Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Bills Bone Headed Move

ESPN recently profiled NFL quarterback Tyrod Taylor. The article described his complex place in the NFL. Although not a star he is a clearly competent player. Coming into week 11 Taylor hadn't played stellar this year, but was still not hurting his team. He had 10 TD to only 3 INT. The Bills were 5-4 and coming off two consecutive losses. In the first loss the Bills fell to the Jets 34-21. Taylor went 29/40 for 285 yards and 2 TD. During the second loss, against the Saints, Taylor struggled going only 9/18 for 56 yards and an INT.  In the teams two most recent losses prior to week 11 Taylor had one good game and one bad game. However, both losses clearly had more to do with the Bills defense's inability to stop the opposing run. In those two games they gave up 194 and 298 yards rushing respectively.

Leading up to the Bills week 11 matchup against the Chargers, Bills head coach Sean McDermott analyzed his teams recent struggles and decided to make a change at QB and let rookie Quarterback Nathan Peterman start. The outcome of the decision was terrible. Peterman managed to throw 5 interceptions in just one half, letting the Chargers get ahead 37-7. He did so poorly that McDermott was forced to make a change and put Taylor back in at quarterback for the second half. To put this all in comparison, Peterman threw more interceptions in a half then Taylor has thrown all year. He threw the same number of interceptions as Matthew Stafford, Kirk Cousins, Drew Brees, and Carson Wentz have all year. Those guys have started all ten games their teams have played. Peterson has an interception rate of 20.8%. Throwing five INT in a half is really bad.

I am not normally one to call for the firing of coaches after a small sample size, but I think McDermott is a special kind of dumb. The Bills head coach decided that this above average ball security quarterback on a team that was 5-4 needed to be benched. His backup plan was starting a rookie QB with 10 career attempts. This is not a strategy for success. Teams with playoff hopes don't switch out their quarterbacks willy-nilly, especially for unproven rookies. They stick with guys way worse than Taylor. The decision to bench Taylor in favor of Peterman was a bad one and it blew up in extraordinary fashion. McDermott needs to be on the hot seat. The Bills ownership needs to let him know that he made a stupid decision and if he wants to stay their head coach he needs to stop making stupid decisions. Finally Tyrod Taylor needs to start the remainder of the games for the Bills.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Seahawks Shoots Themselves in the Both Feet, Then Face for Good Measure

The Seahawks lost to Washington 17-14 today in what can only be described by a terrible performance by most of the team. The Seahawks had no business winning the game. The played poorly in almost all phases.

The worst and most egregious performance was kicker Blair Walsh who missed three straight field goals. All of them were wide left. If he had made any of them the team would have at least tied the game. Up until this point Walsh had been having a good season. Hopefully this is just a bump in the road and he recovers.

Quarterback Russell Wilson also struggled. He threw 2 interceptions (and another on a 2 point conversion attempt). He frequently under-threw open receivers, resulting in missed big gains. Not all was bad for Danger Russ. He did lead the team on a fourth quarter touchdown drive inside the two minute warning. Unfortunately Wilson's play kept the team from scoring as many points as possible and let Washington stay in the game.

The Seahawks also put themselves into a tough situation by committing 16 penalties. Even for a Pete Carroll team this is a huge number. Many of these were drive killing for Seattle's offense or drive extending for Washington's. It is really hard for any team to win when they commit 16 penalties, but it is especially hard when the kicker gives away 9 points wide left.

Finally the defense was bit by their recurring inability to stop big plays in crucial situations. Down 4 points with 1:34 to go Washington drove 70 yards on 4 plays in 35 seconds and scored a game winning touchdown. On the drive the Seahawks defense gave up two 30+ yard passes.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

MLS Decision Day Could be So Much Better

In 2016 MLS introduced Decision Day. It is the last regular season game of the year for all of the teams and all the games kickoff at the same time on the same day. The idea is none of the teams can scoreboard watch and play accordingly. Every team has to put in their all to try and get the result they need. Star players won't be sat or pulled early because some earlier result already cemented the standings.  It is a great idea, but Decision Day could be so much better.

The NFL is the most popular sports league in the United States. The vast majority of NFL games take place on Sundays. There are three main time slots on Sunday when games kickoff: 10:00am, 1:00pm, and 5:30pm (all PST). So between the hours of 10:00 am - and 8:30 pm the American sports fan is probably tied up watching some sort of NFL game.

For two years in a row MLS has decided to schedule Decision Day on a Sunday around 1:00pm. That means all of the media markets that have both an NFL team and a MLS team will most likely have the games going on at the same time. Sports fans that aren't hardcore soccer fans are forced to choose between watching one of their favorite football teams 16 regular season games or the final regular season game for their soccer club. For most fans the NFL will win out.

Going up against the king of American sports must hurt MLS. Fans that would otherwise be interested in watching the excitement of Decision Day will miss it or watch it on DVR. The potential fan interaction is diminished by losing such a large chunk of the audience. Additionally, potential new fans of the sport are suppressed. On a lazy Sunday afternoon a sports fan isn't going to decide to flip around looking for something new and interesting to watch. They are going with the known product of NFL games.

Decision Day is a great idea. I love the thought of fans all over the league cheering on their teams simultaneously. The social media environment and live updates add to the excitement. Unfortunately the execution of the soccer spectacular  is lacking. Holding it in the middle of an NFL Sunday forces fans to pick between football and soccer. For most fans it won't be a hard decision and their will choose to watch the drama unfold on the gridiron. MLS needs to pick a better date and tie to hold Decision Day. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Rams Game Cemented My Belief that the Seahawk's Defense is No Longer Elite

After the Seahawks 16-10 win over the Los Angeles Rams most expert's analysis focused on the Seahawks defense. The prevailing opinion was the Legion of Boom had shown itself to be as dominate as ever. They held the highest scoring offense in the league to just 10 points, all of which came in the first half. The defense also caused five turnovers. However, I left the game feeling it was just more proof the Seahawks defense doesn't have what it takes to win the Super Bowl on their own. They are not as good as they have been in the past. They are not elite.

The Seahawks defense didn't play poorly against the Rams. The defenders played like a middle of the road NFL defense. They made several good plays. They capitalized on Ram's mistakes. Most importantly though, the Seahawks had luck on their side and they won the game because of it.

The first drive against the Seahawks was a dominate showing by the Rams offense. It ended with what normally would have been a touchdown run, but instead was a fumble out of the back of the end zone, which resulted in a touchback. This was caused by an amazing play by Earl Thomas, but it was also incredibly lucky. If the ball had bounced out of the side of the field, instead of in back of it, the result would have been Ram's ball on the 1 yard line. If Gurley had reached out a second earlier it would have been a touchdown. If Gurley had tucked the ball in and powered forward it would probably have been a touchdown, or at least a first down on the 1 yard line. Nine times out of ten that drive would have ended with a touchdown. Regardless of the eventual outcome that drive was an impressive showing by the Rams. They were in such a rhythm that they never faced a third down. The team never once looked phased by the Seahawks defenders.

Later in the game, near the beginning of the second quarter Ram's Wide receiver Tavon Austin took a third down run 22 yards for a score. This play was concerning to me because giving up big runs has become a trend for the Seahawks in 2017. So far this year the Seahawks once stout run defense has been gashed repeatedly for 20 plus yard runs. DeMarco Murray ran for 75 yards in week 3 and his teammate Derrick Henry added another 20 yarder in the same game. In week 2 the Seahawks defense gave up a 61 yard run to Carlos Hyde. In three out of five games this year the Seahawks have failed to contain opposing running backs. The Rams game added to the evidence that the Seahawks struggle to avoid giving up big running plays.

Twice more the Seahawks defense escaped the Rams offense with the help of some luck. To start the third quarter the Rams had a 12 play drive that ended without points only because kicker Greg Zuerlein missed a 36 yard field goal, a distance that he hits 88.7% of the time in his career. Later in the game normally sure handed running back Todd Gurley tipped a screen pass, instead of catching it, resulting in a Sheldon Richardson interception (Richardson is a defensive tackle, which makes this super awesome). The interception was at the Seattle 25 yard line, ending a drive that normally would have resulted in a field goal.

The Seahawks defense luck hit again on the Ram's penultimate play of the game. With 12 seconds left in the game rookie wide receiver Cooper Kupp beat Seahawk Justin Coleman to get open in the endzone. Quarterback Jared Goff threw a dime that hit a diving Kupp in both hands before falling incomplete. That pass should have been a game winning touchdown for the Rams. The Seahawks defense didn't defend the Rams drive well and were extremely lucky to escape. On any other day, when the Rams had even a modicum of luck on their side, Kupp would have made that catch securing a victory for Los Angeles.

If you focus on the individual drives and not the final outcome the Ram's game highlighted the flaws in the 2017 Seahawks defense.  They have flashes of brilliance, but are not consistent. They feature several super stars, but lack depth. They are prone to untimely penalties.

This is bad news for the probable outcome of the season because the Seahawks offense is terrible, meaning the defense is going to have to be on the field a lot. They are going to have to put in a herculean effort every week and try to keep every team in the low teens. To pull this off the defense needs to be the most elite unit in the league. They need to be historic in their greatness. In the modern day NFL elite offenses are a dime a dozen so it is a sure thing that the Seahawks are going to face one in the payoffs. If the defense can't shut down a scoring machine like the Atlanta Falcons, the Seahawks won't have a chance.

Watching the first five games of 2017 has convince me that the Seahawks defense isn't elite. The Rams game was a perfect example of why they aren't. The team relied more on luck then good play to stop a dangerous Rams scoring attack. If the ball had bounced another way, quite literally in this case, the Seahawks would have lost that game.

References: Pro Football Reference

*Correction: A previous version said Kam Chancellor was beaten by Cooper Kupp, not Justin Coleman.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Worse Than Advertised

Before the 2017 NFL season started, Seattle Seahawk fans, myself included, worried about the quality of the offensive line. They appeared to be a weak link that could sink the whole season. Now that the Seahawks 2017 season is underway it has become exceedingly obvious that the offensive line is worse than expected. That doesn't mean the season is lost, but it does mean that if they don't do something fast, to fix the porous offensive line, it will be over soon. 

In all three games this year the offensive line has been pushed around. They have been physically overmatched and sloppy. Defenders are able to push right through them or run around them. There have been several times when the majority of the offensive line is left standing untouched only able to helplessly watch the play unfold for a loss of yards. 

The line has failed to consistently provide lanes for the running backs. More often than not the Seahawks running backs have been hit behind the line of scrimmage. It has been a battle just to eke out a zero yard gain. This has resulted in the Seahawks averaging only 96.67 rushing yards per game. 

The struggle to sustain a running game also hurts the passing game. The other teams don’t have to respect the play action pass. The don't have the bring extra defenders in to slow down the ground game. Instead they can leave defenders in the secondary. Additionally, the line is unable to provide adequate protection to give Russell Wilson any time to pass. All of this has resulted in an anemic passing game able to squeak out 226.67 yards per game. 

All of this is depressing for Seahawks fans especially because it was foreseeable. Now the team has only two choice to try and fix the line. They can stick with what they have and hope that the players start to improve or they can turn to the trade market to try and add someone better then mediocre at playing offensive line. If they trade for an improvement they will have to give away future draft picks and most likely a quality player. Personally I think they should be willing to part with next year's first rounder to try and salvage this year. They should also consider trading one of their quality skill players. 

The 2017 version of the Seahawks offensive line is terrible. The line will most likely continue to hold back the offense. The o-line is like a governor on a racecar, keeping the team from reaching their full potential. The season is still young and isn't a lost cause yet, but the team needs to fix the offensive line.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Why the Seahawks Will Not Win Super Bowl LII

While the Seahawks are definitely a favorite to win the NFC Championship, they are not a perfect team. The 2017 Seahawks have one glaring terrible flaw that could keep them from reaching the Super Bowl. Much like 2016, the 2017 Seahawks feature one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL.

For anyone who watched the Seahawks 2016 season memories of the offense usually involve the offensive line failing. They failed to effectively run block. The team averaged under 100 rushing yards per game. They failed to protect Russell Wilson. The QB was sacked 41 times and played hurt for much of the season. The o-lines ineptitude cost the team at least a few games. Week 12 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers being the game where they played their absolute worst (if you don't remember this abysmal game consider yourself lucky. The game ended 5-14).

So, heading into the 2017 one would assume the Seahawks had spent most of the offseason upgrading the worst unit on their team. And try they did. Unfortunately, it appears that the team is still going to be terrible and frustrating when it comes to blocking.

The team picked center Ethan Pocic in the second round of the draft. They signed free agent Luke Joeckel, a former Jacksonville Jaguar lineman. They raved about second year player George Fant. They still had Justin Britt and awarded him with a new contract. One would assume they had a fifth starter in mind.

The thing is none of these moves are that impressive or really fix the offensive line. Ethan Pocic is a center. The only position where the Seahawks line was acceptable was center. Joeckel was a huge bust in Jacksonville. The Jaguars were so over him that they just let him walk. George Fant is a former basketball player with almost no football experience. He played poorly in 2016 and a huge improvement would only bring him to mediocre, but then he got hurt in the preseason. Britt is fine for an NFL starter, but he is no All-Pro.

During the season the offense will run hot and cold as drives are crushed by poor blocking and penalties. In the playoffs teams have good pass rushers and, without unexpected improvement by the lineman, Russell Wilson will have to scramble constantly. It will be up to the defense and special teams to shut down opponents and let the Seahawks squeak by with close victories. The margin for error will be tiny against quality opponents. If the Seahawks fail to make it to the Super Bowl this year it will certainly be because of their offensive line.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Why the 2017 Seahawks Will Win Super Bowl LII

The 2017 NFL season is fast approaching. My favorite team, the Seattle Seahawks, is a very talented yet flawed team. Even so they look like a favorite in the NFC yet again. If they do manage to win the conference championship and represent the NFC in the Super Bowl again it will be because of their defense.

During Pete Carroll's time as head coach and grand poobah of the Seahawks the team has consistently been one of the best defensive units in the league. They have led the NFL in scoring defense four of the last five years. Their one miss was last year when they still finished a respectablethird at 18.2 points conceded per game. Matt Calkins describes the Seahawksstrategy well writing, "Seahawks football — at least for the past five years — is keeping opposing offenses to single digits and driving them to madness." The Seahawks defense is best described with one word, dominate.>

All of the key players from the Seahawks historic run of defense dominance are back. Thomas, Chancellor, Sherman still man the Legion of Boom. Wagner and Wright still fly around the field making crazy tackles. The defensive line is still anchored by Bennett and Avril. Although all of these guys are creeping up there in age, none of them have yet shown signs of diminished skills. If they continue to avoid father times grip the team will dominate yet again.

Personally I am excited for the return of Earl Thomas. The small, but powerful safety proved how influential he is to the team's success when he got hurt at the end of 2016. With Thomas the team went 8-2-1. Without him they went 3-4, including the playoffs.  The team's defense never recovered from the loss of Thomas. The Falcons dismantled their defense in the playoffs. I don't think Falcons QB Matt Ryan could have marched down the field so easily with Thomas lurking. Entering 2017 Thomas should be all healed and ready to return to his old dominate self.

The greatness of the defense is further augmented by the addition of Sheldon Richardson. The Seahawks traded  away mediocre wide receiver Jermaine Kearse for Richardson, who is a Pro Bowl caliber defensive tackle. The knock on Richardson is his off field behavior. Assuming he stays out of trouble Richardson should turn the Seahawks great defensive line into a potentially historic one. I would expect the Seahawks to stymie ever running back they face up against.

The defensive line did lose to key contributors from 2016 in Cassius Marsh and Ahtyba Rubin. Both played well in 2016, but are no longer on the roster for different reasons. Rubin appears to be a straight up causality of the NFL salary cap. He was getting paid too much money to keep both him and Richardson on the team. Marsh, on the other hand, is a bit more surprising. He was traded to New England for draft picks. I thought Marsh was progressing nicely and added value to the d-line for a relatively cheap price.

Even with the loss of these two players I think the defensive line should be amazing. Bennett, Avril, Clark, and Richardson are proven NFL stars. All four could end up Pro Bowlers. Jarran Reed has been progressing nicely and rookie Nazair Jones offers exciting possibilities with his talent.

The Seahawks defenses under Pete Carroll will end up legendary. NFL fans will be telling their children about the Legion of Boom. Opposing quarterbacks will sing their praises on talk shows for years to come. Despite getting another year older the end hasn't come yet for Seattle's defense. This team still looks set to dominate the NFL and for that reason the Seahawks have a legitimate chance to win Super Bowl LII.