November 19, 2014

Top 10: Seahawks Beat Cardinals!

The Hawks have played the nomadic Cardinals 30 times over the years, but none of those match-ups were as important as this upcoming Sunday's "Last Stand" at Seahawks Stadium. A win would keep Seattle alive in both the NFC West and Wild Card races, while a loss would erase any hope of a divisional title and push the Hawks to the brink of playoff elimination. Oddly, our rivalry with the Cardinals has never approached the intensity of our battles with the Rams in the mid-00s or our current blood feud with Santa Clara. That's partially due to circumstance: We've rarely been good at the same time. On top of that, the games themselves have tended toward not being particularly memorable. Since Seattle joined the NFC West in 2002, they're 13-11 against Arizona (Before that? 1-5 against STL/Phoenix/Arizona). Here's the ten most noteworthy/memorable Seattle wins over the Cardinals. Enjoy! 

The 98-degree heat at Sun Devil Stadium didn't seem to faze the Seahawks, as they ran out to a 24-0 half-time lead and cruised to an easy shut out win. Darrell Jackson only caught 3 passes, but they accounted for 133 yards and 2 TDs. The defense forced six turnovers and scored on a Randall Godfrey fumble return. This would be Seattle's last road win of 2003 until the season finale at Candlestick Park (The Hawks went 8-0 at home and 2-7 on the road in '03, including the playoffs).

This was our first ever win over the Cards, after five losses from 1976-1995. Shawn Springs and Willie Williams both took Jake Plummer INTs all the way back for scores, Ricky Watters gashed the Cards for 116 yards from scrimmage, and Michael Sinclair notched 2.5 of Seattle's 7 sacks.

Odd coda: Arizona would recover to go 9-5 down the stretch, make the playoffs, and beat NFC East (huh?) rivals Dallas in the Wild Card game. The Seahawks? Um, well... there was that Phantom Touchdown later on, but overall they went 6-8 over the remainder of 1998 and got Dennis Erickson canned.  

I have to confess that the only reason this one made the list was because I happened to be at the game. Otherwise it was a fairly forgettable affair, beyond the charity of a close friend: 

There was a lone hopeful event that boosted my spirits, however- Given that my only Seahawks jersey was a Matt Hasselbeck model, I needed to get a new one on my visit out to Seattle. I decided that I would take advantage of the deal being offered at the Seahawks Stadium Pro Shop: Turn in any old Seahawks jersey and get 25% off a new one. For me, that meant I'd have to part with my #8, and give up the dream that I'd wear it someday to his Ring of Honor ceremony. It was a sad thing to contemplate, but given that I'm not exactly flush with cash right now, it seemed like a necessary sacrifice. 

That was until my close friend Katie stepped in and said (as I remember it) "No way. You LOVED Hasselbeck, and I remember you defending him when I was crapping all over him- You explained to me what he meant to this team- There's no way I'm letting you trade that in." 

She offered up her own old Julius Jones jersey, and I ended up getting my SWEET new Earl Thomas jersey at a discounted price. She also reminded me that blind optimism is pretty much my best quality as a Seahawks fan- Her gesture re-energized me for Sunday's game. 

The 2010 Seahawks only won 7 games on their way to the NFC West title, and two of them were against Arizona. In the October game at Seattle, Marshawn Lynch ground out 89 yards on 24 carries, while Big Mike Williams snared 11 catches for 87 yards and the Hawks' lone touchdown. A few weeks later BMW completed his dominance of the Cards with ANOTHER 11 catches for 145 yards. Matt Hasselbeck had one of his last great games, completing 24 of 33 passes for 333 yards and a touchdown. 

In two games against Arizona in 2005, Shaun Alexander rushed for 313 yards a SIX touchdowns! Four of those scores came in the September matchup in Seattle, which was actually fairly competitive until the Hawks pulled away in the 4th. The Seahawks defense contributed 3 sacks, two takeaways, and kept the Cardinals out of the endzone for the full 60.

Rightly so, the rematch in Tempe is remembered for Shaun Alexander's 88-yard TD scamper and 173-yard, 2-TD overall performance. But it's easy to forget that for a moment it looked like the Seahawks would implode. A 27-9 lead got whittled down to 27-19 in the 4th, but thankfully the league MVP salted the victory away with another touchdown. This was the moment where Shaun Alexander became a legitimate MVP candidate in the eyes of the national football press.  

Seattle knew that with one win over their final two games in 2004, they'd make the playoffs. Up to that point, 2004 had been an absolute nightmare for Twelves: The blown 17-point 4th quarter lead to the Rams, the MNF collapse v Dallas, and an embarrassing blowout home loss to Buffalo had scarred the Twelve Army badly. Still, they were on the verge of the playoffs, which was a very novel experience for Hawks fans still stung by The Forgotten Years.

For any other fan base, Shaun Alexander's 4th quarter TD to put Seattle up 24-7 would have been cause for celebration, but we all were waiting for the terrible rain of anvils, and it looked like we'd all get splattered into oblivion when the Cardinals pulled within three late. Frankly, Trent Dilfer had an awful day subbing for Matt Hasselbeck: 10-26 for 128 yards and an INT. But on a key 3rd down late in the 4th quarter, he somehow outraced multiple Arizona defenders to the first down marker, allowing Seattle to kneel their way to a wayyy-too-stressful victory and a playoff berth.

The most dominant win in team history. Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin both topped 100 yards rushing, and Seattle racked up 284 total yards rushing. The defense not only shut out the Cardinals, they outscored them with Richard Sherman's interception return TD (one of EIGHT Seattle takeaways). As I wrote back then: 

Today's 58-0 victory over the Arizona Cardinals was less like a football game, and more like that scene in Drive where Ryan Gosling's character doesn't just disarm a mob gun thug or even merely kill him. He stomps on that fucker's head so many times that it ended up resembling a watermelon from Gallagher's act, and he's left splattered in the blood and brains of his murdered foe. THAT is what the Seahawks did to Arizona.

Arizona came into this one needing a win to pull within one game of Seattle for the NFC West lead. The Seahawks would clinch a 4th consecutive NFC West title with a victory. They wouldn't blow the opportunity, jumping out to a 24-0 lead before cruising to an easy victory. Kurt Warner threw for 337 yards and 3 TDs, but was also picked (and sacked) 5 times. Hasselbeck tossed 4 TDs, and Marcus Trufant delivered the death blow with an 84-yard pick six in the final quarter. 

As for this Sunday? It'll occupy the top spot on the next version of this list. Seahawks 29, Cardinals 22. 

What do you think, sirs? 

November 18, 2014

The Bag of Skittles is (More Than) Half Full

"They're too battered by injuries."

"The schedule is too difficult."

"They're torn apart by internal dissension."

"The Seahawks are done."

The chatter from the national football press and within the Twelve Army is becoming Borg-like in its unanimity. This wisdom has become conventional: The post-Super Bowl hangover has hit Seattle HARD, and now they're a long-shot to even make it to the playoffs. Facing a gauntlet of division rivals and playoff-bound foes over the final six weeks, the Hawks are likely to join the sad litany of Super Bowl Champions who failed to even defend their title in the following postseason.

I'll let Arnold Schwarzenegger speak for me on this one:

Maybe the problem is that I look at this from a fundamentally different perspective than most other Twelves (or the football press in general)? Obviously, if you're comparing this team to last year's, there's a discernable drop-off. Free agent losses, injuries and "Blowing Percy Harvin out the airlock President Roslin-style" have severely tested Seattle's depth. The defense has dropped out of the top 10 in terms points per game, and takeaways and sacks have also dropped precipitously. While the offense is still putting up 26 points per game, and the Hawks have cobbled together the NFL's best rushing attack, the lack of a vertical threat and the decline of Russell Wilson's passing efficiency has left Seattle offensively one-dimensional. We've seen the biggest decline in performance (compared to 2013) from our special teams. Indeed, one of Seattle's four losses is DIRECTLY attributable to special teams breakdowns (@ STL). 

The question is... What conclusions do you draw from that evidence? 

For example, on Sunday we suffered what felt like our 173rd excruciating defeat at Arrowhead, in which a valiant team effort was undercut by yet another injury (this time to Max Unger) and offensive play-calling that was at best questionable. Seattle won the turnover battle, won time of possession, and outgained the Chiefs, but still lost. For the 4th time this season, the Seahawks lost a game they had a chance to win or tie within the last five minutes. They're not closing out games like they did last year, right? Super Bowl Hangover!!! Hell, maybe it's the awful wrath of the Madden Curse. OR.... 

Those losses were to legitimate Super Bowl contenders (Chiefs, Cowboys), a playoff darkhorse with a winning record (Chargers) and to a team that also bested the Broncos and Niners (Rams). The Hawks have been in the Top 5 of the ELO and DVOA rankings all season, and those advanced statistical measures are probably more accurate descriptions of reality than the dominant "Seahawks are hung over, squabbling and doomed" narrative. The Hawks are 2-4 in "coin flip" games this season. The good news about coin flips? They're not fated to automatically go AGAINST you indefinitely into the future. 

Let's talk about that "dissension" part of the conventional wisdom. Buried in an article ostensibly about the deep rifts in the Seahawks locker room, was this quote from 2014 team MVP Marshawn Lynch: 

"I don't think there's any problem with what we've got going on," he said. "We've just gotta let it fall and keep fighting. We've got a lot of ball to go. These are challenges for us. That's one thing we have been good at, facing the challenges. I think it can be accomplished."

When asked if the Seahawks were a "championship team," Lynch became animated.

"Is this a championship team? Yeah, yeah, we've got the heart of a champion," he said. "When you've got players like Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor -- you're about to make me name the whole damn roster -- and there's some young guys whose names a lot of people don't know who bring a lot of fight. I always look at the best of our team. So ... hell yeah. I would have to be a fool to say no."

The internet is ABLAZE with stories about how Marshawn Lynch is a malcontent, but it's telling that the above quote was tucked away at the bottom of an article about Beast Mode being "frustrated." Maybe I'm hopelessly myopic, but it's hard for me to look at Lynch and see anything but one of the most intense, most valuable players to EVER wear a Seattle uniform (in any sport, frankly). If he still believes, why shouldn't we? 

That schedule is daunting, though, right? I'm sure everyone already knows that Seattle has the toughest remaining schedule in the league. Let's take a closer look. Arizona at home? There's a reason we're 6.5 point favorites, and it's not just because Vegas LOVES us. The Cardinals have ridiculously over-performed so far this season, and they are FAR overdue for a "market correction," particularly with Drew Stanton under center. At Santa Clara? They've already lost to Chicago and St. Louis in their new digs, so there's no reason to assume Seattle couldn't leave victorious as well. At Philadelphia? Seattle benefits from a rare late kickoff on the East Coast, and once again facing a back-up QB (in Mark Sanchez). The last three games are within the NFC West (Santa Clara, @ Arizona, St. Louis), and are likely to be... you guessed it... "Coin-flip" games. By then, we'll almost certainly have Unger and Bobby Wagner back on the field, though. My gut feeling is that the Seahawks will need to beat the Rams in Week 17 to make the playoffs, and that one will be a classic "triple barf bag" affair.

Pete Carroll has been in charge for 4+ seasons now, and we've never seen his Seahawks give less than maximum effort. They are mentally tough enough to fight their way into the postseason tournament, and we don't have to delve into antiquity to find precedents for Seattle riding a hot streak into the playoffs. In 2012, they started 6-4, but exploded through the finish line at 11-5. If this team can emulate that sort of performance, they'd likely draw a game at the sub-.500 NFC South Champs in the Wild Card round. After that? Maybe a 3rd matchup with Arizona in the divisional round. It's not delusional to see a path back to the NFC Championship for these Seahawks, and with recent NFL history LITTERED with 11-5 (or worse) Super Bowl winners, why can't this Seattle team go forth and do likewise? 

What we've seen from this team in recent years suggests that they've still got some surprises in store for us. Barreling into the playoffs on a hot streak seems much more likely than the Hawks succumbing to a 7-9 death spiral, doesn't it? Maybe my expectations are too low. Maybe I'm just odd, but I'm energized by the situation we find ourselves in: Underdogs, with the football world rooting for us to fail. I didn't give up hope when we were 6-9 back in 2010. Why the fuck would I resign myself to doom and failure now? 

November 10, 2014

Seahawks 38, Giants 17

(Shh! The Seahawks are coming for y'all. Don't tell anyone, Boss.) 

It's far too easy for media bobbleheads to fall back on team "identity" as a lazy explanation for NFL success (or failure). Usually, it's a great example of confirmation bias. A team strings a few wins together? They've "found their identity." Drop a few games? Now you've "lost your identity." Typically it's super-predictable but nonetheless maddening. However, I think there might be something to this when it comes to the 2014 Seattle Seahawks.

In hindsight, it's pretty clear that Darren Bevell fell for Percy Harvin after the Super Bowl like JGL fell for Zooey in 500 Days of Summer. Why wouldn't he have? Harvin was a devastating weapon against Denver in XLVIII, and what OC wouldn't want to torture the opposition with a talent of his caliber? The Hawks were so confident in Harvin as an offensive centerpiece they let Golden Tate bolt for Detroit in free agency, and sure enough Percy made the Packers cry "Mercy" in the season opener. The former Viking accumulated 160 tantalizing all-purpose yards, and it looked like he'd be an invaluable part of a Seattle offensive assault that would be one of the NFL's best. To borrow a bit from The Simpsons, everything was coming up roses for the Seahawks, but those roses contained ready-to-sting bees.

The general public had no idea how much of a locker room malcontent Harvin had become, and he began to protest not getting the ball enough by refusing to enter games in the 4th quarter. PCJS reached the limits of their patience after the Dallas loss, and JETtisoned (See what I did there?) Harvin to New York. The Twelve Army was also frustrated by how much the offense became skewed towards Harvin. I'm not the only one who was on the verge of losing their shit if they saw one more failed bubble screen to Percy during that Cowboys game, and the demand of Seahawks fans everywhere was clear: GIVE MARSHAWN THE FUCKING BALL!

I'm not going to pretend that I have any insight into the the mindgrapes of Darren Bevell, but he seems to have finally corrected course. Has the increased emphasis on running the ball come because of our lack of downfield threats on the outside? Because Russell Wilson's passing accuracy has dipped to disturbingly Mirerian levels? I can't say, but I do know watching our offense physically dominate the enemy yesterday was the most satisfying thing I've seen since opening night against Green Bay. For the first time since that zesty grating of Cheeseheads, these Hawks felt like their 2012-2013 ancestors. The common thread (at least on offense)? BEAST MODE.

22 touches. 163 yards. FOUR touchdowns. Lynch once again showed that he's one of the best backs in the game (and despite a slow start he's 5th in the NFL in rushing yards), and his intensity cannot be matched by anyone else on the field. Through nine games, he's CLEARLY the team MVP. While both Robert Turbin and Christine Michael showed encouraging flashes yesterday, it's hard to imagine the conventional wisdom of Lynch's 2015 departure from Seattle coming to pass. I'm increasingly optimistic that the front office will find some way to allow Lynch to finish his career as a Seahawk. It's fashionable to view running backs as "fungible" assets. To paraphrase Rambo: First Blood Part II, Marshawn, you're not fungible.

I'm having a hard time understanding what's up with Russell Wilson lately. Yay! He rushed for 107 yards and a TD! Boo! He put up a putrid 53.7 passer rating. Yay! He escaped from pressure and found Jermaine Kearse for a 60-yard gain to set up the tying field goal! Boo! He threw two of the worst interceptions you'll see this season. The good news is that until he finds his accuracy again he can still gain yards on the ground and keep plays alive with his ability to improvise under pressure. Another crazy number from yesterday's game? Wilson is 15th in the NFL in rushing (and is on pace to rush for 889 total yards this season), but only 24th in passing. He's like Michael Vick from 10 years ago, but without all that dog murdering!

In total Seattle buried NYG with 350 yards rushing, which was evidence of progress for the Seahawks' injury ravaged offensive line. The defense also continued taking small steps back to their dominating ways of 2012/13, holding the Giants to 54 yards rushing, forcing two turnovers (highlighted by Earl Thomas III's  game-flipping pick late in the 3rd quarter), and notching two sacks. After allowing almost 200 yards passing to Eli Manning in the first half, he was held to just over 80 yards in the 2nd half (in which New York was held scoreless and never seriously threatened to score).

Every win since week 1 has come with caveats, with an asterisk of some sort. You beat Denver, but you blew that big lead. You beat DC, but barely. You beat Carolina, but it was shaky. You beat Oakland, but doesn't everyone? Finally, the Hawks simply WHOOPED someone, and they seem to have "found their identity" as a brutally physical team on both sides of the ball. Now, they enter the toughest 7-game stretch any NFL team will face this season. All but one team the Seahawks will face is a playoff contender, and they will play both Arizona and Santa Clara twice within a calendar month. The good news? Arizona will be at least somewhat hobbled by the loss of Carson Palmer.

The Seahawks look like they're on the verge of playing Championship football once again. This week's game at Arrowhead will tell us if Seattle is back on a Super Bowl trajectory, or if they'll have to scrape and gouge and claw just to reach the playoffs again. 24 years after one of the most surprising and inspiring wins in team history, I believe the sprint to XLIX starts in Kansas City this Sunday.

What Do You Think, Sirs?

November 5, 2014

DKSB on the SeaHawkers Podcast Again

Big thanks to Adam Emmert and Brandan Schulze for having me on the SeaHawkers Podcast again. It was a blast! Here's my segment. Can't wait to do this again... Go Hawks!

November 3, 2014

Seahawks 30, Raiders 24

Yesterday's Seahawks' victory was the NFL equivalent of eating at Taco Bell. You're full afterwards, but then you feel like hot garbage for a while. Seattle is 5-3, and holding the last NFC playoff spot at the moment. While that's undoubtedly good news, the 12 Army is nauseous with unease this morning. Why is this?

-The injuries keep piling up. The Hawks are so waylaid with bumps and bruises that they only suited up 45 players yesterday. Just look at this list of causalities:

CB Jeremy Lane
CB Byron Maxwell
LB Malcolm Smith
LB Bobby Wagner
T Russell Okung
TE Zach Miller
DT Jordan Hill
S Kam Chancellor
C Max Unger

...and during the game, James Carpenter, Doug Baldwin and Gregg Scruggs suffered injuries of various levels of severity. Seattle was fortunate to be relatively injury-free last season, but what's happening in 2014 goes far beyond a simple regression to the mean. This season is starting to feel like a horror movie in which the Hawks are getting picked off one by one, and I'm left wondering who will be the next key contributor to go down.

-Play-calling. Darren Bevell baffled Seahawks fans from Anchorage to Adelaide by continuing to call bubble screens instead of feeding the ball to Marshawn Lynch (more on him later). Yes, Lynch had 26 touches for 146 yards and 2 TDs, but at key points of the game Bevell called pass plays when keeping the ball on the ground would have eaten up the clock and protected his franchise QB (who was exposed behind an '87 Scab Game-level offensive line).

-The Willlsons. Russell Wilson turned in an uncharacteristically awful performance, missing open targets over and over throughout the game. Luke Willson enraged Twelves with four drops and a crucial flub on Oakland's late-game onside kick that could have punctuated a 2004-esque collapse if not for Jermaine Kearse bailing him out.

-Special Teams. Seattle allowed another special teams TD, on a 3rd-quarter blocked punt that allowed Oakland to climb back into the game. I have a troubling feeling that special teams might be what ultimately fells the 2014 Hawks. I hope I'm wrong, but these mistakes should have been corrected by now.

Thankfully, we're not doomed. How about some good news?

-BEAST MODE. On a day when the rest of the Seattle offense was in a complete shambles, Marshawn Lynch was at his most Beastly. He scored in the 1st quarter dragging half of Oakland's defense into the end zone with him. He saved a second-half drive with a long catch and run on a screen pass, and his numbers would have been even more impressive if penalties hadn't nullified a handful of his big gains. Yes, I know TONS of evidences points to this being Lynch's last year in Seattle, but today proved that PCJS need to do whatever it takes (within reason) to have Marshawn end his career with the Seahawks.

-Encouraging signs from the defense. Bruce Irvin scored on a spectacular tip, pick, and return, and Richard Sherman snagged his first interception of the season. The Raiders were held to 37 yards rushing by a defensive unit missing most of its starters, and if not Seattle's special teams miscues Oakland would have been held to far less than 24 points.

-We'll start getting injured guys back. Jeremy Lane and Byron Maxwell will probably bolster the secondary next week, and by the time we face off with Arizona at Seahawks Stadium in three weeks we should have an active roster that more closely resembles what we put on the field back in week 1.

-History shows there's no reason to panic. The 1988 49ers and 2010 Packers are just two examples of teams that started 5-3 and went on to win the Super Bowl. There are many paths to a championship, and we need to stop assuming that Seattle's ONLY path is via the #1 seed and home field advantage.

-Santa Clara lost! Ha. Fuck those guys.

Next week Eli Manning and the Giants roll into town, and it's another game the Seahawks SHOULD win. They'll have to vastly improve on yesterday's performance even to beat a mediocre squad like NYG. If they do, they'll be well on their way to setting up an epic 6-week DEATH MATCH for the NFC West crown at the end of the season. If not? We'll be left with a belly-full of gorditas, sadness, and rage.

What Do You Think, Sirs?