completing what I’d call NFL level throws. It’s quite easy to imagine him starting at the next level. The 2024 quarterback class was already deep and here’s another name to throw into the mix. I am desperate to see more because this was a very intriguing first impression.

Incidentally, the Kansas State left guard Cooper Beebe is destined to be a very solid pro at the next level and should be a top-50 lock. There’s also a tight end called Ben Sinnott who just blocks his head off and has a ton of intensity and grit to his game.

Spencer Rattler vs Georgia

Rattler’s arm strength has always been high-end but he’s now playing in a controlled fashion to make the most of it. On a 2nd and 5 early in the game he ripped off an absolute rocket for 25 yards to the left sideline. The receiver was well covered but the ball is perfectly placed to allow him to go and make a play. It ignited a scoring drive on the opening series.

Rattler consistently took what he was offered by Georgia, showing a newfound patience and competence. Yet he also made those 25-yard outs look easy. He dealt with pressure well, stay composed and was able to stand tall in the pocket and deliver.

He had a huge play with 2:37 left in the first half. He’s sliding to his left so balance isn’t ideal. Without a proper reset he launches the ball 45-yards downfield into a perfect spot for the receiver to make a 1v1 catch. he showed special physical tools plus anticipation. It led to another touchdown.

Rattler was effective as a scrambler when needed and he’s no slouch as a runner. He did a very good all-round job against a loaded opponent.

There was a lot more pressure in the second half and it knocked South Carolina out of rhythm. His offensive line was again problematic and there’s a clear talent difference compared to Georgia (unsurprisingly).

The conditions also deteriorated leading to a number of drops and a generally ugly half. He still moved around in the pocket well to extend plays, converting a 3rd and 15 at one point with a subtle step-up and drive.

In the final four minutes he threw two interceptions but it’s not too concerning to me. One was a hail-mary attempt downfield on 3rd and 20 with 4:02 remaining, trailing by 10. The second came with 19 seconds remaining, again trailing by 10, where the corner undercuts a route to the sideline.

Overall I think Rattler showed enough against the top ranked college opponent to retain momentum and belief that his talent and maturity are now at a level to make him a fascinating pro-prospect.

Drake Maye vs Minnesota

Maye’s first touchdown showed he can manipulate the pocket, exit to create time and throw on the run. However, the pass was under-thrown and he got lucky that the receiver tracked the ball brilliantly to make a great play for the score.

He dodges pressure well initially but there’s evidence his eyes will drop when he does buy time. He will sack himself as a consequence.

Maye threw an absolute bullet to the left sideline on 1st and 15 on one play, squeezing the pass in between a triangle of defenders. He showed excellent accuracy, placement and timing.

On the negative side though, he had two ugly interceptions before half-time. One when he was throwing on the run, he doesn’t see a linebacker and throws it right to him. The second, he is getting sacked and for some reason in his desperation to get the ball out he just throws it right to a defender. There is no UNC receiver anywhere near the ball. It’s a horrible, massively avoidable error and it’s not obvious what he was thinking.

He rebounded with a 45-yard dart down the middle of the field, then a pump-fake uncovered a tight end on a wheel route for a touchdown.

In the third quarter he showed he can excel with play-action, putting his foot in the ground and driving the ball deep down the middle. He couldn’t finish that drive as three inaccurate throws failed to find the mark which was unfortunate.

Maye is clearly talented with good size, a decent arm, the ability to make throws around the field, the mobility to escape and he can improvise. He’s also a bit error prone though, does drop his eyes when he moves around and he has inaccurate patches. He’s a good player but the ‘top-five-lock’ talk has always been premature and, for me, a bit off.

There’s a lot to like but I think Duke’s Riley Leonard is a similar player competing at a more consistent level currently. There’s still a lot of football to be played though.

I liked Leonard’s performance again at the weekend and I actually thought Michael Penix Jr’s performance wasn’t as good as the stats suggest. Michigan State were an abomination, offering easy throws galore. They also offered zero pass-rush, allowing Penix Jr the time to pick his shots downfield. Even then, he was aided by some spectacular catches by his receivers on not-ideally thrown deep passes. One of his touchdowns should’ve been intercepted but was somehow tipped up into the air with Ja’Lynn Polk collecting it and running it in.

The environment is perfectly set up for Penix Jr to succeed — he’s never sacked, he has NFL receivers dominating every corner they face and the offensive scheme is blisteringly effective. Very little of this is translatable. Plus there’s an injury history. However, he has such a fantastic arm. It’s a heaven-sent arm. The league will be intrigued by the upside of his throwing potential, 100%.

A final note from the weekend — Quinn Ewers reverted back to the Rice game and struggled against Wyoming for large stretches. It’s bizarre how he plays so well against Alabama and can’t do it against lesser teams.

As I’ve said a few times now — increasingly I’m starting to buy-into this QB class. It might not be loaded with obvious top-five types but this is a very good year to invest in a quarterback — for the future or the here-and-now. The Seahawks have four picks in the first three rounds next year and based on how this is shaping up — one of those picks should go on a quarterback investment. It’s overdue and it’s time.

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Instant reaction: Seahawks win, upset the Lions

We’re two weeks into the season and I have no idea what to think of this team.

Last week they had a half of offensive production that equated to three meaningful yards. Today, they go into a red-hot environment against an opponent fresh from a win against Patrick Mahomes in his own back-yard and they put on a masterful offensive performance — schemed brilliantly — to deliver a win.

They also showed tremendous character — starting the second half forcing a key turnover (and turning it into a touchdown). They dealt with the setback of coughing up a late 10-point lead with a dominant offensive drive to clinch the game. They went toe-to-toe against a team that many were tipping to be a serious NFC contender.

Equally, the defense continues to show a lot of the same problems. The pass-rush is a non-event for the most part and they can’t defend much at all over the middle. The two starting safeties are playing concerning football and Bobby Wagner doesn’t look like he did a year ago.

You do have to note, though, that the Tre Brown pick-six was a vital play in the game — as was the turnover to start the third quarter. Devon Witherspoon also forced a turnover-on-downs on debut. A few key plays were enough to help seal a great win — which has been an issue at times over the years.

I’m sure many will say the mixed start is merely par for the course with early-season football. I think that’s a bit reductive. I think we’re seeing a team that is a bit ‘Jekyll and Hyde’. The key to maxing out the season is going to be their ability to amplify the good and improve the bad.

If the Seahawks can be consistent with their passing game there’s no reason why this can’t end up being an offensive juggernaut. They’re clearly still working out how to best utilise Jaxson Smith-Njigba and Zach Charbonnet yet they already have enough talent to get results as those ideas develops. Getting a Sean McVay level of consistency from McVay disciple Shane Waldron feels critical to the season.

On the other hand, the defense is going through a dance we’ve done too often. This was another +400 yard game for an opponent early in the season and another +30 point day. The Seahawks remain too easy to play against on defense and they’re relying on opponent errors and flash moments. They are not formidable, physical or challenging as a pass-rush unit. I fear that this is going to be another year where they muddle along — never really sorting out the problems well enough to be the kind of rounded contender they hope to be.

This was an excellent win though. Big praise goes to the peerless Tyler Lockett — a picture of consistency and brilliance throughout his career. Two more key touchdowns today including a spectacularly difficult first. Lockett is a Seahawks’ great and deserves a Championship ring as much as any player I can think of for a career that has been selfless and spectacular.

The two offensive tackles were well supported by a good game-plan and when Stone Forsythe and Jake Curhan were challenged, they were up to the task. They deserve a ton of praise.

Geno Smith had one of the worst sacks you’ll ever see and it could’ve cost Seattle the game. Coming back to lead that clinching overtime drive was a great way to answer.

There’s a winnable game next week against Carolina. The Seahawks have to start winning games at home more regularly. This is an ideal opportunity to build on today against a rookie QB and a team who will travel on a short week.

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Curtis Allen’s week two watch points (vs Lions)

This is a guest article by Curtis Allen…

It is “déjà vu all over again.”

Last year, the Seahawks traveled to Detroit to play the Lions in Week Four.  After three weeks, the Seahawks didn’t know what kind of team they were going to be — with a breathtaking win over the Broncos, an absolute hammering at the hands of the Niners and a tough loss to the inferior Falcons putting fans through an early-season roller coaster.

This year, they started the season with the hammering.  Last week’s loss to the Rams was easily one of the worst games of the Pete Carroll era.  Following that, promises of harder work, better focus and renewed defensive strategizing have rung forth out of the VMAC.  Once again, the team travels to Detroit to test their resolve.

What can we expect from this matchup?  Many of the points we emphasized last year are still extremely valid.  I suspect they will be in 2024 too, when the Seahawks play in Detroit again.

Here are the Cliff’s notes version of my writeup:

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They really need something tangible they can point to on defense and say they are making progress.  Right now, they are near the league bottom in several crucial categories and they need something to build on.

The Lions have found something that works with Jared Goff’s limited abilities.  Hand it off to your explosive runners and let them move the ball downfield.  Run some play action with designed pass plays that are one-look and throw and let them gain yards after the catch with their athleticism.

Watching him play this year, it is remarkable how much he telegraphs his intentions by not even looking at anyone but his primary target.  He practically must throw to his first read for the play to be successful.

If that is the case, the strategy is obvious.  Get the corners up on their men.  Press them, take away the easy catch and run and make Goff hold onto the ball and think.  Safeties and coverage linebackers, read his eyes.  I would be comfortable gambling by instructing the defenders to break on his first read and make him pay for his lack of vision.

Make Jared Goff beat you.

Win In the Running Game

The Lions have been only slightly better in run defense than the Seahawks this year.  Where is their defense the weakest?  They have been absolutely gashed between the tackles in the run game. 

**** *** ***

Several of those points proved prescient as the Seahawks won a wild one 48-45, the NFL’s top-scoring game of the year. 

The Seahawks had a great game running the ball, Riq Woolen read Goff’s eyes and stepped in front of a pass for a pick-six and the defense otherwise struggled to contain an undermanned Lions offense.

This season, the Lions have all their offensive weapons healthy but are banged up in the trenches.  Left tackle Tyler Decker will likely not suit up and defensive end Josh Pascal appears to be out for the game.

The Seahawks have loaded up on personnel on both sides but questions linger about coaching and execution after such a poor performance Sunday.  Injuries to both of their starting tackles will pose a challenge to the staff to prepare an effective offense that keeps rising star Aidan Hutchinson from wrecking the offense’s rhythm.

Let’s look at some keys to the game…

Commit To the Run and Do Not Waver

The Seahawks defense needs sorting out and the offense needs rhythm and to protect their inexperienced tackles.  They have two talented running backs primed to fire off.

The Lions were the #29 rushing defense last year and the only major piece they added to improve their front seven was linebacker Jack Campbell in the draft.  Blog favorite Alim McNeill is coming along nicely but this defensive line is still one of the NFL’s softer units.

Jake Curhan at Right Tackle might be a sizable step down from Abe Lucas overall but he has played in some of Seattle’s best rushing games in recent years — including the 213-yard effort against the Chargers last year — and he started every game of Rashaad Penny’s explosion to close the 2021 season.

In 2022, the Seahawks had their best game of the year rushing the ball against the Lions, gaining 235 yards on a whopping 7.83 yards per carry average.  In 2021, the Seahawks had the best game of that year running the ball against Lions, with 265 yards on a 6.46 yards per carry average.  Detroit safeties have become very familiar with Seahawks running backs.

These are indisputable facts that all point to Seattle featuring the running game Sunday.

True, the Lions held the Chiefs to only 90 yards in Week One — but Kansas City just gave a token effort in the run game that amounted to ‘try and keep the defense honest’ with only 17 carries plus six more from Patrick Mahomes.

Detroit styles themselves as a tough blue-collar type of team.  The Seahawks need to establish the tone of the game by running the ball up the gut and not shying away from it, even if they only get 2-3 yards per carry in the early going.

A secret ingredient to a good running game against the Lions:  Quarterback runs.  Mahomes ran six times for 45 yards last week, half of Kansas City’s yards on the ground.  In their last two games against the Lions, Russell Wilson and Geno Smith have a combined 13 carries for 73 yards and seven first downs.  Both were just enough to exploit Detroit’s poor coverage and run defense and keep the offense moving forward.  Geno needs to be instructed if he drops back to pass and sees a good lane develop, go for it.

Like this:


Another facet to a good offense against the Lions…

Feature the Tight Ends Heavily

This seems obvious, as when you are starting both of your backup offensive tackles, it makes sense to bring in a Twelve Personnel package, with one running back, two wide receivers and two tight ends.  It helps the tackles with pass protection, becomes a safety outlet for the quarterback to turn to when under pressure and can assist the running game in overpowering the opposition.

There is another reason this package will be specifically advantageous this weekend:  Detroit is poor in covering tight ends.  Last year, the only team to give up more tight end touchdowns than the Lions was the Arizona Cardinals.  Indeed, Geno Smith’s two passing touchdowns in Week Four were to Noah Fant and Will Dissly.

Detroit is just not strong in safeties and linebackers that can cover.  Safety Kerby Joseph was responsible for conceding six touchdowns in only forty targets last year.  Watch Geno Smith take advantage of Joseph not getting his head around and Will Dissly easily winning by using his reach and nearly 70-pound advantage:

Watch Joseph get completely twisted out of his cleats by a sneaky Tyler Lockett rub and leave Noah Fant unguarded:

Games like this are why the Seahawks invested so much in tight end play.  They need to get their three heavily involved this week.  They could open up the run game and generate opportunities for the wide receivers to have man coverage.

One more way they could provide value:  chipping Hutchinson or picking up blitzers.

Geno Smith was not terrific last year when blitzed.  His completion percentage dropped from 71 to 65, his QB rating dropped from 105 to 85, and his sack rate went up exponentially.

Last year, the Lions only blitzed eight times and got no sacks and only three pressures and three hits on Geno.  The result?  He had a scorching 132 QB rating on a 76% completion rate, scoring two passing touchdowns.  That game was his true coming-out party as a real NFL passer.

If the Seahawks can adequately protect him, he should be able to make his reads and throws very effectively.

Some Defensive Notes

Last week against the Rams, the in-breaking routes were the death of this defense.  Neither the pass rush nor the coverage was working when they employed these routes.  The corners were too loose and the linebackers and safeties too late to help with coverage.  The Seahawks tried every defensive formation imaginable against the Rams and nothing was successful.  Perhaps slimming down their playbook and committing to less diversity and more attention to execution is the key.

They better solve it quickly.  Guess who is very, very good at throwing in-breaking routes?

Last year, Goff papercut the defense to death — getting eighteen first downs through the air.

As always, he had a very quick passing approach that relied on yards after catch.  It is very in-rhythm.  The Seahawks need to keep working to break that rhythm and give the pass rushers time to work.  Goff is not a good off-schedule quarterback.  If you force him into making reads, your chances of success grow exponentially.

But of course, if he is supported by a deadly run attack, he can be very effective.

The Lions are going to roll out their version of thunder (David Montgomery, one of the NFL’s leading tackle-breakers) and lightning (Jahmyr Gibbs, he of the 4.36 40 time).  Tackling was a big problem for this team against the Lions last year.  If they made proper, routine tackles, that game would have been much more comfortable for Seattle.

The defensive coaches for the Seahawks kept talking this week about how successful they were holding the Rams to 2.3 yards per carry in 40 attempts.  It is fair to say they are clinging onto a small victory.

The defense must bottle-up this dynamite running game in order to force the pressure onto Goff.

Something that bears watching:  Is it time to put Riq Woolen on an island and roll coverage to the other side, like the Rams did for years with Jalen Ramsey?

Last week, the Rams targeted Woolen a grand total of two times.  Tre Brown?  Six times.  Julian Love?  Ten times.  Michael Jackson?  Two times in very limited snaps.

Just as we saw down the stretch last year, after an explosive start to the season, the league took notice and started avoided targeting Woolen in their passing game.

The Seahawks need to use that to their advantage and get creative.  Roll coverage to the other side and put Woolen on an island in the first half.  Then when the coaches make their adjustments at halftime, go back to your standard packages.  That sort of thing.

How about a blitzing package that isolates Woolen and floods coverage to the other side, while putting pressure on Goff?

The Seahawks have an all-world talent at corner.  One of the few true players who can contribute more than just covering a receiver.  He can make the defense seem like they have an extra player on the field.  Surely it is worth exploring.

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