The Elephant in the Locker Room: The Penalties of Success


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By Greg Wright

Would you rather be traded from the Seahawks to the Jets, or to the Patriots? Or would you rather stay in Seattle?

Let’s deal with those questions one at a time.

First: When the news of the cut-down week trades came down, I’m sure that Cassius Marsh felt like his odds of getting to a Super Bowl increased just a little, while Jermaine Kearse felt like he’d just been banished to the minor leagues.

After Thursday night, though, Marsh might be wondering what he’s gotten into, exactly. After New England’s starting linebacker Dont’a Hightower sprained his MCL in the third quarter against Kansas City, New England Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia had to juggle his lineup quite a bit and Marsh found himself with far more complicated assignments than he had in Seattle. On one key fourth quarter play, Marsh had to cover Chiefs’ rookie running back Kareem Hunt, and was completely overmatched. The pass went for 78 yards and a TD, and Marsh ended the play flat on his face at about the 25-yard line.

The TD was much more a commentary on the utter failure of Patricia’s defensive schemes and the Patriots’ lack of experience and depth on their defensive roster than it was a highlight of Marsh’s weakness, but I dare say it was the most embarrassing moment of Marsh’s still-young career.

Still, I’m sure Marsh is better off in Foxborough than in Florham Park. The Jets are in yet another rebuilding/implosion phase, and as the most experienced and accomplished receiver on the Jets’ roster Kearse will find himself the prime focus of every opponent’s pass protection scheme. He’ll get a lot more attention than he ever got in Seattle. Will he end up shining, as Golden Tate did when he went to Detroit? Or will he end up shut down and exposed, a solid number two receiver who doesn’t have what it takes to be number one? Well, part of the answer lies with QB Josh McCown, and part lies with head coach Todd Bowles. If you think QB and coach compare favorably with Matthew Stafford and Jim Caldwell, then Kearse could be in for a solid season; if, like me, you think otherwise, you’d probably expect that Kearse’s career is about over.

So that leads to question two: Right about now, I think both Marsh and Kearse would rather be in Seattle. The Seahawks roster is strong and deep, and the defense has been upgraded significantly at the line, linebacker, and secondary. Seattle is poised for another strong run at home field advantage throughout the playoffs. A perfect season would not be out of the question.

But this is really the reason that Marsh and Kearse are NOT in Seattle: the Seahawks roster is strong and deep. And when you’re deciding who stays and who goes, you have to ask not only how each player helps you, but how each player hurts you.

The departure of both Marsh and Kearse should send a strong message to would-be stars in Seattle: you can’t keep hurting your team with stupid penalties.

Kearse didn’t just see his target-to-catch percentage dip wildly in 2016; he also led the league in offensive pass interference penalties, with six.

For Marsh’s part, he had drawn enough late-hit and roughing-the-QB penalties during his three years in Seattle that officials had started to expect more of them. After last week’s preseason matchup with Oakland, I know that I was sure getting tired of Marsh’s “What? I didn’t do anything wrong!” act. Apparently Seattle’s front office was thinking the same thing.

As a homer, I do agree that it’s a major bummer to see Kearse go. But as an NFL fan, I also realize that this is also one symptom of a great franchise. We’ve really been lucky that Kearse is only the second of our Super Bowl favorites to leave town. More will go after this season, win or lose.

But for now… enjoy the ride!

There’s always some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us weekly for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.


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