Archive for November, 2023

The fourth quarter in Dallas exposed all of Seattle’s issues

Thursday, November 30th, 2023

Sometimes the end of a football game spells it out to you.

A defense that couldn’t stop anything, failing to protect an eight point lead.

An offense in the clutch moments, failing to deliver.

The end result is the Seahawks are a .500 team tonight.

Here’s what the end of that game tells us. Firstly, the defense isn’t good enough. Some have bent over backwards recently trying to convince people otherwise. Here was the reality check. Dallas had only one drive in the entire game where they didn’t score — unwisely going for a fourth down conversion instead of kicking a field goal to take the lead. CeeDee Lamb, who was wide open, dropped a rare pass. That was the only time the Cowboys didn’t score.

The unit is not aggressive enough to create pressure yet not talented enough up front to allow the defense to sit in soft zones and be picked apart. Experienced players such as Bobby Wagner and Jamal Adams are a liability in coverage. The pass rush, currently, isn’t good enough to create problems to compensate.

This is despite a massive resource spend on the defense. The picks, the salaries, the trades.

It’s not good enough.

It’s time more attention was focused on how bad this Seahawks defense has been for too long. As Gregg Rosenthal pointed out this week, Pete Carroll’s defense has been a problem for a number of years. The same issues are evident, year after year.

Then the offense. It actually stepped up to the plate today. For three quarters it was looking like a fantastic performance. They exploited Daron Bland apart from one exceptional interception. They asked questions of Dallas and kept putting points on the board. The receivers played well, they made better use of the tight ends. Protection was better.

Yet when the game was on the line, they were found wanting. Three failed fourth down conversions in a row. They needed one, four and two yards on each occasion and couldn’t do it.

The final play was a disaster. Micah Parsons was unblocked and Geno Smith panicked, throwing it at the feet of Deejay Dallas. It was a total bust. After the game, Smith said the plan all along was to allow Parsons a free run, with Dallas the intended target.

On the biggest play of the game, that was your go-to call?

What about max-protect to try and stop one of the best in the world having a free run at the QB and throwing an effective slant to D.K. Metcalf, who had played well all night? How about anything in fact, rather than that play call?

It further speaks to the way Shane Waldron isn’t getting it done as offensive coordinator and the quarterback isn’t absolved of blame either. That comes with the territory of being a QB. When the game is on the line, you need to step up. Dak Prescott did just that with critical scoring drives with the game on the line. Geno couldn’t, in a winnable game the Seahawks had to have. They had three fourth down opportunities and converted none.

For years the Seahawks could rely on Russell Wilson in these situations to give his team a punchers chance. I’m afraid, despite playing well for three quarters, when it mattered Geno Smith came up short.

Here’s what I think it means. Carroll, by now, should’ve been able to produce a better defense than this. Especially for the investment in the unit. How much longer is he going to get to sort this out before serious questions are asked — from the media and from the people making the decisions at the top of the franchise?

The team clearly needs a better play-caller and offensive decision maker. The team needs to draft a quarterback who can become a difference maker.

Many will clamour for a change at the top and frankly, it’s justified. Pete Carroll was 15-19 in Seattle before drafting Russell Wilson and he’s 15-15 since trading him to Denver. Without a top performing quarterback, he has not had sustained success. Just as he didn’t have success with the Patriots and Jets before.

His inability to build another great defense after years of trying — or to create a consistent identity this year — is just cause for having a discussion about whether he is the best man to lead the Seahawks. He shouldn’t just get a pass because of successes a decade ago or because people think an ownership change is imminent. Jody Allen says it isn’t and she also says she’s committed to winning. Therefore, everything should be on the table.

Drafting a quarterback and pairing them with an offensive-minded Head Coach — while bringing in an experienced defensive coordinator to sort out the defense — feels like a plan an increasing number of people can get behind. It would launch a new era of Seahawks football.

What I think is more likely is Waldron will be fired in the off-season, Carroll will remain and they’ll appoint a new offensive coordinator. I would hope there would be some pressure to open the wallet and go ‘big’ on a key hire but that would be a change from the norm. Carroll has had four go’s at appointing an OC and each will have ended in a firing. How many more chances does he get? If it happens, I think they then will be aggressive to get a quarterback in the draft, possibly trading up.

Carroll will be well aware of his record with and without Wilson. It’s clear as day he needs a difference maker. With time running out and with little concern, it seems, for the long term — I wouldn’t be surprised if they traded a fortune to move right up in round one to land someone who can be that difference maker for them.

Whether that happens or not, one thing is absolutely sure. They are currently set to pay a combined cap-hit of $48.1m for Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams next year. That cannot happen. That, plus money spent in certain other areas, must be transferred to the trenches. This is long overdue.

If you missed by post-game stream, watch it here:

Instant reaction: Seahawks blow fourth quarter lead against Cowboys

Thursday, November 30th, 2023

Curtis Allen’s week thirteen watch notes (vs Cowboys)

Thursday, November 30th, 2023

This is a guest article by Curtis Allen…

It is midnight in Seattle.

The Seahawks are 1-3 in their last 4 games, tumbling from a solid place in the NFC playoff race to now being reduced to scoreboard-watching opponent games to see where they stand.

What’s more, those three losses have been incredibly demoralizing. Two of them are heavy defeats by better teams (Baltimore and San Francisco) and a third where they frittered away a lead with poor effort and worse game planning.

Now here comes leg two of the four leg gauntlet, the Dallas Cowboys, one of the top teams in the NFL.

They are the #1 scoring offense, the #4 passing offense, the #4 scoring defense and #2 passing defense, along with being #5 in turnover ratio with +7.

Their weakness (if you want to call it that) is that they are ‘only’ 13th in both rushing offense and rushing defense. For what it’s worth, they are tied for the second-most penalized team in the NFL and even then, it is Seattle they are tied with, so no comfort there.

Even within the grainy details, there is little statistical data that gives us a real weakness the Seahawks can exploit to gain an advantage in this game.

However, Dallas has kept a decade-long trend going: They absolutely thrash poor teams and struggle with playoff-quality teams. It is just that the gap this year looks a lot wider.

The truth is, they have been the beneficiary of several opposition misfortunes this year. It is actually impressive when you look at it in a big-picture context:

— Week 2 they faced Zach Wilson instead of Aaron Rogers (38 QB Rating + 3 interceptions)

— Week 4 they faced the Mac Jones/Bailey Zappe duo (39 QB Rating + 2 interceptions)

— Week 8 Aaron Donald had his lowest snap count of the year and Matt Stafford was fighting to stay on the field while hurt and ultimately yielded to Brett Rypien

— Week 10 they were treated to the second start of Tommy DeVito’s NFL career in front of the NFL’s worst offensive line (52% completion rate and an interception)

— Week 11 saw them taking on Carolina in the midst of the ‘wheels are falling off and Frank Reich is holding onto his job for dear life’ phase of their season

— Last week they were leading Washington 20-10 at the end of the third quarter and the Commanders twice tried questionable fourth down go-for-it plays and failed. Plus, Sam Howell threw a pick-six just trying to keep the game respectable and Dallas sailed to a 45-10 win

The only good quarterbacks the Cowboys have beaten are Justin Herbert and Sam Howell.

Meanwhile, they have lost to good quarterbacks such as Brock Purdy and Jalen Hurts. Josh Dobbs also had a career-best performance against them in a win, with a brilliantly schemed game plan to have him split reps between throwing (21x for an 81% comp rate) and running (6 runs for 55 yards, including a 44-yarder).

No, I am not saying that Geno Smith falls into the ‘good’ category. Nor am I trying to convince you all you have to do is match them up with a quarterback with a heartbeat and they will lose. I am just attempting to provide a little context to the Cowboys’ season thus far.

It does highlight however, the critical nature of the quarterback position. If the Seahawks are to have a puncher’s chance in this game, Geno Smith must drastically improve his play. He has been talking about being accountable and how he needs to improve for weeks now. This game – in front of a national audience and coming off two demoralizing losses – might be their best and only chance to ‘save’ this team’s season if they really do intend to make any kind of move in the playoffs.

In the absence of some clearly defined points to watch, I am going to revert to a past format and just discuss some things the Seahawks need to do on both offense and defense to have some success in this game.

Over and above any of these points, the Seahawks have to just play well. They must have a game plan and play with an intensity and attention to detail that they have only shown briefly this season. Stupid penalties have to disappear and fumbles and poor throws cannot occur in this game.

That is the biggest point right there. It does not matter if an opponent has a weakness covering tight ends or if their offense prefers the short pass to deeper throws. The Seahawks are at a point where they simply have lost motivation, their play calling and game planning on both sides of the ball is atrocious and they are playing sloppy, undisciplined, unsound football.

Get that right and they have a shot. Or they can at least hold their heads up at the end of the game.

When the Seahawks Have the Ball

In five of Seattle’s six wins, they have rushed for 100 or more yards. The sixth was against Detroit where they had 82 yards but Geno Smith had his best game of the year from a passing standpoint. Even then, a healthier run game would have helped the defense and perhaps would have prevented the game from going to overtime.

Meanwhile, in Dallas’ three losses? All those teams rushed for 100 or more yards.

Again, the Cowboys feature the top-scoring offense and the second-best pass defense in the NFL. There is simply no reason for the Seahawks to intentionally put their head in the lion’s mouth by coming out with their year-to-date mix of 39/61 run/pass.

What is more, Geno Smith is attempting 20+ yard passes at the fifth-highest rate in the NFL so far this season.

It. Has. Not. Been. Working.

Thursday would be a perfect time to feature Zach Charbonnet in a tough, gritty, move-the-pile feature role. Then complement him with Kenny McIntosh and perhaps Ken Walker if he is healthy (he’s listed as doubtful). Find ways to get the tight ends involved in short, effective passes.

Grind this game to a slow pace. Keep Micah Parsons from completely wrecking the offensive line and DaRon Bland from having another pick-six. Control the clock, muscle this defense into relaxing and opening up some carefully selected deep shots and let Geno Smith actually mean it when he does play-action.

At this point in the season, this is not just a good strategy to employ. It is a way to keep your quarterback upright, that ferocious offense off the field and actually use the assets at your disposal to make this offense work.

A second key is that Geno Smith has to stop his indecision, trust his targets to be where they are supposed to be and make decisions quicker.

Have a look at this play from last Thursday that Brian Baldinger neatly outlined on Twitter:

He is not wrong. The Niners have extremely tight coverage on the receivers but he perfectly pauses the play when Geno should be winding up his throw to either Noah Fant on the crosser or Jaxon Smith-Njigba running an out route. Geno does that and makes a throw we have seen him make dozens of times and the Seahawks have a touchdown or are a plunge away from a touchdown.

Instead, he hesitates, drops his head and is sacked to kill the drive.

Wait until your receivers are wide open to throw the ball against one of the best defenses in the NFL and yeah, you are going to get sacked multiple times.

Pete Carroll said this week that Geno must get the ball out quicker and Geno agreed the next day when asked about that. The offense badly needs a return to last season’s Geno that stood tall in the pocket, kept his eyes up and made very accurate throws with anticipation when they needed them most.

A simple suggestion: It is not against the rules in the NFL to have your quarterback roll out on designed plays. If Parsons is on Geno’s left at the left hash, roll him out to the right and get those two-option crosser passes going. Why always stand right in the pocket?

There is one more thing I noticed when scouting this Cowboys defense that the Seahawks need to take advantage of: They have to throw something at them that they do not anticipate. Shake up the status quo a little and get them thinking before they react that can give you that half-second later in the game that might be crucial.

Josh Dobbs executed this brilliantly with a mix of RPO and quick throws the Cowboys were not ready for.

The Niners also executed this more than once in their 42-10 whipping of the Cowboys. They called plays that took advantage of Dallas’ aggression by having jet sweeps or clever little screen passes where the entire defensive line was caught up field while the receiver was clear with an escort of blockers.

They also pulled a little trickery early in the game that left George Kittle wide open for a touchdown:

Watch the entire left side of the Cowboy defense pursue the edge, only to stop and “huh?” when they realized the runner does not have the ball.

Must it be some elaborate play that we know the Seahawks will likely have trouble executing well? No. Have a look at what the Eagles did at the goal-line in their win against Dallas:

That is All-World receiver A.J. Brown lining up at a halfback spot and getting isolated in space where he has a clean uncontested catch, two yards of room to gather up a head of steam and two defensive backs who are both smaller and slower trying to stop him. Touchdown.

The Seahawks have been guilty of not helping their quarterback by showing looks that defenses know and read easily. They do not have to reinvent their offense, or show these new looks on every series. But just pick two or three well-executed plays that blunt the defense’s ferocity just a little bit and execute them well.

When the Cowboys Have the Ball

In two of the three Cowboys losses, they have failed to rush for 100 yards. The third, they ran for 185 yards but Dak Prescott did not have a good day passing and every time they got a head of steam on drives, it got derailed by a penalty.

Let’s be right, Dak Prescott is having one of his best years but he still needs a solid running game to support him and the Cowboys are getting just enough out of their backs to keep the offense balanced. If the Seahawks can limit their ability to get yards on the ground and make them one-dimensional, Prescott can revert to his old self at times under pressure and make poor throws.

They are also very effective at ‘running the ball’ by throwing a pass to a running back behind the line of scrimmage and letting him exploit the open space on the field. Tony Pollard is a hugely reliable weapon to keep the Dallas offense on track. They are calling his number regularly and he has delivered: Pollard leads the NFL in broken tackles on pass plays, with a whopping 13 in only 39 catches. That is a broken tackle every three catches.

We have seen the Seahawks’ high-priced safeties and their highly-rated cornerbacks being soft on tackles in recent weeks. That has to stop Thursday if this defense is to contain this high-powered Cowboy offense.

Why? There are times that Prescott is making throws you just cannot defend. Watch him fit a ball in from his own end zone to a tight end with three defenders converging on him:

Old friend Cody Barton actually has pretty good coverage on Jake Ferguson to be fair but Dak just beats him. From the end zone, all Dak can see is his white #57 jersey. Yet he puts the ball in the only place he can for his target to get at it, with enough velocity to get there before the deep safeties converge.

If the Cowboys are smart, Ferguson is going to be as big a part of their game plan as CeeDee Lamb is. Who is going to cover him? Bobby Wagner? Jamal Adams? Jordyn Brooks? Julian Love? The Cowboys are going to get favorable looks to their tight ends most of this game.

As good as Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb are for this offense, the Seahawks simply must trust their corners to cover them and win those battles more than they lose. Because if the Cowboys are able to run the ball, swing pass all day to the backs and have tight ends in the seam regularly, those wide receivers are going to run free and wild on this defense.

Lastly, I will bring up a similar point for the defense as I did for the offense: You have to come up with something to give Dak Prescott a different look. Some kind of occasional blitz package or an odd alignment to keep him off balance.

It is no coincidence that Prescott is having a career-best year so far, all the while facing a career-low pressure in the pocket. He is only facing 16% pressure on average so far this year. To put that into perspective, that means he has 3-4 more stress-free throws per game than he typically has.

Bring Devon Witherspoon. Bring Bobby Wagner 8-10 times in this game (he is vastly better going forward than going side to side or backwards). Bring Jamal Adams and Jordyn Brooks. Make Dak have to keep his head on a swivel and think.

This is a go-for-broke type strategy, I realize. Yet if the Seahawks can accomplish a couple of the above points and then pick their spots to send rushers, they can disrupt the #1 offense in the NFL in a way that is within their grasp.

Spencer Rattler has declared for the NFL

Wednesday, November 29th, 2023

Spencer Rattler has announced on social media that he is turning pro. While a lot of other quarterbacks are staying in college and entering the transfer portal, with seven-figure fees being offered to veteran signal-callers, Rattler says he’s following a dream to enter the NFL.

I’m not publishing my horizontal board article until Friday or Saturday so that we can give it a good run on the blog after the preview/reaction to Thursday’s Dallas game. However, given today’s news, I want to share what I’ve written about Rattler in the piece. So here’s a spoiler below.

A quick other note — I was on VSiN today to discuss the Seahawks vs Cowboys game. Here’s a clip from the appearance:

Notes on Spencer Rattler from the horizontal board article

Rattler is wildly underrated. He has matured greatly as a player and person at South Carolina. He no longer throws wildly into double or triple coverage, just trusting his arm as he did at Oklahoma. He plays within structure, operates well despite constant duress and has shown next-level talent on a weekly basis. He has a great arm and can throw layered passes from all sorts of angles. The torque he generates throwing on the run, not to mention his placement/accuracy, is impressive. His footwork is subtle and deliberate to create time to let throwing lanes emerge and his release is extremely quick when he wants to pull the trigger.

In every game you see legit, NFL throws. You don’t see other more talked about quarterbacks in this class operate in a NFL environment. In other systems there are lots of high-percentage throws, half-field reads, minimal pressure and pitch-and-catch in a comfortable environment. Rattler at South Carolina has faced the same kind of challenges he will face at the next level, playing within an offense that carries some pro-concepts and he has produced.

See these handful of clips below for evidence. All of these throws are translatable:

What do you see on that video? Accurate 50+ yard throws off-balance as he’s about to be hit, subtle footwork in the pocket to create a passing lane for a layered throw over the middle, red-zone brilliance in the face of pressure, the ability to attack opponents downfield from an unclean pocket and a throw across his body, on the run, down the sideline, 37-yards downfield, hitting a receiver perfectly in stride. These are NFL throws.

He’s also a better athlete than people realise and he can make gains with his legs and be a threat as a runner. He’s been sacked 3.7 times a game — eighth most in college football — and faced constant pressure (185 total pressures, third most). Despite this, he regularly delivered pro-level passes with defenders breathing down his neck. He also only had 11 turnover-worthy plays, the same number as Drake Maye — the 79th most in college football. It speaks to how he has transformed his game, has not forced things under pressure and has remained composed in the pocket.

Further to this, his adjusted completion percentage (the percentage of aimed passes thrown on target) is 79.6% — eighth most in the NCAA. That’s only one place behind Heisman front-runner Jayden Daniels (79.9%), despite all of the pressure he’s faced.

Five wins might not seem much but South Carolina’s team felt, at times, like it’s in development. For me he deserves first round consideration and has finally delivered on the potential that had him talked about as a possible top-five pick at Oklahoma.

We’re starting to see high-profile mock drafts published and in my opinion, they’re including names that have no business being talked about in round one. I’m convinced Rattler and Quinn Ewers at Texas will be far more highly rated by NFL scouts than draft media. They have both shown immense talent and skill while displaying NFL caliber throws in NFL environments. This matters.

Both players should be kept in the forefront of Seahawks fans minds during the draft process, provided Ewers also declares.

Meanwhile, the following players are not turning pro and have entered the portal:

Tyler Van Dyke, Will Howard, Will Rogers, Riley Leonard, KJ Jefferson

It’s also believed Cam Ward is being offered significant money to transfer.

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Where do the Seahawks go from here? Some thoughts…

Monday, November 27th, 2023

The reality check of the Ravens, Rams and 49ers games leaves little in the way of optimism for the rest of the season. Either the Seahawks are going to back-into the playoffs as a sixth or seventh seed (they’re only competing with Minnesota, Green Bay and perhaps the Rams, after all) or they’re going to miss out. It doesn’t feel particularly exciting to discuss this, especially given the likelihood of a swift wildcard exit based on what we’re seeing.

I want to talk about what happens at the end of the season and provide a possible outcome.

It’s starting to feel inevitable that Shane Waldron’s days are numbered in Seattle. On Friday, Pete Carroll bemoaned an inability to properly feature their different offensive weapons, at one point listing several names he feels could be used to greater effect. He even admitted there might be too many mouths to feed and openly discussed a lack of identity on offense.

He’s right to highlight these things because it’s all blatantly true. Yet as the Head Coach, he should’ve fixed it by now. It’s not good enough to be talking about identity issues 11 games into a season.

It’s even more frustrating when you consider Carroll is 13 years into his tenure in Seattle and has, seemingly, great clarity on what he wants his team to look like. The offensive coordinator is in year-three, not year-one. Plus we’ve just seen a San Francisco team make great use of their weapons at Seattle’s expense. They’re not having any headaches on how to best use Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk. So why are the Seahawks?

It’ll be a huge faux pas if fans and media only focus on Waldron and Geno Smith. The buck stops with the Head Coach.

I’d argue we’ve not seen the Seahawks properly function as a closed circle unit since 2018. Back then, they had the #1 rushing offense in the NFL. It synched well with Russell Wilson at the peak of his powers. They also had Frank Clark and Jarran Reed rushing the passer — enabling the Seahawks to have the fourth best pressure percentage in the NFL. They beat really good teams in 2018 — the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes, the Packers and Aaron Rodgers. The two games against the Rams finished 33-31 and 36-31. They were close and exciting.

That season should’ve been the platform to build and it wasn’t. They squandered it. Since then, they’ve had major issues with the pass rush, run defense, balance on offense, ‘Let Russ Cook’ and now the husk of an offense we are seeing week to week. In the five years since 2018, there’s always something glaring that needs to be fixed.

That’s on Carroll. Not the current coordinator. Not the current quarterback. Carroll.

Frankly, this off-season feels like the perfect time to try something new. Install an offensive Head Coach who can make the most of the weapons on the roster and draft a quarterback he can work with for the next era of Seahawks football.

Carroll isn’t going to coach forever and the Seahawks are not getting closer to a fairytale Championship send-off to end his career. They just aren’t. They’re a mile away, if recent performances are anything to go by.

The franchise can’t be paralysed by ownership not wanting to make any dramatic moves before a sale and if that’s the reason for inactivity, Jody Allen shouldn’t release statements like she did 18 months ago insisting neither the Seahawks or Blazers are for sale. She should look to sell as soon as possible — with the window opening next summer — to allow someone to take over who can make the big decisions.

That statement in July 2022 ended with, “my focus – and that of our teams – is on winning.” Prove it. One playoff win in six years (soon to be seven), a 15-14 record since the second reset, the first reset was propped up by Russell Wilson and as mentioned, there are consistently glaring issues with the team that seem to catch Carroll off guard. He then spends most of the season trying to answer why this is the case. This is winning on a ‘not the Cardinals’ level. This isn’t winning on a 49ers, Eagles, Chiefs level — the level required to be a serious contender.

They’ve won the NFC West twice in the last eight years. Before Russell Wilson, the Seahawks were 15-19. Since trading Wilson, they’re 15-14. That record could be about to get worse.

Carroll’s number of wins and overall success in Seattle shouldn’t be dismissed. Yet it often lacks context. How good are you, really, when your only playoff win in the last six years came against an opponent who lost its quarterback early on and had to field a 40-year-old fill-in backup? How much has actually been achieved since that fateful final game of the 2014 season? How much of their success since then was down to Wilson? Without a top quarterback leading the way, what are they currently?

Whenever you talk about a future without Carroll, you almost have to apologetically reference your gratitude. I hope, soon, we can just assume everyone has that gratitude. There’s no agenda here other than a desire to once again reach the pinnacle. What is most likely to get the Seahawks to the top? The Eagles fired Doug Pederson three seasons after he won a Super Bowl. Two years later, they were back in the Super Bowl. The Eagles seem committed to winning. These days, it feels increasingly like the Seahawks are committed to being able to beat bad teams.

In September I wrote a critical article after the week one defeat to the Rams, discussing five relevant criticisms of Carroll’s Seahawks.

The first point discussed the way the defense hasn’t been good enough for a long time. The defense feels like less of an issue than the offense currently. However, consider what has been spent on the unit and then reflect on whether the 21st best unit per DVOA is a fitting result for this level of resource:

— Three second rounds picks on pass rushers (Taylor, Mafe, Hall)

— Big free agent splash (Jones)

— Trading a second rounder in 2024 (Williams)

— First round pick at linebacker (Brooks)

— Veteran free agent additions (Reed, Wagner)

— Top-five pick at cornerback (Witherspoon)

— Big salaries (Diggs, Adams, Nwosu, Jones)

— Huge trade (Adams)

With this level of spend, they should at least be above average. Per DVOA, something Carroll frequently references, they aren’t. Further to this, key target areas for improvement (eg, run defense) showed signs of positivity early in the season. Since then, the Seahawks have dropped to 21st in the NFL in rush yards conceded per game (117). With an upcoming schedule like they have, this could get even worse.

As Mookie Alexander at Field Gulls notes:

How much longer do we have to wait for this unit to actually be demonstrably good? Not “good against the absolute worst offenses” or “good for about five weeks and then below-average the other 12 weeks.” If this is going to persist for as long as Pete Carroll is in charge, then the only way the Seahawks can be elite again under his watch is if they have a quarterback and consequently an entire offense that can consistently overcome less than stellar defensive play.

Point #2 discussed whether the game has changed, noting that the last five Super Bowls have featured offensive-minded Head Coaches:

Chiefs vs Eagles — two offensive-minded Head Coaches

Rams vs Bengals — two offensive-minded Head Coaches

Buccaneers vs Chiefs — two offensive-minded Head Coaches

Chiefs vs 49ers — two offensive-minded Head Coaches

Patriots vs Rams — one defensive-minded, one offensive-minded coach

That’s nine offensive-minded Head Coaches and Bill Belichick.

Nothing about the last few weeks makes this feel any less pertinent. Plus, look at the teams with the best records in the NFL currently:

Miami — Mike McDaniel
Chiefs — Andy Reid
Jaguars — Doug Pederson
Eagles — Nick Sirianni
49ers — Kyle Shanahan

Baltimore are led by John Harbaugh who appears to act as a figurehead. The Lions have Dan Campbell who cedes to Ben Johnson on offense, arguably the top Head Coaching candidate for the next cycle. Meanwhile, Kevin O’Connell is doing a fine job with the Vikings, Matt LaFleur is turning things around for the Packers, Sean Payton is leading Denver on a five-game winning streak and the Browns have Kevin Stefanski.

There isn’t a single team currently among the NFL’s elite with a defensive-minded Head Coach.

Point #3 relates to Seattle’s poor playoff record — one win in six (soon to be seven, if we’re honest). Point #4 was simply titled, ‘They can’t recapture their chosen identity’. No extra comment needed there. Point #5, which is less relevant, was their form at home. They’re currently 4-2 at Lumen Field. They’ve defeated the Panthers, Cardinals, Browns and Commanders, losing to the Rams and 49ers.

It should be a major criticism of Carroll that the team has no identity. How can that be possible when he’s been in the job for this long, having spent the resources he has to shape the roster? They’ve spent a treasure-trove of draft picks, all of the cap money this year and next, they’ve made big splashes in free agency and they’ve traded away their second rounder next year. All that investment, all that resource, and they can’t even deliver a clear identity?

Carroll’s future should be discussed. Before anyone frets about moving on and being careful what you wish for — a quick reminder that similar things were said about moving on from Mike Holmgren. Five years after his departure, Seattle won a Super Bowl. Plus, very few people had heard about Nick Sirriani or Mike McDaniel before they were appointed. Sirianni was Frank Reich’s offensive coordinator in Indianapolis. That’s Frank Reich who has just been fired mid-season for the second year in a row. Sirianni is 24-4 in 2022/23 and nearly won a Championship. You don’t always need to go out and hire an obvious name with credentials galore. Sirianni attacks opponents and makes the most of his weapons. His culture and identity is to be aggressive. Those coaches are out there.

Sure, it helps that he has talent on the roster. Nobody earmarked Jalen Hurts to be a Super Bowl quarterback when Sirianni took over in 2021, though. Neither did anyone think much of Tua Tagovailoa before McDaniel arrived in Miami. Now, the Dolphins have the most explosive offense in the league. Why? Because they make the most of their weapons, they’re tactically creative and aggressive.

I read this piece from Brian Nemhauser on the plane home from Seattle today and I think Brian makes a very important point about the talent discrepancy between the Seahawks and 49ers. I do think, however, that the pathway to the Seahawks being more competitive and a contender isn’t quite as bleak.

The example of the Dolphins is a good one. I’m not sure I fancy Miami to win a Super Bowl but I also wouldn’t completely rule it out. They’re in contention for the #1 seed in a difficult AFC, they’ll be a tough out for any opponent and they’re fun to watch. That doesn’t seem out of reach for the Seahawks with the right plan. I’d also expect the Dolphins to give the 49ers a better game than Seattle did last week.

Trent Williams turns 36 next year, George Kittle 31 and Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and Fred Warner will turn 28. Williams, Kittle and Samuel have recently experienced injuries. Further to this, Brock Purdy is 18 months away from needing to be paid. So while it’s fair to expect the 49ers to be the dominant force in the NFC West for another couple of years, I’m not sure this is necessarily a long-term problem. Many of their players are well into their careers.

Look at other teams in the league. The Bengals have a horrible offensive line and have done for years. Their defense is good not great. They made a Super Bowl because Joe Burrow is excellent, he has weapons and they know how to use them. I’d argue the Bills, struggling as they might be currently, have been a contender in recent seasons because of Josh Allen and an organised defense rather than a Niners-level of talent. There’s also the Chiefs — who rely a lot on Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Chris Jones but otherwise have a so-so roster.

The Seahawks do not necessarily need to mimic the 49ers by going on an epic personnel run. They just need to be a lot better than they currently are.

Some may disagree but I think this is achievable by doing three things:

1. Having someone run the offense who can attack opponents, exploit weaknesses and make the most of the weapons available

2. Drafting a quarterback

3. Transferring resource from positions such as linebacker/safety to the trenches

I think people can easily be defeatist about point number two. I read/hear a lot about how difficult it is to find a great quarterback. That’s true — but it doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. The aim also doesn’t have to be to find the next Mahomes, as teams like the Eagles and Dolphins are showing. The Ravens, lest we forget, drafted their MVP candidate with the #32 pick.

I’ll go back to the Hurts example. He’s not a traditional ‘franchise quarterback’ destined to dominate the league for two decades. He works for the Eagles, though, and they get the most out of him. Creating a plan for your quarterback and his supporting cast can lead to results. How else do you explain the Vikings winning with Joshua Dobbs, catapulted into the line-up mid-season?

This week I’ll publish my horizontal board for the first time and there are lots of quarterbacks listed. It’s a deep year. You might not find the next Hall-of-Famer within the class but I don’t think it’s beyond the realms of possibility you can find a very good starter who you can build an offense around. I’ll talk more about drafting a quarterback in a moment.

Point number three is something I’ve banged on about for a long time. Having $50m of cap space tied up in Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams next year is preposterous. The thought of retaining that and then paying Jordyn Brooks — and potentially retaining Bobby Wagner — just doesn’t make sense while questions remain on both sides of the ball up front, in the trenches. The aim for the Seahawks moving forward should be to be physical and excellent on the O-line and D-line. Simple as that.

Back to the first point on a new offensive leader. It’ll either come down to the franchise making a significant change at the top, which is very much in the ‘has to be seen to be believed’ category — although as mentioned earlier, it shouldn’t be out of the question as much as people think. If Jody Allen is running the franchise rather than acting as a placeholder as she claims, that requires big calls to be made — regardless of a future sale. If Carroll isn’t to depart, then they could/should still make a significant offensive coordinator hire. Let’s look at both scenarios.

For a while now I’ve thought if/when Carroll goes, Dan Quinn might be his replacement. Rightly or wrongly, there’d be some crossover. Part of me wonders if Allen was ever to turn to Carroll, shake his hand and call time, Carroll’s view on his replacement might be given a little too much credence over a more thorough search.

Carroll speaks so highly of Quinn. Although it would be another defensive minded Head Coach, he knows the benefit of pairing himself with a top coordinator (Kyle Shanahan), he has been to a Super Bowl as a leader and he feels somewhat willing to adapt and shift with the times — staying on top of tactical trends.

He could create a version of the Texans — where DeMeco Ryans is ably supported by Bobby Slowik, overseeing a young quarterback in C.J. Stroud. I’m still dubious though. As Mike Florio frequently highlights — if you have success as an offense, you’ll lose your coordinator. Losing Shanahan was the death knell for Quinn’s time in Atlanta. As noted above, the league is currently being led by teams with offensive identities.

Slowik himself might be worth considering, especially if you’re drafting a quarterback. He’s done a remarkable job with Stroud and is from the Shanahan tree. Other candidates could include Lions OC Ben Johnson, Dolphins OC Frank Smith and Commanders OC Eric Bieniemy. I particularly appreciate Bieniemy, given he walked away from the cushiest job in the NFL (being Mahomes’ coordinator and Andy Reid’s right-hand-man) to take on the same role with the hapless Commanders, working with a fifth round pick and first year starter at quarterback. He’s developed his reputation, with Sam Howell enjoying some success and the Chiefs taking a step backwards offensively without him. You have to respect the risk-factor involved here for Bieniemy.

If Carroll remains, then appointing a new coordinator would be a critical hire. He’s gone through Jeremy Bates, Darrell Bevell, Brian Schottenheimer and now, seemingly, Shane Waldron. Usually when you go through offensive coordinators like this, it’s because they get Head Coaching jobs. Instead, all will be fired (assuming Waldron is). That’s an especially poor record and speaks to part of the problem.

A replacement would need to be someone with a track record. It’s possible they could dangle the carrot of being the potential successor to Carroll (without putting it in writing, that won’t work) if things work out. I think this is fairly unlikely but it’s an option. There are other ways to make this an appealing job.

Firstly, Carroll can offer control. I actually think he’s done this with Waldron. There’s no way a Carroll-inspired offense would be running the ball this infrequently. Yet we’re also not seeing anything remotely close to the Shanahan/McVay offense under Waldron — which you would assume he would run given his background. Instead the offense has issues we’d seen before Waldron came to Seattle — making you wonder if Carroll is interfering too much. It’s so confusing.

The weapons on offer should be appealing. Any new coordinator will inherit a loaded roster full of talent. Furthermore, they can surely only get better. Fixing this unit could be seen as an intriguing challenge with a relatively straight forward route to rapid improvement and therefore reputation enhancement.

Thirdly, drafting a quarterback. Offering a new coordinator a chance to develop a young QB will have some appeal to certain candidates. Look how Slowik’s reputation has completely enhanced thanks to his work with Stroud in Houston. It’s also somewhat comforting for any new coordinator coming in that Seattle’s off-season priority is likely to be offense-centric.

We might see some big name coordinators on the market. It’s likely Brandon Staley and Ron Rivera will be fired, potentially making Kellen Moore and Bieniemy available (if they aren’t offered Head Coaching roles, which so far hasn’t happened over multiple cycles).

They could offer Ken Dorsey an opportunity to relaunch his career after being made a scapegoat in Buffalo. They might go and look at supposed ‘up-and-comers’ (although that might be too similar to Waldron) and target someone like Joe Bleymaier (Kansas City’s passing-game coordinator), Marcus Brady (senior offensive assistant for the Eagles), Tanner Engstrand (passing-game coordinator for the Lions), Brian Fleury (tight ends coach in San Francisco), Zac Robinson (Rams QB coach) or Duce Staley (Panthers assistant head coach). I’m sure there are others — these are just some names being projected to eventually gain promotions.

I suppose it’s also possible if Todd Bowles loses his job in Tampa Bay that Dave Canales could be available after a decent year in Tampa Bay. We know Carroll likes to appoint ‘his guys’.

A new offensive coordinator feels inevitable. What about drafting a quarterback though?

As I said after the game on Thursday, Geno Smith isn’t ‘the problem’ for the Seahawks. He just isn’t the solution either. They’re not going to take a big leap with Smith under center or reach the destination they crave. They need to draft someone.

This thought has been bouncing around in my mind for a few weeks and I’m going to chuck it out there today as part of this article. Could they make an ultra-aggressive move up the board, trading up for a quarterback?

Colin Cowherd and John Middlekauf talked about it yesterday. It might start to gain some traction. The Seahawks have pretty much added players at every other position on the roster over the last two off-seasons. Even though the 2023 season is falling apart, on paper they don’t have a lot of ‘glaring’ holes. They’re going to need to create cap space to keep or replace a long list of free agents, as discussed in detail here. But they might be prepared to do that.

It’s harder to move up after trading away your second rounder for Leonard Williams. That said, first round picks are the currency used to make bold trades. Would they be prepared to trade three of them away, just like San Francisco did, to get into range?

It’d be aggressive and risky but perhaps they have that much faith in Caleb Williams and Drake Maye? Many do.

This would be a way to generate excitement again. The franchise is flat at the moment. Sections of the fan base are wondering — quite rightly — what direction the team is heading. A lot of people anticipated growing pains and development. What they’ve seen is the complete collapse of an offense loaded with weapons and a team getting blown-out by good opponents.

They don’t have a cluster of high picks again like the last two years to focus minds and create a buzz. They actually have fewer picks than normal because of the Williams trade. If they keep struggling this year, more and more people are going to ask questions about the future.

Firing Waldron, making a new offensive coordinator hire, then trading up in the draft in order to try and find the Holy Grail at QB is a plan of sorts, whether you personally agree with it or not. When you write the words down, it’s very easy to imagine how this could get people on board again. It could make the 2024 season interesting, rather than feeling like more of the same.

They could bill it as ‘the final piece’ to add to this rebuild when you bring in the new QB. I’m just not convinced there’s any reason at this point to believe Carroll can lead a team back to serious contention. Maybe with an elite QB he could. Yet when you’re unable to even create a functioning identity for your team after two A+ drafts and a massive resource spend, how can you be confident he’d get it right?

Personally, I’m not sure they need to be this aggressive. I think good quarterbacks will be available to Seattle without moving up. It’s a deep group so whether it’s Spencer Rattler, Jayden Daniels, Quinn Ewers or whoever — they don’t necessarily have to move up. It comes down to grading and whether they want to be aggressive for a player with a top-five range versus settling for someone available later. Let’s not forget that Mahomes was the 10th pick, Jackson the 31st etc.

What do I think will happen? I think the Seahawks will fire Waldron, try to make a key offensive coordinator hire to fix the offense and they will then either trade up aggressively for a quarterback or they will simply draft one early. That’s my guess for the off-season as of the 27th November. I think a fresh start — appointing a new Head Coach to go with a new QB — would give you a better chance to right the ship. I’m just not sure Allen will do it.


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Video: Change is needed in Seattle, one way or another

Sunday, November 26th, 2023

Quick reaction/thoughts on the Apple Cup

Saturday, November 25th, 2023

I’ve just got back to the hotel following the Apple Cup and wanted to share my observations…

I’ve enjoyed watching Michael Penix this season. He has excellent arm strength, he comes across well and he has elevated his team. There’s no getting away from the fact this was a poor performance though.

I’ve mentioned recently that he’s been ‘off’ with his accuracy for a few weeks and has resorted to throwing to areas rather than aiming passes. A reminder that his completion percentage was 74.9% through five games and then in the next six, it’s dropped to 59.5%. Today he completed 54.5% of his throws, dropping that number even further to 58.5%.

There were several misses in the first half despite a lack of pressure forcing mistakes. He was off-target and inaccurate and there appeared to be miscommunication issues. I hate to say it but it was very much like watching the Seahawks at times. Nothing was clicking.

His first touchdown came on a coverage bust. The defensive back covering Rome Odunze fell over at the LOS allowing a free 40-yard score. The second touchdown was a classic hook-up between Penix and Odunze. The ball’s in a spot where Odunze can adjust to the football and catch at the back-shoulder. I was told this week that Odunze can run a 4.37 forty and given his sensational body control, consistency, hands and first-class character — there’s no doubt for me he’ll be a very high pick. Don’t be shocked if he goes in the top-10.

Penix’s interception was a bit unlucky — it’s just a good play by the defensive back at the start of the third quarter. However, the wayward throws continued. He threw wildly to Jack Westover who had to make a flying grab despite being wide open. That was right before the second TD to Odunze. For some reason, every time Penix throws to Westover it’s an adventure. It’s like he’s trying to test him with every target.

The end of the game was a mess, even though Washington won. A generous roughing the passer penalty put them in field goal range. What followed was a confusing, fairly awful sequence. All they needed to do was run to kill clock and set up the field goal. Instead, Penix underthrew a pass over the middle to the end zone that should’ve been picked off. Then with just 20 seconds remaining he threw an awful pass to the right corner of the end zone. It needed to go outside (back-shoulder to Odunze) but was thrown inside. The cornerback was ideally placed to make a pick but instead tipped it into the air and it fell incomplete.

Then, Penix sat in the pocket and took a Geno Smith-esque sack for a loss of nine yards, making the field goal attempt far harder. It was bizarre. Everything, it seems, was done to try and blow the end of the game — including the quarterback throwing two turnover-worthy passes and then taking a sack.

As noted, there weren’t any spectacular throws. We’ve seen so many this year, to counter some of the inconsistent stuff. There was one genuine NFL level pass. Penix armed a throw over to the sideline. It’s tight coverage and the DB had position to play the ball, maybe even pick it off. He needed every bit of his arm strength to beat the corner and get it through to the receiver. It was a bullet. But he ended that drive throwing behind his receiver while on the run for an incompletion.

I didn’t see layered passes today. There was very little thrown over the middle. Washington’s offense is playing at a concerning level ahead of the Oregon rematch.

I have to say, I felt like I was watching a mid-round pick today. Despite what some sections of draft media are saying, that might be where he goes. The accuracy issues for several weeks now are part of the issue. The injuries will need to be considered. I was talking to someone recently — and I wasn’t even aware of this — but your entire offense has to change when you start a lefty. It’s not just blocking — the receivers need to learn and adjust to catching passes from a left-handed quarterback.

Me saying he’s probably a third rounder will seem like criticism but that’s only because of ill-judged media hype elsewhere. That might be what he is — and it might be best for him because the team that gets him can take the time to prepare for a lefty to start, allow him to adjust to a new scheme and it’ll give him the best chance to succeed.

I think Bralen Trice is an excellent prospect. He worked through a double team to get a sack in the game and really should’ve been credited with another when he bull-rushed a linemen, disengaged and then worked to the QB. He has a fantastic combination of size, length and agility. I’m told he runs a 4.20 short shuttle at arouind 270lbs. He has every chance to be a top-50 pick.

I enjoyed watching Troy Fautanu live. I’m a big fan. He plays left tackle for the Huskies but looks tailor-made to kick inside to guard. There’s some Alijah Vera-Tucker to his game and he might go in a similar range. Great athlete, he plays with a strong base and can control and anchor. The kind of lineman who deserves to go early.

Washington State quarterback Cam Ward made this a game with some important throws. Like Penix, he also had some misses. I think it really helped seeing him live today. He’s fun to watch but lacks zip in his throws, I’m not sure he’s got the physical potential to start in the NFL and as a runner he’s more elusive than creative. He’s probably a late day three pick at best.

I’ve mentioned Josh Kelly a few times. He’s been a consistent force at receiver for Washington State. He’s also made some incredible catches this year. He had eight catches for 106 yards and a score today. I like him. I appreciate he’s not going to generate much draft buzz but there’s something there. He deserves some attention.

I’m going to enjoy an Old Fashioned in the hotel bar on my final night. I’ve got an article ready to publish tomorrow on the Seahawks. A couple of quick final thoughts. Firstly, a big thank you to Robbie Williams, Curtis Allen and the people at the University of Washington for making this trip a tremendous experience. I’ve been well reminded over the last few days why I fell for the Pacific Northwest 17 years ago and will take every opportunity I can get to come back here. The setting at UW is mind-blowing — the view of Lake Washington next to the stadium has to be seen to be believed. Being given a chance to tour the facility on Thursday was unforgettable.

Finally, jet lag is the undefeated champion of lags.

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The Seahawks aren’t going anywhere

Thursday, November 23rd, 2023

This feels different.

The Seahawks under Pete Carroll have had some tough losses over the years. For the most part though, to Carroll’s credit, he’s fielded a team capable of making a difficult outing a close contest.

The 2023 Seahawks are different because they simply can’t do it. Instead, they’re being exposed. The Ravens and 49ers have brutally shown them up. They’ve made it abundantly clear that not only are the Seahawks not at their level, they’re not even close to reaching it.

Having pumped resources into the roster — using a treasure-trove of picks courtesy of the Russell Wilson trade, borrowing their 2024 second rounder on a Leonard Williams rental and using every dollar available to them in cap space both this year and next, they’ve played their hand. Yet the end product is poor.

This isn’t just a young, upstart team taking its lumps. They have young players going through the early years of their careers but every team has that. The reality in Seattle is this is a very expensively acquired roster and far more should be expected from it than 37-3 in Baltimore and 31-13 at home against the 49ers — a scoreline that could’ve easily been far worse.

So much is wrong currently but you have to start with the offense.

I can’t recall a unit so poorly managed as this. Going into the season it looked like a major strength. They had exciting skill-players everywhere. They had a veteran quarterback. The offensive line received investment including a top-10 pick at left tackle. Everything was set up.

Instead of being a strength the offense is a disaster.

The route concepts are so painfully basic. They fail to challenge opponents with any serious misdirection or creativity. They spent two second round picks on the running back position and it’s an afterthought in the offense.

D.K. Metcalf is regressing badly. Geno Smith has regressed badly. They don’t know how to involve the tight ends in the passing game. Tyler Lockett isn’t being used enough.

They get almost no push up front with the offensive line and they’re being bullied most weeks.

Third downs? Awful, week after week. Red zone offense? As bad as you’ll ever see.

The whole thing is broken.

How could they come out in this game against a common opponent and not have anything to throw at them? They started the game with a quarterback draw from a QB who’d spent the entire week nursing an injury. If it wasn’t a draw and simply a blown play, what does that say for the organisation of the offense if you botch your first offensive play in a scripted series?

The next two play-calls? A throw that required Smith to arm it out to the sideline or risk an interception (again, with a bad injury to his arm) and then a dropped interception. This, of course, after being gifted great field position by a Dee Eskridge kick return.

How was that the plan? Especially from a team still claiming they want to run the ball — claims made by their words and actions (drafting Walker & Charbonnet). Then look at the 49ers. Creative, different, deceptive, imaginative, fast.

Whatever happens, it’s impossible to see how Shane Waldron can carry on beyond this season. This is a unit that had everything to succeed and instead it’s a hopeless mess.

He isn’t alone. D.K. Metcalf is on a contract worth $24m a year. They aren’t getting value for money. Geno Smith was far from ‘the problem’ tonight but he isn’t the solution either. You are not going to elevate yourself from what we’ve seen this year to a true contender with Smith under center. They have to draft a quarterback and pair him with a far more productive offensive play-caller.

Defensively it’s difficult to know how far to go. Every week there seems to be a caveat that the offense was so bad, the defense is absolved somewhat of blame. They made some nice stops against the 49ers and had a pick-six for the only touchdown of the game for Seattle. Yet they’re just so easy to play against at times.

Bobby Wagner was picked on again, with Kyle Shanahan following Sean McVay in identifying his lack of mobility in space as an area to exploit. It looked like his feet were made of concrete in the first half. Tackling was poor across the board. They gave up 169 rushing yards (so much for that being fixed) and the D-line was pushed around almost as much as the O-line. Pass rush? Nobody was able to beat a man to make a big play.

Devin Witherspoon is a quality player. He can’t do it on his own though.

Seattle had to make life difficult for Brock Purdy while containing Christian McCaffrey as much as they could. They failed in both areas.

Think about how much has been spent on this unit. Three recent second round picks on edge rushers (Taylor, Mafe, Hall). A huge free agent splash (Jones). An aggressive trade on a rental involving a second rounder (Williams). Another reasonable free agent addition (Reed). A first rounder at linebacker (Brooks) paired with a returning veteran (Wagner). A top-five pick at cornerback (Witherspoon) and a hugely expensive safety duo (Diggs & Adams) with one of the pair costing a fortune via trade. Then you’ve got all the big salaries dished out to the likes of Nwosu, Jones, Diggs and Adams.

Is there a team in the league that has used this much resource on the defense? At this level you expect more than simply beating up Daniel Jones behind a shocking Giants line and competing against the Carolina’s and Arizona’s. You expect a unit that can make you competitive. It isn’t happening.

I’ll finish with the man at the top, Pete Carroll.

It’s clear there was a marked difference in the preparedness to play this game. Kyle Shanahan had his team on it — exploiting weaknesses, flying out of the traps and dominating. The Seahawks were flat, slow and timid.

They don’t have an identity, they don’t do anything noticeably better than any other team and they’ve just been hammered twice in a matter of weeks.

Carroll will always be revered in Seattle for winning the cities’ first Super Bowl. Rightly so. He’s reset the team twice since the LOB glory days though and neither revamp has produced a team getting close to contention. The first reset was carried by Russell Wilson’s peak years. The second is currently sporting a 15-14 record without him.

Where are the Seahawks going under Carroll? There’s no signs of a team climbing the ladder. On recent evidence, they’ve fallen off it.

They’ve been trying for years to get back to the top table. It’s not happening. When does the wait become too long? Will winning two from three against the Titans, Steelers and Cardinals at the end of the year and backing into the playoffs as a seventh seed make everything OK, only to experience another game like we just saw against the 49ers in the wildcard round? What if they now miss the playoffs?

Will Carroll simply firing Waldron and going for the next name on the offensive coordinator list be enough to keep the wolves from the door? Or is it time for this franchise to go and find its own version of Shanahan and McVay if it’s serious about becoming a contender again?

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Instant reaction: Seahawks humiliated by 49ers

Thursday, November 23rd, 2023

Curtis Allen’s week twelve watch notes (vs 49ers)

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2023

This is a guest article by Curtis Allen…

Where do the Seahawks go from here?

A demoralizing loss to the Rams that left Geno Smith banged up, the defense in fits over a gaggle of penalties, fans questioning Shane Waldron’s intelligence and Pete Carroll’s leadership is really dragging the optimism for Thursday’s game against the Niners down hard.

Is there anything we can cling to, to maybe get a spark?

There is.

In Pete Carroll’s tenure, the Seahawks have lost to the Rams 16 times.  What is their record in the following game?  11-3.  12-3 if you count the Rams beating them in the 2020 playoffs and the Seahawks beating Indianapolis in Week One the next year.

The three losses?  Two of them came in 2021, when they took the Steelers to OT in Geno Smith’s first start and then lost to the Bears by one point on a two-point conversion with a minute to play.  Both of those games get a doink the other way and they are a gaudy 14-1 after a Rams loss.

Is that grasping at straws?  You better believe it is.

And yet, this is the upside of consistently having a 9-7, 10-6 or 9-8 team in Seattle:  They have a few clunkers each year but they also do pull out some wins that are not expected.

The team will need a far better effort than Sunday though.  Coming to Lumen are the loaded-for-bear San Francisco 49ers.  They used their bye week to great effect, snapping themselves out of a 3-game losing streak by demolishing the Jacksonville Jaguars and beating the Tampa Bay Bucs last week.  They have quickly reclaimed their place as one of the best teams in the NFC and the presumptive favorite to win the NFC West.

The Rams offered Matthew Stafford and his 54% completion rate and 70 QB rating.  The Niners have Brock Purdy coming off an 84% completion rate and a perfect 158.3 QB rating.

The Rams had banged-up Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua.  The Niners have a red-hot Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle and Deebo Samuel.

The Rams rolled out Byron Young and had Aaron Donald running more stunts than I had seen in a long time. The Niners have Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Javon Hargrave and now Chase Young.

I think you get the idea.

Absent the Niners tripping over their own cleats, the Seahawks have a mountain of things to clean up to make this game a competitive one.  And that is where we must start.

Play Solid, Fundamental Football

This watch point is going to feel like a simple list of sins the Seahawks committed on Sunday.  If any of these things creep into the game against San Francisco, it will be a very hard struggle to establish any momentum to meet this matchup.

They simply cannot give the Niners 130 yards in penalties and expect to be competitive, no matter what kind of day the referees are having.

The offense cannot blunt a nice drive with a key penalty in Field Goal range that backs them up and forces them to settle for a try instead of pushing into the red zone and scoring touchdowns.

They must have a more balanced offense.  Abandoning the ground game in favor of the pass will give the Niner defense all the opportunities they need to make this game easy for them.

On that point, want to see something crazy?  Tampa Bay ran out almost the exact same game mix in their loss last week against San Francisco that the Seahawks did against the Rams.  Witness:

Seattle Running Game:  21 rushes for 68 yards.  Tampa?  18 for 66.

Seattle Passing: 24 of 40 for 236 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT.  Tampa?  29 for 45, 246 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT.

You see the problem.  San Francisco won by 13 points and it was not worse due to a good defensive effort by the Bucs.  A Seattle output like that against San Francisco will not provide the desired result.

To be fair, Tampa’s mix was more by design.  Years of catering to Tom Brady has left them with a bare cupboard in the running back department and their only option was to put the game in Baker Mayfield’s hands.

The Seahawks?  Their limitation came from the coaching staff being unwilling or unable to do something so blindingly easy as run the ball and eat the clock with a lead in the second half.

Speaking of that, all three of San Francisco’s losses this season?  They lost the time of possession battle.  Keep that offense off the field, fellas.

On defense, the pass rush must step up.  They have the talent to get pressure without any blitzing packages or special tricks.  Devon Witherspoon, Jordyn Brooks and Bobby Wagner coming screaming through the gaps for pressure is fun.  However, those plays should be the topping on the dessert of making Brock Purdy uncomfortable with their regular linemen.

They also absolutely must tighten up defensive fundamentals like coverage.  The Rams schemed Darrell Henderson wide open on a wheel route last week, but Stafford could not make the completion.  Julian Love was the closest defender to him but was a mile out of position.

Tackling as well.  I do not know how many times I can keep saying this.  The Seahawks are shooting themselves in the foot by not tackling well.  Quandre Diggs was the latest to just come steaming in on Sunday, trying to knock a player off his feet with a hit instead of making a sound wrap up tackle.  It did not work.

Players like Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Christian McCaffrey force you to bring them down.  A mauling of the Giants in Week Three featured these three racking up seven broken tackles.  They challenged the Giants defense to take them down and they couldn’t.

Can the Seahawks?  We will see.

Limit Turnovers and Take the Ball Away from Them

We have talked about this before with San Francisco.

Their rankings this year are formidable.  They are the #3 scoring offense and the #1 scoring defense.  They are in the top-10 in all yardage categories except passing yards allowed per game (#15).

A consistent challenge for them in the recent past has been turnovers.

Their three-game losing streak this year featured seven critical turnovers by the San Francisco offense.

What were the circumstances around those turnovers?  The opposition got out to an early start and put pressure on San Francisco to keep up, while eating the clock.  The Niners got increasingly desperate as the game went on, and the turnovers mounted.  Of those seven turnovers, six of them came in the second half.

The one in the first half?  It was a brilliant play by the Vikings.  On their first drive by Minnesota, Charvarius Ward intercepted Kirk Cousins (really, he just ripped the ball out of the receiver’s hands).  Three good plays later, it looked like the Niners were about to take the lead, and the Vikings stripped Christian McCaffrey.  They recovered and then drove the length of the field for a touchdown.  The Vikings never trailed in the game.

Again, we are rightly frustrated with the Seahawk offense’s second half performance.  But we need them to come out of the gate with purpose like they did against the Rams and put their stamp on the game.  Otherwise, Kyle Shanahan has his entire playbook to work with and that is no good for anyone.

Geno Smith must also be sharp and smart with the football.  Offensive miscommunications, desperate throws and strange decisions cannot be regular occurrences in this game.

It should be noted – in their last two games, the Niners have not turned the ball over once, while forcing six against Jacksonville and Tampa, including four that led to the blowout of the Jaguars.  Turnovers cut both ways, people.

Primarily, the defense must create a turnover or two at a minimum and they cannot miss the chance when it is presented to them.

Limit the Number of Explosive Runs by the Niners (especially McCaffrey)

There is another common denominator to San Francisco’s three losses this year:  They were their three worst rushing performances as a team.  That is no coincidence.

In those three games, they had six explosive runs and ended up with 286 total yards, averaging 95 rushing yards per game.

Last year, the Seahawks also played San Francisco in three games.  How many explosive runs did they concede?

Twelve.  Double what those winning teams conceded.

Twelve runs of 10 yards or more.  And those included three ‘super explosive runs’ of 50 yards or more, one in each game.

The Seahawks conceded 540 yards rushing to San Francisco for an awful average of 180 yards per game.

The frustrating part is, take those explosives out and the Niners gained 226 attempts on 100 attempts, or 2.26 yards per rush.  Put another way, the Seahawks ‘won’ the majority of rush attempts but had catastrophic failures on the other ones.

It is incredibly easy (and silly) to say ‘the Seahawks just have to stop all the explosives and they are good.’  The game just doesn’t work that way.

However, it is reasonable to expect the Seahawks to allow no more ‘super explosive’ runs of 50 yards or more.  Take those three out of the equation from last year and their per rush average (even with the other nine explosives) is 3.36 yards per carry.

Can the Seahawks manage that?  Cleveland, Minnesota and Cincinnati could.

Currently, Cleveland (4.1 YPA) is right there in yards per rush attempt conceded with the Seahawks (4.1), Cincinnati (5.0) is much worse and Minnesota (3.7) is better.

Every time we have a game against a top opponent, I often cast my mind to significant investments the Seahawks have made.  The latest one of course is Leonard Williams.  This game is where he needs to prove that the very high price the Seahawks paid was worth it.  Williams, Jarran Reed, Mario Edwards and Dre Jones must have effective games to keep this rushing attack from controlling the game.

How important is it?  Think of all the weapons the Niners have on offense that can do damage to the Seahawks.  Names like Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel.

Christian McCaffrey has more touches than all three of those players combined.

In San Francisco’s three losses this year, McCaffrey only averaged 47 yards on the ground.

Seattle’s Wild Card loss last year?  McCaffrey had 15 carries for 119 yards.  Take out just that one explosive run of 68 yards and what did he get?

51 yards.

It is doable.  They can do it.