Receivers key on Sunday? Plus Duron Carter & more Marshawn

The Arizona Cardinals recorded one of the big shocks of the 2013 season when they won in Seattle in week 16. It caused a lot of panic at the time.

The Seahawks were supposedly unbeatable at home. At least the 2013 version of the Seahawks. They’d come through a couple of toughies (most notably against 0-7 Tampa Bay) and destroyed contenders like San Francisco and New Orleans. Then the Cardinals rocked up and gave Seattle a bloody nose. They made the Seahawks look average.

They harassed Russell Wilson with creative blitzing. They survived four interceptions by Carson Palmer. They had a little luck (well, a lot of luck actually). But they earned it. They deserved the win. You could easily say it was the catalyst for their current success as a 9-1 runaway leader of the NFC West. That win at Century Link was the moment Bruce Arians’ Cardinals made a statement. They were the real deal.

My lasting takeaway from that game is the point I want to linger on today. The receivers. Despite all the blitzing and controlled chaos up front, Seattle had opportunities. And they’ll get them again on Sunday. The Cardinals want to attack you and keep you guessing. They’ll gamble to bring extra pressure because they back their secondary to work 1v1. They have two top-tier cornerbacks, competitive roaming safety’s and a new hybrid safety/linebacker from Washington State. They’ll give you the looks you want. And they’ll dare you to execute.

In week 16 last year Seattle’s receivers had a nightmare. They dropped passes. They couldn’t get up open in man coverage. They constantly got a hand to the ball, only to fail to bring it in. The usual shots that came off during the regular season were missing. They were as rattled as Wilson trying to deal with the blitz. If the Seahawks make 2-3 extra plays on offense in that game, they probably squeeze by. They didn’t.

A growing criticism this year is the performance of the wide receivers. Good enough last year, the group suddenly looks a little more “pedestrian” without Percy Harvin, Golden Tate and Zach Miller. Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse are good players. But neither provides a mismatch in single coverage, wherever they line up. Neither are they adept at just finding a way to get open. With Seattle’s passing game being naturally conservative, Wilson has always played with an element of caution. He doesn’t throw into too many tight windows — and I suspect he’s told not to. On Sunday he’s not only going to have to take some chances after a quick, decisive read — the receivers are going to have to make plays.

(I also think this isn’t a game for Wilson to get cute calling audibles. It’s still an area of his game he can improve. This is all about working your protections and finding the soft spot where you can make a quick throw. If he thinks too much he’s going to get hammered — and it won’t be the offensive line’s fault. If you bring six or seven rushers against five linemen… you do the math).

It’s actually a great opportunity for Baldwin and co. to do what they do best — prove people wrong. At a time when we’re all saying this team needs a big target or better talent at receiver/tight end — what a chance to go and prove it’s not quite the critical need. Let’s hope they get it done. Seattle needs a win and this is the time to deliver. I’m not sure it’ll change too much in terms of the off-season, but this is about now.

Obviously they were banking on Harvin being an X-Factor and there’s little point re-hashing the impact of that calamitous trade. This is what they’re left with. If the Seahawks want to keep their season alive and beat Arizona on Sunday, the receivers have to do better against this scheme. They have to make plays.

I watched the Cardinals beat Detroit last weekend and it’s a classic example why this could come down to the passing game. Matt Stafford had very little time to think, but when he did take shots down the field even the great Calvin Johnson wasn’t winning many battles with Patrick Peterson. Megatron had five catches for 59 yards. Golden Tate had two catches for 41 yards. Stafford completed just 18/30 passing for 183 yards. Arizona strangled the big plays downfield, made Stafford uncomfortable with the blitz and demanded he made take chances into tight man coverage. The receivers struggled to compete.

As much as Arians deserves endless praise for a sensational coaching effort (not to mention dealing with a series of injuries — particularly at quarterback), Todd Bowles’ defensive scheme is a winner. He should be the hot candidate for Head Coaching jobs in the off-season. And yet you kind of expect him to stay put — new contract in hand. He’s got a good thing going here. He could probably even replace Arians down the line. His scheme is terrific and matches perfectly with the talent at his disposal. They blitz perfectly and they’ve got the talent in the back end to challenge 1v1. It’s brilliant. Simply brilliant.

As well as Seattle’s defense played at times in 2013 — this Cardinals unit might be even better. The Seahawks brought in big name pass rushers to take the final push to a Championship. This Arizona defense has been crafted meticulously and appears to rely less on individuals. They’d be an easy team to root for if they weren’t in your division. Any fan watching the playoffs from the outside will probably rally behind the Cards. And they’re doing it all without several key defensive players — including their best pass rusher last year (John Abraham).

They’ve developed into the team to beat in the NFC West, overtaking the rival Seahawks and 49ers. For Seattle to match up to this scheme — they have to be more dangerous at receiver. They need to make Arizona think twice about blitzing. Do you think they’ll have any hesitation to throw the house at the Seahawks on Sunday? Sadly not. They aren’t going to worry about getting burned by this group of receivers in man coverage.

Unfortunately, despite all the attention paid over the last two years, the Seahawks are going to have to zone in on receivers again (in the draft or free agency). Kevin Norwood may well develop into a player to combat the Cards’ physical scheme. But right not he’s on the periphery as a 25-year-old fourth round rookie. And while a softly-softly approach is fine for any first-time receiver, it’s worth noting he’ll be nearer 30 than 20 during the 2015 season. He’s already at the age where you’d expect him to hit his peak.

If there was ever a time to test Paul Richardson’s deep speed, this might be it. It’s harder to use press-man coverage if you’ve got a guy who can fly. If he can mix it up at the line and get deep this could end up being a coming out party for Richardson. It’s a big if, but it is about time Seattle’s top rookie joined the other receivers making a splash this season.

When it comes to the time to add that needed receiver (or receivers) in the off-season, the options aren’t unlimited. As we discussed earlier in the week, nobody should expect Dez Bryant or Demaryius Thomas to make the market. It’s more likely a top tight end like Julius Thomas or Jordan Cameron gets free — but Thomas has only had two productive years with the ultimate passing offense and Cameron has major concussion issues. Cleveland’s incredible cap situation would allow them to franchise Cameron on a prove-it one year deal and still do whatever else they want in free agency.

The draft has a few options but the depth isn’t anywhere near last year. Are the Seahawks prepared to take a receiver with their first in the draft for the third straight year (counting Harvin)? Especially with so much pass rush talent available — not to mention the possible need to replace Marshawn Lynch (more on that later)?

I’ve not studied Duron Carter (see video at the top of the piece) that much because the access to full CFL game tape is non-existent. Jason La Canfora says Seattle are showing interest, but so is most of the league. It strange to say this about a troubled CFL project, but he might be their best bet. He has the size and the potential. He’s available. He has the bloodlines. And with limited options elsewhere he could be provide some much needed help.

If La Canfora’s report is accurate, the Colts are favorites to land Carter. It could take an All-Pro recruiting job by Carroll to change that — one we know he’s capable of. On the one hand you get to go and play for a prolific Indianapolis passing offense and one of the best pure-passing quarterbacks. You’ll get stats and opportunities. Or you can play for a run-heavy offense, maybe get 2-3 targets a game and by the way, your Dad had a very public war of words with potential team mate Doug Baldwin.

It’s not looking promising is it?

Still, perhaps Seattle would provide a quicker route to a starting role. Indianapolis may re-sign Reggie Wayne. They have T.Y. Hilton and two productive tight ends. They brought in Donte Moncrief to develop. They have other options too. The Seahawks can at least offer Carter the chance to compete to be an immediate impact player. It’d be down to him to prove he’s ready to make the most of his potential, after a torrid college career (something La Canfora touches on).

Carter can officially start working out for teams next month, but he’s not permitted to sign any contract until February.

Finally there’s another Marshawn Lynch update today. Carroll was finally asked about the situation by the local beat writers and gave a mixed response:

On first glance it all looks positive. Carroll “wants” him to stay as long as he can play. Then you look a little closer. “We’ll do everything we can to get that done.” What needs to be done? He’s under contract. They can afford his salary in the aftermath of the Harvin trade.

It hints at perhaps a concession on Lynch’s behalf, possibly in terms of not asking for more money again. At the very least it shows something needs to happen to get it done. It’s no foregone conclusion that he returns, unlike other key players under contract for next season. That’s a little different than simply denying the story and saying he’ll be in Seattle. It’s an admittance that something, whatever it may be, needs to happen for it to come off.

The answer offers hope and takes it away in equal measure. The door is left open for a return — and yet reports saying he’s done in Seattle weren’t totally ruled out. At a time when the Seahawks are facing up to possible repair work to the defensive line and receiver, it’s still hard to work out how they can move on from their very best offensive player. A player so crucial to the identity of this team. A player some would argue they cannot afford to lose.


  1. Kyle

    With Gurley going down, we have to keep Lynch. I do not think Gurley would replace Lynch, but he was our best bet if we had to part ways. I’d say D line help is coming in the off season via free agency. If it doesn’t, they have to go it with their first. If they do get help, I see them taking a WR with their first pick for the third year in a row.

    • rugby lock

      I say sign Iupati off of the Santa Clara 4to9years… 🙂

  2. kevin mullen

    I think with the Harvin fiasco, the money saved can easily transition to keeping Marshawn. It keeps continuity with the offense, the identity of the team, and keeps Lynch from being snatched up from other would be in-division suitors (Cardinals?).

    It seems to kill a lot of birds with one stone if the ‘Hawks keep Lynch, it just makes sense. Without a serious replacement in line, there’s no need to ship him off so soon. The money/production is pretty much equal on both sides, he’s a top3 RB in the league, Lynch deserves that final year payout.

    As for Carter’s kid, from the video, a lot of body catches, not much high pointing the ball. I’d rather have Vin Jackson.

  3. Hay stacker509

    All I can say about drafting a wr in the first for the 3rd year in a row is (and I hate to say it but) look at Dallas and drafting oline for 3 yrs and they have a dominating oline. I’d say go for broke and either take wr in first round or Dline first round.

    • Arias

      But all those linemen turned out to be stud picks. It’s not a guaranteed recipe for success and our results so far have ensured we won’t be as successful as Dallas if we go that route since Harvin has already turned out to be a bust.

      Not saying we shouldn’t do it if the right player is available and the need remains paramount from being unaddressed in free agency or from our own guys developing. But to point to Dallas as a successful paragon to try and emulate is folly doomed from the outset.

    • Rob Staton

      In fairness Seattle has invested just as much in their O-line. Two first round picks, two second round picks among their starters.

  4. CC

    I really don’t care if it is to the TEs or WRs or Marshawn out of the backfield, but AZ blitzes a lot and our receivers are going to have to catch balls coming at them quick. They’re going to stack the box and blitz – so time for Russell and the guys to step up.

    • Rob Staton

      Wilson will also need to make plays in the pocket. They contained him brilliantly last year.

  5. JeffC

    Clayton said on ESPN he’s 55% now on the “they’ll bring back Marshawn” camp. And he was adamant a few weeks ago that Lynch was gone.

    We go into next offseason needing a red zone threat either at WR or TE, a Leo, a 3 tech, more oline depth…they can’t compound it be needing a top rb. No way could they get all that in one offseason.

    • rugby lock

      We need to get a serious backup and heir for Bane…

      • JeffC

        Agreed, even more needs. So they better not compound it by dumping Lynch.

  6. Stuart

    Based on this Carter kid and his ability, how much different would he be than Brandon Coleman? Coleman is on the Browns practice squad isn’t he? Boy did I want him when he was a junior. I think we all did.

    • Arias

      CFL is a higher level of competition that Carter has succeeded at as opposed to just NCAA ball. Carter was much more highly esteemed for his potential ceiling than Coleman coming out of college but remained undrafted because he was considered a head case and he was pretty much unproven against even FBS talent in spite of bouncing from Ohio State to Alabama to Florida Atlantic where he barely saw the field. Plus, Carter never had a past injury history with his knees that appears to have scared teams away from drafting him.

    • Rob Staton

      There are issues I think with Coleman’s knees.

  7. Mylegacy

    Rob, this week’s game is not a “win or go home game” – last week’s was (realistically) the “win or go home game.” Rob, your article doesn’t damn the Cards with faint praise – it nearly crowns them with laurels. I agree with your observations.

    It’s clear that without Tate, etal, our offensive passing punch is playing without the ability to land an uppercut. ironically, to my mind, we’ve two uppercut skilled players just sitting there being sadly under utilized. Richardson and Lockette both have game changing speed, great hands and are being criminally underused. How can we stop defenses swarming over our short passing game? Simply, Harvin was to make the field horizontal, R & L can BOTH make the field vertical.

    The only reason I can think of why the team hasn’t even TRIED to throw some bombs to two world class speedsters is that they just don’t trust Wilson to be able to get the ball to them and or the OLine to give wee Dangeruss the time to get the bombs off. What other plausible reasons are there – to not even try?

    If we KNOW we’re gonna lose because our possession guys just can’t get separation then what on gods green earth are we losing by at least trying Plan B? I’d much rather see us not getting 3rd down completions by missing a few bombs than by throwing “high percentage” passes that we know from week’s of experience just aren’t “high percentage” throws with this team.

    IF – Richardson and Lockette can give us deep, and we never even tried them, shame on us! I say, we’ve got the tools to go deep – try it – at least once! Go bold or go home.

    • Arias

      I don’t think it’s the team not trusting them so much as Russ not trusting them enough to give them an equal opportunity. Richardson is the regular 3rd option in their standard three wide sets and has been on the field 48 snaps a game since Harvin’s departure. He’s caught 13 of 19 targets thrown his way but outside those two attempted deep passes to him in the Giants game where one turned into an interception and the other he dropped it hasn’t been tried before or since.

      • Phil

        If PRich gets beaten to the ball by a DB, I don’t think that RW trusts that PRich is strong enough to break up the pass. That interception last week was a poor throw by RW, but PRich could have helped RW out by fighting to break it up.

  8. Jarhead

    Rob at this point the question becomes: how did we get it so wrong with the top end of our draft last year? We traded down a couple of times, accumulated a bunch of picks that haven’t yielded any solid contributors, decided Richardson was our best option, amd then took a huge leap on Justin Britt. Who really hasn’t look like he is starting to get it even after 10 games. I mean RT doesn’t have a huge learning curve- at least not like C or LT. SO what went wrong? We did the Seahawks see that no one else saw, because what they are doing is not working. Since our needs are pretty glaring to everybody around the league, it is NOT a mystery, how can you expect the Seahawks to change their whole drafting philosophy to get a need in the draft this? They seem to have no desire to move up and take a player who can greatly fill a need but may not necissarily be ‘seahawky’. That is a term I hate because it is so stupid. Yeah a certain player may not spit confidence and.competition rhetoric every second of his life, but how well has that worked on Michael? They wasted a 2nd round pick on the guy and he hasn’t figured it out after TWO years! Can we bring some guys who are just good at playing football?

    • Rob Staton

      I think there’s a case to be made for saying they didn’t let the draft come to them this year. It’s almost like they knew who they were taking in each round before it even started. They picked out ‘their’ guys. Which is fine. I don’t have an issue with that per se. But I think they manipulated the draft a bit too much. Bitonio was there at #32, there were a lot of good receivers available at #64. That would’ve made a nice double dip IMO.

  9. Jarhead

    My second comment is about Washington. Even though I am a Husky fan, I habe seen more than one movk draft predicting 4 first rounders from that defense (including Marcus Peters). Wow. That is insane in my eyes. Who was the last defense to have 4 first rounders on it? Alabama? LSU? A team that likely won a national championship. The Huskies have 4 first rounders and finish 3rd in the Pac 12 North? Are you kidding me? So what do you think Rob? Is there something I am missing? Because to me Shaq Thompson doesn’t have a true position in the pros (S or LB?), Kikaha does not possess the elite hand skills to fight off blockers to relentlessly pursue and I don’t see shedding blocks or making great angles in pursuit, Peters was dismissed from the team and is a head case, the DT whose name escapes me I would have to watch more to make a guess. But I am interested to hear your take.

  10. Ed

    I think the scheme, pocket time and timing/trust could fix some of the problems at WR. Brady/Rodgers/Manning/Brees all have guys they trust they can just throw it up and trust they can make a catch. Wilson doesn’t. I don’t see spending a high pick (first 3 rounds) to satisfy the position.

    I really think 2 of our first picks need to be dline. I would really look:

    1. DT
    2. DE
    3. OT
    4. TE

    It would really help if we could get a FA or two on the line (Fairley/Pierre-Paul/Clayborn/Odrick)

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