be-back-smBy Greg Wright

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

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

Just like old times, eh?

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

The other part of the problem, in this case, was that the officials overturned the fumble. Why? Because Carter’s elbow was down before the ball popped loose. Take a slo-mo look once more: (1)But I’m certainly not going to complain about one of the lone defensive highlights of the preseason. We didn’t get the call. So what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


That’s right.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


be-back-smBy Greg Wright


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

What’s a Boykin?

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

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

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

This is a Boykin. Its name is Trevone.

This is a Boykin. Its name is Trevone.

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

So what’s a Boykin?

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

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

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

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

What’s a Hail Mary?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Totally unexpected, totally unorthodox, and totally successful.

NOT a Hail Mary.

And What’s Roughing the Passer?

Apparently not this:

Capture 1 30Or this:

Capture 2 29Or this:

Capture 3 28Or this:

Capture 4 27Or this:

Capture 5 26Or this:

Capture 6 25Or this:

Capture 7 24

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

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

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

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

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

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


Donald Davis

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

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


Tea with the Tellers

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

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


Telling in the Perennial Borders

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The Millennials (TV)
Review by Greg Wright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, watch out!


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

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

Tea in the garden’s sun room provides an opportunity to catch up with Mom or Grandma over a warm beverage and treats served on Diane Powell’s garden china. Tea is served from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday. The PowellsWood website notes that “Tea is in addition to general admission. Menu and pricing are available at 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 ( 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!

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!

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!

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!

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.


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.


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.


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


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


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 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.

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.


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.


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


At 6 seconds, Foster gets back in his set.


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


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.


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

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

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

Call it motivational management.

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

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

Anybody with me?

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

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

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

Seattle 28, Pittsburgh 20.

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

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

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

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

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

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

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

The problem?

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

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

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

The other problem?

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

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

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

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

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

It was too good to be true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can’t even make it happen twice.

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

Extra Yardage

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


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


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

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

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

Seattle 27, San Francisco 13.

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