Russell Wilson

Seahawks: Defense doesn't win games -- balance does

Seahawks: Defense doesn't win games -- balance does

The old cliche is that defense wins football games.

I would argue with that. I think balance wins football games. Take the Seattle Seahawks. Please, before their fans die of boredom.

The Seahawks have had a terrific defense for years. They should, because they seem to spend all their salary cap room on defenders. Problem is, no matter how well your defense plays, you still need a few points to win games.

Balance between offense and defense is always the key in any sport. If your offense is terrific, your defense doesn't need to be quite as good. In Seattle's case, the defense is very good. But even if the defense pitches a shutout, Seattle can't win without a few points. The Trail Blazers have been walking this fine line for a few years now. Yes, their defense isn't very good, but when their offense is clicking, the defense is often good enough.

Seattle used to pride itself on a power running game that played into the defensive strengths. Quarterback Russell Wilson was good enough getting the ball up the field to solid receivers that the Seahawks won a Super Bowl (and, of course, should have won two of them.) But the trade of Max Unger began the undoing of the offensive line and Seattle hasn't been the same since.

Wilson now has become the offense. And I'm not talking about his passing, either. Wilson has become the running game all by himself. He rode to the rescue Sunday against the 49ers with his fourth-quarter scrambles and finally got his team into the end zone for its first touchdown of the season.

I can't believe anybody in Seattle, including Pete Carroll, believes that's a sustainable way to win football games. At 5-11 and about 215, I don't think Wilson can handle the load. He's not going to get through the season if he has to continue to be the go-to ground gainer on this team. It just won't work. Obviously.

Somehow -- and maybe it's going to take trading a great defensive player for a great offensive player at some point -- the Seahawks have to regain their balance.

 

A frozen showdown between Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers

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USA Today

A frozen showdown between Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers

BY 

This Sunday, Russell Wilson will return to the home of his college football glory days, and the game will mark just the second time Wilson has appeared in a football uniform in the state of Wisconsin since November of 2011. Between seven home games in his senior year in college and one game played at Lambeau Field in his fourth NFL season, Wilson holds a 7-1 lifetime record in football games played in the state of Wisconsin, with an .875 winning percentage. Wilson’s rival this Sunday, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, has notched 70 professional football games in the state of Wisconsin, and holds a 54-16 record in games he has started, with a .771 winning percentage. 

Today, it would be difficult to find two better NFL QB’s, but just as recently as five years ago, a Wilson-Rodgers duel wouldn’t have sounded like much. Back then, Wilson was the green third round rookie QB who was still learning the speed of the pro game, but he was clearly better than most first year players, and limited his mistakes by leaning on a strong running game and only releasing the ball in high percentage passing situations. It wasn’t always exciting, but it was key in getting him to where he is today. 

By 2012 Rodgers was already a veteran by NFL standards, with a Super Bowl ring, Super Bowl MVP, and regular season MVP in his trophy case. Like Wilson, Rodgers puts a premium on limiting his mistakes, and holds the active record for career passer rating and lowest interception percentage. Number two on both of those lists – Mr. Russell Wilson. Rodgers and Wilson are the only active players with career passer ratings over 100, and if they stay where they are or better, both will retire as the only players in NFL history with a career rating at 100 or higher.

Wilson and Rodgers have faced off four times since 2012, and WIlson won their initial meeting by way of a controversial game-ending touchdown, and the rivalry officially began. Since the opening chapter in their rivalry, Wilson and Rodgers have faced each other three times, with Wilson winning twice, and Rodgers winning the most recent meeting.

In four career games against Wilson, Rodgers has completed 66% of his passes for 839 yards, four touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. Over the same span, Wilson has completed 65% of his passes for 736 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions. Rodgers has attempted at least 33 passes in all four contests, while Wilson has thrown 29 or fewer passes in three of the four matchups. Both passers are hovering around 200 yards per game in the rivalry, and while Wilson has thrown at least one touchdown in all four games including two without a turnover, while Rodgers has avoided turning the ball over in two of the games, but failed to throw a touchdown pass in their first meeting, and has at least one touchdown pass in the three meetings since. 

The home team has won all four matchups in this heated rivalry, with Seattle hosting and winning the first three contests, and Green Bay hosting and winning last season’s matchup. Over the series, Seattle has averaged 24 points per game, and Green Bay has averaged 19.  Two games have been decided by one score, and two games have been decided by at least two scores, making it difficult to gauge reasonable expectations.

The most intense meeting between the two teams came in the 2014 NFC Championship game, where Green Bay led 16-0 at halftime, held a 19-7 lead in the fourth quarter,  failed to close the game out on an onside kick return with the game winding down, and after kicking a field goal to force overtime, gave up a long touchdown pass on Seattle’s opening possession of overtime to end the game. Green Bay won the turnover battle including forcing Russell Wilson into four interceptions, but despite serious injuries that limited Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman late in the game, Mike McCarthy opted for conservative play calls down the stretch, and Seattle’s bold playmakers took advantage and took the victory. 

Green Bay won the meeting last year to make the series a little less lopsided, but Seattle still owns the Packers since drafting Wilson. This year, both sides are missing key players that won’t be back in time for Sunday but that won’t excuse the losing side this weekend.

Despite their gap in records, both teams still really need this win, but for different reasons. Green Bay sits at 6-6, and in third place in the NFC North. In order to keep pace in a very crowded wild card race, the Packers need to win out, or deal with watching the postseason from the couch. Seattle stands at 8-3-1 and currently holds the lead in the NFC West and the #2 seed in the NFC. As long as they stay ahead of the Falcons, Lions, and Giants, they should earn a much needed first round bye as well as host any game not against Dallas.

This matchup will feature a mixed bag of offense and defense, as the Seahawks come in with the league’s 20th best scoring offense at 22 points per game, the 14th ranked passing attack with 256.4 yards per game, and the 20th ranked offense with 101.5 yards per game. They will be facing the Packers 23rd ranked scoring defense allowing 25.2 points, the 16th ranked passing defense allowing 254.2 yards, and the 9th ranked rushing defense allowing 92.9 yards per game.

On the flip side, Green Bay has the 11th ranked scoring offense at 24.6 points per game, the 10th ranked passing attack at 261.2 yards, and the 24th ranked ground attack with 99.1 yards per game. Seattle’s scoring defense is ranked 1st at 16.2 points allowed per game, the 23rd ranked passing defense at 231 yards allowed, and the 14th ranked rush defense at 99.2 yards per game.

For Seattle, with a win they could knock Green Bay out of playoff contention, and put a bigger gap between them and the teams fighting for the top seeds in the NFC playoffs. WIth just three games to go after this week, a losing record will be too much for the Packers to overcome in the NFC playoff hunt, and it should give Seattle the distance it needs to keep the Falcons, Giants, and Lions fighting for the third seed and keep the second seed for themselves.

The gametime temperature this Sunday is expected to be below freezing, leaving Seattle the perfect opportunity to do something cold to the host Packers – end their season. Green Bay could save their season with a win over the Seahawks, but the odds are stacked against them even on their home field.

Seattle reignited their much needed second half surge with a blowout win over Carolina last week, and could make a bigger statement with a win in Green Bay followed by a favorable schedule over the final three weeks against teams with losing records. Can the Seahawks string a pair of wins together and put a stop to their see-saw season? We’ll find out this Sunday.

Seattle vs. San Francisco: Week 3 Preview

Seattle vs. San Francisco: Week 3 Preview

The Seattle Seahawks were in need of some good news - any good news, really - to help extinguish the stench from last week’s dreadful offensive performance, and the subsequent loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

On Wednesday, they got it.

In his weekly press conference with the media, head coach Pete Carroll – who, quite frankly, needed something to smile about as well – doled out good news left and right.

Russell Wilson? He’s looking better and ahead of schedule. Tyler Lockett, Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise? All could potentially be good to go on Sunday.

But perhaps the biggest development could be the impending debut of Germain Ifedi, the mammoth offensive guard who’s expected to make his NFL debut. Ifedi, out of Texas A&M, was Seattle’s first-round selection in the draft this year. He was brought in to help shore up an offensive line that struggled last year, lost some pieces, and was expected to be in dire straights entering this season.

He hasn’t been anointed the savior, and he shouldn’t be. But infusing talent, no matter how young, is vital at this stage.

Two weeks in, those painful predictions of the offensive line have played out for the world to see. Seattle can’t run the ball (they're 18th in the league at 89.5 yards per game) and they’re not throwing the ball well (21st in the NFL at 239.5 passing yards per game).

Not all of the offensive woes can be placed on the line; not all can be placed on Wilson’s ankle, either. But the two combined factors have limited Seattle to just 7.5 points per game, a 1-1 record, and raised serious questions about the offense’s ability to help the defense at all this season.

The good news? As anemic as the Seahawks have been on offense, San Francisco, Seattle’s next opponent, has been slightly worse. Under first-year coach Chip Kelly – who knows a thing or two about offense, if you recall – the 49ers are 28th in the league in passing yards (203.5).

After a wild offseason, followed by a tumultuous preseason, sidetracked by the ongoing Colin Kaepernick saga, the 49ers have settled on Blaine Gabbert at quarterback, hamstringing a unit that, seemingly, could benefit from the playmaking ability Kaepernick would provide.

CSN Bay Area is reporting that Kaepernick is still regaining strength after an offseason in which he couldn’t lift weights. According to the report, Kelly said that at some point this season Kaepernick could be an option.

It won’t be against Seattle, although it may not matter with the way the Seahawks’ defense is playing. Aided by two games against the Dolphins and Rams, Seattle’s defense is first the NFL – by 25 yards – allowing just 248 yards per game and just 9.5 points per game.

And yet, according to multiple players, they haven’t played close to their best ball.

If last week’s showdown with Los Angeles was about defense, this week is looking to follow suit. Seattle (27th) and San Francisco (28th overall) both appear woeful offensively. But Seattle’s defense is masking any and all problems at this point.

With the health problems seemingly on the mend, the Seahawks’ offense has to be nearing a turning point. There’s no better time to start that now.

Prediction

Seattle 17, San Francisco 9

 

Fantasy

Last week, I told you to take the safe road, pick the Seahawks defense for your fantasy team, and get out of dodge. That’s the safe bet this week – and for the whole season, probably – but I can’t take the easy road again.

So, I’m going to go out on a huge ledge: Jimmy Graham.

Since Graham arrived at the beginning of last season, he’s been a square-peg-in-a-round-hole. Nothing about Graham’s style of play has fit in with what the Seahawks expect. They want him to block; he can’t do it. He wants to hug the seams; they want him to be complex. But last week, in Seattle’s 9-3 loss, we may have begun to see a glimpse of the Graham everyone expected. He only had 3 catches for 42 yards, but there seemed to be a conscious effort to get him the ball. And it makes perfect sense: you have an offensive line that doesn’t give you any time, and a quarterback who’s inured and can’t move.

The natural outlet? Graham. It’s a risk, but it may pay off.

Carrolling Away in the Emerald City

Carrolling Away in the Emerald City

I’m worried about Pete Carroll.

OK, I’m not really worried about him as much as I’m concerned for him. On Sunday, as his Seahawks were trudging through one of the most anemic offensive performances we’ve seen, a rare scene kept playing out on the sidelines:

Carroll, normally exultant and gratified at just being the head coach, and getting to be a part of things, was so distressed through parts of the game, that it looks as if he’s reached a level of frustration normally reserved for a tight, 4th-quarter NFC Championship game.

He was screaming. He was throwing headsets. He was mowing his own players over on the sidelines.

Part of Carroll’s success – and a big part of his charm – is his ability to compartmentalize aspects of the game that other coaches struggle with. He’s the antithesis of the Belicheckian cloud that hovers over the NFL, threatening to kill off any semblance of joy that may seep out. Carroll knows it’s a game; he allows his players to have fun; he dances, and sings, and looks as if (gasp) he actually enjoys what he is doing.

It made him a star at USC; players flocked to the campus to be involved with the party he was throwing.

It allowed him to integrate himself in Seattle, taking youngsters and veterans alike and showing them the part of the game they enjoyed when they were kids. The part of the game that came organically to them. When the game was just that…a game. He still coached, sure. He got after guys when he saw fit. But he never let the pressures override his ability to crack a smile. He could laugh off any defeat, be it a preseason game or the Super Bowl.

But just two games in, it seems as if the Carroll we’ve come to know and love - just like the rest of Seattle offense - is absent.

Seattle has scored 15 points. Their once fluid attack – give it to Marshawn Lynch a bunch of times, with a sprinkling of passes for good measure – has gone by the wayside. And there are a lot of things to blame for it.

The offensive line (and stop me if you’ve read this before) is giving Russell Wilson no time.

Wilson, because of the ankle injury in the season opener, has been stripped of his ability to improvise (a weapon that would be handy with his line). The running game has been virtually non-existent.

The most frustrating part for Carroll has to be that he finally has a group of skill players to boast about. With Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham, he’s flush with talent that he hasn’t had since Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and Co. were running all over the Pac-10.

But right now, Seattle can’t do a thing about it; they’re handcuffed by a lack of ability to run anything resembling an NFL-caliber offense.

Now, it must be noted the Seahawks’ first opponents – Miami and Los Angeles – fielded two of the better defensive lines in the NFL, so struggles were inevitable, but, despite some improvements from my vantage point, things still are not grading out.

From Pro Football Focus:

“The Seahawks’ offensive line couldn’t block the Rams’ defensive line; Mark Glowinski (45.5 grade) and J’Marcus Webb (32.6 grade) had trouble giving injured quarterback Russell Wilson a clean pocket. Glowinski allowed 5 pressures, 3 from the outside, and Webb surrendered 3. Bradley Sowell, who replaced Webb, allowed 5 pressures, 4 from the outside.”

For Carroll and his staff, there’s no end in sight. Offensive lines in the NFL don’t mature overnight; there are not incremental jumps in performance from week-to-week. For the most part, aside from some cohesion that is built, guys are who they are.

Seattle has neglected to address their line the past few offseasons, and it’s coming back to haunt them.

Oh, and on Monday, Carroll’s week took another hit, as Seattle was dinged again (as they were in 2014) for excessive contact in offseason OTAs. It’s small, but it adds to the growing uncertainty surrounding this team.

Two games do not a season make, and Seattle has the talent at every other position to make a Super Bowl run. But until the O-line figures it out, and until Wilson’s ankle heals, I’m afraid the Pete Carroll we’ve become accustomed to – the jovial man living each day to the fullest – is going to be gone.

And if he’s not careful, the goodwill he’s built, and the charm he’s instilled in people, will be lost. What’s left will be a sullen, ashen man, slogging his way through his 18-hour work day.

You know… a normal NFL coach.

The Seahawks' Broken Wing

The Seahawks' Broken Wing

It turned out to be nothing. But at CenturyLink Field on Sunday afternoon, for about 30 minutes, 69,000 people sat on their hands, hearts in their throats.

Russell Wilson was down. Then he was up. Then, he was a shell of himself.

As we were witness to, after yet another game-winning drive, Wilson -- barring any setbacks -- will be fine. His ankle, although precariously situated underneath the weight of Ndamukong Suh, made it through and will live to see another day.

But for the Seahawks and GM John Schneider, every move from this day forward must be in preparation for the worst. Because even with Wilson limited to one ankle, there was nowhere to turn. Not to Trevone Boykin, the lone QB on the roster besides Wilson, who, as an undrafted rookie could be a catastrophe. Not to a veteran backup, destined to hold a clipboard until times get rough.

It was a disturbing reality for a Seattle team, hell-bent on a Super Bowl return, that the fate of their entire offense rests on the health of one man.

Yes, they have their all-world defense. No, that won’t be enough.

The offense, which relies heavily on sleight of hand and Wilson’s ability to improvise, crumbled after his injury transformed him into a lavish statue. Thanks to inept coaching on the part of the Dolphins -- who, for whatever reason, did not blitz Wilson on every play -- the Seahawks were able to tread water long enough to survive.

According to Pro Football Focus, Wilson recorded a 95.7 passer rating when the Dolphins did not apply pressure.

To make matters worse Seattle’s offensive line, young and unproven entering the season, did absolutely nothing to assuage the fears that they won’t be able to protect Wilson, or open holes for Thomas Rawls and Christin Michael. Only left tackle Gary Gilliam managed to post a positive grade (79.8), and Bradley Sowell and J'Marcus Webb were simply atrocious; each surrendered two QB hurries and recorded 46.6 and 40.7 grades, respectively, according to PFF.

Add it up, and your entire season is riding on Wilson playing behind a maladroit line.

Schneider and Pete Carroll knew they were rolling the dice this season with the quarterback position. For the first time since he was named the starter in 2012, Wilson was devoid of a heady, veteran backup.  But more than having a player they could turn to in times of crisis – if Wilson were to miss extended time, for example – the Seahawks appear to be lacking a player they can turn to for any time.

When Wilson hopped off the turf and looked to the sideline, you could see in his face he needed out. The next play? A handoff. The one after that? A flat-footed throw, no zip. Without the ability to plant, or throw on the run, Wilson was missing the most important tool in his arsenal: the threat of the run. After the game, in a press conference lock-jawed with clichés, Wilson told those gathered that he doesn’t like to run, but he knows how it can be used to his advantage.

To wit:

According to ESPN, “Wilson attempted a career-high 43 passes Sunday. It was the first time in his career his team won when he attempted 40 or more passes in a game. Wilson averaged 6.0 yards per attempt Sunday, a lower figure than he had in any game last season. Part of the reason was that Wilson's average pass traveled 4.7 yards downfield, the third-shortest of his career.”

He attempted those passes out of necessity. And when he is forced to be a stabilizing pocket-passer, he struggles mightily.

The Monday of Week 1 is often referred to as “Over Reaction Monday,” and for good reason. Fan bases across the country, those happy and those sad, woke up today with the thought that their team is better than they originally envisioned. Or, they're worse. That’s up for water-cooler debate. But for Seahawks fans, one glaring truth lies before them:

Their team is good. Really good. But he could be gone in an instant, incapacitated on the field, without a soul behind him to help.