be-back-smBy Greg Wright

I’ve got to say that it’s really satisfying to call a game almost perfectly, missing the final score by only two total points. And also nice to see the Seahawks win it convincingly, rather than relying on improbable goal-line karate chops or desperation throws 35 yards downfield in OT. No yearning for miracles here.

But I had a really odd sensation watching the game last week.

I really missed Bruce Irvin.

And it’s funny, but nobody is talking much about his performance this season, despite the volume of sports prose expended on him since he was Seattle’s first-round draft pick in 2012, 15th overall.

His first season, he led all rookies in sacks with eight as a platooning defensive end. But Irvin did not show any signs of becoming an every-down player, and often looked outmanned and outwitted. I’ll never forget hearing him interviewed on ESPN Seattle 710 late that season wearily talking about how beat up he felt. The tone of his voice clearly said, “I don’t see making a career of this.”

Then he began his sophomore season by missing four games to a PED suspension. (Remember those epidemic days, Seahawk fans?) When he came back he began his run at becoming a linebacker, the only thing that allowed him to stick on a talent-crowded roster the Super Bowl-bound 2013 season. While he showed some spark, though, he still didn’t look like anything like a down-in, down-out, season-in, season-out ‘backer.

2014 was an improvement–but there still were games where he appeared to be a complete non-factor. The season ended with a silly and disgraceful personal foul and ejection to conclude a disappointing Super Bowl loss to New England… followed by the ignominious distinction of not having his rookie option year picked up by the Seahawks. He responded by unwisely mouthing off in the media, which promptly started fanning the “Bruce wants out of Seattle” flames.


By Brandan Schulze (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Thence proceeded the media outpouring of final pronouncements about the draft bust that Bruce Irvin obviously turned out to be.

Ah, but what a genius move by the Seahawks front office. Since discovering that his tenure with the Seahawks–and his NFL career–might be coming to a close, that he wasn’t one of “our guys” like Sherman, Chancellor, Wagner, Wright, or Thomas, that he was the disrespected also-ran of a title-town D, Bruce Irvin has finally found his groove and rediscovered his love of the game.

Call it motivational management.

In 2015, as a bona-fide linebacker who also has the skills to rush the passer as a down-lineman, Irvin is finally the every-down dual-threat player that consistently will cause disruption for opposing offenses. His experience and quickness get him all around the QB on passing downs. His speed and coverage skills aid in schemes to shut down slot receivers and tight ends. And his strength and agility allow him to both hold the edge on off-tackle rushes and most often make the tackle as well.

The last two weeks, as I watched Frank Clark gamely try to play the edge against San Francisco as well as Irvin does, or wished we had another long-armed body swiping at Carson Palmer in the late going against Arizona, I realized… I really like Irvin now, and the way he fits in to the Seahawks’ linebacking corps.

Anybody with me?

Here’s hoping we get Irvin back next week, and that we won’t miss him too badly against the less-than-mobile aging body that Ben Roethlisberger is.

I really do think the Seahawks have found their groove, and Thomas Rawls is for real. And it’s a really, really good time for Seattle to be hitting its offensive stride, because Pittsburgh’s passing attack is going to be a huge challenge for what is now Seattle’s weak spot, the corners and nickle.

Still, I think it’s also finally time for a breakout performance by the Legion and Co. Welcome back, Jeremy Lane?

Seattle 28, Pittsburgh 20.

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 on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

Remember that game when it all started, on the road in Chicago during Russell Wilson’s rookie season?

Yes, there had been the Green Bay “Fail Mary,” and it was thrilling. But it wasn’t convincing football.

And yes, there had been the bomb to Sidney Rice to win the “You Mad, Bro?” matchup with New England. Also very satisfying. But still not a “We Have Arrived” moment.

But in Chicago… oh, what a football game. They had won only one road game through 12 weeks, and that was against a struggling Carolina team. This was Chicago. Coming off an embarrassing collapse at Miami. The Seahawks were learning how to win, sure enough, but still they had to learn how to do it on the road to have hopes for a Championship, or a ring.

And here it was. A close, toughly-fought game, with the road team down by four with just under four minutes to play.

The problem?

They had the ball at their own 3-yard line.

97 yards to go for the go-ahead score. Yeah, right. Like any Seahawks team in history had ever done that before.

And there was Russell Wilson, leading Tate, Rice, and Lynch to an unbelievable legendary TD with just 24 seconds to go.

The other problem?

Chicago scored a field goal with 3 seconds left to tie the game.

By Mike Morris (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Sidney Rice. Photo by Mike Morris (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

And unbelievably, there the Hawks were again, 80 yards from a touchdown in OT, chipping away at the yardage against the Bears’ D, moving down the field convincingly for the winning score. And it took Rice getting knocked senseless at the goal line to make it happen.

It was as if every longing of a lifelong Seahawks’ fan’s dreams were being fulfilled. A defense that could keep you in games and come up with big plays. And a quarterback that had the mojo to do the impossible. For real.

It was too good to be true.

It remains too good to be true, because it wasn’t. And it isn’t.

The Seahawks did not win that day because Russell Wilson is a miracle maker.

Richard Sherman probably put it best that day. “I don’t think we’ve ever been out of the game at the end,” he observed of a 2012-seasonal trend that continues to this day. “I don’t think there was ever a blowout, it always comes down to the last drive, the last play.”

Sherman also put it the worst that day when he concluded: “The football gods were with us today and they helped us out.”

Miracles don’t really happen in the NFL. Gods don’t intervene. What happens is that teams put themselves in a position to win, as Pete Carroll iterated in an interview with Dori Monson just yesterday; then the bounce of the ball or the waft of a wind will shift momentum one way or another.

But you have to put yourself in a position to win first. Football gods don’t do that. Ordinary men do, when ordinary men step up to doing their jobs, play-in and play-out, and doing them well.

A team (or a quarterback) that relies on miracles to bail them out is a losing team (or quarterback) waiting to happen.

A “Yeah, we got this…” mentality is a “Gotcha!” reality ready to spring.

What really matters is the small things a team does through 3 quarters. Things like knowing when to throw the ball away, as Brock Huard observed in his “Chalk Talk” this week (see below). Things like not starting four straight offensive drives with penalties. Things like avoiding a delay of game. Things like not blowing coverage on deep passes.

I think it’s super that Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor have great confidence in themselves.

Right now, though, they need to have greater confidence in sound football fundamentals–solid play through four quarters–and less confidence in pulling rabbits out of hats in the final minutes.

You can’t relive that 2014 NFC Championship game forever, Russell.

You can’t even make it happen twice.

The Seahawks seem to think they can can flip the “Win” switch anytime they want, but no team is good enough to rely on that for a championship. Separation is not in the desperation.

YouTube Preview Image

Extra Yardage

  • Which reminds me… have you noticed Wilson hasn’t been dishing the “Separation is in the preparation” mantra this season? Clearly, the separation isn’t there. But maybe the preparation isn’t, either. I don’t begrudge the guy his opportunity to live the (chaste) playboy life… but did he really believe all that mumbo jumbo about the need to focus, or not?
  • Which also reminds me… I wrote pretty thoroughly this summer about how the Super Bowl ended last year, and later embedded the NFL Films special feature on how that interception took shape days before it ever happened. Separation is in the preparation, indeed. So I marvel that fans and scribes alike are still taking Carroll and Bevell to task for that play call and outcome, demanding explanations and apologies. As if, somehow, this season’s close losses are proof that poor coaching lost Seattle that game. There’s no question that Belichick won the chess match that day; but why is it that Seattle fans and pro-football pundits can’t just live with the fact that Carroll and Co. simply got bested that day? Why is that we can’t just say, “Belichick is better” and be proud of the fact that the Seahawks came this close–this close–to beating the best coach and best team in NFL history on the biggest stage and in the biggest and best game of the century thus far? Oh, that’s right. We can’t do that because everyone really, really wanted the Patriots to lose that game. Apparently, we must hate Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell because they failed to beat the team we really love to hate. It’s some kind of weird hate-transference. Get over it, folks! You’re just gonna have to admit it. Brady, Belichick, and the Patriots are simply legendary. End of story. No one this season has been as close to beating the Patriots as the Seahawks were that day in February. No one. So give Seattle’s coaches some credit. They very nearly pulled off the impossible with the Seahawks’ most complete game in 1.5 seasons–truly their best performance since trouncing the Broncos a year before that.
  • I didn’t get a chance last week to throw in the following great screenshot of Bobby Wagner’s reaction to Michael Bennett’s silly roughing the passer penalty in the closing moments of the Dallas game. Yes, Bennett’s starting to get on his teammates’ nerves, too.


    “C’mon, Mike. Use your head. It’s more than helmet filler, you know!”


I hate to say it, but I’ve called three of the Seahawks’ five losses correctly this year, and for the right reasons. Last week was no exception.

But I’ll stand by the meat of last week’s column as well. Despite losing to Arizona, the game signaled a return to form and motivation for the Hawks.

San Francisco is a better team without Kaepernick at the helm, so this will be as hard-fought a division contest as it usually is. But the Hawks will prevail in a fairly convincing fashion, getting them on a roll down the stretch.

Seattle 27, San Francisco 13.

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 on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

Let’s talk for a minute not about the Seahawks offensive line but about other teams’ most potent weapons… and how to defeat them.

Wide receivers and quarterbacks, for instance.

Let’s say your team is going to be facing Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald two or three times each year. If you’re a defensive coach, how are you going to structure your defense to deal with that?

Well, league history has shown that just about the only way to defend against receivers is with a sound defensive scheme and high-quality defensive backs. A defense built like the Seahawks’ D, with players like Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas. You’re going to need to draft and develop blue-chip defensive backs.

Or let’s say you’re going to be facing Frank Gore or Todd Gurley or Marshawn Lynch on a regular basis. Your defense is going to need defensive linemen like Brandon Mebane and linebackers like Bobby Wagner or K.J. Wright. Again, there’s really no way around it: you’ll have to find some defensive stars who are strong on the inside and quick to the outside if you don’t want to be giving up 150 yards a game on the ground.

On the other side of the ball, if you’re in a division featuring stiff defensive units with a host of quick, brutal defensive ends like Calais Campbell, Aldon Smith, and Jared Allen you’re going to need an agile and resourceful quarterback, and a running back like Marshawn Lynch who can move a pile four or five yard downfield. There’s just no way around it.

But let’s be realistic: you can’t stock your team with blue-chip players at every position and in every unit. It’s just not possible. Even if you could find them, you couldn’t pay them all. So something’s gotta give. At some point, at some position, you’ve got to find some way of neutralizing opposing teams’ strengths creatively rather than matching up five-star recruits against other five-star recruits.

It’s like finding a way to defeat chess pieces with checkers.

But it is possible. Just look at last year’s Super Bowl matchup to prove the point.

So given that’s it’s possible to sustain long-term success with less-than-topnotch players, which opposing unit are you most likely to find creative ways to defeat?

By Luis Antonio Rodríguez Ochoa from Redmond, Washington. Cropped by User:Blueag9. ( [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Luis Antonio Rodríguez Ochoa from Redmond, Washington. Cropped by User:Blueag9. ( [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Quarterbacks and receivers? The great QBs succeed year in and year out regardless of the defenses they face. That doesn’t seem likely.

Running backs? Again, look at the history of the great ones. You may shut them down for a quarter or a half. But until their bodies break down–until they beat themselves with the old calendar–the best you’re going to do is limit the damage… even if you throw Pro Bowl-caliber defenders at them.

Offensive linemen? Take a look at the stats of the best sometime, like Walter Jones. You just can’t beat the great ones. Doesn’t matter who you throw at them, not even All-Pros.

In reality, defenses are the easiest to exploit, precisely because they are on defense. They are reacting to what offenses do.

So if, on average, the teams you face are allocating half of their resources on offense and half and defense, you are most likely to get a unit-to-unit advantage on the offensive side of the ball.

This means you can do more with less, if you have the will (and need) to risk it, a mind to scheme it, and the bodies to fit the scheme.

Which brings us back to the Seahawks’ woeful offensive line.

Make no mistake: this is not a good offensive line in terms of raw performance, much less a great one. And this point is much talked about, so I won’t belabor it.

But as I’ve remarked in the past, what offensive line in the Carroll era has been good or great?

By Neal (Neal D) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Neal (Neal D) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Super Bowl unit that featured J. R. Sweezy and Breno Giacomini? The playoff-caliber unit from the previous year that included Paul McQuistan? Maybe last year’s Super Bowl squad with Carpenter and Britt?

But look at what Co-Head Coach Tom Cable has done with his offensive lines. The Seahawks rushing game consistently ranks in the top five in the league. Seattle’s overall offensive output (aided, of course, by the stingy defense) is never worse than middle of the pack in the league standings.

By exploiting defensive aggression, Cable’s zone blocking schemes, the read option, and the play-action pass keep defenses from simply pinning their ears back and demolishing Russell Wilson. Taking their cue from Lynch’s brutual running style, Cable’s athletic and highly-mobile linemen generally get a good push off the ball and leave defenders standing around asking, “Where did the ball just go?” while the O linemen move on to the second level and often find themselves throwing blocks ten or fifteen or twenty yards downfield.

Without offensive stars like Wilson and Lynch, though, the strategy would simply be a disaster. All too often this year, Seattle’s blockers have been the ones standing around asking, “Where did that d-lineman just go?”

But Seattle’s reality is that they do have Wilson and Lynch–and they pay them accordingly. Plus, Wilson and Lynch stay healthy.

And they have this Seahawk Secret Sauce: a sneaky-good scheme to beat blue-chip defenses with a cobbled-together line of whozits and whatzits. A scheme that doesn’t require the line to win one-on-one matchups play-in and play-out. They just need win as a unit the majority of the time.

Will they be able to ride that scheme into the playoffs for a fourth straight season?

I’m betting yes. And I bet that march to the playoffs starts this week.

And I’d rather bet on Cable’s scheme than bet on Carson Palmer finishing a season in the NFC West. Arizona and Seattle will likely be playing for the division title in Arizona the final week of the season, even though they lead by two wins right now.

Arizona is for real. There’s no mistaking it now. Their win here in Seattle in 2013 was no fluke, and Seattle would probably not have got away with two wins over the Cardinals last year had Carson Palmer made it past Week 10.

What can we expect this year? Well, Arizona is on a roll. Offensively, they’re a juggernaut and are stout on defense as usual.

Still, timing is everything, and this is the time of year that Seattle usually starts peaking. And it’s feeling like Seattle is finally gelling on both sides of the ball.

The believer in me, as evidenced by what I have written above, tells me that Seattle will win convincingly if closely. But the realist in me says: not so fast. Bruce Arians is a mad scientist in Christmas Story glasses. Seattle will play well, but lose another heartbreaker.

Arizona 24, Seattle 20.

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 on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

In Seattle, Russell Wilson’s home field debut in 2012, the Hawks’ special teams and defense came up with big play after big play in the first half to stifle Tony Romo and company. We weren’t used to expecting this sort of performance from the Seahawks, but it heralded the beginning of Pete Carroll’s Championship era. In spite of being favored and stocked with stars and blue-chip draft picks, Dallas limped home after a 27-7 thumping on national TV.

Last year when Dallas returned to Seattle, the defending Super Bowl Champion Hawks were 3-1, putting together wins against Green Bay, Denver, and Washington despite looking awful at times doing it. Nonetheless, everybody was expecting Seattle to win at home. After all, only Arizona had defeated Russell Wilson on his home turf to that point.

As in 2012, special teams and defense staked the Hawks to an early 10-0 lead… and then the game turned into a slugfest. DeMarco Murray ran for 115 yards while Marshawn Lynch was largely silenced. The defense not only lost the lead, but gave up a mind-boggling first down on 3rd and 20 in the closing moments of the game, leading directly to Dallas’ winning touchdown. Seattle’s offense stumbled through their final two possessions, with Wilson throwing a first-down interception with 48 seconds remaining.

Percy Harvin finished the matchup on the bench, refusing to take the field in the fourth quarter.

Everyone, from season ticket holders to the vendors to the owners, left that game completely baffled by the outcome. Something looked decidedly broken, and something needed fixing. This was not the way the story was supposed to be written for a team with Championship-repeat aspirations.

Things just don’t seem to work out as planned when these two teams get together.

After all, let’s not forget that crazy playoff win in Seattle in 2006, when Jordan Babineaux tripped up Romo on his way toward the endzone after a mishandled snap on a potentially game-winning field goal chip shot.


“Christine Michael 2014” by Mike Morris – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Prognosticators are figuring this to be tight game with the Hawks coming out on top by 7 to 10 points. And why not? Dallas is playing without Tony Romo; they traded Murray before the start of the season, and former starting back Joseph Randle is dealing with all kinds of strange personal issues; Greg Hardy is a distraction; and Dez Bryant won’t be 100%. Meanwhile, Seattle has almost all of its 22 starters completely healthy. So the home field advantage isn’t expected to quite do the trick for the Cowboys, who the pundits figure will… do what, exactly, to contest the outcome? Run the ball with authority? Pass effectively? Shut down Seattle’s running game?

My gut tells me this won’t be close at all.

Whatever the script might be for this week’s matchup, throw it out the window. Three or four players on one of these teams, probably those you least expect, will turn this affair into some kind of blowout. And yes, it could be Dallas that makes it happen. It really could. It might be former Seahawk Christine Michael, who could get a significant number of carries for Dallas.

But I’m guessing this one lands in Seattle’s favor.

Greg Hardy will likely wreak havoc on Seattle’s passing attack, but look for the ground game to be very strong. Seattle’s defense will play another complete game, and special teams will finally cut something loose.

Seattle 35, Dallas 10.

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 on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

The setting: six and a half minutes left in the third quarter of a one-sided affair on the road against former arch-nemesis San Francisco. Seattle has pretty much been handing the 49ers their butts on a platter throughout, and are facing second down with six yards to go on their own 35 yard line.

Ordinarily, what do the Seahawks do in this scenario, particularly on a night when they’re running the ball at will? Well, if you’re Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell, most of the time you hand the ball to Marshawn Lynch so you can get yourself third-and-short… and if it’s Thursday night, most likely pick up a first down.

Not on this particular 2nd-and-6, not on this particular night. No. Instead, they ask Russell to drop back for a play-action pass.

He fakes a handoff to lone setback Lynch, and the line sets up for a passing pocket offset to the right. Baldwin and Kearse, who both are out wide left, take their routes decidedly downfield.

Tukuafu, who was initially lined up as a tight end on the right side, and Lynch both drift off into the right flat, and based on the blocking I’d say they are faking a screen pass setup to that side. Lynch never really looks like is expecting a pass to come his way. Did Wilson audible into this play call? Or was this a designed play? It’s hard to tell. I’d guess the latter.

In any event, San Francisco is not the least bit fooled by the play design… which is interesting, because it’s not one I recall seeing the Hawks run before. They send only three rushers, while one other down defender roams the line of scrimmage in something resembling a “spy” assignment on Wilson. Meanwhile, they drop seven into coverage, three deep with four linebackers shadowing Tukuafu and Lynch and whatever else might transpire up the middle.

WilsonThere’s nowhere for Wilson to go with this pass but downfield, if he throws at all.

The initial pocket starts to collapse, so Wilson adroitly takes a few steps to his left into the void left by the line shift and a very effective peel-back block by Britt. Still looking downfield, which is the only place he’s looked on this play, he decides to loft a very, very long ball to Kearse… who, mysteriously, seems to slow up on the ball after it’s in the air. Does he lose track of it? Hard to say, and no one’s particularly talking about the play.

Well, almost no one. And we’ll get to that in a second.

Kearse doesn’t get to the ball. He’s about a step and a half short of where Wilson throws it. Instead, two 49ers converge on the ball and Acker intercepts at the San Fran 7-yard line, where Kearse immediately touches him down.

Change of possession after an effective 58-yard premature punt. Really not bad for a change of possession.

After the game, and in more than one statement, Pete Carroll calls out Wilson for making a poor decision on that throw. “We don’t need to do that,” he declares.

Do what?

Demonstrate to opponents that Wilson not only can huck the ball 65 yards in the air with ease, and with a good measure of accuracy, but also that he’s willing to, even if knows the coaches don’t like it?

Take a shot downfield rather than take a sack and another body-blow?


The initial pocket setup prior to the interception. Wilson will move to his left prior to passing.

The film doesn’t lie. San Francisco had the play completely diagnosed and covered. The only other “good football decision” Wilson had open to him was to throw the ball away. And I suppose that’s the fine, safe thing to do when you’re leading by 17 on a second-down play in the third quarter.

But gosh darn it, the football fan in me loved the brashness of what Wilson did with that play. I loved his willingness to stretch the field, and put a few ideas in the minds of opposing DBs.

I love the idea of going for the jugular against a division opponent instead of just coasting into the 4th quarter.

Pete’s picking a really odd time to start calling out “mistakes” by his players, and particularly calling out his QB two games in row while giving a free pass to Michael Bennett’s egregious errors or “communication foulups” in the defensive backfield in prior weeks.

But maybe that’s the mind game he’s playing with Wilson now.

Maybe it’s time for Wilson to grow up, and for Carroll, too. No more mister nice guy.

Time for superstars to start playing like superstars.

And coaches to start coaching them.

How about some tough words from Mr. Allen about Mr. Carroll?

Yard Markers

  • I hate it when I’m right. But I don’t hate it when the Hawks do get their act together and start playing like a team again instead of like a bunch of superstars angling for fatter contracts. The loss to the Panthers was horrible, but in my book predictable. I hope the lesson sticks.
  • The fact is, though, that it’s not just the players that are getting schooled. A hallmark of the Pete Carroll years, one that even my football neophyte wife was noticed, is that the coaching staff has always done a good job of making adjustments after halftime and winning the coaching war in the third and fourth quarters. Not this year. Carroll ultimately got “pantsed” by Belichick in the Super Bowl, and his staff has been regularly shown up the second half of games this year. It’s not just the players that haven’t finished, it’s been the coaches too. Depending on what happens on the road at Dallas next week, I may have more to say about that.


Back to the prognostications.

I didn’t get a chance for an official forecast for Week 7, but my call with Week 6 was almost dead on the mark.

And I did say that “a tough loss at home against a perennial playoff foe will finally wake the Hawks up.”

If I’d thought ahead and called a score for Thursday night, I probably would have said Seattle 21, San Francisco 10.

It was nice seeing the Hawks play their best road game in SF under Carroll, and beating that projection.

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 on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

No, I do not have access to Seahawks’ head coach Pete Carroll. And even if I did, no, he would not answer questions as directly and transparently I’d want him to.

But if I did, and if he would, the following is a transcript of what such an interview might have looked like during the past week.

The Waterland Blog: Tough loss in Cincy last week, Coach. That was hard to watch.

Pete Carroll: Yes, it was. And I guarantee you it was harder for the coaching staff to watch than it was for you.

TWB: I suppose that’s true. Fans have the luxury of throwing things at the TV and spewing four-letter-words, but you usually seem so calm and collected in crisis. The most I’ve seen you do, I think, is throw off your headset, like you did after that interception against the Patriots.

"Pete Carroll 2014" by Mike Morris - Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Pete Carroll 2014” by Mike Morris – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

PC: Yep. I do allow myself to get excited in the positive direction, though, like when I ran into that ref during Lockett’s return for a TD in preseason, or when we get a pick or throw a TD. But when things are going tough, yeah–I’m not throwing things at the TV, or yelling at players on the sidelines. We just don’t allow that. That’s not how we roll.

TWB: It is easy to see a difference in Seattle’s coaching staff. Like when Chris Matthews came down with that onside kick in the NFC Championship game last year. Bostick just got a tongue-lashing on the sideline. That wouldn’t have happened if the tables were turned.

PC: Well, the Packers are a great, great team and run a really model franchise. So that surprised me, too. It also surprised me when Mike [McCarthy, Green Bay head coach] kind of threw Clay [Matthews] under the bus for not being on the field in the fourth quarter when we driving up and down the field.

TWB: Yes, I noticed that as well. Honestly, sometimes I wish someone would talk that way to Michael Bennett! Have you threatened him with a benching over his penalties?

PC: Michael has a real strong motor. We love that about him. Sometimes that gets him in trouble on hard counts and things, but he’s working on it. To be honest, I’ve told him we could get a couple of high draft picks to send him back to Tampa Bay. And he’d be waiting a long time there for another ring. We’ll see if that gets his attention. Obviously, we’d rather have him here wreaking havoc in the backfield, but not if the price is too high.

TWB: Maybe you could give him that contract rework he wants, with some non-penalty incentives. Like a sliding scale deal where he gets more money for tackles for a loss, sacks, and pressures, but with a steep discount for each stupid penalty he draws.

PC: Have you been sneaking looks at my texts?

TWB: No, no… but if I had, would I have seen anything in there about what you’re planning to change up in the face of these epidemic fourth-quarter collapses?

PC: No, you wouldn’t.

TWB: Because you don’t send texts about that kind of stuff?

PC: Because we don’t plan on changing anything up.

TWB: But surely something’s broken. Isn’t it? You’re not going to just stand pat, are you?

PC: Certainly, things didn’t go the way we planned at Cincy, or in Green Bay. Heck, they didn’t exactly go the way we planned at the end of the Detroit game, either, or while visiting Jeff [Fisher]’s place. But those issues weren’t because our schemes were wrong. They were because of individual breakdowns–like Kam missing a tackle against Detroit, like Russell not getting the protection right in OT last week, like Michael getting drawn offsides by Rodgers, or even like me failing to call a timeout at the end of regulation in Cincy so we could get our block unit on the field for that field goal attempt. These are correctable problems.

TWB: So you’re saying the basic concepts are sound. They’re just not working right now.

PC: That’s the theory, yes. But it’s still a theory, remember.

TWB: What do you mean?

PC: Look, we came in here five years ago with a plan. If we were going to give this thing a go, we wanted to do it our way, and see if wouldn’t work. How could we rebuild a franchise quickly, and then make success sustainable, given that the draft system rewards poor performance, and that defense wins championships? What would that look like? So we built this team on defense, ball control, and competition. Pedigree means nothing here. Attitude does. Performance does.

TWB: So you end up with more undrafted free agents on your roster than any other team in the NFL.

PC: That’s right. Just because you were a first round pick, or landed here because of a flashy trade, that doesn’t mean you’re a de facto starter, and that we’re going to suffer through your play just because we can’t admit we made a mistake.

TWB: You mean like Aaron Curry, or Percy Harvin. Or even Jimmy Graham, if things head that direction.

PC: You got it. And to be honest, the Percy and Jimmy deals have taught us something. I don’t think we’ll throw away draft picks like that again. Honestly, we do a much better job of evaluating raw talent than we do evaluating talent that’s gets skewed by how well it works in someone else’s system.

TWB: You know, I hadn’t thought of that.

PC: Well, we hadn’t either before a couple weeks ago. But there’s a downside to being right about so many UDAs [undrafted free agents].

TWB: Obviously, the upside is that their payscale works out much better alongside the contracts you pay your stars. But what’s the downside?

PC: We don’t use our preseason the way other teams do.

TWB: What do you mean?

PC: Take St. Louis, for instance–or Dallas. They build their rosters the conventional way, through blue-chip draft picks. Jerry [Jones] has got Smith, Leary, and Martin on his offensive line. All first-rounders. And he’s got Doug Free, to boot. They go to camp with the lineup all penciled in. It’s not like they don’t know who’s going to be there on opening day. They go through camp together, they get all the reps together, they play four preseason games together. First snap on the first series of the first game, they know what they’re doing–together. They play as a unit. There are advantages to that system. For us, though, we typically only know who about half of our starters are going to be. Every year there are real competitions at about half of our positions… and thanks to the CBA [collective bargaining agreement between the league and players’ union], we don’t have time in camp to see how a lot of these guys are going to work out under live fire. So we throw them out there in preseason, just to get our first look at how they do. And we think a lot of them will stick. Ultimately, we think it’s more important to start the season with the right guys and finish well than to start the season well with the wrong guys and fade in December. Would you rather have been Bruce Arians last season? I think not. You may have noticed we have the best December record in the NFL over the last few years. That’s no accident.

TWB: I see where you’re going with that, I think. It’s almost like your first four games of the season are your “real” preseason, where your starters–like this particular offensive line–are working out the kinks… only with real outcomes on the line, and real implications for division standings.

PC: That’s right. And when Kam comes in late, that throws our usual schedule off by two weeks for the defensive unit.

TWB: So to a degree, you expect some rust until week five of the season. And this year, you expect a little more.

PC: Yes, unfortunately. But I think if you look back over the last three seasons, in particular, you’ll see that pattern emerging in our performance. You might remember that we didn’t name Russell the starting QB until after the final preseason game his rookie year. It’s not like he was getting all the reps in practice that preseason. There was a guy named Flynn around, you may recall.

TWB: So you’re staying the course, then. You have confidence in the scheme. You’re expecting to turn the corner this week or the next, and make a strong drive for another division title.

PC: Yes. I have to, don’t I? It wasn’t some other scheme we started with here. It was ours. And it’s gotten us a couple of championships already, and one ring. We want more. We think we can get more. Stage One of the plan has worked. Now we stay the course. Now we see if Stage Two works. Now we see if we can sustain success with this model.

TWB: Got it.

PC: But I’ll tell you something. We won’t find that out this season, or even next. We might even take a step or two backward in this phase. We’ll only know if our plan works in another four years or so. If we’re consistently challenging for the division title, we’ll feel pretty good about it–but we’ll still feel like it didn’t work. We’re expecting championships, not just competing, and not even just titles. We like traveling in February.

TWB: Well, I’m looking forward to the beginning of the “Real Season,” then. I hope it starts this week.

PC:  So do I, Greg. So do I.

Yard Markers

  • With all the talk about Graham’s lack of production, there’s one thing that fans and analysts alike are missing: Graham isn’t catching twelve balls a game for any other team in the NFC, either. And that’s probably the best thing about having Graham on our squad. Who wants to travel to the Superdome for an NFC Championship game? There’s more than one way to beat a conference rival. Now if the Hawks could just work out a trade with Green Bay…
  • It wasn’t just that players lost matchups in Cincinnatti, coaches lost matchups, too. Like those TDs to Eifert, or on that one play the Bengals ran on their first touchdown drive. Remember how they lined up? Remember how that play had Jack Buck and Troy Aikman completely speechless? No, I didn’t think so. But when you can shut those guys up you’re doing something pretty unique. Hue Jackson and company really ran some innovative stuff last Sunday.



Back to the prognostications. Here we go with Week 6.

Has Carolina ever looked really good against Seattle? Their defense has, but not the entire team, and particularly not Cam Newton. This is Carolina’s make-or-break season, though, and I think they’ll pull it together for a complete game against a Hawks team in slight disarray.

A tough loss at home against a perennial playoff foe will finally wake the Hawks up. Panthers 31, Seahawks 21.

I’ll be very happy to be wrong, however.

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 on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

Bright Star reviewed by Greg Wright

When fellow Waterland Blog reviewer Jeff Walls reviewed Bright Star for its theatrical release in 2009, he was less than overwhelmed.  “Despite the excellent production values and the terrific performances of its leads,” he wrote, “Bright Star failed to draw me in and I left the theater feeling depressed and a little bored.”  For other reviewers, such as me, it anchored the lower rungs of year-end top-ten lists.  What will you likely think of this look at the poet John Keats and his ill-fated romance with young woman-of-privilege Fanny Brawne?

I suspect that will have a lot to do with what you expect out of a film, and how much appreciation (and patience) you have for the art of poetry.  It definitely clicked with me for two reasons, and both of those are the direct result of directorial choices.

First, Bright Star is Jane Campion’s in-depth “supposal” that we can inhabit, for two hours or more, the meaning of a single Keats poem—and do so in a biographical portrait.

These are the lines of the titular poem:

brightstarinsetBright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.

When Fanny attempts to “study” poetry at Keats’ feet, she tries to understand it by dissection—as if it were a matter of construction and a collection of choices, and a matter of digesting one great work of poetry after another in order to extract what’s nourishing and move on to the next.  But Keats tells her: “Poetry is like a lake, and when the poet jumps into it, his purpose is not to swim immediately to shore, but to luxuriate in the water.”  And this is what Campion’s film—and Campion herself, as a cinematic poet—does with the poem “Bright Star.”

Specifically, Campion takes time to explore the natural images that Keats’ poem evokes, deliberately denoting the passing of seasons (and years) while making no attempt to convey the impression that her characters have aged at all—instead, capturing the eternity-seeking urges of the second half of the poem in the agelessness of both adults and children.  And while some of the most pointed moments of the script occur out-of-doors—such as a scene in which the ill and jealous Keats accuses Fanny and his writing-partner Brown of being lovers—the heart of the film resides in loving shots of interiors: the wall that separates Fanny and Keats, and their tender touches through it; the billowing curtains and sweltering butterfly-heat of Fanny’s room; the claustrophobic comedy that frustrates Keats’ and Brown’s muse; and, of course, the tenderness that holds the lovers in thrall as they lie “in a sweet unrest” in one another’s arms.

Campion’s approach here is not one that views film as a mere momentary escape, a matter of piecing together one “what’s next?” sequence with, well, the next, all in an effort to arrive at some narrative payoff or action setpiece.  This is a film that poetically explores poesy, a poet, and poem—and is for that reason both extraordinary and potentially disappointing.

Second, Campion offsets some of that potential disappointment by granting the non-poetic audience some entrée into Keats’ metaphorical lake through the neophyte character of Fanny—and, in particular, the delicate needlework which is her specialty.  The film is even gorgeously opened by close-ups of Fanny’s fingers as she wreaks her magic with fabric and thread; and the intricacy, patience, and originality of her work serves as an effective outsider’s metaphor for what Keats does with words.  Yet there is no sense that Fanny’s talents are in any way inferior.  In fact, when Keats’ brother dies and Fanny produces a masterwork of needlepoint as a memento, it’s breathtaking for Keats as well as the audience.

Bright Star may not be every movie-goer’s cup of tea—if it even had that potential, it would have been directed by James Cameron and would feature lots of 3-D CGI and motion-capture technology—and that itself makes the film poetic.  It’s personal, it’s quiet, it’s pristine, and with its smooth waters which run deep, it invites the adventurous to dive in… and linger a while.

Bright Star is available to stream on Amazon.

Check it out tonight, and don’t forget to dine local first!

YouTube Preview Image

be-back-smAfter 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 on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

By Greg Wright

I feel like a broken record writing repeatedly about how the Seahawks themselves are not broken. About how the sky is not falling. About how we all ought to just calm down a little and not reach for the panic button.

So I won’t write another column about the Hawks’ offense and why it doesn’t have the gaudy numbers we seem to expect. After all, I just did that last week.

I also won’t explain why we don’t have an offensive line made up of blue-chip draft picks. I did that a year ago, and the only thing that’s changed is the cast of characters. Only one other NFL team spends less on O linemen than Seattle, and that’s Detroit… another team which allocates its cap dollars elsewhere.

I won’t bother telling you why Jimmy Graham in Seattle will never look like Jimmy Graham in New Orleans.

I won’t write another essay on why Marshawn Lynch is not over the hill.

I won’t even trot out more stats reminding fans how rare it is to watch a team that has the lead at some point in every game, and almost never trails by more than 10 points. No. Because I hope you’d remember some of these things.

Richard_Sherman_and_Pete_Carroll 2

Sherman and Carroll enjoy a Super Bowl victory. By Anthony Quintano (Flickr: Super Bowl XLVIII (48) New York New Jersey) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Instead I’m just going to remind us all how lucky we are to have Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson in town instead of other combinations we might have instead.

First, though, one new bit of information to throw into that mix.

You know by now as well as I do that Russell Wilson is nothing if not anally-retentive when it comes to goal-setting. He wants to be the best, and he goes about that in a highly-structured fashion. So when he observes that he has a problem in some facet of his game, he doesn’t just acknowledge it and then go about repeating the mistake over and over–a la, say, Jay Cutler, Colin Kaepernick, or RG3–he fixes it. Ruthlessly.

And what is Wilson working on this season? What is the goal he’s set for improving his performance?

Completion percentage.

Over the first three years of his career he averaged just over 63%. Over four games this season he’s averaging almost 72%.

If he wants to be regarded among the best in the game–if he wants to be mentioned in the same breath as Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner, or even Romo or Rivers, and he knows that mention will never come because of yardage or number of completions–he knows he needs to improve his completion percentage.

This means he’ll be looking for a higher-percentage throw. This means shorter passes. This means he’ll probably be taking more sacks and hits.

And that’s okay, because he’s built to take it. And because, frankly, it’s his choice.

So pay attention to your home-town QB and what he’s up to, and why. Remember, he’s a superstar now, and getting paid like one. He’s trying to earn that dough, not be some pansy paycheck-protector who bails out at the first sign of danger to his precious little self, or some passer with a fragile ego whose confidence is completely blown when he fumbles or throws an interception.

So, yeah… instead of watching Russell Wilson on a Pete Carroll-coached team, we could be watching the second coming of Jesus Peyton under Pagano in Baltimore… which means we’d be endlessly wondering why we haven’t won a championship yet… or why we’re actually watching Matt Hasselbeck again instead of Jesus With a Football.

We could be watching RG3 ride the bench under a variety of coaches.

We could be watching Kaepernick disintegrate under Tomsula.

We could be watching Tannehill throw practice-squad tantrums in dysfunctional and coachless Miami.

We could be watching Jay Cutler on a John Fox-coached team. Say no more.

We could even be watching Peyton Manning on a Fox-coached team… but, remember, we did that in Super Bowl XLVIII. And boy, weren’t we glad we were rooting for the Seahawks instead!

We could be scratching our heads over the decisions of Eli Manning under the aging Tom Coughlin.

We could be watching the sad end of a dynastic era in New Orleans.

We could be watching Rivers flail away under Pick-a-Coach.

We could be watching Matt Schaub crumble under Gary Kubiak. Oh… but we can’t, because Kubiak is in Denver now, and Schaub, well, isn’t playing anymore.

Yes, the options are virtually endless. And painful.

So let’s face it: we should be counting our lucky stars we have the Wilson and Carroll Show, whatever the outcome this week. Enjoy the heck out of it, and quit wringing your hands.

Or, move to Boston or Wisconsin and see how that goes for ya.

Yard Markers

  • Still wondering if I overemphasized Michael Bennett’s offsides penalties a couple weeks ago? If so, have you thought what a difference one of those would have made on the Lions’ last offensive play on Sunday? I’m very, very glad that Bennett has kept himself in check for eight quarters running. But I’m betting he’ll fall off the wagon this week in Cincinnatti.
  • I have to admit that I also thought that K. J. Wright’s tap of that ball out of bounds was incidental and not flagrant. So I see the ref’s point. I also see Lions’ fans’ point, too. It still should have been a penalty, technically, and the Lions should probably have been awarded the ball.
  • But heck! What a play by Chancellor! Good to see him back in the office, as it were, and proving his value rather than sitting at home and Tweeting or texting about it.

Back to the prognostications for this year. Here we go with Week 5.

Once again we have a matchup of the Bengals’ strength (passing offense) versus Seattle’s strength (secondary). But this time it’s on the road, and this time we also have a matchup of strength (Bengals D) against weakness (Hawks’ O). Will Dalton once again choke under pressure? Will Wilson defy the odds, as well as gravity? Will Special Teams make the difference? As underdogs, I’m thinking the Seahawks will find a way to win, but it won’t be pretty. It rarely is. Seahawks 22, Bengals 19.

be-back-smAfter 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 on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

By Greg Wright

Once again the Seattle offense has failed to impress in the early going. Is this any surprise?

Before Marshawn Lynch arrived on the scene, not much exciting ever took place under Pete Carroll. Even after Lynch got here, not much exciting happened until the original Beast Quake in postseason play.

During Lynch’s first full season with the Hawks, there were flashes of interesting things, but Tarvaris Jackson could rarely rally the offense in the second half of games, particularly the 4th quarter, to pull out wins. In 2011, that offense finished the season 28th in overall yardage, averaging just over 300 per game.

Russell Wilson’s first season started slowly, too, even though the Wilson-led version of the O finished 17th in total offense at an average of 350 yards in 2012. After four games, they were averaging just 280 yards of total offense per game.

2013, the Super Bowl season, began a good bit better: the offense averaged 350 yards after four games… though the average was bloated by a 45-17 trouncing of the hapless Jaguars at the Clink which featured a flashy 470 yards of offense. The Hawks finished the regular season ranked 18th in total offense averaging 340, so the output actually declined as the season progressed.

By Keith Allison (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Percy Harvin heads downfield against Washington in 2014. Photo By Keith Allison (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

In 2014, the average after four weeks was a gaudy 370 yards… but remember how awful the offense actually looked getting those yards? Remember the painful loss at home against the Cowboys in week five, with Harvin refusing to play in the 4th quarter? Remember Harvin getting traded the next week? Even after all that pain, do you recall that the offense finished the season ranked 9th in total offense last year, averaging 375 yards?

This year, after three games, the offense is averaging 346 yards per game, in the middle of the pack at 18th. It’s far from time to panic. With the least experienced line they’ve had under Pete Carroll, with Lynch easing into the season, and with the offense not quite sure of its footing yet in the Jimmy Graham era, it’s still on a pace similar to its Super Bowl season.

Face it: the Hawk identity is defense, not offense–and a great measure of the team’s offensive output depends on the defense doing its job. If the D can’t get the opposing offense off the field, our own offense has fewer opportunities. So far this year, the D is ranked 3rd overall, yielding just 286 per game… but that’s after averaging over 350 over the first two games! And still the offense has played well enough to give the team the lead in the 4th quarter of every game so far… leads the D has lost twice.

If there’s been an unexpected weakness so far this year, it’s not been the offense. It’s been the D.

Yard Markers

  • Yes, Richard Sherman’s fake-out punt return was fun to watch… but it still irks me that they had to learn that play the hard way from St. Louis, having lost a close game there less than a year ago because of it.
  • Michael Bennett apparently learned something for at least one week. No costly pre-snap penalties against the Bears. How long will he keep it up? Honestly, as ticked off as folks have gotten in recent years about Okung, Giacomini, et al, I really can’t believe more fans aren’t fed up with Bennett.
  • In case you hadn’t heard, rookie return specialist Tyler Lockett won the NFC Special Teams Player of the Month award. Oh, yeah.
  • A lot of folks are downplaying Thomas Rawls’ 100-yard rushing performance last week against the Bears because the Bears are so awful. Let’s not forget how many running backs have done so much worse against similar defenses in the NFL. At one point Rawls was averaging better than 8 yards per carry behind a weak offensive line. I think Rawls has got the right stuff. You just watch.
  • It’s a good thing Graham redeemed himself with his pass-catching skills last week. He completely whiffed on a couple key blocks, and looked truly awful doing it. He is still far from looking like a complete tight end in this offense. I look forward to having Willson back on the field this week.

Back to the prognostication for this year. Here we go with Week 4.

The Hawk offense is, of course, not yet in post-season form (whatever that might really mean). Thankfully, Detroit’s D has struggled to find an identity post-Suh. It’s really down to a match of the Lions’ strength (passing offense) versus Seattle’s strength (secondary). It is Monday night at the Clink. If past history holds, the Hawks will have the edge in a close contest, 20 to 17, that won’t have been as close as the final score will indicate.

by Greg Wright

Wallingford’s loss is Des Moines’ gain.

After nine years operating the highly popular Smash Wine Bar, proprietor Dana Hannon has moved her shingle to the prior location of Blue Vanilla and Blue Whale Bistro on the alley level behind Scotch & Vine, opening Dana K’s Kafe just last week.

Dana K’s is open 11 AM to 8 PM seven days a week–a highly attractive schedule for those, like me, who don’t keep very good track of the time of day or day of the week. I can’t remember the number of times I have stopped by various local casual eateries only to find them closed.

I caught the announcement of Dana K’s opening on Facebook, and promptly stopped by to grab a take-out dinner. (Okay… so it wasn’t lunch, my usual outing. But it was a very early dinner, so it almost counts!)

I found owner and operator Dana K (the K is for her middle name, Kristeen) behind the counter, and in a talkative mood. (She tells me that’s normal!)

An Auburn resident, Dana decided on the Des Moines location for her new venture (rather than Ballard, as originally announced) in part because it’s only a ten-minute commute for her and her co-operator husband. It also helped that the former Blue Etc. location comes fully equipped with commercial fixtures for the full-menu operation.

Dana K’s menu is stocked with sandwiches, a couple pasta entrees, soups, espresso drinks, and a wide array of fun desserts. As I was in dash-and-dine mode, I opted for Dana’s signature White Cheddar and Truffle Macaroni ($7.00). The pasta of choice is a fun Cavatappi-style spiral, and the sauce is to die for. Yes, I know you can get wild Mac and Cheese just about everywhere these days, but Dana’s is every bit as good as any you’ll find.

I also took away some fun desserts including candy-topped peanut butter cookies and a chocolate ganache treat the name of which I fail to recall but the taste of which I will remember for a long, long time.

The main takeaway is… stop by Dana K’s and welcome the Hannons to Des Moines. You’ll get great food and great conversation… and the time will soon come when Dana will be so busy the latter will be hard to get! Chat her up while you still can!

Dana K’s street address is 22341 Marine View Drive… but remember, the entrance is on the back side of the building!

Everest (1998) reviewed by Greg Wright

Given the hundreds of films I’ve reviewed, I am absolutely flummoxed that I have never before covered 1998’s IMAX film Everest.

To start with, I’m a mountaineering literature junkie. Further, the film stars Ed Viesturs, who is to mountaineering what Aaron Rodgers is to football. And to top it off, it’s pure documentary footage of the most absorbing high-altitude tragedy in the history of mountaineering.

In 1996, Viesturs and climber/filmmaker David Breashears headlined a small international team whose goal was to shoot the first IMAX footage of a climb to the highest point on Earth. The planned summit team also included Spanish rock-climber Araceli Segarra, Austria’s Robert Schauer, and Nepal’s Jamling Tenzing Norgay–son of Tenzing Norgay, who was on the rope with Edmund Hillary when they were first to Everest’s summit in 1953. Viesturs’ new wife Paula was also on hand as the team’s base camp manager.everest-1998-inset

The expedition was well organized, and participating members were chosen not only for their climbing ability but for their human-interest value. To a certain extent, the documentary was pre-scripted after a fashion, as shooting with an IMAX camera on Everest is not something easily accomplished. As Everest veterans, Breasears and Viesturs had a good idea ahead of time what they would need for shots, where they could get them, and what kind of “story” would lend itself to being told with those shots.

So there was drama enough with the usual threat of avalanches in the Khumbu Icefall, Norgay following in his father’s footsteps, Segarra’s attempt to be the first Spanish woman to the top of Everest, and the domestic intrigue of the Viesturs’ honeymoon.

What couldn’t have been planned, and what no one expected, was that the IMAX team would be on the mountain during the catastrophic events that claimed the lives of eight climbers from three other expeditions on their summit day.

The event spawned numerous books (including Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air) and a TV movie, and has of late been the inspiration for the brand new IMAX drama also titled Everest.

Breashears’ IMAX team was a couple camps lower awaiting their own turn at the summit in 1996, and when the disaster struck, Viesturs, Breashears, Segarra, and Norgay abandoned their own climb in order to help evacuate badly-injured climber Beck Weathers, who had been left for dead during the storm near Camp V on Everest’s South Col.

After the remainder of the three decimated expeditions cleared the mountain, the IMAX team regrouped to once more head to the summit.

Everest is remarkable for not only managing to capture a landmark summit attempt on IMAX, but for what it also happened to capture of a unique human drama. Several of the climbers who died that year were good friends of Viesturs and Breashears.

Whenever I happen to catch a snippet of this film while channel-flipping on TV or browsing the web, I just can’t take my eyes off it. It is simply documentary-filmmaking gold.

So much of the craft is being in the right place at the right time; but you also have to put yourself in position to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. Everest is a lifetime achievement for a filmmaker like Breashears.

If you’ve never seen it before, I highly recommend taking 44 minutes out of your life to witness a one-of-a-kind “reality” experience.

Everest is available to stream on Amazon.

Check it out tonight, and don’t forget to dine local first!

be-back-smAfter 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 on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

By Greg Wright

Kudos to Al Michaels for calling out Michael Bennett’s egregious and highly costly offsides penalties during the Packers broadcast Sunday night–even pointing out that it was Bennett’s well-known susceptibility to the hard count which cost the Hawks an outcome-altering shot at a safety at the end of Super Bowl XLIX. Michaels and Collinsworth were, of course, also the broadcast team for that game–so Michaels well remembers Mr. Bennett’s literal faux pas.

Why is it that Michaels and I seem to be the only analysts coming down hard on Bennett for his obvious proclivity for jumping offsides? Is Bennett really so valuable that he doesn’t deserve time on the bench after costing the team 10 points–the entire margin of victory–in a critical road game? Heck, I’m to the point where I’d really love to see the Seahawks trade Bennett and give Cassius Marsh and Frank Clark more playing time. And I really don’t care that Bennett acknowledged “f-ing up.”

Bennett jumped offsides three times in the first half on Sunday. Never mind that Green Bay shouldn’t have had downfield shots on two of those penalties, since the offensive linemen opposite Bennett also moved prior to the snap. When the highly-paid Bennett has an obvious problem and seems powerless to improve, it’s time for the coaching staff to intervene.

I think Richard Sherman would agree.


Exhibit A: Aaron Rodgers to James Jones, courtesy of Michael Bennett. Sherman trails Jones by half a step while Thomas–the, yes, safety–arrives late on the scene.

Sherman was, you see, the victim of Bennett’s misplays. On the initial drive of the game when Bennett jumped offsides, Sherman gave up the touchtown to Jones; on the final drive of the half when Bennett jumped offsides, Sherman was penalized for a 52-yard pass interference call.

Aside from Bennett’s willful bone-headedness, the plays do illustrate once again how very much like v. 2012 the defense has looked the last two weeks.

And the plays illustrate what many Sherman detractors have claimed: it’s not that Sherman is the best cornerback in the game, it’s that he plays within a really strong defensive scheme.

When the scheme breaks down–a la “free play” bombs downfield, for instance–it’s a lot easier to beat Sherman. If the defense plays its scheme well, Rodgers doesn’t even take those shots.

Exhibit B: 52-yard pass interference, courtesy of Michael Bennett. Sherman, in his rush to recover blown coverage, loses track of the ball in the air and makes contact with the receiver too soon. And once again, Thomas--yes, the safety--also arrives too late on the scene.

Exhibit B: 52-yard pass interference, courtesy of Michael Bennett. Sherman, in his rush to recover blown coverage, loses track of the ball in the air and makes contact with the receiver too soon. And once again, Thomas–yes, the safety–also arrives too late on the scene.

Further, if Kam Chancellor is on the field–which is to say, if the linchpin of the defensive scheme is actually present–Sherman also probably doesn’t get burned on either of those plays because he’s likely not a half-step out of position on each. Maybe Earl Thomas shows up a step earlier on each to help out as well.

As I wrote in this column eleven months ago, football is a game of inches.

When teammates know that they can depend on each other, they can react more instinctively. That gets you into position a tenth of a second sooner, a half-step ahead of the other guy, an inch higher in the air or closer to the opposing QB when it counts.

And psychologically, the Seahawks are just a little off. You can feel it, as well as see it. Off the field, they’re making silly commercials and dealing with privacy issues. On the field, they’re having to deal with being defending champions. Many of them are now highly-paid stars having to earn their fat paychecks instead of hungry young up-and-comers out to prove something. They are playing alongside unfamiliar teammates. The Legion of Boom has become a weekly rotation of The Legion of Whom?

So far, the sky is once again not falling. The scheme is sound… it’s just that the players aren’t playing it particularly well right now. The same was true early last season, and the Hawks still made it back to the Big Show.

Nonetheless, Wagner, Wright, and Irvin do need to tackle better.

Chancellor needs to actually get on the field.

And Bennett needs to stay on his flippin’ side of the line of scrimmage prior to the snap.


Yard Markers

  • Really, no one should be surprised that Jimmy Graham isn’t catching a bunch of passes yet. This is a non-story. I can imagine, though, that Graham is a little embarrassed to be paid $500,000 a game to do so little.
  • Yes, it’s good to have Chancellor back. The greatest risk at this point is injury. It’s one thing to work out; it’s another to practice with a team, and have game-clock minutes. I’d put the odds of Chancellor having a serious muscle pull or ligament strain in the next couple weeks at better than 50%.
  • Bruce Irvin’s increased bulk this season doesn’t seem to be helping him particularly. Look for Pierre-Louis to get more snaps at OLB.
  • Anyone besides me looking forward to Lockett getting in a bunch of punt returns this week?

Back to the prognostication for this year. Here we go with Week 3.

Does this really warrant much comment? The Bears are in shambles, on the road, at the Clink. Seattle 31, Chicago 6.

The Help reviewed by Greg Wright

I know some reviewers who proudly declare that they never watch films a second time.  And I can understand why that can happen.  After all, if you’re reviewing films regularly, the theatrical release market alone can keep you busy with an average of four or five screenings a week—peaking during the holiday season with as many as a dozen in the span of a few days.  I know that back in the 1990s, John Hartl of the Seattle Times (who was also contributing to Premiere, as I recall) was averaging nearly ten films screened a week.  And that kind of load doesn’t include film festivals, screenings for pleasure… or the home video market—which is now roughly triple the size of the theatrical release market.  A reviewer can keep so busy that there simply isn’t enough time (or desire) to watch a film twice.

But there’s the actual rub.  Except for the rare, extremely astute, and attentive reviewer, one screening is simply not sufficient to form an authoritative (or even fully-informed) opinion of a film—much less offer incisive commentary on how, exactly, a filmmaker achieved a certain effect or assembled a scene or sequence.  A reviewer might have a visceral reaction to the “Odessa Steps” sequence in Brian DePalma’s The Untouchables, for instance.  But the technical direction there is so dense that an opening-day reviewer couldn’t offer much of an analysis beyond a quick reference to Eisenstein and The Battleship Potemkin.  So most reviewers (and this is the somewhat arbitrary line between reviewers and actual “critics”) owe it to themselves to see culturally significant films more than once.

the-help-insetBut the problem goes deeper than that: reviewers and audience members alike go into every screening with a certain set of expectations that color the cinematic experience.

For regular reviewers, I’d warrant that the two primary expectations are either a Norbit-inspired dread or an overweening pants-peeing fanboy admiration for Scorsese, Tarantino, the Coens, von Trier, or whoever the auteur du jour happens to be.  (On the flip side of that coin, I must confess to a horribly unjustified bias against the films of Steven Spielberg and Julia Roberts.) Such expectations are further complicated by how much sleep one got the night before, which loudmouthed journalist happens to be within earshot, which other film one just got done screening or reviewing, how much of the film’s publicity materials one has read, or how much fan hype has crept through one’s defenses.  Then one has to actually pay attention to the film in detail while trying to take some kind of useful and legible notes.  And when this job has to be conducted in the context of promotional screenings (such as the abysmally-facilitated showing of Spielberg’s War Horse which I once attended and which left me, and scores of average joes, in a foul mood before the film even started), the level of distraction rises exponentially.

Audience members face their own unique distractions: semi-informed nonsense, puff, and sharply accurate recommendations (or insults) the aforementioned reviewers have written, plans for after-screening dinner (or romance, or both), squirmy children, neighbors texting during the film, nacho cheese dripping on their shirts… you get the drift.

So much for actually paying attention to an incredibly complex art form.

Every once in a while, then, in light of all such difficulties, I find it worthwhile to deliberately revisit films that I was lukewarm about—to find out how much my own personal biases and professional hazards interfere with my ability to really watch a film.  I rarely sit down, in fact, for the sole purpose of enjoying a film the first time I see it.  I simply have a hard time dropping the lens of a reviewer and former aspiring filmmaker.

The Help, which was enormously successful in its theatrical release, is a perfect such case for me: I enjoyed it well enough in the theater (particularly because I didn’t have to review it), but it didn’t captivate me.

The film tells the fictional story of an aspiring white journalist who enlists the help of black maids in Civil-Rights era Jackson, Mississippi to compile an anthology of first-person accounts titled The Help, which gets successfully published by a New York firm.

Right there in that extremely abbreviated synopsis are two red flags which throw up critical roadblocks for me.  First, this is a fiction about true stories—a gimmick which is designed to help us lower our guard and more easily enter the “secondary reality” of a story.  (The effect is alternately referred to as “the willing suspension of disbelief.”)  The second red flag is also built-in: a story about the black experience compiled by a white protagonist.  And Skeeter is so doggone cute and feisty, too—sort of the white correlate to Minny’s finger-waggling renegade housekeeper.

So as I watched The Help the first time, I was paying attention to the ways in which those two conventions and artifices were being employed to manipulate my emotions.

How much of Aibileen’s and Minny’s “reality” was being informed by my experience and memory of cinematic conventions about black women?  The script even mentions the legacy of Gone With the Wind; “the help” figures in favorite films like It’s a Wonderful Life; Cicely Tyson of Sounder fame is cast as Skeeter’s nanny Constantine; and in this genre, you can’t help but invoke the hokum of Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of The Color Purple.

Skeeter’s cuteness and spunk aside, how realistic is it for a white woman to have associated with and helped black women in 1963 Jackson—and lived to tell about it?  How is it that Aibileen has never had white visitors in her home, but Constantine has Skeeter’s growth chart in hers? Minny’s pie for Hilly is also a tremendously entertaining storyline; but how does that jive with what we know about lynchings, assassinations, and general race-baiting?  Does all this illuminate the problems of racism, or soft-peddle them?

You can see what kind of a pain in the backside I can be when it comes to watching movies.

But I hope you can also see, perhaps, how uncritical your own thinking may be about what you read in reviews—and about your own response to films.  The only stark difference between you and me, I suspect, is a wide gap in our levels of consciousness when it comes to these influences.  I think about them too much… and you likely think about them too little.

So what did I find when I revisited The Help?

What I really noticed was the high-class craft exhibited by virtual first-time director Tate Taylor.  Yes, all the requisite script beats are there—and while not every script writer masters them, most big-budget films follow the formula pretty straightforwardly.  But Taylor adds some very subtle touches that can’t exactly be scripted.

Like most contemporary filmmakers schooled in the Steven Spielberg Formula for Succcess, Tate knows that “show them, don’t tell them” can be distilled down into efficient single shots that convey as much as a page or two of dialogue.  So, for instance, when we are first introduced to Aibileen at the Leefolt’s place, Tate sneaks in a shot of the “L-shaped scratch on the dining room table.”  But it’s not just a plot point for later reference; it’s also, as Aibileen slides a serving dish over the scar, symbolic of the hurts that are covered up and glossed over in the Leefolt household… and in Jackson, and the South, and America.  But unlike Spielberg, Tate doesn’t telegraph the shot with a dolly zoom, as Spielberg the Master might.  Tate is content to let such things work on the subconscious, and be found out with more attentive later viewings.

Another example is Aibileen’s dash home after she’s kicked off the bus in the wake of the Evers shooting. With no fanfare, Tate has the award-winning Viola Davis literally cross to the “wrong side of the tracks” during her fearful flight. It’s a simple thing, but meaningful: if Aibilieen must run home, where should we see her running? Tate has plenty of choices, and the ones he makes are usually excellent ones.

Similarly, I’ve often thought about Tate’s shot of Aibileen that closes the film.  It’s wonderful how Aibileen’s tears change from heartbroken to hopeful as she leaves the Leefolt’s house for the last time; but I hadn’t been able to shake the feeling that some sleight of hand was at work in a single shot that takes us from a closeup of Aibileen’s tears and concludes with a near “God shot” as she continues through the Leefolt’s white suburb.

This time, I was able to see what Tate did—and it’s really quite remarkable.  As Aibileen’s narration modulates into her post-retirement plans and dreams, and as Tate’s camera pulls back from its subject, Aibileen does not walk past the camera, turning her back to it; no—she turns to her left at a crossroads.  Tate doesn’t have to swing the camera around as Aibileen passes it: he simply has to pull back… as Aibileen symbolically turns a corner and redeems that opening L-shaped scratch in the table.  Nice.  Very nice, indeed. And again, without showy flourishes.  Just well-thought-out images and compositions rife with meaning and import.

So I enjoyed The Help much more the second time around, and was once again pleased to find that I’m still able to watch movies as movies when given half a chance… and find deeper and richer enjoyment in the process.

If you’ve never gotten around to seeing The Help, or have even wondered whether you want to see it again, wait no further.  Viola Davis just won some more awards, so the timing is right. Just remember, to paraphrase Ingmar Bergman: when you sit down to watch a film, you’ve signed an implicit contract to turn your will and intellect over into the hands of a master craftsman.  Keep your eyes peeled and your wits about you!

The Help is available to stream at Amazon Instant Video.

Check it out tonight, and don’t forget to dine local first!

YouTube Preview Image

be-back-smAfter 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 on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

By Greg Wright

Once again, one yard shy to end a game.

Getting tiresome, isn’t it?

Marshawn Lynch’s mom thinks so. She called for Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell’s firing this week. I even saw some chatter on Facebook calling for brand-spanking-new Defensive Coordinator Kris Richard’s head on a platter.


Head Coach Pete Carroll

Head Coach Pete Carroll

Make no mistake — Pete Carroll was absolutely right in declaring that there was “no way” the Hawks should have lost that game on Sunday. When you score on defense AND special teams, when you have a two-turnover advantage, and when your offense scores 17 points on the road against a very, very stingy Rams defense, you ought to come out with a win.

That is, if you also don’t give up a punt-return TD, if your defense doesn’t yield 8 plays of 20 yards or more, if you don’t shank a crucial OT kickoff, and if your make-shift over-achieving nobody offensive linemen don’t get man-handled on fourth and one by a bunch of blue-chip first-round draft picks.

On Sunday, the Seahawks did not at all resemble the 2013 Super Bowl-winning edition, nor did they even muster the bravado of the 2014 Super Bowl-losing edition.

But they resemble the 2012 edition of the Seahawks a great deal.

Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell

Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell

Remember the Hawks going into Arizona to open that season and losing in the final seconds after a first and goal at the St. Louis 6, with Lynch getting a 2-yard carry on first down followed by three straight incomplete passes?

Remember the Hawks losing in St. Louis that year in week 4, the difference being yet again a special-teams breakdown?

Remember the Hawks’ defense giving up 54 yards in 3 plays on the road in Chicago that season, allowing the Bears to tie the game with a field goal and send it into overtime?

Defensive Coordinator Kris Richard

Defensive Coordinator Kris Richard

Remember the almost carbon-copy defensive lapse in the final seconds of the playoff loss on the road to Atlanta, yielding 41 yards on 3 plays in 23 seconds?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

But I bet you remember the thrilling victories against Green Bay and New England at Home, and dynamite wins against Chicago and Washington on the road, the latter for the first road playoff victory in a couple decades.

I bet you remember thinking that was about the best season of Seahawks football you may have ever seen.

And I bet you may have forgotten how perfectly happy you were with that two years ago. You may have forgotten what an improvement that was over the T-Jack Hawks of 2011, or the Sad Sack final edition of Hasselbeck Ball in 2010.

Now? Well, the sky is apparently falling after one road loss to open the season, and an unlikely victory in Green Bay on the horizon. Some media pundits are already blaming Kam Chancellor for the Hawks losing the Super Bowl this year.


How spoiled we quickly become. How unreasonable our expectations get.

It’s a long season ahead of us, and because it’s Pete Carroll ball, we’re in for a lot more close games this tour of doodie. We’ll probably win our share of them, but we’ll probably lose a few, too, and in frustrating fashion.

Why don’t we try being real fans, and try cheering the team on to turn the majority of the remaining close ones into victories?

Why don’t we trust the players and coaches do their jobs to the best of their abilities, while the twelves do the best they can with their own business?

It’s truly troubling that the Seahawks are playing so similar to the way they did in 2012. But gosh — it felt so good then. It can feel good now, too… if we want it to.

Here’s Brock Huard’s analysis of the game-ending play last week. I have to say I couldn’t agree with him more: the play call was not the problem.

YouTube Preview Image

Back to the prognostication for this year. Here we go with Week 2.

Thought last week stunk? Well, the Rams’ D is better than Green Bay’s, so look for the Hawks’ O to score more than in St. Loo. On the downside, the Packers will likely put up more points against the Legion than did the Rams… but look for Special Teams to make a difference. Another close game, with the Hawks’ sadly coming up just short again. Green Bay 27, Seattle 23.

I was wrong last week, and I’ll be happy to be wrong again.

be-back-smAfter 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 on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

By Greg Wright

One can only be so clairvoyant.

While I did correctly anticipate the Seahawks’ release of Robert Turbin (who is now on the Cleveland Browns’ roster… kind of a worst-case scenario for poor Turbo) I did not at all see the other running-back roster moves coming.

Discovering that Fred Jackson was added following his release by the Buffalo Bills was a most pleasant surprise — and the move made even more sense given that the salary cap hit for Jackson’s contract will be almost a wash, even though Jackson’s base salary will be $200K more than Turbin’s would have been.

Fred Jackson

Fred Jackson

As I noted in my last column, the key issue is that Turbin is in the final year of his rookie contract, and would have been due for a hefty pay increase if the Hawks had wanted to keep him around. And as we can see with the stalemate in Kam Chancellor’s holdout, cap dollars are in short supply for the Hawks right now. Every roster move being considered has dollars attached; it’s not just about talent.

Which brings us to the surprise that probably wouldn’t have taken place had Jackson not come on the market when he did.

Christine Michael

Christine Michael

The trade of Christine Michael to the Cowboys for a conditional seventh-round pick brings an end to the “who’s the heir-apparent to Marshawn Lynch” era. The Seahawks drafted Turbin in the fourth round the year after acquiring Lynch in a mid-season trade with the Bills, and then drafted Michael the following year with their first pick, a second-rounder.

The pick was seen as a reach at the time, as Michael was projected to go in the lower rounds due to two seasons ended by leg injuries at Texas A&M as well as off-field personality concerns.

With the trade of Michael coming before the expiration of his rookie deal — and for a low-round draft pick at that — the pick is now being universally labelled a “bust.”

Is that a fair assessment?

Armchair general managing is almost as popular a press and fan pasttime as other Monday-morning NFL-related second-guessing games. In particular, first-round picks are highly critiqued, a habit formed in the days when first-round contracts were open-ended and a first- or second-year player was often getting paid what many ten-year veterans could only hope to earn over the course of their whole career.

Under the current collective-bargaining agreement between the league and players, however, salaries for draft picks are highly structured and very limited. So “missing” on a first-round pick just costs you talent, not talent and a wad of cash. It’s simply true that the stakes are lower these days for general managers…

…particularly when your general manager gets as much mileage as he does out of rounds three through seven.

Which brings us to John Schneider and that Michael pick.

It’s true that Michael was the Hawks’ first pick that year.

But we should remember that he was still a second-round pick… and the last player picked in the second round. You might as well call him the first player taken in the third round.

Robert Turbin

Robert Turbin

So the level of expectation for Michael could be roughly equivalent to what the Hawks expected out of Robert Turbin.

And if nobody’s calling the ouright cutting of Turbin a “bust,” why is the trade of virtual-third-rounder Michael for a future draft pick so labelled?

What were we expecting for the equivalent of a third-rounder? A running-back version of third-rounder Russell Wilson?

Isn’t it more likely he’d be the running back equivalent of fellow third-rounders John Moffitt or Jordan Hill — role players, but not bona-fide starters?

Did we really expect Michael to supplant Marshawn Lynch, a blue-chip high school recruit and consensus first-round selection out of California?

Do we forget that when the Bills traded that very same blue-chip back to the Seahwawks, it was not for a first-round pick but a fourth-round pick and a conditional fifth or sixth-rounder the following year?

Was that because the Bills evaluated Lynch incorrectly? Was Marshawn a draft pick bust?

Or was it because Lynch just didn’t fit with what the Bills were trying to do?

I get that both Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell tinge their talk of the Michael trade with disappointment. They were hoping that Michael would end up doing more for the Hawks than he did. You always hope that. Especially when the guy picked right before Michael was the Packers’ Eddie Lacy.

But neither Carroll nor Bevell, nor John Schneider, has said that Michael doesn’t have the talent they thought he did. After all, he does boast a 4.9 yard-per-carry average for the limited action he’s seen in two seasons. I expect he’ll do just fine in the Cowboys’ system, where discipline doesn’t seem to count for as much. He’ll continue to make unpredictable decisions at the line of scrimmage, carry the ball in his right hand regardless of the direction he’s running or how he’s coached, and put the ball on the ground every twenty touches or so. Dallas thrives on mercurially frustrating players, so expect to see Michael crack the starting lineup and stay there.

Also expect Turbin to be an eventual starter for Cleveland.

Just don’t expect either Turbin or Michael to turn into Lynch. If they could, they’d still be in Seattle.

And you might also expect Thomas Rawls to turn out just as good as either Michael or Turbin. After all, Schneider picked him up as an undrafted free agent. And you know what Schneider can do with UFAs.

Lest anyone start labelling any Schneider/Carroll pick as an out-and-out bust, let’s all just calm down a bit and remember what kind of roster the Seahawks have built, and how.

They don’t build the future of the franchise on first-rounders, because that route spells financial disaster. Instead, they parlay late-round picks and free agents into pure draft gold.

Michael was not a bust. Everyone’s just disappointed that he wasn’t as thrilling a find as fifth-rounders Kam Chancellor or Richard Sherman.

Well, that’s just too stinking bad, isn’t it?

A few weeks ago, I broke down the interception that sealed the loss in the Super Bowl this year. Now, you must know I am no fan of the Patriots, but I am a fan of good football… and the following NFL Films presentation on what happened on that play backs up what I wrote. “The separation is in the preparation” intones Russell Wilson, and the fact is: the Patriots prepared just a little bit better than the Seahawks, and the separation was just enough to turn a score into in an interception. A game of inches? More like a game of fractions of inches.

YouTube Preview Image

So I thought I’d try a little prognostication this year. Here we go with Week 1.

Games with the Rams are always ugly, low-scoring affairs… and the Hawks’ offense tends to struggle in the early going of the season. The difference this year will be improved play from the defensive front seven, and a decisive advantage in special teams… a real weakness in recent years against the Rams. Final score? Something like Seattle 13, St. Louis 9.

Hawks-150After 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 on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

By Greg Wright

It’s nice to see Marshawn Lynch in camp, and it’s even nicer to know he’s healthy.

It’s nicest to know he’s happy about his contract right now… unlike a certain Chancellor.

As has been the case for the last three seasons, though, one of the biggest questions on the offensive side of the ball is… who’s the number two running back?

10929570_896221513756256_2537007578910846103_nThe Seahawks drafted Robert Turbin in the 4th round of the 2012 draft out of Utah State, and he quickly established himself as Lynch’s backup. He’s ended up playing that role for the three seasons he’s been with Seattle, averaging exactly 4.0 yards per carry on 231 touches for a total of 928 yards.

Turbin’s more-or-less solid performance, however, did not stop the Seahawks from spending a second round draft pick on Christine Michael in the 2013 draft. He has, nonetheless, not dislodged Turbin from the number-two spot on the depth chart, despite averaging 4.9 yards on 52 carries over the last two seasons.

The third name in the mix this year is undrafted rookie Thomas Rawls out of Central Michigan. Observers at training camp have reported that Rawls has made a big impression on coaches.

Who will win the backup competition? It’s hard to say, of course, though Seattle will undoubtedly keep three running backs on the roster.

But let’s take a closer look at Robert Turbin, shall we? There are some things about his performance and contract situation that have been pretty overlooked… and which might factor into the “competition” that Pete Carroll and company always encourage.

First, Turbin’s raw numbers suggest that he’s not the caliber of back that Lynch is… and that’s always what you’re looking for: a backup that can not only step in if the main guy is hurt, but actually equal or outperform the guy he’s replacing. Turbin’s 4.0 ypc is not a bad average for an NFL back, but it’s not stellar, either. Lynch has averaged 4.3 yards for his career, and you’d probably want at least a 4.2 ypc guy to replace him.

Is it fair to say, conclusively, that Turbin is not that back?

Not really. Turbin’s career numbers are tainted by lots of short-yardage ball-protection carries in the late going of games in which the Hawks were just running out the clock. Worse yet, Turbin has had the misfortune of having all of his longest career carries nullified by dumb formation and holding penalties that had no effect on sprints of 20, 30, and 40 yards. In 2013 alone, Turbin lost 100 yards on three such “no play” touches. So on film, Turbin has looked much better than his raw stats.

In two games last season, Turbin did get enough touches to get a sense of what he might look like as a full-time back. Against the Rams at the end of the season, he carried 11 times for a 4.8-yard average against a tough run defense. Earlier in the year at the Raiders, he carried 5 times for a 7.0-yard average. So when he does come off the bench as part of the offensive game plan, he does perform.

Better, he excels as a receiver out of the backfield, averaging 9.9 yards per reception to Lynch’s 7.9-yard average. That’s a pretty big difference.

One knock on Turbin, however, is his ball handling. While he’s only fumbled once in his 275 career carries and receptions, he’s put the ball on the ground several times as a kick returner–a bad enough performance to completely end the 2013 season experiment with Turbin as a Special Teams specialist.

Complicating matters is the fact that Turbin is in the final year of his cheap rookie deal. Scheduled to make just over $600K this season, he hasn’t had the Hawks come knocking on his door to sign him to a lucrative extension like Bobby Wagner’s or Russell Wilson’s. Do the Hawks continue to invest in a player that will likely become a free agent at the end of the season and get better pay with a team that really needs a starter-caliber back?

Will the Hawks be ready to move on from Lynch at the end of this season, and make Turbin the Back of the Future?

Turbin has changed numbers from 22 to 32 this year, so maybe he feels an upgrade in the offing.

Or… will Christine Michael be the new Robert Turbin?

As much as I like Turbo, I have to guess that he won’t make the cut this year. Michael has just looked too good not to keep developing, and Rawls will most likely be the number three back.

Either Michael or Turbin will be odd man out… and the New Seahawks Reality of contract complications has destroyed the level playing field of competition. “Affordable” is the new “effective.”

Enjoy watching the backups battle it out during pre-season… but don’t expect Turbin to be around come opening day.

Do expect him to develop a good career elsewhere.

Hawks-150After 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 on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

By Greg Wright

Not a few NFL analysts insist that Russell Wilson in no way deserves his newly-minted $87 million contract, which makes him the third-highest paid QB behind Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger. (Some contract analysts peg Wilson’s deal just ahead of Roethisberger’s.) The storyline with these analysts is that Wilson’s stats don’t measure up with other elite QBs, and that his win tally is the product of Pete Carroll’s defense-first approach and a strong running game.

I even read one clown who asserted that Wilson’s success is due, in part, to playing behind a “great offensive line.”

You may notice that’s a claim that’s not even worth a response.


Russell Wilson vs. New York Jets, November 11, 2012. Photo Larry Maurer, Wikimedia Commons

Sharper analysts have consistently pointed out that Wilson has pushed himself into the elite not just by winning games (which he has done more in his first three years than any QB in league history) but by how he has won a good many of those games: he also has more 4th-quarter game-winning drives in his first three years (15) than any QB in league history.

The top five career leaders in game-winning drives are, in order, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, Tom Brady, John Elway, and Brett Favre. Between them, they have had 240 4th-quarter game-winning drives over the course of 84 combined seasons for a per-season average of 2.85. If Wilson were to keep up his current average of 5.00 per season and play for 15 years, his tally of 75 4th-quarter game-winning drives would demolish Manning’s current career mark of 52 over 16 seasons.

That’s one measure of Wilson’s worth. Without the will to win, the tools to win are meaningless.

Also consider that Wilson has on his record 4 of the 25 biggest come-from-behind wins in team history. One of those was the “U Mad Bro?” win over the Patriots at the Clink in 2012; I imagine you remember Wilson’s 46-yard bomb to Sidney Rice for the win. The list-topper in this category, of course, is the 21-point deficit overcome against the Jaguars at home in 2013.

But two of those four games were in the playoffs… no mean accomplishment. I’ve written extensively (and recently) about January’s win over Green Bay; but who can forget the barn-burner against Washington in Wilson’s playoff debut? Down 14-zip after the first quarter, Wilson led the Seahawks to a run of 24 unanswered points with a nearly flawless performance.

But he was even more impressive, if we can remember, in the loss to Atlanta the next week.

Do you recall that the Seahawks trailed the Falcons by 20 points at the beginning of the 4th quarter, and that they ran off 21 unanswered points to lead 28-27 with just 31 seconds remaining? Going completely off-script, Wilson threw for 169 yards on those three scoring drives, and the Seahawks would have won the game if not for a mindless defensive lapse that allowed the Falcons a game-winning field goal. Consider that the comeback against the Falcons would have ranked second all-time in Seahawk history if it had held, and would have been the biggest comeback in NFL playoff history.

Consider also that Russell Wilson’s only two playoff losses have been the Falcons game and the Super Bowl against the Patriots. Yes, he has been two heart-breaking plays away from being completely undefeated in the playoffs. Both games ended with interceptions at the goal line in the closing seconds.

What Wilson brings to the game is a tremendous desire to win, and the talent to back up that desire.

I well remember sitting in a sports bar on December 2, 2012 and turning to my wife to say, “People will look back to this game with Chicago and say, ‘This is the day that Russell Wilson became a pro.'” All Wilson did that day on the road against Chicago was engineer a 97-yard drive to give the Seahawks a 3-point lead with 24 seconds to play… and then, when the defense managed to give up the tying field goal, lead another 80-yard scoring drive in OT.

The fact is, Russell Wilson sticks to a winning script like a winner, not letting his ego get in the way (a la, say, Colin Kaepernick or Jay Cutler or Cam Newton)… and then, when he’s forced off the script by an opponent who defeats the game plan, he plays even better.

And the fact is, the analysts calling Wilson overpaid have missed one major thing: they’ve apparently not watched Wilson actually play.


Hawks-150After 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 on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

By Greg Wright

Time to get offensive.

Remember the Seahawks’ previous attempt at augmenting their offense with a high-profile trade? The experiment with Percy Harvin melted down over the first five games last season, culminating with the star refusing to go back into the game during the fourth quarter of the embarrassing home loss against the Cowboys. Russell Wilson finished that game with a woeful 126 yards in completions; the offense only mustered 9 first downs; and the Cowboys controlled the game clock with over 37 out of 60 minutes.

And really, that Cowboys game was not just an anomaly at that point in the season. After that game, and after Harvin was traded to the Jets the ensuing Friday, I inaugurated this column with the following:

It was fine and dandy that Percy Harvin was catching 85% of the passes thrown his way. It’s not fine and dandy that he was averaging just 6 yards on those catches–the lowest YPC average on the team, and, yes, 144th in the league!

Clearly, the offense needs a lot of work. A lot. “We really played like crap,” Baldwin offered in a follow-up interview on Wednesday.

This is what things look like when your team graduates from underdog status to figuring out how to win with a roster stacked with highly-paid superstars. “All our guys are very talented. We want to have all of them involved,” admits Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell. “It’s a tough orchestration of the whole thing.”

“Tough” is an understatement. This is what the scoring drive chart looked like for that game.


One scoring drive of any significance for the Seahawks. Yes, pretty offensive.

Those of us with memories like elephants (either those in the living room or locker room, as you prefer) probably have our thoughts of the Hawk offense colored by games like the fiasco against the Cowboys. It’s why, even when things look so bleak against the Packers through three quarters in the NFC Championship, we’re neither surprised nor panicky. We know the Seahawk offensive has the ability to stink up the place good. And we know fourth-quarter heroics have become one of Wilson’s trademarks as a consequence.

Here’s the part we may not be aware of, and which gets ignored amidst all the attention the Seahawks’ number-one ranked defense gets.

The Seahawks’ offense was ranked number 9 in 2014.

That’s not too shabby in a league led by pass-happy teams like the Packers, the Patriots, the Cowboys, the Chargers, the Saints, the Broncos, the Eagles, the Ravens, and the Colts. Uh-uh. In fact, it’s almost shocking.

What’s more, the Hawks were 6th in yards per offensive play at 5.9; 3rd in time of possession (32:22); and 4th in turnover margin (+10). The latter two categories are really a tribute to the defense, but still: the Seahawks’ O makes more big plays than any team in the league, and it’s not just the running game that contributes. And they tend to own the second half of games.

It’s certainly true that a sterling D will give the offense more chances than a crappy one; but it’s equally true that if your team is stocked with defensive talent, the odds are that the offense is not likely to be equally stocked.

Which brings us, finally, to Jimmy Graham. What kind of impact can we expect the former New Orleans “tight end” to have on offensive output?

First, he won’t have the kind of impact Harvin had… which is to say, the negative kind. Bevell admitted having problems getting Harvin his touches, and they tended to look mostly like quick screen passes for little to no gain. Wilson will not be dumping passes to Graham behind the line scrimmage. No.

Second, Graham won’t be called on to be what Zach Miller was. He won’t end up being a de facto sixth lineman.

But don’t expect the Hawks to start amping up the passing game overall, either. The offense will still center around Marshawn Lynch and the running game.

There are, nonetheless, specific areas where Graham’s height and downfield threat will help.

First: productivity in the red zone. In the Super Bowl, we saw the difference that a big target on the outside can make–and Graham will be a bigger and better target than Chris Matthews.

Second: ball control and third down percentage. Sure, the D puts the ball in the hands of the offense a lot; but the O doesn’t do as much with it as they could. Seattle ranked 11th on 3rd down with 42%… a long way behind–guess who?–the league-leading New Orleans Saints at 48%.

Don’t expect Graham to be the Seahawks’ leading receiver, and don’t expect Wilson’s number to start looking more like Rodgers’ or Brees’ or Manning’s.

But presuming all the moving parts stay relatively healthy, do expect the Seahawks offensive to move up in the rankings a bit.

And, in an upgraded game of keep-away, do expect an improved offensive to make an already stunning D look even better.

Hawks-150After 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 on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

By Greg Wright

The Seahawks’ come-from-behind overtime victory over the Green Bay Packers in the 2014-15 NFC Championship game will go down in my mind as the best game in team history.

The way the game ended, I dare say, will certainly stick in the memory of everyone who saw the game.

I also think that the disheartening loss in the closing moments of the Super Bowl two weeks later has led to Seahawks fans forgetting how lucky the Hawks were to even be there in the first place.

Yes, I did say lucky.

I did not say good. I did not say the Seahawks deserved to be in the Super Bowl. Maybe they did; but I did not say that.

No, the Seahawks were lucky to get there after the way they played through 55 out of 60 minutes in the NFC Championship game.

Do you remember the first quarter looking like this?


Do you remember the Seahawks being outgained 176 yards to 49 in the first half?

Do you remember Russell Wilson completing exactly one pass for positive yardage in the first half?

Do you remember the Packers virtually camping out on the Seahawks end of the field, visiting the Hawks’ 30 yard line or better on six straight possessions?

Do you remember the Hawks trailing 16-0 at halftime, lucky to even be as close as that?

Do you remember Jermaine Kearse going 0 for 5 on his first five targets from Wilson, giving up four interceptions to defensive backs in the process?

Do you remember Burnett’s “victory slide” with five minutes to go after Wilson’s and Kearse’s final miscue? Do you remember the sinking feeling you had then?


Do you remember the Seahawks, after coming back for a 22-19 lead, failing to stop a gimpy Aaron Rodgers and giving up this field goal at the close of regulation after yielding 48 yards?


Do you remember how eerily similar that was to the playoff loss in Atlanta two years earlier?


Capture3Well, to be honest, I didn’t remember all that either, until I rewatched the game last night. It’s funny how victory can erase the painful details of short-term memory.

It’s also funny how the final stats in a game can erase short-term memory, too, since the Hawks ended up pretty much owning the Packers, statistically, over the final two quarters and overtime. Ultimately, they bested the Packers in just about every meaningful statistic except turnovers.

But let’s just admit, shall we? You don’t turn the ball over five times and win a championship. Aside from the miraculous finish, that was just one ugly game. One we were lucky to win.

Oops! There goes that word luck again.

Luck, nothing. We don’t need luck. We’ve got Russell Wilson.

When Wilson’s at the helm, it’s really not luck at all. It’s miracles by design.


The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, review by Greg Wright

What was that I was saying about Lee Pace being a welcome presence as Thranduil in The Desolation of Smaug?  When Peter Jackson has him ride to war on a caribou in The Battle of the Five Armies, I heave a heavy sigh. When the caribou’s antlers become weapons of mass destruction in the heat of battle, my popcorn comes up in my throat!

While Five Armies is, overall, the best-executed of the three Hobbit movies, Jackson just doesn’t seem to know when he’s on to a good thing and when enough is enough.

Eight years ago, when asked me to opine about plans for the Hobbit films, I editorialized as follows:

Without yet getting into the structure that such films might assume, it’s fair to say that Tolkien wouldn’t have written the same story that he did had he written it subsequent to The Lord of the Rings.

battle-of-the-five-armies-insetFirst, we know that, when Tolkien began writing The Hobbit, he had no intention of it becoming a part of the history of Middle-earth.  Second, we know that Tolkien had to later revise The Hobbit to make it consistent with his masterwork, retooling Bilbo’s riddle game with Gollum.  Third, we know that Tolkien had to temporarily suspend work on Rings in order to work out exactly how characters like Elrond, Gandalf, Aragorn, and the Hobbits themselves fit into his broader mythology.  Fourth, we know that Tolkien gave up writing a Rings sequel because the material simply became “too dark.”

Complicating matters is the general perception amongst many fans—a sentimental, romanticized, and unexamined perception—that The Hobbit is a light, whimsical fantasy.  It is not.  It is, in fact, an allegorical bildungsroman, a coming-of-age tale, a story of loss of innocence.  It’s about children no longer covering their eyes in terror and imagining giants and bogies, but rather coming to see the world with eyes wide open and finding out that the most dangerous monsters may be some of their fellow adventurers.  The conventions of fantasy may dispose of Smaug quite neatly; dealing with Thorin—or Bilbo’s own complicity in a Great Wrong—is another matter entirely, but one which is at the heart of The Hobbit.

Given that The Lord of the Rings has already come to the screen, though (and stupendously so), we have already seen how blithe young Hobbits such as Pippin must learn to become grave warriors; we have already witnessed the darkness of battles like that at the Pelennor; through Théoden, we have already witnessed sleepers waking to the harsh reality of betrayal and self-deception; we have, in short, already lost the innocence of Middle-earth.  Trying to recapture it—on a scale that would duplicate the boxoffice success of Rings—would be a bit like returning to fifth-grade summer camp after a stint in college dorms.

So two choices present themselves: first, scale back the design of The Hobbit as Lord of the Rings Lite for the younger set, and hope that Peter Jackson’s fans have all spawned their own sets of Hobbit-sized kindergarteners who will be thrilled with a Curious George version of Middle-earth; or second, embrace the tone of the last third of The Hobbit and integrate the tale seamlessly with Peter Jackson’s other films.  Boxoffice potential almost dictates the wisdom of the latter choice, regardless of the “violence” it does to Tolkien’s original tale.

As much as I have chafed at the execution the very approach I suggested—a thorough embrace of the last third of Tolkien’s novel as the tone for the entire series of Hobbit films—in the end the choice does seem wise. The Hobbit films will indeed, as time goes by, prove to be a suitable legacy companion to the Rings films.

Five Armies, in particular, strikes the right balance where the other two Hobbit films failed: its tone is more consistent throughout than Unexpected Journey, and it doesn’t feel like a rushed sequence of chase scenes, as did Desolation.

Still, Jackson is not at his best form here.

For example: the film’s opening sequence, Smaug’s destruction of Lake Town, is a pretty fine depiction of what it would look like if a dragon attacked your wood-structure town; but Jackson can’t stop there. Instead, he stages a showdown between Smaug, the “Dragon Who Talks Too Much, Like a Bond Villain,” and Bard the Smuggler (um, Bowman) who, instead of felling the dragon with a simple (if legendary) black arrow, struggles to launch a six-foot steel quarrel, designed to be fired by a “windlance ballistae,” at the mighty lizard. Which he manages to do with, yes, a standard bow. Uh… I think not. So the setpiece falls as flat as a dead dragon, as CGI-thrilling as it is, because Jackson overreaches.

Similarly with the events at Dol Guldur. It’s not enough for Gandalf to have a showdown with the Necromancer cum Sauron; no. Gandalf must first confront an orc army, then all nine Ringwraiths (rather spoiling their much, much more effective appearances in the Rings films), and then he must be rescued by, of all people, Galadriel. As my niece’s husband Jesse pointed out the other day, Galadriel is, after all, a ring-bearer, so the decision makes some measure of sense; but Gandalf is himself a ring-bearer and (in the broader background of Tolkien’s fiction, though it does not enter into Jackson’s films) essentially an angelic being. As the Providentially-appointed Enemy of Sauron, Gandalf should not really require a cameo from the Lady of Lothlorien to emerge from Dol Guldur midly scathed. (And how did he manage to recover his keen cap and staff, by the way?)

And then, of course, there’s all the excesses of the titular battle itself. Enough said.

All the excesses notwithstanding, Jackson really does strike gold in Five Armies with Martin Freeman’s performance as Bilbo. Here, at last, Freeman is given plenty of room to sputter and pause, to stammer and harrumph his way to a very difficult moral decision. And that’s really at the heart of this tale—as I noted in my editorial for The One Ring.

Richard Armitage, as Thorin, also finally justifies his casting with a decent portrayal of Dragon Lust in the first two-thirds of the film. Between he and Freeman, the Hobbit films manage to conclude with some decent chemistry and a measure of heart.

However, as I confessed to Jesse the other day, I have not seen enough of interest to motivate me to seek out the Extended Editions of the three Hobbit films. Not even my professional curiosity has gotten the better of me.

Perhaps I have finally broken the dragon’s spell. Thanks, Peter.

Greg Wright is the author of Peter Jackson in Perspective: The Power Behind Cinema’s The Lord of the Rings (2004).

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is available to stream at Amazon.

Check it out tonight, and don’t forget to dine local first!

YouTube Preview Image

Hawks-150After 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 on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

By Greg Wright

February hurts less in July, doesn’t it?

In my wife’s family, they call the first day of every month Fool’s Day, and it might be tempting to look back on Super Bowl XLIX, played on February 1 this year, in that light.

CaptureBut with the luxury of five months’ perspective, Darrel Bevell’s play call on Seahawks’ final offensive snap of what’s now being called one of the greatest Super Bowls is looking less foolish and offensive all the time.

After all, that play was not Seattle’s final chance to score. With the Patriots backed up to their own 1/2-yard line just afterward, a safety was not out of the question. Nor was a fumble in the end zone recovered by the Seahawks for a touchdown.

Capture2Game planning was certainly not at fault. The Hawk M.O. was followed to a tee, keeping the game close with a stifling, limiting defense (even with three injured defensive backs) and an explosive, patient offense. The goal of keeping the game close with a shot to win at the end was met, continuing an amazing three-year run of having a lead at some point in every game.

Yes, the Hawks gave up 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, and a Super Bowl record 37 pass completions overall to MVP Tom Brady.

Capture3But it would be hard to ask more of a hamstrung defense playing against arguably the greatest coaching/QB combo in NFL history performing in career-best form. Brady’s instincts and discipline allowed him to complete the short passes he could and needed. He took what the D let him, and that was it.

It’s certainly true, however, that the Hawks beat themselves on February Fool’s Day. But it ultimately wasn’t Michael Bennett jumping offside on that crucial post-interception defensive stand that lost the game.

Capture5It wasn’t Russell Wilson throwing an interception on his final throw of the season.

It wasn’t Malcolm Butler making a career-defining play to pick the ball off.

Nor was it Ricardo Lockette failing to extend his arms a little more to catch the ball, or even Jerome Kearse failing to win the one-on-one battle with Brandon Browner on that play.

No, what made the Seahawks February Fools this year was the fact that they are just too good.

I know you’re thinking, “Say what?!?!?!”

Capture8Seriously. The Seahawks lost Super Bowl XLIX because they are too good, and too stocked with talented players.

That’s why Brandon Browner got away.

That’s why Brandon Browner was on the Patriots’ defense in the first place.

That’s why Browner was able to diagnose the play on the line of scrimmage and tip off Butler to look for the slant.

That’s why Browner knew Kearse’s tendencies and played the block perfectly.

Capture8bThat’s why Butler’s lane to the ball was wide open and why an otherwise genius play on an otherwise genius day went haywire.

I see it clearer and clearer the more often I replay that snap.

Brandon Browner, who wouldn’t have been in the NFL in the first place if not for the Seahawks, a player who learned the Seahawks way to a tee and now has two Super Bowl rings running, a corner back who, all things being equal except asking price and suspensions, could very well having been starting on the right side of the D for the Hawks in Super Bowl XLIX instead of playing for the Patriots, is the reason the Seahawks lost the Super Bowl.

Capture9I’m happy for the guy. Couldn’t happen to a nicer millionaire underdog with a chip on his shoulder.

But let’s face it, 12th Man. The Hawks are good. Darned good. It might feel a little foolish to lose Super Bowl XLIX not to Tom Brady but to Brandon Browner–the one that got away. But we’re lucky to have this team in Seattle.

Just imagine what surprises the coming season will bring. Maybe Bryon Maxwell will eliminate us in the NFC Championship!

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, review by Greg Wright

What was that I was saying about An Unexpected Journey not feeling rushed, about moving at a pace, and with an ethos, that would have made room for Tom Bombadil in Fellowship? About the inclusion of songs, in all their silliness and pomposity? About belly laughs and witty homages?

Naw. The Desolation of Smaug begins instead, and perhaps appropriately, with a not-so-witty homage to Peter Jackson himself as the director opens with a flash-back sequence of Gandalf’s initial encounter with Thorin at the Prancing Pony in Bree. And as the scene opens, just as with the Bree scene in The Fellowship of the Ring, Peter Jackson emerges from the darkness munching on an oversized carrot. That’s a fitting metaphor, methinks.

Once the flashback is complete and we learn that Thorin is out for revenge (there’s a revelation), off we go with chase after chase after chase after chase. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the events of The Desolation of Smaug covered about four days instead of the weeks they would necessarily entail. That’s how rushed this film is.

desolation-of-smaug-insetYou might think that embellishing a short novel like The Hobbit into three overstuffed films might produce a sense of increased passage of time rather than compression, of bloat rather than haste, but that’s simply not the case.

The story, such as it is, covers the trail of Bilbo, Thorin, and company from Anduin to The Lonely Mountain. They are hosted by Beorn, venture into Mirkwood, are held captive by spiders and Wood Elves, escape via wine barrels to Lake Town, and then penetrate Smaug’s lair.

And that’s sort of the problem with making three movies out of The Hobbit. This section of the tale has no story arc of its own, in classical terms. So as a filmmaker, you have to invent one: figure out who the primary protagonist and antagonists are in this particular movie, and manage a central conflict to some kind of narrative resolution.

Jackson managed the same problem fairly well in The Two Towers, which was saved by a brilliant and groundbreaking portrayal of Gollum. In The Desolation of Smaug, however, Jackson seems to hope that if we are hurtled along fast enough, we won’t notice that the emperor didn’t have time to dress properly.

Nominally, Jackson sets up Thorin as the central protagonist in this segment of the story, with the conflict to be “resolved” being the return of the rightful “King Under the Mountain.” To that end, one can’t have Thorin slink into Beorn’s halls, as he does in the novel, nor spend too much time mummified in spider silk, nor be shut up in a barrel, nor even sitting around uselessly on the side of a mountain. And you certainly can’t have the Arkenstone enter the narrative in an offhand and disconnected manner, as it does in the book.

But the wheels fall off this wobbly cart of a narrative conflict when you have Thorin entirely out of the picture for what is the centerpiece of the film: our introduction to Smaug and his treasure hoard.

Jackson’s solution? Invent an absolutely insane and absurd sequence with Thorin and his crew battling the dragon in Durin’s mountain fortress. Tolkien didn’t write it this way because he knew it would be a battle the Dwarfs could not survive. Jackson… well, narrative logic has never been his strongest suit.

It’s bad enough that the humor of the Company’s encounter with Beorn is replaced by a chase culminating in gnashing teeth; that the oppressiveness of Mirkwood is exchanged for rushed irritability; that the Company’s wine barrels must be most illogically open while hurtling through cataracts and a hail of Orc arrows; that the romance between Kili and Jackson’s Elf-warrior Tauriel must even exist; that Bard the Bowman should be a smuggler; that Jackson must divide the Company by inventing Kili’s injury; or that Gandalf should prove powerless (and rash) against the Necromancer.

But for pity’s sake… if you must do these things, can’t you at least make them more interesting? And must you cap it with that awful sequence with Smaug? When Bilbo mutters, “What have we done?” I can only hope that’s Jackson’s chosen form of irony.

Lest you think that I found the movie completely without merit, I will note that Jackson’s depiction of Thranduil, Legolas’ father, is worth seeing. Appropriately condescending, superior, and vain, Lee Pace’s performance makes me wonder what might have happened had Jackson found a way to make Thranduil the central villain of this episode.

As it is, it’s hard to see anything other than greed as the central villain… and in The Desolation of Smaug, greed wins. Ick.

Greg Wright is the author of Peter Jackson in Perspective: The Power Behind Cinema’s The Lord of the Rings (2004).

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is available to stream at Amazon. You can also stream it for free right now on xfinity if you’re a Comcast subscriber.

Check it out tonight, and don’t forget to dine local first!

YouTube Preview Image