Off-Season Olio: Top Ten Seahawks Running Backs

The lists continue.  And why not?  There isn’t much else Seahawks-related stuff to do right now.  I mean, we could speculate endlessly on what Marshawn Lynch meant with his latest set of cryptic comments, but I’d prefer not to do that.  I’m starting to think Lynch is an Andy Kaufman-esque madman, and he’s playing a never-ending prank on football fans everywhere that exists only in his own head.  Well, if that’s the case, I’m not falling for it anymore.  Say or don’t say whatever you want Beast Mode, announce your retirement or don’t.  It doesn’t matter to me.  I’m onto you.

But since he’s in the news and I’m doing a bunch of Seattle-centric lists, it only makes sense to do the top ten running backs in Seahawks history.

10.  Mack Strong, 1994-2007
Mack Carlington Strong: If I was only going by name, he would be number one on the list.  In his 14-year career, spent entirely with the Seahawks (the second longest in franchise history), Strong was used almost exclusively as a blocking back.  In fact, you can argue he had so few carries in his career (never more than 40 in a season), that he doesn’t even qualify as a “running back”.  But I put him on this list because he was a really good fullback — a two-time Pro Bowler and an All-Pro selection in 2005 — and because I couldn’t stomach putting Julius Jones on it.  Nothing against Mr. Jones personally, it’s just that it was abysmal watching the ‘Hawks those years when he was the focal point of the offense.

(The only Mack Strong highlight I could find.)

9.  Maurice Morris, 2002-2008
Are we sure Maurice Morris and Robert Turbin aren’t the same person?  They have similar builds and styles and both began their careers by being the sub for a superstar running back.  If Marshawn Lynch doesn’t return to the team this year, and Turbin takes over as the starter and does a fair to middling job in his place before going to the Detroit Lions, then things will really get eerie.

Morris wasn’t a fantastic runner, but he was a decent enough “bridge” back — he got most his carriers in the years between the first two Seattle Super Bowls and wasn’t a total disaster.  Also, he once went for $73 in a free agent auction in my fantasy league.  A team’s budget for the entire season is $100.  Yes, that really happened.

8.  Dan Doornink, 1979-1985
“Dr. Dan” was both the best white running back and the greatest number two running back in franchise history.  He never led the team in rushing, but he ranks tenth in career yardage.  Doornink was also a reliable target through the air, and he had a reputation for being clutch, which is what bumped him ahead of Morris on this list.  He was nicknamed “Mr. Third Down” for his propensity to pick up crucial first downs, and his best ever performance came in the only Seattle playoff win in the two-plus decades from 1983 to 2005.

After retiring from football, Doornink became an M.D. in Yakima.  This ranks him a very distance second in the “Best NFL Running Back Who Later Studied Medicine” category.

7.  Sherman Smith, 1976-1982
He’s the team’s current running back coach, and he was also the first ever featured back in a Seahawks offense.  As a rookie in Seattle’s inaugural season, Sherman Smith led the team in rushing with 537 yards.  That’s not a huge total, but Smith did it on just 119 attempts (4.5 Y/A), and he added another 384 yards through the air.  He was quietly effective, not just for the year, but for the next half decade.  Although he never topped 805 yards in a season, during his peak, Smith was one of the better running backs in the league as evidenced by his three straight seasons (1977-1979) with double digit approximate value totals.  The only knock against “The Tank” (get it?) is that he didn’t do it long enough.  A knee injury sidelined Smith for most of the 1980 season, and contrary to the optimism he expresses in this 1981 article from the Ellensburg Daily Record, he never had another good season.

6.  Ricky Watters, 1998-2001
Interesting tidbit about Ricky Watters: He was the first NFLer to rush for 1,000 yards in a season with three different teams.  (Willis McGahee also did it after Watters.)  As a rookie with the 49ers in 1992, he went for 1,003 (then had one of the all-time great Super Bowl performances two years later), and then with the Eagles he topped the 1,000-yard mark three times, including a career high 1,411 in 1996, when he led the NFL in yards from scrimmage (1,855 yards).  But surprisingly, Watters put up more total yards with the Seahawks than he did with either of his previous two teams.

Or maybe this isn’t surprising if you remember that Watters was really, really good for the ‘Hawks for a solid three years from 1998 through 2000.  He was the best player on the offense each season during that stretch, never running for fewer than 1,200 yards and never compiling fewer than 1,550 yards from scrimmage.  Really, the only knock on Watters is that he didn’t have any postseason success in Seattle.  Oh, and also there was the “For who?  For what?” quote, but that was in Philly.

5.  John L. Williams, 1986-1993
John L. Williams was an old-school fullback in that he actually got to touch the ball.  Today fullbacks are either plodding white guys who seemingly only get on the field so that the crowd can call out their name in unison (“K-u-u-u-u-h-n”), or they are dudes who might play fullback one play and then left guard the next.  They are seldom ball handlers.  But 25 years ago, fullbacks were still a focal point of the offense.  In fact, in the case of John L. Williams, he was the focal point of the offense for several years.

From 1988 to 1991, Williams led the ‘Hawks in yards from scrimmage each season.  Although he did get a fair amount of carries (10 or so a game), he mainly contributed as a pass catcher out of the backfield.  His 471 receptions with the Seahawks is the third most in franchise history, and his 546 total receptions ranks tenth all-time among running backs.  But Williams also fulfilled the traditional fullback role, as he was an excellent blocker, as well.  Basically, he was just an all around stud (“Big John L. Studd?”), but don’t take my word for it; believe the unidentified narrator in the clip below.

4.  Chris Warren, 1990-1997
I really wanted to put the extremely underrated Chris Warren ahead of Curt Warner, but I couldn’t quite justify it.  The general perception is that Warner was the far superior Seattle running back with the initials C.W. (in Pro Football Reference’s crowd-sourced Elo ratings, for instance, at the time I write this, Warner rates as the 171st best offensive player ever, Warren is just the 451st), but the truth is they were actually very, very close.  I would say Warner was a bit better (which is why he’s ahead of Warren on this list) — but it’s just that: a bit better.  Chris Warren was really good.

The problem is that Warren’s teams were not good.  And when a very good player is on a perpetual loser, it tends to obscure his very-goodness.  Used almost exclusively as a return man early in his career, Warren took over as the starting halfback in 1992 on a 2-14 team.  Over the next three years, he was arguably the best running back in the AFC; he made the Pro Bowl each season, accumulated over 4,000 total rushing yards, and scored 34 touchdowns.  His 1994 campaign was particularly impressive, as Warren ran for 1,545 yards and added 323 more through the air, giving him 1,868 yards from scrimmage, the second highest total in Seahawks history. But the ‘Hawks, mired with Rick Mirer at quarterback, didn’t have a single winning season when Warren was the featured back.  This is likely the main reason he isn’t held in higher esteem by football fans today.

It also didn’t help that Warren blew up just after the release of Tecmo Super Bowl.  When I used to play with the Seahawks on that game, I always wanted to sub Warren in and rack up the yardage within him.  But, alas, his avatar was slow and weak, and so I would usually end up repeatedly throwing it to Jeff Chadwick, who was good on that game for some reason.

Anyway, here’s a cool YouTube video of Warren taking it to the house (second clip) in a 1995 Sunday Night Football blowout of the Raiders.

3.  Curt Warner, 1983-1989
Did you ever know somebody who likes football, but isn’t a die-hard fan, so they only have a few go-to facts, so they tell you them over and over again, and you don’t say anything because they’re just being friendly and trying to make conversation?  That was my dad watching the Seahawks when I was a kid: “Did you know Curt Warner ran the ball 60 yards on his first carry as a Seahawk?” he used to say to me seemingly every game.  I did know it — every time but the first time he told me.

The big run to which my dad was referring came in the first game of the 1983 season, which the ‘Hawks lost to Kansas City 13-17.  But don’t fret, they got revenge later in the season, beating the Chiefs in a spectacular 51-48 overtime shootout, with Warner having the best game of his career, going for 207 and three scores.  Then a month later the rookie was sensational in Seattle’s upset win over the Dolphins in the AFC divisional round.

But in Week 1 of the following year, Warner tore his ACL, missing what, for many years, was the best regular season in franchise history (imagine if the ‘Hawks had had a healthy Warner).  Although he made two more Pro Bowls post-injury (’86 and ’87), Warner had a relatively short career (just seven seasons), likely due, at least in part, to the long-term effects of his knee injury.  Nevertheless, Warner is a Seahawks Ring of Honor member, and he is the third best running back in franchise history, in my book … or blog, rather.

2.  Shaun Alexander, 2000-2007
Because his greatness evaporated so quickly and because it never looked like he was playing hard (“Eric Dickerson Disease”), there is, I think, a tendency to forget just how special a running back Shaun Alexander really was.  Sure, he ran behind Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson most his career, but a good offensive line alone cannot explain the numbers Alexander churned out for the five-year stretch between 2001 and 2005.  It was one of the most productive half-decades for a running back in NFL history (especially in terms of fantasy production — see the video below).  And it culminated with Alexander’s record-breaking MVP year of 2005, which is, in my opinion, the greatest single-season by a Seahawk in franchise history.  In fact, if I was only considering the regular season, then I would put Alexander number one on this list.  But I’m not only considering the regular season, so number one goes to somebody else …

1.  Marshawn Lynch, 2010-2014
And that somebody else is, of course, Marshawn Lynch.  He still needs at least two more monster seasons to have a chance to catch Alexander in terms of raw regular-season production.  But I put Lynch at the top of the list because of what he’s done in the postseason.  It seems to be the bigger the stage, the higher the Beast Mode setting.  To wit, in his ten playoff games, Lynch as gone over 130 yards four times, and he’s gone over 100 yards six times.  And in three of the four games he didn’t top the century mark, the Seahawks either fell way behind early and had to throw to get back into it (Chicago 2010, Atlanta 2012), or they were so far ahead (Super Bowl XLVIII) that it didn’t really matter what they did on offense for most the game.  Really, the Carolina match this year was the only playoff game in which it was close for much the contest and Lynch was shut down.  And by “shut down” I mean he averaged 4.2 yards-per-attempt and helped open up the passing game so that Russell Wilson could go nuts.

Of course it’s not just the consistency in the postseason that makes Lynch a living Seahawks legend; it’s also the iconic runs.  Quick, name Shaun Alexander’s most impactful run as a Seahawk.  Nothing comes immediately to mind, does it?  Yet with Lynch, you’ve got this one or this one or this one or this one.  And that’s before even mentioning the two huge pass receptions he had in this year’s postseason (0:43 mark here and 0:50 mark here).  Beast Mode has already establish the greatest postseason résumé in Seattle playoff history and hopefully he will return next season to try to add to it.  Because if he doesn’t — if he does really decide to retire — the lasting memory for too many Seahawks fans will be of the one great postseason run he didn’t get the chance to make.

Off-Season Olio: Top Ten Seahawks Quarterbacks

It’s the off-season.  I’m not one for the NFL combine or free agency rumors or even the NFL draft.  Those things, to me, are prefab football — they’re non-events, hyped as if they’re something meaningful.  They are inventions of the NFL, created to try to take advantage of vulnerable NFL fans, who are in football withdrawal.  Don’t go for them.  Be strong.  If  you need a football fix, do what I do: Read or write silly lists about your favorite franchise.

Last week I did the ten worst losses in Seahawks history.  And in so doing, I got caught up watching a YouTube video of the third quarter of Seattle’s loss to Green Bay in the 2003 Wild Card game.  Although the ‘Hawks were defeated in excruciating fashion, they outscored the Packers 14-0 in the third quarter, so the video was actually pleasurable to watch.  I forgot just how good and fun the Seahawks offense was back then, especially Matt Hasselbeck.  And it got me thinking: Is Hasselbeck the greatest Seahawks quarterback ever, or has Russell Wilson surpassed him already?  Let’s figure it all out with a Seahawks QB top-ten list.

10.  Jeff Kemp, 1987-1991
Sure, he only started five games for the Seahawks and threw twice as many interceptions (18) as touchdowns (9).  But he was my favorite backup of the ’80s.  This almost entirely stems from one game in 1987 against Detroit, in which he threw three touchdowns to Steve Largent in the first quarter.  What happened is, with the NFL strike close to ending, a few players came back early, Largent and Kemp being two of them, and so the regulars got to feast on the scabby Lions D.  It wasn’t a fair fight, and in retrospect it makes sense that Kemp and Largent, two conservatives (remember Jeff’s dad?  Bob Dole’s running mate in 1996?), would break early from the union, but it was fun as hell for 10-year-old me to watch at the time.  So I give the nod to Jeff Kemp.  Although, if I was going strictly on merit, without the nostalgia factor, I’d put John Friesz here.

9.  Charlie Whitehurst, 2010-2011
Yes, he only played nine games for the Seahawks.  Yes, he went 1-3 in his four starts.  Yes, the ‘Hawks squandered a third-round pick on him.  But Whitehurst did have two great moments in the blue and highlighter green: He led the team to the playoffs by winning the final game of the 2010 season, and he threw the game-winning touchdown pass in the epic upset of the Giants in 2011.  For this, I rank Chaz Whitehurst number nine.  Plus, who else is it going to be — Rick Mirer, Seneca Wallace?  Exactly.

8.  Trent Dilfer, 2001-2004
In 2001, the Seahawks went 9-7 and were eliminated from the playoffs in the final week of the season.  They probably would have made it if Dilfer started every game of the season.  Matt Hasselbeck was in his first season as a starter and not very good yet.  He mostly played poorly in his 12 starts going 5-7 and throwing more picks (8) than touchdowns (7).  Dilfer, on the other hand, was pretty good, winning all four of starts, including a three touchdown performance in a clutch late-season victory over San Diego.  Dilfer actually began the next season as the starting quarterback, the first time he had done so since 1999 (despite squeezing a Super Bowl win in there), but he was injured in the preseason and then hit-or-miss when he returned.  When he went down with an Achilles tear in Week 8, Hasselbeck took over for good … and was good.

7.  Tarvaris Jackson, 2011-2014
Heading into the Super Bowl against the Broncos, I kept having a recurring fantasy in which Russell Wilson gets hurt early in the game and T-Jax comes in to lead Seattle to the promise land and claim the Super Bowl MVP.  As you might recall, things didn’t actually play out this way.  But what it means (other than I need to start reading Anaïs Nin to develop some better fantasies) is that I don’t think Jackson is a terrible quarterback.  He’s not good, just not bad.  He has his moments.  His career record as a starter is 17-17, 7-7 with the Seahawks, and he’s thrown 39 touchdowns and 35 picks.  On a decent team, he’s a .500 quarterback — and that’s good enough to be an NFL backup and be the seventh best quarterback in Seattle history.

6.  Warren Moon, 1997-1998
Obviously, Mr. Moon would be much higher had he played more than two professional seasons in Seattle.  He’s the only Seahawks quarterback in the Hall of Fame.  A UW grad, who was well past his prime by the time he returned to the shores of Puget Sound, Moon actually had a very good season in 1997.  In fact, in terms of total production it was arguably the best passing season in pre-Hasselbeckian Seahawks history: 313 completions, 3,678 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 1 Pro-Bowl MVP.  Moon also gets some extra credit for making one of the greatest radio calls in franchise history: “Game over, baby!

5.  Jon Kitna, 1997-2000
The local boy who hit it big.  I remember watching Kitna play in person at a Central Washington University game circa 1994 and thinking to myself, “dang, this dude is pretty good for the NAIA.”  Little did I know he would go on to star in NFL Europe with the Barcelona Dragons and then take over as the starter for the Seahawks midseason 1998.  (In my defense, it would be really spooky if I foresaw all that at the time.)  Kitna’s best season was 1999, when he beat out another local boy from a much more renown school, Brock Huard, for the starting job, and then took the team to their first playoff appearance in a decade.  The next year, he entered the season again as the starter, but he had an up-and-down season and failed to endear himself to Mike Holmgren.  I remember hearing a Holmgren quote at the time that was something like (paraphrase), “My backup in Green Bay is better than my starter here.”  So he traded for said backup, effectively ending Kitna’s days in Seattle.

4.  Jim Zorn, 1976-1984
The eponymous Mr. Zorn.  He was the first ever Seahawks quarterback, and he was a pretty good one, all things considered.  Yeah, he lost a lot more games than he won (44-62), but when you start your career as the quarterback of an expansion franchise, in 1976, that’s going to happen.  Zorn’s best seasons were 1978 and 1979 when each year he finished among the top five in passing yardage and led the team to a 9-7 record, missing the playoffs by a single game.  Zorn was also an excellent scrambler, one of those lithe lefties who looked so natural throwing on the run.  Four times he topped 200 yards rushing in a season.  Really, the only knock on Zorn is that he never started a postseason game.  By the time the ‘Hawks were good enough to make the playoffs, there was a new floppy-haired sheriff in town.

3.  Dave Krieg, 1980-1991
Signed in 1980 out of a college in Iowa that no longer exists, Krieg had to wait a few years behind Zorn before getting his break midway through the 1983 season.  To say he made the most of his opportunity is an understatement: He took the team to within a game of making the Super Bowl.  Proving it was no fluke, Krieg had his best season the following year, throwing for over 3,500 yards and over 30 touchdowns, leading the ‘Hawks to a 12-4 finish without star running back Curt Warner (a great “what if” season).  Although he never again matched his ’84 production, Krieg went on to be a pretty good to slightly above average quarterback for the next 14 years (seven in Seattle).  I’ve never seen any numbers that bear this out, but my memory of Krieg is as a quintessential streak QB.  He seemingly had more than his fair share of five turnover days, but when he got hot, he was as good as anybody in the league.  He was like Jay Cutler, without the pouty face.

2.  Matt Hasselbeck, 2001-2010
Regular season versus regular season, I would actually take Dave Krieg over Matt Hasselbeck, but Matthew gets the bump because of his postseason success.  He took the team to the playoffs six times (to Krieg’s four), and he usually played pretty well when they got there (even in loss).  His game against the Saints in the Beast Quake Bowl is either the best or second best QB performance in Seahawks postseason history.  Hasselbeck is also the all-time franchise leader in passing yards, and he’s the greatest bald quarterback, among all franchises, since Terry Bradshaw.

1.  Russell Wilson, 2012-2014
You were expecting Stan Gelbaugh?  Of course it’s Russell Wilson.  He’s only played three seasons, but those seasons, on a per play basis, have been so far beyond what any other Seahawks quarterback has ever accomplished that it’s more than enough to secure the number one spot.  There’s also the fact that Wilson is on pace to be one of the best running quarterbacks ever and that he’s the most exciting player in the league (IMHO).  Oh, and then there’s this: He came within a yard of winning back-to-back Super Bowls.  Russell Wilson is already the best quarterback in Seahawks history.  And it’s not even close.

Two and a Half Weeks Later: The 10 Worst Seahawks Losses Ever

Two and a half weeks later and I stand by what I wrote in my entry immediately after the game.  Perhaps I would phrase it differently today, perhaps I would leave out the soul-searching preamble, and I definitely wouldn’t use all-caps, but I think my point stands: The general idea was not bad; the specific play call and execution were.  But this is old news.  Nobody wants to hear it now, and I don’t want to write about it.

Instead, as a final act of catharsis for the 2014 Seahawks season, let’s see just where this Super Bowl defeat fits among the all-time worst Seahawks losses.  (Spoiler alter: It’s not number one for me.)  Here are my top ten, from least to most painful.

10.  Ravens 44 — Seahawks 41: Week 12, 2003
Why it was painful: The ‘Hawks held a 17-point lead midway through the third quarter — and then Anthony Wright threw his second, third, and fourth touchdown passes to Marcus Robinson and the Ravens won in OT.  That’s literally what happened: the ‘Hawks were smoked by the legendary combination of Wright-to-Robinson.  To make matters worse, the Ravens never should have had time to kick the game-tying field goal in regulation.  The referees stopped the clock on a nullified penalty and never restarted it, giving the Ravens a de facto time out and one last chance they never should have had.

Mitigating Factors:  It was a regular season game that ultimately had no affect on the Seahawks’ playoff position.

9.  Packer 42 — Seahawks 20: NFC Division Round 2007
Why it was painful:  The Seahawks led 14-0 five minutes into the game and looked poised to upset the Packers in Green Bay in the playoffs.  Then Ryan Grant, whose two fumbles led to the two early Seattle scores, went for 200+ yards and three scores.  Brett Favre added three more touchdowns through the air.  I walked home from my neighborhood watering hole in the snow dejectedly.

Mitigating Factors:  Old man Favre got his comeuppance the next week against the Giants — and a few years later.

8.  Rams 27 — Seahawks 20: NFC Wild Card 2004
Why it was painful:  The Rams were not very good and yet they beat the ‘Hawks three times that season (a third of their total wins), twice in Seattle, including this game.  The Seahawks had a chance to tie the game on the penultimate play but Bobby Engram dropped a catchable (but tough) ball in the end zone.  This was Jerry Rice‘s last game in the NFL, and he didn’t catch a pass.

Mitigating Factors:  The Seahawks were not that good either.  They weren’t going much further even if they won.

7.  Oilers 23 — Seahawks 20: AFC Wild Card 1988
Why it was painful:  It was Steve Largent‘s last really great game, and the Seahawks lost on an overtime field goal by one of the Zendejaseses.  Total buzz kill for 11-year old me.

Mitigating Factors:  It was the strike season, and the Seahawks only made the playoffs because their scabs beat the Dolphins’ scabs in Week 3 of the season.  In retrospect, it’s remarkable that the NFL actually used replacement players — like for real, they did this.  I don’t think they could get away with it today.  I mean, look what happened when they used replacement officials.

6.  Steelers 20 — Seahawks 10: Super Bowl 2005
Why it was painful:  It was the Super Bowl.  And the Seahawks lost.

Mitigating Factors:  There was a modicum of “happy to be there” sentiment.  It was the best the ‘Hawks had ever done.  Plus, the refereeing was so bad, I was numb by the end.  That’s why this is only number six, even though it was the Super Bowl.

5.  Packers 33 — Seahawks 27: NFC Wild Card 2003
Why it was painful: Matt Hasselbeck said “We want the ball, and we’re gonna score,” and then promptly threw a walk-off pick-six.  Actually, the Seahawks punted and then Green Bay punted and then Hasselbeck threw his fateful INT, but nobody really remembers those first two overtime series.  To any event, this was the first time in a long time I was invested in a Seahawks playoff game and one bad ball ruined the party faster than you could say who-the-hell-is-Alex Bannister-and-why-is-he-getting-a-target-in-this-crucial-moment.

Mitigating Factors:  The Seahawks were legitimately good again and fun to watch, and it didn’t feel like a one-season blip (like 1999). Hasselback and Shaun Alexander behind Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson looked like an offense that could win the NFC.  The future was bright.

4.  Bears 27 — Seahawks 24: NFC Divisional Round 2006
Why it was painful: It was Shaun Alexander’s last hurrah.  We all knew the Holmgren-era window was pretty much sealed shut with this loss.  Also, I watched it with a bunch of Bears fans.

Mitigating Factors:  The Bears were better than the Seahawks and playing at home.  The fact the Seahawks even took it to overtime was exciting and was a far-cry better than the 37-6 whipping Chicago gave them during the regular season.

3.  Raiders 30 — Seahawks 14: AFC Championship Game 1983
Why it was painful: The Seahawks beat the Raiders twice in the regular season and were a victory away from pulling off, what would have been, to that point, the least likely Super Bowl run in NFL history.  The entire city was rallying around the Seahawks for the first time ever.  It was awesome — until the actual game started.

Mitigating Factors:  After upsetting the Dolphins, the ‘Hawks were playing with house money.  Plus I was six.  I got over things quickly.

2.  Patriots 28 — Seahawks 24: Super Bowl 2014
Why it was painful: Obvious reasons.

Mitigating Factors:  The Seahawks won the Super Bowl last year.  In the big picture, they came within one-yard of back-to-back titles.  What Seahawks fan would not have taken that given the choice two years ago?

1.  Falcons 30 — Seahawks 28: NFC Divisional Round 2012
Why it was painful: The Seahawks were the best team in the league.  They were better than the Falcons and just had some bad luck at the beginning of the game.  Also, by losing we were deprived of a potentially awesome Seahawks-49ers NFC title game.  And Russell Wilson missed a great opportunity to be the first rookie to win the Super Bowl, and he lost in, arguably, what is still, the best game of his career.  Oh, plus that miraculous comeback was spoiled.  It was just an all-around kick to the nards, if ever there was one.

Mitigating Factors:  Russell Wilson seemed so upbeat after the game.  You got the feeling he and the entire team were going to come back motivated and win the Super Bowl the next year.  And then they did.

Super Bowl: New England 28, Seattle 24 — Bad Time to Be a Seahawks Fan

It’s weird being a fan.  The Seahawks coaching staff called a terrible play and Russell Wilson ran it.  The fans had nothing to do with it.  And yet every Seahawks fan is going to bed in a terrible mood this evening.  Why is our night ruined?  I guess for the same reason, we were all so jubilant after the Super Bowl last year.  The only way to feel the joy is to open yourself up for the misery.

And tonight was miserable.  The inability to stop Brady’s dink-and-dunk attack was brutal in real-time, but it feels like nothing now.  It’s all about that final Seahawks play.  People are calling it the worst play call in Super Bowl history, and it’s difficult to disagree.  Even if you don’t give it to Marshawn Lynch there, it’s fine.  Run a bootleg, a read-option keeper with Wilson, give it to Will Tukuafu on a fullback belly — anything other than THROWING THE BALL INTO A CROWD OF PEOPLE ON 2ND-AND-GOAL FROM THE 1.

It’s completely inexplicable.  And it will take so time to get over.

Super Bowl: New England vs. Seattle — Plus the JZL Awards

I’ve read an embarrassingly large number of articles about this Super Bowl.  I mean this literally.  I’ve easily read over 50 Super Bowl articles in the last two weeks, and if asked about it by somebody in real life, I would cut it down by at least a factor of 5.  I’ve read articles about Deflategate, about Marshawn Lynch and the media, about Marshawn Lynch growing up in Oakland, about Doug Baldwin and Deion Sanders, about Russell Wilson‘s scrambling tendencies, about how the Seahawks will try to cover Rob Gronkowski, about prop bets, about Kam Chancellor, about the two teams’ weaknesses, about the two teams’ DVOA, about how Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick will match wits, about Bryan Stork‘s knee, about Earl Thomas and random drug testing, about Richard Sherman and his pregnant girlfriend, and many other subtopics I can’t think of right now off the top of my head.  I’ve also listened to roughly 20 hours of podcast coverage on this Super Bowl.  I am as informed about this Sunday’s big game as any fan could be about any football game ever.  And here’s what I think is going to happen: I have no fucking clue.  These teams are way too close to make a meaningful prediction of victory for either side.  Instead of playing the game, the NFL might as well flip a coin, and hand out the Lombardi Trophy that way.  It would be just as fair.  Although, admittedly, it might upset some of the sponsors.

Anyway … in lieu of yet more Super Bowl analysis (most of which I’d just steal from Bill Barnwell and Football Outsiders, anyway), I’m going to hand out the second annual JZL Awards.  Here’s how I describe the JZLs in last year’s entry.

The title Jim Zorn’s Lemma is a “before and after” of Jim Zorn and Zorn’s Lemma.  It’s a simultaneous homage to two of my loves, Seahawks history and mathematics.  The former is referenced frequently in posts; the latter I’ve been neglecting.  For this reason, I’m giving this year’s JZLs a math theme … What?  It’s creative.

Indeed.  Now let’s get to it.

Blaise Pascal Spiked Belt Award: Earl Thomas
The 17th-century Frenchman Blaise Pascal was an exceptional mathematician and philosopher.  His brainchild Pascal’s Triangle is one of the most amazing and elegant mathematical constructions ever.  In addition to being brilliant, Pascal was also deeply religious — so much so that he would wear a belt laced on the inside with spikes, and each time he thought an impure thought, he would tighten the belt in repentance.  Today we would consider this insane, but undoubtedly this type of intense focus was part of the reason Pascal was such an amazing thinker.

Similarly, reading stories about Earl Thomas and listening to interviews by him and about him and his legendary intensity makes me wonder if he is also insane and perhaps also punishes himself for thinking non-football related thoughts.  But, like Pascal, the dude is great.

Graduate Assistant Award: Ricardo Lockette
Math graduate assistants do a lot of work and don’t receive a lot of credit — much like Ricardo Lockette.  A maven on special teams, Lockette also contributed two big touchdowns in the regular season (versus Green Bay and Denver), despite being target just 15 total times.  He also converted two third downs with receptions in the NFC Championship Game.  Lockette is my deep sleeper for Super Bowl hero.

The only problem with Lockette is that he sometimes lacks self-control and gets a stupid penalty (like in the Super Bowl last year or in the Carolina playoff game this year) or gets ejected (like in the Kansas City game).  So maybe he’s like a graduate assistant who is constantly in trouble with the department for making out with his students.

Last Author Award: Byron Maxwell
In many academic papers, the authors are listed in order of their contribution to the paper.  Often the last author is one who deserves credit, but isn’t quite up to par with the others — like maybe he or she did a lot of formatting and writing and editing for the paper, but didn’t contribute much of the intellectual content behind it.  This is like Byron Maxwell, a fine cornerback to be sure, but obviously the “fourth author” of the Legion of Boom.  Justin Britt was another contender for this award, which could also be called the “Backhand Compliment Award”.

The Greatest Lower Bound Award: Bryan Walters
In mathematics, the greatest lower bound of a set of numbers is the number which is less than (or equal to) every number in the set, but larger than every other lower bound of the set.  This is like Bryan Walters’ punt returning ability.  He’s not a good punt returner, but he’s unlikely to make that killer mistake, like, say, Earl Thomas is.  (Remember when he was doing punts?)  Of all the Seahawks’ returners, he doesn’t have a high ceiling (upper bound), but he has the greatest lower bound.

Archimedes, Newton, Gauss Award: Marshawn LynchMichael BennettRichard Sherman
Most math historians cite the Big Three — ArchimedesIsaac Newton, and Carl Friedrich Gauss — when the question of “Who’s the greatest mathematician ever?” is asked.  So in their collective honor, this is the highest of the JZLs.  It’s a tri-MVP award.

Lynch is the only obvious choice.  He’s been the best player on the Seahawks offense by far this year.  In the era of modern analytics and the salary cap, smart football people are beginning to realize the folly in paying premium prices for a running back.  However, there are exceptions.  With his play this year, Beast Mode convinced me he is just such an exception, and I hope he returns somehow next year.  The Seahawks cannot just replace him with guys like Robert Turbin and Christine Michael.

I’m going with Bennett because without him the Seahawks pass rush would be much, much worse and thus the defense overall would be much, much worse.  His ability to rush the quarterback and stuff the run is a huge reason the ‘Hawks ranked in the top five in DVOA in both run D and pass D.

As for Sherman, well, he’s Richard Sherman.  It comes down to him or Earl Thomas, and I’m going with him because I feel like he had a slightly better year than Thomas.  This is based on nothing other than my own general gut feeling (informed by watching hours and hours of Seahawks this year), but when two players are this close, gut feeling is a fine tie breaker.

Now on to Super Bowl XLIX…

Bye Week Olio: The Bledsoe Bowl, 1992

If, back in 1992, you told somebody that the New England Patriots would be playing the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl 23 years later, they would have laughed in your face…  Actually, they probably wouldn’t have.  Everybody knows NFL teams can completely change in two years, let alone two decades, so it’s completely believable that any two teams could play in a Super Bowl 23 years in the future.  Rather than laugh in your face, this hypothetical person probably would have looked at you quizzically and wondered what the hell you were talking about.  Why the Patriots and Seahawks?  Aren’t they in the same conference?  How are you seeing the future, anyway?  Do hoverboards actually get invented by 2015?

All this is a very convoluted way to set-up my main point: The Patriots and Seahawks were both bad in 1992 — really bad.  Each team was 2-14 with an average game being a double-digit loss.  They had the two worst point differentials in the league, and they both finished among the bottom three teams in DVOA.  The Pats were normal boring bad.  The ‘Hawks at least were interesting bad.  They had one of best defenses in the league, and arguably the worst offense in the league — not just of the ’92 season, but of the entire Super Bowl Era.

Led by Defensive Player of the Year, Cortez Kennedy (14 sacks as a D-tackle!), the Seattle defense did a fine job of keeping offenses at bay.  In 10 of their 16 games, they held their opponent to no more than 20 points.  In addition to Tez, the ‘Hawks had some brutes among the front seven: Veteran Joe Nash was still masterful at clogging up the middle, and Rufus Porter was a good speed rusher on the outsider.  The secondary, for its part, was anchored adeptly by Pro Bowler (and future Super Bowl Eve john) Eugene Robinson.  It was the best defense in Seahawks history B.C. (Before Carroll).

And it was completely wasted because the offense was a cataclysm in cleats.  Holding your opponent to 20 or few points in 60% of your games is nice, but it doesn’t do a whole lot of good if you score 20 or fewer points in 100% of your games.  That’s right, the ’92 Seahawks didn’t reach 20 points in any game; their season-high was 17.  They were held to single digits eight times and shutout twice.  In a game against the Cowboys, they scored no points and were held to 62 total yards — 62 yards!  The only good players the ‘Hawks had on offense were their backs Chris Warren and John L. Williams.  Together they accounted for 2,046 total yards and six touchdowns, which is not too shabby considering the entire offense had fewer than 4,000 yards and just 13 touchdowns.  Seattle’s best wide out, Brian Blades, missed 10 games, making the top wide receiver on the team a fellow named Tommy Kane, who caught all of — wait for it — 27 passes!  For 369 yards!  Over a full 16-game season, the Seahawks’ top wide out did what a good receiver does in two or three games.  The ’92 ‘Hawks were worse than the Cardinals this year with Ryan Lindley.  They were sub-Lindleyan.

On September 20, 1992, the Seattle Seahawks traveled to Foxboro Stadium to play the New England Patriots in a game that would prove to have huge implications for both franchises just a few months later.  The game itself, as you might imagine, was a mega-dud.  The ‘Hawks, riding a six-sack performance from their D (three by Tez), beat the Pats in an ugly 10-6 affair.  In total, the game featured less than 500 yards of offense, six fumbles, over 100 yards in penalties, a botched extra point, and — my “favorite” stat — 17 punts.  The Seahawks punted nine times, and the Patriots eight, as the two teams combine to go 8-29 on third down.  Did you ever play Tecmo Super Bowl back in the day and put in your back-up tight end at running back and call the same sweep play to him over and over, just because you thought it was funny how much slower he ran than everybody else on the field?  Well, that’s how I imagine this game was for both offenses.

In the game, only two quarterbacks played — Kelly Stouffer for Seattle and (Seattle native) Hugh Millen for New England.  But on the season, the two teams had seven total QBs make at least one start for them, and you will be hard-pressed to find a worse set of signal callers on any two teams ever.  The best of the bunch was Millen because he was just normal lousy, not apocalyptically bad.  The other quarterbacks — in no particular order, because ranking these players would be like ranking the least uncomfortable moments in a Todd Solondz movie — were Stan Gelbaugh and Dan McGwire for the Sehawks, and Scott Zolak, Tom Hodson, and Jeff Carlson for the Patriots.  It’s difficult to overstate how bad these quarterbacks were collectively.  But let’s just say, not only did none of them deserve to an NFL starter, none of them deserved to be an NFL backup.  These are a septet of practice squad level QBs if there ever was one.  (To see for yourself, you can browse their individual Pro Football Reference pages, or you can check out their Football Outsiders stats for the year; Hodson leads the bunch as the 32nd “best” QB in the league; Gelbaugh and Stouffer bring up the rear.)

Not surprisingly, both the Patriots and the Seahawks used their first-round picks in the 1993 draft on quarterbacks.  And you know the story here: The Pats took WSU product Drew Bledsoe with the first overall pick; the ‘Hawks selected Rick Mirer from Notre Dame with the next pick.  Bledsoe went on to be a multi-time Pro Bowler and one of the better quarterbacks of the day; Mirer didn’t.  Because Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf came along just five years later, I think many people forget just how big the drop off in career achievement was from Bledsoe to Mirer.  But Seattle and New England fans remember.

There are many “what ifs” to consider from the 1992 season and subsequent draft.  The most obvious, of course, is what if the Patriots had beaten the Seahawks during the regular season?  In that situation, the ‘Hawks get the number one overall pick and almost certainly take Bledsoe.  With a decent signal caller at the helm and a stout defense, they probably contend for the playoffs throughout the ’90s.

It’s an interesting thought for Seattle fans (if nothing else, it would have spared us the malaise of the Dennis Erickson years), and here’s another one: What if instead of drafting Mirer, the Seahawks take future Hall of Fame tackle Willie Roaf with the second overall pick (he went seventh in reality), and then grab UW star Mark Brunell to be their quarterback in a middle round?  (For some reason Brunell fell all the way to the fifth round. Fellow Husky QB Billy Joe Hobert went in the third round.  NFL GMs should have consulted 15-year-old me.  I knew from watching almost every Huskies game that Brunell was better than Hobert.)  This is a great hypothetical.  I contend that if the ‘Hawks had selected Roaf and Brunell in the 1993 draft, they would have won a Super Bowl before the turn on the millennium.  What?  You can’t prove me wrong.  It’s a vacuously true statement.

In reality, it’s been interesting to see how the Patriots and Seahawks franchises have followed similar arcs.  But the Pats, by virtue of losing the Bledsoe Bowl (and thus “winning” Bledsoe), jumped ahead in 1993, and the ‘Hawks have been trying to catch up ever since.  Think about it.  Each franchise had some good years in the mid-’80s before bottoming out in the early ’90s.  Then each franchise was on the verge of relocating before it was sold to a new owner who helped get a new long-term stadium built.  The Patriots then hired a Super Bowl winning coach, Bill Parcells, who made another appearance in the big game with his new team.  The Seahawks later did the same thing with Mike Holmgren.  After Parcells left, the Patriots brought in a coach who didn’t stick (Pete Carroll, ironically), before Bill Belichick, who failed in his first NFL head coaching gig, entered the picture and built a dynasty around an unheralded quarterback who won a Super Bowl in his second season.  Replace Parcells with Holmgren, Carroll with Jim Mora, and Belichick with Carroll in the previous sentence, and you’ve pretty much described the Seattle Seahawks of the past decade and a half.

Well, almost, anyway.  One Super Bowl doesn’t make a dynasty.  To really match the Patriots, the Seahawks have to win at least one more.  And then they have to play the next upstart in the Super Bowl 13 years from now.  I guess we will see what happens Sunday and in 2028.

NFC Championship Game: Seattle 28, Green Bay 22 — Still Unbelievable

Twenty-four hours after the Seahawks pulled off the greatest comeback victory in the history of the franchise, the whole thing is still as unbelievable now as it was then.  Living in the age we do, this game has already been beaten to death by the media — big and small, professional and amateur, old-school and new-school — the nation over.  And then it has been resurrected and beaten dead again.  There is little anybody can say about it that hasn’t been said elsewhere.  But, as somebody who’s been watching the game’s key plays over and over, finding something new with each view, like I’m a Sopranos obsessive watching the final diner scene looking for clues of Tony’s fate, I feel the need to share my thoughts.

Here are five.

  • I thought the “Mike McCarthy: too conservative” narrative was going to be an underappreciated aspect of the Seahawks’ comeback.  I was very wrong.  The talking heads on the radio this morning were relentless in their excoriation of McCarthy, as was pretty much every other member of the media.  And Bill Barnwell laid out a very levelheaded and analytic criticism of McCarthy, as is his way.  I agree with all of it, but not quite so emphatically.  If McCarthy is smarter, I think the Packers put it away, but they nearly put it away anyway.  It’s not like his team got smoked because of his dumb calls.  If I may use a sports-on-sports analogy, McCarthy’s passive coaching kept the Seahawks for tapping out.  But the plays that allowed the ‘Hawks to reverse position, throw a few elbows, take the Packers’ back, and choke the life out them, those plays — the 30-yard punt by Tim Masthay, the Marshawn Lynch catch, the onside kick, the Marshawn Lynch touchdown run, the two-point conversion, the two big plays in overtime — those are mostly on the players.  And McCarthy isn’t a player.
  • On the topic of getting outplayed, take a look at the box score.  Considering many people (including Aaron Rodgers) think the Packers played the better game and lost by fluke, the numbers sure look funny — don’t they?  The Seahawks dominated up and down the board, with the (admittedly important) exception of turnovers.  The way I look at it is this: Both teams got a huge break/opponent gaffe on special teams with the Doug Baldwin fumble and the Brandon Bostick boneheaded bobble.  Those canceled each other out.  And then for the rest of the plays, over the course of all 60 minutes and overtime, the Seahawks legitimately outplayed the Packers.  It seems weird to say this, since the Packers held a good lead for so much of the game, but it’s really what happened.  If the scoring drives are distributed differently, people’s perception of the teams’ overall performances would also be different, even if everything else stayed the same.  When teams trade points, we don’t think anything of it.  When one teams scores all their points at the beginning, and the other all theirs at the end, we try to attribute meaning to it, even though, overall, it’s really no different than the first case.
  • With everything in the above bullet said, if the Seahawks had lost like that instead of the Packers it would have been devastating.  For a team that has been no stranger to the body blow over the past few decades, this one might be the biggest gut punch of them all.
  • It’s pretty cool that the two unlikeliest heroes from this game, Garry Gilliam and Chris Matthews, were probably only on the active roster because of the injuries to Justin Britt and Paul Richardson, respectively.  I guess that’s what is meant by next man up.
  • Playing the Patriots in the Super Bowl is good news/bad news.  The good news is that Russell Wilson almost certainly won’t throw four interceptions in a game again.  The bad news is that Bill Belichick is not Mike McCarthy.  Of course, there is also the other good news that the Seahawks are playing in the Super Bowl again.  Let’s not let that get lost in the hype.
  • Bonus thought: Watching Steven Hauschka celebrate after the onside kick conversion might have been my favorite part of this game.  He claps his hands and raises his arms as Matthews is bringing it in, then he awkwardly jump-hugs Kam Chancellor, and then he tops it off with a sweet chest bump with Mike Morgan.  It’s just a great celebration, by a great kicker, who made a great kick.

NFC Championship Game: Green Bay @ Seattle — Teams Actually Mostly The Same As Week 1

The 2013 NFL season, you might recall, opened the Thursday after Labor Day with a game in Seattle between the Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers.  The Seahawks beat the Packers soundly, 36-16.  Because these two teams are playing again this Sunday in the NFC Championship Game, again in Seattle, the season opener has garnered renewed attention.  Many articles in the current football news cycle talk about how different the two teams are now from what they were at the start of the season.  They use phrases like “changed“, “gone through a transformation“, and “come a long way“.  NFL.com published an entire article on an Aaron Rodgers quote about how the teams are different.*  The quote: “Both teams are playing the way they want to play. It’s two different teams than when we met (in September).”

But it’s not.  The two teams are actually quite similar to what they were at the beginning of the year.  I’m sure they feel different, and they’ve both gone through whatever typical progression NFL teams go through during a season.  But in comparison to each other and to the rest of the league, they are basically the same teams they were in Week 1.

For one thing, the teams’ lineups are quite similar now and then. There are some differences around the edges — no more Percy Harvin, no more Brandon Mebane, Bryan Bulaga and Eddie Lacy both left the first game with injury, Luke Willson and Davante Adams have emerged, etc. — but the cores of the teams are the same.  Look back at the players who most contributed in the opener; it’s basically a list of players we expect to contribute on Sunday.  Personnel is more or less the same.

What’s more is that the two teams are playing at basically the same level they were at the beginning of the season.  If we look at their DVOAs (the entire season) and their weighted DVOAs (recent weeks), we don’t see huge variations.  Seattle is ranked first by both measures; Green Bay is ranked third by DVOA and fourth by weighted DVOA — no big diff.  (Contrast this with, say, the Carolina Panthers who made significant defensive changes the latter half of the season and finished 25th by DVOA and 12th by weighted DVOA.)

Much has been made of the Packers’ new found ability to stop the run since moving Clay Mathews to inside linebacker halfway through the season, resulting in a decrease in average rushing-yards-per-game from 154 to 86.  However, in the first half of the season, Green Bay played teams who averaged 121 yards-per-game, including games against three teams in the top-10 in rushing DVOA (Seattle, Miami, and New Orleans); in the second half, their opponents average only 100 yards-per-game, and three of them were in bottom-10 in rushing DVOA (Atlanta, Buffalo, and Tampa Bay).  (Detroit, whom Green Bay played in both halves, also finished in the bottom-10.)  Given these numbers, and given that Dallas had little trouble moving the ball on the ground last week in Green Bay (28-145, 5.2 Y/A), my informed hunch is that the Packers are the same basic defense against the run now as they were at the beginning of the season.

So the two teams are basically the same as they were when they played in Week 1.  The Seahawks won by 20 points in Week 1.  Ergo the Seahawks win comfortably on Sunday, right?  Maybe.  Hopefully.  But, of course, not necessarily.  The Packers could still beat the Seahawks.  They could beat them the same way a golfer could triple-bogey a difficult hole in one round and then birdie it the next.  Same golfer, same hole, different outcome.  That’s sports.

If the Packers are to pull off the upset, I think, offensively, it will follow the template set by the Chargers in their win over the ‘Hawks in Week 2: incredible efficiency from the quarterback, a bit of a running game to keep the D off balance, consistent third-down conversions, and no turnovers.  I know many pundits think the key to victory for Green Bay is running Eddie Lacy over and over, but I have a hard time seeing the Packers churning out first downs and putting up points without Aaron Rodgers slinging it.  Even with a bum calf, he’s terrifying to the fans of opposing teams.  He was virtually unstoppable in the second half against Dallas last week.  And his regular season statistics were absurd (yet again), especially his TD-to-INT ratio: 38-to-5.  I’d call those “video game numbers”, but that would actually be underselling it.  Playing Tecmo Bowl back in the day, I’d still throw more than five interceptions in a season — even if I was the Oilers, using Warren Moon.  Every time I played Cincinnati, David Fulcher would jump up and snag two or three picks himself.

What might be even more impressive than Rodgers’ numbers are those of his top two wide outs (which obviously has something to do with Rodgers).  I knew Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb were having good seasons, but I didn’t realize just how good until I looked at their numbers today: Nelson, 98 receptions, 1519 yards, 13 TDs; Cobb 91 receptions, 1287 yards, 12 TDs; and they rank second and fourth, respectively, in DYAR.  Nelson and Cobb might be the best biracial sports duo since Boris Becker and Barbara Feltus (now there’s a timely joke!).  Michael Bennett recently made the claim that the Seahawks defense is the best of its era; keeping the Packers passing attack at bay on Sunday would go a long way in validating his contention.

On the other side of the ball is where I think the Seahawks have a big advantage.  Green Bay’s defense has ostensibly improved since their bye in Week 9, but as stated above, they played worse offenses, particularly worse running offenses, the second half of the season.  They also played only three of their final eight games on the road (where they are markedly worse); here are Green Bay’s three second-half away opponents with their offensive ranking by DVOA:  Minnesota (22), Buffalo (26), Tampa Bay (32).  It’s safe to say, Seattle presents the biggest road challenge for the Packers D since at least New Orleans in Week 8.

Over the course of the season, Green Bay finished in the middle of the pack (get it? pack — Green Bay?) defensively, and I think this is an accurately reflection of their current state.  I (along with every other football fan) expect the ‘Hawks to pound the Packers with Marshawn Lynch, and if they sell-out to stop the run, then we should see Russell Wilson go to work again — just like last week.  Although many people think of the Seahawks as a D-only team, their offense has been remarkably efficient and consistent throughout the season.  We have seen them struggle against mediocre defenses (Panthers in the regular season, Cowboys), but more often we’ve seen them steamroll them (Packers, Giants, Chiefs, Eagles).  It wouldn’t be a total stunner if Julius Peppers and Co. shutdown Beast Mode and DangeRuss, but it would definitely raise an eyebrow.

Overall, the Seahawks are better than the Packers, they have been better than the Packers since Week 1, they are at home, and their quarterback is not the one who looks like he’s playing hopscotch when he has to flee the pocket.  The ‘Hawks should win this game.  And if they don’t, well, you can’t win the Super Bowl in historically dominating fashion every year.  All we, as fans, can do if Seattle loses is tip our collective hat to Green Bay and remember the good times.  Oh, and also we can make creepy conspiracy videos claiming the NFL rigged the game in favor of the Packers and then put them up on YouTube.  That is always an option.

Prediction: Seahawks 26, Packers 17.

*When I say it that way, it makes the article sound incredibly flimsy — which it is.  But NFL.com puts out new content like every half hour, so you shouldn’t go there expecting Ring Lardner.