Game 6: Seattle 26, St. Louis 28 — Why?

There are several angles a Seahawks fan with a blog can take after this loss.  One, certainly, is the “What’s Wrong with the Seahawks?!” angle I feared in my last post.  Another is the “silver lining” angle, which would basically just be a paean to Russell Wilson.  And yet another, the one I’m going to take, is the “why” angle.  Not “why did the Seahawks lose?”, we know why; we all watched the game.  What I want to know is, why do I care?

Bare with me, if you will, while I get self-reflective and cathartic for a moment.  I’m almost a middle-aged man; I have a wife and a young kid; I have a decent job; I have many non-sports hobbies; for the most part I live a good and happy life.  Why then do I get so bummed out by the fortunes of a professional football team to which I have no connection, other than they play their home games in a city near the city in which I grew up?  It’s not like Pete Carroll is an old family friend; it’s not like Marshawn Lynch knows who I am.  A casual fan — sure, that makes sense, it’s rational.  But to allow a loss by an NFL team to spoil my otherwise perfectly good Sunday makes no sense.  It’s not rational.  Frankly, it’s pathetic.

But, here we are.  So let’s briefly go through the game.

The good.  Russell Wilson and not a lot else.  Sure, you can toss Doug Baldwin and Cooper Helfet in there as well, if you want, but their big games were essentially just extensions of Wilson’s outstanding performance.  In this game, Wilson became the first quarterback to throw for over 300 yards and run for over 100 yards in the same game in NFL history.  In my opinion, this was either the best or second best performance of his career, depending on how you feel about the 2012 playoff game in Atlanta.  It was the same type of game too — fall down early, rally back, lose in the end.  And it was also the last time I was this bummed about a Seahawks’ loss.

The bad.  The pass rush.  It has been virtually nonexistent this season.  The Seahawks don’t blitz often; they play straight-up and rely on pressure from the front four.  They aren’t getting it.  Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are still good (I think), but they aren’t Bruce Smith and Reggie White.  They need help, and nobody is stepping up.  The hope coming into the season was the Seahawks had the personnel to at least approximate the value of Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, and Clinton McDonald.  And so far it’s looking like they don’t.  Basically, I think the remainder of the Seahawks’ season boils down to QB pressure: If they get better — say, they move up from worst pass rush in the league to middle of the pack — they’ll probably win a lot of games.  If they don’t, they won’t.

The ugly.  Special teams, obviously.  Although, you have to hand it to the Rams, those were a couple of great play calls.  You could make the argument that the Seahawks should have been watching for a fake on that final punt, given that they have been burned by the Rams several times (including earlier in the game) by trick special teams plays in the past, but the truth is, nobody saw it coming, it was just a terrific play.  So it goes …

And so goes this up-and-down season… On to Carolina, I suppose.

Game 6: Seattle @ St. Louis — “Arch” Enemy

Sports clichés are like horoscopes.  They are so broad and so bland, they can be applied to anybody in any situation no matter what the circumstances.  To illustrate this, I present two sports clichés below and provide explanations as to how they apply to the Seahawks’ upcoming game against the Rams.

Must Win Game
The reason “must win game” is a label that can be slapped onto any matchup is because there is always an ambiguous tacit condition at the end.  A playoffs game is a “must win game or the season is over” (including the Super Bowl); many a late season game is a “must win game to stay in the playoff race” or a “must win game to control your own destiny“; a coach might have a “must win game or he’s going to be fired“.  Any game is a “must win game”, if you assume the appropriate implicit condition.  (Contrarily, no game is a “must win game”, if your condition is or the world will come to an end.)

In the case of the Seahawks against the Rams, there are two “must win” conditions.  One is or the Seahawks’ playoff chances will plummet again.  Last week’s loss to the Cowboys resulted in a drop in the Seahawks’ playoff odds of nearly 20 percentage points – from 89.2% to 69.5%.  A loss to the Rams this Sunday would almost certainly result in another precipitous decline.  The ‘Hawks have a “Wiford Brimley schedule” here in 2014: It’s tough and hard on the outside, soft and warm on the inside.  We are now at the inside part.  Over the Seahawks’ next five games — Rams, Panthers, Raiders, Giants, Chiefs — they probably have to go something close to 5-0 to retain pole position in the NFC West.  A loss to the Rams would obviously make it difficult to achieve this goal.  This is a sneakily important game.

The other condition is or the fans and media will freak the fuck out.  Who wants to read the bevy of “What’s Wrong with the Seahawks?” and “Super Bowl Hangover!” articles that are sure to follow a Rams upset?  Nobody — well, nobody sane, at least.  So if nothing else, the ‘Hawks need to win, just so we can avoid this sure-to-be-annoying sports media and social network hysteria.

When These Two Teams Meet, You Can Throw the Records Out the Window
Looking back through the annals of Seahawks-Rams games, I see, objectively, that there have been plenty of games in which one team has squashed the other.  But to the subjective fan in me, it feels like every game in which these two teams play is nerve-rackingly close, regardless of their respective spots in the standings at the time.  There’s certainly some recency bias in play, as in 2012 the two teams split the season series with a pair of games that each came down to the final drive, and then last year we were all tortured by the greatest (i.e., worst) “I Can’t Believe the ‘Hawks Won That Game” game in franchise history, in which Seattle was outgained 135 to 339 and Russell Wilson was sacked seven times in a 14-9 victory.

So the Rams make me very nervous.  And it’s not completely irrational.  The Rams are a bad team overall, but they aren’t consistently bad.  They play quite well in stretches — like when they went up 14-0 on the 49ers Monday night.  And then they totally blow it — like when they gave up an 80-yard touchdown pass to those same 49ers with a minute left in the first half, on a play in which they inexplicably had no safety help on the outside and even more inexplicably their cornerback, Janoris Jenkins, bit on a double move by Brandon Lloyd (there’s a minute left!  they’re 80 yards away!  how can you possibly be duped by a double move?!).  My fear is that the “up 14-0 Rams” come to play on Sunday and stick around the entire game (unlike Monday night).

Coming into the season, the Rams were a decent “sleeper” pick to “make the jump” from mediocrity into the playoffs — just like they have been every other year the past five years.  And just like every other year, it hasn’t panned out that way at all.  Offensively, the Rams are bad at throwing the ball (this tends to happen with a bad pass-blocking line and an undrafted rookie at quarterback — even one as plucky as Austin Davis), and they aren’t much better at running it.  The offensive line has done a decent job run blocking, but Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham are just OK backs — they’re nothing special.  And nothing special is pretty much what everybody expected from the Rams O, in general.  That they rank toward the bottom of the pack in DVOA is not surprising.  What is surprising is how the Rams have fared on the other side of the ball.

With Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers, Aaron Donald, and Chris Long, the Rams were set to begin the season with the only D-line in the history of the NFL comprised entirely of first-round draft choices.  Long was put on IR before he took a snap, but still the unit (with Kendall Langford and William Hayes also in the mix) look poised to wreck havoc.  Instead they have one sack.  Not one sack each, one sack total.  Donald sacked Tampa Bay’s Josh McCown in their only win of the year, and that’s been it.  Of all the weird stuff that’s happened in the NFL this season, the lack of St. Louis pass rush might be the most confounding.

The good news, if you’re a Rams fan, is that the Seahawks haven’t been very good at protecting the passer.  (Also, Max Unger is likely out again and Russell Okung is playing hurt.)  They’ve relied mostly on Russell Wilson’s escapability to avoid pressure and make plays: Sometimes it works (Washington); sometimes it doesn’t (Dallas).  In general, the Seahawks O, seems just a bit off — not bad (except last week; it was bad then) just a tad askew.  A theory floated by analyst Bucky Brooks is that Darrell Bevell has his sights set on a head coaching job, and so instead of going with the vanilla offense that works, he’s trying to dazzle everybody with complicated game plans that involve exotic sets and men in motion and wide receiver option reverses and stuff like that.  I don’t know if there is even a shred of truth in that or not, but I do know what the Seahawks do best offensively: It’s Marshawn Lynch, Marshawn Lynch,  Marshawn Lynch, Russell Wilson on a keeper,  Marshawn Lynch, play-action pass deep.  And that’s not really what we’ve been seeing over the past few weeks.  In Bevell’s defense, however, it is difficult to pound the rock when you aren’t on the field.  The ‘Hawks have struggled at times to sustain drives (far too many three-and-outs), which probably contributes more to Beast Mode’s lack of carries than does the specifics of the game plan (Bevell sorta says as much in this article).  Also, it should be noted that the thing the Rams do best is stuff the run, so maybe this isn’t the game to try to get Lynch 30 carries.

Overall, I don’t have a good feeling about this game, but I had a very good feeling last week, so obviously my feelings don’t have much bearing on the outcomes of professional football games.  I’ll just go with the what the numbers suggest instead: an 8.5-point victory for Seattle.  Let’s say Seahawks 25.5, Rams 17.  Actually, let’s go ahead and round it: Seahawks 26, Rams 17.

[Update: Chris Long was actually hurt in the first game of the season, not before taking a snap as I said above.  Also, Robert Mays has an article up at Grantland about the missing pass rushes of both the Rams and Seahawks.]

[Update update: What the what?  Who saw this one coming?  I think it's a preemptive salary dump.]

Game 5: Dallas 30, Seahawks 23 — Unfun Football

During last year’s NFC Championship Game, when Colin Kaepernick was driving for the potential game-winning touchdown, at no point did I think he was going to be successful.  At no point — not after the 4th-and-2 conversion to Frank Gore, not after the big sideline completion to Michael Crabtree, not after the final first down to Vernon Davis — did I think the 49ers were actually going to score a touchdown and win the game.  Today, watching Tony Romo march the Cowboys down the field in the fourth quarter for the go-ahead score, I felt the exact opposite.  Partly this is because DirecTV’s live stream flashed an update that DeMarco Murray had a scored a 15-yard touchdown before they actually showed the touchdown “live” (thanks for that, assholes).  But mainly it’s because the Seahawks weren’t playing very well and the Cowboys were.  I’m not prescient; I just watched the first 55 minutes of the game.

The isn’t really much to say about this one.  Actually, there probably is, but it’s not very fun to talk in depth about the Seahawks after they lose.  Suffice it to say, nobody on the ‘Hawks played particularly well.  The defense was mediocre and the offense was … I don’t even know how to describe it: uninspired? lackluster? horrid? appalling?  You can pick whatever adjective for “not good” you prefer (odious is a strong choice).  If not for a few special team gaffes by the Cowboys (leaving Doug Baldwin completely unblocked, muffing a punt), this game probably would have been Dallas in a landslide.  It was mostly brutal to watch, especially when the Seahawks had the ball.  I don’t know if this was the worst game of Russell Wilson‘s career, but it was up there.  And outside of one big gain, the run game sputtered against a terrible run defense.  During the first half, I didn’t understand why Marshawn Lynch wasn’t getting the ball more, but then when he did get more carries in the second half, he had a lot more two- and three-yard gains than he did six- and seven-yarders.  If you want to sum up the Seahawks offensive performance using quotes from classic coaching rants, then it would apt to say they “couldn’t do diddly-poo” today.

The bright side?  The Seahawks are still pretty good at football.  They’re not as good as they were last year, but no team in the past 15 years was as good as the Seahawks were last year.  That’s not a realistic standard.  They are still (hopefully) one of the five best teams in the league.  I mean, despite playing relatively poorly on both sides of the ball, the Seahawks actually had the lead in the fourth quarter.  And it took a damn near miraculous 3rd-and-20 conversion for the Cowboys to sustain their game-winning drive.  If Terrance Williams doesn’t skim the top of the turf with his toes on that play, the Seahawks likely win.  But he did, and they didn’t.  That’s just the NFL, no?

Troy Aikman said during his commentary that the Seahawks hadn’t been outplayed at home like this in a long time.  But that’s not exactly true.  Last year in Week 8 they got whupped for a half by the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers and were losing 0-21 before somehow pulling it out in the end.  They won that game, yes, but they also gave up 217 rushing yards (including a cool 153 to Mike James) and needed overtime to beat a team that came into the game 0-8.  Given that the season ended with a bucket of Gatorade being poured on Pete Carroll and the scoreboard reading 43-8, it’s weird to think that this Tampa Bay game actually happened, but it did.  So did today’s game.  And maybe, in the end, it will turn out to be equally meaningless.  Or maybe the Seahawks aren’t as good I think.  We shall see.

Game 5: Dallas @ Seattle — Cowboys Come to Clink in Pursuit of Past Glory …

Few things in life are funnier than when an old person says something inadvertently filthy.  In grad school, I had a math professor who, before presenting the key point of an intricate proof, would pause and announce, “and here comes the money shot!”  Then once I was watching the Mariners with my friend and his mom — the M’s had scored 15 runs the night before, but were currently being shutout — and my friend’s mom proclaimed, “I hope the Mariners didn’t blow their load last night!”  I found both of these quite amusing, but neither can hold a candle to the instant-classic by Jerry Jones below:

Now that is some inadvertent smut!

A possible return by the Cowboys to their glory hole days has been an unexpected topic of conversation through the first five weeks of the season by people who like to talk about football.  In the preseason, many expected Dallas to be among the dregs of the NFC, but instead they’ve been highly competent, good even.  They currently sit at 4-1, and that record is not a fluke.  Yes, they eked out close wins against St. Louis and Houston (and were beaten handily by the 49ers in their only loss), but they also whupped the Titans and the Saints.  They are 12th in DVOA, which seems about right.

Everybody seems to think that it’s been the offense that has been carrying the Cowboys, particularly the running offense, and everybody is right.  DeMarco Murray, despite treating the football like he’s that Australian kid with the first iPhone 6, has been arguably the most effective running back in the league thus far (although you could make a case for his counterpart in this game, Marshawn Lynch, as well).  And the much ballyhooed o-line has lived up to the hype, particularly in the power run game.

On the other side of the ball, a defense that before the season was being propped up (propped down?) as a potentially historically bad unit has been nothing close.  They’ve been solidly below average (24th in DVOA), but there is a big difference between solidly below average and abjectly awful.  It’s the difference between a C- and an F.  You can skate by with a C- defense (well, you can if you have Murray, Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and five maulers up front all clicking on offense); you can’t with an F.

So, overall, the Cowboys are a decent football team.  The problem for them is that they match-up very poorly against the Seahawks.  For starters, the game is in Seattle, where visiting teams are 1-17 over the last three seasons.  It’s an evident disadvantage (or advantage if you’re a Seattleite) before any actual “football” analysis is carried out.  It’s like a game of Scrabble in which one player starts with both blanks on his or her rack.  But beyond this — beyond home-field advantage — the actual x-versus-y, gridiron match-ups lean in Seattle’s favor.  Two in particular standout:

  1. Seahawks run offense versus the Cowboys run defense.  The worst part about Dallas’ defense, nay, the worst part about Dallas’ team overall is their run defense.  They rank 32nd against the run by DVOA, and there are exactly 32 teams in the NFL, so you can do the math on that one.  The Seahawks, as you probably know, have a very good ground game, and it’s not just Beast Mode.  Russell Wilson and Percy Harvin have been the best running quarterback and wide receiver, respectively, in the league this year.  And it’s not like Dallas can pack the box and try to stop the run with impunity.  Their pass D, although not awful, is still shaky and Seattle can throw the ball effectively, if need be.  (As Aaron Schatz points out they have a “sneaky good” balanced offense.)  The only way I see the Cowboys consistently getting stops on D is if the ‘Hawks get up by two scores and go into their inexplicable “comfortable lead offensive malaise” like they did Monday night against Washington.  It’s maddening, but at least it means they’re winning.
  2. Cowboys run offense versus the Seahawks run defense.  As discussed, the Cowboys can run the ball.  The problem for them is that the Seahawks have been really good thus far at stopping the run.  In fact, they’ve been the best in league by a significant margin.  If the ‘Hawks are able to slow down Murray, they could force out Bad Tony Romo (think Week 1), and if Bad Tony Romo shows up at The Clink things could get ugly … and awesome — they could get awesomely ugly.

My prediction for this game is Seahawks 34, Cowboys 20.  Dallas will move the ball enough to make it kind of interesting.  But in the end, well, this is a good metaphor for what I expect to happen in the end.

Game 4: Seattle 27, Washington 17 — Seahawks Dodge Barrage of Yellow Projectiles, Win

One bad thing about keeping a blog that nobody reads is that it can’t always be a top priority.  This is especially true during the work week.  A Monday night 11:45 end time makes a lengthy, timely recap quite difficult, and so I’m going to have to go lightning round here.  A good thing about keeping a blog that nobody reads is that I’m not disappointing anybody by doing this.

  • This game went mostly as I expected with one big exception: penalties.  It was brutal.  The Seahawks were in 2nd-and-20 seemingly every play.  There were a few questionable calls — did Percy Harvin really false start, or was he in motion?  why was James Carpenter flagged for pinning a player to the ground? — but mostly it was the ‘Hawks being “sloppy” (TM: Bureau of Sports Clichés).  Lots of false start and offside penalties — the worst types of penalties.  Not only did they hurt the ‘Hawks, they turned the game into a slog at times.
  • Speaking of penalties, I thought for sure the ‘Hawks were going to be flagged for holding on Russell Wilson‘s ridiculous, game-clinching scramble-and-flip to Marshawn Lynch.  In a game in which they were nearly penalized into submission, they got away with one at the most crucial time.  Although as Jon Gruden pointed out, a Washington defender straight-up tackled Harvin during his route, and that also wasn’t called.  Plus, Pierre Garcon mauled Richard Sherman on at least two plays, including one in which he grabbed his face mask, and was never flagged.
  • I think Kirk Cousins played better than I expected — but that might just be because the Washington offense wasn’t the Apocalypse Now battle scene that it was last week.  He hit two nice deep balls to DeSean Jackson (especially the second one) and put together a good drive at the end.  But still, Washington punted eight times and went 3-for-12 on 3rd down, so it’s not like Cousins was Joe Theismann out there.
  • In the same vein as the previous bullet, it seemed like the ‘Hawks D was not very dominant, but that might just be perception.  They didn’t get a turnover (turnovers can be fickle) and recorded just one sack.  But they continually pressured Cousins into inaccurate or short throws.  The defense didn’t look impressive — they weren’t a good fantasy play — but they mostly kept their opponent from driving and scoring, which is the main purpose of a defense.
  • The most frustrating part of watching the Seahawks is when their offense inexplicably goes stagnant after they get an early lead.  This happens far too frequently, and I can’t explain it — hence the adverb inexplicably.
  • The second most frustrating part is watching Carroll & Co. get overly conservative on 4th-and-short.  Although he sure flipped the scripted last night!  A fake field goal?  With the punter as the ball carrier?  Jon Ryan for MVP!
  • But what were the ‘Hawks thinking throwing the day on their final 3rd down?  The upside is minimal and the downside is, well, maybe not big, but surely not worth the risk.  Taking a knee is better than dropping back to pass in that situation.  Here’s an interesting hypothetical:  If the Seahawks ran the ball there to set up, let’s say 4th-and-2, is it better to go for it, or try the field goal?  What’s more probable, turning the ball over on downs and having Washington score from seventy yards out with twenty seconds left and no timeouts, or missing the field goal / having it blocked and Washington subsequently scoring that way?  I’m not sure.
  • Russell Wilson is fucking awesome.  I said it before, but it bears repeating: He’s not the best quarterback in the league (… yet), but there is nobody I’d rather watch run an offense.  What’s more fun, Peyton Manning reading the defense pre-snap and then wobbling a pass to a wide open receiver, or Russell Wilson dodging rushers, running up to the line-of-scrimmage, curling back around, and then flicking the ball downfield for a 19-yard gain?  It’s not even a question.
  • The trope about Russell Wilson “never taking a big hit” is not exactly true.  He got hammered pretty hard this game.  And this probably explains why he doesn’t run the ball the consistently every game, even through it seems like he could.  He really does have to pick his spots; it’s a survival mechanism.
  • He really is fucking awesome though.

Game 4: Seattle @ Washington — Time for a Fake History Lesson

On Monday night the Seattle Seahawks will be in Washington D.C. — Landover, Maryland, if you want to get technical about it — to play a football game.  If recent history has has taught us anything, it is that Washington will win this game because it is being played during the regular season.

That is how I would open this post if I were a hack sportswriter.  Hack sportswriters love taking random trends and presenting them as if they are something meaningful (at least my stereotype of hack sportswriters do).  And I stumbled across a very eye-catching random trend involving the NFL teams of Seattle and Washington D.C.:  Since the Seahawks joined the NFC in 2002, they are 3-0 against Washington in the postseason and 0-5 against them in the regular season.  Now, of course, this tells us absolutely nothing about Monday’s game (contrary to what my imaginary hack sportswriters would have you believe), but it is a nice bit of trivia, so before we move on, let’s have a look back at a few of these games.

Washington 27, Seattle 20: November 9, 2003
The Seahawks were a playoff team in 2003 (this was the “We want the ball, and we’re gonna score” year), but they were not exceptionally good.  Washington, in the second (and final) year of the Steve Spurrier Experiment, were even worse.  But on this particular Sunday Patrick Ramsey and Laveranues Coles were too much for the ‘Hawks to overcome.  And Washington sealed the deal on a trick play, in which wide receiver Rod Gardner threw a touchdown pass to running back Trung Canidate.  Spurrier, Ramsey, Coles, Gardner, and Candidate — how 2003 is that octet?

Washington 20, Seattle 17: October 2, 2005
In route to Super Bowl XL, the ‘Hawks lost just two regular season games in which they played their starters.  The second one was at the hands of a Joe Gibbs-led Washington squad.  After Darrell Jackson caught a late TD to tie it, Kelly Herndon intercepted Mark Brunell to set up a 47-yard, last play, game-winning field goal attempt by Josh Brown.  He missed it (as I recall it hit an upright), and Washington won in OT.  By missing a makeable field goal, perhaps Brown was just preparing us for what was to come in the Super Bowl.

Seattle 20, Washington 10: January 14, 2006
Seattle, however, extracted their revenge in the playoffs by handling Washington fairly easily in the divisional round.  With soon-to-be MVP Shaun Alexander temporarily on the shelf, the great double valid Mack Strong delivered the dagger with a 32-yard rumble on 3rd-and-6 to put the ‘Hawks in field goal range to go up two scores with under 3:00 on the clock.

Washington 23, Seattle 17: November 27, 2011
The Seahawks were just 4-6 heading into a Week 12 home game against Washington, but the sprouts of a good team were starting to poke through the dirt.  I secretly harbored fantasies that they would win out and take a Wild Card spot.  In retrospect, I wasn’t too delusional, but it didn’t take long for my hopes to be dashed.  Although the ‘Hawks held a 17-7 lead in the fourth quarter, they struggled in the endgame, and Washington, with its high-powered offense led by the venerable trio of Rex Grossman, Anthony Armstrong, and Roy Helu, overpowered the ‘Hawks down the stretch and stole the game.

Seattle 24, Washington 14: January 6, 2013
This was a playoff game that occurred less than two years ago, so you probably remember it fairly well, but in case you don’t, allow me to refresh your memory: Washington dominants for two drives goes up 14-0; Robert Griffin III tweaks previously injured leg, plays erratically, and disappears intermittently into sideline shed throughout game; Marshawn Lynch runs wild, Seahawks dominate rest of game, take lead in fourth quarter; RGIII severely injures knee on crucial fumble; Seahawks win; Washington fans turn on the Shanahans faster than Greg Valentine turned on Brutus Beefcake in Wrestlemania III.

Seattle 37, Washington 16: October 6, 2014
As you might notice, this is not the score of a game that has already happened; this is my prediction for Monday night’s game.  I’m going Seahawks and Seahawks big … or at least Seahawks by a comfortable margin.  I don’t see any way Washington can win.  Well, I do; I mean, they could “NFL” the ‘Hawks — win by upset because it’s the NFL and upsets happen every week.  But I don’t see any way other than total fluke Washington can win.  They are significantly inferior to the ‘Hawks in all three phases of the game.  Home field advantage isn’t going to be enough.

For Washington offensively, I think it’s safe to say Kirk Cousins is who we thought he was.  And whom did we think he was?  A solid backup quarterback and a below-average, if non-disastrous starter.  He plays well against bad defenses and plays shakily against decent ones.  The Seahawks have a decent defense, so I don’t expect Cousins to have a good game.  And if Cousins doesn’t have a good game, the Washington offense likely stalls.  That’s how football works, right?

If you want a good comp for Kirk Cousins, you can actually look at the Seahawks sideline — not at their starter, of course, but at their backup.  Kirk Cousins is like a younger, blonder Tarvaris Jackson — that’s about where I put his skill level.  So, if the Seahawks want to make this a fair fight, they should just play T-Jax the entire game.  But I’m guessing they actually don’t want to do that, and so Russell Wilson (aka Nelson Muntz) will be out there.  That’s a huge advantage for the ‘Hawks, no matter how Washington talking heads might try to spin it (although after last week, the Cousins love affair is apparently on hold).  The Washington defense probably isn’t as bad as it looked last Thursday nor is it as bad as it was last year — their front seven in particular has been perfectly cromulent this year — but I would be quite surprised if they consistently bottle up Wilson & Co.  I fully expect Beast Mode to get his — plus a couple of other players’ for good measure — this game.

This leaves special teams — which actually only worsens Washington’s prospects at victory.  They have been dreadful on special teams this season, and it’s almost certainly not just small sample noise, as they were even worst last year.  A big part of their problem comes in defending kickoff and punt returns.  Their kickoff man Tress Way forces touchbacks on just 50% of his kicks, so Percy Harvin might get a legit chance or two at a return — a pleasant thought for Seahawks fans.  Or perhaps Washington will do pooch kicks or squib kicks or something else to keep Harvin at bay, but that’s good for the Seahawks as well because it concedes a bunch of field position.*  The bottom line: the Seahawks are much better than Washington at special teams.  They are much better at offense and defense too.  I expect them to win handily.

*An underrated factor in the Seahawks upset over the Saints in the Beastquake game is that the ‘Hawks consistently had short fields because Sean Payton was overly scared of a big return by Leon Washington.

Bye Week B.S.: 2014 MLB Double Valid All-Stars

With the Seahawks’ season going to bye and the Mariners’ season just going bye, Seattle sports fans could use a little distraction.  I have just such a distraction: The 2014 MLB Double Valid All-Stars.  What’s a double valid?  It’s a player whose first and last names are both non-proper English words, that is, valid plays in the board game Scrabble.  For example, Prince Fielder is a double valid since prince and fielder are both English words.  Rougned Odor is not a double valid because only odor is an actual word.  Robinson Cano is also not a double valid since neither robinson nor cano are valid English words (if only his name was Rob Canoe).  Got it?  Of course.  Do you care?  Less certain.  But let’s continue as if you do.

Here are your 2014 MLB Double Valid All-Stars.

Starting Pitcher: Matt Shoemaker
The rookie gets the nod here.  After toiling in the minors for seven seasons — and I do mean toiling; his career minor league ERA is 4.52 — Shoemaker was an unlikely candidate to stabilize the Angels rotation after injuries to Garrett Richards and Jered Weaver.  But stabilize it he did, going 16-4 with a 3.04 ERA and an excellent 5.17 K/BB ratio.  How does a 28-year-old (by the way, Happy birthday, Mr. Shoemaker) pitch much better in his first full season in the majors than he ever did in the minors, even at the lowest levels?  Baseball — that’s how.

Catcher: Hank Conger
hank n. – Nautical A ring on a stay attached to the head of a jib or staysail
conger n. — a large marine eel, reaching up to 10 ft. (3 m.), used for food.
So a fisherman might fasten a hank to his sail before catching a conger.  Or if he’s a baseball fan, he might watch Matt Shoemaker pitch to Hank Conger, like in this game here.

First Base: Nick Swisher
The injury to Prince Fielder gave the other double valid first basemen a chance at this honor, and Nick Swisher stepped up … by which I mean he was arguably the worst player in the league this year (-1.6 WAR).  Always a good hitter and a bad fielder, Swisher flipped the script this year and was a terrible hitter (like .208/.278/.331, 74 OPS+ terrible) and a good field- … uh, hold on, sorry, I was looking at Nick Punto‘s defensive numbers; Swisher was a terrible fielder this season also.

Second Base: Tommy La Stella
Technically he’s a triple valid, but that still counts in my book … or my blog, as it were.  You’ve got tommy (a British soldier), la (the sixth note on the diatonic scale), and stella (a former coin of the U.S.), and when you put them all together what have you got?  A pretty lousy second baseman whose only attractive quality (other than his triple valid name, of course) is the fact that he’s not Dan Uggla.

Third Base: Brock Holt
Last season he was a Double Valid All-Star by default; this season he was actually a decent player (2.2 WAR).  And his name still means “badger grove”, which is kind of a real thing, so a few bonus points for that.

Shortstop: Brad Miller
When the Mariners traded Nick Franklin midseason, they lost half of a potentially potent double-valid double-play tandem, but they still retain the shortstop part of it.  Although, given Miller’s season at the plate (.220/.288/.363, 88 OPS+), they might wish they didn’t.

Left Field: Junior Lake
After a promising rookie campaign, Junior Lake’s chance at stardom has completely cratered (you might say he’s crater Lake).  He still might be a good player someday, but not if he continues to strikeout eight times for every one time he walks.  That’s not a joke, by the way, he’s struck out 110 times this year, while walking only 14 times.  The only player who has ever had a worse single-season ratio is Wily Mo Branyan, and he’s not even a real person; he’s a cross between Wily Mo Pena and Russell Branyan that I just invented right now.  So, yeah, Lake’s batting eye needs some work.

Center Field: Mike Trout
There has been much written about where Mike Trout’s terrific start to his career ranks among the all-time great starts.  But I have a more interesting question: Where does Mike Trout rank among baseball players with fish last names?  Among fellow Trout, he’s ahead of Steve Trout, but hasn’t yet caught Steve’s father Dizzy Trout — a hurler from the ’40s with borderline Hall of Fame credentials.  Mike Trout is certainly better than Mike Carp and Brandon Bass, and he’s even surpassed 14-year vet Kevin Bass.  Frank Hake is no match for him nor is Art Herring.  But Tim Salmon is ahead of him just based on longevity.  So all told, I rank Mike Trout fourth on the “Last Name Is a Fish” list.  He’s behind only Dizzy Trout, Tim Salmon, and Kevin Bass’ avatar on R.B.I. Baseball.

Right Field: Hunter Pence
Next question: Where does Hunter Pence rank on the “Last Name is a Monetary Unit” list?  The answer is second.  He’s ahead of Dick Rand and Brad Penny, but way behind Curt Schilling.

Designated Hitter: Jerry Sands
Billy Butler‘s down year opened up this roster spot, and Jerry Sands slid right in — not with his play, he was a pretty awful DH this year (.190/.227/.333 in 22 PA), but with his name: Jerry Sands is an excellent, lively double valid.  And it’s got some historical significance.  A jerry is a German soldier, so when the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy, they were fighting on jerry sands.

Relief Pitcher: Will Smith
Will Smith is the second greatest reliever ever who has the same name as a world famous entertainer and an ex-NFL front-seven defender.  Can you name the greatest ever?  If not, you might want to take a look at the man in the mirror.

Game 3: Seahawks 26, Broncos 20 — Seahawks Blow It, Then Don’t

Quick rundown of the Seattle sports scene on this Sunday evening: Seahawks, winning; Mariners, losing; Sounders, don’t know; Sonics, still don’t exist.

On a macro level, the Seahawks-Broncos game played out very much as I expected.  In fact, I was only a point off for each team in my prediction of the final score (I said 27-19).  But, the devil, as they say, is in the details, and the details of this game were particularly surreal.  One detail is that the ‘Hawks defense held a Peyton Manning-led offense to a respectable 18 points and 332 total yards (just 4.7 yards-per-play).  Another detail is that they turned the Broncos over twice, including a seemingly game-clinching interception by Kam Chancellor.  Yet another detail is that the Broncos amazingly drove 80 yards in the final minute of regulation, with no timeouts, to score the game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion.  They did this on just three pass completions, and on each one the receiver who caught the ball ran the same basic route: a waggle fly down the sideline while the underneath receiver “cleared out” the coverage.*  For some reason, the Seahawks weren’t ready for this and got burned on plays in which Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas, and Jacob Tamme were very open.**  Phil Simms seemed to think the Broncos were doing something especially exotic (paraphrase: “I assure you the Seahawks D has never seen plays like this.”), but it just looked like blown coverage to me.

In the end, however, it doesn’t really matter because of the big final detail: Russell Wilson atoned for his fourth-quarter interception by driving the ‘Hawks 80 yards for a game-winning touchdown on the first possession of overtime.  Marshawn Lynch was the one who actually plunged into the end zone to end it, but the drive was vintage Wilson: finding the open receiver for a successful gain or tucking the ball away and running for six yards if there isn’t one.  (This drive was very reminiscent of the late-game drives against the Bears two years ago and the Texans last year.)  It seems like Wilson saves his legs for the moments he really needs them — like a baseball ace who doesn’t reveal his out pitch unless he’s really in a jam and needs that strikeout.  Whatever the case, it was a spectacular show.  Russell Wilson clearly isn’t the best quarterback in the league (… yet), but there is nobody I’d rather watch with the game on the line.  There is something about the scrambling QB (the Steve McNair types) that makes them more enjoyable to root for than the surgeons like Manning and Philip Rivers.

So, the outcome of this game was precisely what I expected.  But if you only saw the outcome, you missed all the fun.  On Sunday Night FootballTony Dungy and Rodney Harrison were talking about how this is a moral victory for the Broncos.  And I thought to myself: Isn’t it nice to be on the side that gets the actual victory and not the moral victory?  And then I answered myself that indeed it is.

Oh, and before I go, I would be remiss if I didn’t bemoan Pete Carroll’s most recent ultraconservative (i.e., stupid) play call.  He’s good for at least one a game.  This one came in the third quarter when Russell Wilson found Paul Richardson for seven yards on 3rd-and-8.  Up 17-3 against the high octane Broncos, whom you had to figure had a push left in them, the ‘Hawks punted on 4th-and-1 from the 50 yard line.  This is a situation where you go for dagger, no?  After all, this and Steven Hauschka‘s missed field goal (it happens) are really what enabled the comeback.  If Seattle scores on either of those two possessions, there likely isn’t even a minute left for Manning at the end.  That’s the thing about spineless football.  It isn’t “conservative” — unless conservative means putting off a sticky situation now for a worse one down the road.  Because that’s generally what happens.

Thankfully, however, John Fox out-gutless-ed Pete Carroll on the Broncos ensuing possession by punting on 4th-and-1 near midfield down 14 points.  How anybody can think punting in this situation increases their chances of winning, I have no idea.  But I do know that this is the same man who punted on the opponent’s side of the field down 29 points in the Super Bowl.  So, I think it’s safe to say, nobody will ever confuse John Fox with John Nash.

*This probably isn’t the correct football-coach terminology, but you get the idea.

**Upon further review, it looks like the Thomas route was different from the other two. But the larger point remains: How do players get that open downfield at the most crucial time?

Game 3: Denver @ Seattle — Less Than 50% Chance Seahawks Win 43-8 Again

Of all the possible outcomes of this week’s Super Bowl rematch, one I think we can completely rule out is the Seahawks winning by the exact score of 43-8 again.  It’s a very odd score; so odd, in fact, that Super Bowl XLVIII is the only game in football’s annals that has ever ended in it.  Even a score of 43-x, where x can be any number is an unusual final score.  But it’s not one that’s unheard of.  The Seahawks’ Super Bowl beatdown was the third time in their franchise history that they scored exactly 43 points in game.  In 1987, they whupped the lowly Chiefs 43-14 at the Kingdome, and then a year later they went to LA and beat the Raiders 43-37, with the division title on the line.  It was one of Dave Krieg‘s finest moments (four touchdowns!).

So if 43-8 is likely out, as is 43 to anything, then what is a more realistic score? Let’s say Seahawks 27, Broncos 19.  That’s my prediction.  I think the ‘Hawks will be able to move the ball on the Broncos.  With the notably exception of the final drive (in which he was behind the 8-ball from the get-go) Russell Wilson played pretty well last week.  We can apparently count on Percy Harvin to do at least one awesome thing every game.  And Marshawn Lynch, for the most part, has looked his usual Beast Modey self so far.  Although I’m not quite sure what to make of his mysterious back injury.  A few years ago, Carroll & Co. pulled Lynch from a game (well, you can kinda call this a game, anyway) during warmups when nobody even knew he was hurt.  So we will see how things play out on Sunday.  Maybe Christine Michael will make his 2014 debut.

On defense, I’m expecting a bend-but-don’t-break type of game (hence the 19 points — four field goals).  Peyton Manning will likely be able to move the ball because, well, because he’s Peyton Manning (even in the Super Bowl the two teams were close in net yardage), but I think the ‘Hawks (with the help of the 12th Man, of course) will get some stops when it matters and probably a turnover or two.  It will be interesting to see if Wes Welker plays, and if so, whether or not he gets regular snaps straightway after returning from a concussion.  We all know that playing a professional football game against any team is bad for your brain, but I imagine this is especially true against the Seahawks.  And, who knows, Welker might just collapse on the field untouched as The Clink induces an LOB flashback.

Like most Seahawks fans, I’ll be raptly watching the game Sunday afternoon.  Like most NFL fans, I’ll also have another game on in the background.  (NFL games have so many commercials, watching a single game is like eating popcorn one kernel at a time; it’s still good, but it’s kind of annoying, as well.)  This week there is a particularly interesting NFC West matchup to keep one eye on: San Francisco at Arizona.  And it brings up a bit of a conundrum: For whom should Seahawks fans root?

On the one hand, the Cardinals are 2-0, and a win, coupled with a Seattle loss (not inconceivable, by any means — again, we’re talking about Peyton Manning), would drop the ‘Hawks to two games back in the division.  Although it seems unlikely a team quarterbacked by Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton could actually win the division, let’s keep in mind that they were pretty good last year, and they did beat the Seahawks in Seattle, so … yeah.  The Cardinals could be a legit threat.

On the other hand, how can any ‘Hawks fan be against rooting against the 49ers?  Watching Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall (and, truthfully, the referees) carve up the Niners D, while Colin Kaepernick imploded last Sunday evening was so enjoyable, I don’t think I have the willpower to not cheer for something similar happening again.

Maybe this is one of those situations where you just watch and enjoy without a rooting interesting.  If it’s true that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, then there is no way ‘Hawks fans can lose with this one.  Unless, of course, they tie.

Game 2: Seattle 21, San Diego 30 — ‘Hawks Play Worse Than Opponent, Lose

In my preview (and I use that term loosely), I suggested that Philip Rivers, right now, might be the second best quarterback in the league.  One game, of course, doesn’t prove anything definitively, but if it did, I would have pinned the bolo tie on the bumpkin with this one (or something like that).*  If the notion that Rivers is better than, say, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, seemed absurd on Friday, it seems just a tiny bit less so Sunday evening.  Rivers was phenomenal against the Seahawks.  He continually made the correct read pre-snap (or so it seemed to my untrained eyes); he continually found the open receiver; and his passes couldn’t have been placed better if he walked them over to his intended targets instead of throwing them.  He even looked mobile — in his own cardboard cutout way — side-stepping the pass rush to shotput the ball to a check-down guy or scramble for the first down.  He out-Russell-Wilsoned Russell Wilson, which is a bigger shocker than Brian Hoyer playing Breesier than Drew Brees.

To me, River’s hyper-efficient performance brought back memories of the 2012 ‘Hawks D.  It was like watching a cross between the Detroit and Miami games.  The defense wasn’t terrible, but they simply could not get enough stops on third down (San Diego was 10 for 17) to be the dominant unit they can be.  The pass rush was a step slow — in part because the San Diego scheme was keeping tired players on the field (and because it was, apparently, really fucking hot) — and the coverage couldn’t bail them out (Richard Sherman had a poor, if overblown, game).  Even when the coverage was sound, Rivers would throw a perfect lob to Antonio Gates who would channel his inner 2006 self and snatch it out of the air.  K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner, and Kam Chancellor, good as they are, were no match for vintage Rivers-to-Gates.  It also didn’t help that Earl Thomas had to sit out a bunch of snaps with cramps.

On offense, the ‘Hawks looked fine until they got desperate at the end.  Wilson was bothered by the pass rush a bit, but he made enough plays to keep the team in it basically the entire game.  Seattle got lucky on the Percy Harvin stepped-out-of-bounds touchdown run, but I’d like to think they would have scored on that drive anyway — plus, the Chargers got lucky by recovering four of the five fumbles in the game (and having another one by Donald Brown go out-of-bounds).  Luck wasn’t a huge factor one way of the other.

The only problems I — the diligent amateur blogger — had with the offense were a few bad play calls.  I think Pete Carroll really erred by not going for it on 4th-and-2 from his own 36 with about 8:00 left in the game.  As Bill Barnwell frequently points out, eschewing a manageable 4th-down opportunity midway through the fourth quarter usually just results in a more difficult try later in the game: Smash cut to Russell Wilson overthrowing Jermaine Kearse on perhaps the worst 4th-down try I’ve ever seen.  I also didn’t like the play call on the jet sweep that effectively set up that situation in the first place.  The ‘Hawks were too deep in their own zone to run a play that develops that far behind the line of scrimmage.  Plus, everybody has seen that play many times now; the element of surprise was completely absent.  The fake jet sweep roll-out, pass-run option, on the other hand, that would have been the play — or maybe that’s just a “hindsight is 20-20″ type of thing.

So the Seahawks take a loss.  It happens.  It’s early.  But it doesn’t get much easier next week when Peyton Manning comes to The Clink.  It was a bad night for Seattle sports fans overall.  The Mariners lost as well, and their playoff hopes are slowly slipping away (actually, more accurately, they are flaking off in big chucks, but you get the idea).  And like the ‘Hawks who next have to deal with the high-octane Broncos, the M’s start a four-game series tomorrow against the best team in baseball.  Things sure seemed rosier last week, didn’t they?

*Also, I ask the reader to ignore the fact I also said Rivers could be ranked as low as the 13th best QB in the league…  So I basically said nothing at all.