It has been 301 days since it happened. Seattle marched into Atlanta with bad intentions, and left with a bitter taste in their mouths. They return to Georgia today to vanquish the foe that stood between them and a true championship opportunity, but that foe does not wear red or black. Matt Ryan, Mike Smith, and their one playoff win and 2-6 record are merely sparring partners. Defeating them proves little. The Seahawks take the field in Atlanta looking to extinguish all remnants of the Seattle team that lost that day. A worthy adversary, indeed.
The team that played in Seahawks uniforms that January day could not run the ball. Marshawn Lynch was a shadow of himself, and fumbled the ball to boot. The team came out slow on both offense and defense. Atlanta, a poor running team, piled up 167 yards and over six yards per carry. There were zero sacks, as the lack of pass rush depth was exposed without Chris Clemons. Seattle overwhelmed the Falcons in the fourth quarter, but ultimately yielded a late lead.
Infamous flaws that shaped the way the front office and the players attacked the off-season. Clemons is back, and John Schneider has brought hell with him in the form of Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. Pete Carroll has transformed Bruce Irvin from a helpless defensive end versus the run to an imposing figure in all phases of the game as a linebacker.
A team that struggled to start and play well on the road is looking to tie their franchise-best of five road wins in just six opportunities.
Seattle failed to feature the run two weeks ago in St. Louis, and the result reminded them to return to what makes them intimidating. That will serve them well the rest of the way.
This team has already had the wake-up call against the run on defense the past two weeks. It would only be fitting for this to be the day when they suffocate a weak run game from their opponent instead of breathing life into it.
The best way to hold a late lead is for it to be a large one. Seattle's defense has already shown they are a different team in the clutch this year. Today is a day to leave no doubt.
Seattle shadow boxes their toughest opponent today. It is a chance to fully turn the page from a painful end to last season, and propel them toward a higher plane in this one. Life provides opportunities like this. Seattle becomes the team they wanted to be today. A team nobody wants to face.
Something special may have started in the place everything ended last season. Meet your 2013 Seattle Seahawks. They will combine the spectacular with the suplex, leaving opponents beaten and bewildered. They will run over and around you. They will pass near and pass far. You will have no room to run, no time to throw, and on the off chance you do, they will hunt you down and take back what is theirs. Even punting the ball is not a safe choice. An opponents best option may be unconditional surrender at the coin toss. Good luck with that. This group of Seahawks players will not take prisoners. They want to see you submit. They want to see you tap out, and know they forced you to do it. Sunday was the day the Seahawks stopped playing the opponent across from them, and started the climb toward finding out just how good they can be.
No player better represents the Seahawks change of approach than Golden Tate. A player with so much play-making talent that John Schneider had him graded as a first-round talent before gladly taking him in the second-round in 2010. His talent was never in question, but his ability to fully realize it in the NFL was. Midway through his fourth season, he is a threat every time the ball touches his hands. He is to defensive backs what Marshawn Lynch is to linebackers. Nobody brings Tate down on first contact. Sunday was the best game of his season as he caught six of the seven passes thrown his way for a season-high 106 yards and a touchdown. He averaged over 18 yards on three punt returns, and made the Georgia Dome his home. Carroll likes to talk about wanting players to be a factor. What he means is that he wants opposing coaches to notice the impact of a player, and force them to account for them in a game plan. We heard Tampa Bay coaches acknowledge their desire to contain Tate last week, and assigned Darrelle Revis to do it. He still changed the game with a 71-yard punt return. There is no Revis on the schedule the rest of the way, and what we witnessed on Sunday may be the first of many memorable performance by Tate the rest of the way.
Standout performances were in full bloom Sunday, but the player who got it all started was K.J. Wright. His numbers (5 tackles) do not begin to tell the story of his play early in the game. The Falcons first series was basically 11 on K.J., and Wright won. He sent a clear message that the linebackers were going to be filling those gaps the Falcons running backs had seen on tape from the last two weeks. Much of the talk had been about Bobby Wagner, but Wright has not been his best as a WILL linebacker. The few snaps Malcolm Smith saw on Sunday seemed to come at the expense of Wright, as Wagner did not appear to leave the field much at all, and finished with a team-high nine tackles. If Wright was challenged by the coaching staff, he certainly responded.
It is easy to look at the Falcons as a pathetic opponent with their 2-6 record coming into this game. They were 2-2 at home before Sunday, with a seven point loss to the Patriots and a two-point loss to the Jets. Their offense at home was averaging 28.3 points per game and 376 yards of offense. Matt Ryan was averaging 346 yards passing at the Georgia Dome, and had thrown nine touchdowns and only one interception. Seattle held them to 10 points, 226 yards and season-low 172 yards passing for Ryan. Thirty-one of those came on the Falcons final drive when Harry Douglas broke free before Walter Thurmond tracked him down and forced the games only turnover. If the referees had not made a series of highly questionable calls in their third quarter touchdown drive, the Falcons would have ended up with a more appropriate three points for their work.
Thurmond continues to play great football. He stepped in for the injured Brandon Browner and did not miss a beat. He finished with two tackles for loss, forced fumble and fumble recovery. The Seahawks will be hard-pressed to re-sign him after this year as he is playing himself into a sizable free agent deal.
Brandon Mebane deserves a tip of the cap. His work is tireless and thankless. No player is more challenged by this late bye week than Mebane. Defensive lineman wear down as the season goes on, especially interior lineman. He played a terrific game on Sunday, and Pro Football Focus has him rated as the best player on the defense thus far. One more game big fella, and then you take a well-earned rest.
The offensive line took a page out of the wide receivers playbook. With everyone doubting them, and assuming they can only be average until reinforcements arrive, they stood up and had everything to do with this outcome. They were a Russell Wilson decision to hold the ball along the sideline away from shutting out an opponents pass rush for two weeks. Atlanta finished with that one sack and three quarterback hits. Wilson looked more comfortable and untouched than at any time in the season so far. A big part of that was the fantastic run blocking on the way to 42 carries for 211 yards. Michael Bowie had a particularly good game clearing the way for running backs. As did Michael Robinson, who continues to be a significant upgrade at fullback.
The line was aided by coaches who have finally turned the corner themselves. Gone are the deep dropbacks on first down that required the line to protect for too long. Seattle passed quickly, getting the ball to Lynch for easy yards or Luke Willson on a bootleg or Doug Baldwin on short routes. The scheme was not matching the player's capabilities for a while, and the team paid for that. Credit them for adjusting and making Seattle a far harder team to defend.
They also deserve some acknowledgment for ending an uncharacteristic unwillingness to play a young player in Alvin Bailey. Bailey got plenty of time at various spots along the line. He played at least left tackle and right guard, and possibly more. He was often substituted for Paul McQuistan at left tackle during passing situations, and he showed the talent I had seen in training camp. It will be ironic if two years after spending first and third-round picks on lineman, the Seahawks find their true lineman of the future in a seventh-round pick (Bowie) and an undrafted free agent (Bailey).
Logic would lead one to believe Bailey will take a seat again with Russell Okung, Breno Giacomini, and Max Unger due back as soon as this week. Bailey may have earned continued rotation at guard. In fact, there is reason to wonder if both Bailey and Bowie wind up taking snaps at the guard spots the rest of the way. Bowie may very well be the player Seattle had hoped James Carpenter would become when they drafted him. He can play right tackle, but could be a devastating combination blocker with Okung on the left side. No matter how it plays out, the Seahawks appear to be headed toward their strongest offensive line play at just the right time.
The defense has largely done its job through ten games. The offense has been far more uneven. One year ago, they caught fire and finished the second half averaging 34 points per game after averaging just 17 in the first half of the season. Seattle did much better in the first half of this year with by averaging 26 points per game, but have upped it to 30 points per game to start the second half. There are underlying signs of strength that make it seem plausible the Seahawks could go on another offensive flourish the end this season.
Third downs had been a problem all year, where they converted just under 34% of their chances through eight games. They have converted 63% in their last two. Their red zone percentage of 56% after eight games has been raised to 63% the last two. A very respectable 5.5 yards per play to start the year is an off-the-charts 7.0 the last two weeks. Denver, a possibly historic offense, is at 6.4 yards per play on the year, and just 6.0 their last three games.
Wilson has been on fire, completing 73% of his passes at 9.7 yards per attempt. He finished the 2012 season at an almost impossible rate of efficiency, with a 123.6 passer rating and 9 yards per attempt. He is besting almost all those numbers two games in the second half of 2013. His command and decisiveness appears to be at an all-time high. His line is protecting him and his coaching staff is putting him in better situations to succeed. His receivers are making the most of every chance he gives them, and might be a better group as currently constituted than it was earlier in the year. And, oh yeah, Percy Harvin, Unger, Okung and Giacomini are coming back soon.
Halloween ended a little late for the Seahawks this year. They left their masks on long enough to shake a few doubters off their bandwagon. They were royalty donning rags to blend in with the commoners. No longer. It is time for their true identity to be known. They are a force that will crumple face masks and buckle knees. You can cut off an arm, and they will simply beat you with it. It will be easy for people to dismiss what is happening as two wins against two poor teams. Let me think that. Seattle is gathering strength for a ferocious finish. Hold onto something. The streets will rumble. Buildings will shake. The Seahawks are coming.
It gets a little more crowded at the top this week as Seattle and New Orleans step forward and the Broncos continue their slow slide back. The drop-off after the top three teams is steep. The difference between the Saints and the Panthers is equivalent to the difference between the Panthers and the Bears or Dolphins. A few top teams will clash this week with the #1 Broncos facing the #5 Chiefs and the #3 Saints hosting the #6 49ers.
The most shocking team in the top 10 has to be the Eagles at #7. They do it on the strength of a solid passer rating differential (99.4 - 83.6) and a strong rushing efficiency advantage (5.1 - 4.0). They lead the NFL in rushing, and now have a quarterback playing efficiently. The rankings like that.
The Packers and the Cowboys are dropping like lead balloons, and the once-proud Colts have slid all the way to #16 after being a top ten team early in the season.
Note: If you are having problems viewing the rankings below, try this link. (Leave a comment if it doesn't work for you!)
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)
People will remember the 23-3 halftime lead the Seahawks took over the Falcons this past Sunday, and the 33-10 final score. What most people will forget is the Falcons outscoring the Seahawks in the third quarter 7-3, and drawing within 26-10 with time left in the third quarter. They are a proud team, playing at home, and accustomed to dramatic comebacks. The Seahawks were up three scores, so the only prudent thing would be to run the ball. An energized Falcons defense could tee off on the run and hopefully get their offense back on the field. They could stack at least eight men in the box, knowing exactly what the Seahawks planned to do. The typical outcome would be a stunted drive that would have given the Falcons added momentum. This is not a typical Seahawks team.
Seattle starts with a pass play, but the Falcons cover it well. Russell Wilson quickly decides to scramble, and managed to gain two yards.
Marshawn Lynch takes the hand-off on a read-option play, and picks up two more yards.
This was a pivotal play in the drive, and the first play of the fourth quarter. Third down and six yards to go. A run would largely be conceding, and put the ball back in Atlanta's hands. Seattle chooses to go four-wide with a tight end and an empty back-field. The Seahawks run a rub route combination with Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin at the top. Tate runs straight into his defender, who is using odd technique of going into a back-pedal before starting to press after a couple of steps. Baldwin times his route perfectly, stutter stepping around Tate to the edge of the field. The Falcons bring two extra rushers on a blitz. Zach Miller stays in to block, but one player is still left unblocked. Wilson wastes no time in getting rid of the ball, and hits Baldwin over his outside shoulder for a big 27-yard gain and a first down.
Seattle is done passing now. They line up Miller next to Alvin Bailey, and bring in Michael Robinson. They run an outside zone play where every lineman gets their man, and Robinson gets two. Lynch finishes off the run, pushing the pile another five yards after contact for a 13-yard gain.
Paul McQuistan shifts back to left tackle and James Carpenter returns to left guard. Luke Willson comes in as an h-back, lining up as a fullback. Lynch picks up another five yards, bringing up second down for the first time in three plays.
Willson remains in the game at tight end next to McQuistan. Robinson returns to the backfield. Willson owns his defender, driving him five yards off the ball. McQuistan seals his man, at first with Carpenter's help, and then on his own. Carpenter comes of the combo block with McQuistan and stones another man. Robinson runs through the open hole and takes the safety out of the play. An easy 13 yards for Lynch.
Miller comes in at tight end, and Robert Turbin subs for Lynch. Michael Bowie has a nice kick-out block, creating a big hole. Turbin appears to have a bigger gain for a moment, but settles for another four yards.
Seattle goes big here. They bring in Kellen Davis next to McQuistan and Miller next to Bowie. They run a counter with J.R. Sweezy pulling to the left. Davis has a terrific block on the edge, and the receivers are doing a great job on their defenders. It looks like this could be a touchdown, but credit Paul Worrilow for bringing down Lynch by himself. Not many people can say they have done that.
That brought up a 3rd and 1. The Seahawks go with three wide receivers in a bunch to the weakside. Miller stays outside McQuistan. Turbin subs for Lynch, and Wilson takes the snap from shotgun. Folks, appreciate your wide receivers. Baldwin takes on a defensive end and seals him beautifully. That is at least a one-hundred-pound difference. Meanwhile, Tate circles around and stones a linebacker. Jermaine Kearse gets into the act and seals his man as well. It is just enough to get Turbin the one yard needed for the first.
Another single back set, now with Lynch back in. Carpenter mauls his man, clearing a sizable hole for Lynch to run through, getting them all the way down to the three.
They go back to two-tight ends and run the same counter play they had earlier in the drive. The Falcons do a nice job of stacking it up, but Lynch pushes ahead for a couple more yards.
They have gone 79 yards to this point, and run the ball eight times in a row. The Seahawks bring Robinson back in and flip Miller over to Bowie's side. The Falcons are reading the formation to mean the run will be going that way, and have stacked three second-level defenders over there. Bad bet. Seattle runs the other way, and the Falcons simply don't have enough men on that side to overcome the blocking. Robinson gets just enough of his man to allow Lynch to walk in mostly untouched.
There are not many teams in the NFL that can take the ball 80-yards in over 7 minutes on the road when the opponent knows you are going to run. These are the type of drives that create belief among the Seahawks players and strike fear into the hearts of Seahawks opponents. It is in stark contrast to what we witnessed in St. Louis when Seattle clearly checked out of run plays if the numbers were not in their favor. That is not who this team is. They will run when they want to run against all opposition.
NEGATIVE PLAYS: 0
3RD DOWNS: 3
AVG YDS TO GO ON 3RD: 2.7
YARDS PER CARRY: 4.8
YARDS PER PASS ATTEMPT: 27.0
TIME OF POSSESSION: 7 MIN 14 SEC
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It has been a rough couple of weeks for the BALTYs. After a three-game win streak saw the team get over .500 for the first time, a two-game losing streak followed. The team has been challenged since making a big deal that included Jermichael Finley the week before he was injured. The hole at tight end has been nasty, with guys like Delanie Walker and Ben Watson filling in. The void at wide receiver from earlier in the year, that regularly saw played turn in performances under five points, has been largely addressed with a bunch of mid-tier players. I decided to try and turn one of those players into a more dependable tight end.
Aggressive offers were made for Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, and others. All rejected. My running backs were great. Jamaal Charles is a core part of what the Chiefs do, and Eddie Lacy has become the focal point of the Packers offense. But I have had a nagging concern all year that Charles will wind up injured, and is wearing down. I also saw a chance to buy low on a guy like Adrian Peterson. He has not been terrific this year, but he is reaching full health and I like his chances to finish the season with a flourish better than Charles. I decided to package Eric Decker and Charles for Peterson and Jordan Reed. Deal.
I asked folks on Twitter what they thought, and the response was about 70/30 that I was nuts. I think Reed is a sleeper tight end the rest of the way in an offense that is gaining steam in Washington. He is not in the elite tight end class, but is 2nd in tight end scoring over the last three games, behind only Graham. As good as Charles is, his durability and use near the end zone are in question. Peterson can pile up touchdowns in a hurry. Charles was also on a bye last week, while Peterson has already had his.
Decker is a more valuable player than Reed in general, which is why I was hopeful the deal would go through, but not for this team. I am bullish on the rest of the year for Golden Tate, and have Riley Cooper, Doug Baldwin, Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen to fill in. Every one of them have outscored Decker over the last three games. Plus, he's a Bronco. Screw the Broncos.
So far, so good. Peterson and Reed both scored in double digits and helped the BALTYs to their highest point total of the season, and highest in the league for the week. That will earn us a prize. Keep an eye out for the giveaway once I learn more.
Ten weeks into the season, the BALTYs stand 5-5, just outside the playoffs. They have scored the third-most points in the league, but have faced teams that seem to have their best week when facing them. There seemed to be a big advantage two weeks ago when the opponent had to find a backup quarterback with his starter on bye, only to find Case Keenum going nuts and carrying him to victory. We have only three more games to qualify for the playoffs. We need to win 'em all.