Fake Game 4: Seahawks @ Raiders — Friday Morning Rebuttal

Two Seahawks stories in the news I want to touch on.  The first, of course, is “extra practice-gate”, in which the Seahawks organization and Pete Carroll specifically were fined around $300,000 total by the NFL and stripped of two minicamp practices next year for violating the CBA with respect to contact regulations during practice.  This possibly stems from an in-practice fight between Richard Sherman and Phil Bates.  There isn’t really much more to say about this.  The Seahawks broke a player-safety rule and are being punished accordingly.  Nobody will be talking about this come Thursday night … if they even are now.

The second, is this week’s “Tuesday Morning Quarterback” article by Gregg Easterbrook of ESPN (link below).  Troll-reading TMQ used to be a simple pleasure of mine back in the day, but sadly I haven’t had much time to devote to it in recent years — just a random article and some snarky thoughts here and there.  Easterbrook is a quintessential oldish-school, half-hack sportswriter — the kind of which FireJoeMorgan used to hilariously pan regularly.  He makes “bold” “counter-conventional” claims and then attempts to back them up with quasi-statistical analysis.  But he (obviously) knows very little about actual statistics, so what comes out is usually a bunch of specious drivel.

Case in point: History in Seattle’s Way; NFC Preview.  Here’s how the article begins:

The 2013 NFL season ended with the Seattle Seahawks crushing Denver in the Super Bowl. But will they even reach the playoffs this season?

Recent precedent says no. The two prior Super Bowl victors, the Ravens and Giants, failed to reach the postseason the following year. Those two clubs were a combined 17-15 in the seasons following their confetti shower after the final contest.

Problem number one, obviously, is that he’s drawing an inference about a future event (the Seahawks making the playoffs) from a sample size of two that he created with a completely arbitrary endpoint.  It’s fortunate that “recent precedent” apparently only goes back two years, or else he would have had to include the Green Bay Packers who went 15-1 in 2011 after winning the Super Bowl the previous year, and then his point would have been hurt — lucky that.

What’s more is that the ’12 Ravens and ’11 Giants were both very fluky Super Bowl victors who just happened to win in back-to-back years.  Neither one was dominant during the regular season (remarkably the Giants were actually outscored by their opponents overall), and both relied on unsustainably good play (e.g., Joe Flacco‘s 11 TD and 0 INT) and lucky breaks (e.g., the Eli Manning to Hakeem Nicks Hail Mary and the Kyle Williams skinned-knee muffed punt) to get to and win the Super Bowl.  Easterbrook acknowledges this, but then adds:

Lady Luck smiled on the Seahawks in 2013 and perhaps will again this year — but don’t count on it.

What a strange (i.e., dumb) thing to say.  Not only were the Seahawks the best team in the league last year, they were one of the best teams ever.  And they won the Super Bowl.  What’s “Lady Luck” got to do with it?  If the Seahawks winning the championship last season is considered lucky, then you can chalk up just about any accomplishment any NFL team has ever achieved to luck.

Easterbrook goes on to make his (weak) case against a Seattle repeat:

Conventional wisdom holds that first- and second-round draft selections are the essence of football success. Yet the Seahawks won the Super Bowl the past season with the league’s second-lowest total of games played by first- and second-round selections; only Miami had fewer 2013 games by first- or second-round picks

Let’s break this down.  I agree with his point on conventional wisdom.  But let’s think about why it’s true: why are first- and second-round draft selections the essence of football success?  Is it because they are early round picks — do players magically get better if they are picked in the first or second round?  Or are they generally good players and are therefore selected in the early rounds?  I’m going to go ahead and answer for everybody: it’s the latter.  And so is the key variable to a team’s sustained success the number of contributing first- and second-rounders on their team, or rather the number of good young players?  Again, the latter.  So does it matter that Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Kam Chancellor, and Richard Sherman weren’t first or second round picks?  Of course not.  All that matters is that they are good, young and on the team — which they are.  Easterbrook commits a classic “correlation doesn’t equal causation” fallacy in his first- and second-rounder argument and the result is a fatuous waste of time and digital memory.  (Don’t ask what it says about me that I just spent 1,000 words debunking it.)

One of Easterbrook’s implications, however, is true: the Seahawks are unlikely to win the championship again this year.  Of course this is true for every team, every year in every major American sports league, so it’s not really such an insightful tidbit.  As for making the playoffs, the ‘Hawks are actually quite likely to do so, despite what “recent history” tells us.  FiveThirtyEight puts the odds at 65% (based on Vegas point spreads), which initially seemed too low to me, but now seems about right.  Each year — what? — five, six teams are knocked out of the running due to injuries alone (e.g., last year’s Falcons).  So you should knock off about 20% from the get-go just based on the fact that the Jenga tower might collapse at any moment.

In the case of the ’14 Seahawks, that leaves about a 15% probability of a non-injury-plagued, non-playoff season.  What type of events could conspire to case such a nosedive?  In other words, why wouldn’t the ‘Hawks make the playoffs other than devastating injuries?   Here are the three most likely reasons, in my opinion:

  1.  Harder schedule, other teams in the NFC, particularly the NFC West are better.
    This was a bigger worry a few months ago.  San Francisco is poised be good again: they should lose a little on D with the NaVorro Bowman injury and possible Aldon Smith suspension, but they should gain a little on O with a healthy Michael Crabtree.  The Cardinals and Rams, on the other hand, are looking no better than they were last season.  The Cardinals once formidable defense has been drastically downgraded with the loss of several key players (e.g., Daryl Washington, Darnell Dockett, and Karlos Dansby) and the Rams are trotting out journeyman Shaun Hill at quarterback.  Elsewhere in the NFC, things look roughly the same as last year overall.  For every team poised to take a step forward (Tampa Bay), there is a team poised to take a step backward (Carolina).  The NFC doesn’t looked markedly better to me.
  2. Marshaw Lynch catches SOSAD (Sudden Onset Shaun Alexander Disorder).
    Because in recent years the running back position has been (correctly) assessed as having been previously overrated (teams don’t commit the same resources to running backs as they used to — or at least smart teams don’t), it is perhaps the case that really good running backs have, in a way, become underappreciated.  It is perhaps also the case that Marshawn Lynch is one of these really good running backs.  Given the number of tackles Beast Mode broke last season behind a mostly crummy O-line and given that Robert Turbin has been the epitome of a JAG (Just A Guy) in his young career and Christine Michael has almost no NFL experience, the offense likely sputters without Lynch.  In the linked FiveThirtyEight article above, the author debunks the “heavy workload” myth surrounding Lynch, but it also points out that he’s a year older than he was last season, and running backs age like bananas in the sun.  SOSAD is definite possibility.
  3. The Front Seven Isn’t Dominant.
    Red Bryant, Clinton McDonald, and Chris Clemons weren’t the best players on the team by any means, but they were part of a very good D-line rotation.  We’ve seen what happens when the Seahawks struggle to get to the quarterback and can’t stop the run: they get beat by good teams and by not-so-good teams.  If the front seven isn’t solid, the ‘Hawks likely go from spectacular to adequate on D, which would inevitably lead to an increase in Ls.

So in conclusion, TMQ makes very unconvincing arguments, and the Seahawks will likely make the playoffs, but if they don’t it will probably be due to catastrophic injury or one of the three things I list above.

Oh, and the Seahawks play the Raiders tonight in the final preseason game of the year.  Enjoy, if that’s your type of thing.

Fake Game 3: Seahawks vs. Bears — Let’s Harken Back to 2006 (2007, Technically)

Friday night, the Seahawks square off against the Chicago Bears in week three of the 2014 preseason.  Since preseason football has now been mathematically proven to be meaningless, I can use this opportunity to talk about my favorite Seahawks playoff loss of all-time.

The date was January 14, 2007.  The location was Soldier Field, Chicago.  The event was the Seattle Seahawks versus the Chicago Bears in the divisional round of the 2006 NFL Playoffs.  The Seahawks were the defending NFC champions, but on this occasion they were 8.5 point underdogs.  Suffering from a severe Super Bowl katzenjammer, the ’06 ‘Hawks were simply not a very good team.  They won an extremely weak NFC West with a 9-7 record and a negative point differential.  By DVOA they ranked a lowly 24 — one spot below the 6-10 Minnesota Vikings.   With the same basic personnel as the year prior, the defense inexplicably went from being an above average unit in 2005 to being a well below average one in 2006.  And the offense fell even harder.  The ’05 O was the best in the league; the ’06 unit was the sixth worst.

The reasons for the offensive plummet are many, but the biggest one was Shaun Alexander contracting a rare football disorder that would later bear his name: Sudden Onset Shaun Alexander Disorder (SOSAD, for short).  SOSAD is a disorder in which a great running back suddenly becomes a terrible one.  It is often caused by aging and injury and can be aggravated by the loss of a good offensive lineman; it’s symptoms include decreased speed and power, which are often manifested by a reduction in touchdowns and rushing yards-per-carry.  In Alexander’s case, he went from being league MVP and setting the single-season touchdown record in ’05 to making Seahawks fans pine for the days of Derrick Fenner in ’06.  SOSAD indeed.

In the ’06 wild card round, Seattle hosted Dallas.  The Cowboys were a superior team by nearly every measure, and they probably should have won the game, but this happened, and the ‘Hawks advanced to play the Bears in the divisional round — a Bears team who, I might add, pummeled them 37-6 in the regular season.  The Bears were led by an elite D, featuring in-their-primes Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs.  On offense, they had a decent running game, and their quarterback, Rex Grossman, although he would later become a punchline, was not that awful.  At least he wasn’t consistently that awful — he certainly had a penchant for turning the ball over, but he could also sling it deep (see clip below), which, given the Bears’ trio of downfield receivers (Bernard Berrian, Muhsin Muhammad, and Rashied Davis), was a useful skill.  I fully expected the Bears to crush the ‘Hawks like they did before.

But they didn’t.  And that’s what made this game so great.  The Seahawks stepped up and went toe-to-toe with the best team in the NFC, losing 24-21 on an overtime field goal by Robbie Gould.  And but for a failed 4th-and-1 attempt late in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks almost certainly would have won.  Every time the Bears punched the Seahawks counter-punched, until the very end.  If you were trying to pick a “karmic winner” based on which team played better, you wouldn’t have been able to — it was a dead heat.  Watching Gould’s kick hook through the uprights was excruciating (especially since I was watching with two Bears fans) but also weirdly satisfying.  It was a bit like seeing Rocky go the distance with Apollo Creed — only instead of Burgess Meredith, we had Mike Holmgren, and instead of Talia Shire, a fat man with a Sea-Fence sign.

This game was also memorable because it was Shaun Alexander’s last hurrah.  He went for 108 yards on 26 carries and two touchdowns, including a late third quarter score from 13 yards out on a 3rd-and-10 draw play.  At that point, Alexander’s disorder was an open secret among Seahawks fans; we knew he probably didn’t have much time left in football, so watching him dance around a stout defense once last time reminded us fondly of the running back we used to have oh so long ago, the year before.

Fake Game 2: Seahawks vs. Chargers (But First … Baseball!)

If you’re a Seattle sports fan and you’re going to watch tomorrow night’s Seahawks game, you’ve got problems … or you’re not a baseball fan, in which case you’ve got even bigger problems.  There is no way anybody should pick a preseason NFL game over a meaningful Major League Baseball game, and furthermore … Wait, what?  The Seahawks and Mariners games aren’t at the same time?  Huh.  How about that.  Well, OK then, you can watch the Seahawks in good faith, but you had better not switch off the M’s game if it’s close and it hasn’t ended by kickoff.

Even with the Seahawks’ glorious, glorious, and glorious Super Bowl victory still relatively fresh in my memory, it’s hard to really get into football right now.  In part this is because, well, preseason, but also it’s because the Mariners are relevant this late in the year for the first time since Edgar Martinez had a “little project”.  Sure the playoffs are still 50-50 at best, and even if they do make it, it will almost certainly be a potential one-and-done scenario on the road.  But that is more a function of the M’s happening to play in the same division as the two best teams in baseball than it is an indictment on their overall performance this year.

The truth is, the Mariners deserve to make the playoffs this season: They have a top-five run differential, and they have been historically good at preventing runs (all hail King Felix Hernandez!).  Also, with the additions of Austin Jackson, Kendrys Morales, and Chris Taylor, and the “breakout” of Dustin Ackley (hopefully … maybe … please?), the M’s actually have something resembling a major league offense.  It’s not quite there, but it’s a serviceable substitute.  It’s like Sizzlean (timely reference) — almost real bacon, just a bit leaner.

So let’s all put the Mariners first right now.  They’re legitimately good, and they’re fun to watch (or if you’re like me, they’re fun to follow on my iPhone via text generated on a mini baseball diamond with crude accompanying graphics).*  There will plenty of time to discuss Russell Wilson‘s charity work, Marshawn Lynch‘ disgruntlement, Kam Chancellor‘s recovery (did you know he had hip surgery this offseason?), and Justin Britt’s development in the future.  For now, to paraphrase one-time Seattle Pilots manager Joe Schultz: Let’s beat those Tigers and pound that Budweiser!  Actually, I’d prefer to do a nice craft beer from one of the many fine microbreweries in the area instead of Budweiser.  But you get the idea.

*Is there anything more pathetic than sitting on the edge of your seat as you watch the little animated fly ball move toward the “fence”: “C’mon, c’mon, get out!”

Fake Game 1: Seahawks @ Broncos — All Sizzle, No Steak

Are you ready for some football?!  Great, just wait one more month, and it will be here.  Today’s NFL is roughly 50% legitimate football and 50% vapid hype.  And August is the boom season for the latter.  The fact that Goddell & Co. treat preseason games as actual football events that, say, season ticket holders must attend (or at least pay admission), is ridiculous.  The only thing more ridiculous is that fans buy into it!  I bet Mile High Stadium will be packed tonight, and TV ratings will be strong from the PNW to the greater Denver area.  Preseason football is the guy at the party with the popped collar and the guitar playing tortured John Mayer covers.  You think to yourself nobody could possibly want to be in the presence of such a trite fellow, and yet he’s got three good-looking women by his side, singing along with him.  It only reinforces his bad behavior.

I mean, if you want to know how meaningless preseason football is, just look at last year’s Seahawks-Broncos game: The ‘Hawks harried Peyton Manning, forced turnovers, scored a defensive touchdown, moved the ball efficiently on offense, and jumped out to an early lead, before cruising to a 30-point blowout victory.  Such a game tells us absolutely nothing about what would happen if the two teams played when it actually mattered, and … Wait, bad example.  Scratch that.

So I don’t recommend it, but if you must watch the game tonight, here are some things to consider:

  • Do Terrelle Pryor or B.J. Daniels have a shot at supplanting Tarvaris Jackson as clipboard holder #1?
  • Is Christine Michael ready to regain the top spot on the depth chart at the “Guy Everybody Says Can Play Who Never Actually Plays” position or is Tharold Simon going to beat him out for it?
  • Are the Seahawks going to use a right tackle this season, or are they going to invent a new formation that eliminates the position altogether?
  • What Canadian team is going to sign Keith Price?
  • Is Mike Morgan the greatest ever Seahawks player who shares a name with an ex-Mariner?*

Enjoy.

*The answer is no.  1980s linebacker Michael Jackson is the greatest ever Seahawks player to share a name with an ex-Mariner.

Zombie Lies, NFL Addition — Russell Wilson, Game Manager

Since real football is still about a month away (enough with this Hall of Fame Game nonsense), we need to entertain ourselves with some inane football-related prattle.  To this end, let’s talk about Russell Wilson and some silly rumors swirling around him.  Don’t worry, they have nothing to do with Golden Tate, infidelity, nor divorce.

On his show Real Time, Bill Maher has a segment called “Zombie Lies” in which he exposes false narratives that continue to persist among the general population (and among many “experts”) no matter the abundance of objective evidence that piles up against them.  The reason these untruths never die is because they serve a preconceived political ideology.  In sports there are zombie lies as well.  And usually the reason is just as partisan.  We all have our favorite teams and favorite players and our least favorite teams and our least favorite players, and all too often too many of us view sports not as how it is, but as how we wish it was.  This leads to fallacies that people believe because they want to believe them, and then if a critical mass of people believe them, they gain momentum and more people believe them because everybody else believes.

Google “Russell Wilson Game Manager” if you want an example.  I still come across articles that purport this Zombie Lie, and I still frequently read comments by people online averring it as well (I know, it’s my fault for even reading these comments in the first place).  But it’s not true.  And not only is it not true, it’s diametrically not true.  Russell Wilson is the exact opposite of a game manager.  I give two general lines of reasoning to make my case: The Numbers Test and the Eyeball Test.

But first we need a working definition of “game manager”.  Wikipedia defines a game manager as “a quarterback who, despite relatively poor individual statistics such as passing yards and touchdowns, manages to perform well enough to win games”, which I think is a good enough starting point.  Let’s add that game managers typically: (1) make relatively few big plays, (2) utilize a very low-risk (and low-reward) style of play that includes avoiding turnovers at the expense of not moving the ball (and as a corollary, not scoring), (3) win games mostly because they have a good defense and a good running game, not because of things they do.

Now let’s look at why Russell Wilson fits these criteria, if only they were exactly opposite.

The Numbers Test

  1. Little known fact: The 2013 Seahawks offense relied heavily on big plays from the passing game.  According to SportingCharts.com, the Seahawks had the fifth most big plays of any passing game in the league.  And if you look at the percentage of their offense generated from big plays, they move up to second on the list.  Furthermore, Russell Wilson averaged 8.2 yards-per-attempt, fourth most in the league.  He was better at making big plays than slingers like Philip Rivers, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Matthew Stafford, and Andrew Luck, let alone a stereotypical game manager like Alex Smith.
  2. It’s true that Russell Wilson didn’t throw many interceptions (9 on the season), and that in a few games (e.g., the Saints playoff game) the focus seemed to be on not making a mistake more so than on attempting to move the ball downfield.  But if this was an overarching trend, and not just an occasional, situationally specific game plan, then surely it would be reflected in the numbers.  And yet the numbers tell a contrary story.  When it comes to moving the ball and scoring, Wilson was at least a top-10 quarterback (and even better if you consider his running).  He finished ninth in DYAR (770) and ninth in touchdowns (26).  Those aren’t game manager stats; those are plain good quarterback stats.
  3. The Seahawks defense and running game last season was (obviously) awesome, but it doesn’t therefore follow that Russell Wilson wasn’t awesome.  It could be that all three of these things were awesome.  And in fact that’s what the numbers suggest, and they further suggest that Wilson had a huge hand in the Seahawks Super Bowl season.  The three stats that most make this case: (1) Wilson’s Approximate Value was 16, the third highest of any player (not just quarterback) in the NFL; (2) Wilson led five game-winning drives, no quarterback led more; (3) Wilson had four fourth-quarter comebacks, only one quarterback had more (Tom Brady).  The fact is, when the time came to make a play, Wilson made it almost every time.

The Eyeball Test

Watch the Seahawks!  And if you don’t have time at least watch this.  Russell Wilson plays nothing like a game manager.

Bonus Test

Below are the most stereotypical game manager-y seasons I could think of: Trent Dilfer ’00, Tom Brady ’01, Mark Sanchez ’10, and Alex Smith ’11.  I put their stats in the table below with Russell Wilson’s last year.

Quarterback Year Win Loss Yards TD INT Y/A DVOA DVOA Rank
Trent Dilfer 2000 7 1 1502 12 11 6.6 -22.8 39
Tom Brady 2001 11 3 2843 18 12 6.9 5.4 12
Mark Sanchez 2010 11 5 3291 17 13 6.5 -4.3 28
Alex Smith 2011 13 3 3144 17 5 7.1 3.1 14
Russell Wilson 2013 13 3 3357 26 9 8.2 15.6 8

Which of these things is much better than the others?

What’s in a Name? Seahawks 2014 Draft Picks Graded

Keeping in line with my annual tradition, here is each 2014 Seahawks draft pick graded solely by his name.  I contend these grades will be just as useful as those from any expert analyst.

Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado

It’s a boring name, but not necessarily a bad name.  There is some history of Richardsons succeeding in sports.  In basketball, Quentin Richardson and Jason Richardson were both pretty good players in their primes, and let’s not forget about Micheal Ray Richardson and Pooh Richardson either.  In baseball, Bobby Richardson was the MVP of the 1960 World Series.  As for the NFL, the best Richardson was probably ’60s wide receiver Willie Richardson.  But my personal favorite was a receiver named Gloster Richardson who caught passes from Len Dawson on the Kansas City Chiefs back in the day.  There was also another wide receiver named Paul Richardson whose Pro-Football-Reference page is now being repeatedly linked to inadvertently.  Grade: C

Justin Britt, OT, Missouri

Most people hear Britt and immediately think Kenny Britt — the former Titans first-rounder who hasn’t panned out and probably never will.  But I hear Britt and think Britt Burns, the Chicago White Sox hurler from the ’80s who was sneaky good until a chronic hip condition forced him from the game at just 26 years old.  Burns was especially effective as rookie in 1980 when he lead all AL pitchers with 7 WAR.  And that’s the model for Justin Britt; he might be the Week 1 starter at right tackle, and if he can produce anything close to the football equivalent of a 7-WAR season, he’ll be the steal of the draft.  Grade: B

Cassius Marsh, DE, UCLA

Cassius is a fantastic name, but it comes with great expectations.  Living up to the arguably the greatest heavyweight boxing champion ever is a lot of pressure.  I like this pick, but it’s risky — very risky.  Grade: B

Kevin Norwood, WR, Alabama

Jerious Norwood wasn’t a bad player.  He was a nice “change of pace” back for some decent Falcon squads in the late 20 aughts.  But when it comes to Norwoods in the NFL, unfortunately, this is all people remember.  Grade: D

Kevin Pierre-Louis, LB, Boston College

Back-to-back Kevins: I like the willingness to go against convention with this pick.  I also like that he’s an edge front seven guy with Pierre in his last name — very reminiscent of Jason Pierre-Paul.  Also, in training camp, he can have the Ultimate Pierre Off with offensive lineman Lemuel Jeanpierre.  That will be fun.  Grade: B

Jimmy Staten, DL, Middle Tennessee St.

There is not a lot to go off with Jimmy Staten.  Jimmy is so generic, and the only Staten I know is an island.  I’d like to give him an incomplete grade, but I’m bound by the honor code that football bloggers have to live by to give him an actual grade.  I’ll play it right down the middle.  Grade: C

Garrett Scott, OT, Marshall

Ugh … Didn’t the ‘Hawks learn their lesson last year about drafting offensive linemen with two first names?  2013 seventh-rounder Ryan Seymour didn’t play a down last season for the Seahawks and now he’s on the 49ers.  I don’t like this pick at all.  Grade: D

Eric Pinkins, FS, San Diego St.

Eric is a strong name for a defensive back: Eric Allen, Eric Berry, Eric Davis, Eric Weddle, and Eric Wright were all All-Pros at some points in their respective careers.  Great value pick by the ‘Hawks taking a safety named Eric so late in the draft.  Grade: B

Kiero Small, RB, Arkansas

Saving the best for last — the ‘Hawks nailed it in the final round.  Kiero just sounds cool, and if you’re a fan of irony, nothing beats a 244-pound man named Small.  This was my favorite pick of the draft, without question.  Grade: A

Overall Grade: &

Last year I gave the ‘Hawks an overall grade of $, and nothing is more money than winning the Super Bowl, so I’m 1-for-1 with draft assessments.  This year I’m going with the ampersand to signify “and another one” … ‘Hawks 2014.

And We’re Back

We’re back!  We had some technical problems here at Jim Zorn‘s Lemma that kept us off-line for a few months, but things appear to be back on track.  And by technical problems, I mean we neglected to pay our host company the renewal fee.  If you do that, as it turns out, you might get shut down.  And then it might take a lot of time, money, and effort to get things rolling again.  It doesn’t help when the only person you know with any technical website know-how comes and goes with the wind and doesn’t own a phone.  But if this is up, it means things are going again, and if things are going again I’m sure we can build our readership numbers back up to the high single digits where they were before.

One bit of good fortune is that this happened in the off-season when there wasn’t a whole lot of football going on.  The big Seahawks news is that both Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas were signed to extensions.  It was costly, but the likely alternative was to lose these guys in a year or two; given this reality I like the moves.  The Seahawks just won the Super Bowl (in case you’ve forgotten), and their best hope at winning another (or multiple anothers) is to keep their core talent and fill in the rest with draft picks, undrafted projects, and thrifty veteran free-agent signings.  Golden Tate, Chris Clemons, Clinton McDonald, O’Brien Schofield, Breno Giacomini, Red Bryant, Walter Thurmond, Brandon Browner (Did I miss anybody?) are the casualties of this way of team building.  And that’s unfortunate, but unfortunately it’s necessarily unfortunate.  I’d rather have Sherman and Thomas and the next guys the ‘Hawks are going to sign long-term (Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner?) than have all those other guys I just mentioned.

Also, the NFL Draft just went down, and the Seahawks, like every other team in the NFL, made some picks in it.  In general, I’m not big a big draft fan – I don’t get the allure — but in my next entry I’ll grade all the Seahawks picks using my time-honored method: judging them by their names only.  I contend my grades will be just as accurate, on average, as those of any professional NFL pundit.

Steven Hauschka and a Brief History of Seahawks Kickers

Lost among more exciting things like, you know, winning the Super Bowl, was a terrific year of kicking by Steven Hauschka.  It was, by my estimation, the greatest season of kicking in Seahawks history and one of the greatest in NFL history.  If this sounds like an overstatement to you, consider:

  • Hauschka made 33 of 35 field goals for 94% success rate.  Only four times has a kicker made more field goals and had a higher percentage.
  • He was 14 of 15 from long range (40 yards and up), three for three from long long range (50 yards and up), and his only “miss” was actually not a miss but a blocked kick.
  • He had two game-winning field goal attempts and made both of them (Houston and Tampa Bay).
  • He was a perfect eight for eight in the postseason, including three field goals against New Orleans in a wind storm, one of which was from 49 yards out.
  • Instead of trying a 52-yarder outdoors in the NFC Championship Game, he told Pete Carroll to go for it (what athlete does that?) and then watched as the Seahawks scored the go-ahead touchdown.

Like I said, it was a terrific year.  And it helped Hauschka get paid, as the ‘Hawks resigned him to a three-year deal worth roughly $9 million, $3 million of which is guaranteed.  This seems like a reasonable deal to me.  Hauschka deserves a raise — and he got one — but it wasn’t an overpay. Overpaying kickers is something stupid teams often have in common.*  Plus, as Nate Kaeding, Garrett Hartley, Billy Cundiff, and many others can tell you, kickers can go from hero to hated in the time it takes a liquored up idiot to send the ball 15 yards wide right.

A thing about kicking: If you’re team is really good at it, it is a legitimately big advantage.  Another thing about kicking: It’s almost impossible to predict if your team will be good at it or not.  The talent gap between the best and worst kickers in the NFL is so narrow that a lot of what we perceive to be ability in the kicking game is probably just random variance.  That’s how a guy like David Akers can go from an All NFLer in 2011 (85% FG Pct.) to the worst kicker in the league in 2012 (69% FG Pct.).  Nobody likes variance (luck, as it’s called in some circles) as an explanation for why athletes perform well or badly.  But sometimes it’s the only one that makes sense.

So the bottom line is, I’m fine with Hauschka getting paid, but we probably want to temper our expectations for him heading into the 2014 season.

Now, as part of my super fun offseason plan to drudge up random ghosts of Seahawks past, here is a brief history of Seattle kickers.

The first kicker in Seahawks history was a rookie named Don Bitterlich.  He lasted all of three games, getting the boot (get it?) after missing three field goals in a loss to the 49ers.  He was replaced by a veteran, John Leypoldt, who was nearly as inept as Bitterlich, missing half his field goal attempts on the season.

The following year the Seahawks decided if they couldn’t find a kicker who could actually kick the ball well, at least they could get one who had a cool, foreign-sounding name.  Since Garo Yepremian and Rolf Benirschke were already spoken for, they went with the Mexican sidewinder, Efren Herrera.  Herrera kicked four seasons in Seattle, making 70% of his field goals and 94% of his extra points.  This is interesting mostly in that it illustrates how much the standards of placekicking have increased in just one generation.  There is no way an NFL kicker could have those numbers over a single season today (missing 6% of one’s extra point attempts?!), let alone make a career of them.

After Herrera came the “great” Norm Johnson.  I use quotes because although he’s the starting kicker on the Seahawks “Dream Team”, he wasn’t all that good.  He was fine — serviceable is the correct adjective — nothing more.  In 1984, he was an All-NFL selection, but that was one of just two times he was in the top ten in field goal percentage in his nine years in Seattle.  He actually got much better later in his career, but by then he was kicking for Atlanta and Pittsburgh.  He currently ranks 12th all-time in field goals.

A left-footed rookie with a big leg named John Kasay replaced Johnson in 1991.  He didn’t leave the NFL until 2011, but he played just four seasons in Seattle.  He was pretty good with the Seahawks, except for 1992 when he missed eight of 22 field goals.  But it fit the theme of the ’92 ‘Hawks (not scoring points), so I’ll give him a pass for this.  Unfortunately for all you Kasayophiles out there, he can’t get a pass for his best-known moment in the NFL — a botched kickoff in Super Bowl XXXVIII that set up the game-winning field goal for the New England Patriots over his Carolina Panthers.

Next up was the underrated Todd Peterson.  In his five-year stint in Seattle, he made field goals at an 82% clip, a better rate than any of his predecessors.  And he went a perfect 177 for 177 on extra points to boot (get it?).  Also some random fans mistook a friend of mine for him once while my friend was visiting somebody in the Seahawks locker room after a game.  So, yeah … that’s something.

Peterson was accurate, but he didn’t have a strong leg, so in 2000 the ‘Hawks brought in rookie Rian Lindell who had a strong leg but wasn’t accurate.  I’ve held a grudge against Lindell ever since October 28, 2001.  On that day, he missed a 27-yard field goal with two minutes left in a 24-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins.  The Seahawks finished the year at 9-7, and had they won one more game, they would have made the playoffs.  Now, really Mike Holmgren is whom I should be holding the grudge against — what type of gutless coach attempts a field goal on 4th and 4, down 4 with 2:00 on the clock? — but I (correctly) reasoned that Holmgren would do some great things in Seattle and that Lindell would be gone in a few years later.  I was just being smart with my grudge-holding.

Speaking of grudges: Josh Brown.  He came to the Seahawks in 2003 and gave them five solid years.  He was especially good from long range knocking down nearly 60% of his kicks from 50-yards and over.  Except, of course, when it mattered the most.  In Super Bowl XL, Brown missed his only two long attempts (50 and 54 yards).  We Seahawks fans love to whinge about the refs, but those missed field goals were just as bad as any wrong call in that game … except the Darrell Jackson OPI call … and the Sean Locklear holding call … and the Shaun Alexander horse collar tackle non-call … and the Matt Hasselbeck illegal block call …  Actually, on second thought, those shitty-ass calls were worse.  Much worse.

Olindo Mare is a great example why you shouldn’t put too much faith in an NFL placekicker.  In 2001, he led the NFL in field goal percentage (91%) and was rounding out a five year stretch in which he was one of the best booters in the biz.  The following year he began a five-year stretch in which he wasn’t.  In fact, he was quite poor.  Things got so bad for Mare that the Saints cut him after he missed seven of 17 field goals to open the 2006 season.  Seattle signed him the following year, and he was suddenly good again.  In three season with the ‘Hawks, he made 88% of his kicks.  That’s not just good, that’s very good.

But not has good as Hauschka.  In this three years with the team, he’s made over 89% of his kicks.  Overall, he’s the fourth most accurate kicker in NFL history.  Although his time in the Blue and Highlighter Green has been brief, his body of work — all things considered — is, in my opinion, better than that of any Seattle kicker ever.  I hereby declare Steven Hauschka the greatest placekicker in Seahawks history.

Just don’t be shocked if he sucks next year.

-DJG

*Check out this link.  Sebastian Janikowski, Dan Bailey, and Josh Scobee are three of the top five kickers by guaranteed money.  You could replace anyone one of these guys with an undrafted free agent, and it would hardly matter one way or the other.

This Week’s Super Bowl Tax Payment: Tate, Et al.

After a team wins the Super Bowl, a topic among people who talk about football is what said Super Bowl-winning team can and will do to keep their core talent.  The usual refrain is something along the lines of “they won’t be able to keep everybody”.  Of course this is true for every team every offseason, but it’s especially true for the Super Bowl winner because they usually have very good players (who in turn become very expensive players, if they’re not already) and because the value of their players goes up — if only superficially — due to the exposure and cache that comes with being a champion (think Joe Flacco, Dannell Ellerbe, and Paul Kruger last year).  There is a Super Bowl Tax.

The Seahawks are in better shape to deal with this tax than they could be because the thickest cream of their roster is still on team-friendly deals (Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, etc.).  But there is still a levy to be paid.  They ‘Hawks have already ponied up guys like Red Bryant and Sidney Rice.  And this week a few more payments were debited.

The biggest name was Golden Tate.  He was also the most obvious.  Yes, he made comments about being amenable to a hometown discount, but I think it was pretty clear that that was largely post-coitus pillow talk.  It would be a misallocation of resources for the ‘Hawks to give Golden Tate anything close to the $31 million ($13.25 million guaranteed) he got from Detroit.  And Tate would be a fool to not take the money now.  The NFL is cutthroat, and this could very well be Tate’s only chance at a big payday.  Nobody should pass up the opportunity to be set for life because they like the vibes in City A better than City B.  Staying in Seattle just didn’t make sense for Tate, and keeping him around just didn’t make sense for the Seahawks.  We have to chalk up this breakup to irreconcilable differences and move on amicably.  We will always have the Sean Lee hit.

The defensive line also took a sizable hit this week.  Chris Clemons was released.  The move makes sense salary cap-wise, but it still means the ‘Hawks lose a decent pass rusher.  Clinton McDonald was snatched away by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who quintupled his annual salary and locked him down for four years.  I was (selfishly) hoping he would fly under the radar, and the ‘Hawks could bring him back on the cheap.  But when the self-proclaimed “Worldwide Lead of Sports” writes articles extolling your virtues, you’re not exactly in stealth mode.  Also O’Brien Schofield was signed by the Giants for two-years / $8 million, which seems like a substantial overpay (more per year than McDonald) for a guy who didn’t take many defensive snaps last season.

So now the pertinent question is what the Seahawks will do in response to these subtractions.  At wide receiver there have been rumors of bringing Rice back, which makes a ton of sense if they can get him at a reasonable price.  I would be very much in favor of this move.  There is also talk of signing pass-catching tight end Jermichael Finley.  And I would be very much not in favor of this move (unless they could get him super cheap).  He’s an injury risk, and I don’t think was that good even when healthy.

The way I see it, the Seahawks do not absolutely have to do something at receiver.  Getting a guy like Rice would be nice, but if it doesn’t happen, rolling with Percy Harvin, Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, and Ricardo Lockette (with Zach Miller and Luke Willson at tight end) would be fine.  They wouldn’t be the 1980 San Diego Chargers, but the the ‘Hawks could move the ball with them.

The D-line, on the other hand, could use some bolstering.  Bringing back Tony McDaniel would be good as would developing Jordan Hill into useful rotational guy.  On the edge, Jared Allen would be perfect if there is any substance to the Allen-to-Seattle rumors.  If not, maybe the ‘Hawks look for a steal in the draft.  Michael Sam?  He would be intriguing at least.

-DJG

Against All (OK, Some) Odds ‘Hawks Resign Moses Beard

It takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong.  It takes a medium-sized man to admit when he’s kinda wrong.  I am just such a medium-sized man.  I admit that I was kinda wrong about Michael Bennett.  He shall return to the shores of Puget Sound.

I wasn’t completely wrong, because I was open to the fact X would come back.  I just didn’t think it was likely (hence the use of hedging phrases like “skeptical” and “probably won’t” and “I don’t think”).  But if you say something isn’t likely to happen, and then it happens, that doesn’t necessarily mean you were wrong.  It could just mean an unlikely event occurred.*  (Now if things continually happen that you said weren’t likely, then that’s a different story.)  So I wasn’t “wrong” about Bennett; it’s just not a data point in my favor.

Anyway … The deal is a very reasonable one for the Seahawks:  Four years, $28.5 million, $16 million guaranteed.  For a very-good-but-not-quite-great defensive lineman on the open market, that’s a very fair — even a bit team-friendly — contract.  As many are pointing out, it’s less than what Everson Griffen — a guy I had never heard of prior to a week ago — got from the Minnesota Vikings.

It seems strange to me that X didn’t test the market longer.  I now suspect he never intended to leave Seattle in the first place, and all the talk about “this isn’t Costco” and all the rumors linking him to other teams were maneuvers to give him more leverage in negotiations.  If Michael Bennett wanted to maximize his bottom line, I think he could have done better.  If he wanted to be between $15 and $30 million richer and play for the most dominant defense of the last decade — if that’s the case — then he absolutely nailed it.  And, you must admit, that sounds pretty sweet.

-DJG

*It’s like if a weatherperson says it will rain with 75% probability then he or she is not wrong if it doesn’t rain.  In fact, it should not rain 25% of the time.  If it rains every time, then their forecasting is off, the same way it would be wrong if it rained only 50% of the time.