No, I’m not talking about the fact that every week a new rumor comes out about the Seahawks (Michael Bennett is going to Atlanta… Wait, no he’s not, but Bruce Irvin is!), about which fans have no idea what to think, because we’ve been hearing so many rumors for so many years (Marshawn Lynch isn’t coming back next year!), and when anything does actually happen — like Percy Harvin to the Jets or the Jimmy Graham deal – nobody saw it coming, anyway. I could talk about that — I do hate that — but that’s not what I’m talking about right now.
Instead, I want to talk about the deplorable state of sports highlights — in particular, the “Ultimate Highlightization” of everything. I haven’t watched SportsCenter in many years. For one thing, I decided to get rid of my cable permanently when a tree grew and blocked out my DirecTV signal. For another thing, SportsCenter really sucked when I stopped watching it. Instead of just showing replays of the key moments of the game and providing some smart and entertaining context and analysis, which is what I wanted, everything was some sort of corporate gimmick — “The Budweiser Hot Seat” of “The Coors Lite Cold Hard Fact” or whatever — and the screen became increasingly cluttered with feeds and crawls about what you had just watched, what you are watching, and what you were about to watch. Also, there were lots of blinking lights and news alerts and hot takes and other “hip” things. It was like somebody took the experience of watching sports at a trendy casino and put it into show form. The worst is the “Ultimate Highlight,” which is like watching a sports clip if the cameraman has cerebral palsy and the producer loves Ed Hardy and is high on LSD.
And unfortunately this type of annoying ADD broadcasting is becoming — or rather, has already become — far too prevalent. To see what I mean, watch the “2014: Best of Russell Wilson” in this link. What the hell is that? There’s no context, no flow, and they literally do not even let a play finish before they move on to the next one. Sports clips shouldn’t have to come with an epileptic seizure warning. I mean, I was expecting to see a highlight package of my favorite quarterback, not something out of a brainwashing scene from a ’70s dystopian, sci-fi movie.
Is this what getting older as a sports fan feels like?
From the perspective of a Seahawks fan, what is a suitable punishment for Tom Brady? Here’s what I proposed: Brady must start studying theoretical physics, particularly Minkowski spacetime. He must develop a method to travel back in time and take us all to the moments before the Seahawks’ final offensive play of Super Bowl XLIX. Then he must dispatch one of his ball-deflating lackeys to steal Ricardo Lockette‘s helmet, making him unable to be on the field the final play, thus forcing Pete Carroll to call a play in which the primary receiver is not the eighth best offensive player on team. Yes, I am aware that this punishment in no way suits Brady’s crime, and I am also aware that it is quite unrealistic from a metaphysical standpoint. However, it makes about as much sense as a four-game (four games! That’s a quarter of the season!) suspension for doing the football equivalent of scuffing up the baseball a bit.
Anyway … Speaking of traveling back in time, here’s another top-ten list from the annals of Seahawks Past. It was motivated by my random recent discovery that the Los Angeles Rams star running back of the ’70s Lawrence McCutcheon played a half season with the Seahawks in 1980. It didn’t go well. The ‘Hawks went 0-8 in games in which McCutcheon appeared, and his best performance was literally the worst game in franchise history. But as a matter of trivia, it’s kinda interesting.
Along these lines, here are the top stars you forget, or perhaps never knew, briefly played for the Seahawks. The two criteria for inclusion on this list is that a player must have played with the ‘Hawks for less than a season (fewer than 16 games), and they must have made a Pro Bowl with a different team.
10. Bennie Blades, CB, 1997
Every Seahawks fan remembers Brian Blades. Some might even remember he had a brother who was a Pro Bowl defensive back for the Detroit Lions in the early ’90s. But how many remember said brother also made a cameo appearance for the Seahawks? In 1997, Bennie Blades’ last season in the NFL, he was teamed up with his brother in Seattle. Bennie wasn’t bad — he started nine games and intercepted a couple of passes — but Brian had a tough year, managing just 30 receptions and 319 yards on the season. Oh, and Brian also had to stand trial for killing his and Bennie’s cousin Charles.
9. Jason Babin, DE, 2007, 2008
Jason Babin was a run-of-the-mill pass rusher for three seasons with the Houston Texas before the Seahawks acquired him via trade in 2007. After just four games, the Seahawks dropped him to make room on the roster for Keary Colbert (seriously). Babin eventually made his way to Tennessee, where he made the 2010 Pro Bowl roster with a 12.5 sack season. After signing a new deal with the Eagles, he was even better the next year putting up 18 sacks, again making the Pro Bowl. Babin currently plays for the Jets, but he’s not that good anymore. In fact, looking over his career stat sheet those two big seasons look like massive outliers.
8. Terry McDaniel, CB, 1998
It’s quite possible people don’t remember Terry McDaniel briefly played for the Seahawks because they don’t remember Terry McDaniel at all. But he was a legit star, a five time Pro Bowler with the Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders, and one of the best cornerbacks of the ’90s. McDaniel was particularly adept at breaking big defensive plays; he racked up the interception return yardage, and he took six INTs and two fumbles to the house in his career. One of those touchdowns came in his lone season with the Seahawks. In a 1998 game against the Chargers, McDaniel’s first-quarter pick-six put the ‘Hawks up 14-7; they went on to snag six more interceptions off two Chargers quarterbacks and win handily. That’s right, seven INTs. As it turns out, Craig Whelihan was not a very good QB — and this guy was even worse.
7. Keith Millard, DT, 1992
The Vikings of the mid- to late ’80s were quietly one of the better defenses of the Super Bowl era. Because they never made it to the Super Bowl (they came up a play short in 1987 after upsetting the 49ers in San Francisco), most fans outside of Minnesota don’t remember them today. But they had some bad dudes on their D — particularly on their D-line — and for a few seasons, Keith Millard was the baddest of them all.
Drafted by the Vikings in 1985 out of Washington State, Millard was a solid contributor straightaway, but he really hit his stride in 1988, when he was a first team All-Pro selection, anchoring a Minnesota defense that allowed the fewest yards in the NFL. (The Vikings’ defensive backs coach, incidentally, was a 37-year-old up-and-comer named Pete Carroll.) Then the following year, he elevated things to an entirely differently realm. He collected 18 sacks — still a record for a defensive tackle — and won Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Unfortunately for the ex-Cougar, however, he blew out his knee early in the 1990 season and never had another productive year in the NFL. He made a cameo appearance with the infamous ‘92 Seahawks, recording a single sack in the season opener – 17-point loss to a team that finished the season 5-11.
6. Merton Hanks, CB, 1999
The All Pro 49ers defensive back with the abnormally long neck: that was Merton Hanks. Hanks played eight years in San Francisco (1991-1998), making four Pro Bowls (1994-1997) and winning a championship ring in Super Bowl XXIX. Then at the end of his career, he played 12 games at nickelback for the Seahawks. He was decent enough in his short stint in Seattle, even scoring a touchdown in a win over the Steelers, in a game in which the ‘Hawks put up 29 points without their offense getting in the end zone once. I couldn’t find a clip of that play on YouTube, or of any other play made by Hanks as a Seahawk, but I did find a nice one of him pick-sixing a Hall of Fame quarterback and then celebrating with his signature “Chicken Dance.”
5. Lawrence McCutcheon, RB, 1980
The man who led me down this rabbit hole in the first place — Lawrence McCutcheon. A five-time Pro Bowler with the Los Angeles Rams (1973-1977), McCutcheon was the franchise’s all-time leading rusher before a record-breaker in Rec-Specs came to town. Ironically, however, McCutcheon’s most famous play was not a run, but a pass. In Super Bowl XIV, his 24-yard toss to a seldom used wide out name Ron Smith put the Rams on the precipice of a championship-game upset, but the Steel Curtain, as they usually did, ultimately prevailed. Later that fall, McCutcheon made his ill-fated move to Seattle.
You can see McCutcheon’s Super Bowl touchdown pass at the 0:25 mark of the clip below.
4. Harold Jackson, WR, 1983
Harold Jackson’s 579 receptions and 10,372 receiving yards don’t look like much by today’s standards. But would you believe me if I told you he was the NFL’s all-time leading receiver upon his retirement in 1983? No? Well, then you are wise, because he wasn’t. But he did have more catches and more receiving yards in the decade of the ’70s than any other player, and I doubt many people would have guessed that.
Jackson was an All Pro selection with the Rams in 1973, and he had 1,000 yard seasons with the Eagles (1969 and 1972) and the Patriots (1979), before playing his final year in the NFL with Seahawks in 1983. He didn’t d anything of note in the gray and blue. After his playing career Jackson went into coaching and is currently the head coach at his alma mater Jackson State (no relation). He hasn’t done anything of note there either. But he’s only been the coach for a year, so let’s give him some time.
3. Edgerrin James, RB, 2009
It wasn’t even six years ago, and I clearly remember the image of James in a Seahawks uniform, but for some reason I still had to check and recheck the 2009 roster several times to convince myself that this actually happened.
Before the 2009 season began, I remember hearing head coach Jim Mora say, “we’re going to run the ball.” Bringing in a two-time rushing champion would seemingly be a good way to help achieve that goal — unless said two-time rushing champion is 32 and averaged less than four yards-per-carry in each of his past three seasons. That was the strange thing about the Edge James acquisition. He had already had the typical overpaid, over-the-hill superstar stint in Arizona. The ‘Hawks signed him after this. It would be like if somebody picks up Steven Jackson this year. (Wait, what, that’s probably going to happen?!)
Needless to say, things didn’t work out for James or Seattle fans. In his “best” game with the ‘Hawks, Edge ran for all of 46 and averaged 2.9 yards-per-carry. The Seahawks cut him three weeks later. And that was that for one of the greatest running backs of the last 20 years.
2. Franco Harris, RB, 1984
Franco Harris’ half-year with the Seahawks in 1984 went about as well as did Edgerrin James’ 25 years later. But at least in the case of Harris, he was coming off a 1,000-yard season with a playoff team (not to mention he shredded Seattle when his Steelers came to town). On the other hand, he was 34, and even back then, most running backs were bad at that age. For Harris, the bottom fell out almost immediately. He average fewer than three yards-per-carry and didn’t score a single touchdown as a ‘Hawk. As the season progressed, he received fewer and fewer carries — and this was on a team that lost its first-string halfback in Week 1 and finished the season without a single rusher topping 330 yards or averaging more than 4.0 yards-per-attempt (seriously).
If you’re a running back who doesn’t merit carries on a team like the ’84 Seahawks, you probably don’t merit a roster stop on any NFL team at all. And in fact, Franco only played eight games in Seattle before retiring. He was within 200 yards of the all-time rushing record when he called it quits. Five years later, he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Technically speaking, he was the first ever Seahawk to be enshrined.
1. Jerry Rice, WR, 2004
Like with Edgerrin James, I clearly remember the image of Jerry Rice in a Seahawks uniform, but I still don’t always believe it happened. After all, it is rather surreal that the greatest wide receiver — nay, the greatest player — in NFL history caught the last pass of his career on a five-yard out from Matt Hasselbeck in a dull 2004 game between the Seahawks and the Jets. But the big difference between Rice‘s time in Seattle and James’, is that Rice was still somewhat useful. He wasn’t great, but he still made plays as a third or fourth receiver. Rice was the offensive hero in this win over the Dolphins., and he had the last great game of his career — eight catches, 145 yards, and a touchdown — in this absurd loss to the Cowboys. (After being down 29-14, the ‘Hawks score 25 unanswered points, only to watch Dallas score two touchdowns in last 1:45 to steal the game 43-39.)
The great thing about Jerry Rice is that he would have kept on playing past 2004 if somebody in a position of power of an NFL team would have signed him. He tried out with the Broncos in 2005, but he didn’t make the team. For most superstars it’s annoying and sad when they wear out their welcomes, but for Jerry Rice it worked somehow — it was endearing. I guess when you really are the G.O.A.T. the same rules don’t apply.
This is only clip I could find of Jerry Rice as a Seahawk. Go to the 0:55 mark and try not to blink.
With the notable exception of their first pick, I love the Seahawks’ draft haul this year. I don’t like their first pick because it is somebody I had never heard of until this weekend, who got kicked out of school for possibly hitting his girlfriend. I do like the other picks because they are players I had never heard of until this weekend, who did not get kicked out of school and have no woman-beating allegations against them. That’s about the extent of my football “analysis” on the ‘Hawks 2015 draft. I simply don’t know the college game well enough to say anything meaningful about it.
One thing I do know, however, is names. So, as I’ve done in the past, I’m going to grade the Seahawks’ 2015 draftees entirely by name. And the beauty of this is that the NFL Draft is enough of a crapshoot that my grades will probably be just as good as any of the “real” grades in mainstream media.
Frank Clark, DE, Michigan, Round 2 Frank Clark is a very straightforward, old-school name. It sounds like something out of the ’50s. Unfortunately Clark’s attitude toward women might also be out of the ’50s… the 1550s. Grade: F
(To be fair to Mr. Clark – this. I really hope the prosecutor is right. I would rather the Seahawks lose every game than have odious human beings on their team. We already lived through Jerramy Stevens. It sucked being so conflicted.)
Tyler Lockett, WR/KR, Kansas State, Round 3 Give how last season ended, drafting somebody named Lockett is a very bold move. At first blush, I didn’t like this pick. But then I did some research and learned that homophone teammates have had success in the past. The 1989 LA Rams had players Gaston Green and Kevin Greene, and they went 11-5 and made it all the way to the NFC Championship Game. So I’ve come around on this pick Grade: B+
Terry Poole, OL, San Diego St., Round 4
The Seahawks have had success with Terrys in the past. Terry Taylor (the football player not the wrestler also known as the Red Rooster) was a solid defensive back for the ‘Hawks in the late ’80s; Terry Wooden is one of the best outside linebackers in team history; and Chris Terry was a mainstay on the offensive line during the first Super Bowl run. If Terry Poole is as good as any of these other Terrys, the ‘Hawks found themselves a gem in the fourth round. Grade: A-
Mark Glowinski, OL, West Virginia, Round 4 As a fellow -ski, I approve of this pick. I also like that he has “Glow” in his last name. This is a nice feel-good pick. Grade: B
Tye Smith, CB, Towson, Round 5 He’s the only double valid for the Seahawks in this draft class. A tye is defined as A chain or rope, one end of which passes through the mast. And a smith is One who makes or works at something specified. So a tye smith is a maker of chains or ropes. I love it. Best pick of the draft, in my opinion. Grade: A
Obum Gwacham, DE, Oregon State, Round 6
It probably will not surprise you to learn that there has never before been an NFLer named Obum nor Gwacham. This means Obum Gwacham has a chance to become the next Osi Umenyiora — a stud pass rusher with a unique first name and a unique last name. I like that prospect. Solid selection. Grade: B+
Kristjan Sokoli, DT, Buffalo, Round 6
The plan is to convert Sokoli from d-tackle to center, similar to what the ‘Hawks did with J.R. Sweezy. It’s a risky move, and even risky is taking a second double-unique-name guy in a row. I don’t mind this pick, but it’s definitely a high-risk/high-reward selection. Sokoli could worked out terrifically or he could totally bust or he could do something in between. Grade: C+
Ryan Murphy, S, Oregon State, Round 7
Ryan Murphy is a pretty boring name, and it has negative associations for me. It makes me think of a generic asshole from Boston and those insufferable Peyton Manning pizza commercials. But, as a final selection, it’s at least passable. Grade: C-
Overall Grade: x
We simply won’t know how these picks will really turn out until years in the future. And the future, like x, is a total unknown.
The mock draft industry has gotten completely out of hand. Every major website that reports on NFL news has several writers whose primary job it is to try to predict who will select whom in the upcoming draft. And they inevitably do poorly, really poorly. Most analysts are lucky to get eight picks right in the first round — eight out of 32. That’s 25%, one-out-of-four, after countless hours of research. You might as well just put names in a hat and pull them out at random.
So rather than look forward to the 2015 NFL Draft, which begins Thursday, let’s look back on all the prior drafts. Let’s do a reverse draft preview. Let’s rank the 10 best drafts in Seahawks history. Who has draft bragging rights — Russell Wilson and his 2012 class, Richard Sherman and his bunch from the year prior, or is it an older group like Walter Jones‘ class from 1999? Let’s find out. (See the Seahawks’ entire draft history here.)
10. 1994: 239 Total AV
The Tom Flores Experiment was mostly a failure in Seattle, but he did nail the 1994 draft on his way out of town. He took big D-lineman Sam Adams with the eight overall pick, and then did himself one better in the second round by taking future three-time All-Pro offensive lineman Kevin Mawae. Third-round pick Lamar Smith had a few solid years toting the rock at tailback, and later-rounders Larry Whigham and Carlester Crumpler played meaningful roles in the NFL. The only problem with this draft is that most the benefit went to teams other than the ‘Hawks — the top three picks all had better careers outside of Seattle than in it. That’s why it ranks at the bottom of the list.
9. 1978: 156 Total AV
The expansion Seahawks got decent quickly. Playing their inaugural season in 1976, they had a winning record just two years later, and by 1983 they were a game away from the Super Bowl. The main reason for this was the steady acquisition of talent by Seattle’s first GM John Thompson. In 1978 he went defense, defense, and more defense selecting defensive backs Keith Butler (first round) and John Harris (second round) and linebacker Keith Simpson (seventh round). Although none of these three was ever a Pro-Bowler, they contributed 24 combined seasons as starters and were big factors in the team’s early success.
8. 2001: 259 Total AV
Like the 1994 crop, this draft class would rank higher if the Seahawks, in particular, got more value out of their players. Seattle’s first selection, Koren Robinson (no. 9 overall), had one spectacular season, but was otherwise a bust, and their two best picks, Steve Hutchinson (no. 17) and Ken Lucas (no. 40), had most their success outside the Pacific Northwest. This was an integral draft of the Mike Holmgren era, but the best selection who was still on the team after Super Bowl XL was Floyd “Pork Chop” Womack, a back-up offensive lineman.
7. 2005: 137 Total AV
Speaking of Super Bowl XL, the Seahawks likely would not have made it at all, but for new GM Tim Ruskell’s savvy drafting in the 2005 draft. First-round pick Chris Spencer only played a reserve role in 2005 (he would go on to be the Seahawks starting center for four seasons), but second- and third-round picks Lofa Tatupu and LeRoy Hill comprised two-thirds of the team’s staunch linebacking corps. If the ‘Hawks didn’t whiff on their other third-round pick, quarterback David Greene, who never took a snap in the NFL, this could have been a really bang-up draft.
6. 2000: 170 Total AV
Mike Holmgren was an excellent NFL coach; his record as a general manager was much more mixed. In his four-year stint as Seahawks GM (1999-2003), he hit .500 — his 2000 and 2001 drafts were pretty good, his 1999 and 2003 drafts were not. (1999 was particularly bad; arguably the worst in franchise history.) Even in 2000, he only hit big on two players, but those players were Shaun Alexander and Darrell Jackson. When you find the two best skill position players in your offense for the next eight seasons in one draft, it’s a good draft, even if the third best player in it is a career special-teamer from Harvard.
5. 1997: 174 Total AV
Speaking of hitting big on a few players …
In the 1997 draft, the Seahawks had two first-round picks — numbers three and six overall — but no second-rounder, no third-rounder, and no fourth-rounder. Under these circumstances, nailing those two top-10 selections is pretty damn important. And nail them the ‘Hawks did. They grabbed perennial Pro-Bowl cornerback Shawn Springs with the first one, and Hall of Fame offensive tackle Walter Jones with the second one. With those two in tow, getting Itula Mili, the greatest tight end in franchise history (sadly), in the sixth-round was gravy.
4. 2011: 141 Total AV
Pete Carroll and John Schneider came to town in 2010, and within two years and change they had laid the groundwork for a perennial Super Bowl contender. They did so almost exclusively through the draft and through the acquisition of un-drafted free agents. From 2010 to 2012, they absolutely aced the draft — like Ken-Jennings-on-Jeopardy! aced. I haven’t seen an in depth analysis on it, but I would reckon Seattle’s ’10-’12 drafts compare favorably to the best three-year draft span of any team in NFL history. (On second thought, looking at some of those Steelers drafts of the early to mid-’70s, maybe not. Check out that 1974 draft in particular. Egads!) Here’s an illustration of how good these drafts were — in 2011, the ‘Hawks drafted K.J. Wright, Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, and Malcolm Smith in consecutive rounds (four through seven), AND they picked James Carpenter in the first round, and it was the worse draft of the three.
3. 1990: 272 Total AV
By total AV, the Seahawks’ 1990 draft is the best in franchise history (so far). Seattle went four-for-four in the first four rounds, with a grand slam in the first (Hall of Famer Cortez Kennedy), consecutive solid singles in the second and third (longtime defensive starters Terry Wooden and Robert Blackmon), and a double off the wall in the fourth (three-time Pro Bowl tailback Chris Warren). Looking at this draft class, it’s puzzling why the ‘Hawks weren’t better in the early and mid-’90s. That is, until you see who they drafted in the first round the next year and the year after that and the year after that. And then it makes perfect sense.
2. 2010: 157 Total AV
It is now a well-established maxim, even among casual NFL fans, that the grades given out by “analysts” immediately after the draft are absolutely worthless. They aren’t even fun to mock because they are such easy targets. With that said, I remembering thinking after the 2010 draft, This should be get an A from everybody. The ‘Hawks snagged Russell Okung with the sixth overall pick, and then lucked out when Earl Thomas fell to them at 14. (Seattle had Denver’s first-round pick from a prior trade.) In the second round, they nabbed the play-making Golden Tate (whom I had a sports crush on after watching him destroy UW in a game in college), and then two rounds later they took the promising Pac-10 defensive back Walter Thurmond. That would have been a terrific haul right there. But the next pick is what really pushed it into Draft Pantheon status: Kam Chancellor in the fifth round. Bang! The middle of the Legion of Boom was formed. Oh, and let’s not forgot, the Seahawks also signed Doug Baldwin as a rookie free agent after this draft. That’s five starters, and a solid backup, from the 2013 Super Bowl team, if you are counting at home.
1. 2012: 143 Total AV
Speaking of draft grades …
Seattle Seahawks 2012: The soon-to-be Super Bowl-winning draft class that famously received an F from a major member of the sports media. Because we can, let’s all read exactly what was written and laugh self-righteously.
After one of the worst picks in the first round I can ever remember, the Seattle Seahawks didn’t draft any positions of need or draft for the future.
Pete Carroll is proving why he didn’t make it in the NFL the first time. Not only was Bruce Irvin a reach at No. 15, the Seahawks proved they were oblivious to their madness by celebrating their selection.
As if the day wasn’t bad enough, Seattle selecting Russell Wilson, a QB that doesn’t fit their offense at all, was by far the worst move of the draft. With the two worst moves of the draft, Seattle is the only team that received an F on draft day.
If I was tasked with writing a fake review of the 2012 draft with the intent of trying to sound as wrong as possible, I don’t think I could top this. I suppose I could toss in a disparaging remark about Bobby Wagner, but that’s about it.
And that really is the amazing thing about this draft. Not only did the Seahawks strike gold with Wilson in the third round, they did so a round earlier with Wagner. In one round they found the All-Pro “quarterback” of their defense, and in the next round they found their actually franchise quarterback. (Now they just need to resign them.) When you consider further that the ‘Hawks also picked Irvin, a solid starter, in the first round, and then later selected a perfectly cromulent backup running back in the fourth round (Robert Turbin), a good nickleback in the sixth round (Jeremy Lane), and a defensive end who converted into a decent starting offensive lineman in the seventh round (J.R. Sweezy), and then they signed a do-all special teamer turned starting wide receiver as a rookie free agent (Jermaine Kearse), it’s easy to see why I picked 2012 as the best Seahawks draft class ever.
But will 2015 top it?
No. Almost certainly not. Let’s just hope for a decent starting offensive lineman or two. The Seahawks still have a loaded roster; as fans, we can afford to dream small.
The 2015 NFL schedule was made available to the public today. Although the schedule release is not nearly the big deal the league tries to make it out to be — every team’s slate of opponents is predetermined the moment the regular season ends; there is no real suspense — it is cool to go through and look at the home and road splits and primetime games. And you know what else is cool? YouTube videos of the Seahawks.
Week 1: @ St. Louis
The video quality is rough, but is still a visually spectacular catch by Golden Tate. He seemingly comes out of nowhere. Ah … remember Golden Tate? I wish the ‘Hawks still had him.
Week 2: @ Green Bay — Sunday Night Football
Primetime NFC Championship Game rematch.
Week 3: Chicago
Russell Wilson‘s “coming out” game, in my opinion. He was awesome. So was Sidney Rice — underrated player. He just couldn’t stay healthy.
Week 4: Detroit — Monday Night Football
Hopefully the most exiting part of this game isn’t a weiner dog race at halftime.
Week 5: @Cincinnati
Nor a fan running onto the field.
Week 6: Carolina
We could watch a highlight of Kam Chancellor‘s game sealing pick-six in last season’s playoffs — or we could watch Leon Washington make a great punt return and then get embarrassed by the Panthers punter.
Week 7: @San Francisco — Thursday Night Football
The Seahawks played in San Francisco on Thursday last year. It was fun to watch.
Week 8: @ Dallas
Still a classic.
Week 9: Bye
Week 10: Cardinals — Sunday Night Football
Arizona Ass-Kicking 1.
Week 11: San Francisco
“Where are we going?!” “We’re going to the Super Bowl!”
Week 12: Pittsburgh
Seahawks 20, Steelers 0!
Week 13: @Minnesota
Maybe the two teams will just hold hands for 60 minutes instead of play a football game.
Something I wrote in a previous entry got me thinking. (At least I inspire somebody.) In this entry about resigning Marshawn Lynch, I wrote the following:
One of the biggest false dichotomies in sports is that teams must “build for today” or “build for the future”. The truth is that well-run franchises do both simultaneously. That’s how the Patriots can be good for over a decade despite turning over their entire (non-Brady) roster. (Well, that and they play in a perennially weak division.)
After posting this, I started wondering: Is that final, parenthetical observation really true? Has the AFC East really been weaker than other divisions? And is this really a non-trivial factor in the Patriots’ success? When I wrote it, I was basing it entirely off of hearsay; I have heard NFL commentators make this claim before, but I had never seen any sort of actual data on the subject — no in depth analyses, no nothing.
So, since basing things on hearsay is generally something I try to avoid, I went through and did the leg work. Starting from 2002 — the first year of the current divisional structure and (roughly) the start of the Tom Brady Era in New England* — and ending at 2014, last year, I recorded each NFL team’s overall record, divisional record, and non-divisional record. From this data, I derived a few simple metrics to measure the strength/weakness of a team’s division and to determine the extent to which this helped/hurt them overall.
My findings are encapsulated in the table below. For the sake of brevity, I only present the top six teams (by overall winning percentage) in each conference. These would be the “playoff” teams if the last 13 years were one giant season.
For each team, we give the team’s overall winning percentage from 2002 to 2014 (TOT WIN), their winning percentage against divisional opponents (DIV WIN), and their winning percentage against non-divisional opponents (NON DIV WIN). We also give their divisional opponents non-divisional winning percentage (DOND WIN). This tells us how good Team A’s divisional opponents were without biasing the data by including games against Team A or against each other. For example, the DOND WIN for the Patriots is .467, meaning from 2002 to 2014, the Jets, Dolphins, and Bills combined for a winning percentage of .467 against teams outside of the AFC East. In the last column of the table (DIV DELTA), we give the delta (difference) between the number of games a team would have won if they played only divisional opponents and the number of games a team would have won if they played only non-divisional opponents.** For example, the DIV DELTA for the Patriots is 0.4, meaning they would have won four-tenths more games per season had they played only the AFC East, compared to if they never played the AFC East.
NON DIV WIN
NON DIV WIN
Three things jump out at me from this table: 1) Most the good teams of the last 13 years benefited from having below-average division-mates; 2) The Patriots did not substantially benefit from playing in a weak division; 3) But the Seahawks sure did!
1) It makes sense that most the good teams benefit from being in a weak division — in part, that’s why they are good. After all, if we are just measuring “goodness” by overall record (which we are, in this case), then the teams that get six games a year against below-average opponents are going to be better than those that do not have this advantage. Also, if we think of the league as having x good teams in a given year, and these teams are assigned to divisions at random, then being good reduces your odds of being in a division with another good team, because there are only x – 1 good teams left; your pool of possible good opponents excludes you. Notice that, in fact, there are only four teams in the table that had above-average divisional opponents (Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Dallas).
2) The NFC East (minus the Patriots) was in fact weaker than an average division, but it did not really help the Patriots all that much. Overall, from 2002 to 2014, the Jets, Dolphins, and Bills did not play .500 ball outside of their division; they had a .467 mark. However, we can see that this puts the Pats in the middle of the pack among the teams in the table — nothing extreme. Furthermore, the Pats gained less than half a win a year from being in the AFC East. (They’re DIV DELTA is less than 0.5.) They were a 12-3-1 team in the division, and a 12-4 team out of it. The Patriots weren’t advantaged; they were just awesome. (And probably still are.)
3) The three teams who benefited the most from having weak division-mates are without question Green Bay, Indianapolis, and Seattle. The latter is incongruous with recent years — the NFC West has been far and away the best division the past three seasons — but it makes sense when you think back a little further. Remember, it was only five years ago that the Seahawks won the division at 7-9. Not only that, but the ‘Hawks won the NFC West each year from 2004 to 2007, and they were a Wild Card in 2003, despite being a top-5 team in the NFL (according to DVOA) once once during that space — the 2005 Super Bowl season. With seven division titles, nine playoff appearances, three conference championships, and one Super Bowl victory, you could make a strong case that the Seahawks have been the best NFC team in the newly-aligned NFL. But there is no doubting that they had a bit of help along the way — help in the form of coaches like Mike Nolan, Mike Singletary, Scott Linehan, Steve Spagnola, and Dave McGinnis.
A few other fun facts inspired by the table.
The NFC East and AFC North have been the two top divisions since 2002. Most NFL fans probably would have guessed this. But I suspect few would have named the third best division: the NFC South.
The Steelers are an interesting team, in that they have benefited substantially from playing in the AFC North (their DIV DELTA is 1.4, fourth largest), even though it has been a difficult division. What this means is that the Steelers raise their game against division foes — or let down against non-division foes. In fact we saw examples of both last year.
The Seahawks were not the only beneficiaries of playing in a lousy NFC West. The Arizona Cardinals took full advantage of it, when they won the division in back-to-back years in 2008 and 2009. The 2008 NFC West was particularly dreadful. The four teams combined to win only 10 non-division games, for an ugly winning percentage of .250. None of the teams finished in the top-20 in DVOA. It was, I think it’s safe to say, the worse division in newly-aligned NFL history. And yet, their lone postseason representative came within one defensive stop of winning the Super Bowl.
Football is weird sometimes.
*Technically it started in 2001 when there were still only six divisions in the NFL. That year three teams from the NFC East made the playoffs — New England, Miami, and New York.
**This is calculated by the formula (DIV WIN – NON DIV WIN) * 16.
I have never been a big fan of April Fools’ Day. I can remember pulling only one prank ever — and it was so small, prank isn’t even the right word. It was a prankoid. In 1985, the NCAA tournament finals fell on April 1. It was a very intriguing matchup — Villanova vs. Georgetown — making it a must-watch event, even for casual sports fans like my father. It so happened my mom was away for the night, so my dad was on dinner duty, which he decided to outsource to the fine people at our neighborhood McDonald’s. (This was before fast food was bad for you.) He hustled my little brother, older sister, and me out of the house and into the car, lest he miss the tip-off, and right after he got my brother tethered into his car seat, I told him the game was canceled.
“What? Why?” he replied.
“I dunno,” I said. “Me and Matt heard it on TV, and Matt asked his dad, and his dad said it’s canceled too.”
“Aw man! I was really looking forward to watching it. That stinks!”
We all had a laugh and then we got our food and my dad and I watched Villanova upset Georgetown (my brother and sister are not, nor were they ever sports fans — and that’s an understatement). I literally do not remember a single play from the game — which is a shame because it was a classic — but I do remember I split a 20-pack of McNuggets with my brother and sister. “You will get two extra McNuggets, and it’s cheaper, if you share a big one instead of each getting your own 6-packs,” I distinctly recall my dad saying. It’s weird how memory works.
As far as pranks go, I give this one a B. It was not very elaborate, but it had a solid setup (my dad rushing us into the car in anticipation of the game) and a good delivery on my part (saying my friend’s dad confirmed it was a nice touch); it worked (my dad believed it), and it was good-natured (nobody got emotionally scarred or physically hurt). Plus, I was seven.
I bring this up because Bruce Irvin pulled a “prank” of his own yesterday, tweeting that he got a DUI. I use quotes in the previous section because it wasn’t actually a prank. I don’t mean that in the sense that it wasn’t funny (although it wasn’t); I mean that it didn’t have any of the elements something needs to qualify as a prank. There was no setup and no punchline. There was no misdirection and no payoff. Saying something untrue on a context-less platform like Twitter is not a joke; it’s just a false statement. However, pretending to get a DUI is a far less odious transgression than actually getting a DUI, and we forgive players (and friends) for that all the time, so … Let’s just hope Bruce Irvin can rush the passer better than he can crack a joke.
In other news, actual football news, Football Outsiders did an article in which they rank all NFL coaches in 2014 by “Aggressiveness Index” — that is, how likely a coach is to go for it on fourth down relative to his peers. According to the numbers, Pete Carroll was the 18th most aggressive coach in the league with an A.I. of 0.92. 1.00 is exactly league average, so Carroll was roughly 8% less aggressive than the average NFL coach last year. Being that all NFL coaches are too passive on fourth down and Carroll is conservative relative to this lowered bar, the ‘Hawks are almost certainly leaving points (and thus wins) on the table by not going for it enough.
In fact, this is something about which I have previously groused (for example, here). Carroll seems to be okay with going for it near the goal line (remember the Chiefs game last year or the fumbled hand-off in the 2013 NFC Championship Game), and he goes for it in obvious situations. But he almost always opts for a long field goal attempt or a short punt in the “maroon zone” even when the numbers (the real numbers, not the mythical “numbers” to which the broadcast commentators often refer) say to go for it. Even Carroll’s most famous gutsy moment — the Russell Wilson to Jermaine Kearse bomb in the 2013 NFC Championship Game on 4th-and-7 — wasn’t really his call. He wanted to kick a field goal but Steven Hauschka said it was beyond his range. The Seahawks defense has been so good the past few years that Carroll’s overly conservative decision-making has not been an issue (and, to be fair, the strong D might be a factor in his decisions), but we saw first hand, with Mike McCarthy in this year’s NFC Championship Game, how passive game calling can play a major role in losing a winnable game. Let’s just hope the Seahawks aren’t on the other side of that coin anytime soon.
With all that said, lest the above commentary lead you to believe otherwise, overall I think Pete Carroll is a fantastic head coach, and I think he is very underrated. What? A Super Bowl winning coach underrated? Yes, I think he is, and I think I can make a compelling case why. But it will have to wait for a future post.
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.
I wrote a book. It’s a frivolous, silly book about baseball, and I couldn’t be more proud of it. If you are a baseball fan buy a copy. Even if you aren’t, buy a copy anyway. You will be helping to support indie arts.
After a spate of activity a week ago, the Seahawks Hot Stove season appears to be in abeyance. There are rumors of course, there are always rumors, but nothing has been substantiated, and it appears as if nothing will — until something is, which could be at any moment. It’s not like any of us saw the Jimmy Graham trade coming — or the Harvin deal, for that matter. But I’m going to take this moment of relative inactivity to do another top-10 list. It’s become my de facto off-season theme, and I’m sticking to it!
In my last post I noted that Jimmy Graham’s 2014 season, widely viewed as a “down year” for him, would have been the greatest season by a tight end in Seahawks franchise history. After looking into the matter further, I could not believe how right I was. As you will see, the ‘Hawks have never had anything close to a great season from a tight end.
So here they are: the ten greatest tight end seasons in Seahawks history.
(Note: Just for fun, I picked ten seasons from ten different tight ends. The results would barely change if I included multiple seasons from the same player.)
10. John Sawyer, 1980: 36 rec., 410 yds., 0 TD
We begin with a player I had never even heard of until, like, two hours ago. In 1980, John Sawyer started all 16 games at tight end for the 4-12 ‘Hawks. That’s about the extent of his highlight reel for the season — or his career.
9. Christian Fauria, 1998: 37 rec., 377 yds., 2TD
The Seahawks went 55-57 during the seven years Fauria was on the roster (1995-2001). This actually is a perfect macrocosm of Fauria the player. He was exactly not quite average.
8. Carlester Crumpler, 1997: 31 rec., 361 yds., 1 TD Warren Moon threw for over 3,500 yards with the ‘Hawks in 1997. Very few of those went to tight ends. If coolness of name was a criterion in this ranking, Carlester Crumpler would be near the top of the list.
7. Ron Howard, 1976: 47 rec., 422 yds., 0 TD
Back in 1976, Seattle made a Splash by fielding a football team in the NFL for the first time ever. They were Far and Away the worst team in the NFC, but that didn’t stop their Gung Ho fans from following them ardently. One of the players they read about in The Paper was a tight end named Ron Howard. He had A Beautiful Mind for football and was as tall as a Willow making him a good target for quarterback Jim Zorn. Unfortunately, Howard suffered from a case of Arrested Development and never again had a season like he did in 1976. The ‘Hawks eventually had to move on to better options as they were in a Rush to get out of the doldrums and experience some Happy Days.
6. Luke Willson, 2014: 22 rec., 362 yds., 3 TD
Nominally, Willson might have lost his starting job heading into 2015, but I foresee his playing time changing very little. He’s a decent pass catcher and blocker, and I imagine the ‘Hawks will use a lot of twin-tight end sets, often putting Graham in the slot. My prediction is that in 2015 Willson replicates or improves upon his numbers from last year — which would be a boon, being that they constitute the sixth best season from a tight end in franchise history.
5. Zach Miller, 2002: 38 rec., 396 yds., 3 TD
As Seattle’s big-ticket, free-agent signing in 2011, Zach Miller didn’t pan out. He didn’t not pan out, but he didn’t pan out either. He did something ill-defined in between. He was hardly a prolific receiver, catching just 102 passes in four seasons, but he could block well, and he had, without question, the single greatest game from a tight end in franchise history. He also made this play (0:35 mark), and he made the play before this play. A lot of people don’t remember, but it was 3rd-and-22 immediately prior to the 4th-and-7, Wilson-to-Kearse bomb. Without Miller’s 15 yard reception the play before, the touchdown doesn’t happen.
4. Jerramy Stevens, 2005: 45 rec., 554 yds., 5 TD
Ugh… I hate that this dirt bag was a solid contributor on the first Super Bowl team in franchise history, but he was. Although since he and Ben Roethlisberger each scored a touchdown in the big game, it affords me the opportunity to point out that Super Bowl XL is the only Super Bowl in which alleged rapists scored for each team.
3. Charle Young, 1983: 36 rec., 529 yds., 2 TD
It’s not Charlie Young; it’s Charle Young. As a rookie in 1973, Young was actually an All-Pro tight end with the Philadelphia Eagles, and he made three straight Pro Bowls (’73-’75). By the time he got to Seattle in 1983, he was well past his prime, but still a pretty good pass catcher. Although he reeled in only 36 balls on the season, he went for 529 yards, a 14.5 yards-per-reception rate, which is not too shabby for a tight end. Also, to my knowledge, Young was not a degenerate sleazeball, which is why I ranked his season ahead of Stevens’ on this list.
2. John Carlson, 2008: 55 rec., 627 yds., 5 TD
Despite playing just three seasons in the blue and highlighter green, John Carlson was the tight end of choice for the 35th anniversary Seahawks “Dream Team”. Although, personally, I would have gone with Itula Mili, it’s tough to argue that Carlson was definitively the wrong pick. The ‘Hawks just haven’t had any really good tight ends. Carlson’s best season came as rookie in 2008, when he set franchise highs in receptions and receiving yards for a tight end.
1. Itula Mili, 2003: 46 rec., 492 yds., 4 TD
By traditional numbers, Mili in 2003 was not as prolific as Carlson in 2008, but by advanced metrics he was better. Mili was a sneakily effective outlet for Matt Hasselbeck, back in the day, as evidenced by his 156 DYAR in 2003, the third highest total in the NFL that season. (Carlson by comparison had 137 DYAR in 2008.) Mili was also reasonably productive in the 2003 Wild Card loss to the Packers, catching six passes for 62 yards. So this is it. It ain’t much to look at, but Itula’s 2003 campaign — a year in which he didn’t even hit 50 catches nor 500 yards — is the greatest single season by a tight end in Seahawks history. Let’s just hope that this is no longer the case on this date next year. If it is, something has gone horribly, horribly wrong.