July 27, 2012

10 Wins and a Playoff Spot

The 37th Seattle Seahawks Training Camp begins Saturday, and aside from uncertainty about the quarterback position and a possible Marshawn Lynch suspension, all indications are that this team is primed for significant improvement in 2012.

What do I expect? 10 wins and a playoff spot.

That will strike some people (particularly a lot of national media bobbleheads) as wildly optimistic. These folks either have always viewed the Seahawks through dingy, gloomy lenses, or they are simply ignorant about what is under construction in Renton right now. Seattle's defense is young, nasty, and extremely talented. Already stout against the run and in the secondary, the addition of Bruce Irvin and a new deal for Chris Clemons gives the Hawks a legitimate pass rush- Which gives the unit a chance to not only be a Top 5 defense, but perhaps the best in football.

There are far more question marks on offense for Seattle, but that elite defense should buy their offensive counterparts time to develop into a unit that is at least in the top half of the league. Whether the QB is Flynn, Jackson or Wilson, we should see improved play at that position compared to 2011- Jackson presumably can top his performance from last season after recovering from that pectoral injury, and Wilson would only win the job if he absolutely CRUSHED it during camp/preseason. I expect Matt Flynn to be our starting quarterback when we face Arizona on Kickoff Weekend, but that's far from decided at this point.

It's legitimate to be worried about a possible Marshawn Lynch suspension, but any such punishment might not be meted out during the 2012 season. Even if Lynch were to miss a number of games, Seattle's Cable-forged offensive line can probably blast open enough holes for Robert Turbin and Leon Washington to be effective ballcarriers. I also expect Sidney Rice to have the type of season that creates a run on his replica jerseys for the holidays, and Miller/Winslow should create match-up nightmares for enemy defenses.

I've heard people say the schedule is hard. Ever notice that people say that EVERY year? Now is the time to stop assuming games at home against teams like Green Bay and New England are totally Kobayashi Maru for the Hawks. If we truly have an elite defense now (and I say we do), they can stop Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers- or at least slow them down enough for Seattle to grind out a victory.

So yeah, I EXPECT 10 wins and a playoff spot. I've heard some people on twitter criticize this as settling for mediocrity. Fuck no! First of all, a 10-6 season would be an incredibly important step towards our bigger long-term goals (think about the leap from 7-9 in 2002 to 10-6 in 2003). Secondly, the current Super Bowl Champions went 9-7 last season. Nowhere does "10 wins and a playoff spot" mean we CAN'T make a run all the way to XLVII, baby.

This has been an incredibly positive off-season for the Seahawks (with the exception of the Lynch DUI arrest, obviously), and I truly believe we're about to see our team blast right through the barrier that segregates the NFL's elite from its mediocre rabble.

Who's with me? Let's get #10winsandaplayoffspot going on twitter, Twelves!

July 19, 2012

Top 5: Most Intense Rivalries in Seahawks History

Quick: Which NFL team do you hate the most? Most of you probably just blurted out "The Niners!" (Yeah, I still fucking detest the Steelers too, but we don't have to play those fuckers twice a year.) The funny thing is that 6 years ago, you would have said "The Rams!" 20 years ago, you would have said "The Broncos!" NFL  feuds wax and wane over time, and as we stand on the verge of  Seahawks v Niners exploding into one of the NFL's nastiest running battles, I wanted to look back at the five most intense rivalries in team history.

I'm also going to focus in on the most intense periods in these rivalries, instead of just saying "Broncos" or "Rams." Enjoy!

5. Kansas City Chiefs (1983-1990)
Seahawks record during this period: 8-8
High Point: 11/11/90 Seahawks 17 @ Chiefs 16
Low Point: 12/27/87 Chiefs 41, Seahawks 20

The Seahawks' historical struggles at Arrowhead are well known, but at least during this 8-year stretch Seattle went 7-1 in the Kingdome against KC. That lone win at Arrowhead? That was Krieg-to-Skansi, y'all. Outside of this 8-year stretch, Seattle's all-time record against the Chiefs is a putrid 10-24.

Another high point? The 45-0 demolition of the Chiefs in the Dome back in 1984, highlighted by FOUR interception returns for touchdowns by a Seahawks defense at the peak of their skills. The losses, particularly at Arrowhead, were gut-punches though- A late loss in '84 helped deny Seattle the AFC West title and a 1st-round bye, and in 1987's regular season finale the Hawks lost the game, home field for the Wild Card round, and Curt Warner for the playoff game at Houston.Ugh.

4. San Francisco 49ers (2006-2011)
Seahawks record during this period: 5-7
High Point: 9/12/10 Seahawks 31, 49ers 6
Low Point: 12/12/10 49ers 40, Seahawks 21

With this rivalry primed to climb to the top of this list over the upcoming seasons, it's easy to forget how laughably pathetic the Niners were from 2003-2005. The Seahawks beat them 6 consecutive times during that span, and 3 of  those wins were complete wipe-outs. 2006 saw SF sweep the Seahawks, including a humiliating defeat on Thursday Night Football in a Qwest Field monsoon. Finally, a real rivalry would develop.

Year after year, the experts picked the Niners to finally rise to the top of the NFC West, but just as consistently the Seahawks would crush those dreams with an unexpected victory. In 2007 we got to see Rocky Bernard squish Alex Smith in an upset Seattle win at Candlestick, but 2010's Kickoff Weekend whipping of Singletary's minions at Qwest was more stunning and thus even sweeter. Later that season Seattle would get absolutely dominated at SF, however (the 40-21 final score didn't capture the totality of our collapse).

Last year the Niners finally won the division, and barely beat Seattle in a brutal late-season dust up at Seahawks Stadium- I expect future match-ups in 2012 and beyond to be even more intense. We've reached the point where the coaches, players, and fans on both sides truly HATE their opposite numbers. This'll be fun.

3. St. Louis Rams (2003-2006)
Seahawks record during this period: 5-4
High Point: 10/15/06 Seahawks 30 @ Rams 28 
Low Point: 10/10/04 Rams 33 @ Seahawks 27 (OT)

Few NFL teams hold a hammerlock over an opponent anywhere near Seattle's global dominance of the Rams. Since 2005 the Seahawks are 13-1 against those Midwestern Dome-dwelling mole people, but in the early days of the new NFC West the Rams TORTURED the Twelve Army... As I wrote in this space before:

You younger fans may not really understand the depth of our hatred of the guys from St. Louis back then- A huge part of that animosity came from the fact that the Rams adopted the smug arrogance of their head coach: The detestable, face-punchable Mike Martz. It wasn't just that the Rams had recently been to and won Super Bowls. It wasn't that they had beaten up on us that badly (from 2000-2003 Seattle was 2-3 against the Rams- They weren't getting dominated). They were on top, and they were PRICKS about it, all but gleefully smelling their own farts. It was maddening. 

Then there was the mind-melting collapse in October 2004...

For 54 minutes, the Seahawks dominated St. Louis. They led 27-10. Shaun Alexander shredded the Rams defense for 150 yards and the defense forced three Marc Bulger interceptions. Then, it was like a switch got flipped- Seattle's offense became a 3-and-out machine, and the defense absolutely could not stop St. Louis' air attack. 27-10 became 27-17, 27-24 and then 27-27 before millions of stunned Twelves could comprehend what was happening. In overtime, Shaun McDonald hauled in a 52-yard Bulger TD and the implosion was complete. My reaction was more like a panic attack than anything else. I was 29 years old, and decades removed from crying after Seahawks losses- But I simply collapsed into sobs after that game, into a deep, inescapable despair.

The Seahawks would go on to lose the 2004 Wild Card game to the Rams at home- Thankfully that was the end of STL's psychological grip over the Seahawks, and 7 years of Seattle oppression has almost completely erased this rivalry. 

2. Los Angeles Raiders (1983-1990)
Seahawks record during this period: 11-7
High Point: 12/22/84 Seahawks 13, Raiders 7
Low Point: 11/30/87 Raiders 37 @ Seahawks 14

If you say "Seahawks v Raiders" to your average non-aligned NFL fan, the first thing they'll think of is "Bo Jackson!" Yeah, Bo knew how to theatrically kick our asses on National TV, but that was just one thread in one of the most intense NFL rivalries of the 1980s- and overall, the Seahawks got the better of the Raiders.

I was a young Soldier of Twelve back then, and I DESPISED the Raiders. I had a "Raider Busters" t-shirt and I even had that parody song on a 45 back then. My hatred was born in the 1983 AFC Championship Game, when Tom Flores, Jim Plunkett and the rest of those Silver-and-Black assholes crushed my youthful Super Bowl dreams. How big was this rivalry then? ABC put a Seahawks v Raiders game on Monday Night Football FOUR times in the 1980s. When Seattle played L.A., something memorable was bound to happen. In 1984, 1986 and 1988 the Hawks won the MNF showcase (and the '88 game is still the only MNF game I've ever attended)- But all anyone outside South Alaska remembers is that fucking Bo Jackson rampage from '87.

Seattle would go down to L.A. in the 1988 season finale and clinch the AFC West with a stirring 43-37 victory, but "Peak Seahawks" for this rivalry was the 1984 AFC Wild Card game.. As I wrote before:

The Seahawks entered the 1984 playoffs on a two-game losing streak, and the national media gave the fading Hawks little chance to knock off the Defending World Champion Raiders. The greatest defense in team history had its finest hour in that Wild Card game, though... Easley, Green, Nash, Brown, Bryant and the rest held L.A. to a single touchdown while sacking Plunkett 6 times and forcing three turnovers. Knox called 51(!) running plays, and Dr. Dan Doornink put up Curt Warner numbers: 29 carries, 126 yards and a key 3rd-down conversion late in the game. In all, the Seahawks rushed for 205 yards as a team and took complete control of the game. This is still probably the most physically dominant win in team history.

1. Denver Broncos (1984-1998)
Seahawks record during this period: 10-20
High Point: 12/10/95 Seahawks 31 @ Broncos 27 
Low Point: 12/15/84 Broncos 31 @ Seahawks 14

The astute reader may notice that this rivalry exactly corresponds with John Elway's 15-year run as Denver's franchise quarterback. No single player has inflicted as much suffering upon Seahawks fans as John Elway did. No player has thrown for more touchdowns or more yards against the Seahawks than Elway did. No quarterback has beaten the Seahawks as many times as Elway did. In Denver, he was (and is) a Demi-God. In Seattle, he was Mr. Ed. We longed for his destruction so badly we embraced Brian Bosworth simply for standing up to (and late-hitting) our Orange Tormentor.

In addition to the mountain of defeats Elway laid upon us, the WAY he often beat us enraged us even more- He had a knack for wriggling away when we KNEW he was getting sacked. Instead of going down, he'd find an open man down field or scramble for a first down. God I hated that magnificent, horse-faced bastard.

There are SO many low points to choose from here, but the lowest was a 31-14 Kingdome defeat on the final Sunday of the 1984 regular season that cost Seattle the AFC West title and a First-Round bye. I've talked about the unexpected high point from 1995 before:

The mid 90s are mostly a grey blur of mediocrity, but this one stands out... bolded, italic, underlined. Not only was it another Seattle win that kept Denver out of the playoffs, but it was the greatest comeback in team history, against our most despicable rivals and chief tormentor. I was going to Western at the time, and living in the Fairhaven dorms. It was final exam time, and instead of cramming I was glued to the Hawks/Broncos throwdown. As the game went on, my textbooks started to look more appealing than witnessing another Elway-administered beatdown. Denver led 20-0 at one point, and even after a Peterson FG, it was 20-3 at the half. Denver was deep in Seattle territory early in the 3rd, about to make it 27-3. The Hawks gambled on D, sending Robert Blackmon on a safety blitz. Blackmon obliterated Mr. Ed and Antonio Edwards scooped up the fumble and rambled 83 yards for a TD that completely shifted the momentum. I leaned out my dorm window and brayed like a farm animal after that one... Seattle still trailed 27-17 in the 4th, but rallied for two late touchdowns, leading to more out-the-dorm-window screaming.

What do you think, sirs? Am I leaving anything important out? Have your own rivalry memories to share? 

July 6, 2012

Top 5: The Best Defenses in Seahawks History

What began as a hushed, conspiratorial whisper is growing louder every day among Seahawks fans: "Seattle might have the best defense in the NFL in 2012." That unit was among the league's top 10 last season, and appears primed to make the leap into the NFL's stratosphere. That got me thinking- What are the best defensive units in Seahawks' history?

Here's my top 5, along with a couple of honorable mentions. The stats are taken from Pro Football Reference, and I put slightly more weight on comparisons of these defenses with the rest of the NFL that year than on comparing the stats of these Seattle defenses to each other (make sense?).

Honorable mentions: 1982, 1992 and 2005.
Up until 1982, the Seahawks were known for Zorn, Largent and Special Teams trickery. In the Jack Patera era, the defense lagged behind the offense BADLY, finishing in the NFL's bottom 5 in points allowed EVERY season from 1976 to 1981. Patera was fired during the 1982 player's strike, and replaced by interim coach (and full-time GM) Mike McCormack. Under McCormack, a young defense with a LOT of names that would become very familiar (Easley, Green, Nash, Bryant, etc) held opponents under 17 points in 5 of the season's last 7 games, and finished 5th in the league in points allowed (a feat only matched by the 1984 team).

The 1992 defense is legendary and you could make a strong argument they should be in the Top 5, given that they were weighed down by the worst offense in NFL history. Cortez Kennedy's performance was one of the greatest individual seasons in Seattle's annals (and earned him NFL DPOY honors), but there's a limit to how much we can grade this unit on a curve- They were still in the bottom half of the NFL in terms of takeaways and points allowed.

The 2005 defense has the opposite problem: They put up some impressive numbers, but they also undeniably got a huge assist from the NFL's best offense in 2005. They were good enough to finish 7th in points allowed, but also only forced 27 turnovers (18th the league).

#5: 2011
Points Allowed: 315 (7th in NFL)
Points Scored: 32
Takeaways: 31 (5th in NFL)
Sacks: 33
Notable players: Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Chris Clemons
Signature Performance: Seahawks 22, Ravens 17 

The 2011s were notable for a secondary cobbled together from 1st round picks and a bunch of players who didn't fit the traditional mold for DBs. Players like Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner emerged from obscurity to help lead a defense that finished 6th in passing TDs allowed and 4th in total interceptions. Beyond the numbers, the 2011s played with an aggressiveness that had been lacking from Seattle defenders for far too long. Their finest outing was against a Baltimore team that would nearly reach the Super Bowl- They would contain Ray Rice, force three Ravens turnovers, and deliver Seattle's most satisfying victory of 2011.

#4 1999
Points Allowed: 298 (8th in NFL)
Points Scored: 12
Takeaways: 36 (6th in NFL)
Sacks: 37
Notable Players: Cortez Kennedy, Shawn Springs, Chad Brown
Signature Performance: Seahawks 27, Packers 7

The 1999s are forever remembered for an epic tumble from 8-2 to 9-7 (and their inability to keep a hobbled, aged Dan Marino from engineering one last 4th quarter comeback in the AFC Wild Card Game), but this was still an impressive defensive unit. No other NFL team snagged more interceptions than Seattle did in 1999, including 4 interceptions of Brett Favre in a memorable MNF victory at Lambeau Field. Hell, even Tez had 2 interceptions in 1999.

#3 2007
Points Allowed: 291 (6th in NFL)
Points Scored: 14
Takeaways: 34 (6th in NFL)
Sacks: 45
Notable Players: Patrick Kerney, Marcus Trufant, Lofa Tatupu
Signature Performance: Seahawks 35, Redskins 14

Until their complete collapse in that Lambeau Field snowglobe, the 2007s were a top-flight defensive unit. Free-agent acquisition Patrick Kerney racked up 14.5 sacks and terrorized enemy QBs all season, while Marcus Trufant had the finest campaign of his career- climaxing with a Wild-Card-win-sealing pick-6 against DC. The 2007s allowed the fewest passing TDs in the NFL that season. Sadly, snow was apparently their fucking kryptonite. Fucking Farve.

#2 1991
Points Allowed: 261 (8th in NFL)
Points Scored: 12
Takeaways: 39 (4th in NFL)
Sacks: 36
Notable Players: Cortez Kennedy, Eugene Robinson, Rufus Porter
Signature Performance: Seahawks 13, Broncos 10

What Seahawks defense gave up the fewest points over a 16-game schedule in team history? The 1991s, yo! They also led the league in rushing TDs allowed, only allowing FOUR enemy touchdowns via ground all season. Over one 5-game midseason stretch, they gave up a TOTAL of 4 touchdowns. This was Cortez Kennedy's first dominant season, and the last Seattle campaign for Jacob Green- who went out with a very respectable half-dozen sacks. The 91s' proudest moment was a 13-10 win over the AFC title-game-bound Broncos, in which they held Denver's offense without a TD, sacked Elway five times and intercepted him twice.

#1 1984
Points Allowed: 282 (5th in NFL)
Points Scored: 50(!)
Takeaways: 63 (1st in NFL)
Sacks: 55
Notable Players: Kenny Easley, Jacob Green, Jeff Bryant, Dave Brown
Signature Performance:  Seahawks 13, Raiders 7

This wasn't a remotely close call- The 1984s were a truly dominant unit, and it took 1984 DAN MARINO, in all of his glory, to finally defeat them in the AFC Divisional Playoffs. As I said in this space once before:

Kenny Easley won Defensive Player of the Year honors, and led the greatest defense in franchise history. How good was the defense? In one four-game stretch Seattle's defense OUTSCORED the opposition 26-20! This included the amazing 45-0 win over the Chiefs that featured FOUR interception returns for touchdowns by the Hawks, and a safety scored in a win against Cincy. In four weeks, the defense allowed only two touchdowns and pitched two shutouts. It shouldn't be any surprise this was the best D in team history, given that it starred three eventual Ring of Honor inductees (Easley, Jacob Green and Dave Brown), and other notables like Jeff Bryant, Joe Nash and John Harris. 

That 45-0 erasing of the Chiefs was fun, but the 1984s blindingly shined in the AFC Wild Card Game against the defending World Champion Los Angeles Raiders- They shut out Al Davis' minions until late in the 4th quarter, punished Jim Plunkett with 6 sacks, and forced three turnovers.

What do you think, sirs? What did I miss here? Will the 2012 defense crack this Top 5?