Sunday, November 28, 2010

A rivalry renewed as Seahawks host Chiefs

The Seahawks return home to Qwest in week 12 of the NFL season to host the AFC West leading Kansas City Chiefs. As I noted in my last post, the Seahawks are going into the final six games of the season looking to surge into the postseason. Coach Pete Carroll noted in his Wednesday press conference, "The seasons have changed this week; it feels like we are shifting into the final stretch. We know this weekend is a great opportunity against another division leader and this is a championship game for us." The 6-4 Chiefs are only 1-4 on the road, as they too enjoy one of the most advantageous home fields in Arrowhead Stadium and rely on their crowd to help them win games. Chiefs Head Coach Todd Haley noted his team is in a "tough stretch and trying to push through the marathon" that is the NFL season. The last time the Seahawks played a home game was the Charlie Whitehurst experiment against the Giants; since, Matt Hasselbeck has since excelled running the offense, especially the passing game, but Carroll still uses phrases such as "very, very good" and "suspect" to describe the Jekyll and Hyde nature of our defense. The Seahawks begin the push to the finish, looking to fix the defense and continue to rely on the passing game.

Can the Offense continue to carry the team?

Rotating receivers: The expected absence of Mike Williams changes the approach of the Seahawks passing game, one that has thrived the past two weeks by using Mike Williams as the centerpiece. The Seahawks must rely on rotating receivers and finding matchups to move the ball; they need to find a way to convert short throws on the outside on first and third down, a crucial element of the passing game added by Williams. Golden Tate returns from injury and will have an opportunity to make plays after the catch as he will be involved in the passing game, much like he was when Williams was hurt in Oakland. Brandon Stokely is the veteran Hasselbeck trusts, especially on third down. One remaining question is do the Seahawks have plans for Leon Washington to play a role in the offense; Williams' absence provides an opportunity to try. Hasselbeck finds his most effective tempo when the passing game is built around short passes and quick drops to set up downfield throws; he is best when he can orchestrate the offense on the move. The Chiefs are most likely without top Cornerback Brandon Flowers, putting more pressure on rookie Safety Eric Berry to continue his solid play. Furthermore, the Seahawks need to attack rookie corner Javier Arenas who is likely to see more playing time in Flowers' absence. Hasselbeck and Stokely must efficiently lead our young offense and if the offense hopes to take advantage of a very young Chiefs Secondary.

Attack Tamba Hali: Hali is the Chiefs best pass rusher, a 3-4 outside linebacker that has 8 sacks for the Chiefs this season. He is explosive off the edge and can cause havoc for the Offensive Tackles, but is poor in pass coverage. To neutralize his aggressiveness, the Seahawks need to use screens and quick Tight End throws to his area of the field to slow down his pass rush; by throwing over his rush, the Chiefs will be forced to alter their pressure package. Furthermore, the return of Fullback Michael Robinson will allow John Carlson to become more involved in the passing game and should be used as a counter to Hali; continuing to use Justin Forsett as a receiver out of the backfield on first and second down, helping him get to the 22 touches I advocated for in my last post, will further help slow down Hali's pass rush. The Seahawks can succeed in the short and intermediate passing game if Tamba Hali can be blocked.

Welcome Back Michael Robinson: The Fullback, one of the Seahawks most complete, versatile and tough players, returns from a hamstring injury after a four game absence and will provide a much needed boost in helping the offense consistently run the football. The former Penn State Quarterback prides himself on being a multifaceted player, a special team's ace, that does anything needed to win. His presence should help restore the "Beastmode" mentality the running game has been lacking; Robinson must be effective in blocking Defensive End Tyson Jackson, who has problems recognizing his assignment against zone blocking offenses, and Inside Linebacker Derrick Johnson for Marshawn Lynch to find holes to run downhill and attack the line of scrimmage. Expect the Seahawks to use Robinson in running behind the left side of the offensive line especially as Guard Mike Gibson returns from injury to replace the injured Chester Pitts; if the Seahawks are to score touchdowns Sunday running the football, Robinson must be effective.

Can the defense recapture early season effectiveness?

Stop Thomas Jones: The Chiefs running game is a two headed attack led by the 11 year veteran. He has received 19 or more carries in six of ten games this season, averaging approximately 4.5 YPC in those games; Jones is an extremely reliable option on all downs and will test the inside of the Seahawks Defensive Line. Defensive Tackle Junior Siavii must play a large role in disrupting the middle of the Chiefs All-Pro Offensive Line and the Linebackers must stay disciplined in playing their assigned gaps. The toughness of Jones opens lanes for Jamaal Charles in both the running and passing games; the Pro Bowl third year player has had 19 carries only once, but has had three or more catches in seven games, with a catch of 20 yards or more in six games; Three of Jones' four worst games came in losses. The balance Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis achieves by using his backfield is dynamic and versatile. The "Coal Miner's Son" Jones is the key to consistently moving the ball.

The Chiefs miss Arrowhead: Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis has revamped this Chiefs offense, as the unit ranks in the top 10 in scoring and total yards per game, while committing a NFL-low seven turnovers. However, the Chiefs offense is averaging 6.6 fewer points on the road, and their league-best rushing attack is cut in half, in terms of yards, in road games. Coach Carroll noted earlier in the week his familiarity with Chiefs Quarterback Matt Cassel, as Carroll coached him when he was the backup to Matt Leinart at USC; Cassel has been extremely responsible with the ball, always a major point emphasis for Coach Carroll, and made it difficult for opposing teams to win the turnover battle. As always, the Seahawks need to exploit home field and force Cassel to make mistakes. The Chiefs are in a tough position coming into Qwest as a poor road team and the Seahawks need to take full advantage of the mismatch.

A new personnel package: The Seahawks have done a good job of mixing personnel this season, notably resulting in the creation of the 7 Defensive Back "Bandit" formation. The matchup Sunday against the chiefs brings the need for a personnel combination that can cover 2 Wide Receivers, 1 Running back and 1 Tight End while still pressuring the Quarterback. While Coach Carroll noted that Lofa Tatupu feels the best he has in weeks as he was able to practice this week, I still believe David Hawthorne and Will Herring give the Seahawks versatility in covering Runningbacks and Tight Ends, a major strength of the Chiefs passing game, and help provide a backbone for the Defensive Line in the running game. As the Chiefs are not a spread formation team, the "Bandit" formation needs to be tweaked this week exploiting the Seahawks versatility at Linebacker, putting less Defensive Backs on the field.

Bracketing Bowe: Chiefs Wide Receiver Dwayne Bowe has 10 touchdown catches over the past six games, but he has had only one game with more than six catches; the challenge Bowe presents is with his size and ball skills, as both his yards per catch and red zone targets are among the best in the league. Marcus Trufant, healthy after a concussion in New Orleans, needs help covering Bowe. The Seahawks must use taller, reserve corners such as Cornerback Kennard Cox and Safety Jordan Babineaux, the only Seahawk corners over 6'0, to help in coverage against the 6'2 Bowe. The Chiefs are not deep at wide receiver, with depth lacking behind #2 Chris Chambers—If active for the game, rookie Dexter Mccluster is an X factor that must be accounted for—and the passing game can be slowed down if Bowe is unable to break free for the big catch.

Like Chiefs coach Todd Haley said earlier in the week, "this is the true grind-it-out period of the season where I think teams are going to start to define themselves as good teams, in-between teams and not-so-good teams." The Seahawks have an opportunity to prove they are closer to being one of those good teams if they can beat the Chiefs, one of the NFL's worst road teams but AFC West Leaders none the less; it's time for this Seahawks team to back up their words and finish strong, as the Seahawks look to successfully pass the first of six checkpoints in the race to win the NFC West.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Seahawks lost in the breeze, but floating up

The Seahawks went into the Superdome last Sunday looking to take advantage of the opportunity, hoping to outplay the defending champions; the 34-19 defeat against the New Orleans Saints was another performance that featured inconsistent play by the defense and missed opportunities by the offense, two common themes for both units this season. The Seahawks played nowhere near the "flawless" football needed to win this game; they looked like a .500 team. At a point in the season where some teams would go back to the drawing board and merely hope to figure things out, Coach Pete Carroll and the Seahawks are looking to "rally for a big finish," building on the confidence that grew Sunday knowing the team was able to play a poor game against one of the best and still compete "all the way through." The Seahawks lost a meaningful battle last, but the team is in position to win the war; they lead the NFC West by one game, looking to learn from their mistakes against the Saints and prove the team can win the NFC west this year, their way.

Blown away

Drew Brees came off the bye week with one of his most Breeseque performances of the season; his unique footwork and precision throwing the football was too much for the Seahawks secondary. The Saints held onto the ball, won the third down battle and stopped the Seahawks from getting opportunities, a formula that created five straight touchdown drives.  Additionally, the Seahawks defense aided the Saints' offensive march. Defenders uncharacteristically slid off offensive players—Coach Carroll stated after the game "poor tackling can simply not be a factor"-- and continued its trend of committing penalties in unison with successful third down stops; the roughing the passer call on Raheem Brock with 1:34 to go in the first half, on a successful third down stop, was an incredibly untimely exchange.  The Seahawks had a golden opportunity to get the ball back and were highly confident, as Carroll noted after the game, they could score to go down one point at halftime; instead, Brees seized the opportunity created by the penalty to put his team up 14, 11 at half. The Seahawks gave too many second chances even as the "buy in mentality" existed the whole 60 minutes. Coach Carroll knows the chance they blew away; "We had a chance to be active and involved in this game. It's a frustrating loss because it was such a good opportunity and we felt like we had a shot."

A big gain

Perhaps the largest reason the Seahawks were able to stay competitive against the Saints was the production of Matt Hasselbeck and the Seahawks pass protection; The Seahawks Offensive Line has allowed two sacks in the past three games and gave Hasselbeck the opportunity to seize control of his team's offense on Sunday; after his second consecutive 300 passing yard, zero interception, 100+ quarterback rating performance, he has the keys. In the post game press conference, Hasselbeck noted the offense "felt a lot better" and the presence of Brandon Stokely, an unnoticed and savvy early season signing by GM John Schneider, was huge; he caught all six of the passes thrown his way, four resulting in first downs. Coach Carroll noted he is an "unusually gifted guy and has familiarity with Offensive Coordinator Jeremy Bates' system from Denver" that has allowed him to contribute despite not practicing at all last week. Hasselbeck is optimistic as he takes the unique perspective of looking at the first 10 games of the season as a training camp; "we'll get rhythm where we know our personnel, what were good at, running it the way the coaches envision it and hopefully play our best football late in the year when we need to." When healthy, Mike Williams, Ben Obomanu and Stokely are proving to be an assumingly dangerous trio, a group that Hasselbeck trusts. The active effort Hasselbeck and Carroll have made to gain a better understanding of how the two can work together to help the team as a whole is showing.

Three improvements that would make me thankful

Convert in the red zone: The Seahawks continued to fail in the red zone against the Saints, scoring one touchdown in three chances inside the Saints 20 yard line. Pete Carroll noted we need to "mix what we are doing," and I continue to agree; Offensive Coordinator Jeremy Bates made another questionable call on 3rd and goal at the 2 yard line in the middle of the first quarter. Knowing the 6'5 Williams was absent from the game, Bates called a rollout to the right where Hasselbeck attempted to squeeze a lofted pass into the back right corner of the end zone to 5'9 Deon Butler, a play that is designed for the 6'5 Williams, a much more favorable target for Hasselbeck to attempt the tough throw. Each week Bates makes at least one goal line play call that shoots momentum in the foot; if the Seahawks are to start scoring touchdowns, Bates needs to use his personnel more effectively near the goal line.

More touches for Justin Forsett: Pete Carroll had the following to say about Forsett this week: "He's been rock solid every day. In the game he is tough as hell. He is great with the ball. He does everything in pass protection. This is the guy we are counting on."  He has touched the ball approximately 12 times per game in the past 6 games; that is not enough for a player that has such tremendous praise from both coaches and teammates. I've always liked him more than Marshawn Lynch, even when they played together at Cal, who was pulled last week after 2 fumbles and numerous dropped passes. Coach Carroll noted that the offense has "had a big emphasis on throwing the past 2 weeks. It livened our attack and we didn't need to pay as much attention to our running game. But we still want to create the balance." Forsett deserves the opportunity to be the main back in this offense, reducing lynch to a complementary role where he can be used both to pound the defense in passing situations and as the power back in short yardage; give Forsett 22 touches next week and I'll give thanks.

A run stuffing package: Undrafted rookie Chris Ivory abused the Seahawks Sunday, bouncing off defenders like a bowling ball. Coach Carroll admitted "the biggest concern is the defensive line," as the defense continues to struggle against the run after the season ending injury to Bryant and the continued absence of Colin Cole.  Additionally, Lofa Tatupu looked continually frustrated and behind the play last week, struggling to be in the right place at the right time. The Seahawks have great depth at linebacker, and I believe Will Herring and David Hawthorne need to be more involved; Herring has made big plays the past two weeks both on defense and special teams, tackling well and helping in pass defense. Hawthorne was unexpectedly successful filling in for Tatupu last season, and continued his contribution Sunday with a timely interception and sound tackling protecting the Seahawks goal line. The Seahawks Linebackers need to be much more reliable in stopping the run and taking pressure off the defensive line; Both Herring and Hawthorne deserve a chance to see the field more often due to their sound tackling, versatility and consistent contribution.


The positive, future oriented attitude the Seahawks displayed after the loss to the Saints was not what many expected. I want to circle back to Sociologist Karl Mannheim's idea of Utopia which I Introduced in my post Squished, Sideways and Searching. As I explained, Mannheim's Utopia is described as bursts of thought that present an overwhelming desire and intention for change; these intentions are active in pushing through challenges and minimizing any limitations that may hinder success. In what Hasselbeck called "one of the best team meetings he has been around," Coach Carroll looked past defeat and focused on the clear vision he sees for this team, focusing on how the growth displayed against the Saints is an encouraging sign for the team's success going forward.  Pete Carroll's vision is explained as "Just being uncommon to how things are done in the NFL," Hasselbeck said. "Things are done a certain way, and that is fine, but we want to be uncommon." Uncommon is usually a scary word for NFL players, but in the case of Coach Carroll's program it holds a new meaning. Carroll's program displays additional characteristics of Utopic practices: a willingness to embrace opportunities for improvement; looking at challenges as benchmarks for success, not reasons to fail; a desire to take principals or ideas that are commonly viewed as "irrational" or illogical and create new ways of understanding and applying those same ideas. But most importantly, instead of reflexively wondering what could have been, Utopia's look actively towards the future, an idea the Seahawks are fully embracing going forward.

The brilliant, four touchdown passing performance by Drew Brees was too much for the Seahawks to handle and the 15 point defeat, the third loss by 15 or more points in the last four games, suggests this team might be grounded, under repair. After closer inspection, however, you see that this team has just been "hangin around" in the hanger tightening bolts and replacing parts; Coach Pete Carroll noted after the game, "All that said (about the loss) we have a chance to benefit from this game and take it into the last 6 games and do something with it; We're going to go hard these next 6 weeks." It may sound as though Carroll is speaking irrationally, but he believes they're headed for the runway, ready for takeoff.

I want to wish everyone a happy, safe Thanksgiving! Thank you to all that have taken the time to look at, and hopefully follow, my blog. Please check back before Sunday's game at Qwest against the Kansas City Chiefs for a week 12 preview!


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Seahawks vs. Saints: showdown in the Superdome

In week 11 of the NFL season the Seahawks embark upon the teams most unique test thus far as they travel to New Orleans to play in the Superdome, where hollers and 'Who dats' shower opposing players and help create a year round playoff atmosphere. The Seahawks are 5-4 and on top of the NFC West in a position that is unexpected by many, but has been the goal of this organization from day 1. Riding the momentum of a shocking and borderline dominant 36-18 victory over the Cardinals in week 10, the Seahawks look towards Sunday as a much anticipated opportunity to measure the Seahawks organization against one of the best in the NFL; Coach Pete Carroll knows many question the legitimacy of the Seahawks as a contender this season, and this matchup against the defending Super Bowl champions couldn't come with better timing in trying to answer some of those doubts.

The cutting edge

Coach Pete Carroll described Saints Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams as "a marvelous coach who is on the cutting edge of aggressive, attacking defense" in terms of creating pressure, disguising coverage schemes and giving opposing offenses problems; "Their defense shines through," as Williams' scheme provides defensive flexibility for a Saints defense that is 1st in scoring defense and 3rd in pass defense. As Matt Hasselbeck noted Wednesday, the Saints are very aggressive bringing pressure on third down; they like to empty the middle of the field pre snap by bringing the deep Safety, as well as other Cornerbacks, in motion to the line of scrimmage; after the Quarterback has read the coverage, a Safety will break back into the deep middle of the field to play single high, effectively center field. In this situation, the Quarterback is unsure of where the pressure is coming from and what the Safety's coverage responsibility is. The defense also shows the capability to statically line up and disguise coverage's without using motion; the coverage scheme the defense shows pre snap is not always what they execute post snap. Furthermore, the Cornerbacks, notably Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer, are among the most aggressive in the NFL and are notorious for jumping receiver routes creating tipped balls, interceptions and opportunities.

The offense has a chance

The Saints defensive aggression gives the opposing offense opportunities if the Quarterback can identify blitz and coverage schemes before the snap; understanding what the defense is going to do after the snap is instrumental in beating the saints. Hasselbeck explains, "It'll be challenge on the road, I can't imagine a tougher scenario but it's ok; I think we are excited to try." The Seahawks need to continue to integrate the running backs into the passing game to neutralize the pressure from outside the Defensive Ends, especially with Cornerbacks off the edge; throwing to the Runningback forces the defense to account for the space that is left empty when blitzing the Cornerback. When asked on Wednesday why the Seahawks don't use more screens, Coach Carroll replied, "we have them in every game plan, we are continuing to work at it and think it's a good phase of the offense." Don't be surprised to see the screen game used more often this weekend, especially on second down. Additionally, I would like to see Leon Washington used more as a receiver out of the backfield to further neutralize the Saint's aggressiveness; a wheel route up the sideline would be a great way to get Washington in space. The offense needs to create chances on Sunday.

A big connection

Matt Hasselbeck's last reliable, big target was 6'5, 230 pound Joe Jurevicius who caught 10 touchdowns in 2005. The chemistry displayed Sunday with 6'5, 230 pound Mike Williams has the look of something much more potent. You could see in the season's first game that Williams would need time; he showed his propensity to drop balls early in the game, especially on throws that turned him completely towards the Quarterback, blind to the defensive backfield. If you kept going his way though, Williams would make a play and usually a big one. Last week, Mike Williams seemed to hit a new level; a level eerily similar to those two seasons at USC. When asked if he felt offense turned a corner, Coach Carroll replied, "We'll have to wait and see. Next week we have to come right back out, protect the Quarterback, catch it well and protect the football. Those things add up, and we need consistency." Mike Williams continuing to be accountable for double digit catches per game, or close, will help bring that consistency. This week Williams finds himself against a group of corners all at least six inches shorter than him; the Seahawks must look his way often, especially in the red zone, to exploit his size advantage. Williams is not the only Seahawks receiver that has a size advantage over the Saints' corners; 6'1 Ben Obomanu earns his second start opposite Williams after competing his way up the roster. When Hasselbeck asked Obomanu to adjust his motion on one play in practice this week, Obomanu replied, "you mean the way Darrell (Jackson) used to do it;" It dawned on Hasselbeck how long Obomanu has been contributing to this team: Hasselbeck, "I said have you been here that long? But He's so steady, he always does things right. So many more guys than him have been looked at, but he's the guy who is dependable." Hasselbeck needs to continue to rely on the dependable Obomanu Sunday, as another solid all around performance will take pressure off Williams and create room for Deon Butler to work in the slot.

Defending Drew

Saints Quarterback Drew Brees possesses a unique combination of skills that places him among the NFL's elite throwers; he makes up for his lack of height and average with intelligence, accuracy and an uncanny pocket presence. Furthermore, Saints Head Coach Sean Peyton is one of the NFL's most dynamic offensive play callers. When asked how the Seahawks planned to contain Brees, Coach Carroll replied: "We have to do a variety of things, mix our coverage, mix our rushes, try and keep him off balance. You have to mix defenses against the best Quarterbacks and you have to make sure you take care of the running game first, otherwise you become too static." If the Seahawks are able to neutralize the Saints running game with minimal personnel, two or three down lineman, the defense can focus on confusing Brees. "We play our best football when we play the running game, and allow us to do what we want."

The big play

Drew Brees noted earlier in the week the Seahawks are a team that, like the Saints, does a good job of creating a pass rush through use of sub packages with extra defensive backs and various combination blitzes. Unlike the Saints who are #2 in the league allowing only 5 pass plays over 30 yards, the Seahawks are worst in the NFL allowing 18 passes over 30 yards; Brees mentioned that fact several times this week. He believes that if he can identify who is on the field for the Seahawks and where the pressure is coming from, he will be able to exploit matchups against us.

A major key to the Saints offense is the big play; this season the Saints are averaging less than 7 yards per pass attempt, down from 8.5 last year. In an attempt to create a downfield passing game, the Saints employ the "expressway" package. The Saints start in a 2 x 2 wide receiver formation; one receiver motions across into a trips formation. As this creates confusion, Brees re-evaluates the defensive matchups as the motion forces the defense to declare assignments, showing the scheme. The Saints are not afraid to challenge all areas of the field, as Brees makes precise enough throws to get around good coverage. Marcus Trufant has been a victim of having solid coverage beat by better throws this season; he is likely to spend the majority of the game covering Saints receiver Marques Colston, who possesses great size and strong hands, and is Brees' preferred all field target. Furthermore, the Seahawks secondary must be prepared for a variety of pre snap motion using three and four receivers, as the Saints most unique weapon is the capability to cause confusion and capitalize.

Control the middle of the field

If the Seahawks are to have a chance at beating the Saints they must control the middle of the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football. The Seahawks will look to heavily re-establish Lynch and Forsett inside the tackles; the defensive unit looks to shut down the Saints short passing game and inside running attack, forcing the Saints into uncomfortable situations, such as third and long.

For the defense to be successful in stopping the Saints from continuing drives, two aspects of the Saints offense must be limited: the underneath passing game and the inside running game. Receiver Lance Moore often runs short routes in the middle of the field and is a very adept at reading coverage, finding the "soft" spot in the zone; Reggie Bush is returning from injury, but in the two games he played this season he was "a factor;" the Saints find ways to get Bush in space, often on short passes near the sidelines. If the Seahawks are successful in bringing pressure up the middle, it will disrupt the timing Brees has with these two players and clog throwing lanes. As the Saints are without starting Runningback Pierre Thomas, their ability to create an effective inside running game may be limited; Brandon Mebane and Junior Siavii need to be disruptive and limit the running backs effectiveness inside. If the defense is able to create confusion and control the space in the middle of the field, the Saints offense will be limited.

The Seahawks offense needs to control the middle of the field with a successful running game; Hasselbeck noted earlier in the week the Saints load the box with 8 defenders pre snap to stop the pass, not the run. Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett should be heavily involved, ideally 35-40 combines touches, in helping wear down the center of the defense. Furthermore, I would like to see Coordinator Jeremy Bates be creative in establishing the running game; use some goal line sets on first and second downs to offset the blitz packages of the Saints. The Seahawks have been establishing up to four Tight Ends as blockers on some goal line plays, and can find an advantage by using those same formations to create a power running game in other areas of the field.

The expected return of Russell Okung

The rookie Left Tackle out of Oklahoma State has made an impact in the small amount of time he has stayed healthy enough to be on the field. On Monday, Coach Carroll spoke of his experience with Okung: "Russell is cleared for practice this week, he needs to get his reps. He is very frustrated, but I've tried to acknowledge the fact it's ok to be frustrated by this, it just hasn't gone how we hoped. There is nothing we can do but get through it, and we are cognizant of how tough it is on him." Carroll clearly has an understanding of how to manage and maintain his players psyche; he showed an active approach in helping Russell harness his emotions and learn how to physically push through the injury. A healthy Okung would be a huge boost to this offensive live; Mike Sando of ESPN posted a chart earlier in the week that shows how effective Okung has really been. In mainly comparing Okung and backup Tackle Tyler Polumbus, there is a major difference in the average yards per carry (YPC) of Runningbacks when each player was in the game. When Okung plays the Seahawks gain 3.6 more YPC when running by Left Tackle from 2 back, 2 Tight End formations, and an additional 2.6 yards per carry out of 1 back, 1 receiver formations. Furthermore, when the Seahawks run from 2 back, 3 Tight End formations, primarily near the goal line, the Seahawks run for -.2 YPC with Polumbus in the game compared to 1.0 with Okung. The most crucial difference between Okung and Polumbus is that Lynch averages 4.6 YPC with Okung compared to 1.7 with Polumbus. The Seahawks need Russell Okung.

Take advantage of the opportunities

The Seahawks need to solve the red zone mystery as they have continually failed to take advantage of opportunities to score points this season; another 2 for 8 performance scoring touchdowns when inside the 20 yard line will not produce a victory in New Orleans. The Seahawks need to show more aggression in the red zone; in the fourth quarter last week when the Seahawks had first and goal on the 1, Jeremy Bates called three straight unsuccessful runs using three or four tight end sets. I felt throwing once, perhaps on second down, was highly necessary to keep the defense honest and the offense unpredictable; additionally the failed 4th and 1 Quarterback sneak at the Cardinals 16 yard line at a crucial point earlier in the game is another example of the Seahawks failing to keep a calculated and consistent offensive aggressiveness. Simply put, the Seahawks need to score points when they get the opportunity.

The Saints built a championship football team by taking advantage of and executing opportunities both on and off the field. An opportunistic Seahawks football team knows they most likely only get one chance at competing versus the Saints; if the Seahawks are to one day emulate the Saints, a good start would be capitalizing on the opportunity Sunday in New Orleans.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Seahawks scorch Cardinals, focus on bringing the heat to New Orleans

Pete Carroll stepped up to the podium for his post game press conference Sunday after the Seahawks 36-18 victory over the Cardinals and within seconds of beginning to speak, it was obvious this victory meant something different; he mentioned that "momentum" word again. It started slowly on Sunday, as usual, for the Seahawks as they surrendered a first possession touchdown to the Cardinals. The Seahawks team that showed up for this game, however, did not resemble the players that dressed in uniform the past two games; this team welcomed the challenge.

Take two

It's always nice to get a second chance. When the Seahawks beat the Cardinals in week 7 at Qwest to go 4-2 and take the lead in the division, the victory felt hollow; yes, the team was in a great position early in the season but it was showing cracks. The victory in week 10, however, left a very different mark; the Seahawks went to Arizona and scorched the Cardinals in their own desert. After the game, Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said "there was a time we owned this division, and they took it from us. Flat out. For the guys that were here and still are here, we know we had to earn it back." Before kickoff, Hasselbeck preached the importance of approaching this game like it was of championship meaning; when he led the Seahawks offense onto the field Sunday, it was clear his unit bought it.

Get pushed, push back harder

Needing a response to the Cardinals opening drive Sunday, the Seahawks offense more than adequately rose to the task. Coach Carroll exclaimed, "We were talking about hanging, hanging together; it was good we got smacked in the mouth right off the bat; we hung in there and took over the momentum." Hasselbeck led the team down the field on the first offensive possession Sunday, setting the tone the Seahawks hoped for. The offensive line picked up where they left off last week; "We had good protection and Matt got the ball out and got a rhythm—he really has a knack for getting things moving." Big Mike Williams got rolling with three catches, no drops, in converting three third downs on the first drive. A Marshawn Lynch reception on first down, inside the red zone, set up a Lynch touchdown. Quickly, Coach Carroll and his team showed they were ready to back up the rhetoric of the "active, terrific" game plan Carroll exclaimed was being created last Wednesday during his press conference. This team showed a reshaped attitude.

An active, terrific offensive game plan

Coach Carroll gave high praise to Offensive Coordinator Jeremy Bates after the game for opening up the playbook, showing aggressiveness in the passing game and versatility in play calling. Carroll was quick to emphasize his satisfaction with a newly found dimension of the offense; the running backs catching passes. "The running backs got yards after the catch; we've been waiting, wanting, and it gave us a boost moving the football." As our backs were now a factor in the passing game, drawing attention, it opened up the rest of the offense; on the 44 yard completion to Chris Baker to open the second quarter, Justin Forsett's motion out of the backfield to a receiver position took away a defensive player from the middle of the field, opening a lane for Baker. The usage of backs in the passing game also caused the defense to pay less attention to Seahawk journeyman receiver Ben Obomanu; a major contributor on special teams and a timely playmaker for the Seahawks offense in recent years, he has worked his way into the offensive rotation and showed his capabilities Sunday. His presence was most notable in the three receiver set with Williams and Deon Butler as he was effective as runner, receiver and blocker; his versatility allowed Bates to comfortably use three receiver sets, something the Seahawks have been unable to do often thus far. Simply put, Jeremy Bates displayed the understanding that involving the running backs in the passing game would open up the entire offense, an understanding I noted last week I hoped he would soon show. Unfortunately, however, the offense still struggled inside the 20 yard line, going 2 for 8 scoring touchdowns, as we "missed out on a ton of points." The Seahawks unveiled a new four tight end formation on the goal line which produced a touchdown but only 1 yard on 4 carries. The failed 4th and 1 quarterback sneak call was a great idea by Coach Carroll, as we were inside the red zone and inside two minutes left in the half; it was a weak play call. Our offensive execution thus far led me to believe that calling a large variety of plays could have gotten one yard, or a touchdown. The offense had an opportunity to attack and surge into halftime, but meekly failed. In the end, however, this game will be remembered as the game Hasselbeck finished with two cracked bones in his wrist, making it clear he is still this offenses' leader. As Carroll summed it up, "He led the whole thing—we gave him the chance, gave him options, choices to move via the pass." Move via pass he did like it was 2005. Not to be lost in the unexpected passing performance by the offense; Forsett led the combined effort in rushing for 100 yards as a team. The Seahawks controlled the line of scrimmage on the offensive side of the ball.

A successful defensive formula on the road

The Seahawks controlled the line of scrimmage on the defensive side of the ball as well. The defense was able to stop Tim Hightower and the run game, always priority number one for Coach Carroll. In his Monday press conference, Carroll noted, "If you remember last week I talked about how Junior Siavii played very well for us (against the Giants) and he did again. Kentwan Balmer held up his part of it, too;" The competition for playing time on this defensive line created good depth at the position, a major question after Red Bryant's injury. Brandon Mebane's successful return also proved crucial in stopping the run, as he provided rested legs after being out four weeks with a calf injury. The success of the defensive line allowed the defense to create, as Carroll exclaimed, "a classic game." We were strong on third downs; Aaron curry led the defense in pressuring the pocket and sacking the quarterback, as the unit created turnovers and "brought the formula" on the road. Curry, as I noted in the week 10 preview, was under my microscope this week as a player who needed to truly define his capabilities in this defense. Coach Carroll noted after the game, "Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley mentioned that Aaron had a look in his eye before this game that was different, and I don't know why it was different. We need him badly to continue to factor in, as we are using and moving him around a lot on third down." Curry got his opportunities and made plays registering 7 tackles, 2 sacks and a forced fumble. He answered his call and flashed a capability to be dominant on the line of scrimmage and the complement the Seahawks need to help provide pressure opposite Chris Clemons. The defensive motion before the ball Carroll spoke of didn't apply to just Curry, as the Seahawks confused Cardinals Quarterback Derek Anderson with variety of defensive looks and movement, notably in containing the Cardinals passing attack in the second half. The defense's solid play in the second half was instrumental in masking the offenses' inability to score touchdowns, and ultimately kept the momentum for this team.

Bringing it in the Bayou

The momentum of a second chance at leading the NFC West carries the Seahawks organization into week 11 as they prepare for a matchup against the New Orleans Saints in the overly raucous Superdome, the only NFL stadium that can match the noise and mayhem of Qwest field. Coach Carroll noted on Monday the team has now repeatedly seen its capabilities when playing on the road, especially when being successful at communicating in noisy environments such as Chicago and Arizona, and they must focus on continually performing on that level; "The special part of the application of the mentality is to stay consistent, to stay with that, make sure our guys realize we can go on the road and play really good football."

The Seahawks face a situation similar to after the Chicago victory; then, the team had the opportunity to build on a big road win and take over the NFC West; though the Seahawks did win in week 7 against Arizona to go 4-2, there wasn't a convincing feeling the team had grabbed the momentum associated with leading the division. Three weeks later, the Seahawks have an even greater opportunity to build on a big road victory in looking to win two in a row on the road. This Sunday is an in person test against, as Coach Carroll exclaimed, "a model organization;" as I noted in my October post On top of the NFC West, but looking up at the ceiling, the Saints are an organization that displays a unique dedication in representing the team's symbol and culture; furthermore, the players and coaching staff encourage a unity with the people of New Orleans; Pete Carroll is a coach that emanates a "psychic energy" similar to Sean Peyton. Thus, I believe the Saints are an organization the Seahawks needed to model themselves after. Coach Carroll explained Wednesday, "We are aware of so many of their strengths and realize the challenge they present. The Saints are an organization with all of the right stuff, they've won a championship: Drew Brees, Sean Peyton, the coordinators, what they are about as a group, all these guys have great expertise, and it's a great challenge." He understands the unique opportunity this game presents, as it is a rare chance to measure his program against the best.

In preparation for facing the defending champs, a fact Carroll noted he was not going to emphasize at all this week, the Seahawks leave a day earlier than normal in traveling to New Orleans, a decision made in an effort to replicate the formula used in preparing for the Chicago game. When a reporter asked Wednesday if Coach Carroll felt like a decisive underdog this week going into New Orleans, he replied "that'll probably be the only time I'll hear that this week, but it doesn't matter and I don't care." It was clear he felt his team was equally capable of winning this game. He added, "To me this is one of the tests; can you deal with it. It will be a playoff atmosphere." To me, it sounds like the NFC West leading Seahawks are out for blood in the Bayou.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

10 ways to fix the formula: Seahawks hope to rebound Sunday in Arizona.

In week 10 of the 2010 NFL season the Seattle Seahawks travel to face the Cardinals, hoping to successfully start over midseason; with a record of 4-4 and in the division race, the unexpected, early success of this new organization has both raised expectations and created critics eager to point out failure. After losing the last two games a combined 74-10, the Seahawks find themselves in the unfavorable position of facing a must win game, on the road, against the defending division champions. For the Seahawks to successfully start fresh going into the second half of the season they must actively focus on fine tuning Coach Pete Carroll's "formula."

The ball

Pete Carroll goes into Sunday refocusing his team on one crucial element of the game; the ball. "We are really starting all over again, need to play better in all phases and keep our opportunities. Our focus is to get the game and the ball right." The turnover margin has played a major role in determining the Seahawks success; a major part of Coach Carroll's formula is creating turnovers and taking advantage of field position, something the Seahawks failed at doing in week 7, going 1 for 7 inside the Cardinals 14 yard line. Hasselbeck needs to take care of the football and engineer drives using his ability to make quick throws and read the defense, not force throws and hold onto the ball. We must protect the football.

Key this week: Arizona has converted 6 of 18 turnovers into touchdowns. We don't want to give an opportunistic team chances, as that is their strength. The Seahawks must contain Joey Porter and Calais Campbell on the outside pass rush.

60 minutes for 16 games

As I noted earlier in the week, one of this teams strengths is the emphasis placed on the will to continually compete, even in defeat; the Seahawks must continue to grasp this concept even further as it is a major part of the formula that Coach Carroll relies upon. As Carroll noted after the Giants game, "our willingness to fight the fight was there and we got whopped at times because they are really good." He noted that while the line of scrimmage was dominated on both sides of the ball by the Giants, the Seahawks played with attitude and heart the whole game; first team defense stayed on the field. As the effort is there, the Seahawks need to find a consistent energy that doesn't peak at home and crash on the road. "We need to regain the kind of play we had earlier in the season, recover to our capabilities."

Key this week: The Cardinals are a tough minded football team. As Coach Carroll put it; "We've got to go on the road, bring our game and fight our fight."

Change up first down

The Seahawks inability to throw on first down has kept the offense from creating and sustaining drives; a part of that reason is the formations the offense has used in first down situations. When Hasselbeck throws on first down with less than two wide receivers on the field, not including three tight end sets, his quarterback rating is below 30 and completion percentage around 35%. By contrast, when he throws with three or more receivers on the field his rating is over 100 and he has thrown three touchdowns. Additionally, Hasselbeck has thrown from a two receiver or less formation 49 times on first down, compared to 28 with three or more receivers. This information shows that when the Seahawks show pass based formations on first down and follow through, it's working. Making a concerted effort to open up the field and throw on first down from spread formations will help Hasselbeck find a rhythm.

Key this week: Give the Cardinals different looks than in week 7; mix screens and underneath routes to the running backs into the game plan on first down.

Re-tool the running game

It seems like a long time ago the "Beast Mode Back Field" was the one of the most heralded aspects of this football team; funny how things can change in a month. Coach Carroll noted on Wednesday, "Our emphasis is getting offensive balance back. Trying to get this game going, play how we want to, starting with the running game." Marshawn Lynch had more carries than yards in Oakland and last week Justin Forsett was the odd man out. The aggressive mentality that defined this backfield only a month ago is nowhere to be found; the fluctuation on the offensive line has created hesitation off the ball, not control. Last week, Lynch looked uncomfortable after the handoff, stutter stepping and hesitating; this could have been partly due to the fact Lynch was being used to run off tackle on the edge as opposed to straight downhill. Lynch needs to be reestablished as the teams inside power runner and Forsett needs to be used as his inside the tackles complement; Forsett is an underrated inside runner who shows good vision and balance. Establishing them both inside will open the edge running game for whoever is in the backfield, possibly giving Leon Washington a bigger role.

Key this week: The Cardinals front 7 is banged up; attack inside early to establish a multi dimensional running attack.

Find our fab 5

As documented, the offensive line has undergone a rash of injuries and has not been able to create continuity. Offensive Coordinator Jeremy Bates noted this week we must "find five guys," allowing the line to get repetitions together. Furthermore, the left side we've all been waiting for, Russell Okung and Chester Pitts, are yet to play a game together. All is not lost, however, as the Seahawks have a solid performance to build from last week and have a chance to exploit the injuries and weak pass defense of the Cardinals. However, the continued absence of Russell Okung, who is "almost there," will only keep many wondering when, and if, this rookie can be productive.

Key this week: The Seahawks offensive line needs to build on last week's successful effort protecting the quarterback and give Hasselbeck time to throw the ball on, especially on third down.

Practice what you preach, Jeremy

The injuries on the offensive line have limited Bates' ability to open up the offense; as seen last week with Charlie Whitehurst, tight ends were used mainly in pass protection. Injuries, however, are not fully to blame for the discontinuity in Bates' game plans this season. Bates has shown the tendency to mix up the game plans week by week to the point where the offense is continually disjointed; Brandon Stokely, though injured, has disappeared from the game plan after a solid game against the Rams in week 4; Forsett's catches are diminishing by the week and our talented pass catching backs are rarely used as receivers; the inside running game, supposedly our biggest focus on offense, was abandoned last week even though there was some early success; after two dominant weeks by Mike Williams, the passing game was unsuccessfully run through Golden Tate in Oakland. Bates needs to integrate his players into the offense in a consistent fashion week to week, letting the player's roles in the scheme grow, not change.

Key this week: "Keep the symbol splashy;" Thanks Ron Burgundy. Establish Justin Forsett and his versatility; let the Beastmode Marshawn face a defense tired of containing Forsett. Get Mike Williams rolling, quickly—work through any early drops and keep going his direction. Get the ball out of Hasselbeck's hands on 3 step drops and screens, especially to Carlson. Try and work Deon Butler over the short middle of the field; he is a player the Seahawks need to be productive after the catch.

Stay inside the defense

The Seahawks defense has been guilty of over trying; forcing too many plays which ultimately leads to mistakes. On Wednesday, Coach Carroll stressed the defense must maintain the mentality of sticking with the plan even when we are losing; we can hang and get opportunities to turn the ball game; "We are getting outside the discipline of the defense, and that gets a team in all kinds of problems." As noted earlier in the season by Lawyer Milloy, it's crucial to get the players to "buy in" to the defensive scheme.

Key this week: We finally get to see Carroll coach against a former nemesis from his time at USC. Carroll said of Cardinals Quarterback Derek Anderson, "I have a lot of respect for him; he has thrown for a lot of yards against my boys over the years." When Anderson is accurate, it is imperative to maintain defensive discipline as he can fit the ball into very small windows and frustrate a defense.

Disciplined defensive backs

The defensive backfield was bent continually in the first half of the season and finally broke in Oakland. A large part of the early success was the play of rookie Safety Earl Thomas. Coach Carroll exclaims, "Earl is a neophyte. He's so young, he has a huge chance to help his team and bank on the lessons he is learning to help this team." He has is proving to be a ball hawk, a true playmaker, that can play center field and rely on his instincts. Unfortunately, his youth has shown in some of his decisions, especially the past two weeks; a poor angle on to the ball on the Heyward Bay touchdown and many flatfooted moments last week against the Giants. The more he can mature, the better our defense can be against the dreaded big play. Marcus Trufant is a player to watch in this second half as well; frankly, he was owned by Hakeem Nicks last week. Trufant looked confused in coverage, failing to turn around to make a play on the ball on several occasions. He showed persistence in improving as the game went on, but was not exemplary of a near elite corner.

Key this week: Trufant vs. Larry Fitzgerald. The corner and elite receiver have great respect for each other and look forward to the twice yearly matchups. Rookie Walter Thurmond helped shut down Fitzgerald in the week 7 matchup, but Trufant is sure to see Fitzgerald this week. Trufant must be patient and disciplined in coverage and not bite on fakes; Derek Anderson will look downfield to Fitzgerald.

Aaron Curry

The #4 pick in the 2009 draft came to Seattle with very high expectations that he is yet to begin fulfilling. While showing obvious talent, Curry has continually shown poor angles to the ball and over pursuit on the edge; he is simply not consistent in winning the 1 on 1 battle in his area of the field. It's now or never for Curry, who needs to show he can maintain discipline in his assignments and make a play when he is the first defender to the ball.

Key this week: Aaron Curry, meet Derek Anderson. Anderson is big arm pocket passer who does not throw well on the run. Seattle needs to both mix up blitz combinations and disguise pressure to get to Anderson and make him nervous; he does throw interceptions. Curry can be instrumental in this aspect and should be involved in many blitz packages. This is a big week for determining Curry's role going forward.

A new defensive front

The Seahawks must find a way to make up for the loss of Red Bryant, who fulfilled the lofty expectation Pete Carroll placed on him until his injury two weeks ago. The once 2nd ranked run defense has given up an average of 218 yards per game the past two weeks, largely in part to being without Colin Cole and Brandon Mebane as well. Mebane helps "enormously. We have missed him for four weeks. That's a long haul for a guy we like. He has fresh legs, should come out smoking." He could prove to be a good fit next to Junior Siavii, who played very well last week in his first extended action. Look for Jay Richardson to get time filling in for Cole, as his play as the last man in the defensive line rotation will be crucial in limiting Tim Hightower's tough yards. Carroll needs to find 3 man combinations at defensive line that can fill gaps against the run, allowing an extra man for Gus Bradley to use in coverage or on a blitz. Coach Carroll hasn't used injuries as an excuse; "For me, we have opportunities for guys to step up. We count on guys, we have to. It's the only mentality." If our defensive line can remain competitive until the return of Colin Cole, the Seahawks run defense may be able to refortify as the season continues.

Key this week: Coach Carroll called injured running back Beanie Wells "a force." His health will play a role, but when healthy, he is big, explosive and tough to tackle. Hightower ran well against the Seahawks in week 7. Stephens-Howling is dangerous on third down out of the backfield. The run defense faces a tough test this week, especially in a time of transition.

Plain and simple, the Seahawks must get control of the line of scrimmage. Carroll was adamant in explaining "our big focus is getting our second half rolling by getting better up front." The fact that the Seahawks are still awaiting the return of a few key players keeps the always optimistic Carroll believing in the potential of this team. "I feel uncomfortable saying this again, but we should get better. We should improve up front; find a consistency." Yes, I am uncomfortable hearing it again, but I don't want to ignore the fact that this Seahawks team was beaten, battered and bruised the past two weeks to a .500 record; our horrible performance the past two games followed an unexpected two game winning streak and surprising start. All that matters now is how the team rebounds going forward; Coach Carroll summed it up best, "17 teams are within striking distance, bunched at .500 or better. It's what you do with it now that counts."

Friday, November 12, 2010

Squished, sideways and searching: Seahawks a half game behind the Rams in NFC West going into the second half of the season.

If someone had told me at the beginning of training camp the Seattle Seahawks would enter the second half of the 2010 season 4-4 and in the thick of the division race, I would have felt somewhere between encouraged and excited; believe it or not, that scenario has become fact. However, fast forward approximately 14 weeks after the start of training camp and encouraged is not how most fans, reporters and analysts feel about this Seahawks team after the crushing 41-7 defeat against the New York Giants.

A quick, painful review

I attended the game against the Giants last Sunday and can say it was one of the most brutal and gutting losses I have ever witnessed, and I don't just include NFL games; it felt like watching a 7 year old sibling lose a soccer game 11 to 1 and having no idea what to say afterward. I watched Charlie Whitehurst never really settle in as he became increasingly uncomfortable with his throws; all hopes of him successfully leading the Seahawks to victory last Sunday were about as accurate as his throw to Chris Baker on the third and one trick play. As I stated after the loss to Oakland, it is not time for Charlie Whitehurst. The energy and fight in the crowd diminished with each early defensive penalty, multiple on Marcus Trufant, that negated successful 3rd down stops. Coach Carroll acknowledged the Giants are a really good football team, and they started fast just as the Seahawks hoped to, but couldn't: "They took control. We gave it to them 3 times, a classic recipe for trouble." Down 14-0, the stadium needed a successful Leon Washington kickoff return to get a feeling that resembled momentum; he fumbled. Two plays later Giants 21, Seahawks 0. After penalizing ourselves out of the Red Zone and another Mike Williams dropped ball incident inside the 5 yard line, it was 28-0. Nearly three quarters remained, and the game was going in a clear direction; a giant defeat. At the 5:13 mark in the second quarter Whitehurst followed up his best NFL pass thus far, a 17 yard completion over the middle to Mike Williams, with an interception to a waiting defender; knockout. The only silver lining was that for the first time in six games, the knockout was not due to a Giants sack—the Seahawks Offensive Line did not surrender one all game. In no way, however, does this small glimmer of good play shorten the shadow cast by the throttling that occurred last Sunday, a defeat that is leading many to wonder about the capabilities of this team.

Set up to compete

Not to be lost in the sour mood of Seattle sports after last week's loss is the fact that Coach Pete Carroll and General Manager John Schneider have wasted little time in building a new, solid foundation to this roster. After the draft, I developed the opinion that the Seahawks would be competitive in the NFC West and an 8-8 record would be an undeniable success; Coach Carroll and GM Schneider were building a competitive foundation, using the blueprint of arguably the most successful college football program of the last decade. Operation "clean house," a top to bottom gutting of the organization and its personnel, was something I was highly in favor of following the loss at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season. I'll make this clear; I'm a California Golden Bears fan. I did not like having to compete against Carroll and USC. But I was jacked up when he was hired because I knew how successful his program was, up close and personal. I knew the type of talent that Carroll was capable of attracting as a coach and the reputation John Schneider had for evaluating personnel. The duo showed diligence and direction in the offseason plan: first, rebuilding a horrible special teams unit early in free agency instead of signing big contract players; second, finding lineman, Chester Pitts and Ben Hamilton, who had experience in the zone blocking offensive line scheme; third, find players that were ready to play via the draft and acquire players who were available through trade as the draft unfolded, such as Leon Washington; lastly, continually try out new talent, whether it be in an off season workout or week 6 of the season. Carroll gave as many players as possible a chance to compete their way into the program, exemplified by 239 roster changes through this week. The question was who is going to fill these roles, not how are we going to adapt to our personnel. It was obvious to me this organization was growing; the product put on the football field, no matter the players, was going to be superior to the Jim Mora led Seahawks; I felt that Pete Carroll would have his team competing for the entire season and John Schneider was showing a phenomenal effort in continually finding new opportunities. This was a team that may not have a chance to win every game, but would sure compete for 60 minutes. I was also aware that the program being installed was battle tested in the college game, not the NFL, and was bound to endure some growing pains.

A tale of two teams

Let us go back to before week 1 of this season; the roster merry go round was fiercely spinning as the organization made a plethora of changes, acquiring veteran talent such as Raheem Brock, Michael Robinson and Stacy Andrews to play a major role on this team; many wondered whether or not the Seahawks would have the continuity to be competitive in the division, let alone against 49ers in the opening game. When asked about this possible oversight in the organization's plan, Coach Carroll responded, "This doesn't have anything to do with the game plan, as far as I'm concerned. We've been working on this game plan for months. We're all over it, so it doesn't affect it." As planned, the defense stopped the run, forced turnovers and gave the offense opportunities to take over the game; fundamentally sound special teams filled in the cracks. The Seahawks used this formula to go 2-0 at home, beating the Chargers in a classic "bend, don't break" defensive performance in week 3 that was also Leon Washington's kind introduction to the casual Seahawks fan, breaking two 2nd half kickoff returns for touchdowns. Unfortunately, the Seahawks formula didn't quite manifest itself as planned on the road; debacles at Denver and St. Louis left the Seahawks searching for a way to "bring it on the road" and a 2-2 record. Out of the bye in week 6, the Seahawks brought it to the Bears introducing us to "beast mode" Marshawn Lynch and a Mike Williams led passing attack. As I noted in my post The Bears to the Birds, the offense needed to continue to capitalize on the momentum the defense was creating for this football team to be successful going forward; off five Arizona turnovers in week 7, the Seahawks scored only one touchdown. Even though the Seahawks stood 4-2 on top of the division, this team was showing cracks. The lack of momentum generated against the Cardinals haunted the Seahawks on Halloween as a rash of major injuries and continued trouble on third down led to the team's disappearance in Oakland and absence against the Giants. Four wins vs. four losses; inconsistent production, half glass full results.


My biggest concern about Pete Carroll coaching in his first NFL season in over a decade was the 20 game schedule, preseason included, would wear on him and his program, a program that was tested over a maximum of 14 games. The Seahawks sit 4-4, a half game by tiebreaker out of first, unofficially 12 games into the season. At USC, Carroll would be approaching the end of the Pac-10 schedule and preparing his team for a bowl game; the program would be embarking upon a 4-6 week rest and recovery period. In the NFL, Pete Carroll finds himself gearing up for the second half of the season, another eight games. Fortunately, he realizes how important it is to approach his players with the correct mentality; "It's about helping them do the right thing next, not drill them into the dirt on what was wrong."

Monday during his press conference, Coach Carroll wasn't dejected by the loss, but determined to get this program back on track. On Wednesday, he gave a little insight as to how he handles setbacks to the program as a coach, especially after his first back to back losses since 2001 at USC. "I'm not sleeping as well as I like, wracking my brain, competing, trying to figure things out. I'm ok about taking defeat, but I'm anxious about fixing it. It keeps cranking at me and hopefully with the help of everyone well keeps moving in the right direction. It's important to recognize where we are, and we have a chance at the division which is the goal of the program. But it's hard, it's challenging. I'm proud of this group, they take on the adversity and the cool thing is to try and come out the other end together."

Starting over

One thing was made clear on Wednesday by Coach Carroll. We are "starting over" and looking at the team and players from a new perspective, going as far to switch players' seats for Wednesday meetings. Even as Coach Carroll acknowledges "we know our formula well," he also openly realizes it needs to be represented correctly and actively, adding Wednesday, "we are in high gear today, actively trying to put together a terrific plan this week." Carroll's idea of how to create change parallels an idea founded by Karl Mannheim, an early 20th century Hungarian sociologist; he developed a different understanding about the idea of a utopia, which is commonly understood as enjoying social or political perfection. Mannheim's utopia is identified by bursts of thought that present an overwhelming desire and intention for change; these intentions are active in pushing through challenges and minimizing any limitations that may hinder success. Last Sunday after the game; "We've got no quitters," Lofa Tatupu said. "I'm not worried about our attitude or anything like that. We've got the right attitude, we've got players, we've just got to make plays, bottom line." Sounds like coaches and players agree; it's time to actively change this season and make a legitimate push to win the division.

Check soon for the week 10 preview; 10 ways to fix the formula: Seahawks hope to rebound Sunday in Arizona.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A giant opportunity for the struggling Seahawks

When the Seattle Seahawks host the New York Giants in week 9 of the NFL season, the tale of the tape shows two teams leading their respective divisions, but occupying very different positions on the NFL totem pole. The Giants, coming off a bye week, bring the momentum of a four game winning streak into Qwest Field, also garnering the respect of being possibly the NFC's best team. On the other hand, a week after dressing up as a division bottom feeder on Halloween and being scared sideways by the Oakland Raiders, the Seahawks are relishing the opportunity to play at home again, a chance to dress the role of the division leader.

The appreciation for the 12th man the Seahawks organization has shown is nothing less than impressive; both the players and coaches have emphasized the importance of the crowd this week, more so than in the past. The new regime has stressed the impact developing a relationship with the fans can have on the success of the organization as a whole. Given the fact the Seahawks face the teams toughest test of the season thus far, it is no surprise the amount of encouragement that has been directed towards the fans this week, inviting their participation and acknowledging their importance to this team's energy on the field. As the Giants are focused on not coming out flat and stale, the 12th man will be instrumental in disrupting the Giants comfort zone early, even before kickoff, and energizing the stadium.

Looking to rebound from a performance that was the opposite of energetic, Mike Williams eloquently described the offense's mindset going into this game: "it's going to be big-on-big, so we'll strap it on and be ready to go." If our offense is to take on that attitude successfully, the injury riddled offensive line must find away to protect Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, a four year veteran making his first career regular season start. Offensive Lineman Chester Pitts is a player this organization has put a lot of time and effort into over the course of the season, working diligently with him to ensure a full recovery and ultimately a role in this offense. A sound performance early on by the veteran, making his second start after micro fracture surgery, is necessary for the Seahawks offense to find a rhythm in protecting Whitehurst.

A key element in protecting him will be identifying Giants Lineman Justin Tuck's position pre snap, and predicting where he is going post snap. Tuck's ability to move across the offensive line during the course of a rush opens up lanes for other players to come on delayed blitzes; the Giants use a lot of three safety alignments to bring pressure, often behind Tuck. The offensive line must be able to identify and successfully deflect the pressure if this offense is to have any success against a notoriously vicious defensive line.

With Matt Hasselbeck out due to a concussion, the Seahawks are provided the most favorable opportunity to learn the skills of Charlie Whitehurst without having to officially bench the teams aging franchise Quarterback. Whitehurst provides Offensive Coordinator Jeremy Bates with a more prototypical Quarterback for his system. As exemplified by the offensive scheme of the Denver Broncos in 2008, Jeremy Bates can successfully create an offense built around a big armed, mobile, raw quarterback. Whitehurst is an athlete with a big arm and good mobility, but he has shown an inability to make accurate progressions and ultimately the correct throw. He brings the potential to attack deep down the field; his natural tendencies are not favorable to check downs or short passes to his backs, and he lacks the touch Hasselbeck shows in the intermediate passing game. The Giants defensive line leads an aggressive defense that forces quarterbacks to move for survival; the little we know about Whitehurst suggests that he may do more than just survive when forced to use his legs. 

The Seahawks would be wise to use a combination of 3 step drops, roll outs, bootlegs and play action passes with only two or three potential receivers to take advantage of Whitehurst's strengths, and limit his ability to get stuck in reading the defense. By moving the pocket laterally, the offense can neutralize the downhill pass rush of the Giants, attacking over the top of their pressure. Additionally, the Seahawks receivers are under the microscope, especially after last week's performance. Greg Johns of the Seattle PI quoted Williams as saying: "We're excited to get out there and make plays for him. We know we have to go above and beyond as a group. I'm not saying he's not capable or anything like that, but I know how I was in my first game. So we're excited for his opportunity."

A crucial element of this Sunday's game is winning the pre-snap battle against Eli Manning and the Giants offensive line. The Giants suffer a blow as they will be without All Pro starting Center Shaun O'Hara for the 4th game in a row. Backup Center Adam Koets commented earlier in the week about the Giants loss in 2005 at Qwest; "When I first got here, I heard about that game. You always hear about playing at Seattle. I'm just looking forward to experiencing it." To expect the Giants to be unaffected by the loss of their offensive line captain would be naïve, especially with the amount of false starts that occur for opponents at Qwest. Manning has matured into a very good quarterback as shown in week 7 vs. the Cowboys, when he was directing traffic in an older-Manning like fashion; the Mario Manningham touchdown reception on a screen play was a result of an Eli Manning pre-snap adjustment, moving Manningham across the formation to an exploitable 1 on 1 matchup. The energy and noise at Qwest will make it much more difficult to correctly communicate necessary changes. I expect the Seahawks to move more than normal before the snap, using different formations and personnel to disguise their blitzes and coverage schemes against a very adept quarterback; Manning has not been as successful on both third downs and outside the pocket this season, a combination Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley could exploit on Sunday to get Manning on the run, and ultimately to the ground. If the Seahawks are able to pressure Manning and protect themselves against the big play, they will be able to increase both the +8 turnover margin at home and the Giants -6 margin on the road.

Last week the Seahawks defensive backfield was without two starters; this week, the defensive line is without two starters, creating a panic as to how to stop the running game. Red Bryant is out for the year and Colin Cole is out several weeks with an ankle sprain; enter replacements Kentwan Balmer and Junior Siavii, respectively. Balmer noted earlier in the week how Bryant has taken the role of a mentor to Balmer, stressing the impact of bringing 100% on every play. "I'm not going to go out there and disrespect Red, or disrespect this team, by not going out there and putting my best on the field," Balmer said. "Because I know that's what he would want." Gus Bradley added, "Actually, Kentwan has been playing better at that spot (end) than inside." Balmer's ability to fill in for Bryant will be under scrutiny, as Balmer was one of the more high profile additions towards the end of the pre season; a player that Carroll and Schneider were very high on, partly because of the familiarity personnel man Scot McCloughan has with Balmer as the man who drafted him as the former 49ers general manager. This is a true test for the competition built depth of this roster.

Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs create a dynamic backfield for the Giants, and will provide a wicked first test for this re-tooled defensive line. Mebane is likely to return this week, fortifying the inside for the Seahawks; Frank 'the tank" Okam, 6'5 320, was signed this week but can't be depended on as the answer for defending the run. I believe for the Seahawks to be successful against the run the remainder of the season, Lofa Tatupu needs to make his presence felt against opposing offenses. Last week in Oakland, he was a non factor in stopping Darren McFadden, and while he has helped facilitate communication on this defense, he has not appeared to be the individual player he was early in his pro career. Tatupu needs to help fill the void left by Bryant and play at a higher level, lead this defense with discipline and tenacity in stopping the running game; he is integral in helping this defense stay together as a unit, creating as smooth a transition as possible.

To say the Seahawks roster entered a transitional state this week due to injuries would be an understatement. Many patterns that were engrained into the play of this team have now been disrupted; the continuity that began to build has turned into disorder. In her novel Purity and Danger, Anthropologist Mary Douglas explains that disorder is both disruptive and constructive: "granted that disorder spoils patterns, it provides the material of patterns." We are able to recognize that disorder is destructive to existing patterns but it also has potentiality. I believe Douglas' take on disorder and creation is applicable to the Seahawks going into Sunday's game.

The disorder that came from the devastating loss to the Raiders ultimately created a Seahawks team that is re-creating its identity: an offense that struggled to move the ball downfield will refocus, hopefully, on becoming a downfield first offense; the defense shifts from a run stopping force to a more rounded scheme, hoping to find the strengths of the new defensive line; the special teams unit remains the teams strongest group and needs to exploit a disordered Giants special teams squad among the worst in the NFL. Ultimately, the Seahawks look to escape this transitional state as unscathed as possible, reminding people that, yes, this team is still the NFC West leader. A giant, unexpected victory on Sunday would undoubtedly serve as an adequate reminder.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Seahawks drop from the sky into the black hole

In position to prove themselves worthy of being considered one of the NFC's best teams, the Seahawks had a haunted Halloween in Oakland on Sunday; the team's performance was the most disappointing of the season thus far. Lawyer Milloy's post game sentiments: It's disappointing to see your team take two bye weeks during an NFL season, as there is only one on the schedule. We just didn't show up.

Head Coach Pete Carroll, frankly, agreed: "We didn't get anything done on either side of the line of scrimmage. The only redeeming thing is that half way through the third quarter it was still close enough where we even had a chance after really not playing very well…." My interpretation: we got blown off the ball on both sides, dominated actually. Somehow, we hung in there for a good portion of the game. Then we got our butts kicked. We got nothing accomplished.

The offensive performance by the Seahawks was the opposite of the unpredictable and sharp execution I believed was necessary for the Seahawks to be competitive in this game. Mike Williams sums it up best when explaining what a good offensive performance, and more importantly a win, would have meant to this team: "We (receivers) had a chance to step up as a group, take some pressure off the offensive line…It's frustrating. Three wins in a row — it would've been big for us, big for our fans, for our organization." An average of 2.7 Yards per play; 1 for 16 on third downs; Carlson led the team with three catches and Tate was the only other player with multiple catches; watching our offense felt like walking to work during a bone chilling November storm. The unit had negative offensive yardage into the second quarter. Hasselbeck was guilty of holding on to the ball at times en route to 8 sacks allowed, but he took care of the ball Ok, throwing only 1 Interception; it is not time for Charlie Whitehurst.To have a successful passing game with the power running game you, need to use the tight end in the intermediate passing game; it keeps the safety a little deeper, out of the box and attracts the attention of the line backers in coverage. As I noted last week, Carlson needs to be more involved in this offense. His 35 yard catch on an intermediate corner route toward the sideline was his season long, and is a sound example of how we can use him, taking advantage of a matchup on the linebackers. Hasselbeck and Carlson have a very solid relationship; Hasselbeck trusts Carlson more than some of the newer receivers. Carlson needs more targets, simply put.

Another man whose role in the game plan grew a little is Leon Washington. ESPN's Mike Sando noted the following in his "Silver Linings" column; "Leon Washington had punt returns covering 43, 19, 19 and 9 yards. He had kickoff returns for 45 and 37 yards. He gained 21 yards the first time he carried the ball. In short, Washington was the best thing Seattle had going for itself against the Raiders." I highly approve of the decision to put Washington back to receive on punt returns and giving him garbage playing time to rip off a 21 yard run, as I have been advocating for increasing his role on this team. He is carrying momentum into practice this week and, especially with Tate nursing an injury, this is the Coaching Staff's best opportunity thus far to get him further involved in the offense, both running and receiving.

"These guys were on fire, everything off the charts for them" and "we got big played" is how Coach Carroll described the Oakland offense after the game: Seattle gave up 10 plays of 20 yards or more. "Their offense is built around speed, speed and more speed," Milloy said. "I thought we were ready for it. And even when they hit some early, I thought we answered the call, especially with our red zone defense, which has been tough all year. But we just didn't get it done as a team, period. Point blank." The Raiders beat the Seahawks with reverses, play-action screens and misdirection runs, taking advantage, as Coach Carroll noted in his post game conference, of the Seahawks inability to contain the backside of the play, they did not show a combination of discipline in maintaining assignments and energy in successfully getting to the ball carrier; Carroll fully believes it is possible to be both aggressive and fundamentally sound, we just haven't done them well in unison.

While the Seahawks were able to contain Tight End Zach Miller, the Raiders Darren McFadden ran for 111 yards on 21 carries; additionally, backfield companion Michael Bush added 51 yards and a touchdown. As I noted in the pre game column, the left side of the Raider offensive line was extremely effective against Denver; after Red Bryant was injured, the Oakland line found its rhythm. McFadden's slippery 49 yard run was possible due to the impressive pull blocking of the left side of their line, sealing an alley for McFadden to explode through; a poor angle by Aaron Curry, who still does not look like an NFL starter, and a late, unsuccessful tackle by Lofa Tatupu contributed in helping McFadden to the second level. This play shows the importance replacing Bryant, who is possibly out for an extended period. Who steps up, competes their way into this spot? Kentwan Balmer, E. J. Wilson, possibly even Colin Cole who himself is nursing a sprained ankle. Someone needs to emerge through competition, because a large role in this defense is most likely open.

Injuries played a role going into this football game and as noted above, the list of wounded only grew as the game went on. The injuries in the Seattle secondary proved to be the most costly, as Quarterback Jason Campbell threw for 310 yards on only 15 completions with a 120.9 passer rating. Kennard Cox made two big plays, including the shoe string tackle on McFadden's scamper, in increased playing time. Nate Ness surrendered the double move that led to the 65 yard Darius Heyward Bay touchdown. As much of a role that injuries played on both sides of the ball for Seattle in this game, you didn't hear Pete Carroll use them as an excuse for his team's poor performance. His philosophy thus far has been built on preparation and competition, he believes the reserves should be ready to come in and compete in any game. Carroll admitted post game, "I told these guys this starts with me; we didn't get ready, we didn't play right." He put it on himself, showing me it's not just the players who buy in, and compete, in this organization. As decimating and potentially season changing as the defeat in Oakland appeared, it is clear to me Coach Carroll's attitude going forward isn't changing, but progressing.

A comment by a reader in the ESPN NFC West blog mentioned how Carroll was tagged as a rah rah, over the top kind of guy, but has showed nothing but reason, humility and logic in his post game interviews. As Pete Carroll took the blame for the performance in Oakland, he also fully shouldered the responsibility for improving the team's preparation, discipline and energy going forward. He is explaining to his boys that success is not a reward that comes on steady incline in all situations. Overcoming adversity is a vital part in creating a winning formula; we need to have situations, good and bad, as a team that allow us to enjoy an appreciation for buying into this program. As Coach Carroll said on Sunday, "the best thing to do is get out of here. Go home and start tomorrow and put this one behind us; but not forget about the things we do need to fix." Luckily for Pete Carroll, his admirable work done thus far on the organization has yielded a foundation in player personnel and coaching that have been through adversity, won championships; Milloy, Raheem Brock, Linebacker Coach Ken Norton Jr. as a member of the 49ers and Cowboys to name a few. This game was just a stepping stone, as luckily the team was allowed to leave, to the disappointment of the Raiders, the black hole.

The New York Giants come to Qwest next Sunday with possibly the NFC's most experienced and only worthy squad of owning the title of the NFC's best team. The last time the Giants came to Qwest, the Seahawks organization asked the fans to step up, as a New York source accused the Seahawks of piping noise into the stadium; we led 35-3 at halftime. As an attendant of that game, I can personally say it was possibly the loudest stadium I have ever been in, and that includes the 2006 NFC Championship game vs. the Panthers and the 2008 Super bowl. Pete Carroll wrote the following in a tweet last week: "Hey 12th man, you all are extraordinary ... but how much crazier can we make Qwest? What can we do to raise the bar?" Early in Wednesday's practice, Coach Carroll would be wise to end his introduction to the team with the very same question.