Week 7: Seattle @ San Francisco — Must Win

Short entry today.  The Thursday game moves the deadline for posting up a few days, and also there is not much to say about the team right now.  Or, rather, there is a lot to say, but I just don’t have the energy to say it.  The last two weeks — this whole season, really — has just been a series of body blows, and I need a moment to catch my breath as a fan.

The Seahawks have lost four games in which they have had fourth quarter leads.  They are mostly playing well (not great, just well), but not winning.  The schedule has been brutal, but it softens up a bit the next few weeks.  Tomorrow night they play literally the worst team in the league (by DVOA).  A torrid winning streak is obviously still possible for the ‘Hawks, but realistically it needs to start this week.  This is as close to a must-win game as any game can be in Week 7.  If Seattle loses in San Francisco tomorrow, well, better hope your fantasy football team is still in it.

Week 6: Carolina @ Seattle — Seahawks Still a Good Team, But It Might Not Matter

The Seattle Seahawks, as you know, have not had an easy go of it to start the season.  A big part of this is the schedule — it’s been brutal and it doesn’t get much easier.  The ‘Hawks have already played two of the top five teams in the NFL this season by DVOA (Green Bay and Cincinnati), and they have three more games against the other three teams in the top-five still on the docket (two against Arizona, one against Pittsburgh).  Not only that, but they’ve played their two easiest opponents at home (both of whom they beat), and their three hardest opponents on the road (all of whom they lost to).  And this weekend’s game will be no cakewalk either.  The Seahawks do have a home game (and they get Marshawn Lynch back, although Thomas Rawls has more than held his own in Beast Mode’s stead), but it is against an undefeated Carolina Panthers squad, who is coming in with the team’s fifth best defense by DVOA and the 11th best team overall.

Amazingly in all five of Seattle’s games, they’ve held a lead in the fourth quarter at some point.  The pessimist’s response to this is, “yeah, but they lost three of them;” the optimist’s response is, “yeah, but they have to be good to build those leads in the first place.”  I tend to lean more toward latter.  I still think the Seahawks are good.  They are the same basic team who nearly won the Super Bowl last season; they still rank in the top-10 in DVOA; and they have a decent SRS (Simple Rating System) according to Pro Football Reference.  A lot has been made of their recent collapses — but is there really something to this, or is it just the noise of playing a lot of close games against good teams in the NFL?  Again I tend to lean more toward the latter.

But it might not matter, anyway.  In the NFL, a loss is a loss, no matter how good you are.  There is no strength of schedule adjustment, and there aren’t dozens of games left to get back into it, like there are at this point in the baseball or basketball season.  The ‘Hawks have 11 games left, and they already have three losses.  This would put them behind the 8-ball no matter how good they are.  In fact, Football Outsiders gives them a less than 50-50 shot of making the playoffs.

Of course, as many others have pointed out, this is almost exactly where they were last year too — even the opponent is the same – and they subsequently went on a roll and wrapped up a playoffs spot by Week 14.  (In fact, they eventually grabbed the number one seed.)  But just because it happened last year, doesn’t mean it will happen this year.  But it doesn’t mean it won’t either.  The Seahawks could still be a contender.  Or they could be a good team, for whom it just doesn’t happen.  We see it almost every year.  This Sunday will go long way in determining which one it is.

Week 5: Seattle @ Cincinnati — The Blown-Call Conundrum

When the team you root for wins a game, in no small part due to apparent referee error, how should one respond?  By my count there are five ways:

  1. Deny a rule infraction happened at all.
  2. Concede that a rule infraction happened, but contend that it didn’t materially affect the outcome of the game.
  3. Concede that a rule infraction happened, but the rule, as currently defined, is a stupid rule that is not consistently enforced.
  4. Concede that a rule infraction happened, smile and say to yourself, “Whew … we got away with one there.  It’s not [my team's] fault the ref blew the call.”
  5. Concede that a rule infraction happened, feel guilty about it, bury the feeling, and then overcompensate by denying the rule infraction happened at all.

It’s a cycle.  Fans go from 1 to 5 and back to 1 again.  You can see it in the K.J. Wright tipped ball brouhaha that erupted Monday night.  It goes something like this:

Wright didn’t bat the ball; he tapped it, and the referee made the judgement call that it wasn’t done intentionally, so no rule was broken.  OK, he technically, by the letter of the law, broke the rule, but that ball was going out of bounds anyway, and no Lion was within ten yards of it, so it doesn’t really matter.  And anyway it’s a dumb rule, and it’s often not called when the punter or quarterback does it, and the NFL rule book is so full of silly arcana that not even the announcers or the coaches can keep up with it all.  Plus, every team has bad calls go against them at some point, the Seahawks just happened to be on the right side of it this time, and let’s focus on the great play by Kam, anyway.  But it does suck for Lions fans… But the referee was right there, and if he said it wasn’t intentional, then that’s what the ruling is…

And so on.

Personally, I’m currently stuck somewhere between 3 and 4.  I do think the Seahawks “got away with one,” but cosmically I’m OK with this because bad calls happen all the time, and in the long run they completely even out.  (The Seahawks have “Batgate” and the “Fail Mary” on their side, but they have Super Bowl XL on the opposite side, which pretty much outweighs, like, 20 regular season game-deciding bad calls.)  Also, the rule is kind of a dumb rule, because of its strictness.  I think a clause should be added that allows for the case when no player of the opposite team is in the immediate area.  This would make things even more subjective, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because it allows the referee some leeway to make the “human call” — to obey the spirit, not the letter, of the law.

I mean, think about what would have happened if the referee had penalized Wright.  Then people would be complaining about how an obscure rule spoiled an amazing play by Kam Chancellor, and that, as a football fan, there is nothing worse than watching the referees decide the game instead of the players.  And it would have been controversial for a different reason, like Dez Bryant‘s non-catch last year and the infamous “Tuck Rule” play way back when.  The truth is, when you have all these technical rules, like the NFL does, you put yourself in a position, like Monday night where your damned if you do penalize (turning football into a battle of the rule book, instead of an on-field game) and damned if you don’t (not enforcing the rules properly).

Instead of striving to make all the rules more well-defined.  I think the NFL should go the other way and make some of them less well-defined and thus give the referee’s leeway so that they aren’t backed into a corner of having to make a ruling on a technicality that is going to be unsatisfying to 99% of the disinterested football-watching audience.  But I also think all plays even “judgement” plays should be reviewable.  (Give referees more say, but also give them more tools to get it right, in their view.)  And I think that fans and the media need to chill and realize that no matter what system you have in place there are always going to be controversial calls; people are always going to think the refs got it wrong, because there are always going to be plays that are so close that it is literally impossible to say with certainty exactly what happened, even after watching the replay repeatedly in super slow motion — and we know different people can see the exact same thing very differently.  (Is the dress black and blue or is it orange and white?)  That’s human nature, and the NFL can’t account for that in its rule book.

Anyway, that’s my spiel on rules.  As for the game this Sunday against the Bengals, it will be interesting.  Cincinnati is really well-rounded and they’ve played terrifically thus far.  Their offense has been playing out of its collective gourd, especially the passing offense, which is, literally, the best in the league according to net-yards-per-average and DVOA.  On defense, they’ve also been good, but not as good.  Teams have been able to move the ball on them, but that hasn’t always translated into points.  Thus far the Bengals have clearly been better than the Seahawks this year, and this game is in Cincinnati; they are the definite favorites.

With that said, “thus far” is not that long.  It is well within reason that regression to the mean is taking place and both the Seahawks and the Bengals are roughly the same teams they were last year.  If that’s the case, the ‘Hawks have a good chance to “steal” one on the road.

Week 4: Detroit @ Seattle — Seahawks Set Weird Record

If you have a headache, a bad one, you might pop an Aleve or two.  And you will probably start to feel a bit better — not completely better, the traces of the headache will probably still be there, but maybe the unbearable pounding will stop and let you get on with your normal life again.  That’s my analogy for last Sunday’s Seahawks game: We fans came into it with a collective headache having watched two tough losses the previous two weeks, and we needed an anodyne to make us feel better.  A 23-0 shutout victory over the Bears mostly did the trick, but it did not completely wipe way the symptoms.  When Jimmy Clausen is at quarterback, and he is throwing to players you didn’t even know were still in the league (Hey, Zach Miller!), no margin of victory can completely wipe out the effects of an 0-2 start.

But the defense tried.  They could not have played much better than they did.  Yes, a few more sacks and a few turnovers would have been welcome, but it is tough to achieve those things when the opposing offense is more conservative than Barry Goldwater.  Despite trailing almost the entire game, the Bears ran the ball more than they threw it, and even when they passed, it was often a check-down or a throw-away because Clausen was being pressured.  (Despite not being a big-blitz D, the ‘Hawks wisely brought the heat in several obvious passing situations, knowing that Clausen couldn’t handle it.)  It was as if the Bears were resigned to losing in a shutout and just wanted to keep the score under 30.  (So, hey, success!)  They literally punted every drive, including once on 4th-and-1, near midfield, down by 20.  (Commentator Phil Simms praised the move, because he is lousy at his job.)  But I suppose this is not very surprising, being that the Bears are coached by John Fox, the same man who punted the ball from inside his opponents’ 40-yard-line, down 29 points, in the Super Bowl.

As it turns out, punting on every single drive is a very rare occurrence.  How rare?  Well, it’s the only time it has ever happened in recorded NFL history.  I queried the Pro Football Reference database for games in which a team finished with zero points, zero turnovers, and zero missed field goals.  Fifteen such games were returned.  Of these games, we have play-by-play game logs for six of them (going back to 1994).  Using this data we can see that only the Bears punted every possession.  In all the other games, a team either turned the ball over on downs at least once, or had a drive stop due to the end of the first half or the end of the game.  Unfortunately, without play-by-play data, we cannot know what happened in the pre-1994 games.  Maybe in one of these old games a team punted every drive, but maybe not.  Since we don’t know, it is fair to say the Seahawks just set the record for highest percentage of an opponents’ drives that end in a punt — 100%.

Interestingly, of the six games for which we do have play-by-play game logs, the Seahawks were involved in half of them.  Other than last Sunday’s game, the Seahawks forced the Raiders to punt on 10 of 13 possessions in a 2006 game, with the other three possessions ending on a turnover on downs and the ends of both halves.  Then in 2011, the Steelers pulled a similar trick against the Seahawks.

Being that an all-punt game has happened only once in (at least) the past 25 years, it is unlikely to happen again this Monday night when the Detroit Lions come to The Clink.  But it would not be shocking if the game was a defensive-minded “pitchers’ duel.”  Of course, it would not be shocking if it was a barn burner (like Week 1 in St. Louis) either.  It is tough to know exactly what to expect from the Seahawks and Lions at this point.

With last week’s dominance over the Bears, the Seahawks are inching closer to “top-10 defense” status again.  (According to Football Outsiders, Seattle ranks 11th in defensive efficiency after using their DAVE metric to adjust for the strength of opposing offenses.)  The Lions have been poor on offense this season, which actually is not that out of character for them.  They weren’t good last year either.  It’s weird that an offense with Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate can be below average, but I guess that’s what happens when the run game is horrible (as a team the Lions are averaging under 3.0 yards-per-carry) and the quarterback turns the ball over too much.  Also, Megatron, as dangerous as he is, hasn’t been Megatron in over a year.  Anyway you slice it, the Seahawks have a big advantage when the Lions have the ball.

And they have a pretty big advantage on the other side of the ball too.  Neither the Seahawks offense nor the Lions defense has played up to the standards it set last year.  But whereas the Seahawks O has fallen from a top five unit to middle of the pack, the Lions D has gone from a top three unit to one well below average.  And I think there is more reason to be optimistic about the Seahawks offense than there is to be about the Lions defense.  Last year was something of an anomaly for the Lions D, so the “Plexiglas Principle” might be in play, even before considering the massive downgrade on the D-line from Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley to Haloti Ngata and whoever else is there now.  It seems reasonable that the Lions D just isn’t any good anymore — especially if DeAndre Levy is still out and Ezekiel Ansah doesn’t suit (both are questionable).

As for the Seahawks offense, they have not looked great — the offensive line is a mess and Marshawn Lynch suddenly looks old (or perhaps just hurt) — but I don’t think they are as bad as they have been.  For one thing, I expect the O-line to play better with more reps together under Tom Cable.  Also, I think if the Seahawks know Beastmode is not in full effect they will game plan better.  (In Green Bay, the offense opened up once they stopped force-feeding Lynch and turned it over to Russell Wilson, and Wilson took it upon himself to keep the ball more.)  Lastly, although much was made of the paltry six points scored in the first half against Chicago, the ‘Hawks really hurt themselves with two big drops — one by Ricardo Lockette and one by Thomas Rawls.  And they had a bit of bad luck, in that their best drive of the half came at the very end and resulted in two rushed goal-line passes and then just a field goal.  If the Seahawks score a touchdown there and catch one of those dropped passes, it’s likely 14-0 or 13-0 at the half, and nobody thinks anything of it.

The last thing worth mentioning about this game is that the Seahawks could also have a big advantage on special teams.  Most of that is “Rocket” Tyler Lockett, who looks legit.  Overall, the Seahawks are the better team in all three phases of the game, and they are at home.  And still this one makes me nervous for some reason.  Let’s hope my trepidation is unfounded and the ‘Hawks win big again.  2-2 with two straight blowout victories is not a bad place to be.  At this point, it certainly beats any alternative.

Week 3: Chicago @ Seattle — Do Good Teams Lose Consecutive Games? (And Welcome Back Kam)

If your favorite football team gets off to an 0-2 start, and your are feeling glum, what are some things that could make you feel better about the situation.  One is if the losses were competitive road games against difficult opponents.  Another is if a key player who was not on the team during the losses is returning.  Another is if the schedule gets easier for a prolonged stretch — especially if the very next game is at home, against a below-average team, with a backup quarterback who is 1-10 as a starter.

In related news, the Seahawks lost their first two games of the season, but they did hold second half leads in both games, one against their kryptonite Rams (in St. Louis), and the other against perhaps the best team in the conference, with perhaps the best quarterback in the league.  Also, Kam Chancellor has ended his holdout.  And the ‘Hawks next two games are against teams with a combine 0-4 record.  This Sunday they face the dreadful Chicago Bears, who will be starting Jimmy Clausen at quarterback — a man whose only win as a starter came five years ago.  Well what do you know …

Another thing to keep in mind is that although the first two games seem special, they are, in actuality, not really any different than any other two games of the season.  And every season at least one Super Bowl contender loses consecutive games at some point.  What follows is a (very incomplete) sample of great teams who lost two straight games.  This does not really tells us anything about the 2015 Seahawks, but it does add a bit of perspective, and more to the point it is fun to look back at this kind of stuff.

Can you name the three teams who started 0-2 and won the Super Bowl?

No?  Okay, I will tell you who they are.

Dallas Cowboys, 1993This was the year Emmitt Smith held out the first two games, and the Cowboys replaced him (or, rather, tried to replace him) with a scrub named Derrick Lassic.  Things did not go well, as the Cowboys got whupped by a bad Washington team in D.C., and then lost a close home game to their Super Bowl opponent of the recent past and the recent future, the Buffalo Bills.  Jerry Jones wisely caved and paid Emmitt what he wanted.  See, holdouts can work — you just have to be one of the greatest players in NFL history, that’s all.

New England Patriots, 2001This was, of course, Tom Brady‘s first year as a starter.  After losing with Drew Bledsoe under center to a mediocre Bengals team in Week 1 (Jon Kitna!), the Patriots lost again the next week to the Jets.  They also, famously, lost their starting quarterback that game, thus opening the door for the greatest and most devious coach-quarterback tandem in NFL: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, a.k.a., Emperor Palpatine and Anakin Skywalker.  (I’m pretty sure Darth Vader would support Donald Trump too.)

New York Giants, 2008:  The ’08 Giants very nearly started the season 0-3.  After losing their first two games to the Cowboys and the Packers (two teams they would later beat in the playoffs), New York trailed the Redskins 17-3 at halftime in Week 3.  They rallied to take a 24-17 lead and then held on to win on a goal-line stand that was half good defense, half botched offensive execution.  (Washington spiked the ball on 1st-and-goal from the 1, despite having 0:58 on the clock.  Then after an incomplete pass, Ledell Betts — not starting tailback Clinton Portis — was stuffed twice, running off left tackle.)  Of course, the Giants went on to beat the perfect Patriots in the most boring great Super Bowl ever.  It was 57:30 of tedium follow by 2:30 of glorious excitement.

Can you name the one team who started 0-2 and lost in the Super Bowl?

New England Patriots, 1996:  Remember the pre-Brady/Belichick Patriots team that made that one Super Bowl in the ’90s?  They were actually better than a lot of people remember and played better in the Super Bowl than most people thought they would.  The ’96 Packers were one of the great teams of the Super Bowl Era (very comparable to the ’13 Seahawks), and the Patriots hung with them for much the game despite ultimately losing by 14 points (the exact spread).  This certainly seemed unlikely when the Patriots began the ’96 season with consecutive losses to Dan Marino‘s Miami Dolphins and Jim Kelly‘s Buffalo Bills.  Sure, those are two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, but they were a combined age of 71 years old at the time — which, in quarterback years, is actually 216 years old.

Who was the best team to lose consecutive games at any point in the season?

That would probably be the aforementioned ’96 Packers.  After starting the season 8-1, the Packers lost consecutive road games in Kansas City and Dallas.  The Chiefs were a pretty mediocre team (interestingly, they were starting Steve Bono over Rich Gannon), but they did have Neil Smith and Derrick Thomas upfront on defense.  The Cowboys were the defending Super Bowl champions, and they would have played the Packers in the NFC Championship Game later in the season, had they not been beaten in the divisional round by the weirdly good Kerry Collins-led Carolina Panthers.  The ’96 Packers were led, of course, by MVP Brett Favre, but they were arguably even better defensively than they were offensively.  Reggie White, Santana Dotson, and Sean Jones wrought havoc upfront, and their two outstanding safeties — former Seahawk Eugene Robinson and All-Pro LeRoy Butler — anchored the secondary.  They ranked first in the NFL in both scoring offense and scoring defense, which is pretty remarkable, if you think about it.

Who was the best Seahawks team to lose consecutive games at some point in the season?

Tie: Seahawks 2012, Seahawks 2014
Interesting question: Who was better the ’12 team or the ’14 team?  Last year’s team had a better record and made it further (one-yard from a Super Bowl victory, if you forgot), but the ’12 squad was superior by pretty much every other metric, including scoring margin, Pro Football Reference’s simple rating system, and Football Outsider’s DVOA.  So, let’s call it a tie.

As good as they were, both teams dropped consecutive games at some point during their respective seasons.  In 2012, the ‘Hawks lost to the 49ers in Week 7 in a brutally ugly 13-6 affair, in which Russell Wilson went 9 for 23 with no touchdowns and a pick.  And then the next week, they lost a heartbreaker in Detroit, 28-24, when the Lions astonishingly converted 12 of 16 first downs, and scored 21 points, on third down.  Last year, of course, the Seahawks lost to the Cowboys and Rams in consecutive games to fall to 3-3 after six weeks.

The two other Seahawks Super Bowl teams, the ’05 and ’13 squads, didn’t lost twice in a row all season.  The only other really good team in franchise history is the ’84 ‘Hawks, who finished the season 12-4.  They did lose consecutive games, and they turned out to be very costly.  After going 12-2, the ’84 Seahawks bungled the final two games of the season, losing badly to the mediocre Chiefs on the road and then to the powerhouse Broncos in the Kingdome.  This dropped Seattle to a game behind Denver in the AFC West standings, which meant instead of a first-round bye and a home game against the 9-7 Steelers, the Seahawks had to play a wild card game (which they won), and then take on the 14-2 Dolphins in Miami.  The Dolphins won handily.

But the moral of this story is not that the ’84 Seahawks faded down the stretch.  It is that good teams lose consecutive games sometimes; sometimes even at the beginning of the season.  Are the ’15 Seahawks a good team?  I think so, but I’m not completely sure.  We will find out just a little bit more this week.  That is, unless they lose, and then I think we know the answer for sure.  And it is not one Seahawks fans want to hear.

Week 2: Seattle @ Green Bay — It’s Not Time to Panic Until the Seahawks Lose to the Bears at Home

If you told me before season started that the Seattle Seahawks were going to go 14-2, and asked me to pick out the two losses, without knowing the order in which the games were played, I probably would say they will lose to the Packers on the road and to the Rams on the road.  It just so happens that those are the first two games of the season.  Due to nothing more than unfortunate scheduling, 0-2 was a very really proposition last Friday; a week later, it’s a likely scenario.

The Seahawks did not play well on Sunday in St. Louis.  They did not play terribly.  They nearly beat a (likely) very good team on the road, but they seemed lucky to even be in the game.  I remember in the 2013 NFC Championship Game, when Colin Kaepernick was driving his Niners squad for the would-be game-winning touchdown, I had absolute confidence that he was not going to do it.  I knew the Seahawks defense was going to prevail in the end.  On Sunday, I had the exact opposite feeling.  Even when the Seahawks took the lead on Carrie Williams’ strip-sack touchdown, I knew the Rams were going to score the game-tying touchdown.  It’s not ESP; it’s just E — eyes.  I watched the previous 56 minutes of the game.  As weird as it is to write, by the time the Rams’ final regulation drive rolled around, I believed more in Nick Foles, Benny Cunningham, Jared Cook, and Tavon Austin than I did in Michael Bennett, Bobby Wagner, Richard Sherman, and Earl Thomas.  I had to run an errand and was not able to watch overtime, and I was not the slightest bit bummed about it.  Things played out just as I would have guessed.

But… it is only Week 1.  The sample of 2015 Seahawks games is comprised of exactly one element.  This does not tell us much.  The Seahawks have had games in which they have played relatively poorly the past two years (sometimes they win these games; sometimes they don’t) and yet they are still the two-time defending NFC champion.  We simply do not know if the 2015 Seahawks we’ve seen so far — the one whose defense routinely gives up yardage in 20-yard chunks, and whose O-line is reminiscent of swinging saloon doors — is the new normal, or if last Sunday’s game was, by and large, an aberration.

And we probably will not know much more Monday morning either.  A game against Aaron Rodgers, a.k.a. The G.O.A.T. (Greatest Offensive Athlete Today), is not a great measuring stick.  The Seahawks could look bad again Sunday night and still be a pretty good team.  It could just be a scheduling quirk that the two worst games they play all season are the first two.  It would be like, if in 2013, they played the Colts and the Cardinals (at home) in Weeks 1 and 2.

And maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here.  The second game of the season has yet to be played.  The Seahawks are not 0-2 yet and might not ever be.  Sure, they are underdogs in Green Bay, and none of the so-called experts think they will win (except one — yay, Eric Allen!), but is it going to be that shocking if the team that was one play away from winning back-to-back Super Bowls wins a Week 2 regular season game?  The Seahawks didn’t suddenly lose all the players that made them great last year (well, except Kam Chancellor — have you heard, he’s holding out?).  This is a golden opportunity for Seattle to “steal” one, and there is non-trivial chance it will happen.

So perhaps the ‘Hawks win Sunday night; perhaps — probably, rather — they do not.  Either way, I’m not throwing in the towel on the 2015 season.  Winning the Super Bowl after starting 0-2 is not common (for obvious reasons), but it does happen.  Regardless of Sunday night’s outcome it is too early to panic.  Now, if they also lose in Week 3 to the Bears at home … Well, we shall cross that bridge if we come to it.  Hopefully we don’t.

Week 1: Seattle @ St. Louis — Everybody Loves Kam (But Nobody’s Backing Him)

Seahawks fans everywhere let out a little exacerbated grumble when they saw the first game on the 2015 schedule.  A win is always better than a loss, but this is especially true in Week 1; it’s such a let down to have Opening Day Sunday spoiled by an 0-1 start.  The St. Louis Rams are just such a team that could spoil the return of football for Seattle fans.  They have played the Seahawks tough every time the two teams have squared off the past three seasons, and they have actually beaten them at home in two of the last three meetings.  Not only that, but the St. Louis defensive line, already one of the best in football, with the outstanding inside-outside duo of Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn, got seemingly stronger with the addition of Nick Fairley.  We’ve all seen how this can go, and there is a nontrivial chance it involves Marshawn Lynch getting stacked up at the line and Russell Wilson running for his life.

And yet the game — whether the Seahawks win or lose, how their jimmy-rigged O-line matches up against the Rams stout front seven, what type of offense we will see with Jimmy Graham now in the mix — is sitting on the back burner for me at the moment.  I’m sure when kickoff actually roles around I’ll be quite into all this stuff.  But right now, the focus of my Seahawks energy, like everybody else’s, is on trying to answer one question: Seriously, what’s the deal with Kam Chancellor?

I know everybody is cloyed to the gills with this story, so I’ll give my two cents on Kam, but keep it (relatively) brief.  Judging by the comments from fans I’ve been reading online, my feeling on the matter is in step with the consensus of the general Seattle-sports-fan public: I love Kam, but I’m not backing him.  He should be out there.  He should be honoring his contract.

Enter the comments-board contrarian to pose to me the question, “Why should Kam have to honor his end of the deal, when the Seahawks don’t have to honor theirs?”  And my response is: The Seahawks do have to honor their end of the contract.  Of course they do.  The Seahawks must do everything they agreed to do and pay everything they agreed to pay as stipulated in the deal.  It is just that the deal, like many in the NFL, is a favorable one to the team.

But Kam knew that when he signed it, just two years ago.  He knew all the terms.  There is nothing secret about it.  If he wanted more guaranteed money, he should have demanded it in 2013.  An analogy is a baseball player signing a contract that gives him one year guaranteed at a high salary, with three club-option years at a moderate price after that.  If he plays really well the previous year, the team is going to pick up his option for the next year.  If he doesn’t, or he gets hurt, they won’t.  It is an extremely club-friendly deal.  But would anybody think this is unfair to the player, if he knowingly signed such a contract?  Would anybody say the team is not honoring their side of the commitment by not picking up an option?

Admittedly, this analogy is not completely apt, because a baseball player probably would not sign such a deal, because the market and the collective bargain agreement in MLB is different than in the NFL.  But that’s not really an issue between Kam and the Seahawks; it’s an issue between the NFLPA and the NFL owners.  I’m a pro-labor guy.  I believe football players should have better contracts — fully guaranteed money, especially in the case of injury, should be the norm.  The union should absolutely fight for this during their next big negotiations with management.  But it’s a bit much to expect the Seahawks to compensate for the unfairness of the CBA with each individual contract.

But that’s essentially what Kam Chancellor is asking.  As Dan Hellie said: “He basically said — ‘everyone knows how these deals work.’ If a player doesn’t perform, they let him go or ask him to take a pay cut, if he doesn’t take a pay cut, then they let him go. If he outperforms the deal, he feels like he should get paid. ”

But that’s not how things really work.  In fact, what Kam wants — a reworked deal with three years left on his contract — is, to my knowledge, unprecedented in the Pete Carroll-John Schneider era of Seahawks history.  Kam is also suggesting that he was under the impression when he signed his deal that it was, in effect, temporary, and that the ‘Hawks would be open to renegotiating it in short order — that there was a wink-wink aspect to his contract.  (Again from Hellie: “He’s in his prime, and feels that he deserves to get paid. He also feels like he did the team a solid by signing his current deal as early as he did.”)  This strikes me as naive to the point of incredulity.  It just doesn’t make sense that a player would sign a four-year deal, with the implicit expectation of renegotiating it after two years.  He would just sign a shorter deal instead.  I think Kam has a genuine case of buyer’s remorse and is rationalizing it after the fact.

So now nobody knows when we will see Kam Chancellor again in the Blue and Highlighter Green.  It certainly will not be Week 1, which is a shame, as the Rams might be a legit contender this season.  They come in ranked as the fifth best team in the league according to Football Outsiders’ projections.  If this seems high to you, keep in mind that it is very similar to where the Panthers were two years ago, and by the end of the season, FO was proven right.  In fact, that Carolina game is a great comp for this one — a season-opening, 10:00 PDT game, against an unheralded, up-and-coming squad with a shaky offense and a mighty defense.  Well, hopefully the result goes the same way for Seattle fans.  Let’s say it does.  My prediction: Seahawks 12, Rams 7.

The Now-and-Later Logic of the Seahawks’ Roster Moves

Over the past five years, the Seahawks, under Pete Carroll and John Schneider, have proven that they are a well-run sports franchise.  Being as such, they are ever mindful of building a team that will be competitive not only this season, but for all seasons in the medium-term future.  One of the biggest myths in sports is the “rebuilding myth” — that is, the notion that the only way to be good now is to sacrifice the future and the only way to be good in the future is to sacrifice now (“rebuild”).

In actuality, well-run sports franchises are constantly building for the present and the future.  Some examples of this in the NFL are the Ravens, Steelers, Packers, and Patriots.  Sure, they have their relative peaks and valleys, but for the most part they have been consistently good for the past 15 years, despite turning over their rosters almost 100%.  On the flip side of that coin, for how many years have the Raiders been “rebuilding?”  How many preseasons in a row is it that we’ve heard buzz about the Rams being the “break out team?”  It’s not about rebuilding; it’s about reloading on a continuous basis.

With that said, well-run franchises also know when to emphasize the future over the present and vice versa.  And this explains the Seahawks’ signing Fred Jackson and trading Christine Michael for next to nothing.  They are emphasizing — emphasizing, not sacrificing — the now over the future.  The Seahawks offense is heavily dependent on a strong running game, and that running game, because the offensive line is shoddy, is, in turn, heavily dependent on the running back.  When Marshawn Lynch is healthy and Beast Mode is cranked up this is a fine tier of dependencies, and the offense zooms.  When his backups come in or he’s having an off night, it isn’t, and the offense typically stagnates.

The drop off in rushing efficiency between Lynch and Robert Turbin over the past few years is staggeringly large, and Turbin is the next best running back on the Seahawks after Lynch.  Or at least he was, before he got hurt.  His bum ankle meant that Christine Michael — an ever “promising,” 2013 second-round pick, who has shown next to nothing on the field the past two seasons and who could not beat out Turbin for playing time — would be the no. 2 running back on the depth chart.  Being that the Seahawks are one of the preseason favorites to win the Super Bowl, this would not be a prudent way to man the running back position.  Fred Jackson is a crucial pick up for the Seahawks, because it gives them a reliably good back-up/change-of-pace running back to spell Marshawn Lynch.  Michael make senses as a backup for a team like, say, the Jaguars, who could wait (even longer) to see if he ever pans out, or for a team like the Cowboys who are taking the throw-spaghetti-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach to the running back position.  He does not make sense for the Seahawks, who have an established alpha back and just need a trustworthy second-in-command.

Of course, there is a chance Christine Michael develops into a star.  As Seahawks fans, we’ve seen it before.  You might remember another Seattle running back, who flashed promise, but had fumbling problems and didn’t play much, and then was traded for a sou before becoming one of the best backs in the game.  (I’m talking about Ahman Green, if you couldn’t tell.)  But that doesn’t really matter to the Seahawks right now, because they don’t think Michael can play right now, and if he can’t play right now, then he can’t take up a roster spot.  The ‘Hawks can’t wait for him to “get it.”  Not when they have a good chance to win the NFC for the third year in a row, and not when they have the opportunity to bring in a guy like Jackson, who already “got it” a long time ago.

The trade for Kelcie McCray, on the other hand, is a whole other matter.  That came about because Kam Chancellor is forcing the Seahawks’ hand at safety.  I love Kam as much as the next guy, but it is difficult to take his side on this one.  (I agree with the general sentiment expressed in this article.)  I suspect the Seahawks are going to test his resolve by seeing if he is really willing to kiss hundreds of thousands — millions perhaps — of dollars good bye on principle.  If he is, well, then it might be time to do the previously unthinkable and trade him for draft picks.  If Kam Chancellor holds out much into the regular season, then it might be time to emphasize the future — a different future — at strong safety.

Most Iconic Plays Involving the Seahawks By Franchise

This post is based on a post on FootballPerspective.com that is based on a slideshow at SportingNews.com.  So it’s a retread of a retread — but with a twist. FP and SN give the most iconic play in franchise history for each team in the NFL; I do the same with the added criterion that each play must involve the Seahawks.  So another way to look at this list is that it is an approximation of the 31 most iconic plays in Seahawks history.  (1 is the most iconic, 31 is the least iconic.)  It’s not an exact list, because every other team in the NFL must be represented exactly once.  It’s kinda like how the MLB All-Star team is not truly the best players in the league, because every team gets an All-Star.  There is always a Matt Young in there.

OK, I think you got the ground rules.  Let’s get to it.

 31.  Jacksonville Jaguars: Mark Brunell 39-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Smith (1996)
I literally could not remember a single play between the Seahawks and the Jaguars, which explains why this is at the bottom of the list.  However, according to the annals of Pro Football Reference, in Week 16 of the 1996 season, the Jags narrowly beat the Seahawks after scoring in the fourth quarter on a Brunell-to-Smith strike.  Since the Jags eked their way into the playoffs that season, and then unexpectedly made it to the AFC Championship Game, it was a pretty big play — just not one many people remember today.

30.  Cleveland Browns: Phil Dawson Game-Winning Field Goal (2007)
This was a quietly great game from the not-so-distant pass.  Both teams finished the year 10-6 and were very evenly matched.  Dawson’s field goal in OT won it for the Browns.

29.  Tennessee Titans: Seahawks Botched Field Goal Returned for a Touchdown (2013)
It didn’t matter much because the Seahawks won anyway, but the most memorable play in Titans-Seahawks lore is this botched field goal, in which Chris Maragos was holding (poorly) because Jon Ryan was kicking because Steven Hauschka got hurt.  It’s worth noting, however, that if we open things up to include Houston Oilers games, then there was a sneaky good playoff game that ended with a field goal in overtime.  And also this memorable ending.

28.  Baltimore Ravens: Matt Hasselbeck Gets Stuffed on 4th Down After Referees Mismanage Clock (2003)
I watched this one live and remember it well — super exciting.  The Ravens beat the ‘Hawks in a barn burner with some help from the referees.  Late in the fourth quarter, with the Seahawks trying to bleed the clock and hang on to a three-point lead, the referees threw a penalty flag on the Ravens that they subsequently picked up.  However, they forgot to start the clock again, in effect giving the Ravens an extra timeout.  Hasselbeck was then stuffed on a 4th-and-inches sneak, leading to a game-tying field by Matt Stover, who then hit the game-winner in overtime.  But it never could have happened if not for the refs blunder.

27.  Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Steven Hauschka’s Game-Winning Field Goal (2013)
That time the Seahawks almost lost to an 0-8 team the year they won the Super Bowl.  Hauschka’s field goal in OT completed a crazy 21-point comeback.  Here are the highlights.

26.  Detroit Lions: Titus Young Scores Game-Winner (2012)
A good back-and-forth game effectively comes to an end when Mathew Stafford finds Titus Young Sr. for a short touchdown strike.  (Game highlights.)

25.  Buffalo Bills: Russell Wilson Scores First (Second and Third) Rushing Touchdown of Career (2012)
Russell Wilson ran for four touchdowns his rookie season; three of them came in one game against the Bills (Wilson highlights), when the ‘Hawks put up 50 for the second week in a row.

24.  San Diego Chargers: Earl Thomas Picks Off Philip Rivers to Preserve Victory (2010)
This was Pete Carroll’s first major upset.  In Week 3, 2010, the ‘Hawks beat the Chargers (13-3 the previous year) on the strength of two Leon Washington kick-return touchdowns.  But the most memorable play was rookie Earl Thomas’ game-sealing interception.  It was his second INT of the game.

23.  Indianapolis Colts: Blocked Field Turns the Tides (2013)
The Sehawks were poised to roll to their fifth straight win to open the season.  But this blocked field goal turned the tides, and they lost to the Colts.

22.  New York Giants: Brandon Browner Pick-Sixes Eli Manning Capping Upset Victory on the Road (2011)
That pretty much says it all.  Here’s the play.

21.  Philadelphia Eagles: Andre Dyson Caps Off Colossal Beatdown With Second Touchdown of the Game (2005)
Monday Night Football in the cold December Philadelphia weather.  Seahawks 42, Eagles 0.  Seahawks score three defensive touchdowns, including an interception and a fumble return by Andre Dyson.  It was not a good night for the home team or their fans.  (Unfortunately, I can’t find any video from this game — just the box score.)

20.  St. Louis Rams: Rams Trick Seahawks (Again) to Effectively Seal Upset (2014)
I’m sure you remember this one, because it happened less than a year ago.  You can take your pick as to which special teams trick play is more iconic.  I’m going with the fake punt, because it was the icer and also it was the gutsier call.  If you want to go with the fake return, because it was more creative, I won’t object.

19.  Minnesota Vikings: Shaun Alexander Scores Fifth Touchdown of the First Half (2002)
Alexander was pretty good when he was on.  And in no game was he more on than in this Sunday Night Football game against the Vikings, when he scored five touchdowns before halftime.  (Remarkably he scored three in the final three minutes of the half.)

18.  Arizona Cardinals: Beast Quake Junior (2014)
The Seahawks crushed quashed any dreams the Cardinals had of making a Super Bowl run with a 35-6 ass kicking.  The marque play was “Beast Quake Jr.,” but let’s not forget Wilson’s shimmy-shake stiff arm either.  “Magic!”

17.  Houston Texans: Richard Sherman Ties, Game Loses Shoe (2013)
The all-time great Seattle D got weirdly abused by Matt Schaub, but the ‘Hawks won in the end, because in the end Matt Schaub was still Matt Schaub.  And Richard Sherman is really good.

16.  Chicago Bears: Robbie Gould‘s Overtime Kick Dethrones NFC Champs (2006)
The Bears were better than the Seahawks (even with Rex Grossman at quarterback), so it would have been an upset if the ‘Hawks had beaten them at home.  And it nearly happened.  But it didn’t, and this kick made that certain.

15.  Carolina Panthers: Kam Chancellor Seals Playoff Victory By Taking INT to the House (2014)
Just report to camp Kam.  What are you doing?  You have no leverage.  Well, you have this, but it’s not enough.

14.  Kansas City Chiefs: Dave Krieg Hits Paul Skansi for Game-Winning Touchdown on the Final Play of the Game (1990)
Derrick Thomas had a record-breaking seven sacks in this game.  But on the game’s final play, Dave Krieg shook him free and delivered a 25-yard touchdown pass to Paul Skansi to give the ‘Hawks a 17-16 victory.  Here’s a nice succinct video of it all.

13.  Cincinnati Bengals: Steve Largent Scores Record-Breaking 100th Touchdown (1989)
You can see it at the 3:00 mark of this clip.  It’s a pretty nice snag in the back of the end zone against the Bengals.

12.  Miami Dolphins: Curt Warner Scores Game-Winner in Divisional Round (1983)
This was the Seahawks’ first great game, but there isn’t really a big-time iconic play from it.  But still you can’t go wrong with a game-winner, or with Curt (with a C) Warner.  I recommend this entire clip, but you should definitely watch from the 10:00 mark on.  You will see Warner’s game winner, which was set up by a great Krieg-Largent connection.

11.  Atlanta Falcons: Matt Bryant Kicks Game-Winner in Divisional Round (2012)
Shoddy kick return coverage.  A lapse in defense on the game’s final drive.  A long field goal.  An amazing comeback ruined.  Seahawks fans’ hearts broken.  (Game highlights.)

10.  Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III Shatters Leg and D.C. Fans’ Dreams (2012)
The Redskins jumped out to an early lead, 14-0.  Then everything went wrong for them, and it has not turned around since.  The lasting image from this one is definitely RGIII Tim Krumrie-ing it while Clinton McDonald dives on the loose ball.  (Game highlights.)

9.  Oakland Raiders: Bo Jackson Runs It 91-Yards on Monday Night (1987)
Technically this was against the Los Angeles Raiders, but whatever.  I could have gone with the Bo-versus-Boz play, but that play is way, way overrated, in my opinion, (Bo does not run over The Boz) so I went with this one instead.

8.  New York Jets: Vinny Testaverde Does Not Score, But Does (1998)
In a game that brought back instant replay and perhaps kept the Seahawks out of the playoffs, the referee mistakes Vinny Testaverde’s white helmet for the brown ball and says that he scores the game-winning touchdown on fourth down.  Sadly, I can find no video of this play.

7.  Pittsburgh Steelers: Sean Locklear Holding Call (2005)
You could pick any number of plays from this Super Bowl.  But the one that most typifies how the game went for the Seahawks fans is the Sean Locklear holding call (6:45 mark of this pro-Steelers propaganda video).  It’s not explicitly not holding, but it’s not definitively holding either.  It’s just like 95% of the offensive line plays in football.  It just sucks that it (and everything else that game) went against the Seahawks.

6.  Denver Broncos: Snap Goes Past Peyton Manning for a Safety in the Super Bowl (2013)
Again, you could pick any number of plays from this Super Bowl.  But the one that most typifies how the game went for Broncos fans is the safety on the first play from scrimmage.  I don’t think any play ever has better foreshadowed what was to come than this safety.  (Game highlights.)

5.  Dallas Cowboys: Tony Romo Bobbles Snap on Field Goal Attempt (2006)
It’s still glorious to watch.  It cracks the top five.

4.  Green Bay Packers:  Brandon Bostick Bobbles Onside Kick, Chris Matthews Doesn’t (2014)
Is this the right call here?  I could go “Fail Mary,” but that was a regular season game.  Still, I think it could be bettered remembered in 20 years than any play from the 2014 NFC Championship game.  And from that game you could pick five different plays: Fake field goal, onside kick, Marshawn Lynch touchdown, two-point conversion, and the game-winner to Jermaine Kearse.  I don’t know.  You watch the highlights and decide.

3.  New England Patriots: Play That Shall Not Be Named (2015)
Let’s watch this clip instead.  “You Mad Bro?”

2.  New Orleans Saints: The Original Beast Quake (2010)
If the Seahawks won the Super Bowl in 2010, this would be number one.  But they did not, so it is not.  It was a pretty sweet play though.  The entire game was magnificent.

1.  San Francisco 49ers: Sherman Tip (2013)
Definitively number one, in my opinion.  I like this fan shot.