November 28, 2014

Seahawks 19, Santa Clara 3

A few days ago, I had to make a decision about when I'd come out to Washington State for a visit. I could have come out for Christmas (and the Rams game), or any of the first three weekends in January. Flushed from the victory over Arizona, I bet big on the Seahawks. I decided to come out for the weekend of the NFC Championship Game. If I hadn't dawdled on my travel plans, if I had made this decision two weeks ago, I would have picked the weekend of the regular season finale. I would have been thinking "We'll probably need to win that game just to sneak into the playoffs." After two dominating wins over bitter divisional rivals in a mere five days, there's far more than a non-trivial chance I'll be screaming until I reach the brink of fainting at my THIRD NFC title game next January.

I've always been an optimistic Twelve, and even at 3-3 or 6-4, I still thought "Oh, we'll make the playoffs, and then anything could happen." I had hope, but I wasn't brimming with confidence either. As The Postal Service once sang, "Everything will change." In their last 120 minutes of football against two NFC playoff contenders, Seattle's defense has allowed a mere 6 points. Bobby Wagner's return has made an enormous impact, but the entire defense is playing with more of the barely-contained rage and arrogant swagger that defined their historic performance a year ago. These Wolf Grey Warriors held Santa Clara to 164 yards of total offense(!), forced The Bicep Kisser into two hilariously horrible interceptions (and a passer rating of 36.7), and generally left the Niners appearing as if they were "drunk and flailing in cow shit." Kaepernick was besieged all night, absorbing four sacks and numerous hits. Before the 1st quarter was over, the dude already looked more jittery than coked-up Jordan Belfort.

The Niners' longest play from scrimmage? 16 yards. Frank Gore? 28 pathetic yards. Sidebar: How can a BRAND NEW STADIUM have such an atrocious playing surface? I half-expected to see Marshawn Lynch trip over a pile of manure or to spy a grazing cow setting a pick on Earl Thomas. Good job, good effort, Jed York.

Actually, let's take a quick mid-post break to laugh at the entire 49ers organization. Their coach is a creepy blowhard/cheap fuck on the verge of unemployment, and both the owner and the GM's daughter are venting their tantrums via twitter. Their new football cathedral gives them ZERO home field advantage and roasts fans alive on sunny days. With Kaepernick doing better at selling headphones than throwing a football, and Alex Smith's quiet efficiency in Kansas City, it's becoming clear that they got rid of the wrong quarterback two years ago. I haven't even gotten to the fact that their roster is festooned with reprobates. On top of all of that, their fans still try to lord their ancient Lombardi Trophies over the rest of the NFL Nation... So it's beyond satisfying to see Richard Sherman openly trolling the Niners and their "mediocre" fans, and to watch Russell Wilson and Sherm eating turkey on their fucking logo. Knowing that last night's result effectively killed Santa Clara's season and might get Jim Harbaugh fired made it EASILY my best Thanksgiving ever.

So Russell Wilson shared NBC's post-game turkey feast with Richard Sherman, and RW3's game is looking as fine as his newly bearded visage (Damn). While Kaepernick imploded, The WolfBadger was efficient and explosive, with his improvisational skill and escapability keeping Santa Clara's defense off balance all night. His escape/scramble/63-yard pass to Tony Moeaki to set up a Seattle FG was another one to add to your personal DangerRuss mega-mix. Marshawn Lynch cut the formidable 49ers front seven to ribbons, stacking up 111 yards on 21 touches. Beast Mode is 3rd in the league in rushing, and has earned consideration as the MVP not just of the 2014 Seahawks, but the entire NFL. Special teams turned in another sterling performance, with Steven Hauschka nailing all four of his field goal attempts and the punt coverage team forcing a turnover.

Now Seattle seems to be primed for another Super Bowl run. Yes, the remaining schedule is daunting, but every opponent, scattered from Philadelphia to St. Louis to the barren sun-scorched desert the Cardinals call home, watched last night's game and quietly muttered "Fuuuuuuuuck." If the Seahawks can just solve their lingering Red Zone efficiency issues, they might start dropping 40-and-50 burgers on suckas like it was December 2012 all over again. If Seattle can run the table and hit the playoffs at 12-4 they'll likely win the NFC West and the top NFC playoff seed (via tiebreakers over Green Bay, Arizona and Philadelphia). That'd be ideal, but if the defense keeps playing like this I don't think it matters if the games are played in Seattle, Green Bay, or the Tesseract from Interstellar. The Hawks would maul any team unfortunate enough to face them. For entirely selfish reasons, I want the Seahawks to keep marauding through the rest of the schedule. I want there to be a home game when I'm visiting Seattle MLK Jr. Weekend.

I'll let Sherm have the last word today:

November 26, 2014

Thoughts on Thanksgiving Eve/Top 10: Seahawks Beat Niners! (Updated)

Wow. If you haven't watched Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin's EVISCERATION of the NFL and its absurd policies, this video deserves two and a half minutes of your time.  Beyond the unassailable rightness of their remarks, I'm encouraged by what it means for the mindset of the team. Like Bob Belcher said about Gene's performance during the opening round of the Competitive Table Setting Tournament: "He looks good. He looks loose."  The Seahawks look confident and defiant, but loose. At the same moment, the jittery, paranoid 49ers are ordering team security to kick the media out of the locker room. The Seahawks have constructed an infernal machine, a ground attack that is one of the most powerful in NFL history, and it's set to grind out a win in Santa Clara Thanksgiving Night. I envision a 19-9 Seattle win, sealed with a Richard Sherman pick-6 late in the 4th. What shape will Michael Crabtree's hissy fit take afterwards? What do y'all think? In any case, here's a new iteration of Seattle's Top 10 wins over Santa Clara. Enjoy!

10. December 21, 1997: Seahawks 38, Niners 9
The Niners came in with the NFC's #1 seed locked up, and treated this like a glorified preseason game. Despite that, this was still a rousing win. Warren Moon wrapped up his spectacular 1997 Pro Bowl season with four TD passes, including two to Joey Galloway. 1997 was my first season as a Seahawks season ticket holder, so that game has an added bit of personal significance...

9.  November 20, 2005: Seahawks 27 @ Niners 25
This was one of the shakiest performances of Seattle's 2005 NFC Championship season, but it showed the Hawks' ability to pull out a victory even when they weren't playing their best football. The Seahawks had a 27-12 lead going into the 4th, but they allowed Ken Dorsey (Wait... What?) to rally the 49ers to within a 2-point conversion in the final seconds. But this was 2005, NOT 2003 or 2004- This lead wouldn't get blown. Under pressure Dorsey's pass fell harmlessly to the turf and Seattle's sprint to XL continued unabated.

8. October 12, 2003: @ Seahawks 20, Niners 19
This was a big early-season ESPN Sunday Night test for the 2003 Seahawks. Even though the Hawks came in 3-1 and SF was 2-3, the Niners were defending division champs and just a year earlier T.O. had humiliated Seattle on MNF with his infamous Sharpie stunt. The boys in blue ran out to a 17-0 lead, which evaporated into a 19-17 4th-quarter deficit. The Twelve Army watched anxiously as Josh Brown booted Seattle to a 20-19 lead with five minutes left, which was immediately followed by a Frisco march down the field. Thankfully Chad Brown forced a Garrison Hearst fumble in the final minutes, and the Seahawks' march towards the 2003 playoffs continued.

7. September 30, 2007: Seahawks 23 @ Niners 3
Remember back in the mid '00s, when the national football press seemed to insist every fall that the glorious revival of the 49ers was jusssssst around the corner? Early in the 2007 season, a trip to Candlestick was supposed to be the changing of the guard. Then this happened:


Yup, I have no problem reveling in the memory of Rocky Bernard smashing Alex Smith's shoulder into meat-flavored goop. I'd love to see Michael Bennett or Cliff Avril do likewise to Colin Kapernick.

6. December 6, 2009: Seahawks 20, Niners 17
The Niners arrived at Seahawks Stadium needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive against the pathetic MoraHawks. Though 2009 was an unmitigated clusterfuck, this was a spectacularly satisfying win... As I wrote in this space back then:

Let me say this clearly: Fuck the Niners. Fuck 'em. For all the bluster and chest-beating and media slobbering over them, these Niners haven't accomplished DICK yet. Nothing. Zilch. 2009 will be ANOTHER season that will end with them in their usual place: sitting at home, watching the playoffs. Once again, with feeling: FUCK the Niners.

All week all we heard about was how Coach Bug Eyes and the big, mean 49ers were going to come into Seattle, pistol whip our players, pillage Pioneer Square and generally lay waste to all things Seahawks. Mr. Commercial Star Mike Singletary would motivate his talented minions to subjugate our poor, defenseless Seahawks on their way to reclaiming what the media sees as the SF birthright: the NFC West title.

The Seahawks decided not to play the victim in this perfectly composed narrative. Of course, it helped that Singletary passed up 3 sure points by arrogantly going for it on 4th and goal early in the game. It also helped that the over-rated Frank Gore killed a Niners scoring drive in the 4th by coughing up the ball, and that Michael Crabtree was scared shitless by a charging Lawyer Milloy on what could have been SF's winning TD in the waning minutes.

5. September 12, 2010: Seahawks 31, Niners 6
One year later, the Seahawks would notch an even more satisfying victory over SF in Pete Carroll's first game as Seattle's Head Coach. As I wrote back then:

It was rapturously awesome to see the Seahawks not just beat the 49ers, but physically punish and abuse them. Alex Smith was never going to be the next Montana or Young, but today we saw him just as lost and helpless as he was in 2007. The only difference between today and that game at the Stick three years ago was that Smith's shoulder survived.

When was the last time the Hawks delivered such a cathartic win? Such a statement that not only would Seattle win the day, but that the future belonged to us too? Simultaneously, our hated rivals tumbled back into Limbo, into the dreary knowledge that the glorious Niner restoration STILL isn't happening. In the words of R.E.M., The Future Never Happened.

There's already a lot of Seahawks fans trying to downplay this win. Fuck that. I predicted that the Seahawks would win the NFC West, and now I GUARANTEE they will... You, my friends, will have a home playoff game to watch in January. I will be at Qwest screaming until my soul spills out, and Mike Singletary and his Niners will be at home, watching on television.

And indeed, my prophecies of 2010 came to pass...

4. December 27, 2003: Seahawks 24 @ Niners 17
The Seahawks went to Candlestick Park for a Saturday afternoon game just after Xmas, needing a win and some help the following day to qualify for the postseason for only the 2nd time since 1988. Seattle entered the game at 9-6, but sported a pathetic 1-6 road record coming into the game. Niners coach Dennis Erickson was hoping for a win to finish the season 8-8 (which was a habit he picked up back in Seattle during the 1990s), and to exact vengeance upon his old employers and the coach who replaced him in Seattle.

The Hawks quickly fell behind 14-0, and lamentations of "same old Seahawks" rang out across the land like church bells. Another winning but playoff-free season loomed.. It was '78, '79, '86, and '90 allll over again... but the Seahawks clawed and gouged back into the game, and then something amazing happened late in the 3rd:

Matt Hasselbeck threw a PERFECT pass to Koren Robinson in the back of the end zone... and K-rob (for once) HELD ONTO IT and got both feet in bounds. 21-17 Seahawks. Josh Brown extended the lead to 7, and Shaun Alexander ate up most of the 4th quarter on the ground. The D stopped a last-gasp Niners drive, and Seattle triumphed in a game very few expected them to win.

3. September 15, 2013: Seahawks 29, Niners 3
I can't really top what I wrote about this one at the time:

Colin Kaepernick, darling of the national press, anointed for greatness by Jaworski, had ANOTHER atrocious evening at Seahawks Stadium, leaving him without excuses to lavish kisses upon his biceps. Frank Gore, who once provided a steady stream of nightmare fuel to faithful Twelves, was rendered irrelevant. Anquan Boldin, who ran through Green Bay defenders last week as if they were dandelions sprouting from the Candlestick Park turf, had one catch for seven yards... in garbage time. Seattle forced five Niner turnovers, and the defending NFC Champs started losing their cool in a manner not seen since the darkest days of Mike Singletary's reign. Against the rest of the NFL, they look like Champions. Against us? They're just a collection of posturing chumps. 

Marshawn Lynch has become the eater of Forty-Niner souls. He BARELY (by 2 yards) missed out on another 100-yard rushing day against SF, but his three TDs (and spectacular trolling of the Niners after TD #2) earned him offensive MVP honors in my book. Richard Sherman deserves special recognition for erasing Boldin, hauling in an interception, and even lowering the boom on a hapless SF wideout with a perfect, explosive tackle late in the game. Walter Thurmond III, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett also stood out, but it took a total team effort to snuff out one of the NFL's elite offensive attacks. 

2. December 23, 2012: Seahawks 42, Niners 13
This game was our announcement to the football world: The Seahawks have arrived, and they are going to lay waste to the NFL. After the Hawks had already run out to a 14-0 lead, Kam Chancellor DESTROYED Vernon Davis with a clean (but unfairly flagged) hit. The Niners were in range for an easy field goal that would cut Seattle's lead to 11, but Red Bryant and Richard Sherman had other plans. Big Red blocked the kick, and Sherm scooped and scored. Seahawks Stadium was delirious and deafening, and the rout was ON.

Russell Wilson threw four TD passes (two to Doug Baldwin), and Marshawn Lynch gashed the Niners vaunted defense for 130 yards and two TDs. Seattle defense ERASED Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore, and 67,000 (or so) Twelves went home happy and hopeful.

1. January 19, 2014: Seahawks 23, Niners 17

(As Marshawn Lynch might say: "Yeah."

What Do You Think, Sirs?

November 25, 2014

Seahawks 19, Cardinals 3

Late November, 1999. The Seattle Seahawks were the surprise leaders of the AFC West at 8-2. They confounded expectations by pulling off big road upsets in Pittsburgh, Green Bay and Kansas City. Their aggressive defense was among the league leaders in takeaways, and young quarterback Jon Kitna unexpectedly shined over the season's first two-and-a-half months. The Hawks seemed to be on a trajectory that would land them in Atlanta for Super Bowl XXXIV. In week 12 they faced the 6-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Seattle was favored by a touchdown to prevail at home.

Then it all fell apart.

The Tampa defense terrorized Jon Kitna, sacking him three times and forcing him to commit six turnovers. The Bucs won 16-3, and they began a hot streak that would get them all the way to the NFC Championship Game. The Seahawks, now exposed (particularly in Kitna's case), imploded. They limped to a 9-7 finish, backed into the playoffs, and closed the Kingdome with a heartbreaking Wild Card loss to the Dolphins and the decrepit Dan Marino. A severe beating from a Championship defense irrevocably wounded the 1999 Seahawks.

On Sunday, Seattle was on the other end of a similar equation. The Arizona Cardinals rolled in at 9-1, riding an opportunistic defense and the surprisingly solid performance of a young quarterback to the top slot in the NFC. Despite being a middling team in terms of advanced statistical measures, the Cardinals streaked to the NFL's best record by winning every "coin flip" game they played. The rival Seahawks came in at 6-4, needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. After a dominant 19-3 win, I think it's fair to ask: Did the Seahawks just break the Cardinals?

They certainly delivered their best defensive performance of the season, holding Arizona to three points and a paltry 204 yards of total offense. The narrative all season has been "what's wrong with Seattle's defense?" The statistics no longer support that narrative. At this point, with that unit inching closer to full health, they lead the NFL in total yards allowed and are 7th in scoring defense. They relentlessly pressured Drew Stanton with their front four while the Legion of Boom had a radar lock on his potential targets. First the first time since September, the Seahawks defense looked as overpowering as they did in 2013 (in no small part thanks to the return of Bobby Wagner), and capable of smothering the enemy.

Special teams also approached their stratospheric performance of a year ago (with the exception of on blocked Hauschka field goal attempt), blocking a punt and dominating field position with exceptional punt coverage and workmanlike returns from Bryan Walters. Offensively, the Hawks still lack a real vertical threat (which is my main source of concern about their Super Bowl prospects), but they've built the most potent ground attack in football. With Marshawn Lynch battling a stomach ailment, Russell Wilson led the team in rushing with 73 yards on 10 carries (Wilson is on pace for 937 yards rushing on the season), and had one of his best passing performances of the season (17/22 for 211 yards and a TD for a 121.6 rating). Play-calling and Red Zone efficiency are still grave concerns, but it's hard to consider Seattle's offense punchless when they are 11th the NFL in scoring.

The formula that led Seattle to the Super Bowl last season was a punishing ground game punctuated by the occasional deep shot, plus a suffocating defense that consistently won the turnover battle, and otherworldly special teams. It appears that they've restored the rushing attack and the elite defensive performance. If they can find a way to stretch the field (Please step up, Kearse and Richardson), find consistency on special teams, and force more turnovers, they have an excellent chance of repeating as World Champions.

Seattle has no chance to savor that season-saving win as a trip to Santa Clara looms on Thanksgiving Night, with the winner pointed towards winning the NFC West (I predict Arizona will stagger to an 11-5 finish. It won't be as spectacular a collapse as the 1999 Seahawks, but it will keep them from winning the NFC West) and the loser left to desperately claw uphill towards the playoffs. The Hawks have won 4 out 5, and I think they're set to author the franchise's greatest Thanksgiving moment since their 1986 upset win at Texas Stadium. After that? Look out for a '99-Bucs-esque deep playoff run. The difference will be Seattle won't fall in the NFC Championship, and the Cardinals will have to watch their feathered northern rivals celebrate a Championship on their home field.

Would You Like To Know More?

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?