be-back-smBy Greg Wright

A decidedly strange thing happened in the first quarter of Sunday’s dismal loss to Tampa Bay.

No, it wasn’t the fact that the defense gave up two porous TDs to the opposing team. Been there, seen that. Gave the t-shirt to Value Village.

No, it wasn’t that the Hawks’ offensive went three and out on their opening possession. That’s a pretty frequent occurrence.

The truly strange thing is that the Seahawks benched a player after three plays. For apparently just doing his job. Pete Carroll and Tom Cable even called it a benching after the game, and later during the week.

I’m talking about Garry Gilliam, the erstwhile starter at right tackle. He who managed to hold down the position through an entire season last year, and more than half of this one.

Gilliam, he who on first down Sunday blocked his man on Rawls’ first carry. He who was decidedly not the left tackle who gave up a sack on second down. (That would have been George Fant.) He who was not the right guard who let a man go free on a line stunt up the middle of pocket to pressure Wilson into a bad throw on third down. (That would have been Germain Ifedi.)

But, yes, he who was sent to the the bench nonetheless in favor of Bradley Sowell.

Word on the street is that Sowell and Gilliam had been set to alternate series on Sunday. But what did the coaching staff see that led them to make the move permanent not only for Sunday but for the foreseeable future?

After going over the game film repeatedly, I’m at a loss to explain it. Despite Cable’s assertion to the contrary, I can see nothing exceptional in what Sowell did on the Hawks’ second useless series; he in fact blocked absolutely no one on two of the five plays they ran. The series ended with another sack given up by Fant, but still it’s Gilliam who sits.

I honestly don’t get it.

Protection calls were almost certainly a little off on Sunday, what with Joey Hunt starting in place of Britt at center. But it’s hard to see how Gilliam’s on the hook for that. The line stunt that Tampa Bay employed on both ends–in which both DT and DE crash into the offensive tackle with the DE curling back into the inside using the DT as a lead blocker of sorts–was devastatingly effective on Sunday. In fact, here’s exactly the same stunt in the fourth quarter, with Ifedi and Sowell getting burned in exactly the same way that Ifedi and Gilliam did on the first series:

capture5

You can clearly see Ifedi (76) and Sowell engaged with the DT while the DE loops back inside right up the gut at Wilson.

Do you suppose Gilliam took the blame for that one, too?

The common thread on the right side of the line Sunday was not Gilliam, but Ifedi. Numerous times he missed assignments. But Ifedi is the rookie. Gilliam is not. Ifedi is the first-round draft pick, the golden boy of the future. Gilliam is not. Gilliam is an undrafted free agent converted from little-used tight end.

Kinda feels to me like he’s a fall guy. Kinda feels to me like the “competition” at right tackle that Pete and Tom talk about is not whether Gilliam or Sowell will actually play tackle better, but who will be better at holding Ifedi’s hand. As Carroll remarked, about issues of “trust and feel.”

Kinda feels to me like something not quite right. The Hawks do not bench players mid-game for in-game mistakes. There’s no precedent for that. And Gilliam was far from the worst offender on Sunday. I’m getting the impression that Ifedi is not easy to work with, and Gilliam just doesn’t like it.

But let’s also give Tampa Bay credit for a good defensive game plan, and taking advantage of officials. Beyond the stunts that Cable said they expected and had obvious problems with, I’ve noticed in previous games that Seattle’s offensive line also has problems when the D crowds the so-called “neutral zone.” I stopped counting the number of times Tampa Bay was lined up offsides Sunday, and they weren’t called for it once.

Here’s a collection of screen shots of several infractions, which are tipped off by the network’s digitally super-imposed blue line-of-scrimmage marker.

capture capture2 capture3  capture6 capture7 capture8 capture9

Bear in mind that the blue line itself isn’t the issue (since the networks often get the placement of that line of scrimmage wrong by a foot or more).

The issue is that defensive players’ hands and/or heads were regularly lined up over the football–hence a neutral zone infraction, and a defensive penalty.

Apparently, the Bucs’ defensive coordinator has noticed that the extra two- or three-inch advantage gained by crowding the Hawks’ O line foils Tom Cable’s blocking schemes and protection adjustments. And they also noticed (as I have) that officials are not enforcing the rule often this season.

Seattle simply got outcoached by Tampa Bay on Sunday. That’s not on the offensive line, folks.

And it’s certainly not on Gilliam.

John Schneider and Pete Carroll have a history of cutting their losses on bad draft picks and trades. It feels to me like they’re having a hard time finding a tackle who can successfully work with Germain Ifedi. If that’s truly the case, I hope they make a move with Ifedi sooner than later.

I’d sooner have Fant and Gilliam than a first-round guard who can’t figure out a simple line stunt on his own.

Ifedi doesn’t need his hand held. He needs to put on his big-boy pants.

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.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

I’m not always 100% certain I’m writing about something other journalists have failed to cover. But this week, I’ve got it locked… because I’m not going to tell you anything new about Doug Baldwin’s TD pass to Russell Wilson in the third quarter of Sunday’s win over the Eagles.

Nope.

Instead, it’s Mike Huard Story Time.

If you’re a Husky football fan (and who couldn’t be after that Apple Cup win yesterday?), you are undoubtedly aware of the legendary impact of Mike Huard on UW football. The Puyallup High coach nurtured and turned out an amazing string of QBs that starred for the Huskies in the 1990s: Billy Joe Hobert, Damon Huard, Brock Huard.

But before Mike Huard coached at Puyallap, he was the head coach at Tukwila’s Foster High School, my alma mater.

Mind you, I was not much of an athlete, and even less of a football player. I nonetheless spent three years as a Bulldog under Huard, most of those on the bench and J.V. teams. My senior year, I finally got thrust into the starting lineup when Bob Pesicka, the starting left tackle in front of left-handed Junior QB Joe Roppo, broke his arm. Foster had a limited roster, and there weren’t a lot of options on the line. I was the biggest body on the squad at 6’2″ and 22o lbs., and I’d at least had plenty of practice time. So I got the nod as “best warm body available.”

It was baptism by fire, really, because I’d never started a game of football in my life. I was only 16 years old and my physical coordination had not caught up to my gangliness. I don’t think anyone got hurt because of my inexperience, but I sure worried about it. Because of my general uselessness on defense, I was one of only two players on the team that played on only one side of the ball. In a show of good humor about the situation, I referred to that as being an “offensive specialist.”

During a padless Thursday practice prior to our road game at Peninsula that season, I was for some inexplicable reason standing with the coaching staff watching the #1 offense run plays. Coach Huard was having the backs and receivers repeatedly drill their way through a gimmick he wanted to use against Peninsula the next night, a pitchout to RB Paul Parker, who would then pass the ball downfield to Randy Bergquist.

I watched the drill with interest. It was quite a novelty to me, as was just about everything we practiced. I knew absolutely nothing about football strategy.

After about three or four times through, though, a thought occurred to me. I moved closer to Coach Huard and said, “Why don’t we pass the ball back to the quarterback on that? Every time, Joe is just left standing around and nobody is covering him.”

Mike Huard turned to me. “Wright,” says he, “I’m trying to coach a football team here.”

I understood perfectly.

Nonetheless, the next night at Peninsula, we were trailing in the third quarter and it was the first time our offense had crossed midfield. It was third and long at the 27 yard line. Randy Bergquist brings the play in from the sideline. “Halfback pass back to the quarterback.”

The reaction in the huddle was dumbfounded confusion. “What the hell is that? We’ve never practiced that play!”

For whatever reason, the other ten guys in the huddle listened to me as I calmly declared, “It’s okay. Block it like a reverse.” I had already run the thing through in my head, and knew it would work.

Phil Burnett snapped the ball to Roppo, who tossed it out to Parker in the right flat. As the defense flowed to follow, the linemen all feigned blocks that direction and then let their blocks slip. Parker pulled up and deftly flipped the ball back to Roppo. As the D line and linebackers turned back toward Roppo in the left flat, we blindsided them. They never had a chance as Roppo scampered the 27 yards for an easy TD.

captureWe lost the game 21-7, but at least we scored once against the soon-to-be state champs.

After the game, Mike Huard never said a word about the play call. In 1981, he made the leap to AAA Puyallup, and the rest was history. I don’t know if he ever used that play at Puyallup, but five years later, the Broncos started calling it with John Elway. It was an NFL novelty at the time, but I knew it had been done before.

I ran into Coach Huard at Mike Shannon’s retirement party in July, and I recounted that incident for his amusement. He had a good laugh, but had no recollection of it.

Of course not. I’m sure it seemed to him that the idea came to him spontaneously while coaching on the sideline that night.

After all, who listens to linemen?

(Hat tip to my fellow trenchmates LG Randy Auve, C Phil Burnett, RG Jeff “Rhino” Reindel, and RT Mike Seifert. And my fellow “offensive specialist” and backup center, the late Perry Miyao.)

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.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

Just before halftime. New England takes the lead 14-12. Seattle with the ball at their own 25-yard line and 1:05 to go. Three timeouts available.

A key third-down looms with 9 yards to go.

Wilson passes to for Graham for 14 yards. Big first down! Timeout!

Advertisement break.

WHAT?!?!?!?

A TV timeout during a two-minute drill? With less than 60 seconds on the clock?!?!?!

WTH???? Are you joking?

Only in frigging New England. I’m up on my feet, ranting at the TV. It’s been a long time since I’ve done this.

To back up a minute. The usual drill when a team takes a timeout during the game is to go to a commercial break. These ordinarily last two minutes. Typically, though, the only time coverage goes to a commercial inside the two-minute warning is after a score or an injury. Most often you get a “30-second timeout,” which is what a normal timeout is when there’s no TV break. If a game has featured a lot of punting, for instance, you’ll even see 30-second timeouts in the middle of the second or fourth quarters of a game.

It’s not often, though, that you see a commercial break in the middle of a team’s 2-minute drill. Not at all.

So I simmer down a little after the commercials are through.

Next play. Belichick’s defense has had extra time to regroup and shuts down Seattle’s next called pass play. Wilson instead scrambles for 6 yards, slides, and calls timeout…

timeout

And the referees call for another two-minute advertisement break.

YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!!! On consecutive plays?!?!?!?

Oh my gosh, am I screaming at the TV. Arms flailing. Feet stomping. Foaming at the mouth.

To back up a little bit more. When an offense is trying to move quickly down the field for a score, it’s best advantage is to keep the defense on its heels. Hence the “hurry-up” offense that many teams use when they’re either a.) behind, or b.) not having much luck with their standard offense, or inside the two-minute warning, or c.) Chip Kelly. Most often, the last thing you want to do is give the defense more time to scheme. And all of the time, you never want to give Bill Belichick more time to scheme. (cf. Seattle’s final offensive play of a certain Super Bowl.)

So here’s the NFL actually giving more time to Belichick on a silver platter while Seattle’s trying to score. Sheesh! My conspiracy-proof brain starts to melt down.

No matter. Back from the second TV gift of minutes, Wilson passes 24 yards to Tyler Lockett. Timeout #3… 30-second timeout. Whew! After another 12-yard pass to Prosise, and without pausing to stop the clock, Wilson scrambles and passes for 18 yards to Baldwin and a TD.

Take that, Mr. Belichick. 7 plays, 75 yards, 59 seconds.

So in the wake of my fury, I decided I need to brush up a little on my rule book. How in the heck did New England end up the beneficiary of two TV timeouts during Seattle’s final drive of the half?

Well, to be honest, it’s still a mystery. Nobody is writing about it, and the most current available information about TV timeouts is three years old. But this is what I found out and confirmed from various alternate sources. According to a Q&A at quora.com,

During an NFL game the league requires a total of 20 commercial breaks per game. These are split evenly with 10 breaks per half, (Overtime periods aren’t required to have commercial breaks). Each commercial break runs for between 1 and 2 minutes in total length.

Of the 10 breaks per half 2 are shown in mandatory positions, at the end of the first and third quarters and the 2 minute warning. The remaining 8 breaks are optional; the timeouts can be applied after field goal tries, conversion attempts (1 or 2 points) following a touchdown, changes in possession (both punts and turnovers) and kick-offs (except the first kick-off of each half or a kick-off within the last 5 minutes of the game). The commercial breaks are also carried out during injury breaks, booth reviews, team challenges and during a team called timeout.

If a network needs to catch up on their commercial breaks the referee’s will discuss this during the 2 minute warning with the other officials and team coaches. This is when any additional Network timeouts will be decided upon.

To summarize: If sufficient network-sold ads have not yet had time to air prior to the 2-minute warning, the networks will instruct officials to go to commercial when teams call timeouts prior to halftime. The objective is for 10 TV breaks each half. And, reportedly, as of last season, a total of 21 for the game.

But here’s the deal. These were the first-half TV timeouts taken prior to Seattle’s drive:

  1. NE 7 SEA 0
  2. NE 7 SEA 3
  3. NE punts
  4. NE 7 SEA 6
  5. Post-kickoff
  6. End of Q
  7. NE 7 SEA 12
  8. Gronk fumble review
  9. Seattle punt
  10. 2-minute Warning
  11. NE 14 SEA 12

So there you have it. Eleven TV breaks prior to Seattle’s drive.

Two more TV breaks during Seattle’s scoring drive. While they’re trying to score against the Patriots. In New England.

Can someone explain this to me? I’m still kind of hot under the collar.

td

After four playoff appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that 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.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

Whew! I was almost certain that some intrepid journalist would scoop me on my chosen topic this week. When I saw the teaser for Danny O’Neil’s column on Thursday, I thought for sure he had:

There’s only one way that it is fair to fine Richard Sherman for making contact with Bills kicker Dan Carpenter. That’s if Carpenter is also fined $9,000…

But O’Neil wasn’t making the same point as I am about to at all. He was really arguing that neither Sherman nor Carpenter deserved to be fined.

I argue that Carpenter most definitely deserved to be fined, and wasn’t.

Let’s back up for a second. Click on the image below to watch a GIF of the play in question.

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See Richard jump waaaayyyy offsides.

See Richard arrive at the point of the kick so early that he’s there before the ball is even kicked.

See Dan follow through on the kick attempt. (Which he should do, if he’s smart — or, if he’s smarter, as my friend Justin Gunn pointed out, yell “Fire, Fire!” as kicking teams are trained to do and perhaps use the “free play” to attempt a fake field goal pass for a TD.)

See Richard realize his only chance to block the kick, because he’s so early, is to grab the ball out of the holder’s hands.

See Richard reach back and actually get his hand on the ball.

See Dan kick the ball, and then kick Richard on his follow-through. (Note that Richard does not run into Dan. Dan kicks Richard.)

See Richard successfully block the kick.

Remember that a blocked kick, by rule, denies the kicker the protections normally granted to kickers.

See Dan immediately realize his kick is doomed and flop to the ground in simulated agony.

But wait, you say. How do I know this was a flop? How do I know Dan was faking an injury?

Because Dan told his trainer he was.

Click on the image below to watch a slowed-down GIF of Carpenter’s interaction with the trainer on the field in the wake of Sherman’s block.

ezgif-com-optimize-1

See Dan continue to writhe in pain.

Understand that the reason was not to stop the clock–because if that’s was Dan’s reason, Dan would know it would require him to come out of the game.

No, Dan’s reason for the flop and the fake was to draw a 15-yard personal foul on Richard.

See the trainer rush quickly to Dan’s side because Dan so effectively faked being injured.

See Dan realize, “Oh, crap! That’s not what’s supposed to happen!”

See Dan quickly get to his feet, even pushing himself up with his supposedly damaged knee.

See Dan say to his trainer, “No, I’m okay,” and brush the trainer aside. (Play the original sequence back on your big-screen TV, and it’s not hard at all to read Dan’s lips.)

I could also show you copious footage from the next few minutes of folderol demonstrating Dan’s perfectly fine and functional knee. I could even show you that perfectly fine 49-yard field goal that Dan made but which didn’t count because of delay of game.

Yes, Dan most certainly did fake an injury. (Kudos at least to NBC Sports for being the lone national voice asserting that point.)

Did Dan deserve a penalty there for unsportsmanlike conduct?

Perhaps. But the rules don’t provide for that.

While the NFL “deprecates” the faking of injuries for whatever reason, it makes no provision for penalties. Instead, it levies fines and other penalties on players and teams that engage in such trickery.

Oh… except in Dan’s case. In Dan’s case, the NFL instead chose to fine Richard. For playing football. Brilliantly and athletically.

And yet Bills fans (and Seahawk haters, and Dan’s wife) continue to whine.

Sheesh.

The only unsportsmanlike party in that sequence was Carpenter.

Or perhaps referee crew chief Walt Anderson.

Or perhaps his boss, Dean Blandino.

But Sherman? No. Decidedly not.

After four playoff appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that 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.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

I remember a time when ex-Seahawks just vanished.

We never had high-profile players that were expendable, and none of our free-agents ever signed big-time contracts with other teams… and stuck. Steve Hutchinson was the extreme outlier. You could watch a dozen games straight played by other teams and never run across ex-Hawks.

Then Pete and John cleaned house when they took over the team. And then the roster was shuffled even more in 2011. Hasselbeck went on to win a lot of games with the Titans and Colts. David Hawthorne landed on his feet bigtime in New Orleans. By 2012, ex-Seattle DBs started turning up all over the league. It was obvious that Seattle’s talent mill was churning out blue chip after blue chip, more than the roster could accommodate. Even head coaching positions were being filled by ex-Seahawk staffers.

It’s now common for Seahawk free agents to sign enormous contracts with other teams.

Yes, even those guys you loved to hate: offensive linemen.

Breno Giacomini, photo by Jeffrey Beall via Wikimedia Commons

Breno Giacomini, photo by Jeffrey Beall via Wikimedia Commons

Remember all the howling about the draft pick wasted on James Carpenter? Remember the frustration you felt at the copious false start and holding penalties generated by Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini? Remember scoffing at the idea of a team with championship aspirations starting converted defensive lineman J.R. Sweezy at guard in a conference dominated by guys like Aldon Smith, Calais Campbell, and Michael Brockers?

Remember wondering if Russell Wilson would even survive his rookie season?

Oh, and remember that Super Bowl? And the next one?

I guarantee you that Okung, Carpenter, Unger, Sweezy, and Giacomini do.

And I guarantee you that most of their current teammates do as well, eyeing those Super Bowl rings and wishing they had one, too.

Here’s where your former Seahawks’ starting offensive linemen are now, courtesy of spotrac.com:

Breno Giacomini signed a 4 year, $18,000,000 contract with the New York Jets, including a $2,500,000 signing bonus, $7,000,000 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $4,500,000. In 2016, Giacomini will earn a base salary of $5,000,000.

J.R. Sweezy signed a 5 year, $32,500,000 contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, including $14,500,000 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $6,500,000. In 2016, Sweezy will earn a base salary of $4,500,000 and a roster bonus of $5,000,000.

Max Unger signed a 3 year, $22,200,000 contract with the New Orleans Saints, including a $7,000,000 signing bonus, $14,300,000 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $7,400,000. In 2016, Unger will earn a base salary of $850,000, a signing bonus of $7,000,000, a roster bonus of $250,000 and a workout bonus of $6,240.

James Carpenter signed a 4 year, $19,100,000 contract with the New York Jets, including a $3,500,000 signing bonus, $7,500,000 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $4,775,000. In 2016, Carpenter will earn a base salary of $760,000, a roster bonus of $250,000 and a restructure bonus of $3,690,000.

Russell Okung signed a 5 year, $53,000,000 contract with the Denver Broncos, including an average annual salary of $10,600,000. In 2016, Okung will earn a base salary of $2,000,000, a roster bonus of $2,000,000 and a workout bonus of $1,000,000.

Yeah, what a bunch of bums.

I’ll tell you what I think of when I ponder Seattle’s offensive line.

I think of Robert Griffen III pounded into oblivion year after year.

I think of McCown, Kessler, and Whitehurst also all going down in Cleveland.

I think Teddy Bridgewater was lucky to end his season with a non-game injury.

I think of the 8 sacks that Carson Palmer took against Carolina last week.

I think of lost playing-time concussions to Palmer, Newton, and Smith.

I pity Andrew Luck and the 31 sacks he’s taken this season. And that it’s nothing new in Indianapolis. Do you have any idea of the number of games Luck has missed due to injury over his career?

So I look at what George Fant managed to accomplish in his first full-speed action as an offensive lineman ever — and I marvel. And while I cringe at the cellar-dwelling run-production of this particular O-line unit, I’ll take 12 sacks after seven games. Things could be worse. They could be oh, so much worse. We could have some other team’s offensive line.

Now, I know we have Super Bowl aspirations again, fans.

But geez… be fans, for crying out loud. And local journalists? Be informed, and be realistic. As long as John Schneider, Pete Carroll, and Tom Cable are around you are not going to see a line like the Cowboys’ put together.

But I’ll also be willing to bet that somewhere down the line Gilliam, Britt, Glowinski, and Fant are going to join Sweezy, Carpenter, and Co. on the Free Agent Parade.

As your Seahawks sit atop the NFC West at midseason with a decent shot at the second seed in the NFC, celebrate the fact that we they are probably better off than 20 or so other teams when it comes to O-line play.

And find something else to complain about. Please. I’m tired of listening to ya’ll.

After four playoff appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that 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.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

The big contracts have been banked. Russell Wilson: $87.6 M; Richard Sherman $56 M; Doug Baldwin: $46 M; Bobby Wagner: $43 M; Earl Thomas: $40 M; Jimmy Graham: $40 M; Cliff Avril: $28.5 M; Michael Bennett $28.5 M; Kam Chancellor: $28 M; K.J. Wright: $27 M; Jeremy Lane: $23 M.

But after Sunday night, do you need any more proof that Pete Carroll’s Seahawks play for more than just money, mega-more than moolah?

Moan as you might about what you wanted to see but didn’t (say, a plethora of pointage), are you under any impression that the Seahawks are inclined to lounge on their laurels?

How about Richard Sherman playing so hard his legs simply wouldn’t jump on Palmer’s 40-yard completion to Nelson in OT?

How about Kelcie McCray being on the field for 108 plays, yet still chasing down the fastest man at the NFL Combine on that very same play, and saving the game?

How about Bobby Wagner missing only a single defensive snap… because he was getting an intravenous infusion of saline to rehydrate… and leaping over the center on field goal attempts twice, blocking one and forcing a miss on the other?

How about Michael Bennett playing the whole game on an already-injured knee that now might need surgical repair?

How about Russell Wilson driving down the field in OT despite an injured ankle, an injured knee, and a damaged pec on his throwing arm?

How about Jimmy Graham even being on the field at all after coming back from a season-ending torn patellar tendon?

How about Jeremy Lane coming back from the gruesome compound fracture in his arm and blown-out knee he suffered after his pick of Brady in the Super Bowl?

Do you remember that Sherman played that game with a lame arm, Thomas with a bum shoulder, and Chancellor with a bad knee?

Do you remember that ill-fated throw to Ricardo Lockette at the end of that game, and Lockette literally risking his neck to play Special Teams in Week 8 at Dallas last season, bringing his career to an end?

How often are you shocked to see Richard Sherman or Doug Baldwin getting snaps on Special Teams?

Do you really think these guys just play for the pay? Not the Seahawks.

Many times over the course of Marshawn Lynch’s career I heard Cris Collinsworth and other announcers refer to the “business decision” that some defenders made in electing not to tackle Lynch near the goal line. So sure, there’s a good bit of that with players wanting to protect themselves and stretch their multi-million-dollar contracts as many years as possible.

But I sure didn’t see any of that Sunday night. From either team.

And yet with all the brotherly sacrifice and love of the game on display Sunday night, this is the guy who stood out most to me.

capture1

This is left tackle Bradley Sowell, the guy that Bob Stelton and a lot of others in the local press like to single out for “horrible” performance. As if Sowell struts around like God’s gift to line play, or as if the Seahawks lavished some outlandish contract on the guy. Or as if paying offensive linemen in general were the highest priority for John Schneider.

Do you think Bradley Sowell plays for the pay?

capture2

Here’s Sowell being helped off the field after injuring his knee on the very third-and-thirty play at the goal line where Wilson completed a thirteen-yard pass to Baldwin.

ezgif-com-optimize

And here’s Sowell being carted to the locker room shortly after. You can’t tell in this still image, but he’s crying. And more than that. Click on the image to see an animated GIF. He covers up his head, and he sobs.

Yeah, this is the Seahawk you love to bitch about. This is the jersey you’d never think of buying. But this is the picture of a guy who thought his season–maybe his career–was over.

And yet, you know what? This same Bradley Sowell is the guy who, on Thursday, was in the locker room showing his teammates how he could still do deep knee bends, who was campaigning to get back on the field this Sunday in New Orleans.

That’s how much he wants to play.

That’s the kind of teammate you want.

That’s the kind of Seahawks you’ve got.

Don’t you love it?

After four playoff appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that 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.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

I won’t bother recapping what you saw in the third quarter of last Sunday’s game with the Falcons. If you’re reading this column at all, or pay attention to any press on the Seahawks, you most likely already know all about it.

The question is: does it bother you? Do you find it an ill omen for the future of the LOB? Is the veneer of brotherhood cracking? After all, bouts of finger-pointing rarely work out well.

I’ve been mulling over those questions myself all week.

On the one hand, it’s clear that Atlanta found a way to replicate a pattern of blown coverage by Seattle’s D. If you follow Brock Huard’s chalk talks, you know that an offense uses formations as tells for what the defense plans to do, in order to get favorable personnel matchups. Now, in that chess game, a defense can also change its play at the line of scrimmage to counter what the offense has done. But it only works if everyone is on the same page. More than once against Atlanta Richard Sherman, at the very least, was not on the same page as the rest of the defense.

This is not the first time this has happened to the Legion of Boom.

It is the first time, however, that I recall an offense exploiting that weakness so consistently for 15 consecutive minutes of game clock.

So yes, that element of the episode is alarming, for two reasons. First, the third quarter of last Sunday’s game is going to give Seattle’s future opponents an awful lot of game film to study. Expect to see the same techniques replicated by other teams throughout the remainder of this season, and particularly in the playoffs. Second, the error is repeating itself.

By Keith Allison (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Richard Sherman, in Washington 2014. By Keith Allison (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

On the other hand, though, there’s the emotion of the thing. I would prefer that Sherman just man up and say, “I was not on the same page with the reset of the D. I blew the coverage. I thought I was doing the right thing, even a better thing, but we all need to be doing the same thing.” Throwing McCray under the bus was not gentlemanly. And openly defying his coach on the sideline, not to mention being odd man out with the rest of his bouncing buddies, looked more like temper tantrum than all-pro pride.

Still… I re-watched the first half of Seattle’s December 23rd 2012 matchup with San Francisco last night. And I think I get where Sherman is coming from.

Yes, the LOB had breakdowns in those days, too. Most notably in, yes, the closing moments at Atlanta to end that season.

But really, the LOB was in its prime in 2012 and 2013. The D was absolutely ferocious. It said, “We are more powerful than you, and we are going to beat you into submission.” Raw emotion fueled a championship.

The 2015-2016 version of Seattle’s D does not beat anyone into submission, and it is not fueled by raw emotion. Instead, it says, “We are talented, and we have credentials. Be impressed by them, and bow in submission.” It is fueled by intellect, and, to a degree, by an air of superiority. And for the most part, it plays up to its reputation. Because it knows it can, and because it knows it has to.

Well, that can work pretty decently. But can it win championships?

My guess is that Sherman doesn’t think so. And in that chess-master mind of his, I imagine that he’s taking the long-term view and is angling not just for a fourth-quarter showdown but for a week-17 payoff. I think he’s trying to light a fire under this defense because he wants to still be wearing a uniform in February. I think he’s playing the role of pawn cum provocateur. He’s posturing for passion.

So ultimately, no: I am not concerned by Sherman’s outburst any more than I was by his mouthing off during most of the 2012 season, or by his outrageous bellowing after the 2013 NFC championship game. This is an aspect of Sherman’s game that I am, in fact, glad to see resurface.

When Sherman is quiet, all is not well in Seattle.

When Sherman roars, good things are about to happen.

After four playoff appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that 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.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

What happens this weekend could be meaningless. It could also be a bellwether of sorts, letting us–and the Seahawks themselves–know if this team is of the 2013 Super Bowl champion variety or if this is merely a very good team. After all, with a marquee matchup of top-rated D vs. top-rated O, Sunday’s game has much of the feel of Seattle’s showdown with Denver in New Jersey.

You may remember that Seattle’s 2012 season ended with a heart-breaking last-second loss in Atlanta. That’s what a season (and team) looks like when it’s merely very good, but not championship-caliber.

You should also remember the beatdown of the Broncos at the end of the next season. That’s what a team looks like when it’s super.

You may also remember a rainy, blustery playoff game with New Orleans at the end of the 2013 Super Bowl season. Given the weather forecast for today and tomorrow, expect the game to have much of that feel. And it would be nice if it did. During that season, the LOB simply made marquee QBs look ordinary. They made superstud tight ends like Jimmy Graham disappear.

But you may also remember another key aspect to that Super Bowl season… and I hope you do, because I don’t think the LOB (or any defensive unit) is the team’s greatest weakness right now. As I wrote in January of 2015, I still think that if “if I were a coach looking for a weakness to exploit” in a matchup with Seattle “I’d be looking at Special Teams.”

Even before the Legion of Boom was famous, and when Russell Wilson was still wet behind the ears, Pete Carroll’s Special Teams were awesome. Remember Red Bryant’s perennial kick-blocking skills? Remember Leon Washington’s phenomenal kickoff returns? Remember Golden Tate being a threat to return a punt for a score just about any time he fielded one?

By Mike Morris (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Steven Hauschka, photo by Mike Morris (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Remember last year’s punt coverage team threatening to set a record for the fewest return yards allowed ever? Remember Steven Hauschka becoming the most accurate kicker in the history of the league?

Well, I hope those are good memories—because they don’t represent what we’ve seen this season. Kam Chancellor’s back-to-back line-leaps aside, only one other special-teams moment this season gave us thrills: Doug Baldwin’s blocked punt, which turned into a TD for the Hawks… in a losing effort against the Cowboys at the Clink. And I bet you’ve almost forgotten about that one.

But this year, who can forget the Rams’ fake field goal, or their “fake” punt return for a touchdown in the same Hawk loss on the road?

Who can forget Hauschka missing three field goals in one game?

Would you be surprised to learn that Seattle’s opponents had a higher field goal percentage than the Hawks did this year?

Can you name Seattle’s leading punt returner? Did you even know there is a player on the home team named Bryan Walters? Many fans don’t. But that’s your guy, fans.

Are you shocked that opponents returned kickoffs an average of 24 yards, while the Hawks averaged only 21?

Are you bummed that the only player to return a kick for a score in the last two years isn’t even a Seahawk any more?

That opponents have blocked nine kicks over the last three seasons while the Hawks have blocked only five?

The only Special Teams category that the Seahawks have outdone their opponents in this season is percentage of punts downed inside the 20 yard line. Field position is important, yes… but when that’s your sole claim to Special Teams fame, there’s something awry.

Our hometown Special Teams aren’t awful… but if there’s any facet of the Hawks’ game that’s pedestrian, Special Teams is it.

To help address the Special Teams deficiency, Carroll and Schneider, of course, moved up in the draft to take Tyler Lockett, and he returned a kickoff for TD in the first week of the season last year. On kickoff returns for the season, he averaged 25, and later added a punt return for a TD. The net effect was that the team numbers were more like 2013 than 2014.

But the Hawks have still only blocked one kick attempt of any sort in the last 20 regular season games.

And this year, overall?

Lockett has not even returned a single kickoff. (Can that be right? Yes, it can.)

And when they have returned a kickoff, Seattle has averaged just 13.6 yards (dead last in the league), while opponents have averaged twice that (27.4 yards).

Seattle has downed 8 punts inside the 20. Opponents have downed 14 inside the 20.

Hauschka has been pretty brilliant as usual, but through four weeks Seattle’s Special Teams play has been decidedly subpar. The Hawks have been getting destroyed in the field position battle. In what shapes up to be a soupy, sloppy game on Sunday that could prove to be the difference.

And if kickoff coverage and returns do not improve over the season, it could also be the difference between an early exit in the playoffs and a third championship game for the Pete Carroll Seahawks.

Still… I’m betting that the LOB (and the weather) makes Matt Ryan look pedestrian on Sunday.

After four playoff appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that 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.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

Through most of my years of primary and secondary education, I was accustomed to seeing report card comments like, “Greg could do better.” Aside from my stellar sixth-grade year, I coasted along with Bs and Cs and had a reputation as an underachiever. I didn’t really know why, though. I didn’t think I was exceptionally smart or anything.

Well, I found out why in 10th grade when the results of the PSAT came back. My numbers were off the charts, and I was a “National Merit Scholarship Semifinalist.” They had to tell me, I guess, because it was big deal. Foster High School had never had one of those before, apparently, and the school even recognized me for the “achievement” of testing well at a school assembly.

So here was the deal: I’d been testing like that all along… but there had never been a compelling reason to tell me.

My life changed after that, though. Suddenly my own head was filled with thoughts like, “Oh. I guess I could do better. I guess I should be doing better.”

I don’t tell you this to toot my own horn.

I tell you this because my own personal story is a powerful analogy for talking to you about who, exactly, is underperforming on the Seahawks right now. Who it is that rightfully should have their heads filled with, “Oh, I guess I should be doing better.”

And hear me: it ain’t the offensive line.

By design, a Pete Carroll offensive line “tests poorly,” so to speak. If football were a game of scholastic aptitude, you’d expect Pete Carroll’s O-line, as a unit, to show up late for the test. When they did get to the testing room, they’d still be trying to figure out who’d hold the booklet, who’d hold the pencil, and who’d actually provide the answers to the questions. For some of them, it might even be their first time taking a test, metaphorically speaking. You’d expect their scores, even with collaboration, to be at about the 38th percentile.

Meanwhile, the Pete Carroll Defense and the offensive skill positions would be testing off the charts. No time to sleep, you know. The separation is in the preparation. They’d have arrived early, and they’d have studied in advance. That’s what you get when you test us with sorry receivers! 99th percentile stuff. National Merit Scholarship Finalists, year after year.

So yes, that’s what we have for expectations.

What do we have for results?

Our two most valuable and productive skill position players are responsible for all four turnovers this year: Wilson, with two fumbles and an interception. Christine Michael with a fumble. And three of the four turnovers killing scoring opportunities in close contests.

And the defense, while once again leading the league in most stats, nonetheless continues to give up 4th-quarter points… and has yet to take the ball away.

Meanwhile, the offensive line, while facing two of the best defensive fronts in the league, has only given up five sacks, two of which Wilson blames entirely on himself. And the Hawks are still in the middle of the pack in rushing yardage, even with a gimp for a QB.

In actuality, the O line is outperforming their test scores, to return to the metaphor.

Now, I’m glad the rest of the press is finally paying attention to the lack of forced turnovers by the D, even if the warning signs were already on the stat sheets after week 2 of the preseason.

But “it’s just a matter of time” and “they’ll come in bunches” just don’t cut it for responses any more. This defense tests high, very high, but it is not playing up to its potential. It is playing like a group of seasoned professionals who know what their jobs are and do them well; but it’s no longer playing like “a pack of wild dogs and a lion” with chips on their shoulders. And this is no longer an aberration. It’s a pattern that has persisted for at least the past 24 games. They’re not taking the ball away, not nearly enough–even though Pete Carroll expects them to. Even though Pete made it a priority in training camp. Even though it’s part of their job description.

And Russell? Well, maybe he’d better start getting a little more sleep after all. He could spend some of that time dreaming about keeping the ball safe, since it’s not happening in reality. Until the D starts playing up to expectations, Russell has to be perfect.

Wait a minute, you say. I am being too harsh. My expectations are unrealistic. These are just the defensive knee-jerk reactions of a former, overly-cerebral left tackle.

Perhaps.

But consider how the Rams ended a Seattle scoring threat at the close of the first half on Sunday:

capture1And consider how the Rams ended Seattle’s final scoring threat on Sunday:

capture2If it’s not too much to expect of the Los Angeles Rams, is it too much to expect of your Seattle Seahawks?

No, I didn’t think so.

After four playoff appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that 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.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

Sadly, the 2016 season has opened yet again with an anemic offensive performance.

Gladly, it ended in a win.

Sadly, in a development piggybacking on the preseason trend, the Hawks started their year–at home, no less–with a -2 on the turnover margin.

Even more sadly, both of those turnovers were miscues you can lay directly at the feet of one Russell Wilson.

The first was a poorly-thrown pass on a scramble after he was flushed from the pocket. After the game Wilson said he didn’t see the end of the play put was pretty confident it was going for a completion… otherwise he wouldn’t have thrown the ball. He said he’d have to see the film to see what went wrong.

Well, what went wrong was that Wilson thought that third-down specialist C.J. Prosise was going to keep running downfield, forgetting that his receivers are trained to break off their routes and come back to Wilson when he starts to scramble. Tight end Luke Willson, seeing that Wilson was flushed by unprotected pass rush off the edges, broke off his route right into the path of the streaking Prosise, who didn’t pick up the ball in the air and pulled up short when he spotted Willson crossing. That left nobody but Dolphins defensive backs, who were tracking the ball, deep. The play was an improvised train wreck.

The second turnover was an ill-advised flip to Rawls on another broken play. Left Guard Mark Glowinski stepped back right into Wilson’s (hobbled) path away from center and tripped him, keeping Wilson from making the handoff to Rawls.

capture

Rather than go down with the ball and take the loss, Wilson, perhaps protecting himself from 900 pounds of crunch, elected to pop the ball out to an unprepared Rawls. Uh-uh.

But they won the game, right? That’s what matters, isn’t it? Well, yes, at one level. Even at another level, as Field Gulls notes in a thorough analysis, the Pete Carroll edition of the Seahawks have a remarkable propensity for winning games they shouldn’t. While other teams “post a .214 winning percentage when they cough it up more than they take it away,” with Russell Wilson at QB the Hawks have gone 9-5.

What Field Gulls doesn’t mention is that, overall, those same Wilson-led Seattle teams have nonetheless won the turnover margin battle, season-in and season-out. The 14 games where they have lost the takeaway battle are the exceptions, not the rule.

As I noted in preseason, the Seahawks are not poised this year to win the turnover battle. If the defense does not start creating some takeaways, they will not be “eyeing the playoffs” as Field Gulls expects. They will be spending January eyeing their TVs from their couches.

One bit of incremental help has come their way, however.

Much has been made in the press of the historical difficulties that the Pete Carroll Seahawks have had with the Jeff Fisher-led Rams. As Danny O’Neil at ESPN 710 Seattle reports,

the Rams have been able to bring out Seattle’s worst. It has been true in Seattle victories like the one in October 2013 when the Seahawks won a Monday night game despite only 130 yards of total offense. It has been true in defeats, too, like that game last December when the Seahawks were held to 59 yards rushing, their lowest total in any game in more than two years. … It was the Rams’ second win over the Seahawks last season and their fourth over the past four years, most of any opponent in that time.

What nobody has managed to point out about this rivalry is the difference that the Rams’ move to Los Angeles will make.

Once each year, Seattle will now play one additional game in its own time zone rather than playing that road game on East Coast time.

Yes, I know that Seattle has proven the East Coast Curse to be more hoax than jinx under Pete Carroll.

But think how close and low-scoring these Seahawks/Rams games have been. Think how much more rested and comfortable the Seahawks will be in L.A. rather than St. Louis. Think how horrible home crowds have historically been for every edition of a Los Angeles NFL team. Think how many more seats will be available for road-worthy and noisy 12s!

Think how welcome any advantage that you can get over Jeff Fisher, no matter how small, can be.

And think, “Okay. The Hawks can probably use that tiny advantage tomorrow with Wilson hobbled.”

But really, think, “I’m going to enjoy being able to watch these Rams road games at 1 PM rather than 10 AM.”

After four playoff appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that 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.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

I find it interesting that I led my first article of the season with a discussion of the non-call in the Super Bowl of a blow to the head of Carolina QB Cam Newton… and the lead story of the first weekend of regular season action is uncalled blows to Newton’s head.

It’s even more interesting in light of the midweek injury to Germain Ifedi, the Seahawks’ first-round draft pick this season. Ifedi was slated to start at right guard in the revamped offensive line–but now a major wrench has been thrown into the works. This might have dire implications for the our own QB’s head.

Earlier in the week, Pete Carroll announced that Garry Gilliam had “won” the competition for the starting position at right tackle on the O-line, beating out high-priced free-agent acquisition J’Marcus Webb for the honor.

So what did Carroll, Bevell, and Cable see in last week’s game that gave them such confidence in Gilliam?

Well, to be honest, not an awful lot. Sure, Heaps and Boykin weren’t getting pounded into the turf, and Seattle’s ground game continued to crank out the yards regardless of who was in the backfield. But Oakland also played second-stringers for the entire game… and Gilliam and Webb, between them, made a couple of those second-bananas look kinda like all-pros.

Here’s what the coaches actually saw on film when they got a chance to look in detail at Gilliam’s last series to open the third quarter.

gilliam-1-block-shed-read-option-no-gain-somers-whiff

On first down, Gilliam (79, center) finishes the play on his knees after a host of Raiders swarms Collins for no gain on a read option. The failure of the play was not entirely Gilliam’s fault as Sommers (40) completely whiffed on a couple of weak attempts at throwing blocks, and the protection call wasn’t the best. But Gilliam’s the only lineman close to Collins and five dudes in silver and black. It doesn’t look good.

gilliam-2-two-blockers-5-yard-pass

On second down, Gilliam (lost in the mess in the middle of the screen) chips a couple of pass rushers on this five-hard completion. The spectacular block is thrown by Alex Collins (36), completely upending the Oakland defender. A decent play and decent outcome.

gilliam-3-switch-off-pass-protection-no-gain

On third down, Gilliam and switches off pass protection with the right guard as Oakland’s rushers pull a stunt. The blocking scheme is sufficient for Heaps to get the pass off to Collins for a completion in the flat… but Oakland recovers quickly and the play goes for no gain.

As Gilliam did most of the rest of the game, his play was adequate even though the series resulted in the dreaded three-and-out. He didn’t do anything spectacular, but he also didn’t whiff. Most importantly, the QB didn’t get pounded.

On the next series, Webb came in to sub for Gilliam. This is what the film shows:

webb-1-not-light-on-his-feet-pass-to-somers-first-down

On this first-down toss for 12 yards, Webb maintains his block near the line of scrimmage. He’s not particularly light on his feet, however. He’s just a little hard to get around because of his size.

webb-2-effective-but-not-mobile-8-yards

The next pass goes for 7 yards as Webb stands his man (47) up at the point of attack. But he again looks a little slow of foot.

webb-3-loses-block-on-latham-who-makes-the-play-gain-of-2

On 2nd down, Webb loses his block on undrafted free agent Latham (75), who scoots down the line of scrimmage and makes the tackle for a gain of 2. Not a play Latham should make against a high-priced starter-caliber tackle.

Webb closes the 4-and-out series by again losing the block on Latham. The Seahawks punt, Latham makes the Raiders as a rookie UFA, and Gilliam gets the starting spot for the Hawks at right tackle.

It’s not like Gilliam won over the coaches, though. He spent the entire season last year at right tackle, so he’s the heir apparent to himself… even though Cable wanted to move him left tackle. Even though the 6’7″ Webb was specifically brought in to play right tackle.

No, as Carroll put it, what Gilliam has to offer is just his “continuity” with the system… and, as the film shows, just a little more mobility to deal with speedy pass rushers.

The outcome is just as well, though. With Ifedi on the sidelines for a while, Webb can shift inside to guard, a (supposedly) more natural spot for him along the line. He is going to have a hard time keeping his pad-level low enough at guard, though.

Once again, the offensive line will be a work in progress.

Russell may want to watch his head.

After four playoff appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that 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.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

I, for one, was greatly relieved to see Bobby Wagner have a great game last week.

For the last five years, it’s been tremendously obvious to most serious fans (and just about every offensive coordinator in the league worth his salt) that the Seahawk defense’s strengths are its secondary and its line play against the run. That leaves, generally speaking, the middle of the field on passing downs as the Hawks’ weakness.

And it’s by design. In Carroll’s scheme, if you push the offense to the middle of the field, that’s where things are going to get the most chaotic; and when there’s chaos and you’re on defense, good things are gonna happen. Just look at the Seahawks’ Super Bowl win (not to mention the rest of that season).

The last two years, though, have looked a lot more like 2012 than 2013. Team after team has had success exploiting the middle of the field with mismatches on tight ends and running backs in particular, and on occasion a sharp slot receiver.

Part of the responsibility for that defensive lapse, of course, falls on the scheme in general; but part also falls on the safeties, and part falls on the middle linebacker: “defensive QB” Bobby Wagner.

A lot has been said in the media about the play (and lack of play) of Chancellor and McCray. So as a case study of what we hope not to see in the regular season, let’s instead take a close look at how Wagner was repeatedly caught out of position in the opening defensive sequences against Kansas City and Minnesota.

KC 1 1st and 10 5 yard gainJPG

1st and 10 at midfield. Wagner drops into pass coverage (see spotlight)… but as you can see, he drops a yard or two deeper than the other linebackers. The pass is completed underneath for a five-yard gain. Wagner gets his only tackle of the series.

KC 2 2nd and 5 11 yard pickup

2nd and 5. Bobby is late calling the defensive signals and is caught flat-footed as the run play goes up the middle for 11 yards. Bobby just ends up watching the action unfolding downfield.

KC 3 9 yard gain ware

On 1st down, KC runs Ware again. Bobby takes on his man but doesn’t shed the block in time to prevent a nine-yard gain… up the middle.

KC 4 ware bobby wagner had a chance at him 2 yards first down

On 2nd and 1, KC runs Ware again. Bobby has a chance at Ware at the line of scrimmage, but whiffs and Ware picks up 2 yards for the first down.

KC 5 3rd and 9 for 20 yards 8-second scramble

No need for a spotlight here. 3rd down and 9 to go. After a full eight seconds and a scramble, Smith finally gets the pass off. Bobby is caught in no-man’s land between Smith and Maclin, and the pass goes for 20 yards and first down near the goal line. It’s good coverage by Lane and a great catch by Maclin, so this isn’t Bobby’s fault… but with eight seconds, I imagine Matthews or Kuechly would have been in a better position to make a play. (I know… cheap shot. But seriously, look what happens next. And think again about Matthews or Kuechly.)

KC 6 touchdown ware

Touchdown, Ware. While Ware is getting the handoff from Smith. Bobby runs into Shead and gets knocked to his knees… effectively getting taken out of the play by his own guy. Ugh.

So that’s the way Seattle’s first team opened against Kansas City’s first team. Not very auspicious.

The next week against Minnesota was a little better, but only to the degree that the Vikings did not score.

M1 1st and ten 2 yard gain

Running play on 1st and 10. Bobby seals the corner (but does not shed the block) and Minnesota settles for 2 yards.

M2 18 yard completion on delayed blitz

On third and long, Seattle dials up a blitz. Bobby initially gets hung up on the left side, then in a delayed move spins around the right end. If nobody is open, it’s a sure sack… but receivers are open, Hill goes untouched and unhurried, and the pass is completed for 18 yards.

M3 8 yard first down

Another third and long. Bobby draws the tailback in man-to-man coverage and gets easily screened off from the play inside. By the time he recovers, the ball is well on its way to Asiata and the pass goes for 8 yards and a first down. Bobby makes a sure tackle (his only one of the series again, after giving up the first down)… but you can see a trend developing: how teams are going to create and take advantage of mismatches in the middle of the field. It’s like opposing offenses are listening to Brock Huard’s chalk talks: “formations, players, plays”… creating one-on-one matchups that their players can win.

M4 5 yard pickup

On 2nd and 10, a swing pass to the flat. Bobby’s patrolling the middle of the field… but nobody is there. The pass picks up five yards.

M5 incomplete punt

Finally, on 3rd and 5 the D forces a punt on an incomplete pass. But again… look at Bobby’s drop. He’s two yards behind the first-down marker, and a good yard deeper than the other linebackers. It’s important that Bobby keep things in front of him… but if a receiver comes open in front of Bobby and catches the ball, it’s still a first down.

Why am I picking on Wagner?

I’m not. Remember, I started off by saying how pleased I was to see Wagner’s great play against Dallas.

But play stands out when there’s a contrast, and Wagner’s film from the first two weeks illustrates a weakness, and a weakness we can expect to see exploited unless Wagner has a career year. He’s generally right about his calls, about diagnosing the plays, and about who’s going to get the ball. But he needs to play more instinctively and less conservatively, and he needs to make the defensive calls more quickly so he can keep his eyes on the offensive play rather than his own teammates’ backsides.

There’s no doubt that Wagner is Pro-bowl caliber; but our linebacking corps is not the cream of the crop the way that our secondary is, or the way our line is against the run. You’re only as strong as your weakest link, and if I’m an offensive coordinator, I know what Seattle’s weakest link is… and I’m going after it.

And those two series in preseason play show exactly what that can look like.

Now… imagine what it would be like if Wagner gets injured and Brock Coyle is manning the helm.

Scary, huh?

After four playoff appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that 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.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

After four playoff appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that 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.

Late in the 4th quarter. The Hawks have come back from 11 points down to tie, but the Vikings have the ball and are driving for a go-ahead score. On 3rd and 8 at the Seattle 35-yard line, Stave takes a shotgun snap and passes short left to Kyle Carter, who turns upfield a couple yards shy of the first down. He’s met by a crowd of Seahawks; Marcus Burley punches the ball out, like we’ve seen Chancellor, Browner, Maxwell, and Lane do so many times over the last few years, and Reed recovers the ball and returns it to near midfield.

Just like old times, eh?

Well, yes. And that’s part of the problem. It is like old times, but not so much like current times.

The other part of the problem, in this case, was that the officials overturned the fumble. Why? Because Carter’s elbow was down before the ball popped loose. Take a slo-mo look once more:

ezgif.com-crop (1)But I’m certainly not going to complain about one of the lone defensive highlights of the preseason. We didn’t get the call. So what?

What I ***am*** going to complain about–and for good cause, as we shall see–is that there have been so precious few of these moments of late.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to psychically register a general lack of defensive big plays from the Hawks as I’ve been watching games. And it’s not just an uneasy feeling. It’s reality.

Since the dawn of the Carroll era, our home team has developed a reputation for generating turnovers, both fumbles and interceptions, and dominating the Holy Grail of team stats, the Turnover Ratio.

(Actually, the label “Turnover Ratio” is a complete misnomer since the statistic in question is not a ratio at all, but a margin. For example, in 2013 the Seahawks led the league in 2013 with a Turnover Ratio of 20–meaning that the Hawks took the ball away 20 more times during the season than they gave it away. This data point is, properly speaking, the Turnover Margin. The turnover ratio for the Hawks that season would have been 39:19, or 2.05, meaning that they took the ball away just over twice as often as they gave it away. A very desirable stat, and an actual ratio at that.)

No matter how you cut it, a team that excels both at taking care of their own ball and taking the ball away from the other team is going to win more games. Pure and simple. Hence Carroll’s insistence on fundamentals, technique, and “Turnover Thursday.”

But do the Seahawks still do Turnover Thursday? I’ve seen no mention of it since the Carolina game to end last season. And with the way the Hawks have played the last two weeks, I’m beginning to think they might want to start thinking about Turnover Tuesday, Wednesday, ***and*** Thursday.

Because so far this preseason, the team Turnover Margin is -1.

-1.

That’s right.

The Hawks have had one interception and zero fumble recoveries against one interception each by Wilson and Boykin.

Now, is this such a big deal? After all, it’s preseason, right?

Well, let’s look at the data. Here’s a summary of how the Hawks have done with turnovers in preseason games over the last five years compared to how that has translated into the regular season… and into playoffs.

CaptureA

The fact is, how you practice is how you play. The better the Seahawks have been with turnovers in the preseason, the better they’ve been with them in the regular season–and the farther they’ve gone in the playoffs.

I know that Richard Sherman and company were earnest in their assertions in the early going last season that turnovers would start coming, and that they would start coming in bunches. But they didn’t. And I’m disturbed that the lack of defensive turnovers is becoming not just an aberration but a trend.

Could this develop into a key factor in the Seahawks having only the second non-playoff season in Carroll’s tenure?

I sure hope not. But if numbers are a predictor, well, that would be my prediction.

Someone sure better light a fire under Sherman, Chancellor, Thomas, Wagner, Bennett and Wright. Carroll teams do not thrive without interceptions and forced fumble recoveries.

Where have all the fumbles gone, short time passing?
And all those interceptions, short years ago?
Where have all the fumbles gone?
The margin is narrowing every year.
Oh, when will those picks return?
When will those picks return?

Richard?

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

 

After two Super Bowl appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that 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.

What’s a Boykin?

I’m glad that rookie backup QB Trevone Boykin did something spectacular on Saturday afternoon. If he hadn’t, I’d have looked pretty silly writing about him this week.

I find it very odd that so many Boykins have been popping up in the NFL in recent years.

Jarrett Boykin (no relation to Trevone) first popped up on my radar (and on Aaron Rodgers’ radar) when injuries and free agency depleted the Packers’ wide receiver corps during the 2013 season–and the former UDFA Jarrett became a legitimate bye-week pickup for a lot of Fantasy team owners. Then in 2015 I read that Pittsburgh had signed former 4th-rounder Brandon Boykin (unrelated to either Jarrett or Trevone), a defensive back who had made his NFL debut with Philly.

This is a Boykin. Its name is Trevone.

This is a Boykin. Its name is Trevone.

When the Seahawks announced they’d signed the undrafted record-setting QB from TCU following this year’s draft, I thought, “Huh. That’s a lot of Boykins bouncing around.”

So what’s a Boykin?

Well, first thing is pronunciation. Broadcasters had better stop saying “Boinkin’,” cuz that’s something else entirely.

And they’d better stay away from “Doinkin’,” cuz John Madden might sue them for trademark infringement.

Second thing is: a “Boykin” is not a little male child. Trevone Boykin, in particular, is 6 feet of hard-nosed football player, fully capable of getting arrested after landing a punch on a cop during a bar fight. He’s also capable of leading a pretty mean 2-minute drill in preseason, which is a lot more than one could say for Matt Flynn, Charlie Whitehurst, Tarvaris Jackson, or just about any other backup-hopeful we’ve seen in town in recent years.

In other words, “Boykin” just might mean “Keeper.”

What’s a Hail Mary?

Well, what Trevone Boykin and Tanner McEvoy did with zero time left on the clock at the end of the game Saturday was NOT a Hail Mary.

When Aaron Rodgers throws a Hail Mary pass, this is what the end zone looks like:

CaptureBAnd, as you may recall, when Russell Wilson throws a Hail Mary, this is what the end zone looks like:

CaptureCWhen Tanner McEvoy went up to catch Boykin’s pass, this is what the end zone looked like:

CaptureAThis is what you call “a completed pass.” By contrast a “Hail Mary” is a called play designed to bunch up “good hands” receivers in the endzone hoping to catch a deflection–or, in the cases I used above, hoping to just catch the ball outright. And on a Hail Mary play, the defense counters by also bunching up sure-handed DBs (and often wide receivers!) to box out the play and intercept the ball or bat it away.

Now, to be fair–what everyone was expecting with about 20 seconds left in the game, the clock running, the Hawks down by 7, and no timeouts left, was that Boykin would get the team up to the line of scrimmage and spike the ball, leaving enough time for two plays to get the remaining 37 yards to the endzone. If the first of those plays went incomplete, then Bevell would call a Hail Mary for Boykin.

Instead, Boykin got the team to the line of scrimmage… and proceeded to call a play as the clock ticked inexorably down. Trusting his instincts (and apparently using the latitude given him by Bevell and Carroll), Boykin got the 6’6″ McEvoy into a favorable matchup against a smaller DB and sent him to the endzone while the other receivers ran underneath routes.

To be clear, this is NOT a Hail Mary formation.

And to be equally clear, what this did was prevent KC from substituting on the defensive side of the ball, keeping the Chiefs on their heels.

Totally unexpected, totally unorthodox, and totally successful.

NOT a Hail Mary.

And What’s Roughing the Passer?

Apparently not this:

Capture 1 30Or this:

Capture 2 29Or this:

Capture 3 28Or this:

Capture 4 27Or this:

Capture 5 26Or this:

Capture 6 25Or this:

Capture 7 24

Sorry, just had to get this off my chest. If Von Miller had done this to just about any other QB in a Super Bowl, this would have been a “personal foul, blow to the head” penalty on Miller and a first down for the QB’s team. At the very least a facemask violation. Instead, it turned into a TD for the Broncos and the rout was on.

Please note how Miller’s right hand makes first contact with Newton in the facemask, hooking it with his thumb and driving Newton’s head to his left, and then jerking it back to the right as Miller grabs hold.

To be fair, Michael Bennett probably has no problem with this non-call… other than the fact the he never gets non-calls like Miller’s. And I was glad that Newton didn’t proceed to whine about it.

But I sure would have liked to see Newton at least protest, and then recover his composure. Instead he went into “no one respects me” mode and relapsed into a classic Newton sulk. Very disappointing. Made me eat my words about the Panthers being “for real.”

The PowellsWood Garden Storytelling Festival is a potent and charming alternative to a culture dominated by self-serving stories designed to distract or mislead.  Anybody read or heard any of those lately? I thought so.

Instead, festival patrons will be treated to a day filled with tales that illuminate. Trust me: the festival is an opportunity to step away from the routines of daily life and get caught up in the rhythms of a more real world—the rhythms of a natural experience that restores the soul.

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Donald Davis

Anybody can report facts. But that’s just “telling stories,” as it were, says festival headliner and internationally-renowned “teller” Donald Davis. “It’s not a story until there’s some awareness of what was learned.” How does that work? you may ask. Well, “A good story has several things going on at once,” fills in Kevin Kling. “You’ve got the story that you’re telling, the event. And then there’s what’s underneath. The third thing is the mystery that happens inside—the something that keeps you coming back.” It’s what Nabokov called “enchantment.”

The Festival at PowellsWood Garden, now in its fifth year, aims for this effect, and audiences keep coming back. The 3-acre garden opens its gates from 9 to 5 on July 22 and 23 for a two-day extravaganza of workshops and storytelling designed to amaze and delight. And while the art of the tall tale will indeed be alive and well, you can expect a great deal of reality—Donald Davis’s “lessons learned”—to shine through.

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Tea with the Tellers

The first day of the Festival, expert storytellers work closely with small groups of learners to hone the craft of telling. These workshops are unique opportunities for adults to discover new ways of communicating, and new ways of simply being, in an intimate and enriching environment. Friday’s program also includes free programs for daycares and other children’s groups. Advance registration is required for these programs and workshops.

The second day, it’s all telling all the time as a captivating tracked program of tales are scheduled at special spots throughout the garden.

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Telling in the Perennial Borders

This year’s tellers include Adam Booth, who was raised in West Virginia. “At first I thought it was cool to just tell everyone I was a ‘Champion Liar,’” he says, “but then I started listening to everyone else and realized it should be more than just a title.” Also on the program is David Novak who will part of the supporting cast alongside fellow North Carolinian Donald Davis. When it comes to the art of stortelling, Novak points out that “science doesn’t touch on how a sunrise makes us feel. A folktale or myth captures that significance.”

Get back in touch with your feelings. Check out of the election-year babble for a couple days, and check into the festival. You’ll be very glad you did.


Saturday ticket prices start at $5 for kids up to $20 for adults, with family packages available. Friday’s workshop tickets start at $55, with full-festival passes and “Tea with the Tellers” optional (advance registration required). Visit www.powellswoodfestival.org for more details on schedule and pricing.

Day care programs, homeschool groups, and day campers are welcome to attend the festival free of charge as a part of children’s programs on Friday. Participants will hear three tellers and receive a short tour of the garden in this one-hour program. Four time slots are available; to book contact Kristine at [email protected] or by phone at 253-529-1620.

Festival parking will be accommodated at Sacajawea Park at 1401 S. Dash Point Road.  Please catch the festival shuttles, which run continuously starting at 8:45, for transportation to the garden. There is no parking at the garden during the festival except for handicapped vehicles.

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Storytime with these nationally-renowned tellers is free for daycares and children’s camps on Friday, July 22; advance booking is required

About PowellsWood Garden: Federal Way’s “Place to Restore the Soul” is funded by the PowellsWood Garden Foundation 501(c)(3). The garden is located at 430 S Dash Point Road and has been a special local destination since 2001.

The Millennials (TV)
Review by Greg Wright

Only rarely have I gotten a credit on a TV series, so I won’t be bashful about tooting my own horn, so to speak.

This Thursday on Ovation (Comcast channel 202, 715 HD), the six-part documentary series Millennials debuts. Director/producer Rick Stevenson (Expiration Date, Promised Land, Restless Natives) tells the stories of twenty-two twenty-somethings, tracing their development from alternately carefree and troubled gradeschoolers through the gauntlet of junior high and high school and into early adulthood.

There’s a method to Stevenson’s madness. Much as with Michael Apted’s Seven-Up series or Richard Linklater’s Oscar-winning Boyhood, Millennials packs the power punch of a time-lapse effect. Unlike Apted’s approach, Stevenson interviews his subjects yearly. Unlike Linklater’s work, Stevenson’s is non-fiction.

The first episode is appropriately titled “Secrets” and includes the stories of Danielle, a girl whose ordinary American dreams had fallen apart by the time she was twelve, including stints in Fairfax for suicidal depression; of another “normal” boy who “snapped” as a teen and through a sense of isolation sank into a pattern of promiscuity, drugs, and cutting; and of a girl who has “always felt 100% uncomfortable in my skin,” a victim of Body Dysmorphic Disorder. But these stories don’t just wallow in the details. These one-time suffering teens are now adults who can counsel others that “your life can change,” or that “it’s nice to be able to be me.”

millennials-insetSo how am I connected to the project? I am listed in the end credits as part of the “Bloom Team.” Bloom is the technology that we have developed for capturing stories like those told in Millennials. Footage for the Ovation series was filmed in one-on-one sessions with the director, Rick Stevenson—but we have also developed apps for the iPad which use the same approach in school and therapeutic settings. I started working with Rick in 2009 as his chief technologist in this effort. The Bloom Method is the third generation of our story-capture tools, and it is being utilized right now in both the Highline and Tukwila school districts.

The initial group of children that Rick started working with included his nephews and neighbor kids. Rick’s father was an administrator with the Shoreline School District in Seattle, so when Rick saw how well his approach was working with his pilot group, he brought the idea to Shoreline schools with support from the Shoreline Historical Museum. Most of the kids featured in the Millennials series are part of that ongoing Shoreline project. Overall, though, Rick is now working directly with close to 300 kids in eight different countries, the majority of which Rick has met in his travels as a filmmaker. And we have another 800 using the Bloom technology on six continents—not to mention the thousands of adults who have also used permutations of the Bloom Method.

Because Millennials can be tagged as “reality TV,” the question arises: How truthful are these stories? The kids know they’re being filmed; aren’t they tempted to act out for Rick and the camera?

Well, you can’t keep up an act for ten or twelve years. Far too much real life intrudes. The big thing with the work that Rick does is that he really spends time with these kids—and in a way the day-to-day masks that kids wear for others are the staged and exaggerated personae that they present to protect themselves. What you see on camera in Millennials are the true selves that kids rarely reveal.

I’m sure that watching these films has been incredibly hard and painful for their families—just like my mom hearing the truth of my own struggles with bullying and pornography were literally unbelievable when she finally heard about them when I was in my thirties. But parents, in particular, are usually the last to know what’s going on.

The young adults that agreed to have their stories told in Millennials are incredibly brave, and understand the value in encouraging others to be heard. We like to say that the Bloom Method helps kids “find themselves before they lose themselves.” These are struggles that need to be dealt with while they’re happening, rather than sublimated only to surface much later in dysfunctional adults. And honestly, what you see on Millennials is just the tip of the iceberg. Some of the stories we hear are just gut-wrenching.

Not surprisingly, a lot of people right now are scared about the societal impacts of gender-neutral bathrooms, the Internet, hook-up culture, and drugs. And programs like Millennials can appear to validate a lot of seemingly narcissistic angst. But guess what? The damage has already been done. Long ago. The pressures of our increasingly pressurized and disconnected culture have wrought immeasurable damage on us, and on our kids. As Jade says in this Wednesday’s episode, “half the crazy shit being talked about in society is just so artificial.”

Meanwhile, the pain is real. While we’re worrying about what the next five years may hold, the kids right next to us are dying on the vine—and what they need is an ear that listens and a heart that feels. And a lot of patience and prayer, if you’re into that. Children do not mature overnight; in the meantime, there’s a great deal of suffering and wandering. You can’t really prevent the “Prodigal Child” from self-destruction—but you can be the parent from that story waiting with welcome and open arms when the wanderer returns home. You might also consider venturing out to the pigsty from time to time as a show of support. Get your hands dirty. Be the mom or dad that kids really want to talk to. Or be the neighbor who’s there for the kids who feel they can’t.

For my part, as a childless adult, I often lay awake at night and wonder, “How would my life be different if I’d had access to this when I was ten and being bullied, or twelve and first getting hooked on porn?” And I have to remind myself that you can’t really play the “What if?” game. My wife and I both led lives not a great deal unlike those featured in Millennials—which, as it turned out, resulted in each of us being able to be a great help to the other as adults. So the obvious answer to my “What if?” is: I wouldn’t be married to Jenn, and we wouldn’t share the rich spiritual heritage that we have. But the possibility of such improbable (even miraculous) outcomes is no excuse for us to turn a blind eye to the suffering that’s around us, or bury our heads in the sand and pretend it’s not there at all.

I can say without hesitation that it’s better for a girl to stop cutting on herself today than five years from now, or for a boy to start developing healthy connections with real girls at sixteen rather than at thirty-six. And those are the paths of healing, restoration, and reconciliation that the Bloom Method are trying to open up. Kids need to know that they’re not weird, and that they’re not alone. And they need to know there’s a hope and a future. That’s what we hope is communicated through Millennials.

Watch the program, and watch it with your kids. Be shocked, if you must—and get over it.

Then, watch out!

 

As has been the case for years now, PowellsWood is always a great memory-making experience for Mother’s Day Weekend. Just above Redondo, the garden offers a host of opportunities for folks of diverse interests.

This year, the theme is retro! In keeping with the garden’s English sensibilities, vintage or garden-fabulous attire and hats are encouraged, but certainly are not required. All creative outfits or hats will earn the wearer one entry into a drawing for one of two door prizes.

Tea in the garden’s sun room provides an opportunity to catch up with Mom or Grandma over a warm beverage and treats served on Diane Powell’s garden china. Tea is served from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday. The PowellsWood website notes that “Tea is in addition to general admission. Menu and pricing are available at www.powellswood.org. Guests will be seated in the order in which they arrive. Seating is expected to be limited.”

Three generations enjoy tea in the Garden Room. Photo (c) Christopher Nelson

Three generations enjoy tea in the Garden Room. Photo (c) Christopher Nelson

I’ve enjoyed Mother’s Day Tea there on several occasions, and can vouch for its popularity.

On Saturday, visitors may also make a gift corsage to share with Mom. The corsage-making activity table will be open from 1:30 to 5 p.m. and samples, instruction and assistance will be available. The garden will charge an additional modest $5.00 activity fee for this session.

On Sunday, Harpist Tori Norman will perform a complimentary concert from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.–and Christina Salwitz, co-author of the award-winning book Fine Foliage, will present “PLANTASIA – Design Lessons from a World Class Garden” at 1:00 and 2:15 p.m. Salwitz will provide a virtual tour via photos she has taken of PowellsWood. A book signing by Salwitz will follow.

There’s plenty to see if you wander around on your own, too, but special guided tours will also be available as part of your admission for the day. Saturday’s tours begin at 10:15 a.m., 11:15 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. Sunday’s tours begin at 10:15 and 11:15 a.m. and 3:15, and 5:15 p.m. Tours include bits of garden history, maintenance tips, and plant identification, and space will be limited.

Autistic artist Chris Stiles creates hundreds of works using only a palette of Sharpies. Photo (c) Christopher Nelson

Autistic artist Chris Stiles creates hundreds of works using only a palette of Sharpies. Photo (c) Christopher Nelson

Finally, local artist Chris Stiles (www.artautistic.com) will again display his unique art all weekend. Prints and cards are also available for purchase. If you’ve never seen Stiles’ work, or seen him at work, you really ought to check this out. He’s amazing.

PowellsWood notes that no on-site parking will be available Mother’s Day weekend, except for handicapped vehicles.  Please take the shuttle from the Sacajawea Park lot, just east of the garden at 1401 S. Dash Point Road; the shuttle runs continuously.

Mother’s Day weekend extended hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday May 7th and Sunday May 8th. Adult admission: $7.00. Youth admission (ages 13 to18) is $5.00. Child admission (ages 6 to 12) is $3.00. Children 5 and under free. A one-year family membership is also available for $45.00 and includes admission for a household of two adults and their children, ages 18 and under.

PowellsWood Garden is located at 430 South Dash Point Road in Federal Way, Washington.

 

Diane Powell's handcrafted English tea service. Photo (c) Christopher Nelson

Diane Powell’s handcrafted English tea service. Photo (c) Christopher Nelson

 

Forces of Nature
Review by Greg Wright

If you pay attention to movies at all, you’re aware that Ben Affleck stars as the Caped Crusader in the record-breaking blockbuster megaflop Batman v Superman.

You’re probably also aware of the viral press-junket interview clip with Affleck and costar Henry Cavill in which the stars are asked if they were aware how badly the film is getting savaged by the press. As Cavill waxes eloquent about the Nature of the Biz and a relative newbie’s experience with No Such Thing As Bad Publicity, Affleck’s eyes just glaze over and his face goes more expressionless than, well, a batmask. The creator of the viral clip slowly zooms on Affleck’s dispassionate face as a dub of “Hello, darkness my old friend…” plays in the background. You can just read Affleck’s mind as visions of Gigli and Daredevil run through his mind:  “Holy crap, Alfred. It’s deja vu all over again!”

Affleck’s career has had more high-profile disasters and little-seen failures than about any steadily-working actor I know. He’s like a walking, talking thespian version of the plagues in The Ten Commandments. And some of those bombs are truly awful.

Some, however, were just the right movie at the wrong time. 1999’s Forces of Nature—with a 45% splat from critics at Rotten Tomatoes and a worse-yet 35% favorable audience rating—is one of those.

forces-of-nature-insetCo-starring Sandra Bullock, who was herself coming off the horrifically-titled flop Hope Floats, Forces is a screwball romance about an uptight groom-to-be who gets thrown together with an off-kilter free spirit on an ill-fated road trip to the wedding. In a way, it’s a cross between Something Wild (without the scary menace of a young Ray Liotta) and Sleepless in Seattle (with a winning Maura Tierney standing in for Bill Pullman’s intentionally unsympathetic affianced).

Perhaps in 1999 the cinematic world was not ready for a film in which the male lead would either be cad for standing up Tierney at the altar or alternately abandoning Bullock in a crisis, but there’s no way the film deserves the one star that Roger Ebert gave it, or Richard Corliss’ summary dismissal as “reprehensible.”

In fact, if you’re a Bullock fan at all and have never given this particular vehicle a spin, my guess is you’ll probably enjoy the heck out of Forces of Nature, which uses an incipient hurricane as the central metaphor both for Bullock’s character and the threat which infidelity poses to monogamous relationships.

Admittedly, Affleck is simply Affleck in his role as the stiff Ben Holmes, and in the early going director Bronwen Hughes relies a little too much on Bullock being, well, Sandra Bullock. But 17 years down the road, Bullock being Bullock has become A Very Good Thing while Affleck being Affleck had become so much more appealing than, say, Affleck trying to be Batman.

In my book, Forces of Nature is not only a winning romance, it corrects one of the Great Cinematic Wrongs in rewriting the ending of Sleepless in Seattle. Bill Pullman must have seen this film and smiled. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, let’s just say that Forces of Nature defies cinematic traditions about Free Spirits and Romantic Fate.

If you’re one of the legion that was turned off by Batman v Superman and are looking for something to get that sour taste out of your mouth, consider Forces of Nature a great watch-at-home option.

Forces of Nature is available to stream at Amazon.

Watch tonight, and don’t forget to dine local first!