On one end of the sports spectrum there is March Madness. On the other end there is March Mundaneness — my new term for the NFL period post-free agency frenzy, pre-draft. After the Jimmy Graham bombshell, there hasn’t been much going on in Hawkville — or maybe there has been and the public just doesn’t know about it. Whatever the case, ostensibly the biggest thing the Seahawks have done the past few weeks is signing somebody named Ahtyba Rubin (who should not be confused with either Ruben Rodriguez or Rick Rubin). I will confess that I had never even heard of Mr. Rubin before the signing, but after some investigation I think inking him to a one-year deal is a solid pickup. It’s obviously nothing earth-shattering, and Rubin probably is not even a league-average player, but he’s the type of rotation guy the ‘Hawks need to bolster what, in my opinion, was their biggest weakness last year: pass rushing depth.
In 2013, the Seahawks had the seventh best adjusted sack rate in the league, according to Football Outsiders; in 2014, they fell to 14th. Other stats tell the same story as Seattle’s gross sack total and their sack rate both decreased from 2013 to 2014. Also, although I can’t find a non-paywalled source for this, I remember hearing several stats quoted throughout the year about how badly their QB hurry numbers had fallen off. And then there is the big elephant in the room: We all watched in dismay as Tom Brady picked apart a tired, injured defense in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.
In part, this was to be expected. The Seahawks had to pay the Super Bowl tax last off-season and part of their payment was a trio of key D-linemen — Chris Clemons, Red Bryant, and Clinton McDonald. They never completely replaced them and then losing Cliff Avril in the Super Bowl (with Brandon Mebane and Jordan Hill already on the shelf) proved to be too much. The Seahawks’ final offensive play of the season is the one that’s going to haunt Seattle fans for years to come, but it was just that — one play. The two drives that allowed the Patriots to turn a 10-point deficit into a four-point lead were far more illustrative of Seattle’s weaknesses than was a single bad play call.
So getting JAGs like Rubin, who aren’t great, but who are legitimate NFL players (Rubin started 11 games last year for the Browns) is important if the ‘Hawks want to get back to the Super Bowl for the third straight season — which, one can only assume, they do. They also signed D’Anthony Smith, who is less intriguing, being that he’s four years removed from his last (and only) productive season in the NFL, but he’s a decent noodle-on-the-wall candidate. The ‘Hawks could not afford to spend big in free agency at defensive line. They need a few of these question-mark players (D’Anthony Smith? Landon Cohen? Cassius Marsh? David King?) to stick.
In other news, the NFL just held that thing they do every year where they discuss rule changes — the owners’ meeting or something like that — and despite some kooky proposals, like the possibility of a nine-point touchdown, nothing major came from it. Here are my four thoughts on rules changes.
- The Dez Bryant/Calvin Johnson catch/no catch rule has gotten a lot of attention lately and apparently the NFL is rewording it to get rid of the “football move” phrase. I don’t know if this helps clarify the definition a catch or not, but one thing I do know is that this clarification is not an easy task. People act as if there is an obvious way to encode the concept of a catch in the rule book and the NFL is choosing to ignore it for reasons unknown. But when you press these people on what a catch should be, the answer usually boils down to “common sense” or “what looks like a catch.” I suppose you could put that in the rule book, but it probably would not be a very good idea, if you value consistency in refereeing. Seriously, if you were in change of writing the catch rule, what would it be?
- One thing the NFL is trying to avoid in being so pedantic about what is and is not a catch, particularly when a receiver is going to the ground, is a bunch of new fumble scenarios. If the rule is that a player only has to have possession of the ball and have two feet down, then what happens when a receiver jumps up catches the ball, touches both feet to the ground, immediately buckles, hits the ground, and the ball pops out. Is that a catch and fumble? If there was no defender on the Dez Bryant play would that have been a fumble? And if so, is that an improvement? Do we want to see a bunch more receiver fumbles caused by the ground?
- The NFL decided against expanding replay to cover penalties. I’m OK with this, but I would rather they cover some penalties — not holding or illegal contact, but more objectively defined things like facemask, horse collar tackle, and helmet-to-helmet hits. I’d also make it so that a ref could call a penalty on replay if it effects the outcome of the replay decision. For example, if a runner is called down by contact before fumbling, and the defense challenges, and it is clear that the runner was not down by contact, but it’s also clear that the defender grabbed the runner’s facemask, the referee should be able to call this penalty, instead of awarding the ball to the defense.
- The last thing I’ll say about rule changes and replay is that no what the NFL does they will not get it right. This is because it is literally impossible to get it right, because two people can see the exact same event and think significantly different things happened. (You can call this the tan-and-white-or-blue-and-black-dress phenomenon.) That’s just how people’s eyes work. There are plays that clearly go one way, and plays that clearly go the other way, and there are a whole lot in some nebulous middle. And for all those in-between plays, there are some, like the Dez Braynt non-catch, that even in super slow motion, from ten different hi-def camera angles, it’s still not obvious what the right call is. For a such play, I think neither team has a legitimate complaint if the call does not go their way. Sometimes the light reflecting off the replay screen, being absorbed by the official’s retinas, just doesn’t bounce your way. That’s how it goes.