Hindsight Is … The Seahawks Season Preview Extravaganza!

I write about the Seahawks on here pretty extensively, so you probably know my thoughts on the matter already. This is more or less just a one-stop-shop for all of my thoughts as we head into the 2020 regular season.

As I alluded to last week, I’m cautiously optimistic. Earlier in the offseason, I think I was rather too optimistic, so it’s probably smart to ratchet those expectations down a tick or two. In general, I want to say that I think the Seahawks’ offense will be better than it was in 2019, and that the defense will be about the same. There is, however, a very legitimate chance that the offense is about the same and the defense is worse. So, let’s start there as a jumping-off point.

As always, the good news for this team is Russell Wilson. He’s the best quarterback in the NFC and one of the top two or three in the entire NFL; the only guy I would RATHER have over Wilson is Patrick Mahomes, so in my mind he’s right there at #2 (honestly, and not for nothing, Lamar Jackson is probably #4 or #5, behind the likes of Deshaun Watson and probably Dak Prescott, if we’re talking about quarterbacks I’d choose to build my franchise around today). Wilson is currently in the window known as his “prime” and should remain there for another few more years, which means he’s at his peak of being able to carry this team on his back into the playoffs. Of course, even the best quarterbacks need talent around them to succeed (in spite of the fact that the very best quarterbacks will always make that talent around them better).

Wilson’s weapons – as a collective – are better than they were in 2019. Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf are back as this team’s top two receivers; and while Lockett is squarely in his own prime as an elite (and vastly underrated) threat both downfield and in the intermediate game, the Seahawks should see a signifiant boost in Metcalf’s production now that he’s entering his second season in the pros. Metcalf was already one of the very best rookie wideouts a year ago, and he’s done nothing but work on his body and his craft this offseason; if he stays healthy, I fully expect him to make the leap as one of the NFL’s brightest stars. To complement these two, the Seahawks brought in Phillip Dorsett (a guy who’s also quite fast and can compete for deep balls), and they brought back guys like Josh Gordon (a stud when he’s not suspended for doing drugs) and David Moore (who is in a contract year and should be motivated to produce at a high level for his own livelihood in this league). All of these guys seem to be in tremendous shape and should be great assets for Wilson to chuck the ball to.

Then, there’s the tight end room. We get another crack at guys like Dissly (one of the best in football, when he’s able to stay healthy), Hollister (a wide receiver in a tight end’s body) and Luke Willson (an everyman who can help in a variety of ways). Plus, we added a likely future hall of famer in Greg Olsen. And, if the group is decimated with injuries like it was last year, the Seahawks brought in some promising young guys on the NFI list and the Practice Squad to fill in around the margins should the need arise.

Then, there’s the running backs. Chris Carson still figures to be the bellcow. Carlos Hyde will provide solid veteran production behind him. Rashaad Penny should be back halfway through the season (he looks good in the limited video footage that’s been released to the Internet of him running sprints following his ACL surgery) as a possible boost to this group. DeeJay Dallas already sounds like the real deal as a rookie. And, Travis Homer was fine last year in his limited snaps at the end of the season when everyone else was injured. I have the utmost confidence in all of these guys to be able to do what this team needs to do.

All of that sounds great! Why aren’t I 100% confident in the Seahawks’ offense improving over last year?

Well, the offensive line, of course! I’ll say this: I’m relatively optimistic about the O-Line at least being AS good as last year, if not actually better. But, I mean, let’s face it: there’s a lot of question marks. Duane Brown is old and his legs could give out at any time. Mike Iupati is also old and his everything could give out at any time. Ethan Pocic has been injured throughout his brief NFL career and has never started at center in the pros. Damien Lewis is a rookie, and a rookie who hasn’t even played in a pre-season game yet! Also, he’s essentially “won” his job as this team’s starting right guard by facing off against this team’s interior defensive linemen, who aren’t really a who’s who of outstanding stud-muffins when compared to the rest of the NFL; I mean, I’m pretty sure I could win a starting O-Line job if all I had to do was block this inept D-Line! And, while reports indicate Brandon Shell has been great as this team’s big right tackle free agent acquisition, the statheads who’ve monitored his career up to this point have indicated that he SUCKED at his job previously. So, you know, again take what he’s done in Training Camp against this Seahawks D-Line with a grain of salt.

The lack of a pre-season is the most concerning aspect, because offensive lines need continuity and actual game reps to get used to working together as a unit. As such, I would expect this first month’s worth of games to be a little rough to watch. It’ll be nice that they won’t have to deal with real-life crowd noise when we play in Atlanta this week (the packed stands would be significantly louder than the decibels the NFL is allowing teams to pump into their stadia), but I’m more concerned with our actual opponents, and how quickly they’re able to snuff out Russell Wilson’s pocket passing and scrambling.

The bright side is, if Duane Brown stays healthy, he’s a Pro Bowler. Mike Iupati – same deal – is at least a viable starter, if not a Pro Bowler. Pocic won the center’s job for a reason, he played the position in college, so maybe he’s turned a corner in his career. Lewis was an absolute mauler in college and it’s a great sign that the coaches are already confident in his ability to start at this level in game one. And, at least Shell isn’t Germain Ifedi (YOU get a silver lining, and YOU get a silver lining, and YOU get a silver lining!).

My hunch is, the O-Line will be fine, after a while. I just hope the rest of the offense is able to overcome these first few games on the schedule; I don’t like our chances if we start the season in a big hole respective to the rest of our division. But, if the O-Line turns out to be … *gulp* legitimately good? The sky will be the limit for this offense, even as conservative as it is!

***

The defense is significantly better in the secondary than it was to start the 2019 season. The defense is marginally better in the linebacker corps than it was in 2019.

And, the defensive line is the biggest question mark on this team, though I think it’s safe to say we all believe it’ll be significantly worse than it was in 2019 (which, itself, was already pretty bad).

So, the question is: can the vastly improved secondary make up for everything else? I think there’s a chance!

The 2019 Seahawks famously played somewhere over 60% base defense, which means having all three linebackers on the field. In a league that increasingly uses nickel defense (a fifth man in the secondary, to replace one of the linebackers, thus providing better coverage for offenses who trend toward using more 3- and 4-wide receiver sets), that was an unsustainable anomaly for the Seahawks to continue into 2020. That brings us to Quinton Dunbar – the troubled youth from the Florida area who was arrested, then ultimately not charged, and now rumors are swirling that he may still be in trouble for that house party robbery – taking over for Tre Flowers (who has struggled mightily in one-on-one coverage in his two-year career), who could slide inside to play that nickel role. That also brings us to Marquise Blair – the safety we drafted last year, who hardly played, even though he seemed to be more gifted than the duds we were rolling with – who has flashed during Training Camp as a bigger nickel corner that this team can use against slower/bigger receivers and tight ends. That also brings us to Ugo Amadi – another rookie corner/safety from last year – who has another year’s experience exclusively in the nickel corner role. All of these guys combined with our Pro Bowl corner in Shaquill Griffin, and our two stud safeties in Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs, make it almost impossible for the Seahawks to not constantly run out the nickel defense we were so bad at a year ago!

That should, in turn, leave Bruce Irvin (a hybrid strong-side linebacker/pass rusher) in more situations where he can line up along the line of scrimmage and rush the passer. That should also free up Bobby Wagner to do some more blitzing from his middle linebacker role (a trait he is quite good at, but wasn’t able to do as much of last year, because he was forced into coverage so often with this team always in base defense). The addition of Jordyn Brooks could also free K.J. Wright up to rush from the other linebacker spot, so long as he proves he’s ready to take over at weak-side linebacker. And, of course, there’s Jamal Adams’ ability to blitz from the strong safety spot, where he had 6.5 sacks a year ago.

If you want to know where our pass rush will come from with Jadeveon Clowney now in Tennessee, don’t just look at Benson Mayowa (who is a fine situational rusher, but obviously nowhere NEARLY as talented as Clowney as an every-down defensive end), look at the linebackers who will be freed to run up field more, thanks to the secondary that will finally have everyone’s backs … in the defensive backfield. And, if Jarran Reed from the interior felt like returning to his 2018 level of production (when he had double-digit sacks), all the better.

That’s sort of the best-case scenario from this side of the ball (failing the Seahawks going out and signing one of the free agent veterans (like Clay Matthews) that are sitting out there). How realistic is it that we’ll see it play out the way I’ve described? That’s tough to say. I do believe the secondary will free things up for the rest of the guys, but I have my sincere doubts about the coaching staff’s willingness to blitz more from the linebacker position. We like to get by with our front four on most downs, and with a front five on passing downs. That has proven, in recent years (without the likes of Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril), to be a pretty futile endeavor. I would LIKE to think we’ve refrained from excessive blitzing because we’ve been worried about being beaten deep – and now that we have talent back there to prevent this, the coaches will be more emboldened to take more chances – but I know that this team was reluctant to blitz a ton even when we had the Legion of Boom in its prime.

If my hunch is accurate, then we’re banking on A LOT of unproven young defensive linemen to take significant leaps in their level of production, and I just don’t see that happening. I have no faith in Rasheem Green, L.J. Collier, Alton Robinson, or any of these other guys doing anything in the league outside of being rotational backups. The only guy I DO like – Darrell Taylor – is still working himself back from injury and, without a proper Training Camp or pre-season, likely won’t produce much of anything this year as a rookie.

There’s ultimately two schools of thought: either the secondary will be so good that it’ll give the defensive line enough time to get to the quarterback … or the defensive line will be so bad that eventually the opposing quarterback will find SOMEONE who manages to get open, after he has all day to stand there and survey the field. Undoubtedly, both of those events will be true at various points throughout the season (there will also be the infrequent instances where the secondary just gets beaten, or someone on the D-Line manages to beat his man and gets the opposing QB on his ass), but how good this defense will be depends on which scenario happens more often: the secondary dominating, or the D-Line underwhelming. I’m guessing we end up blaming the D-Line for their ineptitude more than we end up praising the secondary, and we’ll ultimately come to the conclusion that if this mediocre defense didn’t have that secondary, we’d be giving up 35+ points per game. Chances seem remote that this defense creeps up towards the Top Ten; my guess is it lands ultimately in the low twenties.

***

The 2019 Seahawks participated in 14 games that were decided by 8 points or less, including our playoff win and defeat, and the regular season finale that ultimately cost us the NFC West (and forced us to go on the road throughout the post-season). Including the playoffs, the 2019 Seahawks were 11-3 in those games (prior to that, in the Russell Wilson era, I believe we were somewhere around .500 in such games). That has been pointed out by much smarter people than me to be quite an unsustainable winning percentage (most teams, over the long-term, finish around .500 in one-score games).

Given what we know – the offense will be better or the same, the defense will be the same or worse – it’s a VERY safe bet that the 2020 Seahawks will be involved in a high number of one-score games yet again (only in the very unlikely best-case scenario – where both the offense and defense are better than they were last year – would this not be true, because the Seahawks would likely be very nearly undefeated). And, given what we know about regression, I think it’s pretty safe to bet that the Seahawks won’t repeat as winners of nearly 79% of those games.

However, people much smarter than me also love to quote the Gambler’s Fallacy, and I think this applies here as well. Just because the Seahawks won 11/14 one-score games in 2019, doesn’t mean the 2020 Seahawks can’t win a similar amount; what happened in 2019 has little-to-no bearing on what happens in 2020. If anything, you could argue that by participating in so many of those close games – where the importance of executing down the stretch in the fourth quarter and overtime is of the greatest necessity – and by bringing back so many of the players who were involved in those games, this team is uniquely qualified to perform better in these situations given their level of experience.

So, are you an optimist or a pessimist? I probably land somewhere in the middle.

I will say this: much has been made of Letting Russ Cook and whatnot. In effect: allowing Russell Wilson to throw the ball more early in games, rather than forcing the establishment of the run and waiting until we’re down two scores in the second half before we let our All Pro quarterback do his thing. While it’s true, the Seahawks love a balanced offense between the run and pass, it’s not like they’re doing nothing but handing the ball to Carson and handcuffing Wilson in the process; he has PLENTY of first half opportunities to throw the ball. It just so happens – and I don’t mean to alarm you or anything – but he tends to be WILDLY off-target early in games! This is nothing we haven’t seen for YEARS now, yet most fans seem to forget this for some reason! I’ve lost track of the number of times Wilson has overthrown wide open receivers early in games, because he isn’t warmed up or hasn’t gotten into the flow of the game. There are also drives where the Seahawks don’t run the ball at all! Those tend to be of the 3 & Out variety, because again, it’s early and Wilson isn’t quite his usual self.

Russell Wilson is great – I said before, he’s #2 in the league for me, which is a great compliment – but he’s NOT perfect! And, it’s not ALL on the offensive coordinator or Pete Carroll holding him back; some of these wounds are self-inflicted. If Wilson were more on-target from the very first drive of the game, we wouldn’t be having this discussion about always needing to make big plays in the fourth quarter, or otherwise always playing from behind. This isn’t to delegitimize Wilson’s greatness, but it is a knock, and more fans need to recognize it. And, instead of being increasingly vocal about wanting to cook more, Wilson needs to admit that some of this is on him too. Be better in the first quarter, and you’ll have all the cooking opportunities you can handle!

***

Before I go, let me take another quick look at the schedule. It looks … scarier than I remember.

The NFC West is obviously the best division in football from top to bottom; there isn’t an easy game in the bunch. So, right there, that’s six hard-fought grudge matches. The AFC East is no cakewalk in itself. Buffalo (on the road) is an elite team; New England (at home) with Cam Newton shouldn’t drop off too much from the playoff team it was a season ago; Miami (on the road) finished 2019 strong and has a lot of young up-and-comers, with a great coaching staff; the only easy game in the bunch is probably against the Jets (at home). Everyone else in that division is – at best, for the Seahawks – a 50/50 affair.

The NFC East looks less potent, but Dallas (at home) should be strong, the Eagles (on the road) should at least contend for a playoff spot, the Giants (at home) could be frisky if we’re not careful (but we should still win that one pretty easily), and the Washington Football Team (on the road) should be a disaster. Then, there’s the Minnesota Vikings (who I am VERY high on, per my prediction that they’ll win it all this season), and the Atlanta Falcons this upcoming Sunday.

The Falcons are probably a team we should beat, but they’ve got a good offense and a lot of continuity in general. They might not need a whole lot from their defense to keep us in check out of the gate. I’m a firm believer that this will be a true 50/50 game that comes down to some key moments in the fourth quarter. And, honestly, I have my doubts that we can go down to Atlanta and prevail. I think, like many of our games down there in recent years, we’ll come up short in the final minute.

This game could be a real tone-setter for the Seahawks in 2020. Win convincingly, and I think the Seahawks could contend for a division title and more. Win a squeaker, and I think we’re looking at MAYBE contending for a division title, but more likely just a wild card spot and maybe a playoff win before being ousted. Lose a squeaker, and I think the division is probably out of reach by a game or two, with an outside possibility that we’re boxed out of the playoffs entirely. Lose convincingly, and we might be in for an 8-8 type of season, or maybe worse.

I say this because, in looking at our first five games before the BYE week, we go on the road to Atlanta and Miami, and we host three really strong teams in the Pats, Cowboys, and Vikings. Lose to Atlanta, and there’s a very real chance that we could be in a 1-4 hole to start the season (and that’s before we’ve played a single divisional game). When you figure over half our remaining games will be those aforementioned grudge matches, and we’ve also got road games against the Bills and Eagles to contend with, that’s a pretty scary picture. If we start out at 1-4, we have to go 9-2 the rest of the way to get to 10 wins (which you would assume is safe for a wild card spot). I’m not saying that’s impossible; I’m not even saying that’s something we haven’t seen from these Seahawks before. But, how many times do you want to tempt fate like that?

Of course, we’ll know more about the rest of the league after we get a few weeks into the season. Under normal circumstances, I’m far from the best pre-season judge of NFL talent; without any pre-season games or stories to read about, I have even less of a clue! But, I do hear analysts talking about how “easy” of a schedule the Seahawks have this year, and I’d look to shy away from comments like those until we’ve actually seen these teams play ball. Until we’ve seen the Seahawks play ball!

Ultimately, as I said before, I think the Seahawks will be a 7-seed in the NFC. They might win a game in the Wild Card round, but I think that’ll be as far as we go. In that sense, with this being squarely in the window of Russell Wilson’s prime, what I’m telling you is that I’m predicting another disappointing season from the Seattle Seahawks in 2020.

And, since my two biggest concerns are the defensive and offensive lines, what I’m also telling you is that our long-term prospects probably aren’t all that great either. We might end up squandering ALL of Russell Wilson’s prime, before we somehow luck into another legitimate championship run before he closes out his Hall of Fame career.

Has the year 2020 made you insanely unhappy and/or depressed? Well, WELCOME to my Seahawks Season Preview Extravaganza! Abandon all fucking hope!

Trying To Predict A 2020 Seahawks Roster

I do one of these every year; they’re a waste of time, but they’re fun. There are, as with every new season, a number of intriguing battles coming up in training camp. It’ll be interesting to see who makes the cut (either because they’re going to contribute, or because we don’t want them poached by other teams), who is able to slide onto the expanded practice squad (however big it ends up being), and who washes out completely.

Mostly, I’m just interested in seeing if there’s a legitimate way for Shaquem Griffin to make this team, or if he has to beat out a significant role player from a year ago. I think we’ll be pleasantly surprised!

Quarterback

  • Russell Wilson
  • Geno Smith
  • Anthony Gordon

This will be more interesting than it’s been in a LONG time, because for the first year since Wilson became entrenched as this team’s starter, I think there’s a legitimate chance this team keeps a third quarterback. Anthony Gordon comes as highly-touted as an undrafted quarterback gets, so the risk of trying to pawn him off on the practice squad could be too high. Also, given COVID concerns, it will be prudent to keep an extra one laying around just in case we’re short-handed for a week or two. The argument against that is, obviously, depth on this team is pretty great (with lots of young guys we’d prefer to keep around to fill starting roles in upcoming seasons), and it’s hard to justify having TWO quarterbacks who – if all goes according to plan – will never see the light of day. Also, without a preseason, there’s less of a chance for Gordon to shine. I’m leaning towards he makes the roster, but we’ll have to see what other teams do with their own cuts (the more injuries to the quarterback position around the league, the likelier it is that Gordon would get claimed).

Running Back

  • Chris Carson
  • DeeJay Dallas
  • Travis Homer
  • Carlos Hyde
  • Matt Nick Bellore (FB)

It is with a very reluctant and annoyed sigh that I include the fullback (whose first name I had to look up to confirm is NOT Matt) on this list. I put up with a lot as a Seahawks fan – first and foremost, the utter lack of cooking we let Russ participate in – but rostering a fullback is one of the more galling. He participates in a VERY small handful of offensive snaps per game, and otherwise is a Special Teams guy of no note (to me anyway, who – granted – doesn’t follow the Special Teams goings on all that closely). The rest of these running backs listed are self-explanatory (Rashaad Penny will start on the PUP list).

Wide Receiver & Tight End

  • Tyler Lockett
  • D.K. Metcalf
  • Phillip Dorsett
  • David Moore
  • John Ursua or Freddie Swain
  • Will Dissly (TE)
  • Greg Olsen (TE)
  • Jacob Hollister (TE)
  • Cody Colby Parkinson or Luke Willson (TE)

I’ll be the first to admit, these spots are mostly a mystery to me. From a numbers standpoint, I think we’re looking at nine of these guys, with some very tough cuts to be made. I’m leaning towards Ursua given his experience, and Colby “don’t call me Cody” Parkinson (I really need to stop trying to do this based off of memory) over Willson only if Parkinson is healthy. Really, I could see a 3-way battle for two spots by throwing Hollister in there, but I think his overall effectiveness down the stretch last year as this team’s starter gives him the edge. Also, someone like Josh Gordon definitely throws a wrinkle into this mix (if he’s reinstated by the league), but in that case I would expect David Moore to get chopped, because they essentially play the same receiver spot, while Ursua/Swain are both projected to be slot guys.

Offensive Line

  • B.J. Finney
  • Duane Brown
  • Phil Haynes
  • Mike Iupati
  • Damien Lewis
  • Cedric Ogbuehi
  • Brandon Shell
  • Ethan Pocic or Kyle Fuller
  • Jamarco Jones or Jordan Simmons

I’m pretty sold on these being your nine to eleven offensive linemen, depending on what the team wants to do (and how big the rosters actually are this season). Of the projected “safe” bets, Iupati is probably on the shakiest ground – considering his age and likelihood of wearing down over the course of the season – but I like him to make it and be a starter out of the gate since there won’t be any pre-season games (and the team will likely want to settle on an official Starting Five relatively early in camp, to give them the most reps and allow for the most continuity as possible).

The offense, as listed, comes to 26 players. Usually, you like a 25/25 split between offense and defense, but I don’t think it’s been totally settled how big rosters are going to be. If anything, I think I’m one spot low on the O-Line (there will almost certainly be 10 guys kept there), which could mean nothing, or could mean our third quarterback pipe dream goes POOF!

Cornerback & Safety

  • Shaquill Griffin
  • Tre Flowers
  • Neiko Thorpe
  • Ugo Amadi
  • Marquise Blair (FS)
  • Jamal Adams (SS)
  • Quandre Diggs (FS)
  • Lano Hill (SS)
  • Quinton Dunbar or CB TBD

I’m not calling Amadi a safety – even though he’s listed as such – because everyone keeps saying he’s going to be in the running for a nickel cornerback spot. That would, in effect, make Lano Hill’s standing on this team relatively secure, but we’ll see (because I still don’t think he’s very good). Quinton Dunbar, obviously, has a bevy of legal hurdles to clear before he can play again, which could open up a spot for one of our young guys to be a surprise contender. D.J. Reed – recently claimed off of waivers from the 49ers – figures to be injured until late into the season, but could provide a nice boost in November or December, if he recovers okay.

Defensive Line

  • L.J. Collier
  • Rasheem Green
  • Benson Mayowa
  • Alton Robinson
  • Darrell Taylor
  • Poona Ford (DT)
  • Jarran Reed (DT)
  • Bryan Mone (DT)
  • DL TBD

The consensus is: we’re at least one defensive tackle short on this roster. Of course, there are tweeners – like Collier and Green – who can slide inside, but word on the street is the Seahawks are seriously considering a street free agent to be a boost to our outside pass rush (Everson Griffen or even Clay Matthews maybe), which really makes me wonder what this unit is going to look like when it’s all said and done.

Linebacker

  • Bobby Wagner
  • K.J. Wright
  • Bruce Irvin
  • Jordyn Brooks
  • Cody Barton
  • Ben Burr-Kirven
  • Shaquem Griffin

When you factor in Bruce Irvin largely playing defensive end, as well as Shaquem Griffin, that’s a lot of edge rushing on this team. That puts the official number at 25 players for defense (although, again, I’m probably one short on the defensive line, when it comes to the D-Tackle spot specifically). I mean, unless rosters are expanded to a full 55 players (26 offense, 26 defense, 3 special teams specialists), there will be some REALLY difficult cuts to be made here.

We’re still a week away from training camp getting started, so obviously a lot can change between now and then. I’m sure I’ll be off-base in any number of ways! Such is the fun and the pointlessness of an exercise like this.

Who Would You Rather Have The Seahawks Face?

Since I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to play this game, I thought I’d get this post out now before it’s too late.

It’s no secret that this is the worst Seahawks team we’ve seen since the run of greatness started in 2012.  We’re currently the “Nobody Believes In Us” poster children of the NFC, and would likely be the highest in the entire NFL if it weren’t for the Houston Texans catching the Raiders without Derek Carr last week.  The combination of No Earl Thomas and this offensive line – even coming off their greatest game rushing the ball last week – will almost certainly spell our doom.

Even having said that though, the Seahawks aren’t necessarily in the worst position.  Obviously, having the 2-seed would’ve been much better.  If we hadn’t blown that game to the Cardinals on Christmas Eve, we’d be hosting the Falcons right now instead of flying all the way to Atlanta, but I’m not so sure there’s a ton of difference.  The Falcons being on the road earlier this season didn’t stop them from taking over in the second half and almost winning that game.  Having the game in Atlanta just means that it’s going to be noisier for our offense.  Here’s to hoping the increased level of communication – by having it quiet for our defense – will be enough to combat the loss of Earl Thomas in this one.

The Falcons are the Falcons.  They’re good.  But, truth be told, they’re probably only the 3rd best team remaining in the NFC.  And, if you compare them to all the NFC playoff teams this year, I’d probably rank them fourth behind the Giants as well.  Even though we’re mired in the 3-seed, the Seahawks are getting the best draw possible.  The Lions were the worst playoff team the NFC had to offer (almost certainly worse than a few of the other NFC teams who didn’t make it as well; much love to the Giants for preventing the Redskins from sneaking in there).  The Falcons are the worst remaining opponent – when you compare them to the Packers and Cowboys.  And, if we find a way to get past the Falcons – which will certainly be the shootout I was expecting in the Lions game – we’ll either go on the road to play the Cowboys, or come back home to play the Packers.

So, who would I rather see the Seahawks face in a hypothetical NFC Championship Game where we got past the Falcons to get in there?

I was grappling with that decision all morning last Sunday, before the Giants/Packers matchup.  Not for nothing, but all of the teams I really fear in the NFC have been on the other side of the bracket.  It’s very fortunate for us to avoid the Giants, and it’ll be very fortunate for us to avoid either the Packers or the Cowboys.  Having to beat just one of the top three teams in the NFC, instead of all three, is as good as it gets.

But, I digress.  I ultimately came to the conclusion that I wanted the Giants to beat the Packers last week.  I think either one of those teams could take down the Cowboys if things break right.  While the Giants have the superior defense, with a solid secondary and a really good pass rush, I feel like our own defense would’ve had a better time containing Eli and their receivers than we would A-Rod and his.

Now that it’s the Packers at the Cowboys though, I’m having a tougher time.  If we just, from here on out, assume a Seahawks win (which, again, I’m not necessarily predicting), then a Packers win would mean the Seahawks host the NFC Championship Game; a Cowboys win would obviously mean we go to Dallas.  In a vacuum, I think I fear the Packers more, as they’ve seriously had our number the last two times we’ve played them (and it would’ve been the last three times, had we not engineered that crazy comeback the last time we played them in the NFC Championship Game).  I just don’t know how much more magic we have.  I think A-Rod has figured out how to throw on our defense, I think their defense has no problem getting to our quarterback, and I think our quarterback has some kind of mental block when it comes to facing their secondary, as he’s thrown (approximately) a billion interceptions in the last three games he’s played against them.  I would hope – in any scenario where we play the Packers – that our defensive coordinator has figured out a way to adjust our scheme to make A-Rod less comfortable, because as it stands right now it’s like he’s going up against a defense full of Special Olympians.

But … we’d be at home!  I dunno, it’s tough.

Ultimately, I don’t think that’s enough for me to sway my opinion.  No one is intimidated by playing in CenturyLink Field anymore, especially the likes of A-Rod.  It would be fun for the fans, and for the city I suppose, but it would cease being fun when Green Bay takes another double-digit lead on us and we have to play catch-up.

With Dallas, obviously you have the rookie quarterback, even though he’s looked nothing like a rookie this year.  They’ve got the best O-Line in the league, so there’s that to contend with.  You’re probably not going to sack Dak Prescott very much.  But, let’s face it, you’re not going to sack Aaron Rodgers very much either!  He’s obviously got excellent pocket awareness, even if he isn’t the most nimble runner.  Plus, I feel like everyone sleeps on the Green Bay O-Line, but it’s pretty fucking good in its own right!  So, I’m not calling that as some huge advantage for the Cowboys over the Packers.  I think it’s much closer to even, all things considered.

What’s not even is the Cowboys’ running back, Ezekiel Elliott.  The Seahawks are among the best in all of football at stopping the run, but I don’t imagine we’d have much success in holding him in check like we have most other teams.  But, you know, maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world.  If we can do an okay job – and force them to pound it on the majority of their plays – they might have good-looking total yardage numbers, but their yards per carry average should be mediocre.  Plus, I think we can limit the big plays downfield in their passing game much better than we would against the Packers.

On the defensive side of the ball, there’s nothing about the Cowboys that impresses me all that much.  At least with Green Bay, they have Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Julius Peppers, and Clay Matthews.  They’ve got studs!  They may have holes, but I think the Cowboys have more holes, plus I think we’d be able to run on the Cowboys better than we would against the Packers (even though the Cowboys led the league in fewest rushing yards allowed, I have to think most of that is them being in the lead in most of their ballgames).

There’s also, not for nothing, the fact that the Packers know us so well.  We’ve played them five times in the last five seasons dating back to 2012’s Fail Mary game.  The Seahawks tend to fare better against teams who aren’t used to seeing us so often.  Hence why we keep losing these bullshit divisional games to the likes of mediocre Cardinals and Rams teams.  We’ve only played Dallas 3 times since 2012 (not counting pre-season), and never since Prescott became their full time starter.

So, you know, as much as I’d love to see A-Rod come to Seattle and be sent away heartbroken and out of the Super Bowl for the second time in three seasons, the odds are he’ll probably beat us and I’ll be stuck looking at his stupid smug face for 3+ hours.

Then again, Dallas has been the clear best team in the NFC all year, and it’s probably just “Their Year”.  They’ll host Atlanta and all of this will have been written for nothing.  Such is playoff mania in the NFL.

It’s Difficult To Win In Green Bay In December For Some Reason

I guess Green Bay is on some crazy-long winning streak at home in the month of December, and in games started by Aaron Rodgers it’s even crazier and longer?  I dunno.  I suppose that’s some comment on how difficult it is to win in freezing cold weather, unless you’re “used to it” like the Packers ostensibly would be.  But, doesn’t that feel like one of those stats that has more to do with the organization?  The Packers have been pretty damn good for a long time, and they’ve been particularly good with Rodgers at the helm, so it would stand to reason that an anomalous winning streak such as this might be in the cards.

If the Cleveland Browns played all their home games in Green Bay for the last decade, I’m certain we would not be having this same conversation.

So, I’m not going to put a ton of credence into this winning streak, because like all streaks, they come to an end eventually.  And since 2016 is literally the worst year in the history of years, it would stand to reason that some hardships are coming Green Bay’s way.

The Packers are 6-6 coming into this game, and they’ve looked decidedly unremarkable this whole year.  Their offense, which is supposed to be their strength, is ranked 13th in total yards, just two spots ahead of the Seahawks.  Their running game is particularly terrible, averaging less than 100 yards per game, ranked 24th overall (the Seahawks are only ranked 20th, but remember we’ve been dealing with another brand new O-Line and the struggles of Christine Michael for most of the year).  Most galling of all might be that the Packers are only ranked 10th in passing, behind teams like Arizona, Cincinnati, San Diego, and New England (and don’t forget Brady missed 4 games!).  Maybe most importantly of all, the Packers only rank 11th in points scored, behind teams like Buffalo and Tennessee.

It’s been a problem this year, because while their defense is rarely a strength, it’s even less disruptive this year.  They’re pretty middle-of-the-road in sacks, and now they’ll be missing their sack leader in Nick Perry.  They’re already down a couple of inside linebackers, and if Clay Matthews can’t go, you might as well stick a fork in their defense.  Ha Ha Clinton-Dix can’t be everywhere at once!

As was shown in the Tampa Bay game, though, it doesn’t necessarily take an elite front four to get pressure on the Seahawks.  Unlike that game, we’re healthy across the O-Line, and Garry Gilliam has effectively been benched for stopgap improvement Bradley Sowell.  I don’t know how you lose a right tackle job to Sowell, but Gilliam must’ve been awfully bad.  On the plus side, Britt is playing like a quasi-Pro Bowler at center, and Glowinski and Ifedi have looked better as the season has gone on.  Regardless, you have to be concerned for whoever’s trying to block Julius Peppers, but if that’s all they’ve got for their pass rush, I don’t feel too worried.

On the flipside, we’ve got a secondary that’s down Earl Thomas for the rest of the year.  I don’t anticipate we’re just going to completely fall apart in his absence, but there’s obviously a steep drop-off from him to Steven Terrell.  That doesn’t change the overall makeup of the defense though.  We’re still going to do everything we can to funnel everything into the underneath routes.  And, let’s be honest here, MUCH worse secondaries have been able to hold the Packers’ passing game in check this season.  Since we don’t really have a run game to worry about, it might make sense to regularly alternate between blitz-heavy packages and dropping extra guys into coverage.  I wouldn’t stick in a zone too much though, as the Packers seem to really struggle against man coverage.

In a vacuum, the Seahawks should have little trouble moving the ball and putting up points, as well as holding the Packers’ offense in check.  But, we’re looking at a game in sub-freezing temperatures, with a likelihood of snowfall.  In other words, crazy shit can happen.  The ball will be extra tough to kick, as well as – I’m sure – not ideal for throwing.  I want to say the team that runs the ball best will prevail, which puts the odds of winning severely in Seattle’s favor.

I mean, come on, tell me a Seahawks fan who isn’t looking forward to Christine Michael getting a lot of reps with the Packers!  On that playing surface?  He’ll be slipping and falling like CRAZY!

I ultimately think the Seahawks will win this game, but for some reason I keep coming back to these nagging doubts.  Is it the weather?  The haunting specter of almost losing to the Vikings in the playoffs last year?  The fact that I still hold Aaron Rodgers in the highest of esteem even though he’s not quite at the all-world level we’ve seen him at in recent seasons?  Or, is it that damned December winning streak in Lambeau Field?

More than anything, I just think it’s this NFL season.  I can’t remember the last time I’ve struggled this hard at picking NFL winners.  It seems like when I give the home team the edge in a 50/50 matchup, it backfires.  Then, when I pick the quote-unquote best team, regardless of location, it backfires some more!  No matter who I pick in this game, that team will most certainly lose.  So, I might as well pick the Packers and at least do the Seahawks a solid.

Or, has my saying that effectively reversed the reverse-jinx?  God, I hate me sports.

Breaking Down My Feelings During The Big & Small Moments Of The NFC Championship Game

I’m sitting here in the hours following the most exciting finish to a game I’ve ever seen and probably ever will see, and my overwhelming feeling right now is Survivor’s Remorse.

I know Packers fans don’t want to hear this from someone like me – mostly because I was happily a collosal dickweed during the week leading up to this game – but I truly mean this from the bottom of my heart:  no fanbase (except, maybe the 49ers) deserves to lose a game like that in that fashion.  And that’s saying nothing of the players – especially poor Brandon Bostick, who’s sure to be a Scott Norwoodian goat (or maybe a Steve Bartmanian goat) in the eyes of Packers fans for the rest of his life – who also don’t deserve to lose like that.  To comfortably dominate for 56 minutes, have a 12-point lead with the other team back on its own 31 yard line, then give up a quick score in under two minutes, followed by a successful onside kick, followed by another score, followed by the most impossible 2-point conversion, followed by your team driving to tie the game, followed by losing the coin toss in overtime, followed by your team not getting the ball back again as the opponent drives down and nails a touchdown … that’s the sickest way you could possibly lose.  I don’t think there’s a way to craft it that would be any worse.

I have nothing to say.  I can’t even say I’ve been there, because I haven’t.  I don’t think anyone has.  That’s just Brutal with a capital B and that’s all there is to it.

I’m not going to sit here and say I wish the Seahawks would have lost, because that’s crazy and a total lie.  I just wish maybe the game could’ve been different.  I wish it could’ve been more along the lines of the game we all expected to get:  a thorough thrashing of the Packers by the Seattle Seahawks in all three phases of the game.

But, that’s just me right now.  This Survivor’s Guilt or whatever will fade away and I’m sure I’ll look back on it for the truly amazing miracle it was.

I’m kind of a zombie at the moment.  I was also a zombie for most of the game, but for very different reasons.  There’s a sense of delirium to my current emotional state, whereas throughout most of the game it was nothing but bitter, intense hatred.  I’m going to pick out some moments and just talk about the ramifications and my feelings at the time.

To start, let’s go with the third play from scrimmage.  The Seahawks won the toss and deferred.  The Packers had the ball and it was 3rd & 6.  Michael Bennett jumped offsides and it turned into a 3rd & 1.  What happens there if he DOESN’T jump offsides?  Or, either way, if we hold them to a Three & Out to start the game?  Does that change everything?  I know we would go on to have Richard Sherman intercept the ball in the endzone at the end of that drive, but the Packers still ripped off four minutes of clock and proved – in the stormy, gloomy confines of CenturyLink Field – that they could move the ball on us and that our crowd & our weather wouldn’t be the deciding factor in this game.

I’m a firm believer that for teams to survive on the road – especially in an environment like ours – they need to get that first sustained drive out of the way before getting down by too many points.  If we’re able to chop their legs off early and hold them to a bunch of 3 & Outs, while at the same time moving the ball on the other end, then our crowd is able to become much more of a factor.  But, with the confidence of moving the ball against our defense & our crowd, that early in the ballgame, you had to know we were in for a long day.  My feeling after this drive was one of relief, but it could’ve been so much more.

The Seahawks subsequently turned the ball over on their first drive of the game, with the ball hitting Kearse in the hands and bouncing out, so maybe my theory is total bunk.  Even though the Packers were immediately in the Red Zone, I wasn’t totally upset.  That pick wasn’t totally on Wilson, so it was impossible to see what this day would turn into for our superstar quarterback.

The Packers had 2nd & Goal from the 1 and appeared to punch it in, but it was overturned.  If I’m coaching the Packers, I’m handing it off two more times, going for the touchdown.  When they opted to go for the field goal on 4th & goal from inside the one yard line, I was ecstatic.

Subsequent kickoff, Doug Baldwin fumbled.  REALLY fucking irritated.  In this new NFL where they kick off so deep now, I’m almost always disappointed when one of our guys brings it out of the endzone.  Frankly, if you’re not Percy Harvin – or someone as fast as him – you really have no business running kicks out of the endzone.  Seems like more bad happens than good (either a turnover, or getting stopped well inside the 20 yard line).

Once again, the Packers were back in the Red Zone.  Once again, they got the ball down to the one yard line, and once again they kicked the field goal.  In a tie game, MAYBE I could see going for the sure three points; but when you’re up 3-0, with the ball on the one, why aren’t you going for it?  Seems like the perfect time to put the nail in the coffin at best, or at worst pin us deep and possibly get a safety out of it with the way Seattle’s offensive line played.  Once again:  pure relief.

The Seahawks went 3 & Out and the Packers closed off this miserable first quarter with 56-yard touchdown drive to go up 13-0.  I was pretty down at this point – as this was OBVIOUSLY not the way I envisioned this game would start – but all wasn’t lost.  We touched the ball three times in that quarter.  First drive ended on a tipped interception, second drive ended before it even began with a kickoff fumble, and the third drive ended in a 3 & Out.  No way I expected the misery to continue.  Eventually, we WOULD find a way to move the football.  I just hoped we weren’t too far out of it before it happened (visions of the playoff game against the Falcons danced in my head).

We kicked off the second quarter with another 3 & Out.  This was followed by another Packers drive that led to a field goal.  Key play on this drive was giving up a first down on 3rd & 13 thanks to a Hands To The Face penalty.  Such bullshit.  Not the penalty, that was legit; but there’s no way a 5-yard penalty should be an Automatic First Down.  The NFL needs to get its shit together and stop making ALL THE RULES benefit offenses.

The Seahawks got the ball back, now down 16-0, and on the first play of the next drive, Wilson threw into double-coverage and got picked off a second time.  This one was ENTIRELY on Wilson and smacked of desperation.  Yes, we’re down by two touchdowns and two 2-point conversions, but there was still over nine minutes left in the first half!  There was SO MUCH time left in this game; that throw was not warranted whatsoever.

At this point in the game, I was pretty surly.  I started fiddling around on the Internet and totally missed the Byron Maxwell interception on the very next drive.  Seemed like more luck than anything, as apparently a Packers receiver ran the wrong way, but I’ll take it.

FINALLY, the Seahawks were able to move the football.  They got their first first down of the game, as the running backs decided to take over.  Russell Wilson even completed his first pass of the game on 3rd & 7 with just under 4 minutes to go in the half to put the ball in the Red Zone for the first time in the game.  We HAD to score on this drive; even a field goal wouldn’t have been all bad.  It came down to 3rd & 8 just after the 2-minute warning, and Wilson threw his second ill-advised pass:  a fade to Kearse down the sideline in the endzone, totally underthrown for his THIRD pick of the game.  Un-fucking-believable.

We were able to force a Packers punt and went into halftime down 16-0, but by this point I could hardly contain my rage and disappointment with what I was forced to endure.  I was probably 90% sure we were going to lose this game, and probably 75% sure this game was going to end in a Green Bay rout.  More than anything, I think my feelings at this point were pure bewilderment.  This is NOTHING like we’ve seen from this team since the start of 2012.  Were we REALLY going to get blown out on our home field in the NFC Championship Game to a finesse passing offense?

Of course, the Seahawks had the ball coming out of halftime, and with that, another “We MUST Score Here” drive.  And, of course, the Seahawks went 3 & Out, punting on 4th & 1.  At this point, I was legitimately hoping we’d just say Fuck It and go for it, even though the ball was on our own 29 yard line.

Fortunately, it appeared at this point that the Packers opted to slow the game down in the second half.  Their first drive of the half was a 3 & Out with two Lacy runs for minimal gain, followed by a safe pass that ended up a yard short of the first down.

This led to a sustained drive by the Seahawks that chewed up over six minutes of clock.  We got the ball down in the Red Zone again, but were again unsuccessful in completing the third down.  As the field goal unit trotted onto the field, I saw there was less than five minutes left in the quarter.  We’d surely kick to pull to within 16-3, but two things were certain:  we could NOT let Green Bay score another point, and we’d have to put up two consecutive touchdown drives to pull out this victory.  I saw the game unfolding before my eyes, with a glimmer of hope for the first time all day.  17-16, THAT’S how the game would end.

And then we pulled off the fake field goal for a touchdown?  Ex-squeeze me?  Baking powder?  UhhWhatTheFuck?  Is this the St. Louis Rams going up against the Seattle Seahawks?  Pete Carroll doesn’t do this sort of shit!  These shenanigans are beneath him!  We’re all about beating you with our best available players, mano a mano.  And here we are, resorting to this bushleague bullshit I’ve been endlessly bitching about ever since the Rams used it against us to beat us for the second time in three years?  I’m not gonna lie to you, I was PRETTY fucking happy about it succeeding, but I still felt pretty dirty about it.

So, now it’s 16-7 and I’ve still got visions of 17-16 as the game hits all zeroes.  We forced them to punt on the next drive and there we were, back in business.  But, no dice.  Another 3 & Out.  So much for momentum, I guess.  Still, gotta hold Green Bay scoreless the rest of the way if we want to win this.

And then they got their running game going.  We were hemorrhaging yards at a frantic rate, but even worse, we were also hemorrhaging clock.  The defense stiffened up to hold them to a field goal that barely squeaked inside the upright, but the damage was damn near done.  19-7, with just under 11 minutes to go in the game.

I was pretty dour about this, suffice it to say.  We hadn’t moved the ball all that well, even though we had a couple trips inside the Red Zone to that point.  Somehow, we’d have to pull off TWO touchdowns in 11 minutes, without letting them score?  Highly unlikely.

But, we converted 3 first downs to get to midfield.  Things were looking somewhat promising.  And then we just totally fucked up on two straight passes to get to 4th & 15 with 7 minutes to go in the game.

THAT CAN’T BE THE PUNTING UNIT!  THERE’S ONLY 7 MINUTES LEFT TO GO!  WE’RE GIVING THEM THE GAME RIGHT HERE!

Sure enough, we punted.  At this point, I was pretty much at 99.9% certainty that we were losing.  As I’d spent the night at my dad’s house in Tacoma, I went into my room to pack my bag to get ready for the long, angry drive back up to Seattle to get ready for work the next day.  The Seahawks held on a 3 & Out, and with a little over 5 minutes left in the game, we had one last dying gasp.

Which ended up being a first-play pass to Kearse that again bounced off of his hands for an interception.  I went back into my bedroom, started putting on my shoes, and grabbed my bags.  I had everything ready to go.  As soon as the game was officially over, I’d be out of there.  I was in the living room, holding two small bags of my crap, silently stewing.  The Seahawks forced another 3 & Out – burning two time outs in the process – but who gives a shit?  It was all academic.  Isn’t that what they say?

The Seahawks were able to get some chunk yards on the next drive – with Clay Matthews out of the game, which I didn’t understand at the time.  Did he get hurt or something?  Because he was back out there for overtime.  Anyway, we scored on a pass to Lynch with 2:52 left in the game and one time out.  At that point, down 19-14, we could theoretically kick it deep and get the ball back with 1:20 (or so) left in the game.  Doing the math in my head was more or less just a way to push out all the negative thoughts about losing this game.  In the end, it didn’t even matter, because Lynch had stepped out of bounds anyway.  We would go on to score that touchdown, but with only 2:09 left in the game.  At this point, you pretty much HAVE to go for the onside kick.  And, how often does that ever work out?  Less than 10%, when they’re expecting it?

Nevertheless, my heart rate kicked back into gear again.  How could you not at least hold out some small sliver of hope?  It’s what being a fan is all about!

Then, the impossible.  HOLY CATFISH!  The ball bounced off of Bostick and into the sure hands of Chris Matthews.

I was elated, but tense, obviously.  With a little over two minutes to go in the game, almost anything could happen.  Wilson could throw his fifth pick, going Full Eli.  We could drive down and fail at the goalline.  We could drive down and score with no time left.  And yes, we could score too quickly and leave them too much time left on the clock (with all three of their time outs to drive it back on us and score).

Sure enough, Beastmode went Beastmode for 24 yards to go up by one with 1:25 left in the game.  For some reason, up until that moment, I’d completely forgotten that we’d need to go for two if we did score there.  I just figured – great – we’d be up 21-19 and have to sweat out a game-winning field goal.  Then, when I realized what the Seahawks were doing, it was back to being super-tense again.

We HAD to score that 2-pointer!  If we didn’t hit it, we WOULD lose.  That’s all there is to it.  Aaron Rodgers isn’t Colin Kaepernick; he’s not just going to hand you the game.

I saw the play unfold:  a roll out to Russell’s right.  The Packers’ line blew it up a little bit, forcing Wilson to improvise.  I saw the heave to the opposite side of the endzone.  I saw Luke Willson in the area, but I saw two defenders.  I saw the high arc to the throw:  SURELY someone would knock it down and/or pick it off!  Nope!  Conversion!  22-19!  Not so much happy, but again, pure relief.

At this point, with the Packers taking over on their own 22 yard line, I was praying to any god that would have me.  Asshole hypocrite?  Yah you-betcha, but what else are you going to do?  My hands were clenched in tight fists, clutched close to my chest, unwilling to move an inch, STILL with my two bags resting on my lap, ready to leave at the drop of a hat.

No surprise whatsoever that the Packers scored to tie it up there.  A little surprised they didn’t make more of an effort to play for the game-winning touchdown with all three time outs in play, but I wasn’t going to complain.  Overtime.

When we won the toss, I was pretty thrilled, but again, I wasn’t in any position to expect victory.  I just knew one thing:  if we gave the ball back to Aaron Rodgers, we’d lose that game.  Richard Sherman was playing with one arm.  Earl Thomas had to have his shoulder popped back into place during the game.  Everyone was exhausted, on their very last legs.  The offense would have to take care of business, or this would be it.  Yet another overtime playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers.  Fox even showed a replay of Matt Hasselbeck’s infamous coin toss comments to the refs in that prior game for good measure.

Baldwin was pretty much forced to run the kick out, as it wasn’t deep enough to simply take a knee in the endzone, and we were rewarded with shitty field position once again.  The Seahawks would have to go 87 yards if we had any hopes of ending this right there.  Lynch ran for a modest gain.  Wilson completed a short pass to Baldwin off of a run fake that was good for a first down.  Lynch ran for another modest gain, then Wilson was stuffed for a 1-yard loss.  Third down, 7 yards to go, on our own 30 yard line.  This is it; this is the ballgame right here.  To have watched this game up to this point, you’d know that the Seahawks struggled with the pass all day, and especially on third down.

With man coverage, Baldwin got behind the defender and pulled in a perfectly-thrown ball for a 35-yard gain, to get us to the Green Bay 35 yard line.  Earlier in the day, Baldwin had flat-out dropped a perfectly-thrown pass that would’ve resulted in a first down when we really needed it.  I had that play all lined up in my mind if the Seahawks would’ve lost.

Make no mistake, this article was going to be A LOT different.  I won’t get into too many specifics, but just know that the words “mediocre” and “pedestrian” were going to be thrown around with the regularity of someone with tourettes.  Baldwin and Kearse were going to be high on my scorn list, with Russell Wilson catching a lot of flak for being the negative-usage of the phrase “Game Manager” and proving all the national doubters right.

I mean, can you imagine what we’d all be saying and thinking if Jermaine Kearse – on the very next play – didn’t catch that 35-yard touchdown to end it and send us to the Super Bowl?  We’d be FREAKING THE FUCK OUT!  As this post is already running a little long, I’ll save it for another day, but suffice it to say, the more I think about it, the more glad I am with the way things turned out.

I still feel bad for Packers fans.  Nothing’s going to change that except time.  For now, I’m just going to try to make it through these next two weeks as best as I can.  I mean, it’s damn near impossible to be productive at work when you’ve got your team in the Super Bowl.

Why The Seahawks Will Return To The Super Bowl

Right around this time last year – though, admittedly, a couple weeks later – I was writing a lot about the impending Super Bowl matchup between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks.  Sometimes, I do this thing where I’ll write one article on how the Seahawks could theoretically lose, and another article on why they’ll win.  Usually, I do this because I’ve run out of other things to write about, but sometimes there’s a good reason to argue both sides.  But, last year, I really struggled with it.  How might the Broncos have beaten us in the Super Bowl?  Well, on any given Sunday and all that …

Yeah, pretty much anything can happen at any time.  A player can take a wrong step and tear his ACL.  A perfectly-thrown pass can bobble out of the hands of a receiver and into the hands of a defender.  Fumble luck is INCREDIBLY random and sometimes infuriating.  A couple of special teamers can take bad angles and before you know it, the other team is running back a freebie touchdown.  I could go on and on.  There are millions of reasons why the Packers might beat the Seahawks this Sunday, just as there were millions of possibilities in that Broncos/Seahawks Super Bowl.

But, just looking at it rationally, it was pretty hard to believe that the Seahawks were going to lose last year.  Just like it’s pretty hard to believe they’ll lose on Sunday.

How, exactly, are this year’s Packers different than last year’s Broncos?  Both teams play/played with MVP quarterbacks.  With Aaron Rodgers’ calf strain, he’s about as mobile now as Manning was last year.  Neither defense was all that impressive.  And, I would argue that Denver’s offense last year was MUCH better than Green Bay’s this year.  The only thing left to look at is how the Seahawks are different this year compared to last.

On the surface, not much.  We’re missing a Golden Tate on offense, and you can’t argue that we’ve really found a replacement.  Jermaine Kearse has stepped up, so it’s not a HUGE drop-off, but our third and fourth receivers as a result are a step back.  So, there’s that.

We’re missing Zach Miller, but I’d say Luke Willson and company have stepped up adequately.  Our offensive line is about the same.  Running game is the same.  And quarterback is the same.

Defensively, we’ve lost Mebane and Jordan Hill along the interior.  Hill was turning into a nice little Clinton McDonald replacement, so that hurts.  On the outside, we no longer have Chris Clemons or Red Bryant, but we haven’t had those guys for the full year and our defense has still held up like gangbusters.  You’re still looking at the top defense in the league and it’s not really even close when the stars are healthy.

So, you tell me.  How are the Packers supposed to come in here and beat us?  I repeat:  “in here”, as in “in Seattle”.  The Super Bowl was on a neutral field!  So, not only were the Broncos a more formidable opponent, but they didn’t even have to play us in the most dominant home field advantage in all of football!

I just don’t see it.  I don’t think it’s possible to be more at ease going into a conference championship game.  I’m trying to get my worry on about this game, but it all comes back to fluke shit.

One thing I could look at is to review all of our defeats this year.  How did other teams beat the Seahawks?  Seems impossible, right?  But, it happened.  Four times, in fact!  Four different teams beat the Seahawks in 2014!  So, what can we learn?

Week 2, at San Diego

I would argue we were at our healthiest in this game among the four defeats, so this game really stings.  What happened here?  Well, the Chargers dominated time of possession by dinking and dunking us to the True Death.  They had two drives that lasted less than 4 minutes.  One came off of a turnover that they converted into a touchdown; the other was a punt after six plays.  In the second half.  We didn’t force the Chargers into a punt until the second half of the game!  The Chargers went 10/17 on third down and Philip Rivers was about as perfect as can be.  He was perfect because there was only one pass that was completed beyond 20 yards.  Patience, timing, and 100+ degree weather really did us in.  Our offense was moving the ball well, but almost too well, as all three of our scoring drives were touchdowns that took less than three minutes of clock.

Week 6, vs. Dallas

Admittedly, this was the only game I didn’t watch this year, as I was travelling.  But, from what I’ve read and seen, the Cowboys were able to run the ball at will and made just enough plays through the air to keep us honest and win the fourth quarter.  A particularly back-breaking completion to Terrance Williams converted a third & long late in the game, allowing them to secure victory.  In this game, the Seahawks were pretty banged up.  Also, this was the game where Percy Harvin reportedly refused to re-enter the game late.  The team was kind of a shitshow at this point in the season, and the Cowboys were an underrated power.  Sort of a perfect storm if you will.  It’s almost too bad we don’t get to play them again, as they may still believe they’re better than us (silly mortals).

Week 7, at St. Louis

The Seahawks had just traded Harvin a couple days before.  The Rams pulled off a road-runner punt return for a TD as well as a fake punt late in the game to seal it.  I’m calling bullshit on this one.  I highly doubt Green Bay will devote their week to a bunch of asinine trick plays to beat us (though, I guess if they’re smart, they probably should, as we seem to fall for it every time).

Week 11, at Kansas City

The defeat where we were at our MOST banged up.  Brandon Mebane had just gone down.  We were on our final week without Bobby Wagner.  And, the Chiefs straight up bullied us with their running game.  Still a hard one to swallow, considering how badly they finished the regular season.

What to take away?  Well, for starters, as I alluded to before, throw out that Rams game.  If the Packers are going to win, they’re going to have to achieve some combination of the other three games:  i.e. develop a running game and stick to it, while at the same time having Aaron Rodgers maintain a level of patience where he sticks to the easy, short throws and doesn’t challenge us deep.  Likewise, they’re going to have to keep him protected.  Yeah, it’s always important to keep your quarterback from getting hit, but it’s especially important in this scenario, as Rodgers is already gimpy and he IS their team.  Without him, they might lose by 40.

Somehow, I just don’t see it.  Eddie Lacy might have some success, but I doubt he’ll have the type of success where he’s gashing us consistently.  Also, let’s face it, there is blood in the water.  Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and Bruce Irvin must be absolutely licking their chops at the prospects of chasing down an immobile Aaron Rodgers.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see more blitzing out of this defense than we’ve seen at any other time in the last three years.

One key will be whether or not Byron Maxwell is healthy.  I need to see him back and starting on the other side of the field.  Particularly, I need to see him put a stranglehold on Randall Cobb.  Either that, or lock down Jordy Nelson and allow Kam Chancellor the opportunity to put Cobb on his ass a la Wes Welker last year.

On the flipside, I don’t see the Packers stopping our offense.  Once again – like in the run-up to last year’s Super Bowl – people are ignoring the other matchup of our offense vs. their defense.  Yes, the marquee reads “Aaron Rodgers vs. The Legion Of Boom”, but the undercard of “Wilson & Lynch vs. Whatever The Hell The Packers Call Their Defense” is really what’s going to determine things.  If we can get out to a strong start, we’ll take away any hopes they had of running the football.  At that point, it’ll be time to tee off on Rodgers.

I expect the Seahawks to have a MUCH better rushing attack this week compared to last.  The Panthers are stout up front; the Packers … not so much.  I’d expect a 100-yard day out of Lynch at a minimum.  And if they try to stack the box and take him away, well guess what:  Big Game Russell Wilson is back there, ready to take over.  The Seahawks shouldn’t have any trouble moving the ball and scoring on this team.  Oh, and all this talk about Clay Matthews moving from outside to inside linebacker?  Great!  Leave the edges to an inferior defender so Russell Wilson can abuse them with his legs!

I’m sorry, but I’m totally at ease in this game.  The only way we lose is if we screw ourselves with an abundance of turnovers.  Or, if our defense isn’t able to capitalize on turnover opportunities.  It also wouldn’t shock me in the least to see Rodgers go down and have to leave the game at some point prior to the 4th quarter.  Mark it down.  I’m usually wrong, but I don’t see how I can be wrong here.

Come Monday, we’ll all be giddy with anticipation for a repeat Super Bowl appearance.

And, just to get it on the record now, I HOPE we get to play the Patriots.  I’m sorry, but the Colts scare the bejesus out of me.  Their defense is better than they get credit for (especially with Vontae Davis healthy as one of the top cornerbacks int he league).  Luck is obviously the more mobile quarterback, and he’s got tons of weapons to throw to.  Neither team really has much of a rushing attack to worry about, but I just feel like we could get to Brady more often, and we can neutralize Gronk (who is really the only guy to worry about on their team).  Gronk, meet Kam, and get your clock cleaned in the process.

So, yes, go Patriots.  Go Seahawks.  Let’s ring up another championship, boys!

#9 – Russell Okung

To see the full list of the Top 10 Most Important Seahawks in 2014, click here.

In this offense, and with this quarterback, the necessity of a lock-down left tackle isn’t nearly as dire as, say, back when Holmgren coached the team and Hasselbeck needed blind-side protection.  In many ways, though, the offensive line as a whole is even MORE important than it was even ten years ago.

The Seahawks, by and large, had probably one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL last year.  A lot of that had to do with injury:  the three best linemen we have – Okung, Unger, Giacomini – missed huge chunks of season, often simultaneously.  Even when everyone was healthy – or “healthy” in the sense that they were able to put on pads and give it a go at some figure less than 100% – they were often ineffective.  Guys frequently blew past a missed assignment, getting free runs at Russell Wilson, who would in turn have to flee for his life.  Since our quarterback is so dynamic, he’s able to make chicken salad out of this type of blocking.  But, there’s a very noticeable difference between a healthy offensive line, and a “healthy” offensive line.

Russell Okung is the most talented member of this offensive line, which is why he’s ranked so high on my countdown.  The drop-off from Okung to the next left tackle on the depth chart is pretty staggering compared to the rest of the O-Line.  Last year, we had Paul McQuistan going much of the time Okung was out.  If you don’t remember this dark period of our 2013 season, you can at least imagine how horrible he was anchoring the left side of this line.  He’s a solid depth guy, and he was pretty valuable as a versatile interior lineman, but Paul McQuistan is the beans when it comes to playing tackle.

This year, I would imagine we’re taking a step up with Alvin Bailey as the #2 behind Okung.  He’s had some experience in the regular season last year – and as a sixth lineman in jumbo packages in the playoffs – so it’s not like we’d have a total greenhorn in there should Okung get injured.  But, ideally, it wouldn’t come to that.

We’re entering an interesting time in Okung’s career.  He’s signed through 2015.  This is the first year where – if we waived him – we wouldn’t be penalized by dead money.  We could SAVE money.  Now, obviously, I’m not advocating that, but it’s just interesting.  He’s been in the league since 2010, a starter the whole way as a high first round draft pick (and replacement of Walter Jones).  Something else that’s interesting:  he actually makes LESS money next year than he does this year.  His cap hit in 2014 is a little over $11 million; his cap hit in 2015 is a little over $7 million.  This is actually to his advantage – if he wants to spend the vast majority of his career in Seattle – because in his four years in the League, he has never played a full 16-game season.  Indeed, he’s averaged only 11.25 games per year in the regular season.

A lot of people believe this team is in for another huge contract with Okung pretty soon.  You’d have to think, if he puts in a full year, and his level of play doesn’t start to decline, he’ll be looking for an extension of some sort at season’s end.  After all, $7 million is a pretty paltry sum for a first round left tackle who should still be in his prime.

However, if he comes out and plays in 11 games this year, then you have to wonder if the Seahawks will look to be moving on after the 2015 season.  It’s pretty hard to justify a lengthy, expensive contract extension for a guy who can’t stop injuring his feet.

Either way, we’re talking about 2014, and Russell Okung is important to making this offense go.  Let’s face it, Russell Wilson was sacked WAY too many times last year.  44, to be exact.  And this year, we have the Defensive Lines Of Death to worry about.  The Rams are a fucking bonanza of pass-rushing talent.  The 49ers are always stout (and, by the time we play them, you’d think they will have brought back Aldon Smith).  The Cardinals overall are tenacious and relentless.  Tack on the Packers (with a healthy Matthews for game 1), the Panthers, the revamped Broncos with DeMarcus Ware … the list goes on and on.

We need more than just healthy bodies on the offensive line.  We need TALENT.  It would be nice if that talent could stay healthy for a long period of time.  Russell Okung has the type of talent where you don’t have to worry about him.  He HAS an All Pro level of skill!  With him at 100%, you don’t even have to think about him.  Save your worries for the other four guys on the line.

Contrary to 2013’s level of line play, the 2014 O-Line actually has the potential to be great.  It would require health out of Okung and Unger, and big steps forward out of our guards, and hopefully a diamond in the rough at right tackle.  I’m not saying it’s a guarantee, but the potential is there!  And, frankly, it all starts with Okung.

3 Down, 20 To Go: Sloppy Seahawks Slip Past Putrid Packers

Fail Mary THIS, assholes!

Look, I’m not gonna lie to you, at 6:30pm, smack dab in the middle of this contest, I had my fantasy football draft.  $50 buy-in, ten players, all old buddies from college … there’s a trophy and a year’s worth of shit-talking on the line.  So, forgive me if I wasn’t exactly glued to this pre-season game featuring the Seahawks in Green Bay.  In the first half, I saw a lot of underwhelming play.  I saw the Packers hide Aaron Rodgers, like they didn’t want to give us a challenge or something.  I saw Russell Wilson get destroyed on a couple sacks.  I saw Russell Wilson look idiotic on a couple of interceptions (granted, one was tipped, but still, he had to see there was no throwing lane there).  I saw Guns Turbin get absolutely fucking ABUSED by Clay Matthews on a blitz.  I saw the Richard Sherman every Seahawks fan hopes we never see when the games start to count (because, seriously, every fucking dick in the yard is rooting for him to fail this year after his off-season shit-storms).

In short, I saw a lot of heinous shit.  But, in the end, the Seahawks came out with the victory.  And here’s the thing:  you can say what you want about how bad this team looked, but that’s to be expected.  The Seahawks aren’t going to steamroll every team they play this year.  Sometimes – especially on the road – they’re going to have to slog through some terrible fucking performances and find a way to win it at the end in an ugly 17-10 fashion.

And, for as bad as this team looked, there were some definite high points.

I’m going to start right with the running game.  This offensive line looked like it was in peak mid-season form in their run blocking.  Pass protection:  not so much.  But, they were blowing defenders off the line and our running backs were the recipients of some massive holes.  That bodes VERY well for this team, considering THIS is what it wants to do the most.  Russell Wilson won’t always have a shit game like that, but when he does, it’s nice to know we can rely on our ground attack to fuck some bitches up.

Next up:  I thought the defense looked great.  There were breakdowns at times, but that’ll happen.  This defense might not shut anyone out all year.  BUT, they will generate turnovers.  Two more forced fumbles on absolutely textbook strips.  Like I said, this team may not lead the league in defense when it comes to points or yards, but it’s going to be among the league leaders in turnovers and return touchdowns scored (it’s why I reached heavily in my fantasy draft to pick up Seattle’s D in the fifth round)

(I should point out that defensive scoring in our league is kind of insane, so a top-flight defense can be a real boon to your chances week-in and week-out)

The pass rush is still a bit of a concern (seriously, if you can’t get to Green Bay’s quarterback, then you’re gonna have a bad time) but I don’t think that’s going away anytime soon, so I’m going to take that broken record off the player for a while.

Third on the hit parade:  Stephen Fucking Williams.  I can’t even get over this!  He is a deep-ball specialist!  If this team doesn’t keep him on the 53-man, I’m going to have some serious fucking issues.  Because SOME team (hint hint, 49ers) will pick him up and he will dominate.  Unreal.  Another 40-plus yard bomb for a touchdown, out-jumping a defender.  I want to have his babies.

Finally, I’ll just say that even though Brady Quinn won’t be around in a week or two, I really love that he launched that deep ball to Williams.  He’s looking for a backup job SOMEWHERE and he had absolutely nothing to lose.  Taking that one-on-one matchup and exposing the defense like that could be the difference between him having a job and him trying to sneak his way onto a CFL team.

Here’s the thing to ultimately take away from this game.

This was the third pre-season game.  The game where your starters play into the third quarter to get their game legs under them, to get their timing down, and to treat it like they would a regular season game (without, of course, giving away your whole bag of tricks).  You want to look good in your third game because that gives you an idea of how good you’ll actually be when the games start to count.  So, on that end, the Seahawks failed miserably.  Because, if they play like that in the regular season, they’ll be lucky to go 9-7 and grab the final Wild Card spot.

There IS another way to look at it, if you choose to say your glass is half full.

The Seahawks knew all of that going into this game.  They knew this was the real test of the pre-season and they TRIED to come out and beat the Packers like they beat the Broncos and Chargers before them.  Only, it didn’t work, and a lot of it was more the fault of the Seahawks being bad than the Packers being good.  You can’t strip the Pack of all the credit, mind you, but the Seahawks self-inflicted a lot of damage.  Penalties, missed blocks, poor throws, bad coverage, worse tackling.  A lot of these things are in the Seahawks’ control.  Knocking that penalty shit off is a biggie, and I have no doubt they’ll find a way.  Also, pass protection should be infinitely better with Lynch and Robinson carrying the load (not to mention a healthy Zach Miller).

In a funny kind of way, the Seahawks needed a game like this.  They needed a reality check.  Our stars did not come out, they did not shine.  They struggled.  Some played like total ass!  There is going to be so much tape of this game to learn from, it’s not even funny.  If the Seahawks aren’t a shit-ton cleaner against the Raiders next week, I’ll eat my hat.  Once they know they can play a clean game of football, that first game against Carolina should be a breeze.

So, I’m not going to totally obliterate this team.  Not now, anyway.  If they come out like this and blow week 1’s game in Carolina, though, it’ll be an entirely different story.

Aaron Curry: The Continuation of the End

For the record, the Beginning of the end happened earlier this season when his contract was restructured.

So, that’s it then.  Guy gets drafted 4th overall in the 2009 NFL Draft, highly touted as one of the most freakishly athletic linebackers in all of college football … now he’s reduced to 2nd string status behind K.J. Wright of all people.  Not that I have anything against K.J. Wright, but REALLY?  Damn.

This isn’t a move I wanted to put in the Worst Trades, Draft Picks, & Free Agent Signings list, but it’s looking more and more like I won’t have any other choice.  Mark Sanchez may not be the best quarterback alive, but hardly a soul would consider him an out-and-out bust.  B.J. Raji – Green Bay’s 9th overall selection – has been a force to be reckoned with; how would he look next to Brandon Mebane?  Brian Orakpo (DE for the Redskins at #13) and Brian Cushing (LB for the Texans at #15) have both made the Pro Bowl.  Josh Freeman would look mighty nice running for his life behind our offensive line right now.  Percy Harvin would likely be the slot receiver we’ve been missing since Bobby Engram was let go.  And Clay Matthews would CERTAINLY be the pick of the litter out of all these guys; he also went to the Packers in the first round (guess that whole Super Bowl victory makes a little more sense now, doesn’t it?).

Anyway, I could go on and on about the players we COULD have had, but the fact remains is the player we DO have is Aaron Curry, and he’s being supplanted by a 4th round draft pick.  Which just goes to prove one thing:  Picking linebacker in the top 5 or 10 is a useless and futile enterprise.  You can get a guy JUST as good, or even better, much lower in the draft and not waste the money or the frustration.

I’ve got nothing else to say.  Just a shitty situation all around.

How Much Longer Until We Give Up On Aaron Curry?

I’m pretty much going to make these posts an annual occurrence until he either proves his worth or is off this team.

Helmets Are NOT For Throwing!

It doesn’t appear to be a coincidence that Aaron Curry makes a dumbass penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct in last Saturday’s preseason game, and now today we hear that his contract has been restructured.  Though I do find it interesting.

Until Mark Sanchez becomes the All Pro nobody expects him to become, I’m still not going to bemoan the pick of Curry over Sanchize, in spite of the fact that it’s looking more and more likely Curry will indeed be a bust.  I don’t like Mark Sanchez.  I will never like Mark Sanchez.  (for the record, I do like Josh Freeman, who was the 17th overall pick in that very same draft; how do you think HE would look in a Seahawks uniform right about now?)  But, I have to admit he’s at least DOING something with himself as the 5th overall pick.  Curry isn’t doing a damn thing.  And with more plays like last Saturday’s helmet toss, Curry is actively harming this team.

It seems like I (along with everyone else in Seattle) have been saying this every time Curry’s name is ever mentioned:  he needs to get his shit together pronto.  It’s now or never for this guy.  A top 5 pick, in his third season, NEEDS to make a positive impact.

Last year he played in all 16 games, making only 73 tackles and registering only 3.5 sacks.  I’m sorry, but that’s simply not going to cut it.  At some point, this stops being an issue of “not using him properly” and starts being an issue of “he’s just not a good football player”.  Either we need to make him an every-down pass rusher, or we need to figure out a way to utilize his athleticism in other aspects of the game (maybe as a grotesquely overpriced special teamer).  Because what do you do with linebackers who aren’t ready to be on the field playing defense?  You have them running down kickoff returners.

This pretty much has to be Curry’s year, because if he doesn’t step his game up somehow, he won’t see the start of the 2012 season.  We’ve got K.J. Wright, Malcolm Smith, Mike Morgan, and Matt McCoy all ready to take his spot.  They’re young, they’re hungry, and they’re cheap.  So are the linebackers we could see ourselves drafting next year should the thought strike our fancy.

The time to give up on Aaron Curry isn’t now (mostly because I’m chocking up the 2011 season as a lost cause), but it’s on the event horizon.  And that event horizon is sucking up guys like Aaron Curry into the black hole of irrelevance.  100 tackles and 8 or 9 sacks would go a long way towards Curry being a Seahawk for many years to come.  Anything less, and I’d say we’ll have ourselves a bust on our hands.

And my oh my, what a bust that would be.  Not since Rick Mirer would we have whiffed on such a high pick!  If we’re just looking at linebackers, Brian Cushing was in that draft!  So was Clay Matthews!  Hell, even James Laurinaitis has made more of an impact for our rivals in St. Louis than Aaron Curry.  Even I didn’t think Tim Ruskell would garner a failing grade on his 2009 first round pick; Curry was supposed to be the “safest” choice in that draft.  Goes to show how far playing it safe will get you.