September 19, 2016

Rams 9, Seahawks 3

The weird alchemy that has allowed the deeply mediocre Jeff Fisher Rams to beat the mighty Seahawks most of the time apparently continues to hold sway after a profoundly frustrating 9-3 defeat in Seattle's return to the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Against the Seahawks, the Fisher Rams are 5-4, against the rest of the football universe they are an abysmal 23-33-1. It's not a stretch to argue those wins against Seattle are what has kept Fisher employed by Stan Kroenke - Fisher is a garbage coach whose teams have only posted two winning seasons in the past decade (and the last one was in 2008). A win or two a season against a divisional rival/perennial contender like the Seahawks is juuuuuuuuust enough to take to your owner and say "See! We beat Seattle! And we went 8-8. Good times are just around the corner."

When these teams meet again on Thursday Night Football in December, the Seahawks will blind millions of viewers with their "Action Green" abominations uniforms, and probably roll in with something like a 9-4 record. Los Angeles will probably be 6-7 or worse... And that game will probably be decided in the 4th quarter because at some point Jeff Fisher clearly leased part of his soul to Lucifer in exchange for victories over a team with better talent, better coaching, and better ownership.

Anyway, let's talk about that game, if we must.

So much of this is familiar, isn't it? The early season offensive struggles. The howls about the state of the offensive line and the quality of Bevell's playcalling. The proclamations of imminent doom. My refutations of said proclamations. ZZZzzzzzzz...

The short version? It actually will be OK. We're 1-1, but so are all our main rivals for the NFC's #1 seed (Arizona, Green Bay, and Carolina. Apologies if I don't take a hobbled Minnesota side and dubiously 2-0 Giants squad seriously yet). The Seahawks have three winnable games (Santa Clara, at the Jets, Atlanta) and a badly-needed bye before a huge late October SNF dust-up with the Cardinals.

The defense? Yes, they've only allowed one touchdown and 19 total points in two games. The run defense is stout and the pass rush seems fiercer than at this point a year ago. There's little indication that they'll be any worse than a top-5 unit this season. However, they are still vulnerable to big plays from opposing tight ends, and they haven't yet forced a turnover this season. As well as they've played, we need them to reach another level to keep winning games while the offense struggles.

The offensive line is going through its (sadly) regularly scheduled struggles. The biggest concern isn't the running game (though that has been fairly anemic), but the long-term health of Russell Wilson. We've already seen him sprain his ankle, thus limiting his mobility and hampering his accuracy. We've already seen multiple quarterbacks around the league go down for varying lengths of time. At this point, we are playing with matches in a kerosene-soaked branch of Dunder-Mifflin, just crossing our fingers and hoping we can get to the bye week without the WolfBadger getting seriously injured.

Thomas Rawls left the game yesterday with a leg contusion (Wow - That sounds way worse than it actually is, doesn't it?), but even before then Christine Michael was running more effectively and with more authority - Only to somewhat spoil his promising performance by coughing up a game winning-drive-killing fumble late in the 4th quarter. Encouragingly, Jimmy Graham was worked more fully into the offensive game plan and Tyler Lockett returned from a knee injury to make a spectacular catch that put us in a position to steal the win (before CMike's fumble).

As usual, the gloom and doom pervading the fan base is unwarranted. We've seen this before, and it's nothing that hasn't kept this group from making deep playoff runs in the past. But we are one Russell Wilson injury away from a lost season, and that's the specter that is haunting my brain today. Hopefully against Santa Clara the offensive line can get enough push to establish the running game and keep RW3's exposure to wanton violence at a minimum.

What do you think, sirs?

September 14, 2016

You Can't Swim in a Town This Shallow

I know how I'm supposed to feel about the Rams moving to Los Angeles. I know I'm supposed to feel for the poor fans of St. Louis, who cruelly had their team snatched away from them. As a fan of a Seattle team, I've had a front-row seat for that sort of injustice. As we all know, our beloved Hawks almost bolted for Southern California in 1997. Some blogger even imagined what that would have been like a while back... And I agree with Richard Sherman that billionaire owners should be paying for their lavish new stadiums rather than relying on taxpayer funding (Easy for me to say, right? My team is set. Buckle up for more blatant hypocrisy!).

However... Eff St. Louis! The Cardinals moved there from Chicago, and they left. The Rams moved there from Los Angeles and then moved back. As Michael Bluth once said, "You really should lock that down." In addition, as I've said many times before, going to a game in St. Louis was like watching a football game inside a REALLY NICE brand new Costco (and one where all the local fans were preoccupied with the town's baseball team). Not exactly the best football atmosphere in America. 

On a brazenly selfish tip, the Rams moving to Los Angeles is a unalloyed good for our Seattle Seahawks. First, it eliminates an annual 10 am pacific kickoff. Second, it's a much shorter trip to L.A. from Seattle than from the Emerald City to STL. Third, the bad blood between the cities should amp up the rivalry. Finally, with Pete Carroll's ties to USC creating a LOT of 12s in greater Los Angeles in recent years, and with the ease of travel between SEA and LAX, I expect games at the Coliseum to feature frequent and quite audible chants of "SEA! HAWKS!!" 

Sidebar for all you new Los Angeles Rams fans - You don't get to brag about ANYTHING the team did in St. Louis. Nope. You didn't give a fuck when they won XXXIV. You weren't paying attention when the Mike Martz Rams were torturing us. So fuck off. Don't bring that shit. You're pretty much an expansion team - and unless you're at least 40 years old, I don't want to hear you blathering about how great Eric Dickerson was "for us" either. 

I'll admit I don't know a ton about Los Angeles. I've only visited once (when I was 12). Most of what I know about the area comes from pissy Death Cab For Cutie songs, the incredible documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself, and my 20+ year obsession with the O.J. Simpson murder case (SERIOUSLY - You all need to watch both the FX series and the ESPN documentary ASAP). Sunday's game will go down at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and a sellout crowd of over 90,000 is expected to fill the ancient arena. I know a bit more about that... 

The Seahawks played exactly one game against the Rams in the Coliseum. WAYYYY back in 1976. The expansion Hawks were no match for L.A.'s perennial contenders (back in the 70s they had a nasty habit of being awesome until they had to go to Minneapolis in the playoffs, where they shattered like the frozen T-1000 in the 3rd act of Terminator 2), and they lost 45-6. This was so long ago that Tom Dempsey was the Rams' placekicker. Gerald Ford was still President. I was 18 months old. 

Of course, the Raiders moved into the Coliseum in 1982 and stayed until 1994. My earliest memory of the rivalry playing out in the Coliseum was our resounding defeat at the Raiders' hands in the 1983 AFC Championship Game. I was 8, those bastards made me cry, and a life-long hatred was forged. Here's our top 5 victories in the Coliseum (OK, our only five wins in the Coliseum...). Enjoy! 

What a mirage the start of the 1994 campaign was... Rick Mirer still seemed like he'd turn out to be a great NFL quarterback at this point. He fired three TD passes and racked up a 140.2 passer rating. Chris Warren churned out 112 yards from scrimmage and found the end zone twice as the Hawks jumped out to a 2-0 start. They'd excite the 12 Army with a 3-0 start... before going 3-10 the rest of the way. Head Coach Tom Flores would get shitcanned after the season, and with good cause. 

Seattle came from behind to win, outscoring the Silver and Black 17-3 in the final quarter. Curt Warner had one of his last great games, scoring a TD and running for 102 yards on 21 carries. Brian Blades accumulated 113 yards on seven catches, including the go-ahead score with just minutes remaining. 

The Raiders coughed up five turnovers, Curt Warner ran for over 100 yards, and the Hawks beat the eventual Super Bowl champs for the 2nd time in three weeks. As I mentioned earlier, they'd get payback in the AFC Championship Game a few months later. 

DAVE KRIEG STILL HAD HIS STRIKE BEARD! Yup, Krieg hadn't yet shaved off the bushy facewarmer he grew during the 1987 players' strike. Mudbone fired two touchdowns to Ray Butler, but the big star of the day was Curt Warner, who racked up 145 yards and scored twice himself. Fredd Young also snagged a pass from the unfortunately named Rusty Dilger and ran it in for six for good measure. 

L.A. and Seattle came into the Coliseum that day with a combined record of 15-15, but the winner would make the playoffs. On that damp, dreary, Seattle-like day, the Seahawks were playing for their first AFC West title. Both defenses seemed to have brought the wrong shoes for the muddy track... The teams traded scores all day, but the Hawks pulled ahead in the 4th and held on for the biggest regular-season road win in team history, keyed by a spectacular John L. Williams TD on a perfectly executed "middle screen." 

What about this Sunday's game? I expect the usual Seahawks-Rams bloodpisser, with Seattle coming out on top 17-15. Let's say Bobby Wagner stuffs a late 2-point conversion try by Todd Gurley to seal the win? 

What do you think, sirs? 

September 12, 2016

Seahawks 12, Dolphins 10

In my apartment, I have a framed poster from over 30 years ago. It looks like this (but mine isn't signed): 

First of all, how 1980s is that shit? You've got the obvious reference to the original Ghostbusters film, the reminder that the L.A. Raiders were our main rivals in 1984, and a pretty cheesy nod to the Rocky films (Did you ever want to watch a bunch of white people yelling at a movie screen like it was a live sporting event? You should have gone to see Rocky III or IV in the theater back then. Yipes). The Steve-Carrell-after-climbing-out-of-a-dumpster lookin' fella? That's Steve Largent. When he retired in 1989, he owned almost every receiving record in NFL history. Take a second and go watch this video about him... 

He was the first Seahawk to get elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and before Walter Jones came along, he was the greatest player in franchise history. 27 years after he left the game, and after fundamental changes in the way the game is played that MASSIVELY increased wide receiver production, he still is the franchise leader in every significant receiving category. He was known for three things: His spectacular ability to catch almost everything thrown his way, his nose for the end zone, and his effectiveness at converting on third downs. 

Over a quarter century has passed, and we've seen nothing else like him. Even the very best Seattle receivers have missed something... Brian Blades? Reliable and productive. Bobby Engram? Same deal. Joey Galloway? Explosive but never really correctly utilized. Darrell Jackson? Underrated for sure, but not nearly as consistent as number 80 was. 

I'm here to tell you that today, in 2016, the Seattle Seahawks finally have a wideout in Largent's class. His name is Doug Baldwin. 

I can hear the howls from Anchorage to Boise already. No way! Not even close! And if you just give the numbers a cursory once over, Baldwin is nowhere near Largent's career numbers. But if you dig deeper, the parallels jump out at you. 

Largent was drafted in the 4th round by the Oilers, only to get traded near the end of his first training camp to the Seahawks for an 8th round pick (Yup - a pick so low that THEY DON'T EXIST ANYMORE). Doug Baldwin went undrafted out of Stanford and signed with Seattle as a free agent. Both players would lead the Seahawks in receptions and receiving yards in their rookie campaigns, 35 years apart. 

Largent was consistently underestimated because of lack of size and (perceived) lack of speed, while Baldwin led a group of Seattle receivers called "pedestrian" by ESPN's Cris Carter. Both used those slights as motivation - Largent largely silently (until he unloaded over a decade of pent-up fury upon Mike Harden) and Baldwin very loudly and publicly

Largent's numbers swelled in the late 70s and early 80s, in part because he was BY FAR the team's most dangerous offensive weapon. Baldwin's career has followed a different trajectory, in part because Marshawn Lynch had been the main focus (and the identity of) the Seattle attack. But since Lynch largely disappeared from the offense after his injuries in 2015, Baldwin's numbers have EXPLODED. Over his last 11 games, including the playoffs, Baldwin has 60 catches for 940 yards and 14 touchdowns. If you extrapolate those numbers into a 16-game season, that's 87 receptions for 1367 yards and 20 touchdowns. 

As great as Steve Largent was, he never had more than 79 catches in a season. 

As amazing as #80 was, he never had more than 1287 yards through the air in a season. 

As prolific a scorer as our favorite Golden Hurricane was, he never had more than 12 touchdowns in a season. 

We are witnessing Doug Baldwin go supernova, and it's glorious to behold. 

You know that poster I showed you up at the top? Just a few months before that, Largent had the defining moment of his career in the 1983 divisional playoff at Miami. The underdog Hawks trailed the Dolphins 20-17 late in the 4th quarter, and the so-called "Killer B's" had held Largent without a catch all day. At the biggest moment, though, Largent delivered. He snagged a reception on 3rd down that kept the drive alive, and finally got loose deep, snaring a perfect throw from Dave Krieg to set up Curt Warner's winning TD. 

33 years later, playing for sliiiiiiightly lower stakes, Doug Baldwin stepped into the role of The Mighty Finkiller. Angry Doug had a fine performance overall, but with the Hawks trailing 10-6 with only minute left, a Largentian performance was needed to secure a victory. A hobbled Russell Wilson wouldn't be able to sprint for first downs - He'd have to get rid of the ball quickly to a reliable target. 

On 4th and 4 from midfield, the WolfBadger would find Baldwin over the middle to keep the drive alive. Later in the possession, Baldwin got down to the Miami 2. Two plays later he'd bring in a fade from RW3 to complete the comeback and crush Miami's dreams of stealing a win in Seahawks Stadium. Baldwin's day? Nine catches for 92 yards and the winning TD. 

Am I saying that Baldwin is better than Largent? Hell no. Am I saying that he's the best wide receiver we've seen since Largent, and he's on a trajectory that would at least someday make that debate less than laughable? Yup. 

Unless Wilson ends up missing significant time with that ankle injury (please Please PLEASE no), I'll boldly claim this: Doug Baldwin will have the best single-season receiving performance in franchise history in 2016. 

Won't be long until we see cheesy posters with Baldwin on them, bragging about how we're going to stomp Arizona's ass. Shit - Can someone with photoshop skills whip that up for me? :) 

What do you think, sirs?