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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Forces of Nature
Review by Greg Wright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forces of Nature is available to stream at Amazon.

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

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Review by Greg Wright

Let’s see… did I really need to watch this film a twelfth time?

Apparently that answer was “yes.”

And the fact that the answer was “yes” probably says a lot more about me than it does about the film, or about whether or not you should see it.

I’d be willing to bet, however, that if you are between the ages of sixty and sixteen you are at least culturally aware of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly even if you’ve never seen the whole film. It boasts a 97% fresh critic’s rating at Rotten Tomatoes, plus a 97% favorable audience rating. Quentin Tarantino, whose Sergio Leone homage The Hateful Eight is playing in theaters right now, has called GBU the best film ever made. The score by Ennio Morricone, who just won an Oscar for The Hateful Eight, is legendary. And director Leone’s legacy is that of a ground-breakingly visionary genius… even though his oeuvre technically comprises only six theatrical releases, none of which were certifiable hits and one of which (Duck You Sucker, aka A Fistful of Dynamite) was a decided bust.

the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-insetThat demonstrates the power of Leone’s films at his peak, however. Once Upon a Time in America, Once Upon a Time in the West, and GBU are all certifiable masterpieces (though not to everyone’s taste, as tends to be the nature of masterpieces) though the latter (and the first of those three to be released) is the most flawed.

And yet, like certain gems, it is the flaws of GBU that lend it a certain brilliance.

For those who don’t know, GBU‘s Civil War-era plot revolves around three villains: a faux Union sergeant who moonlights as a hired gun (Lee Van Cleef as “Angel Eyes”), a scoundrelous outlaw (Eli Wallach as “Tuco”), and an opportunistic rogue (Clint Eastwood as “Blondie”). The three all stumble separately upon clues to a buried hoard of Confederate gold. Along the way to the final showdown over the treasure there are countless twists, turns, betrayals, and reversals. And a whole lot of carnage.

That plot summary alone should tell you why Tarantino loves it.

What’s it about, thematically? As I’ve written previously,

Good is not absolute in this universe; instead it’s the relative judge between the Bad and the Ugly, delivering very sweet just desserts. There are not just two kinds of men, Leone’s script tells us. Things are not that neat. … The film is about betrayal, and Leone takes the time to spell out very clearly that the frontier is no place for maidens or the naïve. No; in fact, the naïve had best not even entertain the notion of goodness on the frontier: it’s all dirty, it’s all corrupt, it’s all brutal. It’s all desperate, and almost pointless.

Again, more ideal fodder for the mind of Tarantino.

One of the stunning things about Leone’s films is how long he takes setting his plots in motion. Unlike the Steven Spielberg School of Modern Filmmaking, in which All You Need To Know About Plot and Characters is revealed in the first ten minutes, Leone’s pacing takes however much time seems “right” to establish mood, character aura, and… well, whatever goes on in Leone’s brain. It’s an exhilarating way of making and watching films.

In this case, the two major threads of GBU–Tuco vs. Blondie / Angel Eyes vs. Gold–don’t come together for over an hour of running time. But what running time! The problems of looping English-language dialogue onto the lips of Italian- and German-speaking actors aside (and that is no minor obstacle to enjoying this film!), Leone’s scripting, shot selection, composition, and cinematography are breathtaking.

Just before Tuco and Blondie learn of the Confederate gold, there’s a shot that never fails to absolutely stun me. Tuco has gotten the drop on Blondie and has led him fifty or so miles out into the desert to die. Just as Blondie is about to expire, he stumbles at the top of a sand dune. As Tuco leads his prancing (Spanish!) stallion into the anamorphic frame, Blondie rolls down the slope toward the stationary camera. As Tuco comes down the slope toward Blondie, he tosses an empty sangria bottle onto the sand… and it follows Blondie’s tumble down the slope, spinning its own sandy track parallel to Blondie’s. Amazingly–and I do mean amazingly, for how could you possibly plan such a shot?–Eastwood ends up perfectly framed in supine pose with a sunflared Wallach above him as the bottle rolls right up to Eastwood’s head! And because this is virgin sand–there were no digital tricks in ’66–you know they had to get this shot in one take… or do it over and over and over and over until they got it right, moving the setup to a new location each time. Absolutely unreal.

And yet, if you really pay attention to Leone’s craft, you can see that GBU is just filled with this kind of serendipitous artistry. It’s as if Leone is the cinematic epitome of the mantra “You make your own luck.” A huge part of what Leone does is by design–but another huge part is just a filmmaker having the cojones to try stuff that might or might not work, and being prepared enough to take advantage of the things that do.

I’ll be honest, though. The first eleven times I saw GBU (ten of them either properly projected in theaters or on anamorphic big-screen video transfers) it was obvious to me that the weakness of the film was the narrative itself. The script, as released in the United States, simply had too many plotholes to be cohesive. In particular, the Civil War backstory to the plot–the raison d’etre of the bullion–simply seemed like a lame, unmotivated add-on. Only one explosive sequence of that narrative thread even seemed integral to the story and theme.

Thank God for film archivists, though! This time through, I finally got around to watching the fully-restored 3-hour version of the film that Leone intended to release in the U.S. MGM didn’t do the best of jobs with the restoration (I don’t agree, for instance, with the choice to have Wallach and Eastwood loop their own scenes), but gosh! Kudos to the studio for restoring the narrative sense of the film. It’s amazing how much those restored 14 minutes add.

And, thankfully, the fully restored version is what’s available to stream online. If only every 50-year-old film looked this good!

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is available to stream at Amazon and on Youtube.

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

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Henry Poole is Here
Commentary by Greg Wright

For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly.

That’s a quote from the Bible. Is that offensive? Is my invocation of Scripture and Christ backward and unenlightened? Is the concept of “the ungodly” not only passé but bigoted?

How about the very notion of “the appointed moment”? Isn’t that something relegated to fairy tales and wishful thinking? Isn’t the idea that everything–and I mean everything–happens for a reason one for which there is no rational defense? After all, if God meant for you to meet your future spouse at a particular place and time, then he must also have meant for that sheet of plywood to come flying out of that pickup truck bed and slash through your niece’s windshield, killing her instantly. Right? You can’t cherry-pick Providence.

Let’s face it. A purposeful Universe can be terribly inconvenient, brutal, and hard to explain.

But here’s the deal. Everything in my experience points to that conclusion. And you, dear reader, should above anyone else agree with me.

Why? Because you like movies.

henry-poole-is-here-insetFollow along with me, and I’ll explain, starting first with my conclusion, then working backward toward your fascination with film, and wrapping up with some thoughts on Henry Poole is Here. Because that’s what got me thinking about all of this.

So this is my conclusion: 9/11 was not meaningless. That ISIS beheaded a certain 12 people last week instead of a different 12 is not random or without purpose. It’s not entirely incidental that the Patriots won Super Bowl XLIX rather than the Seahawks. It matters than I ran into Lorraine Drake at Bartell, or Karen Evans, rather than Scott Schaefer or Mike Brunk. There simply are no accidents.

I have not come to this conclusion lightly, or without trepidation. After all, if absolutely everything has a point, then every word I speak or write should be carefully considered. My slightest action could promulgate a butterfly-effect disaster–or love fest–on the other side of the world.

The notion also potentially makes me the victim of every whim of every friend, neighbor, and stranger… let alone those who would intend to harm me, or the proclivity of the Earth to belch forth lava or wipe out 200,000 people at a time with tsunamis. It begs me to account for Hurricane Katrina, Nazi Germany, and chlorine gas.

And it’s hard enough to say these things can be construed to have a positive purpose. It’s harder yet to say, “Yes–and there’s a God who not only lets these things happen, but has a plan that incorporates all of them.” But try denying that everything which has happened previously has conspired to bring us, quite exactly, to where we are today. And if any good comes of that, then the “bad” which preceded it was not only sufficient but necessary. Chesterton was on to something when he said that the things we call “bad” are simply good things that are not good enough to satisfy us. We just don’t have the luxury of seeing the Big Picture, what filmmakers call “the God shot.”

But I’ve certainly seen the difficult truth of this global, “macro” paradox work itself out on the “micro” level in my own life. I was bullied for years as a child, and was addicted to pornography by the time I was 12 years old. As a coping mechanism for my exceedingly ungodly struggles, I developed an alternate persona that I didn’t even discover existed until I was 36. But all of that played together to make me the ideal mate for my equally flawed and troubled wife. Further, we wouldn’t trade the last dozen years of Jenn’s chronic, life-threatening illness for anything because through that suffering–not in spite of it–we have learned the greatest spiritual truths of our lives.

Would it be nice if things had played out differently, at least at certain points? Perhaps. But I really don’t know what the full implications of those theoretically minor changes might be. All I really can be certain of is my limited perception of where I happen to be in the current arc of my story.

I still struggle, and in ungodly ways if no longer with pornography. And it’s hard to accept that I am not the author of my own story, much less its hero.

Certain movies like The Truman Show and Stranger Than Fiction have explored these ideas in some limited fashion. The first time I personally ran up against it in art was my first time reading through The Lord of the Rings. When I reached the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, I went right into the abyss with Gandalf and the Balrog. How could Tolkien have killed off Gandalf? What was the point of reading any further? I literally threw the book down in disgust.

But I knew… I knew there were still hundreds of pages left to read, and that there were, in fact, two full books remaining in the trilogy. Tolkien had a reason. There was more to the story, and I had to find out what that was. I picked the book back up, and I was not disappointed.

When I discovered films like Sorcerer and Apocalpyse Now!–directors like Friedkin, Coppola, Carroll Ballard, Cimino, Peter Hyams, even Woody Allen–I realized that I had a thirst for art that made sense out of the Universe… that I almost literally craved an artform which, by definition and conception, demonstrated that everything–literally everything–mattered.

And this is where you come in. I think you have that craving, too. And that you have it, rooted deep down, whether you profess that everything has purpose and meaning, or whether you rebel against the notion with every fiber of your intellect, “kicking at the goads,” if you will. Because even the most ardent atheists I know love films–and not the films of avante-garde artistes which reflect in method and theme a random, purposeless view of the cosmos (and those do exist) but exquisitely crafted, purposeful films like Fury Road, Lawrence of Arabia, Apocalypse Now!, Platoon, or Rob Roy.

Or, perhaps, Henry Poole Is Here, which elevates the dialogue to a whole new level because it not only exhibits this exquisite level of craft, but because, thematically, it is explicitly about purpose, meaning, and even faith.

At every level imaginable, Henry Poole lives a frustrated life. He is getting nothing he wants, having to settle for second, third, or last-best in every area of his life. Shortly after he moves into his new home, in which it would be generous to say he lives, his neighbor Esperanza believes she has found the face of Christ manifest in a rust stain on Henry’s exterior wall. When the stain appears to bleed, and miracles appear to happen for those who believe, Esperanza wants to call in the Catholic Church to officially enshrine Henry’s wall. Henry wants nothing of the kind. He just wants to be left alone.

Or does he?

That’s the narrative tension which provides the backbone of this film, a thoughtful, funny, and entertaining exploration of philosophy in which every character name, every line of dialogue, every soundtrack choice, every shot composition and POV has bearing on the film’s direction and meaning.

Now, here’s the really odd thing.

When this film was originally released in 2008, Jenn and I were editing two film-review sites, Hollywood Jesus and Past the Popcorn. Between the two sites, we had a staff of some 25 or 30 reviewers. On the day Henry Poole was released, we published 15 or so different reviews–and two of them were for Henry Poole. My own personal assignment that week was an interview with director Gil Cates, Jr., who had just released his small film Deal direct to home video. So I didn’t see Henry Poole at that time. Then it disappeared from theaters so fast I didn’t see it at all.

When it came out on home video, I was sent an unsolicited screener. Because it wasn’t on my editorial calendar, and because we’d already covered it for both PtP and HJ, I simply filed the screener and didn’t give it a second thought.

Over the years I would periodically leaf through my screener library and think, “I’m gonna have to watch that someday.” But someday never came.

Yet a couple Sundays ago, Jenn and I failed to get to church because of yet another emotional/relational/medical complication. We were just exhausted that morning and rose late, missing departure time for worship. When I suggested watching a movie instead (which I never do on a Sunday morning), Jenn replied, “Sure. Why don’t we watch something with spiritual significance? Something that sort of embodies what we were doing with Hollywood Jesus–pop culture with a spiritual point of view?”

So I leafed through my screener library and once again ran across Henry Poole is Here. And I said, “I think I have just the movie for today.”

We weren’t even through the credits before it was evident that Poole was not just spiritually-minded–it was spiritually-saturated. It couldn’t have been more precisely tailored for what Jenn and I needed that spiritually-impoverished morning.

And again, the dilemma that Henry Poole confronts is: What are you going to do when it appears that Jesus is crying tears of blood on your wall? And there is a moment of decision in the film where Henry literally reaches out to Jesus. Will he accept the invitation and put his finger in the wound, figuratively speaking, or will he turn away?

And could you believe it?

Just at that precise moment, just as the singer on the soundtrack pronounced the word “Joy”–the DVD player froze. There was Henry on our big screen, caught in this eternal moment of decision, caught hanging forever between joy and the void. And no amount of pausing, or playing, was going to fix it. There was no button to push to get Henry out of his predicament, to prompt Henry toward one decision or the other. If there were any one second out of the 7000 during that film you’d call the crux, this was it. And the DVD player froze.

Jenn and I just stared at each other in astonishment.

Was the DVD defective? Would we be able to find out how Henry’s story ended? Did it matter? Was it simply more significant that the moment of crisis came at all? Was it sufficient to know that the filmmaker had a purpose for Henry, whether we knew it or not?

Well, my curiosity got the better of me. After all, could I have lived without finishing The Lord of the Rings? I pulled the power on the DVD player, plugged it back in, and restarted the movie. I then jumped to the closing credits just to confirm that the DVD actually had more scenes on it.

Then I cut back to the scene where the DVD stalled. Would it get stuck there again? Would we be able to finish the movie?

As hard as I tried, I couldn’t get the DVD player to freeze again. There is absolutely no technical reason for that DVD to have gotten stuck where it did when it did.

How could something so absolutely random happen with such precise timing, stretching out over a series of events eight years long, culminating in a particular, very specific instant?

From my point of view, this was not random. Henry Poole and his moment of decision had been sent to Jenn and I at just the right time–at a very specific, appointed time.

I believe that everything happens for a reason. And for me, Henry Poole is not just here. It’s a miracle.

Henry Poole is Here is available to stream via Xfinity on Demand.

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

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Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse and The Ties That Bind
Commentary by Greg Wright

Never get out of the boat. Absolutely g**damn right. Unless you were goin’ all the way. Kurtz got off the boat. He split from the whole f***in’ program.

In 1979, Francis Ford Coppola’s brilliant Apocalypse Now! debuted in theaters… and, inexplicably, failed to win a single Oscar. Often described as a war film, even a Viet Nam War film, it is instead an examination of single-minded obsession–what critics, academics, and fanboys refer to as a “meta” film: one which is, in almost all respects, self-referential, about the art of film itself. The plot of the film centers around Captain Willard, a military assassin (Martin Sheen), sent upriver into Cambodia in pursuit of an insane colonel (Marlon Brando) who has gone rogue. The river serves as a metaphor for an avenue of relative safety through increasing hazards… but one you’re better off traveling down, rather than up.

The above quote from Captain Willard’s narration comes in the wake of a hazardous shore excursion, and expresses the thrust of the “ultimate” act of creativity: If you really want to be an artist, be prepared to cut yourself off from everything society considers normal. Be prepared to totally lose yourself in a form of insanity.

apocalypse-river-insetHearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse is a stunning film about the making of Apocalypse Now! It documents the years-long gestation of Coppola’s vision, and the fits-and-starts completion of the project while filming in the civil-war-torn Philippines and in spite of hurricanes, heart attacks, and drug abuse. The film nearly killed Martin Sheen, and it nearly drove Coppola as insane as Kurtz. As the film industry watched, Coppola “split from the whole f***in'” Hollywood program and created something unique, powerful, and unsettling. Already an established talent with The Godfather Parts I and II, Coppola got off the boat, and Coppola went all the way.

A 1979 graduate from Foster High School in Tukwila, I saw Apocalypse Now! as a freshman at the UW and sat up way into the morning hours discussing the film after a screening with dorm-mates and RA Wouter Ketel at the Town Theater downtown. I’d rewatch the film more often in the coming years than any other, even studying it, and would reference the film much later when I finally taught a film class at Puget Sound Christian College in Everett. I’ve watched Hearts of Darkness several times as well. It documents artistic obsession better than any film I’ve seen, with privileged footage shot by Coppola’s then-wife.

But The Ties That Bind comes a close second, at least as far as documentaries go.

Also in 1979, Bruce Springsteen was attempting to record a follow-up to 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town. Like a reverse of Captain Willard, Springsteen was trying to make a journey out of the heart of darkness back into the real world. Like Willard, however, Springsteen really had no idea where he was going, or how he was going to get there.

And like Coppola, Springsteen also chose a river as the central metaphor for his new masterpiece. He would, in fact, name the album The River (1980). Like Coppola, Springsteen also “split from the whole f***in’ program” and made the album outside the recording industry. He even took a preliminary version of the album back from his record company, and ultimately defied convention and his label by releasing it as a double album in order to “give it room” to tell all the stories he wanted to pack into The River. Columbia, of course, ended up with a goldmine on their hands in spite of it all.

I kind of had a ringside side to the public drama surrounding the making of The River as I was good friends with two bona-fide Springsteen addicts during my first years in college. My roommate Matt (a Kennedy High grad) saw The River as a massive betrayal of Springsteen’s iconoclastic and epically mythic vision, while my gal-pal Shari (now a Gregory Heights resident) correctly read the stories on The River as first-hand accounts of the same “characters” from earlier albums as they grow older and change their perspectives on life and relationships.

Was it Springsteen’s fault that the album actually spawned top-40 bubble-gum rock hits? Did a beefed-up Boss betray his Stone Pony past by introducing us to Courteney Cox in a teeny-bopper video on MTV? Was it really possible that Hungry Heart could legitimately connect “Jungleland” with Friends???

The HBO documentary The Ties That Bind, released last year, answers those questions pretty definitively. At one point, Springsteen declares, “A story is not a life. A story is just a story.” And in 1979, Springsteen found himself a prisoner of his own stories–disconnected from life, out in the metaphorical jungle of a rural New Jersey farm, up a river without a paddle… or a boat. He desperately longed to write a new kind of music, to “save” himself, as he puts in the documentary–to somehow get back “down to the river” and, by writing about real people, perhaps again become one of them himself. He had “family” in the E Street Band, but by his own assessment he had no life (or friends) outside that very tight creative circle. So his coincidental connection with Cox turned out to be oh-so-fitting. Springsteen wouldn’t really get grounded, however, until years later–when he forsook his model-spouse stardom and married a backup singer from his old home town.

I don’t think I really appreciated what Springsteen was up to at the time. I know I didn’t buy Matt’s “I’ll have to stop liking Bruce when he becomes popular” approach, and I found Shari’s “Bruce is speaking directly to me through his music” emotion over the top. I was more into Elvis Costello’s detached anger and cynicism, and was in the process of honing my own epic-minded and mythic alter-ego. In 1979 and 1980, I wasn’t the least bit interested in real relationships, or being a real person. I was, quite naturally, about a decade behind Springsteen, both emotionally and creatively.

But over the years I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on Springsteen’s work, and about artistic obsession–and in particular about the creative rigor of Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town. And until I watched The Ties That Bind, I’d always thought of The River as something of an artistic failure.

But no longer. The River is probably to Springsteen what Apocalpyse Now! is to Coppola… that is, in the wake of The River, Springsteen finally found out how to make albums and have a life, while after Apocalypse Now! Coppola figured out how to make movies without driving himself insane. And The Ties That Bind is to The River what Hearts of Darkness is Apocalypse Now! 

Great documentaries about great works of art. Check ’em out.

Hearts of Darkness is available to stream on AmazonThe Ties That Bind is available for free via XFinity online if you’re a Comcast subscriber.

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

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be-back-smBy Greg Wright

Early in the week, Colin Cowherd did an amazing takedown of a Minnesota fan who wanted to argue that Sunday’s game came down to mere luck. I wouldn’t have been as vicious as Cowherd was, but there’s a certain truth to the maxim that you make your own luck. As in, What do you do with an early snap that bounces off your shoulder pad?

Sheil Kapadia tweeted this still from the game on Sunday, and it says a lot:

Lost Containment 1

If you were in Wilson’s position at that moment, would you be thinking, “Now’s the time to make a play!” or would you be thinking, “Holy $#*@!” and go fetal around the football?

But there are a couple of technical things going on with this play that analysts haven’t talked about this week–technical things which will be keys in tomorrow’s game at Carolina.

The first of these is “containment.”

Everybody in the Universe knows by this time that Russell Wilson is one of the most elusive and dangerous backfield runners on the planet. One of the things you have to do to limit the damage is contain him–which is precisely what did not happen on this play. With five defenders running free at the 12:59 mark in the 4th quarter, there’s no way Wilson should have been able to avoid a sack.

But the Vikings “lost containment.” Check out the combined effect of Captain Munnerlyn’s fumble-and-sack lust and Wilson’s quick reflexes. He is too quick to the ball, and does not “break down” in approaching Wilson, leaving himself vulnerable to Wilson’s Houdini-like reflexes:

Lost Containment 2

Containment is something we were drilled on even in high school–and I distinctly remember one Friday night under the lights at Tahoma when I lost containment in very similar circumstances. On the last play before halftime, we had forced Tahoma to punt; I was lined up at left DE, and my responsibility on the play was, yes, containment. As with Jon Ryan’s first punt Sunday, the snap was bad and, as with the above early snap to Wilson on Sunday, the ball was rolling around loose on the field. All I had to do was… get to it before the punter did.

No! All I had to do was maintain containment. That was my assignment. The punter immediately retrieved the ball, saw that I had broken containment (just as Munnerlyn did on Sunday with Wilson), and quickly scooted around me to head downfield. To make matters worse, I slipped and fell while reacting to the punter’s cut around me.

But that wasn’t the end of the play. I jumped back up and, determined to make up for breaking containment, saw that the left side of the field was opening up for the punter’s long run toward the endzone. I took a good pursuit angle away from the pack and cleanly intercepted the punter 40 yards downfield for a devastating tackle and forced fumble.

Which brings me to the other key on this play: several of the Vikings gave up.

Let’s walk through this, shall we?

Note the horrific effect of Munnerlyn losing containment in the screenshot below. Not only does he allow Wilson to scoot around around him, the other four Vikings now have to go through Munnerlyn to get to Wilson, who, with one deft move, has turned a 5-to-1 deficit into a 1-on-1 footrace.

Lost Containment 3

Now take a look downfield just before Lockett catches Wilson’s pass:

Lost Containment 5

Griffen (97), Joseph (98), Munnerlyn (24), and others, having failed to chase down Wilson, are already starting to give up on the play while several of their downfield teammates (to the right of the shot) are belatedly racing back to the wide-open middle of the field.

Hardly a second later, with Lockett having barely gotten through his first move, Joseph has given up on the play entirely:

Lost Containment 6

Just a couple seconds after that, as Lockett nears the sideline, Griffen has also given up on pursuit though he trails the play by only five yards:

Lost Containment 4

Safety Harrison Smith (22) seems to be about the only Viking practicing sound pursuit technique on this play, and giving 100% until the whistle blows. Everyone else has gotten caught up in the panic of the early snap and the “Aw, crap! There goes Wilson again!” emotion of the situation.

Precisely what you cannot afford to do in championship-caliber situations. You cannot give up, and you cannot stop chasing plays downfield. Just ask Ahtyba Rubin, Seattle’s 300-pound DT who not long after this recovered Adrian Peterson’s fumble fifteen yards downfield–a fumble recovery that turned into the winning field goal. Moments such as these put Seattle in a position to win on Sunday, not luck.

And it’s moments such as these that will determine the outcome of this Sunday’s game, too.

For Seattle to win, they will need to stay disciplined and maintain containment on Cam Newton–and they will need to play through to every whistle. Every mistake, and every response to every mistake will matter 100%.


My heart tells me that this is Carolina’s year. Make no mistake, the Panther are now a championship-caliber team.

Yet the stats argue against my heart. Seattle knows how to play Carolina better than Carolina knows how to play Seattle, and the defense is simply not allowing touchdowns these days, especially on the road.

Seahawks 27, Carolina 16.

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 a carbon-copy conversation from a year ago, the Seahawk D has been a popular topic in the press this week. And why? It’s simple.

The Seahawks have allowed the fewest points to opponents four years running. It’s almost entirely unheard of in the history of the game, and supposedly impossible in the “salary cap era.”

One particularly pleasing element to the conversation is that the offense is getting some love, too. One of the ways that teams can keep opponents from scoring points is by playing keepaway–by winning the time-of-possession battle and scoring plenty of points of their own. And as I’ve noted in recent weeks, the Seahawks have been doing that. What’s different this year, as plenty of other journalists have noted, is that the Seahawks now post a top-tier offense which has set a variety of club records.

Now, does that diminish what the defense has accomplished? Not entirely. There is, however, that yards-yielded-per-minute-of-possession issue I noted a couple weeks ago. As we saw in the Rams game, the Hawks are now most vulnerable when the offense falters because the defense seems to have more trouble getting the opposing team off the field than they have in the past. Two years ago, the Seahawks could lose the time-of-possession battle and still win the game. Not so likely now.

What’s really amazing nonetheless is that the Hawks’ defensive stats have been accomplished this year in spite of the fact that the D is no longer a surprise to the rest of the league. After four years, other teams know the formula for beating the Seahawks D–being patient with the short passing game, and exploiting seams in middle-of-the-field zone coverage. And yet only a handful of teams have been able to leverage that knowledge… and only one, Pittsburgh, was able to to do that consistently through four quarters of play. And still the Seahawks gave up fewer points than anybody else, even with Chancellor missing almost half the regular season. Remarkable.

Still, as I noted a year ago, Pete Carroll’s emphasis on “finishing” is a hallmark of the team’s performance. Once again, they’re peaking at the right time heading into the playoffs.

I’ve fleshed out my “Maximum Point Deficit” stats to include last year’s post-season and this year’s regular season–again because no one else has bothered to.

The following table lists the maximum points the Hawks have trailed by in every game under Pete Carroll.

2015-Chart

Once again, on average, the Seahawks’ maximum scoring deficit at any point during a game is just over 5. That’s amazing. What’s even more amazing is that even in outlier games like this year’s 19-point-deficit affair with the Cardinals, the Seahawks are capable of overcoming those deficits and taking a lead.

And look at all those zeroes in the last eight weeks of the season! Pete Carroll’s teams really do know how to finish strong.

The numbers, of course, bode well for the playoffs.

And yet… you can see that Seattle’s post-season numbers (the Super Bowl season aside) don’t really match up to the regular-season stats. That’s natural, to a degree, as the level of competition is stiffer in the playoffs. But if the Hawks are going to make a serious run at four road victories and a Super Bowl win this postseason, they’re going to have to find ways to get the lead early and keep it. Coming from behind on the road is a tall order.

But the prognosis is still very good, as with last year:

  • Seattle is almost certain not to trail by more than 10 in any post-season game this year… and that figure will likely be 7 or less;
  • every game will at the very least be closely contested;
  • the Hawks will likely hold a lead at some point in each…
  • and the Seahawks know how to finish.

And again… what’s different this year is that offense. If it continues to click, Seattle will be back in the Big Show. If it doesn’t… the D is going to have to up its game and stop yielding so many yards per minute.


I love being wrong when my wrongness results in a Seattle win. I love it even more when I am so supremely wrong that the Hawks completely thump the division leaders when I predict a loss.

I’m not so happy about being wrong in my prediction that Lynch would be back in the lineup before the close of the season. I’m less than thrilled that he’s not even travelling to Minnesota.

Nonethless… the universal opinion this week is that this game will not be a repeat of Seattle’s beatdown when the Vikings and Hawks met a few weeks ago. With that much I agree.

I actually think it will feel worse, though, even if the scoreboard doesn’t show it. The Viking offense looked terrible against the Packers last week, and the Packers are in a world of hurt. With Chancellor back, the D will be whipped up in a frenzy. It’s going to look like a shark attack, and Seattle’s offense will keep doing its part. With the short field on the kicking game, Seattle will win the Special Teams battle as well.

Look for a big, big Seattle win. Seahawks 32, Vikings 12.

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

There are plenty of interesting topics I could be writing about this week.

I could write about how Seattle’s offense will be challenged by the loss of Luke Willson and J.R. Sweezy to concussions.

I could write about Seattle proving me wrong last week and managing to lose to the Rams despite the D giving up only 200 or so yards and winning the time-of-possession battle.

I could write about Seattle ending it’s Wilson-era perfect streak of having a lead in every game, coming just two games shy of four perfect seasons in that regard.

I could write about Pete Carroll’s penchant for really poor choices on challenge flags.

I could write about the Hawks missing out on re-signing Red Bryant, and instead having to face him in Arizona this week. (Or talk about the motivational factor of returning to the scene of the OYFF–One-Yard February Fiasco–which ended the Super Bowl.)

I could cover even the really super-obvious stuff like potential playoff matchups, or Russell Wilson’s durability.

I could write about those things, and others, but most of the really print-worthy topics this week have been thoroughly hashed out elsewhere.

But this column is about the things everyone else is glossing over. So I’d just like to ask the questions: Is Russell Wilson playing hurt? If he is, will it matter?

Consider the following sequence at the close of Seattle’s first drive of the Third Quarter Sunday. On an aborted passing play, Wilson attempted his usual pirouetting escape from on-rushing linemen only to spin directly into the arms of William Hayes. He still almost evaded Hayes, but Eugene Sims piled on to drive Wilson to the turf, directly onto his right kneecap.

WilsonKnee1

Immediately after, Wilson did not bound up from the ground as he is wont to do, though Hayes and Sims did. Nor did he reach up to Sweezy or Bailey for a hand.

WilsonKnee2

Then, uncharacteristically, Wilson grabbed his kneecap with his right hand.

WilsonKnee3

The look on his face even says, “Uh-oh.”

Am I reading waaaayyyy too much into this 10-second sequence? Probably. After all, Wilson threw that magnificent TD pass to Baldwin on the very next play, and his scramble on the TD pass to Kearse at the end of the game was pretty nifty, too.

Still… Wilson did not strike me as entirely comfortable for the remainder of the game after that sack, his timing being just a hair off on several passes that could have been the difference between losing and heading to OT. So I had another look at the second half of the game this week. I didn’t see Wilson limping into the Fourth Quarter, wincing in pain, or engaging in further knee-grabbing.

He did, however, reach down to massage his right quad several times during subsequent drives, something I’ve not noticed him doing before. That, might have just been attempts to wipe rain off the palm his right hand, but I’m thinking not.

Wilson is a tough bird–just like Matt Hasselbeck was with Seattle. And we know for sure that Hasselbeck twice finished out seasons with injuries that he didn’t let on about. It’s quite possible that Wilson’s knee is in fact hurt, but he’s just soldiering through.

What effect would that have, if it were true?

Well, we wouldn’t see Wilson scramble as much (anyone but me notice that in the late going Sunday?), Bevell won’t call many bootleg or read-option plays (check), and Wilson’s accuracy will be a little off because he won’t be able to push off from his throwing leg as well (check).

But those are just the reasons I think he’s playing injured. Sunday was no proof. There were a lot of elements off in that game.

But with the Cardinals’ mad-dogs turned loose on Wilson and Seattle’s short-handed, porous O-line this Sunday, I think we have cause for legitimate concern.


I’ve gotta say, this is gonna be an ugly week. The Hawks will be motivated… but so will the Cardinals. Unless the D can turn in a big-play bonanza this week, Seattle doesn’t stand a chance. The offense is missing too many working parts.

Seattle 18, Arizona 35.

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

It’s kind of comical reading Boling and McGrath at the Trib as they cover their tracks after prematurely jumping off the bandwagon a few weeks ago. Now, in the wake of the Seahawks’ literally historic offensive output the last five games, they’re somehow using the “turnaround” as evidence that they were actually right all along.

Boling, for instance, is now singing Darrell Bevell’s praises as if he has always known what Bevell was capable of.

McGrath, almost unbelievably, points to the Pittsburgh game as a turning point for “a team that had no chemistry at all.”

Really? Just because you’d given up on the team you can claim they had “no chemistry at all?” What’s different? Are you suggesting that losing Graham, Lynch, and Rawls has actually been good for team chemistry? If so, provide some evidence.

Do you guys not even pay attention to the quotes you include in your own articles? The players and coaches themselves are all saying the same thing: nothing has really changed. It’s just that they’re now making the plays that they weren’t making before. The schemes are the same. It’s just the outcomes that are different. When you’ve had a lead in the 4th quarter of every game you’ve played, you’ve not been that far away–perhaps just a few more quarters of experience and practice–from blowing open every contest.

So here’s the real Top Story. And don’t get me wrong when I say this; remember when I said just a couple weeks ago that there’s really nothing to complain about with these Seahawks. They may not be as dominating as the Super Bowl Championship team, but this is awfully good football we’re getting to watch.

But if there is an elephant in the locker room, it’s the fact that the defense is really the team’s weakness right now. And in a not-so-insignificant way.

WilsonThink about it: If your own team is putting up 30+ points of offensive output each game, what does that imply about time of possession? How many fewer opportunities will the opposing team get to put up points and yards?

To put it another way, how effective can an overpowering offense be at masking the shortcomings of your defense?

To put it yet another way: If the offense were not controlling the ball as well, how many yards per game might the D actually be giving up?

Well, let’s take a look.

Against Cleveland, Seattle won the time-of-possession battle 34:33 to 25:27. In giving up 230 yards, Seattle’s D yielded 9 yards per minute.

Against Baltimore, Seattle won the time-of-possession battle 35:43 to 24:17. In giving up 302 yards, Seattle’s D yielded 12.4 yards per minute.

Against Minnesota, Seattle won the time-of-possession battle 35:10 to 24:50. In giving up 125 yards, Seattle’s D yielded 5 yards per minute. That was a pretty dominant performance.

Against Pittsburgh, Seattle actually lost the time-of-possession battle 28:00 to 32:00. In giving up 538 yards, Seattle’s D yielded almost 17 yards per minute. That’s terrible!

Against San Francisco, Seattle dominated the time-of-possession battle 37:39 to 22:21. In giving up 306 yards, Seattle’s D yielded 13.7 yards per minute. Against San Francisco.

Put that all together over five weeks, and the Hawks’ D is giving up an average of 11.4 yards per minute. If the O were just a little less productive over that timespan, and the time-of-possession battle evened out, that would extrapolate to an average of 342 yards yielded per game. (And before this offensive tear, the Seahawks were on the losing end of the time-of-possession battle, averaging 29:43.)

That extrapolated yield is good enough to make you a Top 12 D, but it’s not elite. Seattle’s current yards-surrendered-per-game average of 302–which is elite–has been padded by an elite and historic offensive performance, by an output that has lifted Seattle’s average time of possession to 31:19.

To be fair, of course, defensive stats are always aided by an effective offense, and vice versa.

Still, if the Seahawks have a weakness right now, I’d say it’s the D. Let’s pray the wheels don’t come flying off for the O.


Well, the wheels don’t come flying off this week, but they do get a little creaky. St. Louis plays Seattle as well as anybody, and they’re playing about as well right now as they have all season. Expect the Rams’ new offensive coordinator to give our defense fits, and for Jon Ryan to get more work this week than he’s seen in a while.

Seattle 23, St. Louis 19.

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.

Hawks-150Expectations are high, and everyone’s paying attention… But every week it seems like there’s 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 World Champions.

The following was originally published on Dec. 27, 2014. Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing Lynch back on the field against the Cardinals. Enjoy!

By Greg Wright

‘Twas four days ‘fore Christmas, and all through the house
The Hawk fans were cheering — yes, even my spouse.
The Cardinals were trailing; they needed a score:
Like, maybe a pick-six — plus one touchdown more!

The Seahawks deployed in a one-wideout set,
One back in the backfield — ’twas Lynch, sure. You bet!
They’ve got a first down at their own twentyone;
They lead by fifteen, and are set for more fun.

With the snap of the ball there’s now such a clatter
It’s really quite plain that some Cards they will splatter.
Out on the right end, in Foote flies with a crash
But Lynch takes the ball to the left through a gash.

The light on the field, all natural-grass turfed,
Gives luster to ‘backers about to be Smurfed.
Yes, what to ‘Shawn’s wondering eyes should appear
But a lane to the right, which he takes with a veer.

And now it’s the cornerbacks Lynch aims to beat,
Shifts his low c of gravity over his feet.
More rapid than coursers his blocker does come —
You don’t know his name? Then you’re dumber than dumb.

It’s Lockette the Rocket, and he’ll take out four!
First Johnson, and Patrick, and Johnson once more!
From the thirty, past midfield, to the sideline with glee
Did Marshawn outrun them through crimson debris.

As dry leaves that through the wild hurricane fly,
And meeting with obstacles, mount to the sky
So Lynch approached Patrick — who went for the ball —
Then slapped him away like a impotent doll.

And in came the Rocket to knock Johnson down
And help Patrick Peterson look like a clown.
So Lynch turned to sprint toward the Cardinals’ goal,
A scant forty yards, a mere beast-quaking stroll.

He was dressed all in blue from his helmet to shoe
(‘Cept his jersey was white, since that’s how Hawks do).
A bundle of Cardinals he left behind
As helpless as toys — and that’s being kind.

His eyes — how they twinkled! His dreadlocks how flowing!
His biceps were bulging, his lungs all a-blowing,
In hard-pumping Beast Mode still up on his toes
In search of the endzone, as everyone knows.

Approaching the goal line, Lynch needed relief
And wind flew at his back — yes, beyond all belief
Ricardo the Rocket was still not quite done.
He boxed out Cromartie while on a dead run.

And reaching the end zone Lynch turned and he leapt
And I laughed when I saw him while the Cardinals wept.
With a wink of his eye and twist of his wrist
He grabbed his own… well, you get the gist.

Lynch fell to his back and then sprang to his feet.
I doubt if that touchdown will ever be beat.
With Lockette before him, behind, and beside
His run is now legend — the dude will abide.

The Hawks trounced the Cards the division to lead
And now through the Clink will the playoffs proceed.
And to all the media did Lynch these words toss:
It’s all about action — yes, that action, boss.

Copyright 2014 (c) Greg Wright
With no apologies whatsoever to Clement Clarke Moore

Marshawn_Lynch_vs._Redskins_2014


Can the offense sustain the TD flurry of the last few weeks? I say yes… but with a little bit of a letup this week due to the brand-new platoon at running back, which will leave the O with more third-and-longs than usual. But we’re still at home… against the Browns. Look for a big day on D, and some great short-field opportunities. A good day for Hauschka.

Seattle 37, Cleveland 10.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

If you’re reading this column, you most likely follow the Seahawks.

If you follow the Seahawks, you, um, most likely are also aware how dominating they have been the last three weeks.

So we really don’t need to talk about that, do we? After all, just about every journalist across the country is now singing the praises of Carroll and Co., if reluctantly so. Even Pete Prisco is waxing eloquent… though he makes odd references to the “Wilson cult” and lobs most of his praise at Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell (!!!!).

So there are three basic fan reactions that seem prevalent right now.

  1. I Told You So. Maybe this is a correlate to the Wilson Cult, but there are always die-hard fans who feel vindicated when their team turns it around and starts fulfilling the promise of early-season blowhard braggadocio. I confess to a little of this reaction myself, and rationalize it by thinking, “But this isn’t just fanboy glibness. I had good reasons for knowing they’d turn it around.” And it’s tempting to list those reasons, and right now. Still, such turnarounds are never a given. Just ask injury-plagued Baltimore. Separation may indeed be in the preparation, but separate a shoulder or two (or lose Gronk and Edelman unexpectedly) and you can just easily pull a late-season slide. So if you can say “I told you so,” it’s not because you’ve got magical insight; it’s because your team is simply fortunate, if talented and well-coached.
  2. Yeah, but the Wheels Are About to Fall Off. On the flip side, there’s the reluctance to be a believer because you just can’t stand more of the Seattle Sports Disappointment Syndrome (SSDS). Sure, the Hawks are hot right now… but Wilson can’t keep up the pace. Just wait until Okung or Lewis misses another game to injury. The D still can’t cover tight ends. They could have re-signed Red Bryant to help bolster their D line while Dobbs and Hill recover. Rawls is no Marshawn. Bevell and Carroll are still living in denial over the Super Bowl loss, and it’s eating into everyone’s psyche. Etc., etc., etc… I get SSDS. I really do. All you have to do is summon the word “Mariners,” and this frame of reference makes perfect sense. But here’s a fact: every season is different. Every one. That means the possibility of success is always out there. And if you’ve got to believe in something, why not believe in hope?
  3. Enjoy the Ride. This is really where we are, and where most fans should live if they aren’t already. The fact remains that the Seahawks have held a lead in every game since the 2012 season opened. This season, they have held a lead in the 4th Quarter of every game. We may not be witnessing a thrilling season like 2012, a dominating season like 2013, or a come-from-behind BeastQuake 2.0 magic NFC Title season like last year’s, but this is still awfully good football. Even if the team falters and they somehow miss the playoffs this year, the Football Gods are kind to Seattle this decade. We are fortunate, very fortunate, to be Seahawk fans right now. Be realistic about the experience, and have fun with it!

Still, that’s not really what I want to talk about today. No.

Today, I mourn the death of Real Print Sports Journalism. More specifically, I decry the shallowness of Seahawk coverage at the Tacoma News Tribune.

Even when Steve Rudman and Art Thiel (now running sportspressnw.com) were still active at the Seattle P-I and Steve Kelly was the go-to guy at the Times, the Tribune was the local paper turning out sports journalists of national acclaim.

If you follow local sports at all, you must know that “The Professor” John Clayton came out of the Tribune, where he covered sports from 1986 through his jump to ESPN in 1995. As of 2007, Clayton is essentially a member of the NFL’s journalist hall of fame, having won the Dick McCann Memorial Award.

Heir to Clayton’s throne at the Trib was Mike Sando, who covered the NFL for them until his own jump to ESPN in 2007. His beat coverage for the NFC West was the best thing around, and I started writing this column due to dearth of decent Seahawks coverage when ESPN reassigned Sando to another beat. (Apparently, he was just too good for the NFC West. What?) As a vested journalist of repute, Sando is a voter for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Even with Sando’s departure from the Trib, the paper remained the best source of hybrid print/online Seahawks coverage. With the P-I‘s virtual demise and the shrinkage of the Times (and why is the Journal-American a non-entity in these conversations?), there are precious few column-inches of local, real NFL analysis of one of the hottest and most popular teams in the country.

But if you were going to find it, you’d find it at the Trib.

Up until a month ago.

That’s when McGrath and Boling jumped the shark.

Take a look at these headlines from the aftermath of the Cardinals game:

Capture 1

Capture 2

That’s right. Dethroned. Window slammed. White flag run up. Just rebuilding for next season. Yup.

Beyond all reason, and clearly beyond hope, the Tribune gave up on the Seahawks and wrote them off as a lost cause.

I suppose one might argue that the dire rhetoric was simply designed as a wakeup call to a middle-of-the-pack, underperforming team. But seriously–does anyone think Michael Bennett or Richard Sherman or Marshawn Lynch picks up a newspaper, reads a headline, and thinks, “Aw, shoot. Boling and McGrath are on to us! I guess we better start playing up to our contracts.” Get real.

The Tribune completely lost my respect that week. Whatever happened to “On Any Given Sunday?” Whatever happened to real analysis that looks at coaching strategy, business limitations, and managerial objectives?

Whatever happened to simply saying, “I was wrong” instead of just blithely jumping back on the bandwagon?

Whatever happened to sports coverage that was actually about the sport, instead of about the personalities and the emotion?

Oh, wait. I know where it all went. It all went to the Brock and Salk show on ESPN 710.

YouTube Preview Image

So, after the last three victories, who’s sorry now? Not, apparently, McGrath and Boling.

But the Tribune itself sure looks sorry.


Is it time for a letdown? I think not. And the Ravens are just in bad, bad shape. As I noted above, “Any Given Sunday” still applies. But this Sunday is not that Sunday.

Seattle 38, Baltimore 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

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 nickel.

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

That’s what I wrote last week. Almost prescient, eh? Each team scored almost exactly 10 more points than I expected, but the storyline played itself out almost perfectly.

Which is why I really don’t want to spend any time dissecting the Hawks’ performance or coaching this week. For me, it’s enough to pick off a red-hot Roethlisberger 4 times (plus Lane’s pick off Jones) and escape with a shoot-out win.

What I can complain about, though, and complain about a lot as a former offensive lineman, is how Pittsburgh got away with an illegal shift on 30 or more different pass plays in that game.

Officiating? Pfft.

Mind you, I was miffed at this during the game, but didn’t have the tools at my disposal to verify the cause of my disgruntlement. But when, the following day, I saw the following press photo taken during the game it kind of set me off.

11292015-seahawks16

Dean Rutz of the Seattle Times took this photo, and I’m reprinting it here for journalistic purposes. Rutz chose to focus on the banner in the background, but he captured the thing I’m writing about perfectly.

And what is that?

On almost every offensive snap (and I use that term deliberately), left guard Ramon Foster will get in his stance. Then, after Roethlisberger gets a chance to review the defensive alignment, he’ll change the cadence, snap count, or protection–I’m really not sure what he’s doing, and probably the defense isn’t either–and while he does that, Foster will rise up out of his stance and turn to listen to Roethlisberger! On almost every play.

Rutz’s photo captures this to a tee. You can see Roethlisberger talking directly to Foster, and Foster’s torso is turned completely around to see Roethlisberg’s lips.

So far, all of this is perfectly legal.

What happens next, and consistently so, is not.

Foster will return to his stance… and then the center will snap the ball.

Sometimes as little as 2 tenths of a second later.

That’s called an illegal shift, and it should be flagged.

Every stinking time.

According to the NFL rule book (and it has been this way for time immemorial), “The offensive team is permitted to shift and have two or more players in motion multiple times before the snap. However, after the last shift, all players must come to a complete stop and be in a set position simultaneously for at least one second.”

Come to a complete stop, and be in a set position for at least one second.

Can’t be much clearer than that.

I was so confident that the Steelers were consistently breaking this rule, I knew that I would be able to do a random sample of game footage and prove my point with only one play. So I went to my handy-dandy GamePass account and dialed up the Steelers’ game from last week. Completely randomly, I started replay 60 minutes in to the broadcast. It happened to be just before halftime, and the Steelers had the ball.

Here’s the first screen shot, and you can see that the Steelers are in their initial set with the play clock at 11 seconds.

IllegalShift1

At 9 seconds on the play clock, Foster and Roethlisberger are doing their usual thing, and Foster is turned back to face the QB.

IllegalShift2

At 6 seconds, Foster gets back in his set.

IllegalShift3

With the play clock still showing 6 seconds, the ball is in play.

IllegalShift4

But wait, you might say. It’s possible that Foster was still set for a full second and the play clock just happens to still show 6 at the end of that second. After all, the secondary play clock display, down by the down-and-distance display at the bottom of the screen, moves from 07 to 06 in those last two screen shots.

But no, I say.

Because I have the trusty stopwatch I stole from Quentin Rapp’s Physics lab in high school nearly 40 years ago. (Yes, I have been known to cheat, too.)

The time between Foster being set and the snap, on this particular play, was 6/10 of a second.

On the following snap, it was an unbelievable 2/10 of a second. That’s right, 0.2 seconds!

The outcome of both plays? Completed passes for long gains.

Two plays, among dozens, that should have resulted in five-yard penalties for Pittsburgh.

And you think the officials messed up big time in Super Bowl XL. Huh. The Steelers got away with this nonsense at the Clink.

What’s the significance? you might ask.

First, the rule is in place to allow defenses to reset themselves after the offense shifts.

Second, if the play clock is winding down (as it did more than once in last week’s game) and the offense must be set for at least a full second before snapping the ball, the play clock may expire before the ball can be legally snapped. That’s pretty significant.

Third, if you’re in your two-minute drill (as the Steelers were in that sequence above), saving half a second or more on six different plays can potentially give you three or four more seconds on the game clock. And anybody who says that’s insignificant doesn’t understand the game.

Finally, it’s just the rules.

Why can’t the Steelers play by them, and why can’t the officials enforce them? This is all obvious during live play. It’s not some dicey subjective call like “What’s a catch?” It’s empirical. Either they’re set for a second–“one-onethousand”–or they’re not. School kids learn what a second is on the playground by the time they’re six years old.

I’m pretty sure what Mike Tomlin’s response would be. “I don’t pay attention to that. That’s someone else’s job.”

Yep. If you can ignore concussion protocol, you can deliberately obstruct punt returners, and you can surely ignore rules about illegal shifts.

Just what the hell does Tomlin actually pay attention to, I wonder? His implausible deniability act is getting really, really old.


 

It’s not encouraging, when facing a road game against Adrian Peterson, to know that your most banged up unit is your interior defensive line.

It is encouraging, however, to see the head coach, the defensive coordinator, and multiple defensive stars copping to a lack of discipline during the win over the Steelers. It’s also encouraging to know that the offensive has responded to being called out by the coaches in the last couple of weeks. I think the defense will respond likewise this week. They’ve got the talent to do so, and the history of being able to play with discipline.

The difference between Wilson and Bridgewater will be the difference in this game. Seattle 31, Minneapolis 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

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.

BruceIrvin_(cropped)

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

Sidney Rice. Photo by Mike Morris (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/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.

    WagnerBennett

    “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. (http://flickr.com/photos/luisar/2998114649) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Luis Antonio Rodríguez Ochoa from Redmond, Washington. Cropped by User:Blueag9. (http://flickr.com/photos/luisar/2998114649) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/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 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Neal (Neal D) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/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

“Christine Michael 2014” by Mike Morris – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christine_Michael_2014.jpg#/media/File:Christine_Michael_2014.jpg

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?

interception

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 - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pete_Carroll_2014.jpg#/media/File:Pete_Carroll_2014.jpg

“Pete Carroll 2014” by Mike Morris – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pete_Carroll_2014.jpg#/media/File:Pete_Carroll_2014.jpg

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.

three-linemen

 


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.