be-back-sm

(Or, A Seahawks Carroll, with Apologies to Charles Dickens)

By Greg Wright

The Seahawks are not dead, to begin with.

While we all may be grossly disappointed that it’s Atlanta representing the NFC in tomorrow’s NFL extravaganza, I suppose we can take solace that

a.) Ex-Seahawk Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn coaches Atlanta, so we are represented, in a way;

b.) We lost to Atlanta, so we could still argue that we were this close to making it back to the big show;

c.) Three out the last four Super Bowls have featured at least one Bennett brother;

d.) The Seahawks have won at least one playoff game each of their last six trips to the playoffs; and

e.) They’ve gone to the playoffs six of the last seven years.

So even the Ghosts of Playoffs Past look pretty good when you compare the track records of most other NFL franchises.

No, Pete Carroll’s Hawks are not dead yet, not by a long shot. And there’s plenty of reason to believe that the Ghost of Playoffs Future will not be ghastly, either.

Yet there is the matter of the Ghost of Playoffs Present to deal with as I conclude my columns for this season, and I’m afraid that’s going to feel like a bit of Bah, humbug.

First, there is the matter of turnovers. Counting the playoffs, the Hawks finished the season with a turnover margin in negative territory for the first time under Pete Carroll. As I noted in both preseason this year and in my playoff preview, this is one of the most alarming trends to emerge. And I will say it again. “This predictor alone disqualifies the Hawks from contention.”

The problem is not that the Hawks are giving the ball away more than they have in the past. It’s that they’re not taking the ball away as often. Granted, a lot of that has to do with how the ball bounces, and you can’t really control that. But you do also “make your own luck,” and Pete knows that. That’s why the Seahawks focus on creating turnovers during one practice each week. The more times you can force your opponent to put the ball on the ground, the more opportunities you have to recover the ball.

In their championship season, the Hawks took the ball away almost two times more per game than they did this year. Think about that, and consider how differently this season would have turned out with that kind of game-changing impact.

Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, and DeShawn Shead will be keys to turning that trend around next season. Aside from Kam and Earl, who have not lost their touch for creating mayhem, these three account for the lion’s share of the defense’s downfield tackles. In Seattle’s Super Bowl seasons, you may remember the regularity with which Brandon Browner and Byron Maxwell created turnovers with their tackling technique. With reflection, you may also remember that Browner’s and Maxwell’s first instincts were not to get their man to the ground. It was to rip the ball out.

You may also remember that it was right about this time that, in the interests of reducing closed head injuries, the Seahawks started perfecting (and promoting) new tackling techniques… which have been stunningly effective for Wagner and Wright, in particular. But with the number of times those two in particular get close to the ball, now that they have their technique down they would do well to start looking for more opportunities to rip the ball loose. This more than any other factor has the greatest chance of turning around the turnover downturn.

Second, it’s about time that the coaching staff starts practicing what it preaches when it comes to “always compete.”

I’m sure I’m not the only one who noticed the lack of competitive urge at the end of the first half against Atlanta. With 43 seconds to go, Seattle didn’t even try to get in position for a field goal–this despite being down by 9 points, despite the fact that Atlanta would be getting the ball to start the second half, and despite the fact that the Seahawks are perfectly capable of scoring touchdowns with less time on the clock. We know that because we’ve seen them do it.

As the rest of the playoffs ground on, however, any TV viewer could see plenty of evidence that other playoff teams made better use of the final minute of the first half than Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell did. I’m sure Pete’s players noticed that, too. And that failure to compete at the end of the half sends a message to the team: “They’ve got us on our heels.” Ouch.

No, it’s time to compete. Your playoff life is at stake. It’s not time to retreat. Always compete. Never retreat.

And I suspect this creepingly protectionist mindset in the coaching staff has been behind Richard Sherman’s rants this season. I suspect he’s been thinking, “If we’re gonna lose, let’s lose attacking rather than dropping back into soft zones. We can man-up on these dudes. Let’s compete.”

I’ve noted earlier this season that the defense seems to have rested on its technique and high rankings while steadily slipping in its ability to actually control the tempo of the game. And I think Kam and Richard suspect they could do a better job of coaching than the guy who replaced Dan Quinn.

And I suspect they might be right. That’s what can happen when your stars become elder statesmen.

I think it’s time for Pete to look long and hard at his coaching staff and ask whether there might be coaches outside of Seattle who are better than the coaches inside Seattle. Coaches who can command the respect of headstrong all-pros.

If starting players can be challenged by bringing in outside talent, why can’t “starting” coaches?

As good as Darrell Bevell and Kris Richard demonstrably are, I’ll just bet a little competition might do them good.

Gus Bradley and Kyle Shanahan are already off the market; but there are still free agents out there.

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

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

I guarantee that there’s one thing that has not been talked about on any other news site this week.

A review of my 2016 analysis of Seahawk vulnerabilities.

So I guess I’ll do it!

The starting place, of course, is the recognition that Seattle is a serious franchise with which to contend. The benchmark, though, is the 2013 Super Bowl team.

And the question is: Are the 2016 Hawks good enough to measure up and make the drive back to the Super Bowl goal line?

So here were the areas of concern I raised during the season, and I rate their improvement not against early this season but against the Super Bowl teams:

This is a Boykin. Its name is Trevone.

Backup QB. Is Boykin a legitimate backup QB for a contender? Preseason games really aren’t any indicator, but what I saw of Boykin in regular-season action this year gives me a better feeling about him than I ever had about his predecessor, Tarvaris Jackson. Verdict: Better.

Turnovers. In preseason I noted that regular-season Seahawks teams tend to follow pre-season turnover trends. This season was no different. They had the worst preseason turnover margin ever under Pete Carroll, and have followed that up with the worst regular-season TOM ever under Carroll. This predictor alone disqualifies the Hawks from contention. Verdict: Worse. Much Worse.

Bobby Wagner’s Play. Bobby did not look good in preseason, and I noted that he would have to clean up his drops and quickness if the Hawks were going to contend. All Wagner did was have the best season of his career, maybe even the best season of any linebacker in the league. Verdict: Almost Unbelievably Better.

Breno Giacomini, photo by Jeffrey Beall via Wikimedia Commons

Garry Gilliam. As preseason came to a close, I questioned Pete Carroll’s tepid endorsement of the Hawks’ veteran right tackle. Tom Cable and Pete also continued to question that endorsement as the right side of Seattle’s line was the glaring offensive weak spot all season long. But Gilliam has landed himself back in the starting rotation, and does indeed look better than he did in preseason. But good enough to contend? I’m not convinced. Verdict: Worse. Gilliam is not the presence either Giacomini or Britt were at RT.

The Defense. Don’t need to say a lot here. The D itself knows it has not measured up to the last four seasons, either in performance or stats. It certainly hasn’t lived up to fan expectations. The LOB has rarely been on the field all at the same time, and even when it was they were giving up too many big completions. Verdict: Worse.

Special Teams. I really had no idea my early-season concerns about Special Teams would be so prescient. When Tyler Lockett started to get a late-season surge in his returns, I thought maybe some fire would come back to that unit. But with Lockett out now, this area of the Hawks’ performance has really been disastrous. Very few big returns, tons of miscues, a safety, missed PATs, and a concussion. Verdict: Worse.

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

Richard Sherman. Is the 2016 Sherman version of petulance an advantage or a disadvantage? It’s definitely good for Sherman’s head and consequent Pro Bowl All-Pro performance, but I’m still not convinced it’s good for the team. Verdict: A Draw.

Seahawk Toughness. If at midseason we thought the Hawks had it rough, we had really seen nothing yet. Willson, Bennett, Thomas, and Lockett all had yet to go down. Even Chancellor spent some time on the bench. Has “Next Man Up” nonetheless worked? Yes. Yes, it has. Verdict: Still Strong, but a Wash. (Note: kudos to Sowell for coming back. Bummer he didn’t keep his job in the process.)

The Offensive Line. Are Fant, Glo, Britt, Ifedi, and Gilliam working out? Are they, like their predecessors, likely bound for future free-agent mega-contracts, as I predicted at mid-season? Well, Fant is simply a media and critical darling. Glowinski is proving pretty solid and reliable, as we all pretty much expected. Britt has had a Pro Bowl caliber season. Gilliam has confirmed he’s starter material after all. Ifedi? Well, he’s still a rookie, and playing like one. I think I was right. These guys are generally better than ya’ll give ’em credit for. But that’s not the only issue. Do they stack up with their predecessors? Um, no. And they are paid accordingly. Verdict: Worse.

Out-of-Character Coaching and Personnel Management. The mid-game benching of Gilliam. Yanking starters in the season finale against the Rams. Extending Bennett’s contract prior to the end of the season, more than a year before his contract expires. Sideline squabbles amongst players. Both Carroll and Richard taking smack from Sherm on the sidelines. Both Cable and Richard taking time out for coaching interviews during the playoff run. Whaaaa???? The Carroll regime is not playing by its own rules this year. Verdict: Dire.

It doesn’t take a genius to compare the 2016 Hawks with the 2013 or 2014 Hawks and understand that they suffer by almost every meaningful comparison. The only really clear advantages this team has are its passing game and the play of the defensive front seven.

The Seahawks do have it in them to step it up and perform in the manner which we have come to expect, of course. Will they?

If they don’t, this is what we can expect either this week or next: falling behind early once again, losing the turnover battle, critical Special Teams errors, several poorly-timed sacks, and an early exit from the playoffs.

I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to see that happen today. The team’s eyes, Coaches included, do not seem to be entirely on the prize.

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

be-back-smSatire by Greg Wright

Since the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots, my mantra for Seahawks fans has been, “We’ll be back. One yard at a time.”

If so, I don’t think it will be this year. There are too many flaws in all three units, too many coaching errors, and too many cooks in the kitchen.

Near the end of Sunday’s loss at home to the Arizona Cardinals, WR Paul Richardson was caught in the middle of a scrum between RG Germain Ifedi and several of his fellow linemen, who were trying to restrain Ifedi from going after Defensive Coordinator Kris Richard. The Fox network cameras caught some of the action on video, Richardson signaling to Doug Baldwin for help as photographers snapped pictures.

Ifedi was incensed at the “zero blitz” called by Richard on the 29-yard pass completion that Carson Palmer threw to David Johnson just moments before. The defensive call left poor outmanned Kam Chancellor one-on-one with the NFL’s best running back, who not only caught the pass cleanly in front of Chancellor to put Arizona nearly in field-goal range but also got out of bounds to stop the clock. Chancellor never laid a finger on him. And those precious saved seconds allowed Arizona, with no timeouts left, to get another 8 yards closer for the game-winning kick as time expired.

At the press conference following the game, I asked Ifedi whether he felt it was appropriate to call out Richard for a defensive call that cost the Seahawks a victory.

“I don’t know what ‘appropriate’ means,” Ifedi replied. “I just open my mouth and words fall out.”

I told him I understand. I sit down in front of a keyboard, and my fingers just start moving. But isn’t there a time and place for “family business”? Like, in the locker room after the game?

“The world is my locker room,” were the words that fell out of Ifedi’s mouth next. “What’s good for the moose is good for the gander. If the D doesn’t like the offensive calls, they’re free to spout off at us, too.”

In trying to help Germain make his point, I cited the O-line protection call which yielded a clean sack of Russell Wilson on fourth and goal at the end of the first half, or the numerous times Ifedi and Gilliam/Sowell had failed to cover line stunts in recent weeks.

It was at that point that Darrel Bevell had to jump to Ifedi’s aid as the impulsive lineman lunged over the podium and tried to tear the voice recorder from my hands.

Picture the scene as the diminutive OC drags Ifedi away, the hulking lineman hollering back at me, “I’ll have your press credentials revoked!”

I should have seen that coming, of course. And I deserved it. I’ve long been aware that it’s okay for players to call out players, coaches to call out players, and players to call out coaches.

It’s never okay, though, for journalists to call out players. After all, what the hell do we know?

I just plan on licking my wounds, locking my press pass in a vault somewhere, and hoping somebody sent the Hawks a really big box of Band-Aids for Christmas. They’re going to need some serious patching up to get them through the sacks, bombs, and blocked kicks they’re likely to give up during their playoff run this season.

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

Hawks-150The following was originally published on Dec. 27, 2014. If it’s Christmas Eve and the Hawks are playing the Cardinals, what better moment can be recalled?

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


Expectations 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.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

I’m certainly glad that the Seahawks played two games in the last seven days, and that they won the second of those in pretty flamboyant fashion. Saves me from having to write a total downer of a column this week!

Regarding those interceptions against Green Bay, however…

On Monday evening, several Waterland Blog contributors (including The Marine View Driver, photographers Michael Brunk and Jennifer Leone, yours truly, and publisher Scott Schaefer) participated in the Christmas Match Game at Huntington Park.

In The Match Game, the host reads a statement with a blank in it, and panelists fill in the blank. Jennifer was so steamed about those blankety-blank picks that she filled in every blank with “interceptions.” This is how her Match Game responses went:

  • My ability to turn holiday joy into stress is rivaled only by my ability to turn holiday stress into interceptions.
  • Christmas is just like your job because you do all the work, but the rotund guy wearing the interceptions gets all the credit!
  • Did you know that Santa’s not allowed to go down chimneys this year? It was declared hazardous by the Department of Interceptions and Safety.
  • Two snowmen are in a field. One turns to the other and says, “I don’t know about you, but I think I smell interceptions.”
  • Have you ever noticed that the time you stop believing in Santa is just about the same time you start getting interceptions for Christmas?

The Hawk fans in the audience appreciated the 5-interceptions salute.

And apparently, Russell Wilson started believing in Santa Claus again, given his performance Thursday night. Whew!

And I have to say I pretty much dug the Color Rush Action Green uniforms. I wasn’t sold at first, but they sure look good when Richard Sherman slams into Jared Goff, Jon Ryan slams senseless into the turf, or Michael Bennett tosses tight ends aside like trash.

Big hits abounded in Thursday’s clash with the Rams, and I, for one, was glad to finally see the booth take over the concussion protocol and get Goff out of the game for his own good. I was amazed that the Rams didn’t do that on their own.

But this nonsense about Bennett not being in concussion protocol is just that. Nonsense. Neck problem, my ass.

For your edification, here’s a slo-mo GIF of the play. Watch Bennett do the inhuman in taking on both the tight end and stuffing Gurley. Click the image for the slo-mo.

But watch repeatedly as K.J.Wright tries to congratulate Bennett after the play. This is another GIF to click on.

Bennett simply doesn’t respond. He’s out. It wasn’t for long — maybe five seconds or so. But he was out.

He should be in concussion protocol, but he’s not. The system has failed Michael Bennett.

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

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

This week I watched A Football Life‘s episode about Hall of Famer QB Steve Young. If you’ve ever followed football, you probably remember that he took San Francisco back to the Super Bowl in the wake of the legendary Joe Montana’s departure for Kansas City. You may not remember that he started his NFL career in the USFL, or that SF was not his first NFL stop.

You also may not remember that he played scared, but I do.

I’m sure I’m displaying a former lineman’s bias, but I simply cannot stand quarterbacks with poor body language or prima donna attitudes. Even when I played intramural flag football at the UW (which was a lot more competitive and physical than it sounds) I wanted my QB to be a relentlessly positive leader, a gridiron Harry Truman who took no prisoners and pointed no fingers. And Steve Young was one of the first professionals I watched play whom I thought I would have a super-hard time respecting.

Take a look at his face, for just one example, while he’s executing one of his classic scrambles:

Not a face that would launch a thousand ships or inspire much confidence. That dude was terrified every time he touched the ball.

The Football Life segment was at least illuminating. It confirmed that Young didn’t understand the basics of leadership until very late in his career, and that his coaches had to constantly play him off against Montana and other QBs in order to properly motivate him to lead. And that now, years later, Young acknowledges those shortcomings.

Which brings me to the QB that the Hawks face tomorrow.

I’ve also never cared for Aaron Rodgers for similar reasons. Like Young, he has tremendous athletic skills. Like Young, he can pass from the pocket or scramble like Tasmanian Devil.

But like Young, he has terrible body language. And he consistently demonstrates, both on field and off, his disgust with his own errors, his intolerance for the mistakes of others, and what he perceives as the incompetence of his coaches.

Do you recognize Rodgers’ trademark smirk, pursed lips and eye-roll after passes bounce off the hands of his receivers, or when he doesn’t like a play call?

This is not a leader who has your back. This is a perfectionist who thinks everyone on the team is there merely to support him. And if you let him down, he’s likely to show you up on national TV.

Now, that’s a legitimate style of leadership that can work. But I don’t like it one bit.

And I don’t like to see my leader pound the ground with his fist after losing a fumble at the goal line, like he did against Dallas earlier this season.

 

And I certainly don’t like my QB to throw an F-bomb on national TV on the way back to the huddle.

Give me Russell Wilson any day over Rodgers.

At least I’ve never seen him pull a Matt Schaub, if you’ll recall that classic moment in 2013 when Sherman picked him off for a TD, the fifth week in a row that Schaub had given up a pick-six.

Schaub could never get his mojo back after that.

I’m just hoping that Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril will get in Rodgers’ face enough on Sunday to make his composure crack. Maybe two or three picks from the secondary.

Or maybe Mike McCarthy will do us a few favors in play calling, like he did in the NFC Championship game two seasons ago.

I really enjoy watching Rodgers squirm. He’s a much more entertaining loser than winner.

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

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I honestly don’t get it.

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

capture5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

capture capture2 capture3  capture6 capture7 capture8 capture9

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

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

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

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

And it’s certainly not on Gilliam.

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

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

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

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

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

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

Nope.

Instead, it’s Mike Huard Story Time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I understood perfectly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After all, who listens to linemen?

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

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

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

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

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

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

Advertisement break.

WHAT?!?!?!?

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

WTH???? Are you joking?

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

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

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

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

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

timeout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

td

After four playoff appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that there’s always some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us weekly for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

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

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

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

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

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

ezgif-2155056402

See Richard jump waaaayyyy offsides.

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

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

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

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

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

See Richard successfully block the kick.

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

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

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

Because Dan told his trainer he was.

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

ezgif-com-optimize-1

See Dan continue to writhe in pain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did Dan deserve a penalty there for unsportsmanlike conduct?

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

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

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

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

Sheesh.

The only unsportsmanlike party in that sequence was Carpenter.

Or perhaps referee crew chief Walt Anderson.

Or perhaps his boss, Dean Blandino.

But Sherman? No. Decidedly not.

After four playoff appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that there’s always some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us weekly for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

I remember a time when ex-Seahawks just vanished.

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

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

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

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

Breno Giacomini, photo by Jeffrey Beall via Wikimedia Commons

Breno Giacomini, photo by Jeffrey Beall via Wikimedia Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, what a bunch of bums.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After four playoff appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that there’s always some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us weekly for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

capture1

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

Do you think Bradley Sowell plays for the pay?

capture2

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

ezgif-com-optimize

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

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

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

That’s how much he wants to play.

That’s the kind of teammate you want.

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

Don’t you love it?

After four playoff appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that there’s always some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us weekly for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Sherman roars, good things are about to happen.

After four playoff appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that there’s always some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us weekly for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this year, overall?

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

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

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

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

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

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

After four playoff appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that there’s always some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us weekly for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do we have for results?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps.

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

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

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

No, I didn’t think so.

After four playoff appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that there’s always some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us weekly for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

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

Gladly, it ended in a win.

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

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

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

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

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

capture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After four playoff appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that there’s always some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us weekly for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russell may want to watch his head.

After four playoff appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that there’s always some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us weekly for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

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

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

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

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

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

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

KC 1 1st and 10 5 yard gainJPG

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

KC 2 2nd and 5 11 yard pickup

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

KC 3 9 yard gain ware

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

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

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

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

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

KC 6 touchdown ware

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

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

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

M1 1st and ten 2 yard gain

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

M2 18 yard completion on delayed blitz

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

M3 8 yard first down

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

M4 5 yard pickup

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

M5 incomplete punt

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

Why am I picking on Wagner?

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

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

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

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

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

Scary, huh?

After four playoff appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that there’s always some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us weekly for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.