be-back-sm

By Greg Wright

Since this may be final column of the season–though I don’t believe it will be–I’ll take the opportunity to review this year’s commentary with an eye toward playoff implications. After all, the greatest concerns of the season can’t help but play into post-season success… or failure.

Week One: Will Pete Carroll beat expectations this season, or were Sherman, Bennett, and Co. right? As I expected before even the first coin flip, Carroll has proven naysayers incorrect. There really is something special about the way he and John Schneider work together to evaluate and develop talent–particularly on the defensive side of the ball–and then shape greenhorns into championship-caliber athletes. That this 2018 team feels so much like the 2012 team bodes well for Wild Card games on the road. I’d put their odds of reaching the NFC Championship game at 50% or better.

Week Two: The pass rush hinges on downfield coverage. Seattle’s most experienced cornerbacks to start the season were Griffin and Coleman, both of whom had exactly one year under their belts with Seattle. If Frank Clark and Co. were to end up with decent sack counts for the season, it would hinge on the DBs staying relatively healthy and maturing quickly. Boy, has this come through. Griffin and Coleman have stayed on the field and excelled, while Tre Flowers and Akeem King have more than demonstrated that they can play in the big leagues. A lack of playoff experience is a concern here, though, and Griffin’s ankle may hamper him in Dallas. Prescott may be able to exploit these potential weaknesses.

Week Three: In spite of Dickson, the punting game is not up to snuff. Seattle’s lone loss down the stretch resulted from Special Teams gaffes, and the season-ending near-disaster was the result of three crucial errors in the punt game. These blunders have been very uncharacteristic of Pete Carroll teams. If this trend continues in the postseason, you can count Seattle out. I’d put the odds of this at close to zero, however. As much of a concern as Seattle’s Special Teams play is, the likelihood of problems cropping up two weeks in a row is slim.

Week Four: Lockett’s contract makes perfect sense. Do I need to say much about this? Statisticians reported this week that when Wilson has targeted Lockett this season, he has a perfect QB rating. Mission accomplished. This connection will be key to postseason success.

Week Five: The Seahawks have likely moved on from Earl Thomas. The loss of Delano Hill actually hurts worse than the loss of Earl Thomas. In fact, the only thing missing when Earl went on IR was his ongoing distraction factor. McDougald and Thompson are certainly not Thomas and Chancellor; but they are pretty exciting to watch themselves, and play extremely well with the corners. Both will need to stay healthy through the playoffs, though. With Hill on IR, there’s only one guy on the depth chart behind McD and T, and he’s a guy nobody has heard of.

Week Six: To reach the playoffs, Seattle needs consistently excellent play from Russell Wilson. Seattle’s key player has absolutely stepped up this season. Not only has he thrown a career-high 35 TDs while attempting fewer passes than any full-time starter in the league, he has protected the ball well over the final ten games and refused to force passes into sound defensive coverage. He knows he’s getting paid like the superstar he is, but is humbly staying within the system to win games rather than playing to pad stats or Pro Bowl credentials. Kudos. My money is on Wilson coming through in the postseason. If the Seahawks lose, it will not be because Wilson let them down.

Week Seven: Bevell could have succeeded with this offensive group, too. I was spot on with this analysis, as it turns out. Playcalling did not produce 2,500 yards in rushing offense this year. The leadership of Carson, Britt, Brown, Sweezy, and Fluker did. Behind this line, and with these running backs, Bevell’s offense would have looked like it did in 2012, 2013, and 2014 when Lynch, Okung, Giacomini, and Unger were nastily powering the running game. But it’s really better than that. The numbers show that during Pete Carroll’s tenure, Seattle’s offense has never scored as many points as consistently as it has during 2018. This potential for offensive output will be a key to postseason success.

Week Eight: Expect good things from this defense. The ability to bend but not break in the second half of games was key in victories over the Panthers, Packers, Vikings, and Chiefs. This D is not world-class, as it was during the Legion of Boom years, but it still knows how to win and keep games close.

Week Nine: The key value for Seattle receivers is making targets count. Midseason was a transition point in the offense cementing its identity. Since then, it’s become clear who the playmakers are: Lockett, Baldwin, Moore, and Dickson. As has always been the case, with Pete Carroll teams, catching the ball is all that matters. And Seattle’s “pedestrian” receivers have always done that well. It’s why bigger names with less sticky hands simply don’t last in Seattle.

Week Ten: Linebacker and corner blitzes are needed to produce better pressure. The uptick in sacks has actually been generated by Jacob Martin and Jarran Reed, and without the help of blitzes, but added pressure from blitzes has indeed rattled Goff and Mahomes, among others, making these young superstar QBs look awfully human. As the D has learned to play together better, Coordinator Ken Norton has been able to dial things up very effectively and judiciously.

Week Eleven: On D, the linebacking corps is the biggest concern. Seattle has been very fortunate about having just enough healthy legitimate starters to eke its way through the season. Even with Kendricks landing on IR two weeks ago, this position group is probably at its strongest going into Dallas. It’s good to have Wright back, and at full speed, playing alongside Wagner and Calitro, with Mingo and Griffin in the mix. Still, I’d say the middle of the field in pass coverage, and getting the right fits in the run D, is Seattle’s biggest vulnerability heading into the playoffs.

Week Twelve: Russell needs a new go-to guy in clutch 4th Quarter situations. This has become crystal clear: it’s Lockett. Hands down.

Week Thirteen: Bobby Wagner, future Hall of Famer. Consensus Pro Bowler and All Pro. Captain of this defense. I’ll just toot my own horn and point out that I was lauding Wagner’s season earlier than the professional press corps.

Week Fourteen: Seahawks, reshapers of careers. The fallout of crucial losses to an underrated and underestimated Seattle team continues. More coach firings, with more trades and roster reshaping in the offing. Keeping up with the Joneses is a real thing in the NFL.

Week Fifteen: The best defense is a good offense… and controlling the clock. The final weeks of the season certainly demonstrated the importance of keeping opposing offenses off the field. Yes, the D did force some great 3-and-outs down the stretch; but it’s easier to do that when you’re fresh because the offense has been grinding out second-half drives. Remember that. This offense deserves a lot of credit for December (and postseason) success.

Week Sixteen: Seattle knows how to control its own destiny. The Seahawks did not back into the playoffs. And under Pete Carroll, when that has happened Seattle has had success in the postseason. This is a team that can win on the road.

Week Seventeen: Lockett knows how to get open. Only two receptions last week… but wow! Were they big ones. Look forward to more of that in Dallas… and the week after.

be-back-sm

By Greg Wright

“The separation is in the preparation,” Russell Wilson is fond of saying. By that, he means “Do your homework, and it will pay off on the field.”

Seattle wideout Tyler Lockett has become an expert at getting just the right kind of separation at just the right time while running his routes for Russell Wilson, and the skill has paid great dividends this year for the Seahawks… and for Lockett particularly, whose brand-new 3-year, $37.8 million contract extension prior to the start of the season is now widely regarded as a bargain for the ball club.

This week, the Seattle Times dubbed Lockett the “Contact King. The Flag Aficionado. The Houdini of Hand-Fighting.” This after Football Outsiders reported that Lockett leads the league in drawing defensive pass-interference calls. In addition to Lockett’s 899 yards receiving, his downfield skills have produced 182 yards in pass-interference penalties on 6 plays, all for automatic first downs averaging 30 yards. What an asset.

The Times‘ Mike Vorel, in an attempt to describe Lockett’s skill with “hand-fighting” while running in lock step with defensive backs, said of one such play that Lockett “attempted to extend his arms, felt a relatively microscopic amount of contact and dramatically dropped like he had unexpectedly lost control of his lower extremities.” Vorel makes it sound like Lockett has simply perfected the art of pro-soccer flopping.

Hardly.

What Lockett does is far more sophisticated than that. And as for Lockett himself, he’s not particularly dishing on his secrets. All he would tell Vorel is that “I try to put myself in positions where it’s easy to be able to see it if I’m not able to get both my hands up.” And that involves a whole lot of preparation that Lockett puts into getting just the right amount of separation from the DB at just the right time–simultaneously opening up the windows of visibility for the officials and confusing the hell out of the DB about where the ball is, and when it’s arriving. Fellow receiver David Moore offered Vorel a little better insight to the knack: “Tyler’s great at attacking the ball at the end of the play.”

If you study film of the P.I. calls that Lockett draws, you will notice a number of key points.

First, he’s speedy enough, quick enough, and tricky enough to get DBs chasing him downfield immediately off the line of scrimmage. And more often than not, Lockett will win the battle for the sideline. This gets the DB’s back to the QB, so that his only clue about the movement of the ball in the air will come from the receiver himself. Advantage, Lockett.

Second, Lockett is indeed incredibly skillful at tracking the ball in flight, even as he’s racing 3o or 4o yards downfield–even if, as in last week’s game with Kansas City, Wilson has lofted the ball in an impossibly high arc so that it’s dropping down into Lockett’s hands at an incredibly steep angle.

But third, where Lockett really excels in tracking the ball is not giving away the position of the ball via hand movements or facial expressions. In fact, Lockett tightly controls his hand movements and facial expressions to fake out DBs–either making them think the ball is arriving earlier than it actually is, or surprising them cold with its “sudden” arrival on target.

Yet the truly astounding factor in all of this is Lockett’s athleticism as he is able to make very subtle changes to his downfield trajectory so that he is in complete control of his body’s proximity to that of the DB–so that he has closeness when he wants it, and separation when he wants it… and pass interference calls when he wants them.

Finally, he has brilliant instincts about when it’s better to draw P.I. than to attempt a catch–when a D.B. simply has better position, or when the ball will be slightly under- or over-thrown. He’s managing probabilities all while running sprints and hand-fighting.

I seriously think that DBs and WRs alike will be doing masses of film study on Lockett in the coming weeks and years. Analyzing his moves is a master clinic in technique.

Let’s look at just two sequences, both from the first half of the win over the Chiefs.

Working against Free Safety Steve Nelson, Lockett wins the initial hand battle at the line of scrimmage, releasing downfield and already turning to look for the ball. Nelson immediately has to be concerned about the ball being in the air.

 

Lockett then adjusts his path downfield, taking a step further toward the sideline. Nelson has to counter, both slowing him slightly and bringing his momentum across Lockett’s path.

 

Just as Nelson’ momentum brings his body into contact with Lockett again, Lockett brings his right arm up in a motion that Nelson interprets as the arrival of the ball. He begins to turn his head to look for it.

 

The ball is nowhere close to arriving, and Lockett knows it–and also knows he has Nelson completely bamboozled. Lockett pulls away from Nelson, getting the separation that he wants while Nelson is looking away for the ball, and as Lockett’s right arm is clearly being held down by the bewildered Nelson. Right in full view of officials and thousands of spectators.

 

By the time the ball arrives on the scene (circled), Lockett is already flat on his belly and the automatic first down by P.I. is secured. Nelson still has no idea what has just happened, or where the ball is. Lockett has known all along. Genius.

Here is the second.

Just before halftime, Lockett is working against CB Charvarius Ward on the opposite side of the field. Again, Lockett wins the hand-fighting battle for position off the line of scrimmage, and Ward is forced into reaction mode.

 

As against Nelson earlier, Lockett uses this advantage to get separation and take a step toward the sideline, baiting Ward into following.

 

Ward’s momentum takes him into Lockett as Lockett steps toward Ward. As Lockett brings up his right arm, Ward instinctively reaches out to impede the motion, interpreting it as the arrival of the ball. He has no choice because he has no idea where the ball is. That white glove on the dark blue jersey screams “I’M GRABBING HIM! SEE???”

 

Ward starts turning to find the ball and Lockett pulls away, knowing full well that the refs and everyone in the world can see Ward’s armful of bicep. Ward aids and abets Lockett as his motion to find the ball accentuates both the interference and the separation.

 

Lockett flings an arm out in gesture that says “I’d love to get TWO arms out here to catch this thing, and I’ll give you two guesses as to why I CAN’T!”

 

Again, Lockett is already on the turf and the automatic first down guaranteed before the ball ever hits the ground. Doubtful that Lockett could have gotten to that one if he’d wanted to… but we’ll never know, will we? And it just doesn’t matter. Brilliant.

Keep an eye on this guy. He’s gonna be driving defensive backs crazy from here on out. Before they even step on the field, he’s gonna be in their heads.

be-back-sm

By Greg Wright

As you may have gleaned from following NFL news this week, Seattle stands a good chance of clinching a playoff berth with a win tonight against Kansas City; but a loss does not rule them out. In the latter scenario the Seahawks will still “have their destiny in their own hands” when they host the Arizona Cardinals next Sunday.

However…

With a home game against one of the top teams in the league, Seattle has the opportunity to test their character tonight. What they demonstrate will go a long way toward predicting what might come in the playoffs.

A caveat, of course: the outcome of previous games is not a foolproof predictor of current or future matchups. One classic example is the Giants team which backed into the playoffs as a Wild Card entry with three straight losses, and ugly ones at that, but won three on the road for a Super Bowl berth and eventual win.

Still, what we have seen from past Pete Carroll teams is this: when they demonstrate the ability to win big games in prime time, they have also demonstrated the ability to win playoff games on the road; and when they have demonstrated a failure to actually take control of their own destiny, they have made an early exit from the playoffs.

So far this season the verdict remains out. Seattle won big games in November, and pasted the Vikings when it mattered on Monday Night at the beginning of the month; but they could have clinched a playoff birth with a win against San Francisco on the road last week, and got in their own way.

Today sort of tells the tale: Does this 2018 team take its place with the 2012, 2013, and 2014 playoff contenders, or the 2015 and 2016 pretenders?

My guess is the former. What’s yours?

be-back-sm

By Greg Wright

I’ve gotta say that my analyses have been pretty much on the mark this season… but I honestly thought I might have gone a bridge too far, as they say, last week. Predicting that opposing coaches would be fired after playing the Hawks? Insane! 

Well, not so much. And I really feel kind of bad for Minnesota’s OC John DeFilippo, who lost his job the day after the Vikings got pummeled by Seattle on Monday Night Football. DeFilippo had already been on tenterhooks with head coach Mike Zimmer, but still… nearly being shut out with all the weapons he had at his disposal was just too much. And now the national press is lauding Seattle’s defense as a force to be reckoned with. Especially after a game in which Seattle dominated the opposition while QB Russell Wilson had one of the worst games of his career.

And so we come to this week’s elephant in the locker room.

Seattle’s defense is not having the success it is because it is one of the best in the league.

The D is dominating because Seattle has one of the best offenses in the league.

Say what?

Yes, I know where Seattle’s offense ranks. 22nd in total offense. 30th in passing offense. 20th in first downs.

But Seattle is number 1 in one key team stat: rushing.

And that yields one other extremely important result: controlling the tempo of the game. Right now, Seattle is 8th in the league in the crucial time-of-possession battle, and the offensive has only gotten in a groove the last few weeks.

Remember how inept the offense has been the last three years? How often they went 3-and-out in the first halves of games? How looooonnnnngggggg it had been since they actually scored on an opening drive?

Before this season, do you remember the last time Seattle’s offense took 8 or 9 minutes off the game clock on a single drive? Or took control of the 4th quarter?

As fans, we do develop awfully short memories. And that’s what writers like me are here for. To jog your memory.

To tell you: pay attention to this offense, and the way it can control the clock even when Wilson is having an off day with his arm.

And think about how rested and potent a defense can be when it’s not on the field for the better part of the first half of the game.

Seattle’s defense is pretty darned sound. But it can be ferocious when it is fresh.

Thank Wilson, Carson, Britt, and Co. for that. And the coaching staff. This is all by design.

Remember how the formula worked in 2012 and 2013 and 2014? Oh! That’s right. And we thought that was all about Marshawn. Not.

be-back-sm

By Greg Wright

A funny thing happened on the way back to the Super Bowl during the 2014 season. “The Seahawks do not just beat other teams,” I wrote four years ago. “They effectively end careers, and change the destinies of entire franchises.”

And this was before San Francisco fired Jim Harbaugh. This was before the magnificent and lauded Bruce Arians Cardinals withered and died in the Arizona heat. This was before the Rams abandoned its entire fan base, moved to L.A., fired the only coach in the NFL who knew how to beat Seattle, and went all-in on remaking the team in an entirely new mode.

I do miss Jim Harbaugh, and the rivalry that represented. But it’s hard to maintain rivalries when you consistently demoralize your opponents.

One of the trends that developed in 2014 was the double-loss pattern. Of the Seahawks final nine opportunities that year, they not only beat their opponent but saw their opponent lose the following week as well. To restate: teams facing Seattle would not only lose to Seattle, but would also lose the following week. This was particularly bad news for division foes.

This trend is developing again with Seattle, and with especially devastating consequences–for three teams in particular, all of whom were in the same Wild Card hunt as Seattle… until they faced Seattle.

First it was Detroit… which not only lost to Seattle, but saw the writing on the wall as well. They immediately traded away their top offensive weapon, Golden Tate, and proceeded to lose again. Effectively done for the season. It was as if Seattle came to town, and the Detroit brass immediately started thinking about 2019.

A couple weeks later, with everything on the line for both teams, Green Bay came to Seattle. The Packers and Seahawks both looked like contenders… until the fourth quarter, when Aaron Rodgers started looking like a scared preschooler, and Mike McCarthy folded.

Green Bay lost again the next week, and McCarthy’s career–McCarthy’s legendary career presiding over Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers–was over. The Packers had finally had enough of losing to Seattle.

Meanwhile, Carolina was getting pantsed at home by Seattle yet again. With one notable exception, when Seattle staked Carolina to a 31-point lead in the playoffs and still nearly won–Wilson’s Seahawks have consistently frustrated Cam Newton’s Panthers. After that loss, and losing another game as part of a four-game slide to yet again jeopardize any hopes of the playoffs, Carolina sacked two of its key defensive coaches. “Losing makes people stupid,” says the press in Charlotte this week. “Perhaps the biggest reactionary takes have concerned head coach Ron Rivera, who in four weeks’ time has gone from widely regarded as the best coach in the history of the team to the target of angry Internet and sports radio mobs calling for his job.”

And now, just a few days after being embarrassed by Seattle, burr-under-the-saddle Russell Wilson, and old buddy Doug Baldwin, Richard Sherman is talking about making a switch to safety.

Yes, if you hadn’t heard that already, you heard that right. Facing Seattle’s buzz-saw has made Richard Sherman reconsider his future.

What are we coming to?

Well, I’ve got a hunch.

The big difference this year over 2014, of course, is that Seattle’s play has not been as dominating, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. And Seattle only has 7 wins to its credit.

But also consider this enormous difference: Seattle’s lowest point output this season has been 17, in losses to the Bears and the Chargers. These 2018 Seahawks are the highest-scoring that we have seen under Pete Carroll.

I believe that the Seahawks are not only going to beat the Vikings on Monday Night Football this week; I believe that they are going to run the table and enter the playoffs on a roll. Have you seen Bobby and Russell play lately? Yes, I think you have.

And I believe some other team–maybe more than one–will suffer some coaching casualties in their wake.

be-back-sm

By Greg Wright

Why the football world does not talk more about Bobby Wagner is beyond me. During his career, he has been overshadowed by Carolina’s Luke Kuechly and the Cowboys’ Sean Lee… and there are good reasons for that. While Lee and Kuechly have missed significant playing time to injuries, however, BWags just keeps on ticking, and is playing the best ball of his career.

One play alone in last week’s victory over Carolina tells you all you need to know about Bobby’s Hall of Fame credentials. On the first play of a second quarter drive, Cam Newton threw a screen pass Bobby’s direction. Check this out.

That’s right. A four-on-one scenario with nothing but green turf beyond. Three lineman against Bobby. And Bobby attacks.

If this does not leave you in complete awe, stop watching football.

be-back-sm

By Greg Wright

It’s almost December. And you know what that means. Traditionally, this is the time for the Seahawks to get hot under Pete Carroll.

In past years, the offensive heat has relied heavily on the run game and Russell Wilson’s arm… and his trust in a go-to guy like Jermaine Kearse, traded to the Jets prior to last season. And we all know how that one ended, missing the playoffs by the slimmest of margins. How different things might have been with a slightly different cast of characters!

Prior to last year, lest we forget, Wilson’s connection to Kearse was a major factor in late- and post-season success.

How could we possibly forget the NFC Championship game that earned the Hawks back-back Super Bowl appearances? Just before the game started, I called out to my wife, “Hey, Jenn. I wonder if the Packers are Kearsed?”

I guess we all know how that played out.

Kearse cradled the redemptive ball and refused to let Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams wrestle it from him as they fell onto the “W” of “SEAHAWKS” painted in the blue, south end zone. That, and two improbable touchdowns in the final 2:09 of regulation, sent the defending-champion Seahawks back from five turnovers and into the Super Bowl with an unfathomable, 28-22 victory in overtime over some stunned Packers at a completely off-the-hook CenturyLink Field.

Yes, Jermaine Kearse got the W. Boy, did he. Off the hook, indeed.

Of course, that was just the latest in a string of big plays for Kearse going back four playoff games. The string started in the previous year’s NFC Championship game against San Francisco. Trailing their nemeses at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Russell Wilson convinced the coaching staff to go for it on 4th and 7 with a “hard count” to get the Niners to jump offsides. They did, so Wilson and Kearse broke off the called play for the “free shot” down the field. Touchdown, Kearse.

Kearsed1

It was just the game-winning touchdown.

During the third quarter of the Super Bowl two weeks later, Kearse pulled off what has been described by some analysts as one of the best TD catches in the history of the Super Bowl. With the Hawks already up 29-0 at the end of the 3rd quarter, Wilson found Kearse for a 23-yard pinball-play of a TD in which 4 different Broncos bounced off Kearse on his way to the endzone.

Kearsed2

Broncos busted, bro.

In the second quarter of the next year’s playoff game against the Panthers, Wilson and Kearse connected for the longest scoring pass in Seahawk playoff history, a beauty of a one-handed catch of a 63-yard bomb.

Kearsed3

And then, as we all well remember in that Packers game, Wilson and Kearse linked up on a checkdown play for 35 yards, a miracle comeback, and a ticket-punching TD to the Super Bowl.

Kearsed4

And if not for that goal-line interception against New England, Kearse’s juggling flat-on-his-back catch to set up the final sequence would have been legendary.

All of this hinged on Wilson’s unshakable confidence in Kearse. Do you remember that, prior to Kearse’s OT catch against Green Bay, Wilson had thrown four interceptions on targets to Kearse?

Who has Wilson’s confidence right now?

Until the Rams game two weeks ago, I would have said it was David Moore, but he missed a couple of key plays in that one, not being on the same page as Wilson.

Wilson obviously favors Lockett, but I’m not certain that extends to clutch throws down the stretch.

Baldwin is back in the mix again, but even when he’s been at his best and Kearse was also on the field, we know where Wilson went when the chips were down.

Personally, I’m betting on chemistry between tight end Ed Dickson and Russell Wilson. We’ll see how that plays out as the game progresses in Charlotte… and as the season winds down in December!

be-back-sm

By Greg Wright

Ten weeks and nine games into the 2018 season, Seattle’s biggest weakness is obvious, perhaps even glaring. And everyone’s talking about it.

It’s the run defense. Seattle is near the bottom of the league in giving up an average of 5 yards per rush this season. That’s an abysmal number for a Pete Carroll defense, which typically yields a season average of 4 yards or less per carry.

Seattle is not alone in this anomaly, however. YPC are up across the league this season, thanks to the increased use of jet sweeps and options. I would also argue that shorter offseason OTAs are a factor, as defensive players get less time to work with each other to perfect schemes and communication.

In the case of the Seahawks, a couple of other factors come into play as well.

First, the Hawks (as I noted last week) have had a rotating cast of characters at linebacker this year, with Bobby Wagner being the only consistent piece of the puzzle. Last week was the first time KJ and Bobby have been on the field together this season. And given the rust on that onfield relationship, lack of familiarity with Mingo, and an almost entirely new line in front of them, they are going to have some problems with “fits.” As things stabilize over the next few weeks, I expect the play of the linebacking corps to improve.

I don’t have the same kind of confidence about the line. I like the position group in general, but this year they lack the savvy and disruptiveness that Avril and Bennett brought to the line. Clark is improving his ability to sniff out the jets, but Jarran Reed and co. are regularly getting their butts trapped off. The interior of the line needs a lot of improvement against the run. And I think this group is just too young and green to see that improvement this year. The big vulnerability will continue to be right up the middle. Bobby is going to have his hands full five yards downfield.

The upside is that the even younger secondary has not really been the team’s weakness. If anything, the secondary has been vulnerable at times because of the need to play closer to the line. That’s not on them.

The really bad news for tonight is that Seattle’s weakness plays right into the strength of Green Bay’s offense this year.

Here’s hoping the linebackers have a really, really good night supporting the run D.

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. 

be-back-sm

By Greg Wright

If you’ve been under the impression that the Seahawks’ D is blitzing less frequently this year, you’d be correct.

Under Pete Carroll, Seattle’s defense has consistently ranked toward the bottom of the league in blitzing the opposing QB. This was as true under Kris Richard as it was under Gus Bradley or Dan Quinn. Typically, the Hawks will only bring additional pressure on about 23% of QB dropbacks.

When Kris Richard was let go at the end of last season and Carroll brought back Ken Norton, Jr., Bob Condotta speculated about whether it had to do with Richard taking too many blitz risks in comparison to Bradley. What he found, however, was that Richard’s blitz rate of 22% was actually less than it was under Bradley and Quinn. (During the Super Bowl season, the Hawks blitz rate was just 23.3%.)

During this year’s preseason, it did look like Norton was going to be blitzing more frequently than his predecessor. Once the regular season started, however, Carroll’s more typical risk aversion took over. According to a league-wide analysis this week at ESPN, Seattle’s blitz rate is down to just 18% this season–which represents a huge dropoff from previous years.

Part of this is due to a league-wide shift. Because of new wrinkles added to offensive schemes, like jet sweeps and a trend toward quicker release times, the average blitz rate is down 3.5 points to 24.1%.

That doesn’t entirely account for the dip in Seattle’s stats, however. I suspect that with a lot of green talent in the secondary, and with a rotating cast of also green characters in the linebacking corps, Norton has simply been wanting to focus on defensive fundamentals before getting cute with coverages.

The key issue, however, has always been how effective you are with your blitzes, not how often you bring pressure. And from that standpoint, I’d call Seattle’s blitzes remarkably ineffective this year. Of Seattle’s 21 sacks, only 3 have come from linebackers (1 from Mingo, 2 from Kendricks, who is currently suspended) and zero from DBs.

That’s a trend that needs to change. I’d particularly like to see Justin Coleman involved more in the blitz scheme, as he showed real talent in that regard last season. Wagner usually gets a couple sacks a year, too, which would be nice to see.

Especially this week. Los Angeles passes the ball only marginally less frequently than Seattle (and both are near the bottom of the league in passes attempted), so opportunities for pressure will be few.

The few that we get will need to count.

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. 

be-back-sm

By Greg Wright

One of the consistent knocks on the Pete Carroll / John Schneider regime is that this duo spends big money on free agents who just don’t pan out. The latest “example” of this is future Hall of Fame wide receiver Brandon Marshall, signed in the offseason to a one-year $1.1M contract and released this week after seeing his snap count seriously decline in recent weeks.

What I haven’t seen Pete Carroll talk about (because he’s generally a nice guy) or seen the press talk about is the precise “why” of that decision. Yes, his snap count has decreased, and you can’t pay a guy a million bucks for sitting on the bench. And yes, David Moore and Jaron Brown are getting more snaps, and playing impressively.

But Marshall’s failure to catch on with the Hawks and stick is not merely the result of snap counts and dollars.

It’s that he didn’t take advantage of the opportunities he had.

I’ve written before about the characteristic strength of Seattle’s “mediocre” receiving corps: their ability to simply catch the ball. So far this season, Russell Wilson is completing 65.9% of his passes. That means, on the average, his receivers are catching 65.9% of the balls thrown their way. Duh.

Well, Brandon Marshall was dragging that average waaaaayyyy down, catching less than 50% of his targets.

That’s right. Wilson targeted Marshall 23 times, and Marshall only caught 11 of those passes.

That’s bad for any receiver on any team, but for a Pete Carroll receiver, that’s untenable. That’s why Marshall saw his snap count steadily decrease, and why you saw Wilson throwing to Marshall less even when Marshall was in.

Hopefully, you, as a fan, have been noticing this over the first half of this season.

Hopefully, today, as you watch Russell Wilson pick San Diego’s defense to pieces in what is likely to be a big win, you will sit up and think, “Yeah. Baldwin and Lockett and Moore and Brown and Dickson–these guys just catch balls!”

And thank your lucky stars that the Seahawks can afford to cut bait on superstars that just don’t pan out.

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. 

be-back-sm

By Greg Wright

I’ll admit it. I think we’re all afraid of expecting too much from this young, relatively inexperienced team.

In spite of the fact that the Seahawks really no longer have a glaring weakness–something you couldn’t even say in 2013 and 2014–about the best anyone hopes of this edition of Pete Carroll’s boys is 9-7 and maybe a wild-card berth in the playoffs. And beyond that, no one is speculating. Nobody predicting a single post-season win.

Why all the pessimism?

I don’t think the press or the fans are down on the Seahawks, particularly, nor are they being critical. Not at all. It’s just that we’re all afraid of getting our hopes up.

Bob Stelton at 710 ESPN Seattle Radio probably illustrates this as well as anyone this week. His lead for today’s game against Detroit? “Seahawks’ secondary has to prove it is for real vs. Lions.” His reasoning, of course, is sound. Seattle faces five legit QBs in row starting this week with Matthew Stafford, and, Jared Goff aside, it’s not like Seattle’s new “Legion of Whom,” as it’s been styled by ESPN, has exactly been tested this year. (Never mind that, after six games, opposing QBs have a combined passer rating of just 79.9 against this group.)

But really, Bob. If that is the biggest quibble you have about Seattle, maybe you should instead be writing about the trouble that Stafford, et al, are going to be facing over the next five weeks.

Oh… but that would mean having optimism about this team, a thing we are just not quite ready for.

So again… I’ll cop to feeling that, too. I’ll confess not wanting to predict 10 or 11 wins for Seattle and the possibility of an NFC Championship showdown in Los Angeles. I’ll confess not wanting to eat crow, a dish best served to someone else.

I’ll go out on a limb nonetheless. McDougald’s first play for Seattle aside, the man has been a monster for the Hawks. Fellow safety Tedric Thompson has been equally solid every time he has filled in for injured stars. Shaq has shone at both corners over 1.5 solid seasons, and rookie Tre Flowers has been well more than competent at right CB. Everyone agrees that Coleman is a gem at nickel back. With a disruptive front line and the projected starting linebacking corps on the field for the first time this season, I predict that Detroit will have difficulty scoring 21 points against this group. And I expect the D to force at least two turnovers.

And I’ll do one better for Big Bradley McD and co. I’ll claim they need a new nickname. And I’ll give it to ’em.

The Big Mac Attack.

Ooohhh… thunder just rolled over Waterland as I typed that. It’s a sign!

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. 

be-back-sm

By Greg Wright

“Darrell Bevell has been about as creative as a rock for years now. He needs to go, especially since players like Russell Wilson are getting older and cannot extend plays like they used to. His poor offensive coordinating is showing now more than ever. Hellen Keller with no headset could do better.”

“I’m reasonably certain that if we took the Seahawks playbook, and broke it up into a combination of sets and plays for various situations (1st and 10, 2nd and long, 2nd and short, 3rd and long, 3rd and short, etcetera), Pete could just pull out the appropriate deck for the situation, roll a dice to select the play, and still be more effective than Bevell. At least there’d be some element of surprise involved for the opposing team.”

“Bevell believes that he is not accountable for any of our losses. Not only is his playcalling terrible, he is full of himself.”

“We don’t demand inspired, ingenious play calling. We just demand that it not be utterly ridiculous, and follow some simple logic. Just like any one of us has to do in our professions.”

The years-long Fire Darrell Bevell campaign was fun (of a sort) while it lasted, wasn’t it? I’m afraid I never got on the bandwagon, myself. While I was never exactly thrilled with Bevell as a play-caller, I always felt the situation was more complicated than merely play-calling.

In particular, I would point the finger not at the play caller himself, but at the West Coast Offense dictum of scripting the first 17 offensive plays of the game. It’s a strategy that’s fine if you are actually controlling the tempo of the game; but if you are not, and are consistently not, you are just digging yourself a deeper hole.

The problem gets worse if you’ve been scripting plays for, say, five seasons. Opposing coaches have five years worth of film to study and, um, learn the script so well it’s as if it’s their own script. Now, again, that might not matter if you have gotten so good at your own system that you can force your offensive will on opponents even when they know what’s coming; but that pretty clearly stopped being the case as long ago as 2014.

The first two weeks of this season, however, sure looked like it was going to be more of the same from new Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer: same predictability; same lack of execution; same questionable personnel and performance on the offensive line; same general offensive ineptitude.

Six weeks into the season, results are looking more favorable. The running game is on fire, producing individual 100-plus yard performances and yards-per-carry averages upwards of 5. Clock-controlling, punishing drives that wear down opposing defenses… and keep the ball away from opposing offenses. Big-play opportunities down-field for Wilson and the receiving corps.

What’s different?

Yes, the OC has changed. But honestly, I think the biggest changes are a.) personnel, and b.) execution. A year ago, the offensive line did not have Brown, Sweezy, or Fluker. A year ago, Jimmy Graham was out there missing block after block. A year ago–heck, even in the disarray of the first two weeks of this season–nobody really looked like they knew what they were doing.

Pete Carroll’s overall football philosophy took Seattle from So What? to back-to-back Superbowls in just five years.

And then the wheels kind of fell off.

Well, it’s looking like the wheels are back on–and it’s not because the play calling particularly changed. Or the system. It’s because the system is working again, with the right people in the right positions. Enjoy it while it’s working!

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. 

be-back-sm

By Greg Wright

Even during the Seahawks’ championship season, it was easy to identify the team’s glaring weakness. These days? Not so much.

Let’s take a walk through what have been their most recent and most chronic obvious weaknesses, and see where they are at with them.

  1. Since the departure of Marshawn Lynch, they have not had a consistent running game. With three weeks in row having an individual rusher top 100 yards, and with QB Russell Wilson hardly having to carry the rock, the running game is working better now than it ever has under Pete Carroll–including the Lynch years. The two concerns here: 1.) we have no idea how the goal-line package is working, since they are doing such a good job of scoring from 20+ yards out; and 2.) nobody has emerged as the clear #1 back.
  2. Germain Ifedi. Boy, since the insertion of OG D.J. Fluker to Ifedi’s left, this 3rd-year lineman has started to look like a pro. Finally. Super bad timing for a false start penalty last week, but in general Ifedi has had three solid weeks in a row.
  3. Covering tight ends. Through Carroll’s tenure, this has been the biggest problem for Seattle’s D. In large part, that’s because the excellence of the defensive design, pushing routes back into the center of the field–where you want them–and in part because Seattle has been so consistent in finding good and great cornerbacks. Picking up nickel CB Justin Coleman from New England, however, and the increasing use of 3-safety packages… well, this hole has plugged right up.
  4. The Bad Apple Syndrome. As great as Lynch, Richard Sherman, and Earl Thomas were, they–and other high-priced egos such as Jimmy Graham and Percy Harvin–have come at a price in the locker room. With Earl now gone for the season due to injury, the biggest ego in the locker room is clearly Russell Wilson, as it should be. If the Hawks are playing with more unity now than in a loooonnngggg time, that’s no accident.
  5. Inability of Seattle’s offense to score. I wouldn’t say that this has been entirely fixed, but the last three weeks have been the most productive stretch for Seattle since Russell Wilson’s on-fire streak of five games to conclude the 2015 season. The productivity of the ground game has really opened things up.
  6. Tight ends. Can we get TEs who can both block and catch passes? During the commitment to Graham’s contract, the answer was clearly not consistently. Prior to Graham, the issue was lack of experience, lack of depth, and not such great blocking. During preseason, Seattle had the best group of tight ends they’ve ever had… and though injuries have had a horrible impact on the scenario, the performance of Seattle’s TEs this year has been outstanding. With Dixon returning soon from IR, this should only improve. Still, the Hawks lack depth at this position.
  7. The receiving corps. Everyone knows that, as a group, this has probably been the team’s most-maligned skill position amongst NFL intelligentsia. Part of that is the design of Seattle’s system, of course. This is Carroll-ball, not Payton-ball or McVay-ball. Seattle does not engage in the kind of high-scoring shootouts that skew passing-yards stats out of whack. Doug Baldwin having missed playing and practice time and not being at 100%, folks might reasonably consider this a weakness for Seattle this year–but the numbers don’t support that idea. When Seattle’s scheme has clicked, the receivers have done their part.
  8. Coaching. Yes, I was screaming at the TV because of that timeout thing last week, too–but that was not really the contributing factor to the Rams’ change of play call. It was the officials’ delay for measurement. (The officials really messed up Seattle’s tempo-control last week, in general!) But I like the changes from Bevell and Richard to Schottenheimer and Norton. Both units, overall, seem to be playing more consistently well this season.

Of course, the real reason that Seattle’s glaring weakness is no longer obvious is that that they are, in general, weaker across the board. On paper, it’s clear that the Seahawks will just generally have a harder time keeping opposing teams from racking up yards and scoring, and that will put regular pressure on Seattle’s offense to score as well. But gosh, when has that not been the case? In general, the first five weeks this year have felt an awful lot like 2012, 2013, and 2014. Close games every week, coming down to the wire, with a chance to win every one of them in the fourth quarter.

To be honest, the thing that concerns me most right now is the guy that everything rides on: Russell Wilson. Will he continue to be the efficient, good-judgment QB that he’s been the last three weeks, or will he look more like the Wilson from weeks 1 & 2, making ill-advised gambits to extend plays that shouldn’t be, fumbling the ball away, or taking ridiculous sacks?

It’s time in Wilson’s career that he start looking like Tom Brady or Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning. The Seahawks need to get consistently solid play from their franchise player. He needs to become the Bobby Wagner of the Offense.

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. 

be-back-sm

By Greg Wright

Well, I guess I should have published this article on Thursday so I could beat the Seattle Times to a summary of the Seahawks’ history with flipping the bird. Alas! but I will just have to take things one step further than did the Times.

For those who missed it (and did anybody miss it?), Earl Thomas left the field during Sunday’s game at Arizona’s ill-fated stadium with the second broken leg of his short career. Both times, he appears to have broken bones not while planting his foot or landing on it, but be cracking his shin on another player’s leg while in mid-air. Very odd.

The first time, Earl collided with Kam Chancellor. On Sunday, the other player in question was Cardinals receiver Chad Williams, who grabbed a TD right in front of Thomas. Thomas never regained his feet, immediately aware that his leg was again broken. As he was carted off the field, NFL cameras caught him extending his middle finger toward the Seattle sideline, his facial expression oddly blank. The gesture has earned him a fine from the NFL.

The gesture has apparently not earned him a fine from the Seahawks. In fact, Pete Carroll even came to Earl’s defense during radio interviews this week. As the good men at 710 ESPN Sports Radio pointed out, Pete has coached no one longer than Earl Thomas, who was Seattle’s first-round draft pick in Carroll’s premiere season with the Seahawks, and is now the lone remainder from that first-season roster. Carroll talked about the emotion involved in the moment, and advised extending a little courtesy and consideration toward his star safety, particularly considering that potential for such an injury is precisely why Thomas had been holding out for a contract extension and another snootful of guaranteed cash.

But more about that in a minute. First, as the Times pointed out, it’s not like this is the first time the coaching staff has been shown up in this way.

The first such incident came courtesy of Marshawn Lynch. At the 1-yard line against Arizona in 2013, Lynch flipped the bird toward the coaching staff upon breaking the huddle. Darrel Bevell had just called a pass play instead of feeding the Beast. (The play worked, btw, for those who remember the Super Bowl loss against New England.)

The next bird-flyer was Doug Baldwin, who similarly flipped off Bevell for targeting someone else besides him during a 2016 game against Philadelphia. Instead of scoring a TD on that play, as you may remember, Baldwin tossed a TD pass to Russell Wilson.

That’s the kind of thanks Bevell always got for scoring TDs and winning games. It’s a tough business.

So the question is: Why does Pete Carroll put up with this? It’s really been unfair to single out Earl Thomas this week, given that both Lynch and Baldwin got hefty contract extensions in the wake of their visual F-bombs. If I were a Seahawk, it would be very clear to me by now that such gestures are not taken by the front office as insults. It’s almost like they are terms of endearment.

Maybe that gesture was Earl’s final appeal for a contract extension?

I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

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. 

be-back-sm

By Greg Wright

Just prior to the beginning of the regular season, the Seahawks announced the signing of Tyler Lockett to a 3-year contract extension worth a reported $37.8 million. Lockett was one of only two veterans offered extensions, the other being OT Duane Brown, who has been with the team less than a year.

Meanwhile, Earl Thomas and the team remain at a standoff over contract extension. With K. J. Wright and Frank Clark in the wings as well.

Lockett’s extension raised eyebrows around the league. With Doug Baldwin being the clear number-one receiver for the Seahawks–from depth chart, targets, production, and salary standpoints–the general reaction was that Seattle was overpaying for an undersized number two receiver whose numbers don’t justify the pay.

Saner brains, of course, pointed out that Lockett is not just a receiver–he’s also an ace kick returner, and Pete Carroll was right in pointing out that no one in the NFL has racked up more combined receiving/return yards than Lockett during his tenure in the NFL.

Still… I have yet to find an analyst who thinks this was a good deal on paper, particularly at the time of the signing. It has certainly been looking better with Baldwin injured and on the bench, as Lockett has led the receiving corps through three games with 196 yards and 3 TDs. At that pace, Lockett would finish the season with over 1000 yards receiving and 15 or 16 TDs–the latter number one that would break Baldwin’s single-season team record.

But one factor in all these discussions that has not been talked about is what the Seahawks might know that we don’t.

Everyone assumes that the Hawks are expecting to be paying Lockett as their long-term number two receiver. If that’s the case, then yes–they are shelling out a lot of dough, over $20M a year, between their two top receivers. (One might think that is unusual for the Seahawks… until you consider the combined salaries for Baldwin and Jimmy Graham the last couple of years.)

But what if they are expecting to be paying Lockett as their number one receiver over the next three years? From that standpoint, Lockett’s contract will be a bargain.

Wait, you say. Am I suggesting that the Hawks plan to trade Doug Baldwin?

No, I am not. But I am suggesting that both the Seahawks and Baldwin might know a thing or two that we don’t.

Since Baldwin’s rookie season, I’ve noticed that Baldwin has been protecting his knees. When he knows he’s about to be tackled, he doesn’t plant his feet, Marshawn Lynch-style, and power through the hits to maximize yards after the catch. Instead, he leaves his feet, and lets his body be pinballed around during the collision. This takes a tremendous load off his lower body during hits. And it tells me that he has always been concerned about his knees.

Given the lack of details about the preseason problem with Baldwin’s left knee, my guess is that the parties involved all know that Baldwin’s longevity is in question. The fewer games he plays, and the fewer hits he takes, the better. By the time Lockett’s contract is in full flower, everyone in the organization is expecting that Lockett will in fact be Seattle’s number one receiver.

From that theoretical standpoint, the contract makes perfect sense.

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. 

be-back-sm

By Greg Wright

As much as I have heard about Seahawk punter Michael Dickson being a “weapon,” I have heard very little about Seattle’s punt coverage being a liability. And yet it is, through two games.

To back up a little, for those who haven’t been following: Michael Dickson declared himself eligible for the draft a year early after his Junior year with the Texas Longhorns. A native of Australia, he had never played American football before he enrolled in an Aussie football clinic designed to teach soccer and Aussie Rules players how to deal with the American game. Within a couple years, he had landed the punter’s job at Texas, finishing his career there with an MVP award in a bowl game.

Seattle moved up in the draft to pick Dickson in the fifth round. All he’s done in two weeks in the NFL is be tied for second in net yards on punts, and make waves with drop kicks on kickoffs–something that happens once every twenty years or so in the NFL, but which will probably be a regular occurrence now for Seattle.

Aside from one 10-yard shank in Chicago on Monday night, Dickson has been nearly perfect with his kicks. Not one has bounced into the endzone for a touchback, and he even had a 69-yard punt for no return in the season opener at Denver. He does it all–distance, placement, hangtime.

But here’s the problem.

Brian Schneider, Seattle’s long-time Special Teams coach under Pete Carroll, hasn’t dialed up coverage good enough to match Dickson’s punting.

Six of Dickson’s 13 punts have been returned for a total of 67 yards. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but let’s put that in perspective. In 2013, the Seahawks led the league in punt coverage with a total of 82 returns yards allowed… the entire season.

Now, Seattle has not lived up to that near-record-breaking performance in recent seasons. So this season isn’t the only one that doesn’t measure up. And Dickson’s net average of 46 yards per punt is six yards higher than what Jon Ryan netted in that near-NFL-record season.

But if Dickson is really going to become a weapon for Seattle, Schneider’s gunners are going to have to do a better job of breaking down when they arrive on the scene, and corral opposing returners. Right now, the gunners are misfiring nearly every time there’s a chance for a return.

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.