Most of my articles start with a question. Is there a problem with the running game? How do the Seahawks do with the game on the line? This one started when Pete Carroll once again decided to punt on the opponents side of the field in NY on 4th and short. Why? Carroll made reference multiple times that he "likes the numbers" when they pin a team inside their own 20 yard line. Thanks to Pro-Football-Reference.com, we can get an idea of what numbers Carroll might be referring to.
The quick project would have been to just see how teams do when they start a drive inside their own 20. I did that, and found only 11.1% of those drives result in a touchdown, and only 19.2% result in a score of any kind. More eye-catching was the fact that opponents have an equal chance of turning the ball over (19.2%) as they do of scoring when they start with the ball inside their own 20. Cool. But then more questions surface. Are those good numbers? How does that compare to the league average? What if the team starts inside their own 10? Are they even more gaudy? Sigh. Time to launch Excel and start cataloging.
Through fourteen games, here are the percentages of opponent drives that result in a touchdown, any score (TD or FG), or a turnover. It also includes a home split. I was curious how the team did in CenturyLink compared to the road, especially since it looks like we will be here a while. It also includes the league average. Cells are colored from green to red to indicate where the defense is doing well. You can use the numbers above that I gave you for the Seahawks opponent starting inside their own 20 to orient you.
You can see from this that the Seahawks holding opponents to scoring 19.2% of the times they start with the ball inside their own 20 is well above the league average of 26.2%. As is their 19.2% performance in forcing turnovers compared to the league 14.2% average. More questions.
How is it more likely for a team to score against the Seahawks if they start inside their own 10 than it is if they start inside their own 20? The answer comes from the massive drop-off in the number of drives that have started inside their own 10. Of the 99 drives that started inside the 20-yard-line versus Seattle, only 12 have started inside the 10. In case it isn't obvious, these are cumulative numbers. All the drives that start inside the 10, also show up in the inside the 20, inside the 30, and so forth up until inside their own 50. It then builds back down on the other half of the field.
It did not seem right that only 12 opponent drives have started inside their own 10 against Seattle all year. I tried to validate the number by looking at Jon Ryan's stats, but there does not appear a site that publishes splits for punters outside of "Inside 20." At the very least, the Pro-Football-Reference numbers should be either wrong or right the same relative rate for Seattle as every other team. That led me down the path of trying to figure out the distribution of drive starts for Seattle opponents, and how that compared to the league averages. Below you will find another table that shows all the drives against the Seahawks, and what percent started in various spots along the field.
You can see that while 62.5% of opponent drives start inside their own 20, only 7.5% start inside the 10. The rest of the league has a similar drop-off. The center column is, again, just the Seahawks home games.
It is interesting to see how much higher of a percentage of opponent drives start inside their own 20 for Seattle than the rest of the league. When Carroll has a team that is well above league average in either taking the ball away or keeping the opponent from scoring when they are pinned back, of course he is going to be more inclined to kick the ball down there. Consider that the Seahawks have a higher percentage of opponent drives start backed up in their part of the field and hold opponents to a lower scoring percentage. More chances, but fewer relative successes.
It is almost unfair that the Seahawks force a turnover on nearly 25% of opponent drives started inside their own 20 in CenturyLink Field (23.1%). The league average is 14.2%.
Seattle has had very few opponent drives start on the Seattle side of the field. That is a big part of how the Seahawks have managed a pornagraphic 40% turnover rate on all those drives when playing at home. There have only been five opponent drives in CenturyLink Field that have started on the Seattle side of the 50, and two have those have resulted in a turnover. The league average in those situations is 6.8%.
Carroll has to be looking at these numbers, combined with the unprecedented prowess of the Seahawks punt coverage team and very good punt return teams, and feeling like a punt is almost an offensive play. There is very little here that would lead a coach to feel worried about giving the ball back to an opponent. It was a little surprising to see that there was not a large improvement in the numbers at home. A positive spin to that would be that the defense has been consistent wherever they have played this season.
Look for Carroll to continue pinning opponent offenses back near their own end zone. The hope is that these numbers help soothe the savage fan's frustration, as they did mine. Go Hawks.
We can try. Convince yourself this game against Arizona is a must-win. Seattle has to win this game, or faces the possibility of losing all they worked for next week versus St. Louis. This Cardinal team is 9-5, won 6 of their last 7 games, and boasts the best rushing defense in the NFL. They enter the game with slim, but real, playoff aspirations, and will put it all on the line against the Seahawks. The problem is that while all that is true, most of that is about Arizona. Allow yourself, for a moment, to imagine a loss to the Cardinals. There would anger and frustration and little trepidation, but would you have any real doubt that the Seahawks would turn around next week and pound the Rams in a game they absolutely needed? Not if you are being honest with yourself. The truth is this game is not about beating the Cardinals, or winning the NFC West or home-field advantage. This game is about taking a step toward regaining the edge that was lost after embarrassing New Orleans.
Toughness is a relative term. Seattle plays with a style and mentality on both sides of the ball that exudes it. There is only one team in the league that can come close to matching the Seahawks in brawn, if not brains, and they reside just a few hundred miles south in San Francisco. Play out the coming weeks in a variety of combinations and the likelihood that the 49ers and Seahawks will stand in each other's playoff path seems more likely than not.
The recipe to beat, and sometimes humiliate, the 49ers involves heavy does of a rushing attack that can take on one of the best front sevens in the NFL and win. Seattle's run game has had trouble beating the likes of Minnesota and New York in recent weeks, let alone Justin Smith and NaVarro Bowman. Welcoming the run defense that leads the NFL statistically this week is a golden opportunity to regain the swagger that has been waning in recent weeks. Another stunted performance would further allow doubt to start creeping in.
Calling yourself a running team, and having your coach say everything starts with that, opens you up to legitimate questions if you cannot run the ball effectively for over a month. This will be like a playoff game for the Cardinals. They will pull out all the stops. Expect fake punts, going for it on fourth down, onsides kicks and a lot of emotion. Seattle can try to trick itself into the "championship opportunity" mentality, but there is no way the Seahawks players and coaches can completely believe their backs are against the wall.
This game will not be won by matching the Cardinals emotion. It will be won be championship level execution and game-planning. A Seahawks team that can grind out yardage on the ground, even if it is a close game, is a team that is properly gearing up for a memorable run in the playoffs.The rain is already falling. Receivers will be fighting the rain drops as much as defensive backs. A perfect setting for a game to be decided by the play of the big boys up front. Let us see James Carpenter be the road grader he was drafted to be. Maybe we get to see a young Alvin Bailey stake his claim to more playing time if the coaches allow him to sub in for the injured J.R. Sweezy. Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini's return to the lineup has coincided with the challenges in the run game. Prove that is a coincidence, or at least, past tense. Let Max Unger and possibly Marshawn Lynch force Darnell Dockett to do his talking on Twitter.
Return to Seahawks football. Do it against a great defense. Win the West. Win home-field. Begin to armor yourself for the battle ahead. You will need that edge to be sharpened. Your enemies are legion, but they will retreat in fear when your true power is revealed. That begins today.
Somebody asked me last night on Twitter if I thought the Jets would take Russell Wilson in a trade for Geno Smith. It was that kind of game. Seahawks coaches came out with an offensive game plan that bordered on arrogant, stubbornly stuck with it, and mismanaged a game-changing situation before half. Seahawks offensive players collectively put together their worst home performance since 2010. A defense that heroically held the Cardinals time and again throughout the game, once again cracked with the game on the line. Even the flawless special teams refused to be left out of the error extravaganza with a fumble, a missed field goal, and very nearly a missed extra point. This was a complete team loss to an inferior team at home. A team that appears to need adversity and disrespect to fuel them will have no shortage of either this week.
Seattle entered this game with a clear plan to spread out the Cardinals defense and attack them down-field. With four minutes to go in the first quarter, the Seahawks had not completed a pass. The plan had the Seahawks offense off schedule all game. Out of the 13 drives for the Seahawks on the day, only four started with a gain of greater than three yards. The second half became laughably predictable with a deep pass on first down that was not completed, followed by an obligatory run that the Cardinals knew was coming on second down, and then a 3rd and long. How this became the plan after gaining 51 yards on the ground in the first quarter is befuddling.
Seahawks receivers had their worst game of the season at first glance. It is always difficult to judge where exactly pass plays are breaking down in real-time. It can be protection, poor reads or throws by the quarterback, or lack of separation and catching by the receivers. There have been plenty of games where the Seahawks receivers have been incorrectly blamed for passing problems. Not in this game. Arizona's secondary, even missing two key players, made the receivers look like the liability the national pundits believe they are. Golden Tate did not see a pass until the second half, and had a nearly disastrous fumble when he did finally catch one. Doug Baldwin had only one catch in six targets. Jermaine Kearse matched his couple of nice plays with at least a couple of poor ones, including inexcusably not running full speed on a go route early.
They had plenty of company. Russell Wilson had his worst game of the season. He was not under constant pressure, but repeatedly bailed out and created pressure situations. Some of that was because his first read was not there, but he was feeling pressure that was not there most of the day. When he did throw, he was inaccurate. That makes three weeks in a row that his accuracy has been well below his standards. There is justifiable focus on the running game woes, but Wilson's recent struggles making throws he has made his whole career is equally problematic. His decision making was not much better. He was fortunate to get away with a couple desperation throws into a crowd that could have easily been intercepted. Wilson has built his reputation on accurate throws, heady play, and poise. He needs to rediscover those traits this week.
The offensive line started off wonderfully. Michael Bowie was doing a nice job in his first start at right guard. The run blocking was decent and the pass blocking was above average. Most of the Cardinals sacks came late in the game. The line mostly withstood the pressure packages the Cardinals sent. The passing game simply could not take advantage of it. Things started breaking down later. Calais Campbell dominated late in the game. James Carpenter and Paul McQuistan are not cutting it at left guard. The change won't happen this year, but there is a very real chance that next year's starting guards will be Bowie and Alvin Bailey, depending on what the team decides to do with Breno Giacomini at right tackle. My eyes tell me the team would be better for that change right now, but making that kind of switch this late in the season seems highly unlikely.
That there is a discussion to be had about the offensive line after fifteen games of the season speaks volumes. This was a group that missed a combined one start last season. Every starter outside of Paul McQuistan has missed at least one start this season. It is the single-biggest risk to the team's Super Bowl aspirations. The bye week that had been a foregone conclusion, could be the last, best, hope for Tom Cable to get his guys back on track. Seattle won 12 games with a line playing well below expectations. They can win more, but the probabilities increase a lot if this group can come together for the playoffs.
Game management also becomes a bigger factor in the playoffs and close games. Pete Carroll has made highly questionable clock management decisions in both division-title-clinching games. Seattle had the ball at the three-yard line with two timeouts before halftime. They ran once. Timeout. They ran a second time. Timeout. Calling that last timeout telegraphed the 3rd down play call to the Cardinals. Seattle could have conceivably run the ball and then hustled their field goal team out there in time, but the chances were far less that they would risk that, and the Cardinals knew it. Had Carroll had his team ready with a 3rd down play call after they called the first timeout, the Cardinals would not have had time to make substitutions or adjust their defense and would have had a true 50/50 chance of run or pass to defend, knowing Seattle could have just called a timeout if they didn't make it. This is not debatable. It was flat wrong. Carroll is such a progressive coach, who is open to all methods to make his team better, it is time he invests in a quality control coach that specializes in data analysis for what the right and wrong times are to use timeouts at the end of halves. There is a formula to be found, similar to the one that coaches use to determine when to go for two points, that will at least point out the black and white situations. This is a problem that can be almost completely corrected. On this Tell The Truth Monday, Carroll needs to start with himself.
The defense. So tough to point a finger in the direction of the one group on the team that showed up with an edge and that kept this game from being a Cardinals laugher. They turned the Cardinals back time and again. They overcame an impotent offense. They tried to prop that offense up with four turnovers that resulted in a pitiful three points. They took points off the board with interceptions in the end zone. Richard Sherman had two more interceptions, and needs just two more to tie Everson Walls for most interceptions in the first three years of a players career since the NFL/AFL merger in 1970. Michael Bennett, god love him, was dancing and growling at the Cardinals offense when many defenders would begrudge the fact that they were back on the field after three uninspiring offensive plays. They were collectively in position to be feted for one of the all-time great defensive performances in Seahawks history. That was, until the final drive.
There were a few ways I could imagine the Cardinals beating the Seahawks prior to the game. None of them involved Carson Palmer scrambling for his life on a 3rd down and making a heady throw on the run just before he hit the sideline. He might as well have said, "The separation is in the preparation," in his post-game presser to complete the mimicry. Another crucial 3rd down conversion came on a very late holding flag against Malcolm Smith. And a last dagger 3rd down conversion came on a deep ball that Byron Maxwell could not make a play on despite having better position than the receiver. Before that possession, the Cardinals had been 3-16 on 3rd downs.
Referees do not decide football games, but these refs had a clear impact on the outcome. Six of the Cardinals 16 first downs came from penalties. With penalty-gifted first downs taken out of the mix, the Cardinals advantage there would have shrunk to 10-9 over Seattle. The two late replays went the wrong way. There were replays earlier that were only necessary because the officials blatantly missed plays that were not difficult to see from my seat in the stands. The pass interference on Sherman late in the game came on the 17-yard line near the hash breaking inward when the ball landed in the endzone heading for the corner. As great as Larry Fitzgerald is, that ball is not catchable. No excuses here. Just an observation that the refs had a very poor game.
Someone needs to find out what is keeping Christine Michael off the field. He is a player that could be impacting the game if he had been worked into the offense earlier in the season. Everything that Cardinals running back Andre Ellington brings to the game are things Michael could bring to the Seahawks. Carroll has made a career of putting players in position to succeed by playing to their strengths. Even if Michael is a liability in pass protection, he provides things that nobody else on this team does. This coaching staff should have found a way to use him by now, and I remain convinced a valuable offensive weapon is sitting on the shelf while the offense struggles.
And so we enter the final week of the 2013 season with a lot to play for. For the first time in three weeks, Seattle will play a game with their backs against the wall. One could arguably go back even farther. The first two opportunities the Seahawks had to clinch the division and home-field came in games when the opponent had more to play for than Seattle. That will not be the case this week. All the talent and power that made Seattle the best team in football for most of the season is still there, waiting to resurface. It will be no easy task against a Rams defense that held the Seahawks down even more than this Cardinals defense did yesterday. Seattle abhors easy. The playoffs begin a week early.
My parents came to town this weekend to pick up my oldest son for a trip to the beach during the holiday break. They wanted to see a Seahawks game. I made arrangements so that they could sit with my son in our seats, and I found a pair of club seats for my buddy and I to sit in for this one week. That will be the last time I do that.
I have been a season ticket holder since I moved to Seattle in 1997. My first tickets were the very last row of the 50-yard line in the Kingdome. We could literally stand and touch the ceiling. Way up there, we could do and say just about anything. I became accustomed to the ritual of letting all my week's frustrations out at the game. It was a side of my nobody that knows me professionally would ever expect. Time has mellowed me a bit.
Obscenities are not quite as constant as they once were. I don't stomp and carry on like a tantrumming toddler. At least, not often. What did persist was the passion of participation in the game. Football is the one sport where your impact on the outcome is palpable. No place has illustrated that better than Seattle over the years.
It is common for me to leave my seats in the 300 level with ringing ears. Save the warnings. I know it is not wise. The point is that the noise is deafening. Sitting on third down never happens. I can barely hear myself screaming most of the time. Not yesterday.
Nobody stood in the club level. Not once (other than me on occasion). I could hear myself screaming the whole game. I looked around and saw some yelling, but mostly clapping and sitting, as if they were taking in a performance at Benaroya Hall. If Seahawks fans broke the world record without the 200 level, I wonder what would happen if they joined in.
The icing on the cake for me was when my buddy came back with two water bottles for us. They came with the caps on. Those of us that have been to enough games know that they take the bottle caps at the concessions stands. Anyone that is attending with a child has to hope that some portion of the water remains in the bottle by the time you climb back to your seats. Nobody has given an official explanation, but it is believed to be because people were throwing the caps at other fans. Whatever the reason, it pissed me off to find that fans in the club section are considered a higher grade of human simply because they paid more money for their seats.
The Seahawks organization may want to reconsider how they handle fans in the 300 level. They may be a third of the seats, but they are 70% of the passion. Those fans reading this that sit in the club level, feel free to prove me wrong. Until then, I'll stick with my bottle cap assassin brethren in the cheap seats, participating instead of observing.
Take a look at the NFC. Four of the top five teams reside in the NFC. The Eagles blowout win helped them climb into the top five, and the 49ers remaining relatively steady while the Saints faltered again, allowed San Francisco to gain the #3 spot.
Cardinals fans will be angry to see their team lost team strength despite a rousing win in Seattle. That is the second time in three weeks a team has beat the Seahawks, but done so in a fashion that cost them strength in the rankings. Passer rating differential plays a large role here, and as bad as Russell Wilson's numbers were, there were not as bad as Carson Palmer's. Yards per carry was also in Seattle's favor. Arizona fans can be happy they get a win.
Seattle slides back, but not a ton because their defense has played so well.
This view helps to give you a view of how teams are grouped together. You will generally see tiers of strength develop as the season wears on.
Power rankings are always debatable. I don't buy into the gut feel methods most places use to determine their rankings, so I developed a formula a few years back that attempts to take at least some of the subjectivity out of the discussion. My approach was simple, I measured offensive and defensive efficiency based on the Yards Per Carry (YPC) and Yards Per Attempt (YPA), as well as points scored and points allowed. The formula to calculate "Team Strength" was as follows:
(YPC (offense) + YPA (offense) + Avg Pts/Game Scored) - (YPC (defense) + YPA (defense)+ Avg Pts/Game Allowed)
The formula has proven to be a pretty accurate predictor of success, but I am always looking for ways to improve it. I read a great article on ColdHardFootballFacts.com. There was one gem in there about predicting championship teams. The article mentioned passer rating differential as the "mother of all stats." A full 69 of 72 champions have ranked in the Top 10 in this statistic. It is a stat after my own heart, as I believe offensive and defensive efficiency is the key measurable outside of point differential. Turnovers would factor in there as well, but I am not convinced a team has as much control over that. My power rankings use YPA and YPC differentials. I went ahead and replaced the YPA with offensive and defensive passer rating, to give me this:
(YPC (offense) + Passer Rating (offense) + Avg Pts/Game Scored) - (OPP YPC (defense) + OPP Passer Rating (defense)+ OPP Avg Pts/Game)
Pete Carroll wasted no time in declaring Percy Harvin out of practice this week. That means he will not play in 15 of the team's 16 regular season games, and I expect an announcement this week that he will be placed on injured reserve, with Walter Thurmond III taking his roster spot as he returns from the suspended list. Carroll and John Schneider have had a remarkable run of personnel decisions in their four years in Seattle. Their biggest misstep may have been trading for Charlie Whitehurst. Even then, the damage on the field and to the roster was minimal. The forumula has been to aquire young talent through the draft, give them early playing time to allow for maximum impact during the rookie contract years, and sprinkle in short-term free agents of varying costs to fill in around the. The Harvin deal represented a departure from the formula. It was a massive contract and structured in a way that locks the team in for a chunk of time and a collection of draft picks. If the team had simply signed Harvin to the contract without the draft picks, or just the draft picks without the contract, there would be little to question. The risk in acquiring Harvin was never in the player. It was in the cost of acquisition and deviation from team philosophy. There are precious few players and situations when taking that risk is justified. One year into that deal, the odds are looking long that Seattle made the right decision.
Seattle entered the off-season with a goal of adding new pass rushers and a few new weapons for Russell Wilson on offense. They nailed the pass rushers with Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, but Luke Willson is the only player that qualifies as a new weapon. Before zeroing in on the move to get Harvin this off-season, it is worth understanding the choices that led to Seattle feeling the need to make a big move like that.
Schneider has overseen four drafts now. He has drafted 39 players over those four years. Where the team has invested those picks tells a story.
Weapons have not been a high priority for the Seahawks to acquire via the draft. Only six "skill" players have been drafted at the wide receiver and running back position, and three of those came in this last draft with Christine Michael, Spencer Ware and Chris Harper. Of the three receivers drafted by Schneider, only Golden Tate (2nd) was drafted above the fourth round. It could be argued that receiver has not only been a low priority for the Seahawks front office, but one of their weaker positions to evaluate.
Harper did not make the team out of training camp, and was subsequently cut by the 49ers. Kris Durham has grown into a serviceable player for the Lions, but Seattle drafted him to play in the slot. It was Detroit that saw him as an edge receiver and have benefited from their evaluation. Tate is clearly the best receiving prospect that they drafted, but even he took far longer to develop than they could have expected. Maybe some of it is coaching as well. The best receiver moves the front office has made came through unrestricted free agency where they added Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse. They deserve a lot of credit for bringing those players aboard, but if they knew each player was as good as they have been, it is reasonable to have expected a draft choice to spent. There is some fortune involved when an undrafted free agent hits.
Part of how a front office has to be judged is who they drafted at a position relative to who was available. Tate, for example, is the 7th-leading receiver this season from his draft class in terms of receptions. The only players the Seahawks could have taken at his 60th spot that have performed better are Antonio Brown (6th rd), Eric Decker (3rd) and Emmanuel Sanders (3rd). Knowing how far below the league average Seattle is in pass attempts, that is pretty darn good.
The next year worked out even better. Baldwin ranks fourth in his receiver class for receptions this season, beaten only by A.J. Green, Cecil Shorts and Torrey Smith. He ranks 3rd in receiving yards and 2nd in touchdowns from that class for this season.
Deciding to eschew a receiver in the 2012 draft looks less defensible. Alshon Jeffrey was taken with a pick the Seahawks trade to the Bears that turned into Bobby Wagner. Not exactly a loss there, but Jeffrey has become an All-Pro level talent in just his second season. Josh Gordon was taken by the Browns with their 2nd round pick in the supplemental draft. T.Y. Hilton was taken with the 92nd pick in the 3rd round. Rod Streater went undrafted. Jarrett Boykin went undrafted. Marvin Jones was taken with the 166th pick in the 5th round.
Seattle drafted Robert Turbin, Jaye Howard and Korey Toomer in rounds 4-5 in 2012. They say the only way to evaluate a draft is at least a year later. The Seahawks 2012 draft will always rightfully be know for nabbing Wilson, but those mid-round selections are looking regrettable. Missing out on another receiver helped to increase the pressure the front office felt to manufacture a receiver addition the following year.
The draft is only one way to address a positional need. Seattle showed it will dive into the free agent waters with the high-priced signing of Sidney Rice in 2011. Let's take a look at who was available to be added via free agency in 2011 and 2012 that might have obviated the need for a Harvin trade.
Vincent Jackson was signed by the Bucs in 2012 for 5 years, $55M and $36M guaranteed. The guys at OverTheCap.com see that as essentially an identical deal to Harvin's in terms of really being a 3-year deal for $36M. Jackson is the prototypical big-bodied split end that Carroll covets, and has turned in two terrific seasons in Tampa despite questionable quarterback play. He will finish the year with a second straight season over over 1,200 yard receiving and at least 7 TDs. Same contract. No draft choices.
Stevie Johnson re-signed with the Bills in 2012 for 5 years, $36M and $19.5M guaranteed. Johnson is 6'2" 207 lbs and one of the best route runners in the NFL. He was 26 when he signed his new deal. Injuries and bad quarterbacks have plagued him this year, but he was over 1,000 yards and 6 TDs last season.
Those are the two that stand out prior to this off-season. Specifically the Jackson deal and fit with what Seattle needed. Signing him would have been a departure from team philosophy as well because he was 29 at the time of the deal, and the Seahawks prefer to give big contracts to players under 26. Once the total opportunity cost of the Harvin deal is considered, though, Jackson's age seems like a far smaller risk at a far lesser cost.
Now let's look at the Harvin deal, and what some alternatives were this season. First, we know it cost Seattle their first-round pick in the 2013 draft, the 25th pick overall.
Forget the Alex Ogletrees, Giovani Bernards, Kiko Alonsos and Kawann Shorts of the world for our purposes here. We will ignore other positions that could have been drafted at that spot, and just focus on the wide receivers. DeAndre Hopkins was drafted 27th and Cordarrelle Patterson was drafted 29th. Terrence Williams was drafted 74th. Keenan Allen was drafted 76th, 15 spots after Christine Michael was taken. Kenny Stills was drafted 144th. Marlon Brown was undrafted. Kenbrell Tompkins was undrafted.
Some will say that Schneider had no way to know who would be available with the 25th pick. His job is to know who would be available and make a decision about whether it was worth the risk to move out of that draft position. Imagine the impact to the Seahawks cap flexibility over the next two years and the impact to the team this season if Seattle had Hopkins, Patterson or Allen instead of Harvin. There is no objective argument to be made at this time that the Seahawks are better off with having made the Harvin trade than to spend a high draft pick on a receiver.
There were also other options for adding receiver talent to the roster outside of the draft. Seattle fans no doubt remember the Anquan Boldin deal for San Francisco that cost them only a 6th round pick and a short-term contract. Even if nepotism was at play, and the price would have been higher for a non-Harbaugh team to acquire Boldin, that was clearly the most cost-effective and low risk wide receiver addition to make. Boldin will never change a game the way Harvin can, but he would have been a great addition to this receiver corps that would have provided the big body target they still lack.
Mike Wallace was signed to what amounts to a 3-year $32M deal with the Dolphins. For all the negatives people say about him, he is 27, can take the top off the defense and has produced over 900 yards in a pass-challenged offense in Miami. Signing him would have restricted the cap in a similar way to Harvin, but allowed the draft picks to be used in other ways and gave Seattle something it lacks.
We still do not know which players Seattle will miss out on in the 3rd round next year when that pick goes to the Vikings as well. We also do not know if the pressure of justifying this move will cause the team to move players like Baldwin in the off-season that have already proven their worth. It is hard to imagine the team going into 2014 with three starting receivers under 6'0".
Some will read this as unfair given we have the benefit of hindsight. Jobs are won and lost based on how decisions turn out, not on what information the person had who made the decision at the time. Trading away three draft picks, two of high value, and giving a high-priced contract to a player with a variety of question marks about durability and character was a risky move by any measure. It has not worked out thus far.
Harvin could return and become the game-changer Schneider and Carroll hoped he would be. He could be so central to what Seattle does that he earns an extension down the line.
Seattle is not going to cut ties with him anytime soon. He would count nearly $10M against the cap next year if he was cut, and $7M in 2015. Carroll has repeatedly said they are in this for the long haul with Harvin and want to get him right. If he was on a one-year deal, or one that allowed the team to walk away more easily, the team may have handled the injury situation differently. Harvin might be playing right now. He is not, and probably won't the rest of the way.
Seahawks fans have become accustomed to celebrating genius moves by Schneider over the years. This one is not living up to his reputation. Going big for a small receiver was a move that shocked fans, analysts and players when it happened. The ramifications of that move have been negative thus far, and could get worse over time. It is up to Harvin to prove Schneider and Carroll right. He has a lot of work to do.
This has been a special year for Seahawks fans. The team has thrilled us. World records have been set, and then set again. It should come as no surprise that you all have done something special once again. HawkBlogger.com just made the largest charitable donation in site history thanks to all the purchases you have made through the site this year. Last year, you all helped me raise about $600 through page views (ads), ticket sales, buying team gear and even Zeek's Pizza. I rounded that up to $1000. This year, you all doubled that, as the site raised $1200, and I rounded that up to $2000.
I never felt right about making money on HB.com. I may someday, but for now, I just wanted to take a minute to thank all of you for your time and interest and passion around the team we all love.
Ben's Fund, which was setup by John and Traci Schneider, helps parents who cannot afford expensive Autism treatments. Ben Schneider has Autism, and John and Traci understand how blessed they are to have been able to afford the best for him. My youngest son has special needs as well, so this charity makes a lot of sense on a variety of levels. It will continue to be where HB.com proceeds go for the foreseeable future.
With sponsorship money from SMS Audio, Glidden, and hopefully others coming in the new year, we should be set to blow away our contribution mark again next December.
You can continue to help by reading and sharing articles from HB.com and buying products from our sponsors.
Thanks again, for a fantastic 2013, and here's to hoping for a 2014 we will never forget.
- Brian Nemhauser
Editor, Writer and Publisher - HawkBlogger.com
Seattle lost a game to the Cardinals last weekend, but their offense has been struggling for much longer. As we wait for the season finale on Sunday versus a Rams team that handed Seattle their worst offensive performance of the Pete Carroll era, it seemed worth delving a little deeper. No one thing is causing the Seahawks offensive decline the past three weeks. A variety of factors are at play.
Marshawn Lynch ran for 91 yards in his first game against the Cardinals, but managed only 71 in the second. I charted each carry in both games, documenting personnel groupings, which direction the run went and how many players the Cardinals stacked in the box.
Something changed drastically in the Seahawks game plan from game one to game two. Thirteen of Lynch's 21 carries went up the middle in Arizona. He gained an average of 4.7 yards on those carries. Only three of his 18 carries back in Seattle went up the middle. Tom Cable must have liked the idea of his starting tackles back in this game. He ran left eight times and right seven times, averaging 5.0 yards per carry going right versus 3.6 heading left.
My initial hypothesis was that part of why Lynch and the running game struggled more in the second game was due to more defenders committed to the run by the Cardinals. That turned out to be completely wrong. The Cardinals had 8 or more men in the box on 61% of Lynch's runs in the second game compared to 71% in the first game. Seattle actually faced fewer run defenders the second go-around. Add to that, Lynch fared better against 8+ men in the box (5.4 YPC) in the second game than when there were 7 or less (2.3 YPC). That performance against a standard 7-man front was in stark contrast to the whopping 8.3 YPC the Lynch managed in the first game.
Something else changed, though. Derrick Coleman was injured in that first Cardinals game. Before he got hurt, Lynch ran behind a fullback on five of his first nine carries and averaged 5.0 yards per tote. He averaged 3.8 on his remaining 12 carries. Michael Robinson was signed after that game. He played sparingly in that Rams game, but then started to play significant snaps over the next four games, which happened to coincide with Lynch's two highest rushing totals of the season. He has had three 100-yard rushing performances in 2013, and two of them came in the three weeks following adding Robinson back to the mix.
The coaches clearly did not see the correlation between Robinson's snap count and Lynch's productivity, because they have drastically reduced his snaps the past three weeks. He played just six offensive snaps versus Arizona last week.
Lynch is a player with immense talent, but his strength is in running people over, not in reading the running lanes. He trusts Robinson like nobody else. When Coleman was his lead blocker, he was far less likely to follow him into the hole, and often ad-libbed. Watch him when Robinson leads. They are like train cars on a track. Trust.
At this point, no fullback is making a difference because the team has shifted the fullback snaps elsewhere. Jermaine Kearse and Luke Willson, among others, have seen increased reps that are coming at the expense of the fullback. Coleman's return from injury has also meant Robinson is splitting what few fullback snaps there are with him.
Watching Lynch on tape these last few games shows a guy who is searching for a hole that is not there. He is moving laterally far more at the line of scrimmage than last season when he would commit to a hole and run through it. Part of the reason for that is there is a guy waiting for him in the assigned lane nearly every time. Robinson does an excellent job, far better than Coleman or Miller or Willson, as a lead blocker. It was no accident that Lynch averaged 6.0 yards per carry when following Robinson's lead on Sunday.
Robinson played 32% of the offensive snaps last season. Seattle would be wise to get him back to that level. It will not single-handedly turn the rushing game around, but it is something they can control. Making 2013 Max Unger into 2012 Max Unger is not nearly as straight-forward. Do not be surprised, however, to see Michael Bowie starting to steal snaps at guard.
Golden Tate is not a separation receiver. He makes plays in traffic, and can run after the catch if given the chance. To take advantage of his skill set, a team has to force-feed him the ball because he will not get open on his own in most cases. Darrell Bevell and the offense was far more committed to that early in the season than they have been of late.
Teams are working to take him away, and the offense is suffering for it. Seattle needs to re-commit to getting the ball in Tate's hands in a variety of ways. It cannot just be down-field throws. He has struggled to make some of those high-point catches the past few weeks, most notably in New York. It feels a little like a jump shooter that needs a layup to see the ball go in before the rest of his game opens up. A few wide receiver screens or short crossing routes could go a long way toward getting Tate back on track, and the offense along with it.
Coaches can get in a rut just like players. Bevell and Cable need to take some responsibility for how the offense has sputtered the past few weeks. They have dialed up a number of deep passes, but without the running game setting them up. Seattle has been at it's best when the running game is chipping away, and play-action passes off that create explosive plays down-field.
Those explosive plays have all but disappeared the past three weeks. The play-calling has appeared desperate at times to create those explosive plays instead of earning them with smaller gains on the ground and through more conservative pass plays. There have been fewer stop routes, slants, crossing patterns and screens. These plays will not usually net big yardage, but they can mean the difference between 2nd and 10 and 2nd and 6.
Seattle needs to rediscover their ball control attack in order to unlock their big-play ability.
As you can see, the defense is doing more than it's share to control explosive plays for the opponent. This is the first quarter of the season where the Seahawks have not enjoyed a decided advantage in explosive plays per game. The offense needs to start pulling their weight in this regard, and that starts with better results on early downs with higher percentage runs and passes.
So much is made of how the Seahawks perform on third down, and for good reason. Seattle averaged 32 ppg and 419.5 yards per game in their four best third down games of the season compared to 18.8 ppg and 255 yards per game in their four worst third down games. Doing well on third down is about far more than how the team performs on that particular down. The down that people should be paying more attention to is first down.
No team is great at converting 3rd and long, but Seattle is 26th in the NFL at just 15.5%. Team like Denver and San Diego can convert at double that rate. So that means getting yards on early downs is paramount for the Seahawks, and they have not been doing that of late.
Over the last three games, the Seahawks are averaging 4.68 yards on first down, down more than a full yard compared to their first 12 games (5.95). They were 6th in the NFL in first down yardage over those first 12 games. They are 20th in the NFL over the past three games. To hammer home just how much of a belle weather down this is, Seattle has averaged a whopping 6.5 yards on first downs in their four best 3rd down performances, compared to 4.6 in their four worst. That is a massive two-yard gap, and if you didn't notice, that low number is exactly what they have been averaging the past three weeks.
A lot of this goes back to the three things above. Coaches have every option open to them on first down. Seattle is being out-schemed and out-executed on first down, and it is having a cascading effect on the rest of the downs. They have become more likely to pass on first down than they had before.
During those first 12 games, the team ran on 61% of first downs and passed 39% of the time. That ratio has closed to 57% run and 43% throw the last three weeks. This offense is built on the run setting up the pass. They consistently do it against extra men in the box, so this is a conscious choice to move more toward passing than the defense forcing their hand.
The Seahawks head into their final game of the regular season with something to prove. Their offense has not been performing at a level close to their standards. They face a defense that embarrassed them earlier in the season, and given them fits in prior years. It shapes up as a good test for a team that appears to thirst for adversity and doubt to sharpen their focus.
Percy Harvin is not coming to the rescue, and it appears Christine Michael will remain in lock-up as well. The men that built one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL over the last 8 games of 2012 and first 12 games of 2013 need to find their footing again.
It starts with a renewed commitment to execution on first down. Short passes and greater percentages of run plays is a good place to start. Increase the utilization of Robinson as a fullback to keep Lynch running in a straight line and allowing the offensive line a little more room for error. When there are two tight ends or three receivers, there is nobody to clear out the man waiting in the running lane. Every block must be right. A player like Robinson gives Lynch that little extra chance to gain yardage.
Coaches need to get Tate back into the flow. He went without a target in the first half on Sunday. It doesn't matter who is guarding him. The team needs to find high percentage ways to get him touches.
And last, but far from least, Russell Wilson needs to get back on his game. He has been uncharacteristically inaccurate the past three weeks. After four straight games of 72%+ completion percentages, he has been at 60% or less in two of the last three. He had seven straight games of a passer rating above 91, but has not risen above 86.3 in any of his last three. There is no doubt he is capable of better play than we have seen the last three weeks. His team needs him to regain that form.
This game will tell Seahawks fans and Seahawks players a lot about their offense. Expect them to step back into the light.